Ashton Swinford, aka Phoenix La Roux, is a performance artist, actress, singer, and dancer who has been in front of a camera since the age of six. Her professional acting career began in Minneapolis, MN where, after a string of college productions (including Noises Off and RomeO + Juliet), she booked her first professional gig with Toussaint Morrison’s HipHop Committee where she performed as a spoken word artist, singer, and actor. Later in NY, she booked gigs working alongside actresses like Megan Fox and Gillian Anderson in “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”, while performing within the indie film circuit – which took her to the Athens International, NY Big Apple and Tribeca Film Festivals.
Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.
Welcome to OpenBeast. Describe yourself is three adjectives?
Driven, Radical and Progressive.
How did you get into acting?
At a young age I learned the necessity of being a social chameleon in modern society. Being born to squatters in NYC was a very different environment than the wealthy boarding school I was sent to outside of Boston. Kids can be pretty cruel, so as the new kid from a blue collar background I had to learn to adapt to survive. Thus I became incredibly comfortable at adapting to new environments and characters so acting on stage… and film was a natural next step.
Talk to us about your experience with “New Girl”.
Working with Zooey Deschanel and the rest of the cast of New Girl was an awesome experience. Zooey is super humble, down to earth plus funny, exactly like her character in the show and even took the time to help a sister out with some career advice. While we were talking on set she mentioned the one thing that prepared her for a career in comedy was IMPROV. Even the shoot itself was improv based with director Jake Kasdan allowing us each to improvise our own scenes. I was so inspired by the experience that I continued my own study of improv and comedy with Lesly Kahn and Hothouse, that eventually led to the beginning of my own all female sketch troupe called The Lucilles.
What is “IN THE MOMENT” all about?
IN THE MOMENT is an acting method developed by Australian acting coach
Robyn Lee (www.robynclee.com) that blends traditional acting methodology with new age energy work and a performance state of hyper awareness, called being “IN THE MOMENT”. I met her at Stella Adler in New York and was so inspired by her technique that I began to apprentice under her. Together we wrote a book entitled IN THE MOMENT: The Art of Being (www.amazon.com/In-The-Moment-Art-Being/dp/1449598455) and also began an acting company called IN THE MOMENT Repertory (http://wix.com/inthemomentacting/itm). Her work was also the inspiration for my own experimental theater project called The Invisible Theater (http://ashton.artistswanted.org) which aims to attain public catharsis through the very public performance of scenes as real life, secretly captured without the audiences’ knowledge of the “show”. The goal is to spark public conversation through the ripple effect of “you’ll never guess what I saw today…”
What is your one best gig thus far?
Hands down – working with my hero and the famed performance artist Marina Abramović at the 2011 MOCA gala “An Artists Life Manifesto” (http://www.moca.org/audio/blog/?cat=118). Because of my training with IN THE MOMENT, I was uniquely prepared and had the honor of being chosen as the starring piece in a controversial six hour performance for Marina and her HBO documentary The Artist is Present. My role was to sit under Marina Abramovic’s table with my head through a small hole and emotionlessly connect with attendees eyes while they dined. My table included artists Gwen Stefani, Kirstin Dunst, Doug Aitken, MoMa director Klaus Bisenbeck as well as Marina herself who all put aside their fears to truly connect with me during the piece to awe-inspiring outcomes. The controversy was during the height of the 99% and Occupy movements, where critics attacked Marina for paying us so little for such a lengthy and demanding performance when plates for the gala started at $10,000 a seat. It was a truly incomparable experience. But really, I was so honored to have the chance to develop a relationship and perform with Marina that I would have done it again in a heartbeat for nothing.
Any upcoming projects you would like to discuss?
For the last few years I’ve been making music as singer/songwriter QUAZÁR (http://soundcloud.com/ashtonswinford). Recently I had the pleasure of working with DJ/Producer PRICE on the track DAYLIGHT just released on iTunes and Beatport(http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/daylight-single-feat.-qazar/id545276956). I’ve also got a couple exciting projects in the works with DJ/Producer Patafunk of DiZFunktioN!, electro DJ/producer Stephan Jacobs, a new live project with percussionist and songwriter Robyn Holloway of SNUG.
What are your leisure time activities?
In my free time I enjoy creating and performing experimental theater, performance art, making music, writing sketch comedy, skateboarding, ariel silks, hiking, riding horseback, and camping in Yosemite just to name a few.
8) Dogs or cats?
DOGS and Unicorns (smiles).