Cowan Palace: The Golden Girls Take Over San Francisco And Other Chats With Matthew Martin

On this day before Thanksgiving, Ashley thanks you for being a friend while chatting about the Golden Girls with Matthew Martin.

The Holidays are really here! And nothing says seasonal spirit like gorgeous San Francisco drag queens getting all dressed up as the legendary Golden Girls, am I right?

Yes, it’s true. For the past nine years, it’s become a local, celebrated way to enjoy the Christmas festivities. The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes are back and they’re more fabulous than ever.

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Need to see more? Understandable. You can take a sneak peek thanks to YouTube! Still not enough? Lucky for you, I had the chance to interview Matthew Martin who has been with the production since 2007. Matthew is not only the director of the show but is also starring as everyone’s favorite Southern belle, Blanche Devereaux!

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AC: Tell us about how you first got involved with this unique project. How has it developed over the years?

MM: We first did this production in 2007 at a friend’s Victorian here in San Francisco. It was a group of performer friends doing something fun together: 2 episodes verbatim with an intermission. I don’t’ think any of us foresaw the enormous popularity that would ensue. The audiences and shows grew and grew and GREW, going from various small venues to the grand old Victoria Theatre in 2011.

AC: What makes this year’s show different than past productions?

MM: This year’s show is different in that we’ve gone musical! Dorothy and Blanche are vying for attention at the Rusty Anchor, the local piano bar and break into song! We also have new sets. Of course, every year’s show is different, but the audiences are the same faithful crowds that have been growing with every season.

AC: What was the biggest challenge in rehearsing the show and getting it ready for opening night?

MM: Getting there, as with any show! There are always many variables and personalities involved with any theatrical production. Besides actors rehearsing, there are the departments of publicity, technical aspects, lights, sound, costuming, ticket sales. The costumes alone are a show within themselves! It’s a 1980s fashion show and another popular aspect of the production. Love the audience’s “what were they thinking?!” reaction to 1980s fashion sense!

AC: What was the biggest surprise you found when translating a script meant for TV to the stage?

MM: How rabid the fans are quoting chapter and verse of the original scripts and how well the comedy stands up 30 years later. Good writing remains good writing, always. A delightful surprise is the demographic appeal of the Golden Girls. EVERYONE loves them! Old, young, gay, straight, male, female. Love seeing the cross-section of people in every audience. That is the San Francisco I know and love and grew up with here.

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AC: I love the idea of bringing in celebrity guests! How have those personalities helped to influence the show?

MM: It’s always fun to have some local celebrities make a cameo appearances with the Golden Girls, but the audiences are coming to see the Fabulous Foursome!

AC: Why do you think this production does so well in San Francisco? Do you think it would have the same impact in other cities?

MM: The power of syndication makes it very appealing to everyone, here in San Francisco, and around the world, literally! It is “Very San Francisco” for sure, having 4 guys in drag playing these iconic roles, and our audiences can’t wait to come. It’s an annual pilgrimage, a true holiday tradition for many people here.

AC: Have you always been a Golden Girls fan? If so, who was your favorite character?

MM: Who doesn’t like the Golden Girls?! They are ALL my favorite, for different reasons, and it’s the interplay between the decidedly different four of them that makes it so funny and relatable! Like family members! Every Girl gets a rousing round of applause just by walking on the stage. It’s the audience’s way of saying hello and we love each and every one of you!

AC: Bang, Kill, Marry, Share A Cocktail: Sophia, Rose, Blanche, Dorothy

MM: Oh Lord. It had to…..I’d bang Blanche (myself! Haha!), I’d kill Sophia (out of seniority! She’s had a good long life), marry Dorothy (a woman with sense and experience) and share a cocktail with Rose (or 3 and get her bombed!).

AC: What kind of research goes into directing this show and did it vary from the type of research that went into getting into character?

MM: The research is in the years of watching them on television! The Golden Girls are very familiar friends, that’s part of their enduring appeal. It’s very nostalgic and like a comfort food for our audiences. People have a true attachment to the series, so we, the performers, know them as well as the audience. After playing these parts for so many years now, the actors get into their respective characters very easily now.

AC: What do you think it is about the show that still resonates the most with modern audiences?

MM: The truth of the comedy resonates with everyone! Modern audiences relate to the comedy and drama, as times change, but people don’t! The issues that they would explore on the series are the same as today. Love, friendship, old age, health, mothers/daughters, divorce, ex-husbands, companionship, annoying roommates, and people just having to live together to learn from and tolerate one another. The writers didn’t shy away from serious subject matter either. Some of the episodes were groundbreaking for their time in addressing such social issues as abortion and drug addiction.

AC: What’s the one Golden Girlsfashion statement you hope makes a comeback in 2015?

MM: God, not sure anyone wants ANY of those fashion statements to make a comeback, or maybe in the Smithsonian, behind glass! I do love the flash and dash of some of the getups, and Blanche gets to wear some hilarious outfits, but again most of the wardrobe is in the category of “What were they thinking?!” in the 1980s.

AC: Where can we catch your next show? Any big plans for the new year?

