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Torri Lynn Ashford's multifaceted approach to performance

This performer and educator teaches kids the importance of body language and communication, both on and off the stage

Photo by Lauren Jeziorski

It’s almost lunchtime and Torri Lynn Ashford is sitting in a circle among a classroom of students at LA SED in Southwest Detroit. She pulls out a book, which they soon find is filled with riddles. She quickly thumbs through the pages until the kids tell her to stop. She picks a riddle from the page and she begins to read.

Ashford’s posture shifts, as if the simple riddle on the page was a mini script. As she animates every word, the kids become engaged, shifting to the edge of their seats as they try to puzzle out the answer.

Simply put, Ashford is a performer, but her work doesn’t just fit under one title. She’s an educator. She’s a puppeteer. A “Swiss army knife,” as she likes to put it. However, being unapologetically herself is a common thread in everything she does – something she hopes kids take away after working with her or seeing her perform.

Ashford teaches kids about body language and communication through theater, games and reading, something she believes is as important in life as it is on the stage. “Even if you don’t ever step foot on a stage, at the core you’re a human and you’re engaging other humans, always,” she says.

After studying theater at Oakland University, Ashford moved to Detroit in 2008, discovering broader avenues of performance – other than plays. Ashford acted in an original play for BoxFest Detroit, an annual theater festival for women directors. There she met someone from PuppetART Detroit who encouraged her to explore puppetry.

“I have a deep connection with children. Those are my people,” Ashford says. “I went in thinking I can engage children in a way that, at that time, I didn’t even engage my peers or adults in the same way.”

Her first show at PuppetART Detroit was Oh, Ananse!, inspired by West African folklore. She says it was a good training ground for learning her body as a performer.

“This path opened my eyes to how I can tell a variety of stories of different cultures – and to children,” Ashford says. “I can use my body to bring an inanimate object to life. It was nice to have all that energy dispelled to a puppet.”

Through PuppetART’s youth workshops, Ashford began teaching puppetry to the kids in the audience following shows.

“Working at PuppetART and being in a predominately black city, we had the Detroit public school kids do regular field trips there. It was just nice to see them seeing me as someone they can relate to, seeing another black person up there,” she says. “They see a black woman who might be different from the women that they know. I’ve always been a little eccentric.

“It’s a huge thing for me to let them know young that you can grow up and you can do you.”

 

Catch Torri in action as “Izzy” in Metro Parent’s Virtual Camp at metroparent.com/virtualcamp.

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