Theater Around The Bay: The Audition and Casting Process (Emilio Rodriguez, Janet Bentley)

Part Two of Peter Hsieh’s interview with some of his favorite directors.

Last Time I interviewed Lana Russell and Stuart Bousel about the casting and audition process in regards to new works; here is part two with Emilio Rodriguez and Janet Bentley. I met Emilio while we were at the University of California, Irvine and the pleasure of working with him a year ago when he directed my play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival. I met Janet when she directed the New York premiere of Interstate at T. Schreiber Studio theater. I had a great time working with both these theatre makers and they continue to be at the helm of new works in their respective art communities.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

Tell us about your experience with new works. What do you enjoy about them? Why is it important to support that avenue of theatre?

Rodriguez: My love of new works didn’t really happen until I started writing. This is why I agree with Paula Vogel, that we need to encourage more people to write; because it changes the way one goes to the theatre and their investment in it.
Now, I not only write and direct new plays but I also curate several new play festivals. I am always excited when I open a new script. There is a spectrum of reactions I can have based on the writing. My favorite is finding something that makes me feel like the wind got knocked out of me. That moment where time stops for a second as you absorb the ending line or stage direction. The beauty of reading new works is that I do not have a cap on how many times I’ll feel that in my lifetime because there will always be more plays to read.

To me, new plays are just as exciting as new music. It’s counterintuitive to me that people will break the internet to buy Beyonce’s newest CD and stand outside in the pouring rain to wait for Best Buy to release Taylor Swift’s newest CD, but when a new play is produced, there is this skepticism; it’s as if everyone is waiting for the new work to have approval of the Pulitzer or a Tony. We need new work. We need new voices. Society is constantly evolving, so our stories need to change with us, just as our music does.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Bentley: I started my work in theatre, like most people, in acting. I was raised by an acting teacher who taught me everything I needed to know about The Method and I remember desperately loving text analysis for the actor when I was in my undergrad. Writing character biographies felt like a collaboration with my deepest self and the playwright and that always excited me. When I was accepted into the Iowa Playwright’s Workshop, I was introduced to the exciting process of working alongside living writers of various backgrounds and I was even more charged by the process because I could work together with these writers using active empathy in action – a most satisfying step beyond the silent investigation of works codified by a published final draft and/or the long since deceased and absent writer whose voice had been interpreted many times.

While many theatres often select the “tried and true” classic and/or contemporary well-known play or musical because they are financially looking for a “safe bet”, I am dedicated to the pursuit of new voices, new stories, and new perspectives to support and fulfill into new works because I feel that this is the only way to progress as a species.

What are some of the challenges of casting new works, especially for a festival or evening of multiple plays?

Bentley: Since festivals of new works are often bravely put up by organizations that may or may not have funding to pay the actors, the first challenge is to casting good actors willing to work for free/practically nothing. Of course, I have been working on building a network of smart, collaborative actors who are willing to donate their time to the promotion of new work. I often look for new play development-specific entries on actors’ resumes when casting because this does help me with my decisions. (On that note, I always advocate for some kind of stipend for actors whenever possible because everyone’s work should receive some kind of gesture of thanks).

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Rodriguez: I try to do auditions for most of the festivals I manage, but this inevitably leads to a few stand out actors who all of the directors want to cast. Because of time constraints, our actors can only commit to so many shows which means that directors often have to compromise on casting. This changes the chemistry between the actors and sometimes the ideal actor that a director fought for doesn’t give the same performance when cast opposite another actor. This is why I sometimes think it’s better to not do auditions for festivals. If all of the directors are comfortable casting on their own, as was the case with the Detroit Fringe festival this year, then I skip the audition process.

There are a lot of people for and against pre-casting. There are a lot of practical reasons it is done (i.e. Writer/ Director had a specific actor in mind), but a lot of people bring up the arguments against it as well. What are your thoughts on pre-casting, and as producer/directors what would you say to Directors and actors in regards to this?

Rodriguez: When I was primarily an actor, I was adamantly against pre-casting. I felt it was unfair to never be given a shot. I just wanted to be seen and have an unbiased opportunity to share my craft. Now that I work more as a playwright and director, I have changed my mind. To me the most important thing is that the best person is cast, whether I find them or they find me. I think it is important that people have the chance to be seen, but also, in order to best honor the playwright, I believe that seeking out talent in advance is sometimes necessary. I try not to precast but I do need to make sure I can cast properly. I usually hold an audition, but I also ask actors who I’m strongly considering for the parts to audition so that I have options if I don’t find the appropriate new talent at the audition. I hope that’s a fair compromise because I do see the validity in both sides of the argument.

Bentley: I think that having people in mind is a natural, inevitable part of the process, but officially pre-casting is a “safe-guard” that can seriously stifle my favorite part of directing: being surprised and inspired by actors. There have been two instances when pre-casting proved to be unwise: once I had someone in mind for the role of Baal, I precast him, and then he moved to Chicago before the show so I held auditions. I saw an actor that I never thought would work and he surprised me – the role brought something out of him that was dying to get out and I was relieved that the other actor had actually left town. The other time, an actress was precast in a short play by the artistic director and though she delivered a decent performance in the end, I was haunted by the audition of another actress who just nailed it. (Yes, they actually made me hold auditions for the role in order to “keep up appearances” – something I would implore other artistic directors never to enforce on their directors).

