Absolute and Unbroken Continuity, 12 Years Later

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged

On this day in 1998, my beautiful mother, Debbie, passed away. At 25, I have now nearly spent half my life without her. There are days when I feel closer to her since her death and others where she feels like a complete stranger. I have grown up so much in 12 years, it feels like a lifetime since she was here.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

While I am not a particularly spiritual person, I like to think that she is watching me. I am reminded by others that she would be proud of me and I truly hope that is the case. I don’t know who I would be had she not died. I am thankful for the lessons and gifts she gave to me in the years we had together. While I would have preferred for her to stick around for at least a few more years to help foster my growth through my teenage years and beyond, I am grateful for the strength her death has forced upon me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.

My very dear friend Laura came to see my show on Saturday. She and a few of my friends from middle school are the only friends of mine who actually met my mom. It’s so nice when they’re able to share their memories of her with me. I only have a handful and love to add to my collection. There are so many people in my life who I wish would have met her. It’s been so long, that I don’t even think I can convey what a caring, attentive, funny, gutsy woman she was. I believe we share similar qualities and if she were still around, I would hope that we would share in a lot of love and laughter.

My mum was a great listener and always willing to be a shoulder for people to cry on. She was hesitant to follow her own lead and bottled up many of her feelings inside. I have mentioned before that my mum recognized my candour and openness and hoped that one day she would be able to open her heart to me.

It hurts me to know that she died with so many of those thoughts, feelings and emotions closed up inside of her. On the day before she died, she confided a few things in me, but I know that it was much more deeply rooted than the short conversations we had. I have come to a place of acceptance over the last 12 years but I wish she would have told me more. I know that I couldn’t have saved her, but perhaps I could have helped to ease some of her pain.

All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Today will be challenging, but not impossible. As I was reminded by one of my members yesterday, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. I think of my mom often and know that her role in my life had a profound impact on the woman I am. While it has brought forth many emotions and unanswered questions, my mum’s death taught me many things about life and myself. I know that all is as it was meant to be and hope that somewhere in the universe, she is smiling.

~Henry Scott Holland 
I was given this passage while partaking in a bereavement group in high school. I came across it again a few weeks ago and fell in love with its message once again.

If I’m Banished From Court, He’s Coming With Me

Thursday was quite possibly one of the best days of my entire life.

In November 2008,  I received an email from the artistic director of the company I often work with, telling me about a show he had recently been granted the rights to. He went on to say that the show hadn’t been done since it was done on broadway, and having just read The Other Boleyn Girl and watching The Tudors, I was thrilled to learn that the show was REX, a musical based on the life of Henry VIII. He said that after listening to the score and reading the script, I was the only person that came to mind for the dual role of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth. After reading the email, I started crying at my desk. It sounded like such an amazing opportunity and I felt so blessed to be considered for such a prestigious show and role.

Last week was absolutely insane with tech as we moved into the theatre and the anticipation of opening night was building. 14 months of waiting, pressure and expectations were weighing down on me for the first few days of the week. I don’t know what came over me, but the negative self talk kicked in. Why do I do this to myself?? I think my head started spinning around the time that someone said that Anne/Elizabeth was the role of a lifetime and I realized that the director had sent me 27 notes on my previous nights’ performance.

I knew that I needed to rid myself of the negative BS, so I did a couple of things:

  • Talked to some other people about my fears, pressure and expectations who helped me to see that they were not rooted in reality and were really just demons in my own head
  • Wrote out my judgements and fears in my journal
  • Wrote out a letter to myself, turning around all of the negative thoughts and assuring myself that I would be fantastic

When opening night came around, I was ready to rock that role.

I spent the day mentally preparing, drinking lots of water and enjoyed a singer’s saving grace juice at home SANY3100Delicious pear-pineapple-ginger with cloves and liquorice extract that was warm and soothing for my throat. Everyone’s energy was running high, especially since we had an extra special guest in attendance: Sheldon Harnick. We knew for a long time that Mr. Harnick was due to be in the audience on opening night, but fearing a Waiting for Guffman moment, I tried to downplay it in my mind.

