Student spotlight: Erin Ashdown

By Nick Hawks

Erin Ashdown in CSU production ‘Inspector Hound’, Source: Erin Ashdown

Acting has always come naturally to Erin Ashdown. The Cleveland State University theatre major may only be a sophomore, but she’s been acting for nearly a decade, and at this point, it’s all she can see herself doing. Last year, as a freshman, she had key roles in both the major theatre productions, “Into the Woods” and “The Real Inspector Hound.” We caught up with Ashdown where she gave the rundown on what it’s like to prepare for a production, how she got started in theatre, and what it’s like to work with director Russ Borski. 

Why do theatre over film if you’re going to act? What’s the difference for you?

The difference to me is Cleveland State’s resources. We’re right in the heart of Playhouse Square, so we have a lot of good connections, especially through CSU. And it’s what I’ve grown up doing, so I’m a little more familiar with it than I would be with film acting. I’m definitely not opposed to film acting, if I’m completely honest, that’s kind of my main goal. But for now, I’m very much interested in theatre because it’s what I know. It’s what I’m learning more out of, and I enjoy it. 

You said you have a background in theatre. Does that mean you acted in high school?

I started doing theatre when I was 11. And it continued all throughout the rest of grade school into high school. It’s what I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. So I didn’t think there was really any other major for me. 

Wow, 11 years old. How did you first get an interest in it? 

My family likes sports, so I was kind of a soccer kid. And then I just started to grow out of it because I was never the worst on the team, but I was never the best. I was just kind of there. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it was starting to become more of like a chore, going to practice and games, rather than like a fun time to hang out with my friends. My mom saw a Facebook ad for the Fairview Park Theatre Community, they were putting on a production of “Seussical,” and everyone’s accepted, they don’t cut anyone from the show. And I was like “wait, this is kind of cool.” I’d always been interested in it. So my mom signed me up for an audition and then every year I would do the show. Then I started doing [Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood] shows after that. Once I hit high school, Beck was a little too complicated with my high school schedule, so I just started doing high school shows. 

So you were in both of the major theatre productions last year, right? Is it kind of rare for freshmen to get casted into key roles right away? 

Honestly, I have no idea. But I am a little proud of myself because I didn’t think that would happen, especially to be in a show each semester. I feel like the freshmen theatre class took the program by storm because most of the cast of “Woods” were freshmen, and I don’t think that’s ever happened before. We just had a really large talented class last year, so that was really cool. 

What was your bigger role, “Woods” or “Inspector Hound?” 

My bigger role was “Inspector Hound.” 

So when you’re preparing for a role like that, what’s a typical day of rehearsal like?

The first couple rehearsals are usually just reading the script and over, talking with the director, talking with your castmates, getting a better idea of the character, and the choices you make when saying the lines. Once we break away from the script and actually break down the movement, we have rehearsals that are called blocking rehearsals where you just go through the entire scene that you’re working on. You just figure out where you’re standing, what position you’re in, what you’re doing with your hands, and what you’re doing with your face for each specific line. So for blocking rehearsals, they’re like three and a half to four hours. Which is a lot of time, but it’s needed if you’re going to spend it on blocking, because blockings are a little more complicated. You’re usually making a ton of notes in your script next to your lines like “throw,” “throw ball here,” “disgusted face there.” Then at the end of rehearsal, you usually have like twenty minutes left, you usually go through the scene with all the added blocking, you have the script in your hand, it’s just a rough draft of what a scene is. 

Yeah, it sounds like a lot of steps, especially in theatre where everything is based on timing, right? 

Yeah, one of the bigger challenges is timing. Timing is huge. And it was particularly huge on “Inspector Hound” because of the timing of the jokes and everything in the show. So we definitely spent a lot of the time. 

Both of the productions you were in were directed by Russ Borski, what was it like to work with him? 

It was really fun. Russ is really goofy, so it’s not totally serious one hundred percent of the time, which is relieving because it gives you a little bit of a break. But it’s really impressive because he has such a distinct and strong idea for every scene and every character. What’s awesome too is that he also gives you room to kind of figure out what you want to do with the character. And if it’s not working, you work it out together. It’s not something that’s all on you and it’s not something he’s only coming up with.