Student Ashley Balas dreams of becoming stunt woman

A posed picture of student Ashley Balas with other stunt people at Stunt Predators

Penn State Shenango student Ashley Balas works out during a training session at Stunt Predators.

Credit: Penn State

SHARON, Pa. — Every girl has a dream of what she wants to be when she grows up—a dancer, teacher, nurse, doctor. Becoming a stunt woman, however, never crossed Ashley Balas’ young mind, although from the time she could walk, she was energetic, and, according to her mother, “ready to take on the world.”

Balas was born in San Antonio, Texas. At the age of three, she and her mother moved from Texas to Youngstown, Ohio, where she graduated from Austintown Fitch High School. Full of life, Ashley enjoyed gymnastics, cross country, policy debate for speech, concert choir, and competing on the school’s physics Olympic team.

Following high school, Ashley enrolled at Penn State Shenango and began taking math and science courses — working her way to be a pharmacist. Ashley was not new to Penn State Shenango; she had spent many hours at the campus while her mother was enrolled as a nursing student, walking the halls and sitting in lectures. After two years, Ashley took a hiatus from college in order to help her brother pursue his own higher education. Money was tight for the family, and Ashley was enthusiastic about working full-time as a pharmacy technician.

Approximately five years ago, Ashley began working with the Youngstown Playhouse; she had completed her first lead role at the Shenango campus her freshman year with the Shenango Drama Club, and found she really liked acting.

From stage work to film work and some commercial work in between, at the age of 28, Ashley got her first role as an extra in a film, as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

It was in 2014, however, that one of her longtime friends asked her if she had ever considered pursuing stunt work, due to her passion for acting, movies, and a strong background in gymnastics and dance. Always ready for a challenge, Ashley contacted “Stunt Predators,” an organization out of Madison, Ohio, which is run by veteran stunt man Richard Fike, and after a lot of hard work, she was accepted into their program. Ashley, along with her “stunt family” as she calls them, get together monthly to train for upcoming stunt work.

“Ashley is a great addition to our ‘team’,” said Fike. “We’ve had a lot of major movies come to our area, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, so casting directors and stunt coordinators have been checking out local talent, and we are always ready to go. We are like a big family who is really happy for whoever gets a part and is working. Ashley has come a long way, and I believe she has a lot of potential.”

Over the last several years, Ashley has been an extra or stunt person in several movies and television series, while appearing with stars such as John Travolta and Michael Pitt in "Criminal Activties," Eric Roberts (brother of Julia Roberts) in "Lux in Tenebris," and Jessie Eisenberg and Holly Hunt in "Batman versus Superman." This past fall, Ashley was an extra on the season two finale of "The Outsiders" television series.

“One of the highlights of my career so far was auditioning for a supporting character role for the season two of 'The Outsiders,'” said Ashley. “Although I didn’t get the job, I was actually interviewed by one of the directors of the series, Jon Anre; he was awesome to talk with.”

Ashley also re-enrolled at Penn State Shenango in fall 2014, and is currently a junior in the campus’ letters, arts, and sciences degree program. She plans to become a pharmaceutical sales representative while she continues pursuing stunt work and acting. In addition to school  — she has a 3.6 grade-point average — and chasing stunt work, she works 30 hours a week at Walgreens in Hermitage as a pharmacy technician.

“I never saw my life going in this direction,” said Ashley, “although I’ve always wanted to be that ‘tough’ chick. I have to say, I’ve never been happier or felt more fulfilled.”

Over the past few years, Ashley’s stunt work and extra work has been both paid and unpaid. She hopes to one day be part of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) where she will be eligible to receive union work, which, according to Ashley, “Is the goal for anyone in the business.”

Her life doesn’t stop there, however; this past summer, Ashley worked at the Quaker City Motorsports Park aka Salem Drag Strip, in Ohio, where she ran the E.T. Shack (estimated time slips) and was in charge of the company’s “fire truck” — an F150 configured to hold a fireman’s hose and box.

“It was a great job,” said Ashley. “I’m the kind of person who runs toward danger rather than away from it. I don’t think that will ever change.”

In addition to being a member of Stunt Predators, Ashley continues her professional development while working with the campus’ Drama Club. This past fall, Ashley attended a workshop with Cirque du Soleil where she took classes in costume and makeup design and rigging. She is currently waiting to hear from the Canadian entertainment company, where she has applied for an internship as a rigger out in Las Vegas.

“At a young age, I knew I wanted to do something interesting with my life,” said Ashley. “I love being a student and learning, and I enjoy my job as a pharmacy tech with hopes in becoming a pharmaceutical rep someday, but if I had to choose one career, one dream, I would choose full-time stunt work every time,” said Ashley. “I just love the energy and challenge of it all.”