Hapa Hour with Ashley Matthews
November 10, 2015
One thing I love about meeting other fellow Hapa’s is seeing how unique and beautiful they all are. Some are really Asian looking, while others you can’t quite tell what they are. Are they Italian? Native American? What are you? I find myself going up to strangers and asking them “are you Hapa?” I get so excited when the answer is yes! My next Hapa for Hapa Hour threw me for a huge surprise!
When I first met Ashley Matthews I had no idea she was Hapa. She’s a gorgeous tall green-eyed beauty with blond hair. Little did I know we would quickly become friends bonding over being crazy cat ladies.
Ashley is a Canadian born, southern California raised, currently living in Las Vegas performing nightly in Rock of Ages. She’s lived and worked on both coasts as an actor, dancer and specialty performer and she really loves food of all kinds, travel, wine and cats.
Alex – What makes you Hapa?
Ashley – I’m Half Chinese and Half Caucasian. Right down the middle. My mother 100 percent Chinese and is from Taiwan (her mother and father both left Mainland China during the Mao Revolution) and my father is from Canada, born and raised in a suburb of Toronto. On his side we are mostly English (hence the last name) and Dutch. There is a little uncertainty to exact heritage due to an undocumented adoption of his great grandfather- because of that I’ve always wanted to do a DNA test to find out exactly what puzzle piece we’re missing!
Alex – How long have you been performing?
Ashley – I’ve been dancing since I was bout 3, on and off until was in my early teens when I started to take it very seriously. I never considered myself a dancer or performer until I was in my 20’s and working professionally- it was just something that I did and knew I had to keep doing. When I was a teenager I injured myself in ballet and realized I needed to find another way to continue my passion in performing arts in a way that had more longevity. I realized I had always been drawn to musical theatre, and thanks to my mom I had inherited some singing ability. I dove into Theatre 110% percent and haven’t stopped since then!
Alex – Favorite artistic moment?
Ashley – Those who know me well know that I suffer from what I like to call “dancer who sings” syndrome. Because everyone always identified me as a dancer or chorus girl, I never truly believed in my ability to be seen as just a singer or leading type when the role wasn’t dance based. When I booked Rock of Ages in Vegas after years of trying they offered me an understudy position for the lead role- and I had never been more terrified or not confident of myself in my entire life. I thought everyone in the cast and crew and audience would just see me as a subpar understudy and I beat myself up about it for weeks. Finally after walking out of the theatre on my second time ever performing the role not one but 3 different audience members who I had never met approached me and gave me individual compliments all about what a “beautiful” or “amazing” voice I had, some not even realizing I was the cover. I didn’t know how to respond, I still don’t. The thought of it still makes me want to cry of joy and pride and relief all at the same time. It really taught me to trust myself more and let myself be artistically fulfilled no matter what. It was the first moment in my career I felt like an artist and one to be proud of.
Alex – How has being Hapa influenced the foods you eat?
Ashley – I’d say it influenced it immensely. I am a very adventurous eater- and to be more specific I love ethnic foods. Even more so when they are Asian or pan-asian cuisines. I grew up eating Taiwanese and Chinese food on the regular so that is just comfort food to me. Beef noodle soup, dim sum, chicken feet, any kind of noodles, marinated tea eggs and baked tofu- that’s my equivalent of fried chicken and biscuits (although because of my white side I get those too…best of all the worlds!) I’ll always try something, and I hate it when people automatically judge food as “weird or gross” because it’s not of their culture. Food is one of the only things that can bring cultures together in a very genuine way. Sharing meals, learning cuisines, etc. I travel a lot and I always keep whatever country’s culture I am in, in mind. I never let American or Western preconceived notions get in the way. In france I know how to order and eat like a Parisienne because it would be rude to do otherwise. Same in Asia. I love food and culture and I don’t think there’s any point to either if you’re not willing to experience the way it should be! I definitely have my multicultural upbringing to thank for that.
Alex – What’s your favorite food?
Ashley – That’s almost impossible for me to answer! Haha I love so many different types of food. But I guess when it comes down to it I love NOODLES. I can never say no. Any kind, but especially Asian style noodles- Taiwanese beef noodle soup, or flat rice noodles with beef, spicy pork ramen, pad thai, even Italian style spaghetti or other pastas. I just love good ol noodles!
Alex – What’s your favorite restaurant?
Ashley – That definitely depends on where I am. In Southern California (where I was raised) my favorite restaurant is probably Jazz Cat Shabu Shabu (multiple locations) it’s a non traditional shabu restaurant that has pages of different flavored soup bases instead of the normal water or soy sauce. My friends and I always would go on weekly dinners and have fun customizing our meals! In New York I have a handful of favorites but I definitely have to shout out to Beauty & Essex. I worked there for a bit and I have to say from the ambience to the food it’s hands down one of the best restaurants in the city! I also loved Kuma Inn right across the street. A little hole in the wall Asian restaurant that was BYOB and a local favorite. Currently I’m in Vegas and I’m still discovering the amazing restaurants here. On and off the strip there’s so many choices. On the strip you get the more overpriced luxury tourist stuff- but I must say some of it is beyond worth it (Bachanal AYCE buffet at Caesar’s anyone?) but then you find gems off the strip that locals frequent like Firefly Tapa’s and Bar with an amazing late night happy hour on food and pitchers of sangria made in house! Also the China town in Las Vegas is incredible- and I haven’t even been able to make a dent in my restaurant wish list there yet because there’s so much to try!