On Thursday, everything came together seamlessly. I felt so good about my performance during the show. I nailed my 27 notes (and many others that I had received), felt great about my acting choices and moments and was confident in my songs. My intention was there and I could feel the characters running through my veins.

Best of all, Mr. Harnick loved it. SANY3118He was so gracious and excited to be seeing his show performed after not really being done since it was done on Broadway in the 70’s. I had the pleasure of speaking with him after the show, when he told me that he loved me in both roles, that I had a beautiful voice and that he was incredibly moved by the last scene in the show, where it is projected that Elizabeth with go on to be Queen.

I was speechless. Yes, me, speechless.

I was wandering around high on this incredible performance energy and the knowledge that the man who wrote the show (and many others including Fiddler on the Roof) thought I was fantastic in the role and that I had a beautiful voice. I was left basically speechless and began communicating using squeals and other high pitched sounds in place of words.

I was so lucky to have the chance to chat with Mr. Harnick about the show, past experiences and life in general. We talked about school and future plans and he joked that if I was banished from court, he was coming with me. Like a true musical theatre nerd, I even had him sign my Fiddler on the Roof cast recording. At the end of the night when we were saying goodbye, he held out his arms to me and said “May I?” I could have died, right then and there.

All of the negative self talk and self loathing punishment that I subjected myself to was all for naught. It’s amazing what we can convince ourselves of. I have heard so much positive feedback on this show and my performance and feel really proud of my efforts and all the work that I have put in. SANY3097Being offered this role was such a gift and being given the chance to perform for Sheldon Harnick has left me feeling so blessed. It is such a joy to portray such strong and influential women, and I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity. I’m still riding high on cloud nine and am looking forward to the next two weeks of this run of this life changing show.

My Life as an Actor, Part 1

SANY3082 While ya’ll were celebrating Valentine’s Day and/or Family Day, I was moving into the theatre, running around in a hoop skirt and basking in the glory of stage lights. There I am, yesterday, dressed as Anne Boleyn, enjoying the sight of my name on a poster between songs. REX opens on Thursday and I am thrilled to be on stage once again.

Between rehearsals, school and Weight Watchers, I’ve been catching up with friends and having some much needed Ashley time. This included attending a great WW meeting with Lindsay on Wednesday and hitting the gym for a fabulous Bodyflow class, taking long walks on Thursday and Friday (in the sunshine), seeing the movie Valentine’s Day with a good friend on V-Day and enjoying some tea, good music and school reading on Friday afternoon in the Annex. SANY3059 SANY3061On Friday night, the lovely Lindsay had me over for supper where she made gluten free pita with baked falafels. SANY3064 SANY3065 The full spreadSANY3066Which all came together to form a happy gluten free vegan falafel pizzaSANY3068 It was delicious! The pitas were really yummy, and not just because I haven’t eaten a pita in close to a year. They were earthy, chewy and very pita-like. I loved the falafels and the assortment of veggies. I found myself picking at pitas with sauce once my pizza had been devoured. For dessert I headed to LPK’s Culinary Groove, which did not disappointSANY3058 Ah yes, you are reading that sign correctly: Gluten free, vegan chocolate Boston cream cakes. SANY3063I would also call them “chocolate perfection in cupcake form”
SANY3072Moist, chocolaty cake with creamy, rich, decadent chocolate frosting filled with a smooth, silky cream with a hint of citrusSANY3073Ok, so I might have enjoyed the cupcake a little too much… but it was honestly a little piece of chocolate heaven and a perfect way to end off a stellar meal!

