Theatre Interview: Ashleigh Butcher – Hen Party, Or Uke Can Do Anything

March 27, 2019

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By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Ashleigh Butcher is currently starring in the National Children’s Theatre production of Duck For President, running until April 7.

Children’s theatre: relative to other theatre, acting or singing work, does it require a different approach in terms of your preparation?

I think when it comes to preparation, nothing is different. Whether you perform for kids or adults, the proper care is always necessary – and even more so when you do children’s theatre. Children lose interest very easily, and if there are cracks in your character, intention, or in your understanding of your script, they’ll know, and they’ll totally give up on you.

 

What about in terms of performance?

The performance requires a slightly different approach. Again, you do have to be fully invested and take the proper care, but you have to be even more focused on communication. Clear storytelling is essential because, unlike adults, once they misunderstand something small, they lose interest there’s no going back. You can’t just rely on the script to keep them invested.

 

The schedules are different to most theatre runs – does that open up other opportunities you can’t take advantage of with other work?

Certainly. Working during the day allows you to work at night, which is great. Our director is amazing and totally understands the need to do some external work – which I’ve definitely appreciated. I’ve been doing other small corporate gigs, and MCing a few nights a week. Duck For President is always my priority though, so I try not to take on more that I can handle.

 

Duck For President could be called edutainment rather than pure entertainment. Does that add an element of responsibility to go along with the passion? There are politics involved here – one of those topics we’re not supposed to talk about in polite society!

Indeed. There are some wonderful issues dealt with in Duck, but it’s never didactic. Most parents in the audience report back that coming to see the show brought up a lot of questions and facilitated a lot of conversations around democracy, voting, and so on. What’s interesting for me is that every audience member that comes in ends up rooting for a different character. Some want Duck to win, some want Farmer Brown in charge, some come out at the end and whisper in my ear that I’m their favourite and they’d vote for me. It’s hilarious, but also very satisfying – because it means that we aren’t pushing them in a certain direction, we’re just posing the questions and they’re answering them themselves.

 

What does your character, Hen, do in Duck For President?

She mostly just asks a lot of questions, fights with her “sister” Cow, and fawns over Farmer Brown. Most importantly though, she plays the ukulele. I’d vote for her.

 

What is the response from the children in the audience to Hen specifically (relative to the other characters)?

The responses to Hen and to all the other characters differ so vastly from show to show, and I think it’s because different personality types prefer different characters. Hen is a little paradoxical because she’s gentle, but sassy. Confused, but insightful. She rooting for Farmer Brown, but also Duck. She respects authority, but also supports her friends’ right to democracy. I suppose the response depends on how each kid would react to someone like that.

 

Your CV suggests incredible versatility: English and Afrikaans shows; children’s, straight and musical theatre; web series; corporate work; music. What is your favourite type of work as an artist, and why?

My favourite kind of work is any work with a passionate and respectful team, kind colleagues and a good working environment. I’ve loved every kind of job I’ve done so far as far as performing is concerned – but I’ve learnt that it’s the people around you that can something ordinary into something amazing.

 

Would you consider some of these skills or platforms as your “day job” and others as passion projects? If so, do you find you need to change the way you use your skills – perhaps there is greater freedom to experiment without a strict director, for example?

It’s hard to say, because there are things that I’ve considered passion projects in the past that have suddenly become part of my “day job”. For instance, I got to play the guitar and the banjo in Great Balls Of Fire last year, and I’m playing the uke in Duck for President now. There are also things that are passion projects for now, that I hope will one day become part of my day job. Sign language, for instance, which I’m learning at the moment. So the two are constantly changing and overlapping.

 

Where do Mylk and other similar projects fit it (time-wise and in the long term)?

Mylk was a nifty little plant-based restaurant which I owned with my best friend last year. It’s closed now, but we do talk of relocating it at some point. We are also constantly talking about new business to open and try out – so perhaps we’ll settle on a winner one of these days. I can’t say I’ve got a huge amount of time for stuff like that at the moment, but I’m always up for a challenge and trying something new. My new passion at the moment is South African Sign Language. I go to lessons once a week, and can hold a  basic conversation with a very patient participant. I hope to one day integrate sign with theatre and music. I’m also trying to record some of the songs I’ve written, and maybe put together a little collection. Timeline? Who knows? I’m just taking it all day by day, trying not to fall over too much.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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