On the flip side of this: when playwrights write something for a specific actor, this is a different sort of animal. I have a number of actors whose unique qualities are so inspiring that I am entertaining a couple of playwrights with the idea of writing something for these actors (also, I sympathize greatly with the predicament of some actors who are often passed over because they are so unique and specific a type that there are either no roles for them or no directors creative enough to embrace an unconventional interpretation of the production).

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

What are some things actors do that make you want to cast them, conversely what are some of the things they do that make you not want to cast them?

Rodriguez: I love working with actors who will try anything and make it work. The skeptical actors, the ones who say “I feel like my character wouldn’t do that” are the ones I tend not to work with again. That’s actually my least favorite phrase and usually a red flag for me in the rehearsal process. I think it’s great that they have a sense of their character, but when they negate choices too early it makes their characters one dimensional. In my opinion, whether it’s a new work or a published script, every character needs to do something unexpected or “out of character” at least once in the play. If an actor truly feels like my direction or my dialogue is detrimental to the performance, we can settle that after they give me a good, fully-committed stab at it.

Bentley: Things that get you cast: being prepared, making choices, being in the moment, punctuality, flexibility, helpfulness, openness, hunger for the process, and courtesy. Conversely, if the actor hasn’t worked on the material and at least googled for definitions and pronunciations, if s/he doesn’t take an adjustment, if s/he is late, or if any of these examples of disregard for the process, I am not interested in casting such an actor.

The minute you walk into the building, you’re “onstage”. If you come to a studio and there is a production SM/audition monitor receiving you and handing you paperwork, which is the beginning of your audition. If you are rude to her/him, the casting directors, etc, will know about it. If you are courteous, organized, and awesome, we will know. If you are to audition with a reader and the scene calls for touching, don’t just touch the reader. Smile, introduce yourself, and politely ask if it is okay to touch their hand or shoulder and accept their answer.

If you are performing a monologue, most audition books warn against using the casting directors and say to find an eye-line above their heads. However, if the text suggests a direct address to the audience, ask the casting directors what their preference is.
What you wear: Example: if you are auditioning for Doubt, don’t buy a nun or priest’s costume and wear it to the audition. Wear something that suggests the tone of the characters like black and white. If you do feel compelled to put on a veil, check what kind of nun you’re going out for before depicting the wrong order (Sisters of Charity wore bonnets and a certain kind of dress similar to their founder in the 19th century so do the research before making the assumption that Sister Aloysis looks like she’s about to sing “Climb Every Mountain”). If you’re going out for the perfect housewife, don’t dress like a 1970s punk. If you’re going out for a slick lawyer, don’t dress like a plumber. Why am I saying this? These things have happened! Neutral and professional is best: darker colors on the feet and pants or skirt / lighter on top. You don’t want the casting directors staring at your feet.

Oh and please do not Sharon Stone the readers and casting directors. Remember Basic Instinct? Don’t do it.

Head Shot: if you don’t look like your head shot, get new ones.
Resume: Please keep it on one page and make sure it is formatted in a professional way (Google templates for entertainment/actor resumes).

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Monologue you’d be okay never hearing again.

Bentley: Bridal Registry from A…My Name Is Alice, The Tuna monologue from Laughing Wild, Anything from Steel Magnolias, Crimes of the Heart, and Star-Spangled Girl.

Rodriguez: Viola’s ring monologue. I hear it every time I direct a Shakespeare show. For contemporary monologues, there is one about a woman eating her ex-husband’s divorce papers and dipping them in Ketchup. It’s a great monologue, but I’ve heard it done by a phenomenal actress so now every time other people do it, I automatically remember how great the first actress was and I tune out as I reminisce.

Some higher power has made you Supreme Overlord of Theatre. Cast your favorite play with any cast you want.

Rodriguez: This is such a fun question! I really want to direct a new play called The Living Life of the Daughter Mira by Matthew Paul Olmos. My dream cast would be Tony Revolori as Lazaro, Aimee Carrero as Luna/Mira, Gina Rodriguez as Maya, Rosie Perez as Lupe, and Raul Esparza as Efren.

Bentley: A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee with John Noble (Fringe TV Show) as Tobias, Helen Mirren as Agnes, Kristine Sutherland as Edna, Anthony Stewart Head as Harry, and Parker Posey as Julia.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Emilio Rodriguez is a theatre artist nomad currently residing in Detroit. His most recent play “Swimming While Drowning” was part of the Activate Midwest Festival and the Latino Theatre Commons Carnaval of New Work. It also earned him a residency with UMS, Djerassi, and the Mitten Lab. As a producer, he has worked on the Detroit Fringe Festival, The Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova and The Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses Theatre. Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses; Detroit Free Press on Detroit Fringe.

Janet Bentley is a freelance theatre director, actor, writer, dramaturg, literary manager, composer, sound designer, singer, amateur photographer, and company member for the New York-based Nylon Fusion Theatre Company. Janet holds an MFA in dramaturgy from the University of Iowa and a BA in theatre from the University of South Florida (Tampa). She currently lives in New York, NY. Now Playing: http://www.nylonfusion.org/#!comes-a-faery/c1q11 (Sound and original music)
Updates: https://janeturgy.wordpress.com/theatre/.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, California. Recent credits include his play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival and T. Schreiber Studio, Argus at the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and Maybe at Brooklyn College as part of GI60 2015. Additionally, his works have been produced and developed by Hollywood Fringe Festival, Piney Fork Press, Douglas Morrisson Theatre, NYU Performing Arts Club, Nylon Fusion Collective, Actor’s Company, Brooklyn College, North Park Playwright’s Festival, Viaduct Theatre, SPROUT, San Francisco Theatre Pub, World Premiere Weekend, City Light’s Theater Company, GI60, San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab, West Valley College, and Fringe of Marin. Peter is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine.

