A single woman, a single celebration and the inspiring film that tells the story of learning to live life to the fullest even if you’re not married.
Every now and then an idea comes along that is so original, so right, so startling in its simplicity, it knocks you flat — and you think yes! How have I gone so long without this?
When I first met Ashley Norwood, she was in the throes of planning the now-legendary AshBash42. It was to be a birthday party / family talent show / the wedding reception she never had. “I don’t want to get married,” she said, “But I want the party.”
And boom! There it was — the idea. I was mesmerized by Ashley’s account of her personal epiphany that led to the idea of the AshBash. That her life was not something happening to her; that she was actively choosing, for herself, what suits her best.
At the time (2009), I was writing screenplays and stage plays (like so many before me, I was a lawyer drawn to any form of writing that required no footnotes). At first, Ashley and I considered turning AshBash into a screenplay. But then I spent Valentine’s Day watching He’s Just Not That Into You. And I started thinking: what was the last movie I had seen portraying a happy single person — who’s still happy and single at the end of the movie?
In the meantime, Ashley was still preparing for her actual AshBash. And this was no small affair. Ashley invited 200 people to the Boston Harbor Hotel, where she would play piano with a live band; play a duet with her father; and perform her “first dance” — a hip-hop number — with her sister (mind you, neither had ever had a dance lesson in their lives).
On top of that Ashley would be giving her own toast. She wanted to reassure everyone that not only was she okay being single, but that she was thriving. It was her way of saying, “I’ve got people!” and introducing all her many pockets of people (from all over the States) to each other. In short, it was her way of paying homage to not one, but to all her many deep and multi-faceted relationships.
There were, of course, people who wanted to assign causality to Ashley’s singleness. Surely she had been engaged, but called it off, so this was the wedding reception she never had? Nope. Her parents must be divorced? Nope (in fact, they just celebrated their 50th anniversary). Schizophrenia, in jail, thyroid problem? In the words of George Bernard Shaw, Ashley just wasn’t the marrying type and this wasn’t an overnight decision — it was a long-fought-for realization.
I was massively impressed. On the public speaking front, I commented that some fear it more than death. To which Ashley replied, “Hmmm … when I’m at the mic, my greatest fear is that not enough people are listening.” And again, there it was – Ashley would have to play herself — no one else could pull it off. As a friend and fellow filmmaker put it, Ashley is her own special effect. So we decided to make a documentary. I bought a camera and we set off to film the story — Ashley’s story of self-actualization — that had so captivated my attention.
As with the original AshBash, everyone we contacted showed an amazing willingness to hop on board. We interviewed family members, friends, those involved in the two years of rehearsing and planning.
What did Ashley’s friend John think when he first heard of AshBash? “One: how egocentric. Two: it’s going to cost a lot of money. Three: there better be shrimp.”
Ashley’s mother told us there were really only two things she ever wanted for her daughters: “That they be good swimmers and good dancers” because she had “failed miserably at both those things.”
My friend Susan (who performed as one of the “Ash-ettes”) comments that she had always wanted to sing with a band and somehow Ashley knew that. A college roommate’s daughter was asked to define the word spinster. “Is that like a hipster?” she asks with utter sincerity. “Someone who spins records at a party?”
Emmy-award-winning Bonnie Timmons (whose illustrations were featured on the TV show Caroline in the City) agreed to do our artwork. Jordan Harrison, who saw my first rudimentary attempts at animating Bonnie’s illustrations (when I first hit “play” we both realized I had Cupid’s wing on backwards) valiantly stepped forward to do our motion graphics. Rusty Scott, a beloved fixture on the Boston jazz scene (and Ashley’s piano teacher for two years leading up to the actual AshBash) offered his original music. Dave Brophy, who had just returned from performing at FarmAid – put down his drumsticks to do our sound mix. Perhaps Oprah is right — when your intention is clear, the universe rises up to meet you.
As we culled through our footage and the storyline of AshBash began to take shape, we realized that at its heart, it’s about how we choose to live our lives every day. It is our greatest hope that our film will inspire viewers to know that life is always happening right now, and should be celebrated right now regardless of their relationship status — in whatever form their own AshBash might take.
Our world premiere took place at the AMC Loews Boston Common (as part of the Boston International Film Festival) on the night of Marathon Monday (we loved the finish line imagery). The audience’s reactions surpassed our wildest dreams: we received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, and a special recognition award from the festival.
Our next screening will take place on Tuesday July 31 as part of the 21st annual Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod.
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Footnote: The George Bernard Shaw comedy I reference is called Getting Married, first performed in 1908. In the words of Shaw, may we all be balloons that never lose our lifting!