Cowan Palace: I’m Not Here To Be Pretty

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.

Costume Someecard

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.

Ugly Wedding Dress

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!

Cowan Palace: Don’t Drink Seawater And Other Stuff Kids Know

This week, Ashley’s asking her theatre students to help write her blog.

Greetings, friends! Here’s hoping your week has been full of pie and sans 23 Ides of March stab wounds.

I’ll be honest. I’ve piled my plate a bit too high this year. I mean the Bachelor finale and these Fuller House episodes aren’t going to watch themselves. And between being a mom and working a full time job, I’ve also been busy in rehearsal for Custom Made Theatre’s upcoming production of Middletown (my first full length show since 2013!), trying to be a motivated Maid of Honor for my sister’s upcoming May nuptials, and teaching preschool drama classes on the side.

Because this week was a particularly busy one, I thought I could commission my four year old students to write my blog for me. Their pay? Stickers! Obviously. I’m a pretty generous boss.

So, before we had our warm up and after I had them “shake out their sillies”, I asked my Monday class of five kiddos for their thoughts.

STICKER copy

TEACHER ASHLEY: Why do you guys think doing theater is important?

KID ONE: Where are the stickers?

TEACHER ASHLEY: Safe and sound in my bag; keeping my book and my “Jar of Sillies” company. So what do you think? Why do you think drama class is a good idea?

KID ONE: I got new skies! Can I tell you something? I went to Tahoe!

KID TWO: I’m thirsty. I need water!

KID THREE: Me too! (coughs in sudden thirsty despair)

TEACHER ASHLEY: Okay, okay. Let’s take a quick trip to the water fountain. Let’s make a line and pretend we are giraffes! (Kids quickly line up as giraffes and tiptoe to get a drink. Once there, they consume the water in a craze)

KID THREE: I hate seawater!

KID FOUR: Me too! It’s so salty!

KID THREE: I drank seawater! Yuck!

KID ONE: Can I tell you something? I like my skies.

TEACHER ASHLEY: Let’s come back and make a big circle! Let’s see if we can make it look like a giant pizza!

KID FOUR: Seawater is so gross!

TEACHER ASHLEY: C’mon, guys! Let’s see if we can come back to our circle in ten seconds. Remember, if we get through a great class, we can celebrate with some stickers! (Kids immediately run and form a circle on the colorful carpet) Great job! Okay, does anyone else want to share something?

KID FIVE: When do I get to be a mermaid?

TEACHER ASHLEY: You can be a mermaid when we play our storytelling game! Do you think that’s why doing theater is important?

KID FIVE: I’m going to be Ariel. (whispers) And have magic powers.

TEACHER ASHLEY: I can’t wait to see that. Does anyone else want to pretend to a special character today?

KID ONE: Tiger. But this time he really dies.

KID FOUR: Yeah! I’m a tiger too!

TEACHER ASHLEY: Maybe the tigers can fall asleep and wake up with some mermaid magic.

KID ONE: Fine. But then they’re lions.

KID TWO: I want to be a fairy princess baby! And we all go to the castle to watch a movie.

TEACHER: Great! So… is that why theater class is important? Because we get the chance to use our imaginations, work together, and tell stories?

KID THREE: Can I see the stickers?

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Ah. Okay. Well, there you go! The kids and I spent the rest of class playing games and making up new stories. I got hugs and laughs and even some drawings to take home! But most importantly, I got a needed distraction and energy boost to help survive these next few weeks with a very full plate. I also learned that maybe money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you stickers. And stickers pave the way to happy trails.

Cowan Palace: Everywhere You Look And Why I Can’t Watch Fuller House

Shoo-bit-a-ba-ba-bow, Ashley’s pretty sure the Full House theme song was written just for her.

It’s no secret I’m a Full House fan.

I mean, one of my Cowan Palace blogs used Full House catchphrases to talk about Theatre Bay Area reference the Tanner family constantly, and my husband and fellow blogger, Will Leschber, and I even themed our pregnancy announcement around the show.

Do I think it’s the best show in the history of television? No, of course not. It’s cheesier than the pizza of Kevin McCallister’s dreams. The canned laugher, the studio applause, the less than desirable acting choices, the questionable writing, the production quality? Yeah, yeah, I know all about it, have mercy. I still love Full House.

For me, it’s not about the crappy stuff mentioned above. As crazy as it sounds, this silly sitcom somehow managed to turn itself into a guidepost for me and a soundtrack to my dreams of being an actor.

When Full House started, I watched every episode longing to be on the show. As an actor. I would copy the reactions the characters would display, I would try to make myself cry during all the sappy scenes with sad music, and I would practice whatever I saw in an attempt to prove that I was just as good as those Tanner gals! By the time the show went into syndication, I had acted my way through the series.

After I studied theatre in college, I moved to Brooklyn with three of my closest friends from our program. Because with four years of dominating our small black box stage in Rhode Island we were clearly ready for Broadway! While we grew hungry beginning our new roles as starving artists, we each took side jobs with random hours. As fate would have it, for about a year, we often worked in the afternoons and evenings leaving us with this sweet time spot to devote to Full House reruns. The show would play for an hour at noon every day and in between trying to memorize lines to audition sides or stapling my headshot and resume to send out to another place I’d never hear back from, the Tanner family’s lives would neatly unfold for us in a beautiful, comforting loop. It was always there in the background as we chased our theatrical dreams.

The dream and its pursuit eventually sent me to California. And behold, the chance to actually live in THE San Francisco seemed perfect. Though I had never been to the city, I had probably seen each episode of Full House like 5-10 times by that point so what else was there to know? When Comet goes missing, you check Fisherman’s Wharf. When Uncle Jesse’s graduating high school, take the underground transportation system.