The rest of my time has been spent at the theatre. I can’t wait for us to have an audience! Having warm bodies to play to is going to give us the energy we need to take this performance to the next level. Over the next couple of weeks I will be documenting my adventures at the theatre (and otherwise) as I work to give a fantastic performance and maintain my sanity in the process. I’m looking forward to some special visitors to the show, yummy meals and two back to back Friday massages.

Part of the reason I love being an actor is all the fun I get to have playing dress up. For that reason, I leave you with a couple candid backstage photos of some of my beautiful costumes (and super fun wigs). SANY3079SANY3074SANY3077More pictures to come later in the week!

Who Am I?

Loaded question, no?

A few weeks ago, I had new headshots taken by the lovely Tee Schneider. Tee and I had worked together when I was at musical theatre school, when her husband directed me in a show. We had some fairly intense moments working together (the show was Judith Thompson’s Lion in the Streets. I played Scarlett, a woman with Cerebral Palsy who had a fantastic night time love affair who dies via the “kiss of death” by a local newspaper reporter) kissofdeath so I knew that I was going to feel incredibly comfortable working with her again. Anything was going to be easier than that, right?

An actor’s headshot is incredibly important. Your headshot is your sales pitch and is essentially your vehicle for getting into an audition. I’ve been using the same headshot for a couple of years now ashleygibsonsmall and while it has done me well, it was time for something that reflected redheaded Ashley of 2010.

Shoot day was a lot of fun. I brought about 75% of my wardrobe as instructed by Tee,SANY2981snacks,SANY2986and  an ipod loaded with A Fine Frenzy, Death Cab, Spice Girls, Foo Fighters, Idina Menzel and lots of my favourite tunes. I prettied up my hairSANY2982 and hopped on a streetcar to head over to the studio. SANY2984 Isn’t being an actor glamorous??

When I arrived we sorted through my wardrobeSANY2989 made tea and got the tunes rocking before shooting for the next five hours. I felt super comfortable with Tee. We caught up on life, laughed and had fun deciding on different looks. We wanted to create some options for casting. This included a healthy, fitness-type, AG-7hip young mom, AG-15urban business woman,AG-22 and CSI-esque agent look. AG-54When I got my shots back, I was overwhelmed. AG-76Maybe because of everything that has been going on lately I felt like I was having a bit of an identity crisis or maybe because there were so many shots to choose from I was overwhelmed by the selection; whatever it was, I had no idea which picture I wanted to represent me. While many of them made great pictures, I needed more than that. I needed a headshot that looked like me and was going to showcase me as a youthful, dynamic, charismatic, vibrant actress with a little bit of an edge. AG-89This final shot is the one I think I’ve decided on as my main photo (although I’m sure I will use some of the other photos for specific opportunities. Does you know anyone who is casting for a cop drama??). Choosing a headshot had made me look at myself as a performer more objectively and also begged the question, where does performing fit into my life? I think I still need to ponder that one a little bit but believe it needs to fit into my Go Big or Go Home motto of 2010

Having new headshots is incredibly exciting! A special thank you to Tee for making it such an enjoyable experience and giving me so many options. I’m really looking forward to submitting for more roles in the months to come and continue pursuing another one of my passions.

In the Toronto area? I will be playing Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth in
REX from February 17 – March 6. Only one week to opening!!
Check out Richard Ouzounian’s interview with Sheldon Harnick in today’s Toronto Star

And We Are Never Ever the Same

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I’ve spent pieces of the week cleaning, packing and purging my material possessions in anticipation of my move on March 1. While I’m sad that this is happening, I’m looking forward to having a space of my own and moving forward in this journey of healing.

