Miss Ashwell started training for a career in music in her native Canada, but on the advice of Ellen Terry abandoned music for the stage. Her first appearance was in 1891 in a play The Pharisee. Her first part in a Shakespeare play came in 1891 when she played the Prince of Wales in Richard III at the Lyceum. In 1900 she played Portia in Julius Caesar and in 1902 Emilia in Othello. An indication, perhaps, of her success was that she was asked to play with Sir Henry Irving in his popular Dante in 1903.
She made a career change in 1906 and went into management, beginning at the Savoy Theatre. After that she more or less divided her time between management and the stage. Her last Shakespeare part was as Rosalind at Stratford-on-Avon in 1911. But her abandonment of Shakespeare was for a noble cause. In 1915 she began organizing companies of actors to entertain the troops in France. By the end of the war, twenty-five of these companies, all formed by Miss Ashwell, were playing overseas. They remained even after 1918 and the end of the war to entertain during the occupation. The soldiers were, I imagine, more interested in musicals and light comedies and there was not much call or opportunity for Miss Ashwell to perform in Shakespeare's plays.
After the war she formed the "Lena Ashwell Players," a troupe that lasted until 1929. She was an energetic and interesting woman; her several books of memoirs and reminiscences of life in the theatre are well worth exploring.
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