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!

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Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Things of Darkness and of Light

Marissa Skudlarek, walking in and out of the shadows. 

October. A new month, and none too soon. We Theater Pub bloggers chose comedy as our September theme, and then several of us found ourselves facing personal crises and challenges in September that made it very hard to be lighthearted. Hence my “maybe comedy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” article, last time around. Hence Stuart’s invocation of the terrifying momentum of this white-knuckle year.

Our October theme might be more in line with what we’re feeling. This is the month when the days get rapidly shorter, when the Sun moves into moody Scorpio, and the spooky Halloween holiday caps things off. And, appropriately, our theme this month has to do with the magic and mystery of theater (and life), ghost stories, horror theater, the frightening, the numinous.

What could be more numinous, more magical, than the thought that Ashley and Will, two of my co-bloggers, have together created a new life? This baby, conceived around the summer solstice, announced on the autumn equinox, will come into the world around the time of next year’s spring equinox. I think about that, and about how the Spanish euphemism for “giving birth” is “dar a luz,” “to give to the light.” And it feels both wonderfully appropriate and wonderfully mysterious.

My year hasn’t been quite as momentous as Ashley and Will’s, but it — and particularly, the past few months — have brought me bigger challenges than I’ve had to face in a long time. Halfway through the run of Pleiades in August, I began experiencing terrible stomach pains that started as soon as I lay down in bed and kept me awake for hours. After a few nights of this, I went to the doctor and got diagnosed with gallstones. Honestly, the diagnosis came as a relief, rather than shocking or frightening me. I wasn’t crazy! This wasn’t psychosomatic! I was really ill — I had stones in my abdomen that weren’t supposed to be there! And, while I’d have to go on a super low-fat diet and then get my gallbladder surgically removed (neither of which would be much fun), at least that would be an effective, permanent cure.

A few days later, the metaphorical resonances of my situation began to hit me. The process of producing Pleiades, from the time I floated the idea to director Katja Rivera in mid-December 2013 to closing night at the end of August 2014, took about nine months. And then at the end of the process, I came down with terrible abdominal pains and had to go to the hospital to get something removed from inside me! I wasn’t just giving birth to a play. I was giving birth to gallstones.

And then I decided that I needed to name my gallstone. I know this sounds kooky, but I come from a family that names everything — our cars, even our Christmas trees. Giving something a name makes it real and concrete in my mind, and as such, gives me power over it. After considering and rejecting a few silly names that didn’t feel right (gallstones are sometimes made of bilirubin, so perhaps I could name my stone “Billy Rubin”?) I reached back to literature for inspiration. And I decided that my gallstone was named “Caliban.” Partly because it was angry and caused me pain and would flare up if I drank too much alcohol. But mostly, I was thinking of the line at the end of The Tempest, when Prospero says of Caliban, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

This gallstone was a thing of darkness. This health crisis was no fun. But if I acknowledged it as mine — if I accepted it rather than falling prey to self-pity or anger — I could survive.

Then, too, I thought of a monologue I had written for one of the key moments in Pleiades. The character of Teresa (in our production, wonderfully played by Monica Ammerman) has been raped, late at night on a beach. The next morning, she tells her sister and her cousin what happened:

The sand. So much sand. Rubbing me raw and abrading me—getting into places where sand shouldn’t go— And at first I closed my eyes and tried to forget it was happening but that just made it worse. You know when your eyes are closed you feel things more intensely, right? So I opened them and saw him, of course, big and dark and close up. And the only other thing I could see was the sky. Big and dark and far away. But full of stars. And I remembered what they say, that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. The stars win out. They have to win out. There has to be more starlight than sand… But there was so much sand!

And I realized that if Pleaides was the starlight in my life, these gallstones were the sand. I was so proud of my show, this play inspired by mythology and constellations and sisterhood. And the stars would win out… even if I had this sand, or these stones, inside me, too.

I think October is about acknowledging those things of darkness that are ours. But also acknowledging the starlight. The sparks of light within us, like the candle in a jack-o-lantern.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She has never read “Illness as Metaphor” but she probably should. Find her on Twitter @MarissaSkud or at marissabidilla.blogspot.com.

Cowan Palace: Ashley The Actress Gets Knocked Up

This week Ashley talks about acting, pregnancy, apples, and oranges.

Maybe you’ve heard the news, gang. This gal has a bun in the oven (or a “pun in the oven” if you’ve seen our announcement video). And it’s awesome! It’s wonderful! But truth be told, it’s also hard. And complicated.

Before I say much more, it should be stated that being a mom has always been something I wanted to become. Since I learned to talk, I told anyone who would listen that I planned to grow up and be an actress and a mother. In fact, since I was always on the taller side, I spent a lot of my time in middle school, high school, and college getting cast as “the mother role”. Though, playing Mother in Roger Williams University’s production of Blood Wedding was still one of my proudest parts to date and landed me the nickname of “Mama” to all my college classmates.

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

That said though, I always imagined my journey into motherhood would be calculated and planned. To say the news of this pregnancy caught us off guard is the understatement of the year. (Then again, my family moved when my 5th grade class was taking Sex Ed so clearly, I don’t understand how babies are made.)

After spending eight months of planning our wedding and trading in rehearsals for workouts, Will and I were so thrilled by the idea of returning back to our life and just relaxing into our new relationship as a married couple. We were going to do more writing, push each other to audition for plays, and slowly save money for an eventual move. After a long talk, we also agreed that Will’s job wasn’t an ideal match and he decided to give his two weeks notice. A day later, we discovered we were pregnant and the world turned upside down.