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Cowan Palace: Ten Times I Broke The Rules And It Ruled!

Ashley’s not always much of a rule breaker but when she is… it’s something!

When we last met as a Theater Pub unit to talk about the rest of the year, the bloggers decided to use September as a way to explore “breaking the rules” in theatre. So, to get things going, here are ten times I broke the rules:

1.) Cat Improv

Closing night of Godspell (the last play I did before leaving New York) I decided it’d be funny if I changed my normal, expected “adlib” line about being too busy to being too busy because I had to wax my cat. (Looking back, I think I was trying to impress some boy I had a crush on who had miraculously traveled all the way out to Queens to see the show after months of my begging.) Sure, some of the cast wanted to kill me because the random weird new line made them break but the audience LOLed and I thought I was a bad ass. As I always say, it’s the cat’s pajamas when you can improv a line about a feline.

2.) The Switch

It was a double show day a few months into Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding (the interactive, Italian wedding show!). We hadn’t brought on many swings or understudies yet and almost of of the cast had been playing the same part each night. After one performance as “the dorky” bridesmaid my castmate, who was scheduled to play “the sexy singer” bridesmaid, mentioned she didn’t feel like wearing her character’s heels for the next show. I tried them on for fun in the ladies dressing room and we started joking about switching parts. (Considering we both had the same dress on anyway, it would only take a few different accessories to become the other character.) But this was at the beginning of the run when we had a pretty strict and regimented production team who absolutely would have said no to the request. We decided to just do it without telling anyone figuring they wouldn’t stop the show and make us switch back. (So sneaky, right?!) The new role I was covering required me to sing four songs and make out with a groomsman without having practiced either activity. Whoa, baby, it was quite the show! And even though we got a stern talking to about our switch, it opened the door to being able to play more of the parts in the show. I then went on to sing many more songs and stage kiss many more groomsmen.

3.) Dating My Co-Star

Not sure if it’s really a rule but it’s certainly not always the best idea. Lucky for me it worked out. And we made a baby. A beautiful theater baby and actual child. Boom. Thanks, fellow actor/blogger Will Leschber!

4.) Getting Too Into Character

It was my first weekend playing Tina (in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding) and I took the whole “in your face, interactive Italian bride” role pretty seriously. Near the end of the show, Tony and Tina have a big fight where they break up (spoiler alert: they get back together) and I grabbed a glass from someone’s table and threw it at my Tony. The glass shattered and water spilled on a couple attending the show. After the performance I was asked to never do that again by our stage manager. But then a guy who had been at the show (and drank way too much) came up to us and told me I was so fierce that I “must have real balls”. He then spelled “balls” incorrectly and missed a high five. It was rad and totally worth it.

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

5.) Turning On My Phone

While rehearsing God Satan Beer (part of Theater Pub’s second Pint-Sized Festival) I had the instinct during one rehearsal to play God as a real dick and just start taking selfies of myself during Satan’s smart and poignant monologue. We ended up keeping the bit (after cleaning it up and better defining it) and I got treasured show pictures every night!

A tale of two dresses…

A tale of two dresses…

6.) Sewing A Wedding Dress

When I first got to play Tina in TNT they costumed me in a dress that had long sleeves (though they were too short to fully cover my arms). It was also slightly too wide and too short. And, covered in random sequins and lace. Then our show switched venues and a bunch of our clothes never made it to the new location. Including that dress. (Perhaps it returned to the magical Lisa Frank world from once it came). I knew I couldn’t fit into the dress worn by some of the other Tinas but I didn’t want to tell our production team because I knew they’d take away my chance to play the part. So I found the backup dress that I could almost fit into. Then I stole it from our collection and brought it home (huge no no). Next, I cut it apart and sewed it together to fit me better. Keep in mind, I can barely dress myself sometimes and I really don’t know much about sewing. But somehow after hours of effort, I pulled it off! I had a dress I could wear. When I put it on for my first show back in the role, one of my castmates told me she hoped I could wear that dress in my own wedding because it seemed “made for me”. I did not wear it for my own wedding but that comment still makes me laugh.

7.) An Unconventional Headshot

Before I auditioned for Terrorama, I sent the production team a picture from a film I did in NYC as my headshot and resume. It’s just me screaming in a nightgown. Awesome (Theatre), right?

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

8.) Male Monologues

For two years whenever I was asked to have a monologue ready, I went in with a male Shakespearean selection. For some reason, I always felt free to make bigger choices with them. Now this tactic did not always result in getting into the show but I like to think it helped with playing Viola in Twelfth Night.

9.) Auditioning With A TLC Song

Not a whole lot more to say other than I sang an acapella version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” at an audition that asked us to have a more classically driven song prepared. I did not get cast. But I have no regrets! One step closer to achieving my solo TLC cover band dream.

10.) Drinking On The Job

Now, I’m pretty strict about not drinking during a show. Even when I’ve played characters who were drunk and suppose to be drinking AND the director allowed me to have a real drink, I’ve always asked for the non alcoholic stuff. I have way too many butterflies before and during a show and booze doesn’t lend itself well to that (for me). But during one TNT show, when I was back to playing “the dorky bridesmaid”, a table ordered me and one of the groomsmen a shot and demanded we take it together. We tried to talk our way out of it but they insisted. Plus, the drinks were expensive! So in the nature of the “yes, and” style of the show, we took them. Even though it was just one drink, it felt a little dangerous and reckless (again, for me). Enough to say, alright, I did that but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Even if it’s just my own silly rules, sometimes it’s cool not to break them.

