You read the title, Ashley Cowan’s not here to be pretty. But she’s always here to make friends!
Last Saturday night, I celebrated my first Opening Night in two and a half years. At the party afterwards, I ate a truly alarming amount of chocolate snacks, drank a modest amount of champagne, and hugged everyone as long as they would let me. The route to this production wasn’t an easy one and I was just so happy to have survived it. A wedding, a baby, moving into three separate homes, thousands of miles traveled, balancing new jobs and seemingly endless responsibilities, nightly rehearsals, and a partridge in a pear tree? Yeah, gimme dat chocolate, please.
Earlier in the evening, the cast had come together in a quiet huddle. I teared up when one of my castmates asked us to take a moment to appreciate how hard we had worked to get to this moment and to reflect why we got into theatre in the first place. We then continued our warm up with each stating an intention we hoped to focus on during the show. My word was “grateful” and I meant it wholeheartedly.
Which is why I couldn’t help but laugh when a few folks reached out to me these past few days as if to offer their condolences for playing another series of characters that weren’t created to be “pretty”.
This isn’t something new for me. In high school and college I almost always played roles meant for older women. And with that, came costumes that were notoriously unflattering. My friends would come see my show and compliment my performance but couldn’t resist telling me that my costume made me look fifty pounds heavier than I am in “real life”. At one point, someone actually asked me what I had done to our costume designer to make them hate me so much. But I kept auditioning and celebrating whenever I’d get cast. And honestly, somewhere in applying yet another round of old age makeup, maybe I got some slightly thicker skin because I just didn’t really care that much about how I looked when I was playing someone else.
Even when in the middle of a show dressed as an awkward bridesmaid an audience member grabbed me and told me I was “brave” for publicly wearing such an ill-fitting dress because she would never, ever leave the house in my position. Or when I’d hear from someone that the color I was in really washed me out and made my hair look flat. And even after the latest round of jokes and sympathy nods were sent my way after some production shots were shared online, I smiled and moved on.
As I’ve written maaaaaany times before, I’m suuuuuuuuper sensitive and I’m still desperately working through some body issues (BUT, WHO ISN’T?!?!). Now, add on doing a full length show in my post baby body, which I gotta tell you, is still taking some getting used to as I’m still not quite comfortable in it, and I’ll admit – I was worried that thicker skin may have washed off in one of my rare showers.
Maybe it was working with costume designers that truly made me feel so comfortable in what can sometimes be an awkward situation (trying on different clothes and having people search for flaws) but when I got my new clothing pieces, I was actually pretty jazzed. Yes, some of the items may seem a little ridiculous but they’re true to the character and I find them to be fittingly hilarious. So, yeah, I couldn’t help but chuckle and roll my eyes when that handful of people mentioned my latest appearance in comparison to my “real life” self.
Firstly, LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL hahahahahaha. My real life self just picked food and old toothpaste from my hair before walking into work today and throwing it in a messy bun. (Also, please keep in mind, I haven’t had breakfast yet so who knows where that food came from.) Big spoiler alert, me in “real life” is not pretty all the time! Sure, TMZ hasn’t published a series of gross pictures of me yet but I promise it’s true. So why in the world would my characters need to look attractive and pretty all of the time? That sounds terribly boring.
Look, I know that I don’t look “good” in everything I wear. I know my face can make some rather intense expressions that may not be described as “conventionally beautiful” and sometimes examples of these things live online forever. But I also know that I actively chose to keep fighting for the roles that allow me those opportunities. I don’t do it to be pretty. This is theatre, not a Bachelor rose ceremony (though, that’s a beautiful art piece of its own…).
One of the best compliments I ever received was from one of my past castmates who was helping me step into the role of Tina (from TNT) for the first time. At the time, they didn’t have a dress that fit me well so I had to wear one that was too wide and too short for my body. It also had sleeves (that ended halfway down my arms) and was full of bedazzled glory. She was watching me try and put on a ponytail of ridiculous fake hair on top of my already highly teased and hairsprayed look when she simply stated, “You’re not afraid to get ugly. You embrace it. I like that.” That comment has proudly stayed with me these past six years. Because what it meant to me was, just being truthful to the role/production/opportunity was the important thing. Not dressing up in an attempt to be thought of as beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hope you all think I’m super, babealiciously hot when I’m me in “real life”. But you don’t have to feel bad for me when you think I look dorky or less than pretty in my costume. Because I’m so, so grateful to be wearing it! I want to keep being involved in the good, the bad, and the ugly because it means I’m still involved and doing something I truly love to do! So until tomorrow when I get my costume back on, I’ll be focusing on the important stuff like managing my chocolate addiction.
Come see Ashley in Custom Made Theatre’s Middletown, running now until April 23!