Co-Artistic Directors Joe Messina and Ashley H. White sat down to answer a few questions about themselves, their history, and a little trivia:
Tell us a little about your background?
Joe: I wanted to be James Bond. Pure and simple. So I had to become an actor. Unfortunately I wasn’t tall or British…so there went that. But I loved the craft at an early age and continued, as most do, throughout high school and college. I had a great education at Columbia College in Chicago. Most of my teachers were working professionals in Chicago at Steppenwolf, Goodman and particularly Second City.
After school, I was given an opportunity to join the creative team at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center. As the institution’s Creative Producer/Managing Director I was able to produce and/or direct several plays and musicals. It was a working education like none other. Several of the productions were premieres, which allowed me to begin learning to collaborate with authors directly on bringing their works to bring to life on our stage. It was during this time, I started a creative friendship with master farceur Ray Cooney. He taught me so much about comedy, drama and even running a theatre (as he ran one for ages in London). Trust, Honesty and Collaboration. Those were his keywords for success in farce and drama. After JPAC, I co-founded the BrightSide Theatre with some good friends. It is still going strong today.
My nutty family (Kathy and our two boys, Mike and Tommy) moved to Dallas not too long ago and have loved it here ever since. It is such a vibrant, creative city with so much to offer, and so many opportunities to make your mark. Ashley and I see one such opportunity for IMPRINT.
Ashley: I’ve been involved with Theatre since I was four and began directing when I was 19. I grew up in North Texas, but really came to my own after I moved to New York City at 17. I attended acting school there and then lived and worked in the city for several years. That’s where I met my husband, Aaron, and where I really began to understand who I was as an artist.
It was serendipity that led me to directing in 2004, when I was asked to Assistant Direct a show for the New York Fringe Festival, even though I’d never done it before. It was during that process that I had a moment of clarity I’d yet to feel in my artistic career. I’d found my home, and I began to pursue directing and study it as much as I could.
In 2008, we moved to Dallas, got married, and haven’t stopped since. I directed my first show in the DFW area in 2010 and have been actively working locally as a Director, Fight Director, and Movement Specialist for the past seven years. We had our son, Miles, in 2016. He lights up my life in ways I never could have imagined.
How did you guys meet?
Ashley: It was in 2013, when Joe auditioned for a farce I was directing.
Joe: After living in Dallas for three years, I finally decided to audition for my first show. I saw a familiar title and went for it.
Ashley: He’d just moved here from Chicago a few years earlier. You’d been itching to get back in, though…
Joe: Yes. But it’s like going to a new High School. You don’t know anyone. It can be a daunting task.
Ashley: So, yes! In comes Joe, whom I’d never met or seen around before and within the first minute of his audition, everyone in the room was laughing and nodding. It was one of those experiences where, as a director, you’re just like “YES.”
Joe: I’m there, and I think my cold reading goes well. Luckily, I had done the show 20 years earlier and it was a favorite of mine. At the callback, Ashley, who I didn’t know at all, gave me some direction and feedback. I thought…”She really gets this, this could be fun”
Ashley: Yep! So he got cast, and the rest is history.
Joe: To add one last moment, when I knew we clicked. The Window scene. You gave me free reign to play and come up with my own stuff. That was early on in the rehearsal and that trust meant so much.
Ashley: Well, you earned it. Haha. Joe and I quickly found we shared a language and mutual appreciation for ensemble-based techniques and finding truth in comedy. It was fun to bounce ideas off each other and we were able to establish a great connection and rhythm as actor and director that has followed us through every show we’ve worked on together. It was an instant friendship that eventually evolved into what is now IMPRINT.
What is one of your favorite moments working in theatre?
Joe: I have had the sincere pleasure of having so many amazing moments. From seeing/performing with incredible actors on stage, to working with talented writers/directors behind the scenes…But it is the small intimate moments that stand out. When each of my sons finally got to see me on stage performing for the first time.
