Ashley Wingo goes from stopping fights to staging them.
MAY 9, 2023 BY KATHERINE STEWART
When Ashley Wingo announced that she’d decided to pivot from a possible career in law enforcement to pursuing acting, friends and family were understandably surprised.
“The looks I got were quite hilarious,” Wingo said. “But when I made the decision to do theater, I just never looked back. And I’m really glad.”
The Kosciusko native had acted in plays since childhood and found herself memorizing the lines of every movie she loved, repeating them as if she were rehearsing. Wingo asked herself why a career in theater might be a good idea and concluded that if it made her smile, it was worth committing to.
While wrapping up her associate degree in theatre from Hinds Community College, Wingo began to consider further study in the discipline. Between her own research and the encouragement of a teacher who is an Ole Miss alumna, the University of Mississippi’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Stage and Screen program emerged as a natural choice.
It was a bold choice, as well: The BFA program is structured and rigorous, so entering as a transfer student can involve additional hours to complete the degree. But Wingo was undeterred, and with the promise of good scholarships, particularly through Phi Theta Kappa, she decided to audition and was accepted.
Wingo began the program not only as a transfer student, but in the middle of the pandemic; classes were being taught remotely, and as far as theater goes, productions were not being staged. At least not in the traditional sense.
Nevertheless, Wingo was cast right away in “Near/Far,” a work of devised theater conceived by professor Lauren Bone Noble and performed and recorded remotely from the actors’ living spaces.
“That was a whirlwind,” Wingo recalled. “I love that show; it has a special place in my heart.”
That show would also lay the groundwork for one of three defining experiences of Wingo’s UM career.
“My biggest accomplishment in the last three years was being cast in the role of Mercutio in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” said Wingo, who fell in love with Shakespeare years ago and was enchanted with the experience of actually getting to perform it.
“I thought, ‘This is exactly why I decided to do this … this is why I’m getting a degree in the first place.’”
Wingo’s second favorite experience, which she referred to as a discovery, was getting to direct a show for the first time, with Ghostlight Repertory Theatre, the Department of Theatre and Film’s student-run performance organization. The show was “Unravel,” and it was a work of devised theater, which Wingo’s role in “Near/Far” had prepared her to navigate.
“I have a lot of love for the cast, but also for myself, because I didn’t think I could do it at first,” Wingo said. But when she decided to take the first step, she realized that she greatly enjoys directing.
The third revelation came in two parts: first, working on “Romeo and Juliet” with frequent guest artist Sarah Flanagan, the show’s fight director and teacher of the department’s annual stage combat workshops; second, serving as fight choreographer and fight captain for the fall 2022 production of “Into the Breeches” and spring 2023 production of “Polaroid Stories,” respectively.
As she gets ready to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts, these experiences with stage combat have revealed to Wingo that she wants to pursue further education and certification in stage combat. Her ultimate goal is to become a fight director – a goal she hopes to pursue at Louisiana Tech University, which is known for its advanced stage combat program.
“Going there, I would not only get my M.F.A., but I could be able to master lots and lots of weapons,” which is required to achieve national certification with the Society of American Fight Directors. “It’s a win-win for me, because I get my graduate degree, and I would be further along the road to becoming a fight director,” Wingo said.
Reflecting on her experience, Wingo said what she will miss the most about UM is the feeling of stepping onto campus knowing that what lay ahead was an hour or two of focusing on the work of creating theater.
“My favorite thing about being a student and an actor is when you have time to just turn everything off and to just be here,” Wingo said. “To get to focus more on ‘Othello’ than worrying about bills or my car or going to work the next day.
“I get to just shut it off for a second and read ‘Othello,’ I get to read ‘Hamlet’ … When will I get to do that again?”