Alex – Best meal you’ve ever had?
Ashley – Hands down one of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Paris. At one of the city’s oldest restaurants. A local favorite, and a tourist spot only for the foodie in the know. Classic old school French cuisine and technique, no menu just chalk boards and waiters who speak only French and don’t really care if you didn’t. I got my alltime favorite Duck Confit (duck slow poached in delicious duck fat) while sharing a cheese plate, soup, salad and more with the table. And for dessert: Isle-flotant (floating island) a classic and underrated french dessert that features fluffy and sugary whipped meringue floating in a vanilla crème sauce. Simple and perfect. Melts in your mouth when it’s right. I walked away from that meal knowing it couldn’t of been any more perfect!
Alex – Difficulties in being a Hapa actor
Ashley – Ethnic actors face a lot of challenges in the business, and I think Hapa actors face challenges even beyond that because a lot of times we don’t fit in any mold. Depending on the genetic lottery you end up with you are either too ethnic (Asian) or too Caucasian. And you’re forced to struggle with finding your identity as an actor. Am I an asian actor or and I ‘white’ actor? I’ve witnessed and experienced this myself alongside many hapa friends. Due to my genetic lottery I tend to find myself on the spectrum of not being Asian enough as my peers. It can be challenging and at times hurtful. There have been times in my career where I’ve felt unwelcome by fellow actors or that I didn’t deserve to be in the audition room with some of these full blooded Asian actors or Hapas that happen to look more Asian than me. I’ve even had the instance of auditioning for a Chinese show and experienced being shunned and bad talked by other Asian actors auditioning because of the way I looked- yet none of them were Chinese and I actually was. It can be really hard, especially when you’re proud of your ethnicity. But on the flip side I know it can come from a place where we all know I probably can explore acting opportunities that they can a bit easier, so they feel threatened or hurt to possibly lose opportunities that are ‘designed’ for them. The industry is hard, but it’s changing, I try to be a positive advocate for activism in the community for minorities, especially Asians . I have definitely been told I’m too ethnic for one project and in the same week been told I’m too white to be in an Asian show. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to perform in productions of Miss Saigon and Disney’s Mulan, but there are so many other ‘asian’ shows I’m not sure I’ll ever get a chance to be a part of-which can be hard to think about. I find being biracial a really amazing and interesting thing- and I find it very important to keep discussing. A friend of mine recently wrote a book called “Being Biracial” and I encourage everyone to read it when it comes out- she interviewed dozens of biracial people in different stages of life and career, it really puts a new spin on how we think about it.
Alex – Funniest or worst audition story
Ashley – I thankfully don’t have one too terrible. But I do remember one day last audition season during the “horrible” blizzard that shut down the subways…I strolled into Pearl Studios late into the afternoon because at the time I lived across the street and knew the audition would be empty due to the blizzard. I was wearing sweatpants no makeup and glasses and warranted many angry glares from well-dressed EMC’s and Non union actors who had been waiting there for hours dressed in their audition best who had probably hoofed it from Queens in full face makeup. I returned about 4 hours later for my appointment- running late. I ran down the hall as I heard them calling my name, screaming that I was there, in the process dropping my audition book and it exploding papers everywhere. Everyone was staring. It was INSTANT karma for me and satistfaction for all the people who were still waiting from that morning haha
Alex – Favorite family recipe?
Ashley – I have two very very simple recipes from both sides of my family. And both include noodles!
My favorite thing my mom used to make me as an after school snack was what I used to call “Soy sauce noodles” (really ponzu noodles…but whatever) Simply take chow mein style noodles and prepare as directed. Coat with your favorite brand of Ponzu (citrus flavored soy sauce) and add a tablespoon or so of Sesame Oil to taste. That’s it! Top with any type of protein you’d like or enjoy as is!
My father’s favorite recipe he used to make for my sister was just as simple. Take a box of kraft mac & cheese (or craft dinner as we call it in Canada) prepare as directed. After mixing in the cheese like you always do, Heat the oven to 350, mix a can of campbell’s condensed tomato soup into the mac & cheese, and transfer to baking dish. (Optional: top with sliced hot dogs or veggie dogs) then bake for 15-20 minutes. Cheesy, tomato mac & cheese casserole! My ultimate go to comfort food!
Alex – Any advice you’d like to pass on to other Hapa’s?
Ashley – The biggest advice I could give is to be positive and ACTIVE. The Asian community in theatre especially is very supportive and welcoming- get involved, be social, know what’s going on in the community. Make yourself known. The community is tight knit- someone always knows someone. The connections you can make can be priceless- especially if you’re stuck in a place like I mentioned earlier of struggling to find your identity as an actor. These people can become your biggest cheerleaders and helpers, and most importantly your friends. Be an advocate for change, within the industry, the community and yourself. Try things to make yourself unique- whether its dying your hair another color, or presenting yourself with a different name in auditions, see what works, see what helps. Most importantly- be PROUD of who you are. You are unique and use that uniqueness anyway you can.
Thank you so much Ashley for taking the time for Hapa Hour! For more info on this awesome lady please visit her website: http://www.ashleyematthews.com and be sure to follow her on instagram and twitter: ashleyematthews