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No Means Yes: Persevering The Entertainment Industry

By Ashley Sutherland-Winch
By Ashley Sutherland-Winch

I spent a lot of my childhood behind the scenes. My aunt and uncle were working actors; on Broadway, in the voice over studio, doing national and international tours, and for most of the time, I wasn’t far from the dressing room. I was paying attention as much as any young child was, but I never felt the call to the stage myself.

Let me re-phrase, I didn’t feel the call to the stage professionally. I loved performing in high school theatre and dabbled a bit in college, but I knew that I wanted to work backstage. I generally like to find the hard way of doing things so, I could have chosen to pursue business or management as my career path but I decided to become an athletic trainer who worked in the performing arts. I have an original “The Little Mermaid” movie poster signed by my Aunt, Jodi Benson. She wrote, To my best press agent, Ashley.” My path has brought me back to the field my family thought I would end up pursuing, marketing but I needed to hear a few “no’s”, first.

“No one is going to hire you”

My path to the backstage wasn’t easy in the beginning. I had to create my own roadmap and that one very important phrase truly mattered most, “no means yes”.

“Aww sweetie, that sounds so nice but no one is going to hire you.” These were the epic words that my loving Aunt Jodi said to me at the tender age of 17 when I told her that I wanted to work with performers on shows. My first career “no” was coming from the Tony Award nominee that had been gravely injured when a piece of scenery slammed into her face backstage during the original Broadway run of “Crazy for You” and a seasoned actress that was one of many that sought frequent massage, physical therapy and guidance from the medical profession in New York City. Having a full-time athletic trainer or physical therapist employed on a show was simply unheard of in the entertainment industry in the 80’s and 90’s.

I heard “no” but I needed it to mean “yes” so I began my journey.

No school embodies performing arts medicine like The University of Alabama with their then 12 national football championship wins. You choose Alabama because you love sports but I chose Alabama because it had the accredited athletic training education program within my reach. I’ll never forget the day when I told the Athletic Training Program Director that I wanted to pursue working in the performing arts. She too said “no”. While at Alabama I would work with men’s basketball, women’s tennis, soccer and the famous Crimson Tide football program and thus began my tenure with sports. My first “yes” came the summer of my senior year when I was granted an internship at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I had scoured the interwebs to find an opportunity for a young college student to work with dancers and I had finally found it! The internship was amazing but to be honest I felt a little forlorn as it ended. It was clear that the athletic trainer employed by the school was keen to stay at the job forever and he did not need an assistant so while the experience was epic, I was still not sure how to get a job in the performing arts after graduation in a field that was still so undiscovered.

Unbeknown to me, there were others around the same time that were started to get gigs. Steve McCauley, ATC was working in Las Vegas on a sit down of Starlight Express, Elaine Winslow-Redmond, ATC was pulling double duty as a Rockette and athletic trainer at Radio City and Alan Kroll, ATC had in fact been working in New York but they were only a few people in the whole United States.

Graduation came and I had discovered three possible options: pursue a Master of Kinesiology degree from Brigham Young University to work with ballroom dancers, Indiana University to work with ballet dancers or take a job in athletics. I couldn’t stop striving for my dream and against huge odds, I was accepted as the graduate student for the Music School at Indiana. It was a gruelling year of studies, a massive financial drain as American graduate schools can be, and I worked for the ballet every day, but my dream was alive. I was working with performers! Upon graduation, I finally made the connections that I had been waiting for over so many years.

I met professional performing arts athletic trainers at the national convention and saw for the very first time that people like me had made it. They too believed that performers were athletes and deserved backstage care.

The Big Finish

Let me set the finale for you. Fast forward two years and imagine me sitting across from Aunt Jodi at a restaurant sipping our Appletinis. My flip phone rings and I get the call. I am offered my very first national tour as the athletic trainer on “Blast!” Needless to say, Aunt Jodi was jumping up and down and making a huge scene with screams and tears. It could not have been more of a full circle moment and for that, I will always be grateful. All of the no’s I received as I hit my head up against the preverbal wall finally paid off and I got my yes. “Yes, I will take a chance on you.” “Yes, I will fight executive producers tooth and nail to get a full-time athletic trainer backstage” and “Yes, you can work with performers backstage.”

To make in the entertainment industry, you must have tenacity and bravery but most of all you know deep down that “No really must mean yes”. We find rejection as every turn but you choose to work in entertainment because you simply love the arts. I think everyone in the industry can relate to getting a million “no’s” but the only thing we hear is the final “yes”. That is the word that matters and makes all of our blood, sweat, and tears worth it. At least until we hit our next “no” but we know that at some point we can turn it into a “yes”.