Also, I’d be lying if I said my inner child wasn’t completely ecstatic to live in this place I had only seen through TV.

And so San Francisco became my home. It’s been my place or residence for over eight years now. I’ve seen it change as I changed, sometimes molding into each other, sometimes moving away from each other. I continued watching old reruns of Full House as a comfort blanket during cold, foggy times and I kept hold of the dream that had brought me here in the first place.

Fuller House Pic

When Fuller House came out, everyone knew I’d be all over it. Especially considering, this time, I live in the same city as the Tanners! We’re neighbors! I got texts from friends asking me what kind of themed snack I planned to have ready when it finally premiered. But when it launched, I found myself unable to watch it.

I know the reviews are scathing. I know it can’t possibly hold up all the expectations fans have for it. I know it’s going to be even cheesier than before and now that we’re older that cheese will probably feel stale and moldy and unappetizing.

And I hear the theme song playing over in my brain, “What ever happened to predictability? The milk man, the paper boy, the evening TV? How did I get delivered here? Somebody tell me please. This old world’s confusing me.” It makes me nostalgic and emotional! I let the pre-chorus continue, “Clouds as mean as you’ve ever seen, ain’t a bird who knows your tune, then a little voice inside you whispers, “Kid, don’t sell your dreams so soon!””

I think about my dreams. The ones since childhood and the ones that continue to mature and develop. I think about how I got here and why I love San Francisco but how lately what was once unwavering commitment to stay here and live out my dream has started to waver. I think about how many feelings I have and get overwhelmed.

Thinking about Full House and Fuller House suddenly brings out all these questions and emotions in me during a time in my life when I’m already feeling questionable and emotional. I’m not sure I’m ready to see how the Tanner gals grew up and what happened to their dreams because I’m having a hard time processing that I’m grown up now too. For me, watching DJ get through first kisses has a different weight now than watching her manage the difficulties of raising kids in the city. I’m still trying to navigate my own dreams.

DJ Pic

Obviously, I’m gonna watch it. If I could, I’d watch it with my family back in our Connecticut living room, in my 70’s wallpapered Brooklyn apartment with my college friends and my headshots all over the floor, and here in San Francisco with Will and my daughter, Scarlett all at once.

But I still need a little more time to work my way up to it. Which is so ridiculous, I know.

Until then, I let the theme song finish playing in my mind, “Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, there’s a heart (there’s a heart), a hand to hold onto, Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, there’s a face of somebody who needs you, everywhere you look. When you’re lost out there and you’re all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home. Everywhere you look, Everywhere you look. Shoo-bit-a-ba-ba-bow”.

And just like that, I’m comforted again.

Theater Around The Bay: Tonya Narvaez Talks Rainbows

Our next show opens a week from tonight and it’s not secret that people are already a little obsessed with it. We sat down with author/director Tonya Narvaez to talk about just why people love Lisa Frank… and fear her… and why this show is another Theater Pub event that you can’t miss!

Tonya was told to submit a "fun" photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it - Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

Tonya was told to submit a “fun” photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it – Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

So, what’s this crazy show all about?

A young Lisa Frank finds a portal (in her bathroom) to The Wonderful World, where all her stuffed animals have come to life. She quickly discovers that everything is not as it seems. That the rules are different here. That even the cutest of characters can have a vicious streak.

Okay… and where did you get this idea?

Ashley Cowan and I were going to write a play together for the February show. It would be about love and dating and about how two people can have such different reads on the same experience. While developing the idea, I started talking about Lisa Frank with someone at PianoFight – I believe it was Megan Cohen. Suddenly the idea had morphed into a play about Lisa Frank on Tinder. This idea thrilled me, so I let myself fall into a Lisa Frank rabbit hole. I read everything I could find about her. She’s the most curious person. She’s guarded but outgoing, bubbly with a hint of sadness. Every article I read included quotes from former employees, who had terrible experiences working at the headquarters in Tucson. It seemed like there was a better story there. Better than imagining Lisa Frank on Tinder. So I decided to write a fictional origin story.

What does the cast think about this project? How are rehearsals going?

I am very fortunate to have this cast. Truly, they have been so game and so fantastic to work with thus far. Some amazing work has been done on these characters. They have taken every bit of information I’ve given them about Lisa Frank and about this strange, topsy-turvy world I’ve created and just ran with it.

When casting, did you ask people what their feelings on Lisa Frank are?

Yes! I asked for their “Favorite Lisa Frank image or character and why”. I received such a mixed bag of responses. Some people were genuinely interested in Lisa Frank characters and had childhood anecdotes to tell. Others were never really interested in Lisa Frank but sent their favorite Nihilisa Frank image. (http://nihilisa-frank.tumblr.com/)

What’s your own personal relationship/history with Lisa Frank? Do you have a favorite product?

I really liked some of the Lisa Frank imagery growing up but I thought I was too cool to admit it. I would make fun of it in passing, but secretly wanted a Trapper Keeper with dolphins and hearts and rainbows all over it.

What would you do if she showed up to the show?

I’m not entirely sure. My instinct says I would hide. My intellect says I would be really interested in what she thought of the show and would try to have a conversation with her about it.

When you write a play, what’s your process and how do you go about shaping a script?

I start with a really basic premise, like “Lisa Frank origin story a’la Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland”. Then I do more research than is needed. Then I develop the characters and the world/s. Once I have a really solid cast of characters to begin with, I’m able to write pretty freely. There are times when I get stuck. When I do, I usually realize it’s because I didn’t build a character out enough, or am trying too hard to stick to some sort of “rule”. Or clinging on to something that isn’t as important as I think it is.

