If only Ashton Heyl's mother hadn't wanted to sleep in a little, we might have had another Olympic swimmer.
It was at her harried mother's suggestion that young Heyl turn her attention from the pool to the stage. It's all good, however — her mom got some extra rest, and Heyl got started on a career that has taken her to New York and beyond, including a forthcoming two-month stint at Baltimore's Center Stage.
Heyl, a 2014 Yale School of Drama grad who admits to being in her "early 30s," has the starring role in Amy Herzog's "After the Revolution," one of two Herzog plays (the other is "4,000 Miles") being performed concurrently at Center Stage through mid-May. In the production, Heyl plays Emma, the daughter in a left-leaning New York family who uncovers some unexpected, and unwelcome, secrets about her blacklisted grandfather.
This marks the first time Herzog's two heavily autobiographical works have been staged together. We asked Heyl, who has moved to Baltimore from New York for the duration of the play's run at Center Stage, about acting in general, and acting in Herzog's plays in particular.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO ACTING?
I was a swimmer, actually. We had practice bright and early in the morning, and then in the afternoon. And at some pint, my mom said, "I think we need a new hobby."
Around that time, there was a local children's production of "Once Upon a Mattress," and I pointed to that and said I wanted to do that. I was a painfully shy kid, so I have no idea what possessed me.
HOW DID YOU GET CONNECTED WITH 'AFTER THE REVOLUTION'?
I was getting ready to go do a show at Virginia Stage Company, and I'd been called in to audition. My agent said, "They can see you in person before you go to catch your flight out of LaGuardia," and I said, "Absolutely."
I loved the play, I feel very close to it. Amy and I weren't at Yale at the same time, but she's also a Yale School of Drama grad. So I did my first audition in person, and then I went and hopped on the plane to do another play.
I did a couple of video callbacks after receiving some notes from the director and the casting director. And that's how I ended up here at Center Stage.
THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THESE TWO PLAYS HAVE BEEN ACTED TOGETHER. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THAT?
I think it's such a special and rare opportunity… . I feel that both of these plays have such a beautiful dialogue with one another, because it is based on Amy's family, and our matriarch, Vera, carries us through these plays. They have about a 10-year difference.
I think they're just exceptional plays that illuminate the human spirit in such subtle yet shattering ways, in regards to self, family, tribe, what that means. It's been a real pleasure to be in rehearsal for "After the Revolution," and then be able to sit in on runs of "4,000 Miles."
IS THERE ONE ASPECT OF BEING A WORKING ACTOR THAT IS, MAYBE, THE BEST PART OF THE GIG?
I guess I love stories, and I love narrative. As an actor, I feel more human. It's such a gift, to be able to explore different lives as truthfully as possible. … I guess if I had to crystallize it, the best part of being an actor is feeling more human, more a part of humanity.
IS THERE AN ASPECT OF BEING AN ACTOR THAT YOU COULD DO WITHOUT?
Because you're a freelance artist, there is — whenever a job ends, I think every actor experiences the feeling of, "Oh goodness, will I ever work again?"
I love auditioning, though. I think that's rare among the actor set. I enjoy the process of auditioning. So I guess ... the transitory nature of the business, the uncertainty, I could do without.