Rising Star Ashley Rapuano: “The casting team doesn’t want the version of yourself you dreamt up this morning for this role, they want YOU in your purest form to take on this character and showcase yourself”
Know that YOU ARE ENOUGH. At the end of the day, this is my biggest piece of advice. YOU are enough. The casting team doesn’t want the version of yourself you dreamt up this morning for this role, they want YOU in your purest form to take on this character and showcase yourself. You don’t need anything extra. You, yourself, are whole and enough.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Rapuano.
Ashley Rapuano is an actor and comedian based in Los Angeles. She recently moved to LA from New York City, where she wrote and produced her critically praised one woman show “Lessons With Lola” about her Filipino grandmother with dementia, performed stand-up comedy, improv, and sketch at The People’s Improv Theater, studied with the Upright Citizens Brigade,and at HB Studio as well as starred in several films currently playing select festivals.
When not on screen or doing stand-up, Ashley can be found practicing meditation, Muay Thai, guitar, or planning her next adventure. She often visits her hometown, Las Vegas, to be with her family and friends. She identifies as Mestiza Filipina and has a bachelor’s degree in Stage and Screen Acting from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Honestly thank you for reaching out for this! This is a wonderful opportunity.
I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. It was my sole mission in life to always make people laugh even as a kid. As a young child I would put on singing and dancing shows for my parents’ social and business friends and got to perform with clowns at Vegas stage shows. Since then I’ve been using entertainment and my performances as a way to distract people in pain and allow them to enjoy the present moment.
As I reached adulthood, I quickly realized why entertainment and laughter is so necessary in life. It’s truly cathartic and so necessary. My grandmother had dementia. One of her favorite things was to sit in the kitchen with my father and together they’d watch hours of Three Stooges. It was during her tv marathons that she’d be lucid, calm, and one could see glimmers of her old, robust self. To witness that was life changing for me. I understood art and entertainment as medicine and a vehicle for change. Art is there on your worst days, your best days, and every day in-between.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I love many fields of art with music being a particular pleasure. When I was in high school, I was in the school’s marching band playing snare drum for drumline. One year we played for President Obama when he came to town. Before our performance I set my drum gear backstage. When I got off stage I discovered that Obama’s security dogs peed inside my drum case. So, that’s something I can say happened to me!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Be well prepared! In everything you do, know what you’re doing inside and out. Know your lines like the back of your hand. Know exactly what your character wants and be clear on your intentions in the scene. Being prepared helps you be confident, allows you to be open to play and adjustments, and lets you be fully present.
In high school when I was just starting out, I was performing in a musical and a fellow actor line dropped a line. It led to minutes of total improv on stage and ended up being absolutely hilarious. I could also only imagine how frustrated it could have gotten our director but the audience loved it! I’m sure that moment actually led me to pursue more improv in the future.
This proved being well prepared allows you to embody what you’re doing and then drop it all. You know the lines, you know what you want, and you can drop everything you’ve prepared and just BE. The more prepared you are, the more natural it is.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
During the pandemic while quarantining I’ve been focusing on how I can create my own content.
I film fun things with just me as cast and crew, as well as writing solo shows and short films. I have a couple solo shows I’m working on that I’m really excited about! I am using this time to learn to be self-sufficient in creation and art.
Also, silly enough, I’m really working on myself right now. This is one of my favorite projects because it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve never taken the time to step back and really work through things for myself, work on my flaws, hone in on my strengths, and just learn to be the best version of myself that I can be. This journey and healing process has helped in my professional career exponentially. I’m more open and communicative, more grounded and honest in my acting, and this has helped my self-esteem and confidence so much — something that is very needed in this field.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival I talked with Rashida Jones for a bit after her screening. She told me “You’re going to change the world” and honestly, I think of that moment a lot! Thanks, Rashida! I also was able to walk in the Women’s March at Sundance that year. I walked and chatted with Nick Offerman for a while, so it was really amazing to talk with a comedian I respected during this beautiful march for equality.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be okay with saying “no.” Saying yes to more than you can handle puts you at such a large disadvantage. Make boundaries for yourself and don’t let people push those boundaries. Take care of yourself and when you DO bite off more than you can chew, be open and honest and communicate to people that you need help.
Also, organize your calendar! I color code my calendar and put literally everything in it, from auditions and film events to catching lunch with friends. It helps me balance my life and prevents me from double or even triple booking myself!
