Cowan Palace: ShortLived Returns And Other Spring Sequels

ShortLived is returning! And Ashley’s feeling things about it!

The spring of 2010 was an exciting time for me. Well, at least I can say that now because back then it just felt like everyday life.

After playing all the bridesmaids and many other female characters in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding, I was finally given the chance to perform as the drunk bridezilla herself, Tina; I was working as a theatre teaching artist for over 100 kids in a week; I managed the box office/house/lounge at Magic Theatre and volunteered as their audition reader where I had the chance to listen in on all the big casting choices; and I was finally getting my start into playwriting, an area that had both scared me and called to me for years. In fact, I was #blessed with some beginner’s luck and good fortune in that department because during that spring of 2010, I was working on my first Olympian’s piece, had a play accepted into the first Pint Sized Festival, and had just been given the chance to submit something for PianoFight’s ShortLived competition, that time on behalf of No Nude Men Productions.


Sure, I was constantly stressed about my lack of finances and health insurance but I was also involved in all these creative outlets. And yeah, I may have questioned my life in comparison to all my school classmates who were getting married and having babies more than was necessary as a hopeless single, but ultimately, I was having fun as a young 20-something in San Francisco. I was a poor gal’s Carrie Bradshaw! … or something.

Which was why being involved in ShortLived was so rad. Thanks to a chance meeting after a Theater Pub show, I was introduced to Rob Ready who was inquiring about involving Theater Pub in PianoFight’s current show. I awkwardly barged into the conversation. And I immediately jumped at the chance to take on writing something without having any idea of what I could submit… or who would direct it… or who would act in it… even though we had a limited time in which to get all these pieces together. I didn’t care! I was eager! It would work out!

Luckily, it did. There were a few hurdles and tears along the way but I dusted off some notes I had about a short piece involving the role texting can play in dating and then was so thankful and delighted when Julia Heitner said she’d direct it. She fought for a cast and then used her wonderful creative powers to quickly stage and ready it for an audience. When it opened, I took some time off from performing in Tony ‘n Tina’s to watch from the back of a sold out theater. I nervously drank BudLight Lime from a brown paper bag and saw my short play, Word War, come to life. It was the first time any of my scripted words had been produced and performed in front of a crowd and the experience was as delicious as my drink with a side of cupcakes and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: nothing short of magical.


Fast forward to today. Well, to last week, I guess. Theater Pub gets an email from Rob asking if we’d like to submit something for ShortLived. Because after a few years away, it’s back! Which is so great! Eager Ashley responds within just a few minutes (again, without any real idea of what to submit or any of the needed production details). Stuart, wise leader that he is, kindly inquires if it’s a doable project for someone so far along in her pregnancy. Oh, right, I remember. I’m eight months pregnant now. Huh.

I’m very excited to have a daughter on the way. She’s apparently the size of a pineapple now (which I try not to think about coming out of me because, well, that’s just an awful image… sorry for putting it in your mind, you pervert) and in just a few weeks, she’ll be here bringing a new kind of magic to my life. There aren’t really enough words to describe the feeling. It’s kind of like waiting backstage to make your first entrance on opening night after a rocky dress rehearsal. You’ve never felt so alive and charged but terrified and anxious all at the same time. The experience is the current star of my reality show.


And it’s times like these, I realize that years of “shortlived” moments have moved me to a whole new place. Somewhere you hadn’t really realized you had arrived at until you turned around and realized what was behind you.

But here we are. While I can’t help but miss the energy I had five years ago and the passion I possessed to say yes to every opportunity without much thought, I realize it’s not 2010 anymore. Russell Brand and Katy Perry are not together. Thankfully, Theater Pub has continue to grow and develop a core group of fellow eager yes-to-theatre-opportunity-makers. I’m in good company. So when Stuart suggested teaming up with Barbara and involve our team, I was into it. Selfishly, I’m not quite ready to forgo the spirit I possessed five years ago but I’m also super thankful to be involved with a group that still humors me and lets me feel included, even as the super pregnant gal.

While we’re in the very early stages of figuring out our involvement in this year’s ShortLived competition and I sadly may not be able to drink BudLight Lime in celebration, I have to say, the spring of 2015 is looking like it may be pretty exciting too (plus, I can still eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and cupcakes and boy, will I). And I hope this time, I’m old enough to fully appreciate it.


For more information on ShortLived or to submit your own work, check out:!

Cowan Palace: Why Being a Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best… and Worst

Ashley Cowan takes a moment to express some of her many feelings about being a “Theatre Person”.

Being a “Theatre Person” is both the best and worst thing about maintaining a professional career outside of the industry.

Like many others, when I’m not fortunate enough to be spending my time near a stage, I have to work a “real job”. And real jobs can be kind of the worst for folks like us, you know? At least they can sure seem that way. Maybe it’s because my Mercury is in retrograde or whatever but this year I seem to be struggling with that balance of doing what I love and doing what I need to do to do what I love.

I moved to San Francisco after landing a role in a show and managed to make ends meet by performing and working at some nonprofit Theatre companies in a variety of ways. And I was happy. I had a lot of responsibility and I wore a lot of hats (and you know I love hats). But I was also struggling and making my parents nervous with my lack of a long-term financial plan. So I got a job working at another nonprofit outside of the Theatre and made a little more money but gave up a little piece of my soul. When that didn’t pay off (literally), I took a more corporate track that offered some stability but demanded an even larger chunk of my soul in exchange for a position lacking challenge or creativity. Which are two of my favorite things! So I can’t help but feel a little stuck. And torn. So I endlessly analyze to no avail.

