October 20, 2014

Find out “Who is Ashley?” in the Ashley Plays on Sunday, October 26th

The Ashley Plays

The Ashley Plays contributor and publicity crew member Andrew Murdoch fills us in on this annual site specific theatrical event at York…

Who is Ashley? You might have seen this question appear around the school, written hastily on your classroom’s chalk boards. Well, this question has inspired the development of the Ashley Plays written and performed by the fourth year Playwriting and New Dramaturgy class. This year is not the first year that this question is on our playwrights minds. The Ashley plays have been going on for many years at York university and every year, this question – Who is Ashley? – has been the basis. Even though each year has posed the same question, each year is completely different from the last.

The best way to understand what the Ashley Plays are really about and how they fit into what we do here in the Theatre Department at York University is to hear the class’s own explanations. 

What are the Ashley Plays?

They are a cycle of non linear, thematically linked, site-specific monodramas about a non gender-specific character named Ashley. The plays are located throughout the CFT [Center for Film and Theatre] — the audience moves in three pods from site to site, led by the producing dramaturgs who function as “pod wranglers”. The playwrights are given a list of five character traits to inspire their Ashley character. Not all traits need to be used, but none can be contradicted. Each Ashley is unique to the play/playwright.

What do the Ashley Plays mean to you?

They are an opportunity to show our class’s work to the general public, and to try out new ways of approaching our work. The plays are evolved within the supportive classroom environment, including peer input as well as direction from Judith and the dramaturgs, and then we are able to showcase the creative product for a general public audience.

What are the role of the dramaturgs?

Our job is to ensure that the voice of the playwright is realized organically, so it’s not our job to have a voice in the work but to enable the voice of the playwright in the work in ways that strengthen the piece. Each dramaturg works differently with each writer and each piece. We all have different styles, as do the playwrights, and so it really does come about differently each time.

What are the Steps involved?

We generated the Ashley characteristics as a class. The dramaturgs assigned each playwright a site as well as a specific focus at that site. The playwrights visited and explored their sites, and were inspired to create a piece connected to that site. The pieces were worked on in class and in individual dramaturgy meetings to evolve them from first draft through to performance ready. 

How does using site specificity affect the work?

The sites give the playwrights a specific place in which to anchor their piece, an environment that serves as part of the world of the play, and gives them a wealth of ideas to help develop the world. It also draws attention to the “why here, why now?” as it creates the need to be aware of surroundings in a way that makes the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar.

Each site also creates the need to develop a whole world and piece that can be performed by a single speaker in a single place, that may or may not have public traffic during performance.

For the dramaturgs, the site specific challenge was an exercise in resourcefulness, creating routes, maps, and all sorts of considerations that wouldn’t otherwise be thought of during the creative process in non-site specific work.

What is something you have learnt through this process?

The playwrights have become very aware of their habits and how to overcome or use them when confined to a specific space. The process forces us to reconcile our usual aesthetics and try out new things into our work. Everyone had to find a specific way to include their focus as a way to inform the writing. It helps us identify our creative obsessions, as it finds its way into all work, regardless of place.


The Ashley Plays are being performed on Sunday October 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm – 2:00 pm. In front of the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre in the Centre for Film and Theatre, York University. Please be in attendance by 12:30 as there will be a brief introduction and assignment of “Pods”. There is no admission fees but donations to Oxfam will be accepted.