Cowan Palace: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost… Well, Sorta… Kinda…

This week Ashley Zumba dances with her past and future selves.

Ah, it’s August. You can almost taste the seasons sinking in and deciding to change. Back to school wardrobes adorn Union Square and it’s the time of year I start thinking about beginnings, middles, and ends.

It was around this time seven years ago that I first moved to California but even before, August always seemed to symbolize a new start. It’s the month I’d head back to school for RA training, the month I packed all my things and got ready to move to New York, and it’s the month where I learned to start to say goodbye to summer nights and begin to welcome pumpkin flavored treats.

So naturally, in my reflection, I began thinking back over the last year. One year ago I was acting in Book of Liz at Custom Made, it’s the last fully staged production I’ve done since then. And while I had an absolutely wonderful time working on the show, I also have to admit that I don’t necessarily think the play showcases the finest writing in the world. But after seeing it again this year, I can understand Custom Made’s decision to remount it. For some reason, the production manages to guarantee its own unique (and full) crowd. Even though the text sometimes feels like an inside joke you’ll never quite understand, it’s a way to get paying customers into seats and actors a chance to try and join the jest.

I find the success of Book of Liz similar to Christmas Carol, the play used by countless theaters to help secure a season’s finances. It’s always a pleaser, right? And while no one loves the holiday season more than this gal, I can’t stand that play anymore. Sorry. One too many viewings. Screw you, Scrooge. Considering many feel the play is making a statement regarding capitalism, I can’t help but find it slightly amusing that it’s so often used to make money.

But in honor of the play and feeling like I’m presently dancing with both my past and future selves, I thought about what it would be like if I were visited by theater ghosts from the past, present, and future. So enlisting the help of Theater Pub, here we go:

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Booooo! I’m a ghost! Booooooo!

ASHLEY: Right. I got it. Whatcha thinking about the past, ghost?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: “…my fear kicked in immediately, imagining audiences with rotting tomatoes waiting to be thrown at the dud who tried to live up to the past.”

ASHLEY: Wait, me? Am I the dud?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Duh. You wrote that, dummy, remember? Last year. Right before you opened Book of Liz. In this Theater Pub Blog: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/cowan-palace-a-page-from-the-book-of-theatre-fears/

ASHLEY: Yes. Wow. I was pretty nervous I wouldn’t live up to my own expectations. But, hey, I’ve come a long way since then, huh?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Eh. Would we say that?

ASHLEY: We would. And then we could sing about it!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST epically rolls her eyes and leaves ASHLEY alone. GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT enters holding a burrito.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: Burrito for one?

ASHLEY: That must be for me! I just ate one alone last night!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: You know it!

ASHLEY: Okay, so you’re here to represent what’s going on currently.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: Party on. “For every proud moment in theatre, I have a very stressful experience or a time my feelings got hurt, or a time I hurt someone’s feelings, it’s not all awesome, but it’s not all terrible either. It’s just, well…dramatic.”

ASHLEY: Word! Yes, that feels appropriate right now!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: That’s all Anthony from his latest blog entry: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/the-five-in-praise-of-civilians/

ASHLEY: After looking back on some of my own work and trying to decide how to move forward with it to keep things interesting and relevant, yet still me, I have to say I agree. Once again, it feels like a crossroads. The end of one stage but the lights haven’t quite come up on the new one so it’s hard to figure out what’s next. Sometimes things just feel dramatic.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: Dramatic enough to break out into song?

ASHLEY: Always.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: “That being said, I’d rather focus on the surprise successes. This summer we’ve seen familiar ground retread to spectacular ends. That’s my point, There is comfort in the familiar and also hope that these retellings or new genre entries will aspire to be better than their predecessors.”

ASHLEY: That sounds hopeful. You know I’m into that.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: That’s from your husband’s latest blog: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/working-title-its-old-its-new-like-youve-never-seen/

ASHLEY: Will wrote that?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: What a babe, huh? (GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT takes back the burrito and bites into it.)

ASHLEY: Yeah, you should probably go now. (GHOST OF THEATER PUB shrugs and continues eating the glorious burrito until they are both gone.) Yikes.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME enters but all ASHLEY can see is fog.

ASHLEY: Karl?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME reveals a series of theatrical scenes: new plays being mounted, writers furiously typing on laptops, and Future Ashley crying.