You’re also directing this. Is directing your own work something you like to do? How is directing your own play different from directing something someone else wrote?

I do like to direct my own work, but for selfish reasons. I like to be able to change the script to suit the cast. Or if I see something I’ve done is terrible, I can still change it early on in the process. Often times right then and there at rehearsal. I find it much more challenging to direct another person’s work. There isn’t as much liberty to be taken, and there has to be more structure to the development process. I think as I continue to grow as a writer and as a director this answer will change.

Any shout outs to the rest of the community and what else is going on?

Yes! I want to give shout outs to all the shows I missed because of this show and because of the move I just completed this weekend: Mousetrap at Shotgun Players, Of Serpents and Sea Spray at Custom Made, and Peer Gynt at The EXIT Theatre. And two shows I hope to see soon:

1. Anything from the new Undiscovered Works Series, part of Custom Made’s New Play Development Program. Tomorrow is their second offering at 7pm, “Truest” by Megan Cohen, directed by Ellery Schaar. At the Gallery Cafe – 1200 Mason Street, San Francisco. Free and open to the public, with a $5.00 suggested donation in support of new play development at Custom Made. Food, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase!

2. Killing My Lobster’s most recent offering, Sex Battle written and directed and performed by many people more hilarious than me. Pay What You Can: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-pay-what-you-can-night-tickets-20912564042 or other nights: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-tickets-20912351406

3. Tinderella from Faultline, because February deserves a Tinder play! Book by Rose Oser, Music by Christian B. Schmidt, Lyrics by Weston Scott and Directed by Rose Oser. http://www.faultlinetheater.com/#!tickets/cmt5

Don’t miss OVER THE RAINBOW, opening next Monday, only at Theater Pub!

Cowan Palace: Drowning in Beauty Beyond a Grand Victorian Soap Opera and Other Chats With Margery Fairchild

This week, Ashley’s talking to Margery Fairchild about her new production!

Quatre Pic

Featuring, Christy Crowley, Kirsten Dwyer, Katharine Otis, and Courtney Russell; Photo Credit: Basil Galloway

As we get ready to begin The Year Of Monkey and dive deeper into 2016’s second month, Dark Porch Theatre is preparing to kick off their new season! Pas de Quatre, opening at EXIT Studio in just a few days, is the poetic brainchild of Margery Fairchild who has spent years developing this work exploring the relationships between ballet dancers and their art.

Here to bring us further into the world of dancing, is the writer and director herself, Margery!

Please tell us a bit more about Pas de Quatre.

In 1845, Benjamin Lumley, the director at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, had a brilliant idea; to bring together the four reigning Ballerinas of Europe and have them dance together. He also commissioned the famous choreographer Jules Perrot, to create the Divertisment (as it was billed) and the Pas De Quatre was the result of that collaboration. It is considered, along with La Slyphide and Giselle to be one of the seminal works of the Romantic Era in Ballet.

However, the mixing of these powerful celebrities with very distinct styles and personalities, proved somewhat volatile and many historians marvel that it even made it to the stage! Perrot had been married (and divorced) to one of the dancers, partner to two and Ballet Master to all. The dancers themselves had been subjected to incredible public scrutiny and as manufactured as their rivalries were, it still had a distinct impact on their working relationships.

The story has all the makings of a grand Victorian soap opera, but my goal with the project was to dig beyond that temptation.

How has the production evolved since you first began working on it?

I wrote Pas de Quatre as a screenplay in 2002, but it travelled to the back burner. In 2012, I wrote PDQ as a full Two Act play with a cast of 8, which had a staged reading as a part of DIVAfest. In 2014 PDQ morphed into a 50 minute long experimental dance/theatre piece and had a 4 performance workshop at DIVAFest. After several revisions and a new cast, it will debut as part of Dark Porch Theatre’s 2016 residency at Exit Theatre. It’s not a straightforward narrative. The story is deconstructed and organized to parallel the actual music score of the Ballet, a format that allows for greater exploration in the storytelling and character investigation.

As the show focuses on the relationship that forms between ballerinas and ballet, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship and background with ballet?

I studied Ballet for 9 years at The Boston Ballet and I had a love/hate relationship with the experience. Ballet, like all Fine Art studies, created a foundation of discipline and dedication, but it was also incredibly difficult. While putting your body through the transformation needed to achieve the lines and perfection of the craft, one must deal with a lot of pain and disappointment. I never had the right body and feet to continue as a professional, but I still put myself through it out of love. I quit Ballet at 17 after multiple back and neck injuries. It took a couple years before I started studying Modern Dance in college and began to identify myself as a dancer again. Now as an actor and director, I’ve always recognized the edge and vision that as come from my formative training.

While the show may take place in London, 1845, what do you think San Francisco audiences in 2016 will most relate to?

The Dancers, like ghosts, almost appear as if summoned by the audience themselves and once conjured, they must play out their stories. The history is important, but it is not the lesson of the story, it’s about the people themselves. We connect to human stories, in so far as history repeats itself and we find ourselves navigating the same conflicts and trials despite the Age. I suppose that’s why I’m always drawn towards historical re-imaginings, because there’s so much to learn from it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing this show to its feet?

The biggest challenge was casting. Finding actors with the dance/ movement background to pull off the physical requirements. Ballet isn’t something you can fake. I needed to craft the Play in a way that could accommodate different levels of strengths, but ultimately balance them.

What’s been your favorite moment of mounting this production so far?