Ashley: Oh gosh, I have so many. I’ll say one of the most meaningful. I have a tradition I do with my casts every show, following Final Dress. I won’t tell the full tradition because it’s very special and personal, but I will say that it involves each of the cast members reciting their favorite line from the show. When I was doing It Runs in the Family, my lead, Chris Taylor, raised a glass of champagne, looked around at the cast, and said his character’s line: “I’ve obviously been a very lucky man.” He delivered it so sincerely. It was just such a powerful moment and great commentary toward what we are so fortunate to get to do through theatre. I get a little choked up every time I think of it. (Joe: I was in that show, too… my favorite line which I said, was “You naughty pussy…” so…there we are in a nutshell.)
Favorite line or lyric from a show?
Joe: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!” – 1776
Ashley: “Don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing to be afraid of, really, is that it won’t be.” – Company
What’s one of your favorite memories as an audience member?
Joe: Where to begin? I have been blessed to be able to have seen so many great shows during my life…I was especially lucky to experience so many great shows featuring great actors, directors and writers growing up in Chicago and traveling.
A few stand out…
In high school, a group of us saw the original production of Grapes of Wrath at Steppenwolf. If there was a show that capsulized our vision with IMPRINT, it’s this one. The ensemble, the raw emotion and the honesty. Nothing was left backstage, everything they had was on stage.
Seeing the revival of Inspector Calls in London might be one of the most glorious nights I’ve had in a theatre. A simple chamber room whodunnit was turned into a searing commentary on class with a production design so original, you gasped at each individual invention. A masterpiece by director Stephen Daldry.
But sometimes it’s who you are with that makes the experience unforgettable. Seeing Beauty and the Beast in London, and Lion King and 1776 on Broadway with my wife (while we were dating) are moments that will always make me smile.
Ashley: Again, so many. I’ll say three: One, here in Dallas, was seeing Uptown Players’ Production of Next To Normal in… 2011, I believe? That show was just so so powerful and beautifully done.The performances were so honest and the entire audience became a single unit experiencing the show together. It was a remarkable night and I often think back to it as one of my favorite shows I’ve seen.
Another, this time in New York, is when my husband and I went to see Bridges of Madison County on Broadway. We were walking down the street and on a whim decided to see if there were tickets available, and there were. We hadn’t done our research, though, and didn’t realize until we were sitting in the audience that it was Opening Night (How we got those tickets, I’ll never know)! Being in the room for Opening Night of a Broadway Show is electric – it was such a cool vibe. At final curtain, they brought Jason Robert Brown (music), Marsha Norman (book), and Bartlett Sher (director) onto the stage and everyone was just hugging and kissing, and it was like you were in the room where dreams came true as it was happening. Very cool experience.
Last… seeing Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot on Broadway. Their artistry and craft is… I mean, there are just no words for how dynamic they are. Watching them bounce back and forth, engage with each other, and their interpretation of the script was a master class. I wish I could see it 100 more times, and I know if I could, I’d still notice something different every show.
Who would you love to work with…living or dead?
Joe: I would have loved to act with Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris on stage in London and get a pint before, during and afterwards with them.
Ashley: Lucille Ball. She’s my dream. What she did for women in television and comedy is legendary and I would have loved to get to witness her process.
Share a random fact about yourself.
Joe: I have been to Disney World every year with my family since 2004. Um…I like Disney.
Ashley: I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nut and will make you watch it with me if you tell me you’ve never seen it or aren’t a fan.
Throwback! Which Sex and the City character are you?
Joe: Miranda 100%
Ashley: Haha! I’m going to say Carrie with a splash of Samantha
What is the last show you binge-watched?
Joe: House of Cards Season 5
Ashley: The Magicians on SyFy. It was intense!
Stay tuned for more IMPULSE posts coming soon – and if you haven’t yet, check out our GoFundMe to help support our first Season! http://www.gofundme.com/imprinttheatreworks2017