Cowan Palace: When Life Gives You Lemons, Find a Theatre Community

Ashley Cowan pours a thoughtful glass of lemonade. Most likely with a stylish straw and heart shaped ice cubes.


Yesterday, I was on the phone with my mom, reflecting over some of the challenges presented by 2013, when she pulled the age old expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to inspire me to stay optimistic. My mom is great cheerleader and can make even the cheesiest cliché heartfelt and personal.

Along with once again being struck by her earnest attitude, I also appreciated her timing considering Theater Pub is two days away from presenting an open mic night to fundraise for the Lemonade Fund, a resource designed to help theatre practitioners with terminal or life-threatening illnesses manage their finances during difficult times.

As I’ve mentioned in blogs past, 2013 has been fairly generous with its lemon supply, so to speak. And I’ll be honest, most of the time I let the fruit rot. I neglected to make refreshing beverage with it. Looking back, perhaps that was a missed opportunity. Maybe behind every rocky road was the potential for ice cream. (Whoops, sorry, we probably only need one food/drink connection here, huh?)

But the expression has been around for a while. Clearly, it’s a message that bears repeating. So in the midst of weighing my ups and downs, I thought it would be fun to look into the etymology of the saying and why it’s remained widespread.

Google to the rescue! Sort of. The origin story proved to be a little tricky to properly pin down.

It’s believed Dale Carnegie is the guy who popularized the phrase with his 1948 book entitled, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living Life in which he titled a chapter, “If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade.” Though others consider H.J. Whitley (known as “the father of Hollywood”) as the source because it referred to the literal transformation of lemon fields being torn down to create the Hollywood we’re all familiar with today. Adding yet another citrus twist to the mix is Elbert Hubbard, a Christian anarchist. He deserves some credit (or at least a shot of tequila with a lemon chaser). He wrote an obituary back in 1915 for dwarf actor, Marshall P. Wilder, admiring his many achievements in the business despite his disabilities, writing, “He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand.”

While researching this well-known piece of advice, my favorite takeaway was its relationship to fellow artists. This token of wisdom has managed to survive the ages and has found a home with our very own community.

As the mind behind the Lemonade Fund, Theatre Bay Area has once again proven itself to be a place of support and collaboration. Surviving challenges and honoring growth, it has truly become a haven to the theatre makers and lovers of the Bay Area and unites us in a shared passion. The Lemonade Fund reflects a dedication to the community and is an important example of using each found lemon as an opportunity.

When I was cast in my first show in San Francisco six years ago, it allowed a door filled with new people and experiences to open. Once welcomed inside, I found a theatre community that made me feel like I was home. And even though I’ve moaned about this past year pushing me a bit further than I would have liked, it’s been my experiences within this theatrical house filled with people who have poured me delicious glasses of lemonade when I needed it, that made it all seem a little easier.

I hope to see you on Friday in celebration of our community (and home) as we support an important cause. I look forward to clinking my beverage to every lemon thrown our way this year as we promise to continue lending each other lemonade recipes in the future.


The show is on Friday the 13th at 8PM at the Exit Theater (156 Eddy Street, San Francisco) and admission is a $10-20 recommended donation at the door.