The Rob Guest Endowment commemorates the life and achievements of one of Australia’s most respected musical theatre performers, Rob Guest, who passed away suddenly in 2008.
Now in it’s 10th year, the six finalists compete for a prize of $20,000 intended to help them gain the performance experience, media training, guidance and a public image to become a leading artist in the Australian musical theatre industry.
Previous winners have included Georgina Hopson, Daniel Assetta, Joshua Robson, Samantha Leigh Dodemaide, Glenn Hill, Blake Bowden, Francine Cain and Danielle Matthews.
Over the next two weeks, in the lead up to the November 19th final, we will be getting to know each of the six finalists a little better. Now it is time to meet out second finalist: Ashleigh Rubenach.
A graduate of the Talent Development Project, Ashleigh studied and performed in New York City as a recipient of the 2015 TDP/ASCAP Bound for Broadway Scholarship. Ashleigh was invited to return to the US in 2016 to headline a concert for ASCAP’s Broadway Tomorrow series at the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Ashleigh made her professional theatre debut in Gordon Frost Organisation/Opera Australia’s 2015 national tour of Anything Goes, covering the role of ‘Hope Harcourt’. Since then, she has toured Australia with GFO’s The Sound of Music, understudying and performing the role of ‘Maria’ numerous times, and GFO/OA’s production of My Fair Lady directed by Julie Andrews. Most recently, Ashleigh starred as Allison Vernon-Williams in Cry-Baby at the Hayes Theatre.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Ashleigh, I am 24 years old and I grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. I currently live in Cremorne Point with my partner, Spencer, and our two puppies, Hattie and Fergus. When I’m not performing, you’ll find me at the dog park or at the beach, reading, spending time with my family, or in the kitchen experimenting with vegan recipes.
When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a musical theatre performer. My Nanna took me to see my first musical, The Sound of Music, at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre when I was 5-years-old, and reportedly had to keep checking I was breathing because I was so in awe of it all. I can distinctly remember Lisa McCune sitting on the steps with the Von Trapp children, guitar in hand beginning ‘Do Re Mi’, and in that moment I knew that was what I wanted to do. It has been my life’s passion and path since then.
What is your training background?
I danced with a suburban dance school from the ages of 3, and begun private singing lessons at 9. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Talent Development Project throughout high school, as well as performing in the Schools Spectacular, school musicals, and local amateur musicals. After high school, I moved to Perth and studied a Bachelor of Arts (Music Theatre) at WAAPA. I graduated at the end of 2014 and went to New York to study for a month with the TDP/ASCAP Bound for Broadway Scholarship before beginning my first professional contract.
What does Rob Guest’s legacy mean to you?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the honour of meeting Rob Guest, however, feel I have a great sense of his character from all reports of those who knew him well. For me, Rob Guest represents the generosity and mentorship of an established performer that can make all the difference to up and coming artists. Rob’s personal talent provided inspiration to aspiring actors, while his investment in the future of our industry paved the way for many of the performers we admire today.
To be a part of Rob Guest’s legacy is to help to shape Australian musical theatre, carrying with us a responsibility for and a pride in ensuring that opportunities are available and that our industry thrives. I believe that it is an invaluable chance to extend one’s own skills, but in the knowledge that this may serve Australian musical theatre as a whole. I hope that as a part of Rob Guest’s and the endowment’s legacy I can do my part in ensuring our industry continues to grow, and that one day I can give back the same sense of mentorship and guidance to young performers of the next generation.
This can be a tough industry. What keeps you going?
Someone once said to me that if musical theatre is literally the only thing you can see yourself doing in this life that will make you truly happy, then you should be doing it. Anything less than that and you won’t have the drive you need to succeed. Although that sounded a bit intense initially, I honestly feel as though that is the case. This is a very difficult industry, and I feel that my perseverance comes from a place of knowing, without a doubt, that this is what I need to do with my life. My love for what I do and conviction that this is what I am meant to be doing it is what keeps me going.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Best advice I have ever been given – there is only one YOU. It is so easy in this industry, when we are constantly pitted against people who we assume are just like us, to make comparisons. By remembering that there is only one you, that you are unique and have something special to bring, you are able to keep level-headed, have conviction in your individual power, and deliver your best in the audition room and on stage.
You recently appeared in Cry-Baby at The Hayes. What is your favourite thing about independent theatre?
Cry-Baby was my first show at The Hayes and I LOVED IT. Having the opportunity to perform a stylised and unique show that wouldn’t be seen in Australia otherwise is such a gift, and one only made possible by independent theatre. Without Cry-Baby, I don’t think I would have pushed myself to discover my ‘belt’ sound, and I think that’s a perfect example of how independent theatre gives performers the chance to push their creative limits.
What’s your go-to, belt-it-out-in-the-shower song?
This is a tricky one! It’s usually whatever song I’ve had stuck in my head that day, and often a song that I’m working on. At the moment it’s ‘Sexy’ from Mean Girls, a specific section of which my partner has had the pleasure of hearing me practice in the shower over and over again.
What has been your most rewarding onstage experience?
This is another tough one, but I think it would have to be performing Maria in The Sound of Music with my Nanna in the audience. As I mentioned earlier, my Nanna took me to see The Sound of Music, my first ever musical, when I was 5, and I knew then that that was what I wanted to do with my life. To then go full circle and perform that very role for my Nanna was a pretty incredible experience. Cut to me with tears pouring down my face while the exquisite Jacqui Dark sung Climb Every Mountain to me and I realised that dreams do come true.