Cowan Palace: A Play, A Pregnancy, A Passion for Broccoli Tacos, And Other Chats with Mary McGloin

This week, Ashley Cowan chats with actress, Mary McGloin!

In an already exciting season for Custom Made Theatre Co., I recently had the opportunity to see their latest production of How The World Began and not to get into “review territory” but I thought it was fantastic. Aside from catching Theater Pub’s February contribution, I sadly haven’t been up for a lot of theatrical viewings these days. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to sit longer than an hour without having to pee or put my feet up so seeing anything away from my couch has been tricky. And to be honest, when I entered Custom Made’s space last week, I was already uncomfortable and achy.

But in true theatre healing style, I sat down and was immediately brought to another place. Where I could watch three characters, one of which was suffering through pregnancy pains of her own, explore the divide between religion and biology.

In this Bay Area premiere, written by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Leah S. Abrams, we meet Susan (played by Mary McGloin), a high school science teacher, her student Micah (played by Tim Garcia), and Micah’s “guardian”, Gene (played by Malcom Rodgers) who are all fighting for a chance to be heard and understood. I had the opportunity to ask Mary McGloin a few questions regarding her experience with the production and gain some additional insight into this piece about the universe’s origin story.

picture by Anne Livingston

picture by Anne Livingston

AC: What first drew you to How The World Began and helped you to accept a role three thousand miles away from home?

MM: I first discovered How The World Began back in 2011 when I went on an acting retreat in Costa Rica with casting director, Alaine Alldaffer. She runs the retreat and assigns each actor a role and a play to work on for it. She assigned me Susan. I immediately fell in love with the play and the role and dove into working on it. I will always remember doing the 3rd scene on a beach.

When I saw the Off-Broadway production at the Women’s Project in 2012, I fell in love with the play again and hoped to one day play Susan. Back in April of 2014, Leah, our wonderful director, announced that she was going home to SF to direct this play in Winter of 2015, I immediately said, “I’m right for that role.” Lucky for me, she agreed enough to cast me, which led me home to the Bay Area for this production. (Missing winter in NY notwithstanding.)

AC: What is the biggest thing you have in common with your character, Susan?

MM: That’s funny you should ask. My little sister and brother in law came to the show and said, “Oh my God, she’s exactly like you, did they write this role for you?” I definitely have a very strong sense of justice, fairness, and a desire to stand up and stand by what I believe in, even if it makes me unpopular. That said, I think I personally am a bit more hypersensitive to other people’s feelings and beliefs and would probably have not ended up in the same situation exactly. I tend to apologize more. Though we are eerily similar.

AC: What’s been the biggest surprise challenge in playing Susan?

MM: Surprise challenge? I am not sure what was a surprise exactly but – when I initially read the script, some of the way she talks seemed foreign to me, I don’t say things like “willy-nilly” and “doing my darndest” but it was surprisingly easy to get that once I saw where she was coming from. The first scene sets up quite a tone for the play and I knew that I had to answer a few questions internally to know where to start from. It’s also important I think not to get angry or frustrated with Micah early on as he’s a kid who’s clearly hurting and she’s really trying to do the best she can, that and there’s a long way to go and if you start there you’ve no where to end up.

AC: As the play centers around discussions of faith and biological origin, did conversations of this nature infuse the rehearsal process as well?

MM: This is San Francisco, after all, so no, not really.

AC: What do you hope audiences leave thinking about after they’ve seen the show?

MM: About how easy it is to mis-characterize what other people believe – maybe how they would feel in the situation, how we as a country might be able to be a bit more tolerant of one or another’s views, whether we agree with them or not. Maybe especially when we disagree.

Picture by Jay Yamada

Picture by Jay Yamada

AC: How has your acting preparation process been influenced by playing a character who is pregnant?

MM: I’ve never been pregnant, so I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and asked friends who have been for their experiences. I also did a lot of people watching.

AC: What has been your favorite part about being back in the Bay Area theatre scene?

MM: Oh, God, I miss home. This is my home. I have a lot of friends and family here. I come home typically at least twice a year to visit. Before I moved to the East Coast, I had been living in SF and other parts of the Bay Area for 15 years. I have worked at theatres all around the Bay. Everyone is nice, welcoming, supportive and you can really get to know the community and be seen for roles when they’re casting – New York is so huge and so competitive – it’s hard to keep on keepin’ on but it’s what we do. I was broken-hearted when I had to leave SF. But ultimately, I believed after understudying 12 times at Bay Area Theatres – mostly to women who lived in NYC and had MFA’s – that if I wanted to compete with that I needed to get my MFA and move to NYC, so I did. Was that accurate? I guess I’ll never really know. I would love to come back here at any time and do shows. Eventually, I’d love to be so well situated in my career that I could live anywhere and work consistently, and not just on stage but in TV and Film as well.

AC: What do you miss most about Brooklyn and the New York artistic scene?

MM: New York is pulsating and alive. It’s like being on a train that never stops. There is a great amount of opportunity there to succeed and in a very big way – but it also comes with a big price tag. It’s because of the support of my friends and family here and there that I can get up and do what I do everyday.

To be honest, though, I miss my friends and family in Brooklyn and NY (though if I were there I’d miss you guys here, doh!) , I miss the constant auditioning, I miss the willingness of everyone to bust their butt to make something happen. Brooklyn, itself, I miss Prospect Park, I miss broccoli tacos, I miss finding new and unexpected places to go.

