Updated: Feb 2
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Asher Lloyd Ehrenberg
Current Location: New York, NY
Asher, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
My story has a lot of twists and turns, but the way it starts probably resonates with a lot of others who find themselves drawn to the theatre. My parents say that as soon as I could talk, I was putting on a show. Whether it was a reenactment of the latest Disney sing-a-long VHS or the full staging of an original play with friends tricked into coming over for a “playdate”—I could not be stopped. The magic of creating and living in worlds beyond our own was, and continues to be, an exhilarating experience. I should have noted though, it was not everyone’s cup of tea. Especially at a young age. I may or may not have lost a few friends in the 3rd grade after trying to force some classmates into a production of A Chorus Line on the playground. How was I supposed to know not everyone listened to the original cast recording cassette tape in the car every day?? In retrospect, belting the shit out of “Dance Ten; Looks Three” probably isn’t what normal nine year old kids want to do at recess. But, I digress. When I was four and a half or five, my moms finally decided it was time to find a place for me to sing and dance outside of the house and signed me up for a local children’s theatre. And there was no turning back. I performed with multiple community and children’s theatre programs throughout elementary and middle school before attending the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts in high school. At that point, there was no question as to whether or not I would pursue theatre professionally and make my career in it. Through my college experiences at AMDA and Boston University, I ultimately found a more specific focus in directing and choreographing, though I am hesitant to confine myself to any titles or boxes. I like to think of myself as a theatre maker in a holistic sense. After college, I ultimately moved to NYC where I have been working as a freelance director and associate/assistant director. As soon as I landed, I began my first professional gig as the inaugural Directing Apprentice at New York City Center and have been fortunate to be working ever since. The career and life I’ve begun to build for myself is certainly an unsettling one. Unfortunately, our country and the commodification of art does not lend itself to stability when one wants to make their livelihood in this industry. But, for better or for worse, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
Currently, much of my “career” work is on hiatus, as it is for most arts workers whose industries have been devastated by COVID-19. But, prior to the pandemic, I was assistant directing the world premier of Sarah Silverman, Joshua Harmon, and Adam Schlesinger’s new musical The Bedwetter off-broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company. I was also about to begin work on the national tour of a new theatrical symphonic piece by Julia Wolfe. And I was working with my partner on conceptualizing her debut solo show for Feinstein’s/54Below. It was wild to go from 100mph to full stop overnight. I cannot wait to be back in a room with all the incredible people on those projects when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, I’m a guest director for a seminar through the NYU Tisch Graduate Program and working on some independent projects here and there. I am also taking this time to examine the intersections of art and activism and doing some much needed advocacy and organizing work for causes I’m passionate about.
The road of the artist is a sometimes long and bumpy road. Have you had to overcome any on your journey?
What’s a smooth road? I don’t think there is such a thing in this industry. One of the greater challenges I’ve faced on my own road was college. Ultimately, I was not able to finish my degree because of a lack of financial resources. It finally got to a point where I realized that if I were to keep going the way I was, I would be in such an immeasurable amount of student loan debt by the time I graduated that I wouldn’t even be able to pursue my career. Don’t get me started on the inequities and evils of the higher education system and student loans in the US. So, I had to make the choice: drop out and try to make it without the degree or get the degree and try to live a life drowning in more debt than I was already in. Obviously, I chose the former. It was an overwhelmingly scary decision. I was burdened with such harmful thoughts on how this decision would reflect on my abilities, my status, my worthiness. But, I’ve come to realize that those thoughts were only swimming through my head because of what I had been conditioned to believe. You get good grades, you go to college for 4 years, you graduate, you find a great job, you live happily ever after. News flash: it doesn’t always work that way. And what I have come to learn is that it doesn’t have too, either. That experience, along with countless others, has taught me the most important lesson I’ve learned thus far: your road doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. There is no singular road. And, in fact, the one that gets you furthest is the one that looks like no other.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received came from my mentor, Anne Kauffman, during a phone call we had. I had a really exciting idea for a production that I wanted to run by her, but I was plagued by self doubt when it came to presenting the idea to writers and producers. I was feeling I didn’t have enough “clout” or standing yet in my career to be the person to bring my ideas to the table. After talking through my anxieties she simply said to me, “Asher, a good idea is a good idea. It doesn’t matter who it comes from”. That has definitely stuck with me.
What inspires you? Can you tell us about a moment in your life you found to be inspirational?
One of the most inspirational experiences I have had was working on the musical Promenade at New York City Center a couple years back. The piece is this 1960s absurdist take on class and race in the United States. And it was so thrilling and disturbing to see how it was so painfully relevant on stage today. Laurie Woolery, who directed, led from a place of such compassion and humanity that it was infectious. The sense of community she created in the rehearsal room and, ultimately, on stage was so palpable. I think we all know what a difference that makes on a production. It is so easy to come into a room and go about business as usual. But when you really take the time to approach the work as a community with intention, that’s when something special happens. And I think that’s why I do what I do. It’s about the people. As cynical and nihilistic as I can be and casually claim to “hate people”, the truth is I love people. And theatre is about people. That was so clear to me watching Laurie work and even clearer when I was moved to tears every time I watched the show. She and that experience have been such inspirations for me and my work.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What role do you think the arts or artists play in today's society?
In a world where it is all too easy to dismiss ‘the other’, I believe it is our responsibility to actively understand people through open dialogue and radical empathy. And though I believe we all need to be taking part in these practices, I do believe it is the artist who incites them. The current climate of our country and the world at large make these missions and the social discourse of theatre and the arts more vital than ever. In order for us to do this successfully, we need to be wary of the arts and our arts organizations succumbing to the hyper-capitalist society in which they function. There should be no hesitation or thought of financial impact when it comes to artists and organizations making the statement that Black and Trans lives matter. And not only making those statements, but fostering spaces in which those statements and others that stand against oppression are seen as undeniable truths. Radical empathy in the name of actionable progress. That is our role.
Suggest a story: The Rose Center Theater's Inspiring Artists Series is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition, let us know here.