MM: We just finished filming Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte which should be released next year. We are doing another run of D’Arcy Drollinger’s hit show “Shit and Champagne” at The Oasis, the new club D’Arcy and Heklina are opening South of Market! I will also be doing a version of my solo show All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead at the new club later in January.

AC: What’s your favorite part of the holiday season?

MM: Being together with family and friends and reminded that the holiday season is a state of mind, not just a few weeks for love and laughter on the calendar. The holidays are a very tough time of year for many people, so performing in a show making people laugh and smile is a beautiful gift to give and receive!

AC: What food are you looking forward to indulging in this Thanksgiving?

MM: All of it! Of course my brother-in-law’s fabulous barbequed turkey, some sweet potato pie, and all the sides! Pecan pie, pumpkin pie…then I won’t eat for a week so I can fit into my costumes for opening night, December 4th!

AC: In ten words or less, why should we come see Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes?

MM: You will be HAPPY that you came to the show!

So with that my Theater Pub pals, I leave you with this: Thank you for being a friend.Travel down the road and back again. Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.

Be sure to check out what’s sure to be a fun and festive way to enjoy the holidays with The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes 2014 and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Come see Matthew and The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes 2014, Dec. 4 – 21, 2014 – Thurs. Fri. & Sat. – 8:00 pm / Sun. – 7:00 pm at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco! Tickets are $25 and are available at http://goldengirlssf.eventbrite.com/

Cowan Palace: Eating More Feelings

This week Ashley picks up from an earlier blog about eating her feelings and writing about it.

By the time you read this, I’ll be off on my honeymoon getting sunburn and probably eating too much at a complimentary buffet. But hey, that could be appropriate given I’m here writing about food again!

Ashley

A few weeks ago, I shared some of the difficulty I was facing while working on my Olympians piece, Charybdis (or: Charlene’s Hungry). Don’t remember? Well you can reread it here: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/cowan-palace-lets-eat-our-feelings-and-write-about-it/

Oh, and I lied about the food poisoning part. Well, kinda. It was really “morning sickness” but I certainly felt (and still feel) that many foods have been poisoned for me throughout this pregnancy and that my entire relationship with food has changed.

But let’s get back to my play for now. In my previous blog, I mentioned that in order to finish my draft, I would force myself to attend an Overeaters Anonymous Meeting as it’s the setting to my piece. And boy, did I!

I should mention that I’ve had a pretty rough time with feeling nauseated throughout the past several weeks. And one of the things that helps balance it is snacking. Constantly. Even when eating is the last thing I want to do, if I can get myself to consume something, it’ll often help. Well, on this particular day, a few Saturdays back, I was suffering through some sickness. But knowing my time was running out to attend a meeting, I couldn’t back out. So I hopped on two buses and commuted an hour to the Sunset.

When I got there, I stood outside the building too nervous to go in; why hadn’t I thought about this earlier? What was I going to say if they wanted me to talk? Would I be honest? Should I try to be a character and put on an act? I let the minutes pass by while I attempted to get my story straight.

Since I’m a terrible liar (as Ashley Cowan; give me a character to play and I will confidently lie my face off!) I decided to just be as honest as possible without having to give too much of true self away.

I walked in and through a bigger meeting space to get to a smaller room. There, I saw five other women waiting patiently. The mood was quiet and thoughtful. Which immediately made me tense. We opened with the Serenity Prayer and then all the new people were asked to introduce themselves. I quickly decided against a fake name and went with my own when asked.

Next, we were informed that this was a “literature meeting” which meant we’d spend the majority of the meeting reading from a book, each of us taking turns to read a paragraph at a time. We were also told that the material we would be reading from was actually from Alcoholics Anonymous and that when we saw AA written, we should say “OA” so we could adapt it for our purposes.

Already, OA was starting to seem like a forgotten stepchild in an anonymous world. And I have to admit, I didn’t get a lot out of the readings. A lot of the material did not translate well for our needs and it just made the meeting feel sad.

Afterwards though, came the segment on sharing your experiences. I waited silently and shyly for others to speak. Those that chose to open up all came from different perspectives, which as an observer, was fascinating. Their stories were varied and their relationship with food ranged as well. After one woman spoke about being pregnant and having a difficult time managing the snacking required to fight her nausea in a healthy manner, I was inspired to speak up, if only to tell her she wasn’t the alone.

And though my voice was shaking a bit, I told them the truth. That this whole year, I’ve been struggling with food. From planning my wedding and calculating every calorie to trying to find peace with feeling like all that work is being undone as you gain weight to support another growing body. Food has been both my hero and my monster.

Which is certainly lending itself to my writing. But, working on this play has also brought back a lot of feelings from my childhood, when I really struggled with my body image. And maybe part of me is already fearing that I’m bringing a daughter into a world that can be quite cruel and that there’s a chance she may have to fight her own demons.

Growing up, I had always been a strong swimmer and spent my evenings doing laps with the swim team. There was both a threat and a safety involved in that. On one hand, I had to be in a bathing suit in front of my peers. That made me incredibly self conscious. On the other hand, there’s this beautiful weightlessness you feel when you’re swimming and I was actually really good at it. Needless to say, I’ve always been drawn to water so this Greek myth was even more of a personal pull.

