By Elizabeth Liberatore
Photos by Bobby Quillard
rizona is a hub for theaters for youth performances. Organizations like Desert Stages Theatre and Greasepaint Youtheatre give rising stars a place to hone their craft and shine bright.
Some of Hollywood’s A-list film celebrities began their careers on these very local stages. Emma Stone, leading actress and Oscar winner from the movie La La Land (among others), and Kimiko Glenn, star of Netflix’s binge-worthy television series Orange Is the New Black, are alumnae of Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix.
Fourteen-year-old Asher Angel is another household name. Unlike Stone and Glenn, Angel has performed on a multitude of Valley youth theater stages. His local success earned him one of his proudest achievements yet – a role in the Disney Channel original series, Andi Mack.
“Working with Disney is a dream come true because I grew up watching the Disney Channel. Disney is an amazing organization – everyone is so supportive and available. I cannot put into words how grateful I am to be working with them,” Angel says.
Angel resides in Paradise Valley with his mom, dad and two siblings. His parents are art advocates – his mother was an actress, and exposed Angel and his siblings to the arts early in life. The family frequented museums and theaters throughout the Valley, and Angel knew he was meant to be a performer before reaching double-digits.
“I saw my first play at Desert Stages Theatre when I was 7 years old. I felt the magic [of the production] and wanted to be a part of it. I knew instantly that acting was something I would do forever,” Angel recalls.
A year later, 8-year-old Angel performed in his first play, Oliver! He went on to perform in a number of other plays at Desert Stages Theatre, including but not limited to Seussical, Jr., Into the Woods, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland. Among them, Into the Woods was his favorite role due to its challenge.
“I was cast as the narrator in Into the Woods. There were a lot of lines and stage cues that I had to remember. It was a lot to keep track of as a 9-year-old.” He adds, “I also learned a lot because I was performing with all adult actors.”
Not many children get to experience being a pirate outside of their imagination. Angel, on the other hand, did. He was cast as Jeremy Jacobs – his first lead role – in the musical adaption of How I Became A Pirate. The performance was held Greasepaint Youtheatre.
“I loved playing Jeremy Jacobs! What kid does not want to become a pirate after all?” Angel says.
Since his start, the young actor has performed in over 20 theatre productions in Arizona. His hard work built an impressive resume of acting experience. Naturally, he transitioned from local theater to television, and began auditioning for roles in Hollywood. Asher landed guest star appearances on CBS’ Criminal Minds and Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.
“It was an amazing experience to be on both shows. I got to work with some amazing actors and see how TV shows are made, a combination of hard work and patience. Everybody on set was great and welcoming,” he says.
The local sensation heard about Andi Mack, a coming of age show that follows 13-year-old Andi Mack as she tries to find her place in the world, through his agent. Unlike previous roles he had auditioned for, Andi Mack was for Disney.
“I first tried out for the role of Andi’s best friend, Cyrus Goodman. After I auditioned for Cyrus I was called back to read for Jonah Beck, the most popular kid in school and Andi’s crush. Finding out I got the role [of Jonah Beck] is one of the most memorable moments for me. I felt like all of the hard work, the tireless traveling and family sacrifices were validated,” Angel explains.
The show was written by Terri Minsky, creator of the network’s hit series Lizzie McGuire, which featured Hilary Duff, and takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah. After a successful first season this year, Andi Mack was renewed for a second season. Asher and his co-stars returned to Salt Lake City in July to begin filming.
“Utah is a beautiful state, and filming here is amazing. We get to experience a real change of seasons and do a lot of outdoor activities in the summer (not like in Arizona where it is hot, hot hot!) We go hiking, fishing and golfing. It really is a blast,” he explains.
Asher admits that his co-stars on the show are some of his best friends. Together, they are just regular teenagers having fun and hanging out all day, pranking each other, singing together, and even having arm wrestling competitions.
“I love the work and I love the people, both in front of and behind the camera. Everybody works so hard and is incredibly professional and supportive. That said, I am so excited to be back in Utah, hanging out with my friends and working on the show,” he says.
Angel divides his time between Los Angeles and Utah for work, but always comes back to his roots – Arizona. Now a freshman in high school, the young actor is learning to balance the norms of adolescence with fame. He admits he couldn’t do it without the support of his family and friends.
“My friends are very supportive of my acting career. They have been from the very beginning. They went to every theater show I was in and are just as excited to see me on Andi Mack,” he says.
Acting is just one of Angel’s many talents. He is also an extremely gifted musician who sings and plays guitar and piano. He intends to put out a debut album in the foreseeable future.
“I write my own music and also play a lot of covers. The last few covers were of songs by Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran,” he elaborates.
The budding musician is inspired by musicians Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson and Selena Gomez – pop, musical theater and classical music are just a few of his favorite genres.
“My first live music performance was at the famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. I performed in the Future Disruptors show to benefit the Ovation Music Fund, an organization that raises money to help provide low-income children under the age of 18 with a premiere music education experience. I loved performing and can’t wait to do more of it. I miss the feeling you get from live performances – it’s exhilarating,” Angel exclaims.
From memorizing scripts to writing and playing music, it goes without saying that nothing can stop this ambitious teenager from reaching his goals. Whether it’s theater, film or music, he continues to prove to himself, and his fans, that anything is possible with heart and a little elbow grease. Watch out, Hollywood. Here comes Arizona’s Angel Asher.
“[To other young actors:] start today by finding a local community theater and auditioning. Be prepared and patient. Work hard, stay dedicated and don’t be afraid take chances!”