Julie Ahasay has been a beloved member of the Twin Ports theater community for many years. Whether she is playing a comic or dramatic role onstage or directing shows for a number of area theater companies, Julie always brings her own magic to each production.
Born in Shell Lake Wisconsin, Julie grew up there and in the Twin Cities suburbs, graduating from Shell Lake High School.
She went to UWS where she majored in theatre and English and earned an MA in Communications Arts in theatre. “My college teachers had a profound effect on me. Al Katz, Ann Robb Taylor, Bill Stock and many others taught me to love literature, to have some discipline, and that ‘they are called plays for a reason.’”
After college, she worked in advertising, and public relations, taught Head Start, worked at a radio station, and spent many years teaching at the college level at UMD and St. Scholastica.
“I taught public speaking and interpersonal communication at UMD, and human communication, intercultural communication, advertising, and public relations and in the first-year student program at St. Scholastica,” she said. “I have also taught for the Playhouse Conservatory.”
Of her home life and time away from the theater, she said, “I’m married to the loving and supportive Lane Ellis. We live near Chester Bowl with three cats: Kukla, Twister and Arlo. I love to garden, hike, read, and ignore messes in my house.”
Julie and Lane enjoy traveling. Naming some of their favorite destinations, she said, “We loved the beaches on Kauai, the green beauty of Ireland, the Cotswolds, all of Edinburgh, and The Shambles in York.”
Playing Diverse Roles
Julie recalls, “My first theatre experience was in 5th grade where I played a kid who ate too much turkey and had a nightmare. We had class plays in high school, but no regular theatre program.”
In college, she was in “Medea,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “ Ah, Wilderness” and “The Zoo Story,” among others. “From the start, what I loved most about theatre was collaborating with others to tell stories,” she said.
When asked about some of her favorite roles that she has played, she replied, “Elizabeth Bishop in ‘Dear Elizabeth’ at Renegade, ‘Shirley Valentine’ (thesis project for grad school), and Aunt Eileen in ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at the Duluth Playhouse. Also, the Nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for Wise Fool, and various characters throughout the Colder by the Lake years.”
Many Stages, Many Shows
Julie has directed on many stages and for a variety of organizations. “Picking a favorite of the shows that I have directed is nearly impossible. I have really enjoyed working on new scripts: ‘Annapurna,’ ‘Grace,’ ‘Other Desert Cities,’ and the ‘The Pavilion.’
“But I am very fond of nearly every show I’ve directed,” she added. “I particularly enjoy small, character-driven works that ask the audience to think and feel deeply. I also love the sound of laughter from an audience.”
She said, “My first directing gig at the Playhouse was ‘The Secret Garden.’ I hadn’t directed anything of that scale, and I’d never directed a musical. It was terrifying and wonderful. Sitting in the audience on opening night and watching the work we did was a truly great night.”
“I am grateful for the classic Hollywood films where I saw women like Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwick and Myrna Loy be beautiful, glamorous and hilarious.”
Of shows she was inspired by, she said, “I loved the Renegade production of ‘The Sparrow’ for the beauty of the story and the inventive staging. UMD’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ was non-stop fun, and my face hurt from smiling so much. The Guthrie invited a British theatre company to bring its production of ‘Brief Encounter’ to Minneapolis, and it was so deeply moving and so creative in its presentation, that I find myself thinking about it quite often.
Julie is in rehearsal for Boat Club Productions, “Love Letters” by A.J. Gurney, a charming two character show with Julie playing Melissa Gardner and Michael Kraklio playing Andrew Makepeace Ladd III The couple’s evolving relationship is revealed through letters they write to each other from the time they are children.
“With this show I hope to create a real person moving through a life full of joys and challenges. I hope audience members will see themselves in the character.”
In describing what she thinks people should take away from this show, Julie noted, “Love lasts. It gets pushed, shoved, challenged, and ignored, but it’s always there.”
Up next for Julie theatrically is the direction of “Murder on the Orient Express” at the Norshor in January, and next May, she’ll be directing POTUS for Zeitgeist Theater.
She is also excited for her next travel adventure. She said, “Right after this show closes, Lane and I are heading to Amsterdam, Delft, Bruges, Brussels, and visiting friends near Reading, UK.”
About Sheryl Jensen - Arts & Entertainment Editor
A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.
Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.