The question: “Why do we put ourselves through this?”, being answered one night during the tail end of a Monday Night rehearsal, when the cast has had a collective breakthrough despite their exhaustion and you’re left smiling in wonder. The inevitable doubts being answered by the creative process itself. It keeps us coming back again and again!

What’s your favorite local place for a post show drink/snack?

I like to shake it up! PianoFight and the White Horse are the usual destinations these days.

What’s next for Dark Porch?

Dark Porch Theatre will be presenting the darkly hilarious The Diplomats! Written and Directed by DPT’s co-artistic director Martin Schwartz. It will run through the month of May on the EXIT Main Stage.

What’s next for you? Any projects you’ll be working on in the future or shows you’re excited to see?

I’ll be performing in and co producing The Diplomats in May. I’m also involved in the final shooting phase of the feature film, To No Good End, which I’ve co created with my fiancé Kindrid Parker… And then we’re getting married!

As far as shows I’m excited to see? I’m honestly overwhelmed with the wealth of good Indy theatre/dance/performance happening in this town right now, despite the struggles that artists have faced to stay here. Between Exit Theatre, PianoFight, CounterPulse all on the same block, it’s proof that we’re holding our own!

In 160 words characters or less, why do we need to see Pas de Quatre?

This play is only an hour and you will spend the entire 60 minutes drowning in beauty!

And, it gets even better Theater Pub readers! Margery has offered a special discount code for you! To get it, use: Code: DPTdiscount16; Discount: $10 off per ticket ($15 tix)!

Pas de Quatre runs Thursday – Saturday, February 11 – 27 at 8:00 p.m. with an additional matinee performance at 3 p.m. on February 20. For tickets and more information, please visit www.darkporchtheatre.org.

Cowan Palace: An Outcast, A Breast Pump, and An Eccentric Morrissey Fan Walk Into A Bar

This week Ashley chats with Morrissey Play actors, Andrew, Caitlin, and Kitty!

It was about a year ago I asked four wonderfully willing and eager actors to perform in my short, THIS IS WHY WE BROKE UP, which premiered at PianoFight’s ShortLived Competition and was directed by Charles Lewis III. So I was delighted to see that three out of four of them (hope to see you next time, Dylan Pembleton!) were lending their talents to Theater Pub’s current production, THE MORRISSEY PLAYS, which opened on Monday evening.

So I felt like I had no choice but to ask yet another favor of Andrew Chung, Caitlin Evenson, and Kitty Torres because they’re delightful people on and off stage and I wanted the excuse to talk to them. Here they are to tell us a little bit more about their current roles. This one’s for you, Morrissey!

Tell us who you’re playing and a little about the play(s) you’re in!

ANDREW: I’m in 3 of the Morrissey plays, playing three very different characters: Remember those goth kids in high school who were unsettlingly obsessed with the creepy and the occult? In David Robson’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, my character was once one of those high school outcasts. Since graduating from high school, he’s married his high school creepheart and opened a bar in their sleepy little hometown. He and his wife have invited an old classmate over for drinks, but booze isn’t the only thing on the menu…

In “World Peace is None of Your Business” by Kylie Murphy, I am one of those Morrissey fanboys. You know, the kind who just won’t shut up about how awesome and innovative and infallible he is and oh man the world would just be so much better if we all listened to him and by the way have I mentioned how Morrissey is God on Earth?!?! My compatriot and I have cornered some unfortunate soul who apparently has not heard the Gospel According to Moz, and are dead-set on giving this poor sap some education.

Finally, in a fun little script by Alan Olejniczak titled “Unhappy Birthday”, I play a boisterous frat bro trying to console his friend who just went through a breakup. And in his mind, the best way to get over someone is to go and GET SOME, SON! *insert unsubtle pelvic thrusts*

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in "Everyday Is Like Sunday"

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in “Everyday Is Like Sunday”

CAITLIN: Cecily in “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” by Jessica Chisum. I’m a new mom of three months meeting my best friend whom I haven’t seen since having the baby. Over the course of the play, which is split into three parts over the course of the evening, we touch on the significance of love, lost youth, and Zooey Deschanel (spoiler: she stole my life!)

KITTY: I am really fortunate to portray a few characters in THE MORRISSEY PLAYS. I play Angela in “How Soon Is Now?” by Allie Costa. As she recounts how this song brought her and her best friends together for the first time. It’s such a wonderful and adorable teenage story about how we all have those songs that define who we are as well as moments in our lives. I also play Emily in “World Peace Is None of Your Business” as a loyal and tad eccentric Morrissey fan who is dealt a hard dose of reality from someone who’s been in my shoes before. I lastly play opposite Brian Martin in a quick passage based on Morrissey’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, by Peter Bratach. We begin the play with him as “you” and myself as “me”, then switching sides to end the play. Performing the script in two different contexts, we portray the struggle arguments everyone deals with when they get into passionate and yet somewhat sedentary arguments with that friend who maintains polar opposite views.

What was your relationship with Morrissey before getting cast in this show and how would you describe it now?

ANDREW: I vaguely knew who Morrissey was before being cast, but I hadn’t heard much of his music and didn’t have much of an opinion of the man. And to be completely honest, that hasn’t really changed. Morrissey and his music just aren’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure he’s fine with that.