I’d also recommend taking a rest period. This could mean anything from a couple hours to yourself after a big project, a week off, or a whole month stepping back from things to regroup. Resetting and regrouping have been so beneficial to me. Last year in a 3 month span, immediately after a comedy festival in Canada I took on 7 short films and co-produced 5 of them, all while making huge changes in my personal life. It was an absolutely wild time and I totally burned both ends of the candle. However, I took some time to reset. Your meter can get empty really fast, and it’s important you allow yourself to build all that back up because it’s hard to stay creative and let all that energy flow within you if you feel like a zombie.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Honestly, if you’re really afraid of failure, don’t be in this business. There are plenty of other ways to be creative and play! As an actor, failure and rejection are something we face constantly. This isn’t an easy career path and it’s not for the faint of heart. So, my advice would be to take your fears, hug them, and jump off the cliff with them. Embrace all your fears of failure and let them go. Being afraid of failure will only hold you back, you have to have faith in what you do.
There is a concept in stoicism called “Amor Fati” which translates to “love of fate.” I think about it a lot when it comes to the industry. We face a LOT of uncertainty, rejection, and failure. But embrace those scary feelings and let them go. Once you’re past the fear, things feel unstoppable. Trust that things will be okay and have faith in yourself.
Also, something very important for me to remember, is my success and my failure vs your success and your failure will look very different. For example, I lived in New York City for a couple years. I found so much happiness and success and I’m really proud of myself for what I accomplished and how much I grew both as a person and as a professional during my time in NYC. However, I left New York for Los Angeles recently. To some, that looks like a failure. Honestly, being seen as a failure was pretty scary. But that was not my narrative at all and I was taking on this scary idea of what I thought other people would think about me because of my insecurities. I left New York because multiple industry professionals advised me that my bright and bubbly personality might be better suited to LA markets, to pursue more comedy, be closer to my family in Las Vegas, and a myriad of other very strong reasons both professionally and personally. Since I’ve made the move, I’ve added a wonderful agent to my representation team and have been more confident, creative, and grounded in my work than ever. I’m putting out some of my best work and I’m really proud of that. Despite a pandemic happening, I’ve gotten so much accomplished already and it’s just the beginning of my journey here. All in all, what looked like a failure to some has been one of my greatest accomplishments and I allowed myself to be really honest about what I wanted and went after that.
It IS a daunting career. But if you want to work in this industry that much, nothing will stop you from going after your dreams.
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Oh, I love self-care! I think it’s so important not only in this career and industry, but also in the scope of the world right now. It can be really easy to neglect yourself and place too much of your own focus on others. With everything that is going on in the world, I’ve found its vital to look inward and take care of yourself so you can fight for equality and justice as well as use your voice to amplify others. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. I was taught that taking care of yourself hinders you and rest is counter-productive. But self-care allows you to create even MORE that you could imagine.
I start my mornings off with meditation. During my day I make sure to drink a ton of water, get some sunshine, and work on creative things. I’ll record a monologue, work on a scene, write some of my screenplays, play guitar, paint, study some television or films, etc. During the end of my day I water the roses outside (one of my FAVORITE parts of my day), and meditate again before bed as well as write in a gratitude journal where I list things I’m grateful for, an affirmation, and some accomplishments. I try to walk at least 10k steps a day and to do something active every day, like yoga or practicing Muay Thai. I also have a therapist that I work with online.
I think it’s also important to rest and take it easy on yourself. If you don’t check off all the things on your to do list, be kind to yourself. I am a productivity monster, so that can get hard on me. Take time to rest and unwind and let your mind calm down.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Surround yourself with people who genuinely support you. It’s okay to not include people in your life that are negative or toxic. It can be hard to say goodbye to people who bring you down, but it does you a world of good. A few years ago I found myself spending a lot of time with somebody I cared about, but held me back from my professional life. I found myself creating less, not going to as many auditions as I wanted to, and choosing other things over my career and what brought me happiness. Trust your gut. It will be the hardest thing to do, but once you part ways with somebody who brings negativity into your life, only the positive remains.
- Find your “why” and stick with it. I was first introduced to finding my “why” in college by my professor, Chris Edwards, and I think about it constantly now. What’s your reason for doing what you do? What propels you through life? What is your mission and why are you on this journey? My “why” has led me to say yes to opportunities as well as decline the ones whose values don’t align with mine. It’s helped me take a good look at myself and my career and create boundaries and clearer goals. My “why” is “To transform people’s perspectives by taking them on an adventure within themselves, others, and the world while amplifying voices and creating change.” Better said and summed up by these two quotes: “Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine.” -Hannah Gadsby & “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” — Toni Cade Bambara
- Make all the mistakes and bomb all the shows. Fail so much so you can learn to take the lessons from your failures and embrace the shows you completely bomb, because that is where you grow the most. Lots of nights spent in tiny cellars in NYC figuring out the best way to make people laugh at a very specific sentence!