AC: Tell us about where we can see you next and any upcoming projects!

MM: I am busy writing 2 web series in NYC. One is called Lines & Asides and I shot a pilot that got into a few film festivals. It will probably be re-shot when we shoot the whole season. The show revolves around a classically trained actress (typecasting) struggling in NYC and the people she knows – it’s really a story of the life of most of the actors I know in NYC – the idea and the humor are kind of a cross between Slings & Arrows, Waiting for Guffman and The Office. It’s been fun to write – I’ve written 2 seasons, I want to write a final third and then do some re-writes before trying to get it shot.

The other series is about 2 women who work at a startup tech company. My day job has been as a QA Engineer for many years and both me and my co-creator, Amanda Van Nostrand, are taking stories from our lives in this word to make a short (3-5min) episodic. This one is all set in an office and I hope to shoot much sooner than Lines & Asides.

AC: In twelve words or less, why should people come and see How the World Began?

MM: It’s a powerful script that will give you something to talk about!

Picture by Jay Yamada

Picture by Jay Yamada

How The World Began Runs has four shows left and will close on March 8th. To get tickets, please go to: www.custommade.org/tickets and catch this show while you can!

Cowan Palace: My Nightmare Audition

Ashley and her friends sit around the Theater Pub campfire and tell tales of horror…ible auditions.

Comedy Month continues here with the Theater Pub gang where we’re all about laughing at our errors! And since I love dishing out tales of my own awkward struggles in this theatrical world (remember when I wrote this blog?) I thought it’d be fun to dedicate this week’s entry to nightmare auditions!

Thanks to some Facebook pals, I managed to get a few great tales. But if you too have an audition horror story, please feel free to leave it in the comments section! Let this be a time to celebrate our mistakes and laugh about them together! Besides, when I used to try and sneak-read Cosmo in study hall, my favorite section was always the embarrassing stories. And some of these stories are sexy too – two of them involve boobs! But first, here’s mine:

I’ve had a lot of bad auditions. Luckily, I’ve had a few good ones too but eesh, some of the bad were just awful. The one that comes to mind first when I think of “nightmare audition” was my audition for URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) my senior year of college.

New England was experiencing a brutal winter that year and I was in tech week for my senior project, acting in The Fox, a play by Allan Miller based on D.H. Lawrence’s novella by the same name. I was getting ready to begin my final semester of college and I was absolutely freaking out. Beyond terrified. So I thought, hey, maybe I can hide in grad school for a few years while I figure things out! Genius! But, ugh, I don’t want to go into more debt, I’m gonna need a school to pay for me to go there. Cool! I’ll audition for URTA, where I’ll get seen by schools all over the country and then go wherever I get in, even if it’s in rural Alabama.

That was my big plan. So my cast mate, Dave and I boarded a train surrounded in four feet of snow to head to New York City for a few hours before having to rush back to Rhode Island to finish getting our play ready.

We arrived around 1am to our college budget friendly hotel and woke around 5am to prepare for our early call. I wore a cream colored sweater and a conventional black skirt because the URTA Suggestions Guide mentioned that auditioning actors looked good in light colored tops and dark bottoms.

We got to the fancy hotel where auditions were taking place to check in and I discovered the “headshot” I brought with me (which was just an enlarged passport picture I got the day before from Walgreens) had fallen into the snow and had been ruined beyond repair. I sucked it up though and was given my audition time. (My one proud moment of the day was being placed in the time slot with the auditioners with the highest GPAs – holla, theatre nerd alert!)

Finally, it was my turn. I faked some confidence and walked into the room with a smile, my plain skirt swishing behind! I started my Moliere monologue and then blanked. Like just the worst blank in the entire world. I even asked the panel of viewers what I should do and they were boggled. They looked pained for me. Finally, I just started in on my second monologue from The Rainmaker. I completed it. But it was nothing special. After that, in a daze, I walked out of the room feeling like the entire world was collapsing in on me. I had just ruined my future. I was lost in a cloud of despair when I passed Dave. He asked me how it went and I shook my head unable to even cry. “I need to go.” I told him and I wished him luck on his audition.

Then I walked out of the fancy hotel into foreign streets. I was unfamiliar with New York City and had only been there a handful of times on school trips as a kid. It was freezing and my shoes were soaked with snow. But I walked trying to put back the shattered pieces of my dreams until Dave called me.

“I lost it,” he said, “I just blanked.”

I hurried to meet him and within seconds of looking at each other like we wanted to cry, we were laughing. We were two idiot kids with no business being at that audition. We weren’t prepared, we just wanted the safety of a place to hide in a bit longer before having to try and make it in the real world.

We immediately sought to find solace in pizza. I didn’t yet know the type of magical healing powers found in New York pizza, but let me say, it can cure many woes. And while we sat shoveling feelings and slices into our faces, I caught the eye of a man outside. He entered the restaurant and sat down at a table near to us. He kept staring at me, which I assumed was probably thanks to my smart outfit, but after a few minutes he approached us. I was prepared to hear him ask us for money but he did not. Instead, he showed me something he had been working on while sitting in the corner. It was a drawing of a crowd. All different types of people standing tall and gazing out from the page. That’s when I saw it. I was there. He pointed to the sketched version of me and said in broken English, “I wanted to draw you too.”