CAITLIN: I had no idea who he was when we began the rehearsal process. We were sent a documentary to watch as research and some songs and I realized that I had indeed been exposed to Morrissey before but had somehow missed the major cultural phenomenon that was the Smiths (outside of having seen (500) Days of Summer…). I’ve since gained an understanding of how much his music has meant to people, who his fans are — a lot of interesting dramaturgical stuff. I think I’m still wrapping my head around the “feel” of Morrissey so don’t ask me to articulate that just yet, but I’m getting close.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

KITTY: Growing up, I was lucky to learn about Morrissey through The Smiths from my childhood friend, Caitlin Carlson. She was and is a musical genius who told me simply to just listen to them and make my own understanding of them but to maintain that they were her favorite band ever. I was constantly surrounded by people who liked the work of both The Smiths and Morrissey and while I wasn’t a die hard fan, I got into them and appreciated their work. The music was dangerous and insane and made people uncomfortable. It made me feel uncomfortable and I started to like it and everything in life that made me feel so shaken up. Now that I’ve had some major crash course time to be all about this music again, I feel like my relationship has changed for the better with his music. I definitely roll my eyes at some of the shit he says but I respect him even more. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and to display his own conflicts within himself. That takes so much courage and love. Though he probably wouldn’t describe it like that, haha.

If you had to describe the evening in 160 characters or less and using mainly emoticons, what would you say?

ANDREW: 😀 D: 🙂 :O ;_; XD 😡 (> ‘ . ‘ )> <( ‘ . ‘ <)

CAITLIN: No emojis on my laptop so: “pint glass” “dreary day” “lonely” “acerbic” “revelations” “twist” “flawed humans” “love” Now imagine emojis. Ta-da!

KITTY: Oh man, well you know how you’ve always had that fantasy to throw on your old prom dress 💃and go to a dive bar with some close friends to drink cheap martinis 🍸and eat peanuts🍩 and talk about how fucked up everything’s become?🙋🏽🙋🏽🙋🏽 Whether it be young romance being ripped to shreds👨‍❤️‍👨 losing three jobs in a year, 🏆🏆🏆dealing with sudden deaths of your loved ones, 😣😣dealing with slow deaths of others😖😖 and wondering what the universe is trying to say? And then you stay up to watch the sunrise just to make sure you’re still alive.🎉🎉🎉🎉 That’s what this evening is, haha.

What’s been the biggest surprise working on a show inspired by Morrissey?

ANDREW: Finding out just how many people in the show are big fans of his.

CAITLIN: I had no idea he had such a large and passionate fan-base! The biggest surprise is how I managed to not know about him for so long!

KITTY: The biggest surprise has been to realize how much I’ve changed from when I was a teenager listening to this music and yet Morrissey still resonates with me. Still reminds me to be myself despite how much it pisses people off.

What’s your favorite Morrissey lyric and why?

ANDREW: From “There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends”: All that we hope is that when we go, our skin and our blood and our bones don’t get in your way, making you ill the way they did when we lived.

It’s such a wonderful way to say “fuck you,” isn’t it?

CAITLIN: Well…I only know the lyrics that are in my play…but I do think that “to die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die” is pretty darn romantic.

KITTY: While I definitely didn’t like this lyric before the show, the lyrics to “A Light That Never Goes Out” has become my favorite. It reminds me of a good friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I genuinely miss him, haha.

If Morrissey could be any drink, what would he be?

ANDREW: Fernet Branca. It’s not to everyone’s taste (many say it’s very in-your-face and off-putting), but man oh man does it have a large, utterly devoted cult following.

CAITLIN: I feel woefully under qualified to answer this. Like a poser. But I suppose my part in this play has given me some credibility. So I’ll say tea. Tea with no sugar because the lump of sugar is crushed on the floor next to the table the tea cup is sitting on.

KITTY: Probably crude oil with some rose petals as garnish. Haha, alcoholic drink, I’d say he would have to be a pina colada. It’s really pretty, cute looking from the outside, delicious to drink but ultimately kicks you in the ass by the end of the night and leaves you with a stomach ache the next day.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Where can we see you next?! Tell us about your next project!

ANDREW: Catch me in February’s Theater Pub show, OVER THE RAINBOW: The totally obviously true story of how Lisa Frank wandered into a magical rainbow realm, setting her on the path to becoming the ironfisted CEO of Lisa Frank, Inc. I’m also co-hosting the next installment of Saturday Write Fever on Feburary 13th at the Exit Cafe!

CAITLIN: Stay tuned!

KITTY: I don’t admittedly have anything going on acting wise, I am continuing to assist the wonderful Brooke Jennings in costuming for Custom Made Theatre and hope to dive back into auditions as soon as possible.

You have two more chances to see the show so mark those calendars! Monday and Tuesday at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco, California 94102)!

Cowan Palace: How To Be A Better Theatre Person In 10 Simple Steps

Ashley invites you to join in her 2016 theatrical resolutions. Happy New Year!

It’s 2016! I hope by now your hangovers have subsided and you’re still feeling optimistic that this new year will be the one you finally overcome your sugar addiction while training for a marathon. You can do it!

For me, 2015 was a year of great heights and low valleys; a real rainbow of emotions. And I’ll be totally honest, guys, I spent way too many months feeling like I was standing in the center of a middle school cafeteria wondering where to sit. Crying because I felt like I had lost my place in my community, questioning my involvement in the local theatre scene.

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I was naive to think that things would stay the same after having a baby. But I didn’t know how difficult it would be to navigate the space between my old self and my new found role. Now, I promise I’m not here to blab about the highs and lows of my introduction to motherhood. Instead, I want to share my list of things I think I can actively do to be a better theatre person. Because I know I can do better. So! Here are 10 resolutions I’m going to be working on this year:

1.) Reach out to someone you worked with (preferably someone who is out of state and who you may not have spoken to in a little while) and say hi.