What I want to be able to tell my higher ups is that thanks to my background in Theatre – I can do anything. Okay, maybe that seems a bit ridiculous but follow me for a second. Thanks to my experience working on a variety of productions I can confidently say that I will do whatever it takes for the show to go on. And in a more corporate setting that may mean a variety of things.

In my current position, I feel a bit under utilized, and I blame the Theatre. It’s taught me to be resilient, passionate, quick thinking, flexible, good under pressure, a team player, all without breaking a sweat. I’ve watched my coworkers panic about small details and crumble with anxiety over minor moments. To them I want to say, “have you ever been through a tech week?” Or a dress rehearsal where the actors are barely off-book, the set and costumes are incomplete, and everything seems impossible? Because I have. And I continue to strive for that because I don’t know how not to. I’ve always believed that the Theatre is magic and blessed are those who make magic. Theatre people can do anything.

But I don’t really get the opportunity to tell my corporate higher-ups any of that. I’m a mere chorus girl in a cast of professional myriads; singing and dancing my heart out in the back hoping someday they might notice. And while I’m thankful to be making a decent enough living, it’s sadly not in my nature to silence my ingenuity and be satisfied.

Unfortunately though, I don’t have a solution. Do you? How do we similar minded people manage when we’re away from our true love? For me, spoiler alert, that love has always been the Theatre. Is it too much to ask to find some joy from the jobs that allow me to keep it a part of my life? I seek any and all council on this, my friends, as I seem to be at a crossroads and unsure which step to take next. In the meantime though, I’m incredibly grateful to be writing for an artistic community that I love dearly and who gets me through some of the darker day job frustrations. So I thank you all for that and will keep you in my thoughts until we meet again to discuss Theater Pub’s next project!

Cowan Palace: Stories, Magic, and a Lesson in Life Savers

Ashley Cowan shares her love of bedtime stories and a family favorite tale.

Once upon a time there lived a girl who loved stories. Spoiler alert: it was me.

From a very early age, I fell in love with fairy tales, bedtime books, and the magical words that lent themselves to my imagination. Children between the ages of 2 and 6 are said to be in a stage of child development that can be the most suggestible making them incredibly receptive to their environment. Which makes bedtime stories told during that time even more influential; those tales will root themselves in their subconscious and continue to play. And as a child fortunate to have been introduced to many stories, I can attest to their legacies kept alive in my mind.

Luckily, I grew up in a household with natural storytellers. My mother is an educator and my father worked for the state of Connecticut as a disability claimer. Both had the opportunity to observe a variety of people on a daily basis. But the bedtime stories I treasured most were the ones about travels they had experienced. My mom was born in Portugal and my dad has been to more places than any group of people I’ve ever met combined. My favorite fascination was hearing about the years he spent living in rural African villages. I would beg my father almost every evening to tell me one of those stories (sorry Mom, you had some good ones too but how can you compete with that?).

And so I’d love to share a Cowan classic. It’s a true tale told much better by my father who lived it but here goes… My father, John, traveled through Africa on a path few may have been able to replicate. With only a backpack as a companion at times, he lived each day without a defined route. He was young, blond, and adventurous. Often, because he looked so different than some of the people he encountered, a variety of details about his background would be assumed. He once stayed at a village where the people called him “doctor” because he had a medical bag on him with very basic items (toothbrush, Band-Aids, etc.) and when they had asked him to ease their aches and pains he had administered painkillers from a small bottle. My father came upon the leader of the group who had seemed wary of him. And in a bit of a panic and after not finding much left to offer him, he handed the man the only thing he had left. One of the old Life Saver candies from the bottom of the bag. The man accepted it by immediately consuming the round colorful piece. The sweet treat proved to be a real item of interest as the man proceeded to ask my father for another with a bright smile. The Life Saver lived up to its name. He then declared that my dad was made of magic and to further thank him he gave him a simple gold bracelet. My father was reluctant to take such a gift but they all insisted and branded him with a piece of their home. That bracelet has never come off my dad’s wrist. Not after all the near death experiences he’d tackle later in his travels, or his wedding day, or even through any future medical procedures. It’s a representation of his countless adventures and the relationships that can form between strangers and he’s promised to remember that forever.

My father joins this effort to continue sharing experiences and stories; a timeless practice that has been recounted throughout human history. Within these tales are lessons of survival and morality. Bedtime stories can be an insight into a wide variety of human characteristics and behaviors. It appears that even a thousand years ago, we were still creatures capable of both gruesome violence and beautiful enduring faith that good can win out over evil. Be it for entertainment, education, religious purposes, we continue to invent the heroes, villains, and magic to reflect the pieces of ourselves we want to be remembered.

I once heard that truly wondrous stories happen to those who tell them and within each passed tale is a piece of magic just waiting to introduce itself to a new listener. So I hope you’ll join us for Pajanuary on Monday, January 21 as we revisit the land of wonder and imagination where so many of our beloved bedtime stories live. Get those pajamas pressed and look forward to spending the night between once upon a time and happily ever after.

Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at