Ashley Laverty got bit by the acting bug at the tender age of 6, when she performed in her first play. It is fitting that she has dedicated her career to theater for youth.
“I was drawn to [theater] from then on,” Laverty says. “As both a performer and director, I love the ensemble. It’s kind of a cliché, but you’re really a family with your fellow performers and have to trust them so much. As a theater teacher, I love watching my students blossom and I love creating a safe space for them to be who they are and to be weirdos. That’s why I keep doing it.”
When the Worcester, Massachusetts, native took on New York City after college—bent on a Broadway career—she instead kept getting hired to do children’s theater. Laverty decided to let the universe steer her in that direction and sought her MFA in theater for youth at Arizona State University.
“That’s when I was really introduced to theater for the very young [a movement known by the acronym TVY], which is theater intentionally created for children under age 5,” Laverty says. “Theater for adults doesn’t have to be a certain way, but so often theater for young people has to be overtly educational, didactic, and still isn’t seen as a legitimate art form. But as a theater maker, I’m passionate about creating theater for theater’s sake. Something can be beautiful, exciting, dynamic, and it can also teach you something—because anything good will teach you something. I’m really passionate about legitimizing the field of theater for young audiences by creating beautiful work.
“A 3-year-old deserves to see something high-quality and beautiful, just like a 35-year-old does. You know, seeing a beautiful painting, for example, can make you think about things in ways that you never have before, it doesn’t need to knock you over the head with a lesson.”
Inspired by that passion, Laverty and schoolmates Jeff Sachs and Amanda Pintore founded Kerfuffle, a TVY company where Laverty is the founding artistic director.
“Kerfuffle’s model is that we work directly with very young people through drama, creative movement, and art to facilitate open-ended drama sessions. With those ideas we create characters and stories with those young people, then we go into rehearsals and create shows in which adults are performing for very young people,” Laverty says.
In 2016, after graduating from ASU, Laverty brought her considerable talents to Omaha when she was hired by The Rose Theater as a teaching artist and director of early childhood. Kerfuffle came along with Laverty, and she and her partners—now located in Chicago and Lawrence, Kansas, respectively—hope to evolve it into a Midwestern theater company.
Kerfuffle’s first show, The Caterpillar’s Footprint, was remounted in 2018 at Lincoln’s Lied Center and Omaha’s OutrSpaces. In addition to the preceding creative workshops, characteristics of Kerfuffle shows include a pre-show experience to ease kids into a production, sensory elements throughout, shorter run times, and a post-show party with snacks aiming to transition kids back out of the experience and foster community among families.
As a 2018 Union for Contemporary Arts Fellow, Laverty has created the latest Kerfuffle production, Nested, which will run Dec. 7-15. She hosted several drama workshops for kids last summer in The Union’s Abundance Garden to help derive the concepts for Nested.
“[When we come up with the concepts] they are acting along the way,” says Laverty. “We’re literally playing pretend in The Union’s garden, coming up with ideas for who lives in the garden and then going into my studio and building this giant nest. It’s 10-feet wide, 4-feet tall, and we’re decorating it with sticks, leaves, yarn, and other materials. The show will take place with the actors in the nest and the audience seated around them in The Union’s gallery.”
Approaching her two-year Omaha anniversary when she spoke with Omaha Magazine, Laverty was feeling adjusted and welcomed. Even with her jampacked schedule she makes a point to make time for herself—hangout time with her cat (Ron Weasley), travel, and improv at The Backline (where she performs with Zip-Zopera, Less Mis, and The Carol Brunettes).
“The Backline is really fun, and it is not kid-friendly. So that’s also kind of nice,” Laverty says. “That way it’s not like my whole life is theater for people under 5. Although I’m deeply passionate about TVY, it’s good to have a balance. At first I just did it for fun, but I feel like improv actually has made me a much better teacher.”
Speaking of improv, and its core philosophy of “yes, and…” Laverty praises Omaha for coming from a place of “yes.”
“What I love about Omaha compared to other places is that people are really willing to say yes here,” Laverty says. “That’s how the OutrSpaces partnership happened. I just reached out to them and said I thought this would be a really great partnership and they were like, ‘Yes.’ And The Union, everything I’ve gone to them with, even stuff they’ve never done, they’re all about making it happen. So, I feel like people say yes here a lot, and that’s really exciting.”
This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.