If you’ve ever done a show with someone and made one of those magical new friendships that quickly solidifies itself over a stressful tech week or a shared love for rehearsal snacks consisting of cake, it’s easy to think you’ll always stay bonded. The truth is, you both get involved in other projects and distance pushes its way between you. So think about someone like that and reach out to them. See what they’re up to and what’s new in their world. Ask if they’re working on anything now then request they keep you updated on it. If they are close enough to see, meet them for cake. If they’re far away, send them some cake. While this won’t help your sugar addiction, it’ll probably be delicious.

2.) For every negative thing you say, say two positives.

You may not know this about me but, wowza, I’m really great at complaining and bitching about stuff. I’m also pretty good at looking on the bright side and trying to see the best in people. I lost my patience easily in 2015 when I felt like I lost my place in my theatre community. Which made me sad. And mad. And other feelings that a first grader can spell. So I’m trying something new. Sure, I can bitch and complain to my heart’s content! But lately, I’ve been trying to then come up with two “nice things” to say to balance it out. It’s a work in progress but a worthy effort, I think.

3.) Don’t Always Talk To Theatre People About Theatre

Talk about literally anything else. Seriously. Try having a conversation with someone in the theatre community and don’t use it as a way to plug a show you’re working on or gossip about a crappy production you heard about or whatever. I’m guilty of small talking people I haven’t seen in awhile and immediately asking them what show or project they’re working on these days. Boring! You can do better, Cowan! At least I’m going to give it a shot. And if anyone out there wants to talk about dessert, I’m so obviously your girl.

4.) Give A Compliment To Someone You Haven’t Met Yet

Did you see a show and love someone’s performance but since you didn’t know the actor personally, you never told them? I do this too often. Not anymore, 2016! Next time I like something, I’m going out of my way to give that praise to the rightful recipient.

5.) Promote A Show You Had Nothing To Do With

Create a simple social media post that advertises some kind of theatrical event that you aren’t involved in. Keep the artistic conversation going and help give a show some press. It’s easy and free so just do it.

6.) Ask Someone How They’re Doing

Like, in a genuine, “I actually care”, active listening kind of way. They could be a theatre person or not. Make an effort to really connect with someone. You’ll be surprised how much it may mean to them. And relating to a fellow human does wonders for your artistic soul, right?

7.) Try Not To Take It Personally

I know I’m waaaaaay too sensitive for my own good. And most likely, 2016 Ashley is going to continue that habit. I so quickly assume no one likes me or wants my company if I haven’t heard from them in awhile. Usually, the other person is just busy and going through their own series of personal roller coasters. Send them a friendly text and then calm the F down. Take that sensitive energy and use it for something productive, like catching up on The Bachelor.

8.) Try A Non Theatre Related Activity And A New Theatre Related Activity

To help keep yourself balanced and entertained, why not try a hobby that has nothing to do with theatre? Want to be a better cook? Look up some recipes online and play in the kitchen. Want to learn to knit? Cool, go pick up some yarn. When you’re done with that, consider a theatrical field you’ve had an interest in but have never pursued. Love costumes? Ask if you can help the next Theater Pub show get on that. Want to write? Check out Saturday Write Fever. Step out of your comfort zone a bit and see where it takes you.

9.) Give Someone New A Chance To Be Involved

Or simply introduce two people who you think may benefit from just knowing each other. If you get the chance to help cast a show or if someone asks you for a recommendation, don’t just go to your usual small list of friends; try to think outside your immediate bubble to those, perhaps, shyer folks who want to be involved but don’t know how to do it.

10.) Be Both Critical And Kind To Your Efforts

Could you be a better theatre person? Yeah, probably. It’s almost always worth trying. And if you can think of something that may make you better or how you can make someone else’s day, give it a whirl. Then give yourself a high five and some credit for being a part of a community and doing what you can to strengthen it. You’re awesome.

That’s what I’ll be working on, anyway. Maybe you’ll consider joining me in a quest to make 2016 our bitch? I mean, our friend? Whatever! Until next time, gang. I hope you’re all off to a wonderful 2016.

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part II

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!

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Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Embracing the Mirror, Part Two: Such Great Heights

Marissa Skudlarek follows up Ashley Cowan’s piece from yesterday with her own tall tales.

September, 2000. I am a 13-year-old high school freshman who dreams of theatrical stardom. My local community theater is holding auditions for Annie, seeking girls between the ages of 7 and 13 to play the orphans, and I beg my parents to let me try out.

“Okay,” they say, “but you realize you haven’t got a chance, right? The orphans in Annie need to be cute kids, but you don’t look like a cute kid anymore – you’re too tall.”

At 13, I am about 5’6”, a few inches below my final adult height of 5’8”. I argue that there are plenty of real-life 13-year-old girls who are 5’6”, and it stood to reason that one of them could’ve been in a Depression-era orphanage. There was nothing wrong with that logic, except that casting has its own shorthand. The orphans in Annie have to be cute kids, and the easiest way to convey that a character is young is to cast someone short.

If I’d been cast as a 5’6” orphan in Annie, my idea was to play the role as surly and truculent and resentful – since I’d be playing the oldest orphan, the one who’d been there the longest. Even as a young girl, I guess I’d absorbed the idea that tall women often play the bitch or the villainess. “I feel like unless I ask to read for a certain role, I am going to be handed sides for the ball-buster/ice queen/bitchy lawyer part,” says local actress Erika Bakse, 5’9”. “I don’t generally mind this because they are pretty fun roles — there’s a reason the majority of quotes in the recent New Yorker article about The Real Thing came from Charlotte, who is in only 3 scenes of the play. But it would be fun to get the opportunity to show other sides of myself. Interestingly, the one time I got to be more of an ingénue was in Stop Kiss, with a shorter Callie opposite me. Bisexuals/lesbians can be any height, I guess.”