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Suddenly, through some very kind and thoughtful strokes (homegirl looked way prettier than the snow soaked Ashley looked that day), was a new me standing beside other New Yorkers. That’s the moment I knew I was going to move to NYC after I graduated. Perhaps I needed someone else to see me there, who knows, but that’s exactly what I did. The man quietly walked away and we finished our pizza. Simple movements that forever changed my life.

Dave and I moved to NYC together a few months later and ate a whole lot more pizza. And both of us auditioned for a play together right away… we got in it… only to learn it was an anti abortion play… ah, but I’ll save that story for another time. The lesson here is that nightmare auditions are going to happen to even the best of us but there’s always something to take away from them, even if it’s just being able to laugh at yourself for being an idiot. Who else would be stupid enough to put themselves through so much rejection and heartbreak? We need each other to commiserate with, to celebrate with, and to keep encouraging each other to laugh. So in honor of that idea, here are some tales of audition horror from some of my fellow actors and friends!

Dave Collins (the guy from my story!):

So, I’m not sure if this is my worst audition story or my worst audition story from LA but either way it was pretty awful.

I was called in for this Danica Patrick commercial and thought I was just going to be one of three or four guys basically drooling over this beautiful race-car driver. This is what I came in prepared to do, not a very big stretch. This was not the case. I get into the room in front of the casting director and she proceeds to tell me that the joke of this commercial is that they want to show three dudes watching a clip of this beautiful woman showering and then pan to a dude’s naked chest… that these idiots somehow mistake for hers… Then, the camera would slowly go back up to the dude’s face. What?!! So the casting director asks me to take my shirt off and squeeze my very masculine, hairy, breasts together to try and put one over on these unsuspecting dbags. It was weird, humiliating, and I did it. And I didn’t get the part. I guess my male breasts weren’t feminine enough. Gross. I need to go shower now.

Shay Wisniewski:

I moved to New York about 3 months ago and was ready to hit the ground running with auditions. So I went to a call for Peer Gynt by Ibson, it’s one of his lesser known plays. I headed to Brooklyn for one of my first auditions. I show up and start filling out my audition form. Pretty standard. They even asked how we felt about nudity on stage. At this point in my life, I felt I could show off my breast if needed for a show. No big deal. Also, I told myself I wouldn’t turn anything down since I’m new to the city. So in I went.

In the room was an older man. White hair and a pony tail, along with his daughter who was handling the music in the show. They had me sing, improvise some dancing, do a monologue. Things were going great. I even get a callback which was even better than the audition. Full of viewpoints and group movement work, Meisner technique. Everything was right up my alley. He sits us down at the end of the callback and says, “so, I want to clarify the nudity aspect of the show. I love women, I love sex and I think both are very important things in a man’s life. Mothers, lovers, sister and so on. So at the end of the play, I want the main guy, to be breastfed by all the women on stage.”

Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nudity, that’s porn.

And one of the guys in the audition group even went up to the director afterwards to let him know he was okay with the nudity in the show. Of course you are! You’d be getting a titty parade in your mouth! Sucking on multiple breasts is way better than having some strange adult man breast feed when you aren’t even dating.

I ended up getting cast. No, I didn’t take it. I couldn’t have something like that show up on YouTube one day when I’m famous. Whenever that is. Oh, and it paid zero dollars. So, no, you will not be seeing my breast feeding premiere this fall in New York.

Alex Harris:

You know what? When I saw your post on Facebook I immediately thought of a TERRIBLE one I had on Wednesday! Have you ever had an audition where, like, you read what they wanted, you knew what they wanted, and then when you go in there, you do absolutely everything you’re not supposed to? Well, that was me at this commercial audition, yikes bikes!! I walked in and the taping happens right in the audition waiting area so while you’re auditioning, you’re being watched by the other girls who are there (BIG HELP TO THE NERVES). And I just like had a lapse of where I was. I did exaggerated expressions like I was on stage or doing improv, instead of understated looks and reactions for simple commercial shots, oh it is awful Ashley. Awful.

Natalie Ashodian:

I once auditioned a woman for the very serious part of a Planned Parenthood nurse. A woman (in her 50’s or older, mind you!) showed up in a sexy nurse uniform. You know, Halloween costume 1940’s pin up style nurse. Needless to say, please don’t over-do character auditions. Unless the show is, you know, inherently campy.

Lea Gulino:

My last on-camera audition in LA – a 3rd callback for a Visa ad and the 3rd time I put everything I had into bleating like a goat…

Christi Chew:

He said, “Well now we know you can sing. Can you do it again, but crawl around like a cat?” It wasn’t CATS.

Do you have an audition horror story to share? Come join the party and leave it in the comments section!

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Cowan Palace: My Return to Theatre Bay Area and Other Full House Catch Phrases

Ashley reactivates her Theatre Bay Area account and shares her experience the only way she knows how: through the brilliance of Full House.

Growing up I knew three things: 1.) I wanted to be an actor. 2.) I wanted to live in California because that’s where the cast of Full House lived. 3.) I had a pretty scary dessert obsession, especially those of the chocolate variety.

As an adult, I’ve managed to stay pretty true to those guiding forces. I mean, here I am, living in the Tanner’s backyard trying to balance my love of acting and all things sweet. Though, it’s not exactly like I had pictured and my adventures don’t always fit neatly into 22 minute episodes appropriate for families of all ages. But, again, here I am!

When I first moved here in my early twenties, looking to break into the theater scene, I immediately joined Theatre Bay Area. I combed the gigs section of Craigslist looking for auditions. And honestly, it was great. Within one day of living in San Francisco, I managed to book an audition and get the part. Which resulted in A LOT of solo bedroom performances of “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here” from Annie. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d find myself auditioning for the San Francisco revival of Rent starring Taye Diggs.

