The Distancing Diaries: ‘Aladdin’ Star Ainsley Melham On Cherishing This Time With Family
Ainsley Melham was getting ready to come back to Broadway to lead the cast of “Aladdin” in the title role, when theaters shut down. He previously starred in the show in his native Australia, and he was all set to take on the role (for the second time) on Broadway in March.
“My partner and I have not yet made it to New York and are currently enjoying an extended holiday with my parents on their lovely little farm in country Australia,” he says. “Although inconvenienced and dealing with the economic fallout and logistics of the current pandemic, we are very lucky to be safe and healthy, and are quietly grateful for our extended time with our family that we otherwise may not have had.”
Melham has been enjoying cooking, reading, and spending time with his family. We chatted with him about what he’s doing during the time and what’s keeping him inspired.
What is keeping you inspired during this time?
Literature! I’m always moving around, working, traveling, relocating, which I am very lucky to be doing, but amongst it all, the list of wonderful books I want to read grows ever longer, particularly the list of plays. I have a list of over 100 plays I want to read but sometimes I get a little caught up in other areas of life and neglect feeding that creative part of me that needs to absorb new things. During this unusual time, I’ve had the opportunity to sit and really make a dent in that list and I am REALLY enjoying the little worlds I can escape to when our own gets a bit overwhelming.
How are you staying creative?
I am using this time learn and absorb. I’m reading texts that I have, for a long time, had the intention of reading. I am catching up on cinema and television and engaging in the performances of actors and actresses I love. I am switching over to Broadway HD and enjoying productions I otherwise would not have seen. I am taking some time to quietly work on my skills, refining each and reflecting on how I can improve them further. All in the hopes of drawing on these wonderful things I have learned when we are ready to take to the stage in theaters across Broadway again.
How are you practicing self-care?
It’s about routine for me. I’m currently staying with my parents, who live on several acres of land in country Australia. I try and rise at the same time each day, shower, and eat breakfast. We’ve made a makeshift gym in the backyard which we are using each day along with taking a run or walk around the land they own. I’ll spend time reading, completing a puzzle or singing, and in the evening, we turn on the news and watch the update for the day. (We try and limit our time engaging with media to this part of the day only.) Add in time helping with maintenance to the property and preparing meals for the family.
Having a routine, flexible as it may be, gives me purpose during this time, keeps me mentally healthy, and ensures I’m using my body and my skills while our industry is on pause.
What is something (or a few things) great that you’ve watched?
I recently re-watched the film ‘The Artist’. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, it won several Academy Awards in 2012 including Best Picture.
It’s a silent, black and white film that celebrates the wonderful cinema of the ’20s and ‘30s and focuses on the transition into talking pictures. The cinematography captures the era exquisitely, the score is AMAZING (old Hollywood at its best), and it really is a wonderful example of how we can tell a story with little to no dialogue. It is definitely a change of gear from some of the mainstream cinema we are now so used to, but I think it is enchanting for that exact reason.
For performers onstage and screen it’s a wonderful reminder of where we have come from.
What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading?
One thing I loved reading recently was “The Song of Achillies” by Madeline Miller. It draws its core story from the legend of Achillies and the Iliad, but explores the relationship between Achillies and Patroclus and leans into the idea that the two were lovers. From the first page I was hooked and was absolutely enthralled by the queer love story that was so eloquently woven by the author.
On another note, something I am looking forward to reading is the play “Constellations” by Nick Payne. It premiered on the West End in 2012 and later debuted on Broadway in 2015.
I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about the production from friends that saw it and can’t wait to read the text.
What are you listening to?
In all honesty, I am not listening to much at all. Isolated on the farm, I find myself enjoying the silence. I know that sounds really cliche, but I’m being genuine. I’m always plugged into a device or watching a screen. Turning off all the music, apps, and devices and just enjoying the natural soundscape around me has been a real joy.
Have you gotten into cooking or baking? What’s something that you’ve enjoyed making, and if you can, can you share the recipe?
I LOVE COOKING. I’ve always loved cooking. I love food, and how it brings people together. How we celebrate with it, grieve with it and share our love with it. A wonderful positive for me amidst this chaos is that I get to spend more time in the kitchen.
My parents grow some of their own produce on their land and this year they have had a very, VERY healthy crop of zucchini (courgette). As I result, I think we have discovered every way in which to prepare zucchini so as not to get sick of it.
Our most recent and most popular variation has been a Zucchini Cake! Essentially a carrot cake but with zucchini. Go ahead, try it. Get your favorite carrot cake recipe, any version and just replace the carrot with zucchini. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
How are you staying physically and vocally ready to return to your show?
I’ll usually take a run each day to get out and get my body moving. We’ve also created our own makeshift gym by making use of items around the house. With these items I can replicate some of the routine I would usually follow in the gym. Combining these activities helps me keep my body ready for when I return to the stage.
Vocally I do my bit each day. Vocal exercises, singing through repertoire, and alternating with vocal rest is helping me keep my voice in shape while I am not using it eight times a week.
How do you think people can support theater and the arts community (both financially and not) and engage with it during this time?
Social media is an amazing thing, and at a time like this many of the shows we love and Broadway performers we look up to are creating content we can engage with online. If you are craving a hit of the theatrical type, turn the Instagram profiles of your favorite artists.
There are wonderful organizations to donate to right now, if you feel you are in a position to do so, that are working at supporting the arts during this difficult time. From actors, to writers, to front of house staff, to crew, costume designers, musicians and all the other wonderful people that help our shows comes to life. A quick search online will reveal those.
Obviously the arts community is taking an almighty hit at this time, along with many other industries. When the COVID pandemic recedes Broadway will be back, and a wonderful way to support the industry at that time will be to get back into theaters again.
It’s a win-win right? After so long isolated and deprived of human contact, theatregoers will be able to return to Broadway houses and be wowed, and thrilled, and touched by beautiful stories and heal some of the anxiety that this pandemic has caused. They will be able to share with others in person the transformative power of theatre, and be a part of the true heart of our industry; the audience. They will be able to escape to their favorite worlds brought to life in flesh and blood on stage and in doing so, help the arts community get back on its feet again.