Theater Around The Bay: Sometimes A Commission Is A Love Letter

Stuart Bousel lets Will and Ashley linger in the spotlight just a moment longer. 

So, you’ve probably heard that Ashley Cowan and Will Leschber got married.

You may have even heard something about me writing part of their ceremony (which was predominantly written and spoken by Chris Quintos Cathcart).

What you probably haven’t heard is that I sweated bullets over this page and a half like it was my own wedding.

I get asked to write stuff for people all the time: letters of recommendation, reviews and testimonials, the occasional play. The blessing/curse of being articulate and having a decent command of the language is that people often hit you up to make something sound better or put into words what they can’t, but there’s a big difference between, “write us a two person sketch about XXX”, or “list the five reasons I should get into this grad program”, and “try to capture the poetry of our romance.” That’s a lot of pressure. I mean, it’s one thing to be the weak link in an evening of shorts, or one of the myriad of reasons someone doesn’t get into grad school; it’s quite another to potentially ruin someone’s wedding. And like, their parents will be there. Is there anything worse than disappointed mom stare?

On the other hand, it’s deeply flattering to be asked to do something so important for someone, to be so earnestly trusted, and recognize the faith a friend or pair of friends (in this case) has in you to not only not fuck up, but enhance what was already bound to be a special day. It’s not only flattering, but also inspiring, especially if you’ve been going through a bit of a creative slump, as I have been. I hemmed and hawed and complained and procrastinated, but when I finally forced myself to sit down and write something, I ended up walking away a few hours later, immensely proud of what I’d done.

Sometimes, when we are writers, and particularly writers whose work is getting performed and/or published on a regular basis, we forget who we are writing for and why. In the last few years I have really been embracing the creation of art for its own sake, and for my sake, and the sake of “the right people.” I’ve stopped caring about being producible or commercial, I’ve stopped caring about critics, and I’ve stopped caring about whether or not people really get what I’m doing. When asked “what about the audience?” I’ve pretty much adopted the stance of one of my favorite auteurs, Hal Hartley, “What about them?” This has actually been a really liberating place to be, and if I’ve been running a bit dry this year it has less to do with any kind of writer’s block so much as exhaustion: I wrote 4 full length plays last year, a number of essays and articles, and 3 short plays. If it wasn’t for the part where I’m supposed to have a new full length by the end of this year, I’d be fine with giving myself the year off to just read and revise, but there is no rest for the articulate human with something to say. And I always have something to say.

Meanwhile, thanks to Ashley and Will, I’m sort of getting back into the swing of writing again. This was the short sprint I needed to prep for the marathon. And while I’m way past the point of writing for the audience, I hope you enjoy this as much as they did.

Monologue For Ashley and Will

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that without me, none of this would be happening.

I first met Will in the summer of 2002 when he was acting in a play I wrote, “A Random Act of Creation.” It was being produced in Tucson, Arizona, where he was spending the summer being an actor and I was packing my stuff to move to San Francisco that fall. Will played the god Thor and wore super-tight leather pants. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Will’s youth, and the kind of plays I wrote in my early twenties.

I first met Ashley in the spring of 2009 when I was holding auditions for a production of “The Frogs.” Ashley auditioned for one of the frogs, and despite some really excellent Frog Moves, I did not cast her, but remembered her audition and later that summer cast her in another play as a peasant girl who is abducted by a king who wishes to marry her, but she regains her freedom with the help of a talking magic fish. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Ashley, period, and the kind of plays I wrote in my late-twenties.

One of those plays was a larger, expanded version of the magic fish story, which opened here in San Francisco in 2010. This play, called “Giant Bones”, was based on a collection of short stories by a writer named Peter S. Beagle, of whom Will happens to be an ardent fan. On the opening night of the show, Peter’s agent, Connor, was planning to throw the cast and crew a very fancy party in an art gallery over looking Union Square, with Peter in attendance, and audience members who wished to attend could purchase a special ticket that allowed them to do so. Will, fan that he is of both Peter and myself, decided this was something not to be missed, purchased a ticket to the show and a flight to San Francisco, and flew out for the gala of “Giant Bones.” About the same time, as if by fate, Ashley, who was friends with a number of people involved with the show, also purchased a ticket to the gala night of “Giant Bones.”

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that without my “Giant Bones”, none of this would be happening.

Anyway, the party was amazing. It had the three true signifiers of success: 1) an open bar; 2) sushi; and 3) a dude in a tux playing a harp. Everybody who is almost somebody was there, like probably 60 people, and at some point between beer 2 and 15 I notice that there is this tall blonde kid in a suit who keeps smiling at me but to be honest I hadn’t seen Will in 8 years by that point and I didn’t recognize him so I just assumed what I always assume in these situations which is that I must have slept with him. Because of this, at some point, I apparently leaned over and told Ashley, “Hey. Go find out if that guy’s gay.” Turns out the answer is no.

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that we never know when or how or where the most important person in our life is going to make their appearance… but if we’re lucky, it’s through the most whimsical means possible, and within 8 feet of an open bar… or at the very least, in a city by the sea, full of glass and iron towers, and mysterious fog banks and lonely piers, and exsquisite little parks and coffee shops and all the other magical things you can explore like Will and Ashley did, together, the whole rest of his first trip out here.

Like all good stories, there is a mixture of magic and hardship and when two young people who live in different cities and are on different trajectories with their lives meet, the inevitability of the hardship is almost as surefire as the magic. It was not always easy after that first incredibly easy, incredibly magical weekend. As someone friendly with both parties, it was often times as heartbreaking as it was heartwarming to watch Will and Ashley’s relationship grow and deepen, but I have to say what always both impressed and inspired me was their unflagging respect and admiration for each other, and their refusal to stop caring for one another, even when life was pulling them in opposite directions. I think to fully understand the relationship of these two people you have to realize that both Will and Ashley fundamentally believe in love at first sight, and that such a belief is fundamentally courageous, and requires people with both fluid imaginations and huge, open, gaping wounds of hearts. And while I’m not saying that my belief that when two such people meet they should never let go of one another informed my decision to offer Will a role in my 2011 production of “Twelfth Night”, I’m fairly certain that it was Ashley’s belief in such things that gave her the courage to suggest it to me. And it really was a brave thing to do, especially as they weren’t together at the time- and she was playing the lead in the show. And it was a really brave thing for him to say yes, and give up the familiar things of his life, and move to a strange city for a summer, and parade around in a pair of tights, all for a possibility that was only supposed to be vaguely, faintly possible.

But what I want all of you to walk away with, is that because their love is true, and because their love is brave, all this is happening.

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2 comments on “Theater Around The Bay: Sometimes A Commission Is A Love Letter

  1. As someone who witnessed said speech, I can honestly say that it went over grandly.

    And after reading this reminiscence of its creation, I’ll never ask you to write anything for me.

  2. […] haven’t worked with him yet, you will. He’s the Tasmanian Devil of Bay Area theatre. Meanwhile, this is my favorite of Stuart’s posts of the last year. It’s not particularly analytical or insightful, but is, perhaps more importantly, a reminder […]

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