But then I got a little lazy. I stopped actively looking for new opportunities and chose to do whatever projects my friends (or friends of my friends) offered me. Which, honestly, was also great. I’m not always the best auditioner anyway and I got to perform a lot of fun roles thanks to being seen in earlier fun roles. And so my one woman Annie tribute band continued!

Eventually, I let my TBA membership lapse. Which, after a little while, caused the inner child in me to point out, “how are you going to be a real actor if you’re not even trying? The Tanners would be so disappointed in you.” Ouch, inner child, OUCH. But that little creep was right. So a few days ago (and after reading Claire’s article) I resigned up for Theatre Bay Area. And to chronicle my experience back, I thought I’d use the help of some of the token Full House catch phrases. Because, well, duh.

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“You got it, dude!”

Yes, Michelle and/or Mary-Kate and Ashley, I do got it. I signed back up for TBA! And I got a personalized welcome response from James Nelson, which made my day. This is what I love about being an actor in San Francisco. The sense of community that I couldn’t find while living in New York. I felt optimistic that perhaps my reentry into the theater scene would be as well received.

“Oh, Mylanta!”

Interesting exclamation, DJ, eldest and perhaps wisest Tanner sister. But similar sentiment (I mean, I think? I’m not even totally sure why this one became a catchphrase). When I logged on with eager eyes to view the myriad of auditions I assumed I was missing out on, I instead saw a rather short list. Maybe it’s the time of year? Did I just miss the audition season? Or is there just less theater being done than when I joined the site years ago?

“Cut it out!”

Good point, Joey. No need to immediately panic and assume my acting days are numbered so I might as well drive your car into the kitchen! Why not read through these listings first! So I opted to do a search for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

“Have mercy!”

Tell me about it, Jesse. And I don’t even have your hair to help my cause. Okay, the first audition on the list is for Shotgun Players. Awesome! I’ve heard great things about working with them. Now, looking through their post I read, “Prep 2 contrasting pieces (musical/movement abilities may be incorporated)”. Yikes bikes. Well, I have been taking a YMCA Zumba class where I always seem to stand next to someone who smells like sweat mixed with orange juice. Should I attempt some Zumba moves with my dramatic Shakespearean monologue?

“How rude!”

No! Stephanie, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was seriously asking. I could use some assistance getting back into the audition routine… Next, I come across Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre. I know before I open it that my current age isn’t really ideal for this one. Which sucks because that show is going to be something special.(Side note: amusingly enough, the last time I auditioned for one of Stuart’s shows, I had my sister cut me some bangs so that I could look younger and more like child Ashley. It shockingly did not work.)

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

This has been a harder reality to face these days. I’ve seemed to age out of the roles I moved here for, ones for young gals in their early twenties and yet I’m not quite ready for some of those juicy roles meant for women in their forties and fifties. Or, as I like to call that age range, the parts I played in high school and college because I was taller than everyone else.

As I continue perusing through the listings, I notice a few more musicals and many shows that are happening outside of San Francisco. Unfortunately, for the car- less /Treasure Island dwelling wonder that is me, commuting to these stages isn’t the easiest quest. I also couldn’t help but notice that if you’re a fella willing to travel and/or sing, you could probably do quite well for yourself in the Bay Area! Ah, now I am sounding rude. Sorry. I don’t mean it. I selfishly hoped that my enthusiasm to return to the theater world would be matched with abounding opportunity to bring it to life.

And I’m left with the same questions I had before. Where did the auditions go? I hear about friends going to them; are these theater companies just not posting on Theatre Bay Area? Because that feels like a shame! A missed opportunity to be a part of a proud, established community. And where are they posting instead? What will I tell Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan when they seek my career counsel for breaking into the SF biz? Help!

I’ll await your feedback! And in the meantime, I’ll keep one eye on these audition listings, one on a Full House rerun, and my mouth will undoubtedly be full of chocolate.

Cowan Palace: Ashley the Actress Versus Ashley the Bride

Ashley’s her own Bridezilla.

I hadn’t really planned to document any of the marriage process here in Cowan Palace, but alas, it’s consuming me at the moment. At least until The Bachelorette starts up again on Monday. The good news is that the big day is just over a month away. And I only have two more blogs after this until that time! So I promise not to bore you too much with all of this nonsense!

As I’ve mentioned before, the reason I moved to San Francisco was because of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. My first show in California and certainly a new chapter of my life. I was first cast as “the dorky bridesmaid” character. SHOCKING, I KNOW. I knew how to dance so awkwardly, audiences were unsure where Ashley ended and Marina Galino began. I got rave reviews from that one guy who kept bringing new dates to our show.

Marina Galino chokes under the pressure of dancing while looking for love.

Marina Galino chokes under the pressure of dancing while looking for love.

In real life, I couldn’t have been further from a boyfriend. But it didn’t matter! I got to hang out with my love, the theater! Sure, he forgot my name a few times and didn’t call when he promised to but I figured, eventually I could change him!

This had been sort of a theme for me since high school. Once I started taking drama class, acting became everything. I went through a lot of college oblivious to romantic opportunities because I just wanted to be in as many plays as possible. And even when I moved to New York City to pursue acting, I somehow managed to only involve myself with the reject characters from “Sex and the City” while enduring countless rejections from auditions.

When I moved to California, it was because I needed a change. I wanted to pursue my career in a new time zone and I wanted to finally fall in love.