I started to unpack a box that has remained essentially untouched for a couple of years. It was filled with random books, cards, photos and other items of sentimental value. While I don’t believe that our materials possessions make us in any way, I do love having these items to be able to reflect on my past. SANY3034SANY3035SANY3036 My baby book, complete with letter that my mom wrote to me in 1996 saying how proud she was of me and how blessed she felt to be a mother. I feel so blessed to have that little piece of her thoughts on paper. SANY3030I’ve always had an affinity for cats and when I was six years old I wrote about the adventures of my cat, Brew. SANY3031SANY3032SANY3033 I liked cats, bright colours and pink, even back then. I found a deck of tarot cards my mum gave me when I was about 13.SANY3046I was surprised to find all 78 cards still in (or around) the box. I feel like tarot is something I may need to start exploring again. I found of whole lot of show memorabilia like cards, programs, a scrapbook, SANY3041  pictures, (from The Rink)DSC_0011 DSC_0085DSC_0200  and my slipper from when I played Cinderella in Into the Woods. SANY3045 When I move, I think I’m going to put a bunch of my show pictures into frames and hang them alongside some of my favourite posters and props.

I also found a bunch of items from my Weight Watchers journey including my original weigh in book, maintenance coupons and 25 lb ribbon. SANY3048 In a time when I’m feeling nostalgic and looking back at the last few years, finding these treasures from my history brings back a lot of great memories. I also find it interesting that I can connect many of the items to this time of year as well as link them to many people who are still in my life or whom I wish to reconnect with.These pieces give me comfort and a sense of familiarity as I watch everything change around me.

SANY3044

Progress and Perseverance, Not Perfection

On Friday, the lovely Jess had me over for supper – it was so nice to catch up. After we consulted on the menu, she decided on some cashew ginger tofu (from Eat Drink and Be Vegan) with baked squash and spinach salad. SANY3016Man, I love that tofu recipe. The cashew ginger sauce is delightful! Jess was a little stressed due to some burnt squash, but I thought it was fantastic. For dessert we were going to have some banana soft serve, but unfortunately Jess ran into some trouble with her food processor…SANY3017 So we had our soft serve in wine glasses and called them milkshakesSANY3018Cheers! The cacao nibs on top added fantastic crunch!!

Since we’ve known one another, we’ve obviously talked a lot about weight loss and our respective journeys, as when I first met Jess, she was still in the midst of losing her weight. She went on to reach her goal on her birthday, become Lifetime and then become a Leader, which has been amazing to watch. On Friday we had a big talk about the pressures we add to ourselves when we’re on program and we know that there are members, readers and viewers watching.

As a self-proclaimed Type A personality, I often strive for perfection. I can be very hard on myself as I work towards being the best I can be. Sometimes I stand in my own way. The thing I love about Weight Watchers is that you can work the program to the best of your ability each and every day without having to strive for “perfection”. If I don’t get in a Good Health Guideline or miss a few days of tracking, the Weight Watchers gods don’t come and beat me up, because I know that I am working the program to the best of my ability at that moment. Each and every day I gain new experiences which carry me over to the next one.

Yesterday I started a new class at school called the Psychology of Disease. I’ve been really excited to take this class and yesterday did not disappoint; I was absolutely enthralled the entire class. Our instructor began by telling us a story of a donut binge, knowing full well that she was a nutritionist who knew the “right” thing to be doing. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Talking with Jess and other friends and listening to Tracy yesterday has really helped me to realize that everything is okay. I may not have made some great decisions with my eating in January, but I’m on the other side now and learning from those experiences. I can look back objectively and recognize that while I may not have been “perfect”, I was doing the best I could under the circumstances and as a result I’m doing a lot better now. This is all we can do in life; Live, learn, laugh, love and move forward.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

Do you find yourself aiming for perfection? How do you allow yourself some breathing room?

February Fitness Fun

It’s already February? Wasn’t I supposed to have all this free time when I quit my job? I’m still trying to find it between school, WW, the show, eating, sleeping and breathing.

February Activity Chart

This month I’m committing to getting back to the gym. I’ve even made the chart in my favourite colour to get me motivated! In January my excuse was that I was too busy and still getting a feel for my schedule. That isn’t going to cut it this month! My strategies include:

What is your plan for the month? How was January for you?