(Full disclosure: last year, Katja Rivera and I cast Erika as a ball-busting feminist in my play Pleiades. Erika’s character was also supposed to be the oldest of the eight young women onstage, and her height probably helped her read that way to the audience, too.)

On this blog, we often talk about the difficulties facing female actors: too many aspirants and not enough roles. In such an environment, anything that makes a woman “difficult” to cast can turn into a permanent handicap. I therefore wonder how many tall women get dissuaded from acting, if prejudices along the lines of “The leading man always needs to be taller than the leading lady” mean that they’re not cast as frequently as their shorter sisters. By the time I got to college I was pretty sure that the odds were against my making it big as an actress, and I felt like part of that had to do with my height.

At the same time, college was when I came to terms with my height, and started to take pride in it. Instrumental in this was seeing Cate Blanchett play Hedda Gabler, in a production that began with a dumb-show in which Blanchett stalked around the stage for a minute or two. The stage was dimly lit and I was seated in the back row of the balcony, but Blanchett’s stage presence astounded me: her elegance, her dignity, her power, her height. Like me, she is 5’8″. I draw on my memory of her performance whenever I need a jolt of self-confidence about being a tall lady.

Me and the Desk Set ladies on audition night. Even slouching, I'm still taller than everyone.

Me and the Desk Set ladies on audition night. Even slouching, I’m still taller than everyone.

This year, when I played Elsa in the comedy The Desk Set, my four-inch heels and bouffant blonde wig made me the tallest person onstage. And there were several moments where my height became part of the joke: in my stage kiss with Alan Coyne (who commented that the wig and heels made me very intimidating); when I stared down my romantic rival, played by the petite brunette Kitty Torres; when I danced the tango with Andrew Calabrese, my breasts at the level of his eyes. It was fun to use my physicality in this way, though if I think about it too hard, I can start to have qualms: does this mean there’s something inherently ludicrous about tall women? And it seems less likely that I’d be asked to kiss a shorter actor in a scene that was meant to be earnest rather than comical.

Some roles are specifically earmarked for tall actresses. I get annoyed when women of average height play Rosalind in As You Like It, because the reason Rosalind gives for dressing up as a boy is “I am more than common tall.” And the catfight between Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a short-girl vs. tall-girl classic. (After our scene in The Desk Set, Kitty Torres and I are now hoping that someone will cast us as Hermia and Helena. Producers, call us!) Overall, though, in classical theater, there seems to be an unspoken rule that young actresses play ingénues and middle-aged actresses play queens. The difficulty is that we tend to think of ingénues as petite and queens as statuesque.

Local actress Valerie “Three-Time Helena” Weak, who is 5’10”, has these stories and tips:

I don’t think I’ve ever played opposite someone in a romantic onstage relationship who was shorter than me. I’ve definitely dealt with callbacks where we were paired according to height (like when none of the taller Noras got to read with the shorter Torvald) – and that happens even more often when they’re putting together ‘families’ or ‘couples’ for a callback at a commercial.

I’ve learned to make sure I wear flat shoes when I audition for shorter male directors – I’ve definitely had audition situations where a shorter male director is put off by my height in general. I also know to ask costume designers for rehearsal shoes ASAP if I’m going to be wearing a heel in the show – not so much for me to practice walking in them, but for the men who will be working with me to get ready for how much vertical stage space I’m going to take up, rather than that being one more thing for them to adjust to in tech week.

Let’s go back to 13-year-old Marissa. In the middle of writing this article, I procrastinated by rereading some old emails I sent to my high-school acting teacher, and happened upon this amazingly pertinent quote:

I was complaining to my mom about this and she said I should ask you. I read in Vanity Fair that this hot new talent, an 18-year-old actress called Anne Hathaway, had wanted to do Broadway but wasn’t cast because she was too tall. Her height? 5 foot 8. What I wanted to know is if, in your experience with various shapes and sizes of actors, height is a hindrance to actresses if they want to get cast. Because it would absolutely suck if that were the case. So superficial.

Even as a teen, it seems, I was worried about the plight of being a tall actress. My teacher responded with these words of wisdom:

The theater world runs the gamut from directors and agencies that cast specifically for looks, to directors and agencies that cast based on talent, and everywhere in between. Is your cousin dating the casting director? Did you schmooze with the right people? Has so-and-so told what’s-their-name about whozit who mentioned your work to the director? Did you perform remarkably? Was your audition scheduled after the director had a fight with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend? So many factors figure into casting that it is best to just do your best. Let the rejections roll off your back, and the acceptances be wonderful surprises. Height, weight, skin color, gender… there are a few things with which you are born… worry about the elements under your control. Are you well-rehearsed? Have you worked on making your instrument the best it can be? Did you sleep enough last night? Do you have good relations with your family and friends?

Which seems like good advice for anyone, be they old or young, male or female, short or tall.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and sometime actress, who enjoys playing the “Am I The Tallest Person In This Elevator” game whenever she’s at her day job. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.

Cowan Palace: Embracing The Mirror, Part One: Ashley, Plain and Tall

In part one of this two-part blog (featuring Marissa and Ashley’s tall tales) Ashley considers the height hype.

“You’re like that book. Sarah, Plain and Tall? But, like, it’s you. Ashley, Plain and Tall!”

