Cowan Palace: Sex Pledges, Discounted Books, And One Woman’s Passion

Ashley’s got fire! Sometimes with heartburn and passion for women in theatre on the side.

As we wind down our month dedicated to passion, I recently found myself literally bumping into the subject in the book section of a thrift store in Fort Bragg.

Will and I were finishing our quiet weekend away by picking over a decent collection of theatre books and plays when I came across Lysistrata by Aristophanes. I clutched the tiny script close to my heart before exploring the pages. “Oh, I wish I could do this play again!” I loudly exclaimed, “I loved doing it in college but I feel like I’d bring more passion to it NOW!”

Ashley Cowan: demanding sex pledges from her homegirls since college

Ashley Cowan: demanding sex pledges from her homegirls since college

For those who are unfamiliar with the work, it’s a story about a woman who convinces her fellow lady pals to withhold sex from their sweeties so the fellas will stop waging war and consider a more peaceful path to resolving issues. Lysistrata is strong and passionate and just a true force. I was 20 when I was cast to play her in our Roger Williams University production and I adored the experience. But I was a kid who grew up in a small town and went to a small liberal arts college in New England; I wasn’t really that “fired up” about injustices going on in the world or between women and men. Mainly because I was just so focused on getting good grades and running our school’s theatre club. Maybe it’s just me getting older or being exposed to more of the realities outside of school, but I find myself getting much more fired up about issues that may have little to do with grades or theatre these days. And while I reread some of my old lines, I found they meant something different to me now.

Before heading to the register, Will handed me another book he thought I’d be interested in, entitled, Women In Theatre (edited by Karen Malpede). Like many great things, it’s from the 80’s (which you may be able to gather from the colorful cover) and it’s full of experiences from ladies all over the theatre industry sharing their stories and struggles. Sing it sisters!

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I was high off my Lysistrata memories and I was sold after reading the quote on the cover which states, “How often these great women did their work with little response, audience, or resonance… This collection, long-awaited, gives them to us alive. So now let them speak to us. And let us listen.” – Meridel Le Sueur. Plus, did I mention the sassy collection of bright colors? I added it to my already large pile and headed down to meet the cashier.

As he was ringing the items in he looked at the book and laughed. “This one’s been marked down to 75 cents from a dollar. I guess people don’t want women in theatre, huh?”

Then my eyes widened and flames erupted from them, lighting the entire thrift store in a destructive fire. My hair blew back like Beyonce’s would do and I stood strong, embracing my feminine powers, as the world around me burned. (C’mon, don’t you guys want to see me play Lysistrata now?)

I mean, sort of. I’m kind of hormonal so that’s what it felt like.

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A book dedicated to women in the theatre was marked down from a dollar to 75 cents (before tax); last I heard, women still make something like 78 cents to every dollar a dude does in the workforce. C’mon tiny thrift store, why you gotta set yourself up for my scrutiny?

I mumbled a bit about how women have always been fighting for equal rights and as someone involved in theatre, I sure as heck wanted them around. But I left feeling irked wondering if I had offered to pay the extra quarter for the book if I’d feel better. This was one tiny store in the world who discounted a used book about women in theatre; was this even worth the emotions I was giving it? And what can I do about it? I mean, thanks to the Sony scandal, we’ve learned what we already knew: even Hollywood ladies are still often making a lot less than their male counterparts. So what hope does this New England gal living in San Francisco have these days and what can I do to feel better?

I don’t totally know. Someone help me here.

So far this is what I’ve got: maybe maintaining and growing my passion can help. If I keep reading about women in theatre, if I keep going to see women in theatre, if I keep strengthening my relationships with women in theatre, and if I keep fighting to be a woman involved in theatre, maybe that’s a start. So here’s to you, passion! Plus, maybe if I keep your fire going, my rally cries to play Lysistrata again will be heard!

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