The stand-up comedian/actor who formerly worked at New College and Golden Apple Dinner Theatre is bringing his award-winning show to The Starlite Room.
"I saw Jerry Seinfeld at the Van Wezel. And you were better than him."
That’s the best compliment comic/actor Ashley Strand has ever gotten, and it was in reference to his one-man show “Glorified Disasters,” a mix of stand up and storytelling that’s making its Sarasota return this Thursday.
“I'm not better than this or that famous person, but people forget how many good shows are out there, and that celebrities don't have a monopoly on good entertainment,” Strand says. “High ticket prices aren't required for a magical evening. I love doing this show and seeing people rediscover the value of taking a chance and discovering a new artist they love.”
The New College of Florida graduate and former local improv teacher first brought his storytelling show, which consists of three true stories he refers to as "tales from a life on the fringe of theatre,” to Sarasota last year at the SaraSolo Festival. The roughly 80-minute show won the festival’s Maestro Award and was a fan favorite by festival attendees.
Now he can’t wait to bring what he calls his “Odyssey” back to one of his favorite audiences in the country.
“Glorified Disasters” began 10 years ago when Strand was the closer for several shows at Jimmy's No. 43 in New York City. As he puts it, his pieces were improvisational and thus unpredictable, so they had him go last because it would either go great or terrible.
It was during this period he started developing an act that consisted of three personal stories, beginning with the tale of him following vocalist/musician/comedian Reggie Watts, opener for Conan O’Brien’s “Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour.
As he describes it, the piece has become a genre-defying, fun and deeply honest examination of failing, particularly through the eyes of a performance artist. He believes in the transformative power of humor, which is evident in the self-deprecating title: “Glorified Disasters.”
“In a way it’s three snapshots of the life of a performer,” Strand says. “Each of the stories is connected to a different time in my life performing in some way.”
His first festival performance was the same year he began working on the show, 2018, at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC. He was having a hard trouble finding people to book the piece because it was so niched — essentially a series of rambling monologues — but he recalls the performance going “alright.”
Strand put the show aside for a while until he fell in love with an Italian woman who he followed to Europe. There, he performed the piece at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He says the time slots are particularly tight at that festival, so that was a turning point at which he had to step up and do some serious shaping. It went pretty well, but after several rewrites he came back the next year with an even further improved act.
“It’s this thing I’ve never let go of because everytime I do it, people love it and I have a great time,” Strand says.
The show is particularly enjoyable for Sarasota crowds, he says, because the second story is about his early years as a professional actor at the city’s former Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. His SaraSolo crowd was the best he’s had in the decade-long history of the show, he adds, and he’s confident that locals both familiar and unfamiliar with him will enjoy the latest iteration.
“It’s funny, thought-provoking, sad in some places and ridiculous in other places,” Strand says. “I think people who value good writing and getting a window into an unusual set of experiences will enjoy it.”
As for his biggest challenge, he says it’s also his greatest reward — revisiting the show after taking long breaks from it to continue his current career as a Shakespearean actor.
“The most exciting things is I have to re-memorize it,” Strand says with a laugh. “The fear of screwing up my own show is an incredible motivator.”