What got me to change states was an internship program in Merced where upon first meeting, one of the theater board members told me, “don’t let theater be your only thing. You’ll need more than that to be happy”. And at the time, I rolled my eyes. I was 23 and clearly I knew everything. My pursuit of the craft had gotten me this far, hadn’t it? I wanted it all. I wanted to continue surrounding myself in everything theatrical and somehow end up with my Prince Charming.

Once I was in San Francisco, kissing way more boys on stage than off, I continued my familiar trend of taking any and all acting opportunities that came my way. Sadly, as I realize now, my dating history followed a similar path. I lacked a sense of selection. I said yes to things before thinking them through and once again, I felt like I was just a hamster having a go at the wheel. And while I loved any chance I had to act, I also continued to love the idea of falling in love. After years of coming to terms that maybe I wasn’t meant to be in that type of serious relationship, I still yearned for the possibility.

I met Will at a theater gala. And I kid you not, earlier in the day I had a long chat with myself over a coffee and a pastry regarding being more aware and active of the things I was doing to better my life. If I wanted to truly fall in love and be a good partner to someone, I knew I had to make it a priority and be more thoughtful with who I lent my heart stained sleeves out to.

When Will and I got our second chance at a relationship (after we dated and then broke up because of the distance… and then rekindled our feelings when he returned to San Francisco to act alongside me in Twelfth Night) I knew things were starting to change. I began saying no to some acting opportunities when my feelings for them weren’t strong enough. My time was suddenly worth a new value knowing that Will would only be living in the same city with me for a summer. And as much as I wanted to be in every show and project ever, I was also falling in love with someone in a whole new way. I wasn’t ready to let my grasp go.

Needless to say, I’ve held onto Will’s hand ever since. Yes, I’ve continued to pursue theater but I do think my relationship with it has matured into something new. I’ll forever love it but I know now that it can’t be “my everything”.

Being the bride is bringing out the best in me.

Being the bride is bringing out the best in me.

When Will and I get married, I’ll become two people. Ashley Cowan will remain my actor/writer name (Leschber Palace doesn’t quite have the same ring) and Ashley Leschber will be my married name. Currently, while I stress and cry over the ache and pains of the wedding planning process and missing evenings devoted to the stage, I’m realizing that my next challenge is to learn to balance these these two people and these two loves. As with anything else in adulthood, you learn that you have to be flexible and you have to make compromises and adjustments if you want to fight for your happiness. Luckily for me, I have a fella who pushes me to pursue those acting and writing opportunities while letting me develop from that once dorky bridesmaid into my new bridal role. Strangely enough, my dance moves remain the same.

Higher Education: School’s Out Forever

Barbara Jwanouskos finishes up an important chapter.

Today is my last day of classes and the last official day of the Dramatic Writing program here at CMU. After this, the graduating class of writers flies out to LA to meet with industry professionals, then back to Pittsburgh for commencement, to New York for more meetings with industry professionals, and then we return to Pittsburgh to get things in order. Then, we leave.

It’s a bittersweet moment where I can’t help but be nostalgic, nervous and excited all at the same time. I went into this program because I wanted to radically improve my craft, and it’s happened, but part of me feels like I’m just barely scratching the surface. There is still so much out there to learn and so many opportunities to grow further. Though my official academic stint is coming to an end, it’s cliché but it’s true, now is when the real learning begins. When does the learning process ever stop after all? Now’s the time to apply all of what I’ve learned here while also trying to make sure that I’m still finding opportunities for production, development, and inspiration.

It can be daunting to stand at the precipice of any big change in your life. Part of us thinks, “well, maybe I could have done more…” Over the last couple of months, my goal has been to make it to the end strong. Now I’m here and I’ve been reflecting over the times where I made mistakes, where maybe I could have gone further. One of the most difficult challenges for me in this moment is recognizing the good work that I’ve done over the past two years and acknowledging that it is worth of celebration. I haven’t come to a solution that instantly takes all the feelings away, but what I have come to is that I can feel proud of my accomplishments, while simultaneously recognizing that there are so many people, places, things, experiences, and memories I am saying goodbye to.

As artists we deal with loss on a continual basis. We work in a collaborative medium that asks us to build relationships with other people and create events that inspire a connection from others still. In the process of creation we need to be able to trust one another and lean into vulnerability. We start to understand the people around us in better ways. And sure, maybe we have our disagreements or our spats, but having this collaborative atmosphere is wonderful because everyone brings so much to the table. Then, when it ends we part ways and go onto other projects. And that’s just the nature of it.

A couple guest artists came recently and spoke to the School of Drama students. What struck me was how they anticipate these feelings and adjust their own artistic schedules and interests to make the transition times easier. Andrea Thome, a playwright, came recently and we talked a bit about her process of collaboration and of making art. She said that she gains a lot of energy by collaboration and so she’s always trying to meet and talk to new people to start new work. Alan Alda said something similar. He told us in a talkback session that as artists it was very important to have interests in something other than just acting (or writing, directing, etc.). He said it was important to have interests in other things because it helps feed you during the times when one project might be over and another isn’t in sight.

Their words of wisdom resonated with me as I try and think what is my next thing? What is on the horizon for me? What are the things I care about and want to develop further? Instantly, my mind is flooded with images of sprinklings of new plays, people I want to re-connect with once I return to the Bay Area (that’s right, I’m coming back!!), my loved ones who I’ve been separated from for so long, and all the other inspiring pieces of life I can’t wait to engage with. Then, I remember the other side of a goodbye and the other side of loss, and that is the beginning that is waiting to happening.