ASHLEY: Oh, come on. I’m crying? Why am I crying? (GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME shoots out more fog). Yeah, I get it, I know how to use tears. But to be fair, I use them in all types of situations and for varying feelings!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME reveals Ashley laughing and then singing!

ASHLEY: Okay! So there’s hope! I gotta tell you, mysterious fog of the future, I once again find myself a bit fearful of my theater fate. What if I can’t get into another show? What if I don’t know how to move my blog forward? What if I lose the desire to break out into constant song?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME: (audible sigh)

ASHLEY: You’re right. That’s unlikely. But is there reason to be hopeful? Is the future of our theater scene going to improve?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME starts to leave but the fog remains.

ASHLEY: Ah, I guess it’s still up to us, huh? We’ve still got work to do to seal that destiny. Well, here’s to August and everything after.

ASHLEY stands alone on stage, deep in thought. After a moment she laughs and then hums. It turns into soft singing as lights fade to black.

Six characters in search of an Ashley from the past. Also from Book of Liz.

Six characters in search of an Ashley from the past. Also from Book of Liz.

Working Title: It’s Old! It’s New Like You’ve Never Seen!

This week Will Leschber looks back over the closing summer season so we can all then look forward to the fall.

I find myself at that much maligned crossroad. The crossroad of the job hunt. What is it about the dawn of fall that thrusts us into another phase of life whether we want to or not? Is it that we’ve been conditioned to see this time of year this way? Maybe it’s all the back to school shopping we did growing up. Or maybe it’s the habitual feeling that wraps around summer’s end and edges the nervous excitement surrounding something new: New School year, new season to see, new jobs to hunt. Summer is closing and playtime is up.

bye copy

The thing about summer is that it’s comfortable. The weather is warm, weddings are in season and vacation is on the horizon. Sure, adult living in the Bay Area may look a little different with heightened workloads and rampant cold fronts, but you get my drift. Also we are fed a wave of comfort food in the form of summer entertainment: remounting of old classics, new installments of franchise favorites, new additions to old genres. I know, I know, so much of this recycled dreck is a fraction of the quality we’d like to see. For every Dark Knight there are twice as many Transformer entries or Amazing Spiderman 2 misfires. That being said, I’d rather focus on the surprise successes. This summer we’ve seen familiar ground retread to spectacular ends. That’s my point, There is comfort in the familiar and also hope that these retellings or new genre entries will aspire to be better than their predecessors.

Along the indie film lines we were treated to familiar genres turned on their heads. My favorites were: a stylistic and ever-cool reclaiming of the vampire genre in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive; The romantic comedy as you’ve never seen it before with Jenny Slate’s turn as comic misanthrope, peter-pan-adult facing abortion in Obvious Child; And Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel which takes stories within stories to package nostalgia in a superb pseudo-coming of age tale. All of these remind me how good familiar stories can be when told by a superior storyteller. Blockbuster-fare impressed as well. Here are the highlights: The spectacular sequel to an unlikely reboot in The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a rock-em-sock-em adrenaline punch in the under seen sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow, and the new addition to the Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy. On paper each of these films appear unlikely to succeed with characters ranging from aliens to talking apes to gun-toting raccoons to walking trees to Tom Cruise! But the filmmakers succeed threefold: they have a clear vision of the kind of movie they are, the filmmakers balance tone and pace perfectly and lastly, in the end the final product plays to our familiar taste while providing something new an exciting in the process. Hell, even my favorite theatre experience of the last few months was a classic remounted. Custom Made Theatre’s production of The Crucible reminded me how fresh and powerful an old classic can be.

The best somehow finds a way to merge the new and the familiar. We need both to move forward. It’s enriching. Contrasting ideas can enrich our general point of view. Old ideas slammed against new ones, that’s summer! The old is new again. Now that we’ve taken stock and peered back over the closing summer season, we can prepare to look ahead to fall and all that lies forward. Tune in next time for a fall preview!

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And as a post script shout out, I’d like to hail fellow Tpub Blogger Anthony R Miller. In his last blog entry. Anthony said, “I find conversations about the new Planet of the Apes film are just as important and stimulating to me as conversations about the role of regional theatre in America today. I need both dammit.” I agree. Keep talking theatre, keep talking Apes, keep talking my friend. I like what you have to say.