Voices from the Hollywood Fringe: ‘The Sentence’ Actor/Co-Director Ainsley Ferrell

USC freshman Ainsley Ferrell talks about a play she feels passionate about.

Making its world premiere at the Fringe is The Sentence…written, directed, and performed by USC freshmen Ainsley Ferrell and Hannah Moore. Over the past year, they have developed this dark comedy from a few scribbled notes and dialogue ideas to a hilarious and heartbreaking play. The Sentence follows two women, a man, and the lives they can live after his death.

Ms. Ferrell was eager to talk to ArtsBeat LA about the show.

Tell us a bit about the The Sentence and its creation.

The Sentence
follows two women, a man, and the lives they can live after his death. When best friends Joanna and Morrey are taken into custody for the suspected murder of Joanna’s husband, they discover a new form of ironic independence in their secluded jail cell. One of the women undeniably killed him, but which one? In the beginning, neither Joanna, Morrey, or the audience know who the murderer is. By the end, will anyone know for sure? The Sentence explores the depths of growing up too fast, the ups and downs of friendship, and just how far women are forced to go to earn their desired freedom. Commenting on pertinent issues such as the pitfalls of the criminal justice system, domestic abuse, and the frightening reality of the intersection of the two.

The Sentence is a timely piece of theater that utterly refuses to lower its voice. It is written, directed, and performed by University of Southern California freshmen — me — and Hannah Moore. Following an overwhelmingly positive audience response to their initial performance at USC, we decided to bring the show to Fringe for its World Premiere!

Why do you think it’s a good fit for the Fringe?

As two 19-year-olds who are both new to L.A. and its theater community, we have found navigating the Fringe to be difficult, to say the least. However, we believe The Sentence belonged on the Hollywood stage because it represents everything the Fringe promotes: blazing a trail; going out into the unknown to brandish your most vulnerable self onstage with nowhere to hide. Breathing life into a script with no dazzling aspects — just a raw flesh-and-bone show on its feet. After months of hard work and dedication, The Sentence can now act as a catalyst for necessary conversation, and elevate the modern female experience along with stories of so many other young women.

How much of your life is it based on? 

I unconsciously molded her character, Morrey, around my own personal experiences of frustration with life’s unfairness, pent-up grief, and tendency to care too much. Only after peering up from rehearsal one afternoon did I realize the amount of myself was written into this character. Morrey is aggressive, witty, ambitious, protective, sympathetic, and simply exhausted. She’s a walking contradiction of incessant fearlessness and fearfulness, an allegory for young women trying to be brave in today’s world. The Sentence has acted as a sort of therapeutic purge for me, and I hope it has a similar effect on other audience members that struggle with suppressed anger for justice.

Hannah’s process for creating her character, Joanna, was definitely more introspective than she thought it would be. For someone who has spent her life onstage and is known for being incredibly extroverted, creating a character that is so timid and compliant felt foreign at first. However, when writing Joanna’s dialogue and crafting her story, Hannah found so much of herself in the young housewife; from speech patterns, to interests, to ineffable affinity for bad puns.

By the time the script was finalized, Hannah felt that Joanna was an example of what can happen to any woman – maybe even herself – when they are abused or neglected by their partner. This is what is so powerful about Joanna’s character: she could have been extroverted and outspoken – in fact, she could have been anything – but her volatile marriage and suffering ultimately drove her to silence.

What do you hope audiences will get out of it?

We hope that audiences will leave ready to confront the injustices they address in the show, but we also want them to enjoy the humor and celebration of friendship The Sentence elevates. Womanhood is complicated and turbulent; joy and tragedy are so often intertwined in the female experience that to inhibit our audience from feeling either would be dishonest. We hope that showgoers will empathize with Morrey and Joanna and possibly even see themselves reflected onstage. Audiences should leave with many questions and a hunger for answers.

Since the Fringe is a collaboration, tell us about other shows you’d like to see.

As USC students, we are so excited to support our fellow Trojans that are also in the Fringe! We can’t wait to see Hey Mom, Can You Pause the TV? by Ava Bunn, M.A.D.D. About the Boy by Roni Gayer, Billboard by Asher Wolf and Haley Long, Valley of Light by Naomi Melville, and Get Great by Summer Spiegel. We are also excited to support USC alumni in Disrobed, Bugs!, and Daddy Issues. We’ve made so many Fringe friends already, and we can’t wait to support their art at the festival!

The Sentence premieres June 4th at 1:00p.m. and plays June 14th at 7:00 p.m. and June 24th at 9:00 p.m. at Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, 5636 Melrose Avenue. Get your tickets on the Fringe site.

Kurt Gardner

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