I let his words linger in the air like they were bubbles about to pop. I forced the look on my face to go from “shocked and hurt” to “playfully shocked and hurt.” This was not exactly the sentiment I was looking for from the guy I kind of had a crush on after a performance.

I had just finished playing my first “romantic lead.” Sure. It was a ten minute play directed by my classmates for a student run production. But it was the first time I got to do a stage kiss! And wear something that didn’t resemble a bag! Plus, I didn’t have to cover my face in old age makeup (fun fact: old age makeup is still pretty much the only makeup style I feel like I can “do” well) or cover my hair with baby powder and gray hairspray. Ah, college. The actor I was paired with was slightly shorter than I was so I had been costumed in a modest heel but since I barely noticed, I didn’t think anyone in the audience would care.

And, duh, I knew I was tall. By that point (at age 18), I had already been told that I couldn’t convincingly play a high school student and that I was really more of a Nurse and/or Mrs. Capulet than a Juliet. At 5’9’’ I also knew I was ineligible to ever become a Disney princess (as they do not allow their ladies to be over 5’8’’) so my dreams of playing Belle fell short (ohhh, punny, huh?).

But let’s get back to my crush! Why was “tall” now synonymous with “plain”?! That hardly seemed fair. I went home and listened to a Coldplay mix CD trying to make sense of it all.

I continued college scoring great roles meant for older actresses and when I graduated, I moved to New York and began auditioning. I’ll never forget getting a callback for a role in a short play and being the tallest person in the room. The scene I was reading for was for the role of “daughter” and the actors playing my mother, father, and brother were all several inches smaller than I was. I was the only actor that managed to get a laugh out of the audition panel but sadly, I never heard from them again.

After that, I packed flats to every audition. And tried to practice hairstyles that could maybe make me appear a little shorter (yuck, I hate admitting that). When I reached out to my tall theatre friends, I loved hearing the stories they encountered in their theatrical pursuits because it meant I was not alone. Colleen Egan told me, “I had to wear flats once while my male counterpart was put in lifts because the director was so distracted by our height difference.” Which I find so fascinating! Why are we so uncomfortable with a woman being taller than the guy she’s with?

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Luckily for me, when I found myself in San Francisco with a role in “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding”, my perception of height and my relation to it completely changed. Suddenly, I was in a show surrounded by beautiful Amazons. I was no longer the tallest one in the play! Yes, for the most part, our male counterparts were shorter. Sometimes, much shorter. But we learned to embrace it and play it up. We wore ridiculously tall high heels and made our hair as big as possible. When we had to kiss our fictional boyfriends, we thought it was hilarious and usually, the audience did, too.

I reached out to some of my past castmates in TNT regarding being tall in the theatre and they had these gems to share:

Mariah Castle (who was our original Tina) said, “I do remember being worried that audiences wouldn’t believe the casting when I was paired with a Tony who was significantly shorter than me. But it always seemed to turn out fine. I actually loved being paired with one short Tony in particular because he was such a strong performer. He owned his role and the room, so I felt proud to perform opposite him and pretend to be his “wife” for a night.”

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Sarah Rose Kistner added, “There were also some pretty ridiculous pairings (in terms of height) in TNT that I definitely worried about looking legit. I would have to tell myself little stories like “Okay, maybe Dom is just seriously into tall chicks!” or “Maybe Dom is just seriously into chicks… any chicks.” In the end, I don’t know if any of those relationships appeared authentic, but they at least appeared funny. I will say that my height probably helped me get cast as Amazon Hippolyta in Impact’s 80’s version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, where I was paired with a tragically, tiny Theseus. I think the dramatic height difference added a certain amount of inherent physical comedy. I did always have a sense that, if I were to continue with my acting career, I’d probably have an easier time being tall on film than on stage.”

Lastly, the lovely Stephanie Renee Wozniak left us with this wonderful wisdom:

“Okay, Tall Girl Theatre problems:

1. ALWAYS being in the back row in musical theatre productions. No matter how well you know the steps, you’re gonna have to be in the back because you’re a giant. And forget about partner dancing! If it’s a show where there’s a bunch of partner work, well, then congratulations! You’ll be playing a dude!
2. Playing dudes! I’ve literally played more male roles than female roles. Which it totally cool because some of the best roles out there are for men. I mean I got to play Hamlet so what am I complaining about?
3. NEVER playing the ingenue because the leading men are too short. Which is okay because the sassy best friend has all the best lines anyway.
4. Playing ALL of the adult roles from the time you’re 12. I played M’Lynne in Steel Mags when I was 23. My roommate was Shelby. And we rocked it.

Yes, there are challenges with being an Amazon actress, but on the other had, these long legs have been solely responsible for getting me cast in several productions. Incidentally, come see me in Sweet Charity this Spring at Hillbarn!”

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Obviously, I’m quite proud to have shared a stage with those women. Being around other tall actresses and performing the show for years made my height feel “normal”, sometimes humorous, and something I should absolutely stop apologizing for.

Now when I get to an audition, I still pack flats if I’m wearing heels and I still consider my hair (I have no problem cutting bangs into my look hours before if I think it’ll help get a part) but I’ve stopped thinking so much about being taller than many of the actors around me – I’ve convinced myself that I just have more height to store talent.

Things never went anywhere with that college crush. But I did get cast in a romantic lead with my now husband who is also taller than me! So things worked out okay there! No Coldplay mixes were needed. And lastly, “tall” is not synonymous with “plain” so I’d greatly appreciate it if you could all call me, “Ashley, Tall and Excited By Froyo” from here on out. Until tomorrow, my friends! I look forward to continuing this discussion with Marissa!