Ashlin Halfnight '97 (Playwright, Director of Electric Pear Productions)
By Dominique Kalil '00
I’ve been mulling over this for quite a while now, and I still don’t know what angle to take with this former English concentrator from the Class of 1997. What can one do with a former professional hockey player-turned-kindergarten teacher-turned-successful playwright, who happens to be well versed in the obscure (well, obscure to me anyway) Russian literary genius Mikhail Bulkagov? Ashlin Halfnight and I chatted about a lot of random things—the metaphorical quality of the Hungarian language (in which Ashlin is conversationally fluent) and its unusual Finno-Ugric origins, for example. I felt very “Harvard”, but not for the reasons one would immediately think. I always tell people that the best thing at Harvard wasn’t the classes I never went to, nor the professors I never saw, not even the striking campus I took for granted—instead it was the cornucopia of fascinating and budding individuals that seem to blossom all around me. I think I’m now at the age when those very blossoms are starting to flourish in a very public and productive way, and the view is really quite stunning.
Ashlin grew up in Toronto, the quintessential athlete. Intermingled with hockey, soccer, baseball and lacrosse, though, was some theatre, an interest that continued through his first year at Harvard. As a varsity hockey player, he would rush from practice to rehearsals for much of his freshman year. He admits that it was difficult to sustain the energy required to follow completely different trajectories, and it appears that hockey did win out temporarily. After captaining the team his senior year, he went on to play professionally in the Carolina Hurricanes’ organization. Ashlin’s creative drive seems to have persisted over his two years as a pro hockey player, despite the frequent traveling and smelly locker rooms. When he finally decided hockey was not his future career, he began to consider his options in creative fields.
From Ashlin’s perspective that began a time of completely random, even accidental, meandering, although really to me it sounded quite methodical and meticulously contrived. It included a summer at the Iowa Writers Conference, classes at the Lee Strasberg Acting Studio, an MFA in playwriting from Columbia, and a year as a Fulbright scholar in residence at the National Theatre of Hungary. By the end of it, he became highly educated and very well trained in the craft of playwriting. True, this time was also interspersed with a stint playing hockey in a small German town, some eventful work for the US Census, and an ongoing teaching position in a program for gifted, underprivileged children in NYC, but these experiences ultimately informed rather than detracted from his creative goals.
Ashlin’s first success as a playwright came rather quickly with his first play, entitled Play Therapist Play, about a convicted rapist’s post-prison life. Last year, his play God’s Waiting Room won rave reviews from the New York Times while premiering at the New York Fringe – and ended up taking home the festival’s Most Outstanding Play award. Next up is this year’s FringeNYC entry, Diving Normal, directed by Mary Catherine Burke and produced by Electric Pear Productions. Diving Normal opens at VENUE #4: Access Theater, see http://www.divingnormal.com/. Sun 13 @ 11:15, Sat 19 @ 6:45, Sun 20 @ 12, Wed 23 @ 7:45, Fri 25 @ 7:30.
Photo above courtesy of Ryan Benyi Photography