- Find your authentic self. Simply put, you cannot tell the story of another person if you do not know your own. Recently I have been on a huge journey and adventure of finding my authentic self. Knowing yourself helps you in your career so much.
- Know that YOU ARE ENOUGH. At the end of the day, this is my biggest piece of advice. YOU are enough. The casting team doesn’t want the version of yourself you dreamt up this morning for this role, they want YOU in your purest form to take on this character and showcase yourself. You don’t need anything extra. You, yourself, are whole and enough. My professor, Rayme Cornell used to pull me aside in class and say this to me all the time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.
My dad told me this when I was a kid and I’ve been using it in my life ever since. My mother taught me to pick my battles, and I think these both go hand in hand. Simply put, be nice. When things are hard and you’re faced with difficult situations or people, approach it with kindness and patience and be genuine. There have been countless times when I’ve had awkward or tough situations happen and I’ve tackled them with a smile on my face.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My friends and family have been so influential to me. They’ve supported me every step of the way and have been there for me through it all. My mom and dad for being supportive of me and my life choices, Brianne and her family, as well as Eric and Nate-from visiting me in New York to video chats to always wanting updates on my career and always supporting me and helping me in whatever way they can. Also, of course I owe a lot to my lola who inspired my curiosity for the arts at a young age.
Rayme Cornell, Chris Edwards, Nate Bynum, Francisco Menendez, Clarence Gilyard, and all my professors at UNLV. My professors helped me break down everything I knew before and have really shaped me into who I am today. Not only as an actor, but they’ve really helped me build up who I am as a person as well. They helped me find my voice. To this day they’re there for me and I am so grateful to have them in my life. Also, my high school theater teacher, Kelly Loignon, for really putting this fire in my belly for the creative arts and the entertainment industry. She put a lot of faith in me and I’m really thankful for that. Sarah O’Connell for her support and insight. As well as everybody at Vegas Theatre Company for showing me the world of comedy and welcoming me with open arms, as well as letting me showcase my solo show for my family and friends in Vegas.
I was in film class going over a scene we had shot the previous weekend. There were things in the scene I wanted to ask about or address, but didn’t feel like it was my place to ask. I spoke to my professor about it and he said “Of course you can ask!” and it became a sort of running joke. At that moment I realized that I am indeed allowed to speak up and let my voice be heard on set, on stage, and in general life.
I am thankful for my manager, Todd Zeller. Todd and I met in 2016 at the Cannes Film Festival and he took me on in 2018. He has helped me build up my career, make tough choices, and has helped me become the actor and person I am today. I’m really lucky to have him in my life.
There are so many people I’m thankful for and so much to write because this career is absolutely wild and crazy. The support you get from people you love and care about is so beneficial and influential to your success and confidence. Yes, you can do it all on your own. But having people who are supportive and really rooting for you, that makes so much of a difference.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think the idea of being kind is where my mind immediately goes. It’s both radical and grounded. Approach everything with kindness. But that is more of a general philosophy!
I’m really passionate about art as social justice and the idea that you can create change and influence people through art. We’re in a beautiful time of change and expression. Really taking time to really see how intersectionality, diversity, art, education, and social justice can all mesh together and embrace each other and how people can continue to fight for equality and justice through art and amplify the voices of others. I am big on taking your skills and talents, and turning them into your superpower. What are superpowers used for? Fighting the bad guys! But really, I think taking what you know best and using it to help others, let others voices be heard, and using it to fight for justice and equality is a really great thing. Just a reframing of the mind, but I feel like that could make a big difference.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Gina Rodriguez is one of the people I really look up to. I really admire the way she is both a creative actor and a businesswoman in this industry. I’d love to ask her about how she built up her confidence and talk with her about how to weave together her work in entertainment and activism. Also, I love to talk Muay Thai to people! Waffles and Muay Thai conversations? What a breakfast!
Other people I’d love to chat with are Sandra Oh, Ava DuVernay, Nicole Byer, Issa Rae, Awkwafina, John Boyega, and Constance Wu. The list goes on! There are so many people in this business in so many areas doing beautiful work.
How can our readers follow you online?
My Instagram is @RapuanoAshley and you can find all my links and everything else at ashleyrapuano.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!