But that was his previous life.
Now, Ashlin Halfnight sits in the front row in the theater, eloquently discussing his new play with a director and watches it come to life on the stage.
Years ago, he couldn’t imagine, even in his most spectacular dreams, that one day he would be a playwright. Drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1994, he was a steady puck-moving defenseman and even made it to AHL, playing defense for New Heaven for two years.
But there is nothing left of that gritty hockey player now.
He is a playwright.
“I stopped playing hockey because of a combination of things: a few concussions, a botched contract and, to be honest, a lot of boredom,” said Halfnight. “I’d lost a few teeth, I was sporting a thrice broken nose. I kept it to myself, though, because I didn’t want the coach, or the management, to think I had a soft head.”
Halfnight grew up in Toronto, Canada and came to America to go to Harvard. Most of his childhood was spent playing hockey and other kinds of sports; however, his life went through series of twists and turns when he moved to New York.
He came to the Big Apple with the intention to do something different, but he started to work as a waiter after he turned down a pro hockey contract for $ 35,000.
But Halfnight was never just a hockey player. He earned his baccalaureate degree in Harvard University and a masters degree from Columbia University.
Halfnight started writing plays when he was 25 years old. By that time, he experimented with playing on stage and almost quit hockey practice. However, he got nervous every time prior going to perform and he came up with a decision that it wasn’t for him. “Behind the scenes” role suited him better.
He now he has more then 30 plays in his repertoire. But when he first stated to write, he went through multiple drafts and rewrites. However, the fruits of his work were fresh, unique and didn’t taste like anything else.
“There might be some genesis out there who may write a great play. I think, realistically, In order to write more than one good play you need to practice and practice and practice,” said Halfnight. “It always takes longer to get it how you want it, then you think it’s going to.”
He doesn’t dedicate every moment of his life to playwriting though, especially considering his day job as a teacher and new role as a husband- a couple of hours on a weekend morning can do him good. That’s usually when he’ll add another scene to a new play.
Halfnight finds his inspiration in music. It sets the mood and creates visual pictures that help him to write a play.
“There is a rhythm to music and a rhythm to dialogue and a rhythm to theatre and a rhythm to poetry that is all sort of tied together,” said Halfnight. “I like singers and song writers, people who are quieter rather than louder. I listen to Joe Purdy, Craig Cardiff. The piano and acoustic guitar kind of music”
His choice of music varies form one to another. It depends on what play and what scene in particular he works on.
“I don’t listen to really heave staff when I’m writing at all,” said Halfnight. “Maybe when I’m writing a really punky scene, I might listen to some music like that.”
The unique combination of defense hockey player skills, his artistic talent and a creative set of mind results in Halfnight’s play “A High Wall at High Speed.”
The emotional intensity of this drama and the sufferings that the main character goes through make Halfnight’s work one of a kind. The performance is about a pilot with an attractive wife, a decent house and a dream that he caries with him during his life. When the main character’s life begins to fall apart, he loses everything he has, his job, his wife and his sanity. Even his life is under a big question mark.
“It’s a play about a guy who falls apart after an event, which happens to be 9/11,” said Halfnight. “I think for me it’s really about how we recover after something that is difficult. For me it’s much more about the family.”
Halfnight also likes to participate in the production process. However he doesn’t intervene with the process too much. He relies on the director and actor’s skills, who bring all the character to life.
“Any good creative process is a conversation, three way actor-director-playwright conversation,” said Halfnight. “There is a sweet spot of a balance, between to many people in the conversation and too few people in the conversation. And I think that is the director’s job mostly, but we are always in the conversation about the script.”
When Halfnight starts to write a new play, the idea doesn’t always come first. The inspiration as well as the concept of a new play can come from a heard conversation at a bar, or from an image once seen.
“It [sport] takes years to perfect, I think playwriting is exactly the same,” said Halfnight. “As athletes look for the perfect game, and as theater artists, we search for the perfect play, the perfect performance. It’s all adrenaline and focus. I like that.
“I think actually that theater and sports are very similar. It takes a team to do the job of putting on a play and the same way in sports. If everybody is not on the same page and not following the coach’s program, then you have problems. I think there is intensity to life performance that there is with sport. You have to train very hard to be good in sport and you have to train very hard to be good in theater.”