After completing another draft of my script, I recently fell asleep and had a dream I was at a pool with beautiful people in attendance when a kid came up to me and said, “I bet you wish you were surrounded by people that look more like… you.” He was very judgmental and cruel in tone. I desperately started trying to defend myself to this small child saying, “I’m doing the best I can! And I’m pregnant!” but he just laughed.

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The water, the critical feelings, the anger, the pain of it all just came rushing back. And I realized that this subject really may have been a bigger bite than I could chew. What that means for the piece is that while I have a completed draft of it, I’m realizing the story that came out ended up being bigger than a short. There’s more I want to say there, more I think I have to say at some point if I allow myself to keep swimming in it, but that time isn’t now.

This is not to suggest that I hope you skip the reading of it on November 22! The play is a beginning, a piece of more to come, but I’m happy to have a start and something to share. Heavily influenced by the meeting I attended and my own food demons, I hope you’ll be there in the audience to hear this take on Charybdis along with two other Greek monster tales.

Until then, see as many Olympians plays as you can! And be kind to yourselves. Because the truth is, if that insecure kid you may have been years ago could see you now, I’m sure they’d be pretty happy and proud of who you’ve become.

Carybdis

The 2014 Olympians festival will play 12 nights, November 5-22, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show.

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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Higher Education: How I Re-Discovered My Passion for Theater By Writing a Syllabus

Barbara Jwanouskos gleans inspiration from the most unlikely of places.

Over winter break as I was killing time, I had to chuckle about an article I saw that talked about the tumblr, lolmythesis, where graduate students around the world can sum up years of research and work in one hilarious sentence. I joked around with my dad that mine probably would have been “No one is interested in theater anymore, but I paid $$$$$ to learn how to write for it anyway.”

Syllabus for writing a new play.

Syllabus for writing a new play.

Perhaps it’s a little cynical. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the ideas of “what’s next” or “did I make a complete lapse in all reasonable judgment”. Sure, maybe, but then you have moments where you remember why you decided to pursue something or what sparked your passion for it.

I want to share something I’m proud that I wrote. It’s not a play – it’s actually a syllabus for Advanced Playwriting, a course I’m teaching this semester. Last year, I taught Introduction to Screenwriting, which was a wonderful experience. My syllabus, however, was very dry and jam-packed with information that was really not expressive of who I am as a teacher, artist and person. So, when I set out to write this syllabus, I tried to look at it as if I were writing a play.

Here’s what I said:

What this course is:
A play is basically a blueprint for a production
and in this course
you’re going to learn how to capture an idea for a play
how to develop, pull apart, and destroy that idea,
how to actually finish a script,
and how to talk about new work.

What we’ll be exploring is
How to make a create the blueprint for
an theatrical experience that is

engaging,
transformative,
weird,
and uncomfortable.

How can we tap into ourselves
and explore how we view the world
then translate
what’s in our brains
down onto the page

so that it makes some sort of sense
when people read the words we have selected
out loud
but more so
when they perform the instructions
we have given them
for the presentation of a live experience?

How do we give the audience what it needs?

This audience is ready to see your play.

This audience is ready to see your play.

I realized that in having to define what I was going to teach in my syllabus, I actually had to define what I thought a play was and what “good theater” was. What is playwriting? Why do we do it?

My personal relationship with theater is kind of grafted together a couple things that folks have said to me over the years:

It’s an experience (not necessarily a narrative). I found this so interesting when someone had mentioned it, because it made it easier to account for all the plays that have affected me that do not have a clear linear or non-linear arc.

It’s related to ritual. So much theater is born out of religious and spiritual rituals and ceremonies of the past. I haven’t quite worked out my thought-process on this, but there seems to be something key in the idea that a play is an experience that we need to give the audience by re-creating an event or a series of events.

It happens in space and time. Not that you can’t suggest multiple locations within a play, but a play is all about the current present moment and it is happening live in front of your eyes.

A play is play! A play is pretend, and we forget that sometimes when doing serious work. We forget the reasons why we inhabit different bodies and characters to perform a play, but I think a play is also something that should give us tremendous satisfaction in some way. I don’t mean that we need to be purely entertained. I think even searing dramas give us a way to delve into a thoughts, issues, and circumstances that are hard to talk about. Being able to do that is such a relief. Not because we are “done” with whatever the play’s subject matter is, but perhaps we feel like we are at least in conversation with it and trying to understand what it means.

Play time!

Play time!

Getting back to these core ideas gave me the answer to all my cynicism regarding writing for theater and being in a graduate program for a degree that – financially speaking, at least – may be essentially useless. I write because there is something I find valuable in what I’ve seen that I’d like to share with others. I write to explore beautiful, yet complicated grey areas of relationships. I write to challenge what I know more than to challenge others on what they know. Through that, absolutely do I find passion and enjoyment.

Why do you do theater? How would you define a play? Share with us your thoughts!