Ashlyn Chandler: A Stage Star Makes Her Directorial Debut

Ashlyn Chandler is making her directorial debut with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane that will be presented at the Freed-Hardeman University Black Box Theatre in Henderson, Tennessee.

At just 19 years old, Ashlyn Chandler is a Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) senior and preparing for her directorial debut of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Directing is part of her requirements as a student double-majoring in theatre performance and public relations. Meeting the directorial challenge is one that has benefited her academically as well as personally and allowed Ashlyn to bring one of her favorite stories to the stage.

“I have been enchanted by the story for a long time. I saw the show done by a professional theatre company a few years ago, and ever since then I have loved it. I believe it holds lessons that everyone, young and old, should be exposed to. The story is told in such a charming way that it brings about a childlike wonder in those who hear it,” said Ashlyn. “Edward’s journey is a wonderful tale about love. My directorial statement for the show is, ‘Life without love is pointless, but love cannot exist without pain’.”

People in West Tennessee may already be familiar with Ashlyn’s work on the stage having seen her in productions at The Ned R. McWherter West Tennessee Cultural Arts Center in Jackson and on stage in the FHU productions of Wait Until Dark where she played the lead role of Susan who was blind and in an original show and dark comedy written by her professors called The Feed that commented on the effects of social media. Both productions provided challenges, but also opportunities for her to grow in her skill as an actor.

Pictured (l to r): Ashlyn choreographed Moana Jr. for the Chester County Youth Theatre last semester; As Sarah in Wait Until Dark; and in a scene from The Feed

“My character was blind [Wait Until Dark], so it took a lot of study and practice to recreate the physicality of a blind person. I even had to move my eyes in a certain way,” said Ashlyn who continued to share about her experiences in the FHU productions. “As a part of the original cast [The Feed], my castmates and I helped revise it and originate our roles. This experience also took us to Scotland in August 2023 to perform the show at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. It was an amazing trip, and I will forever be grateful to Freed-Hardeman for helping me get there.”

Although taking the reins as director is a big step, Ashlyn leads with already 11 years of theatrical experience to her credit. In her new role as director, she again has experienced challenges and opportunities, but has been well equipped to meet each one.

Ashlyn pictured directing some of the cast of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

“I’ve learned the importance of prep work. In order to successfully direct a show, you have to be certain on what lens you are looking through. You must analyze and dissect the text, and then decide on your approach,” said Ashlyn, who is also aware as an actor of the importance her role as a director plays for the cast in the production. “This need for preparation doesn’t stop once you have a cast, either. They rely on you to know exactly how things are going to go and what they’re expected to do.”

During the rehearsal process, Ashlyn loved seeing her vision for the show slowly come to life. The addition of the set pieces along with a specially made prop will allow for more clarity to the audience as to what she wants to present.

“I am able to see how the show is going to look aesthetically, which is exciting. A fellow student and friend of mine actually created the Edward doll herself from scratch! He was recently finished, and we are all in love with him,” said Ashlyn, who understands the importance of the details when it comes to artistic expression. “I read a quote once that said ‘Art is a reflection of the health of a society’, and I think that’s absolutely true. Art has the ability to say things in a way that gets people to listen. Without art, there is no growth. There is no diversity of thought. I view art as humans imitating God. We are the only living things on earth that share the ability to create with God. That is not a coincidence. His spirit lives within us and allows us to carry out the act of creation on earth. That is a beautiful thing that cannot be ignored.”

Ashlyn, who was homeschooled and graduated from HomeLife Academy in 2022, also completed the FHU Early Admit Sophomores program the same year with an Associates of Arts degree. She shared that her parents, Carmen and Scott Chandler, have always been supportive of her pursuit of theatre even though she started from humble beginnings in the craft. Ashlyn expressed her appreciation for their constant support and friendship, and noted she considers them as her best friends.

Pictured (l to r): Ashlyn with some castmates in Edinburgh, Scotland for The Feed; Hiking at Zion National Park last summer; and with an owl at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, She absolutely adores animals.

“They have never discouraged me and always given me the resources needed to improve! I definitely didn’t start out with the best acting techniques or singing voice, but my parents never hesitated to allow me to pursue the betterment of those skills,” said Ashlyn who also believes being homeschool provided her more time to pursue not just theatre, but other interests too. “I enjoyed the freedom of it! Obviously, high school was more structured and demanding academically, but being home and able to complete my work on my own time still gave me lots of freedom. I was able to be a full-time high school student with a job and extracurricular activities. It allowed me to go all in with the things I was interested in. I was not tied down by excessive schoolwork.”

Having experience as an actor and now as a director, Ashlyn sees the rewards of both roles. If she had to choose now, she would say she enjoys acting more, but admits she could change her mind once the show is completed.

“There is something very magical in embodying a character,” said Ashlyn who hopes her direction of the cast members allows them to bring those magical moments to the stage. “I want the audience to see the world of the show through Edward’s eyes. Almost as a child learning how beautiful and hurtful the world is. I want them to be reminded how absolutely amazing love is, even with the reality that true love is painful when the object of that love is taken away.”

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane directed by Ashlyn Chandler runs Thursday through Friday, February 29 and March 1, 2024, at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the FHU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $12 each and may be purchased online.

Ashlyn pictured with the cast of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Ashlyn’s West Tennessee Favorites

Favorite place to eat: I love the Chickasaw Country Store near Chickasaw State Park!

Favorite place to go: I love the Discovery Park and Reelfoot Lake State Park

Favorite thing to do: My favorite thing to do is hike! There are lots of places in TN that offer good views and trails.

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