As I bawled my eyes out into Will’s chest in the doctor’s office, a group of nurses kept whispering, “are they happy right now?” And yes, I was very happy but also totally terrified. We didn’t exactly feel “ready”. We had only been married a month! We live with roommates! Will just quit his job! But here was a new life inside of me! It was both amazing and overwhelming. Everything at once.

And no one mentioned how physically demanding it would be! Throughout my first trimester, I was too tired to do anything but go to work and stumble home. I was also so nauseated all the time that my good ole friend, food, became an enemy. Which has honestly been one of the most difficult elements for me.

We also couldn’t talk openly about it. Very few people knew. But one of the things we realized early on was that I wouldn’t be able to act in the late October show I had been cast in as by that time, I’d be about five months pregnant. Thankfully, my very understanding director, Colin, let me weep on the phone while promising to keep the secret. I had never dropped an acting role before and I started to realize that me and my acting love are going to have to take a bit of a break for awhile.

Earlier this week, that understanding hit me like a ton of bricks. While watching the Olympians Audition, I sat in the audience trying to curb my never ending nausea with snacks and small talk. I asked about how Terrorama (the show I had to drop) had been doing and I was greeted with enthusiastic replies. They were doing great! Which is fantastic! But I couldn’t help but feel a little sad knowing I was originally supposed to be included in this horror themed party and now couldn’t be a part of the terrifying fun. Once the actual auditions began, the weight sank in a bit more as I thought about how my body was getting bigger and I was watching an array of beautiful, young, slender actresses parade across the stage and impress everyone. It started to feel like I was being asked to leave a party I so desperately wanted to attend; that the exit was getting closer and everything was changing.

As you could have guessed, the feelings once again brought me to a tearful goodbye as I escaped the Exit Theater with two streams of water rolling down my face. Guys, I’m an emotional gal battling her way through some new hormones, you get it, right?

I worry you’re reading this and thinking I’m an ungrateful, selfish bitch. There are families out there trying to have a baby and here I am complaining and crying all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly grateful But no one tells you how grueling and taxing the process can be. Most of what I know about it all has been through movies and 90’s sitcoms. They all said it would be wondrous and they promised I’d glow! They don’t tell you that it’s also sometimes the worst. Also, I worry more about my unborn child seeing this one day and thinking for a moment that they were unwanted for even a second. Because I assure you, that’s truly not it.

It’s just me processing life. And trying to be honest in the process. I have a lot of emotions. I feel all the feelings. I’m still an actress after all and it’s just something I do.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This week the baby is the size of a navel orange. Or an apple, if you read other sources. And as I contemplated the well known idiom and my feelings on my sabbatical from acting, I thought about trying to compare things that can’t really be compared. Life isn’t easy. And being an adult has proven to be harder than I imagined. You have to make grown up choices sometimes that you don’t feel ready to make. Some days, you need the apple and some days you need the orange; you don’t always get both. But when you’re ready to strike a delicious balance, maybe life will grant you a fruit salad. That’s what I’m aiming for anyway.

Comparing acting to my new motherhood is impossible and pointless. I’m delighted to take on my new real life mother role and I’ll also be excited to return to the stage sometime (hopefully soon) to continue to follow my passion. Goodness knows, I’ll be in the company of other amazing parents who are navigating a similar course. So until then, I thank you all for letting me be open and truthful about the adventure so far… and for following me on yet another journey of harmonizing theater with life.

Cowan Palace: Uncovering April Fools

Ashley attempts to explore the origin of this hilarious holiday.

April Fools’ Day. It’s become the new holiday I love to hate. The day this gullible blogger falls for one too many grand Internet schemes.

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Even though, aside from Halloween, one could consider it an actor’s holiday. It’s a day centered around a whole lot of lies! And aren’t we supposed to be good at that?

It’s also the perfect time for pranksters to spread rumors about some more well-known celebrities. Which will often reappear on social media outlets after a few months forcing us all to fall for it again (no one should joke about Full House possibly coming back to TV). How did you guys enjoy yesterday’s jokes? Did you fall for Britney Spears being pregnant or Keanu Reeves and his remake of Citizen Kane?

Well, in the midst of all the horsing around (holla, Year of the Horse!), my need to research overwhelmed my Facebook desires (also, I hadn’t watched the highly anticipated series finale of How I Met Your Mother yet and wanted to avoid the spoilers). So I began to explore some of the origins of this sneaky day.

And unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t a huge help. No one seems to agree where or when it began.

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Many believe it’s thanks to France and their attempt to reset the calendar. Back in the 1500s, folks were undecided about when to pop that champagne (it is from France, after all) and make poor decisions at their New Year’s Eve bash. Some wanted it to be marked in January to follow the example of the Roman calendar while others believed the new year should be set by the start of a sunnier season: the spring. But as this decision wasn’t made immediately, it moved slowly through the population. And some people in rural areas continued celebrating in the beginning of April… thus becoming “April Fools” to those who scheduled their party in January.

But that story could easily be an April Fools’ joke of its own. There are other researchers who think the day came from spring festivals where pranking was just a general practice. These guys didn’t have the Internet so they had to entertain themselves in some way, right?! It’s also worth noting that April Fools’ Day falls around the time of other similar holidays, including both the festival of Hilaria and Holi. Most likely related to the words “hilarious” and “hilarity”, Hilaria also goes by the name of “Roman Laughing Day”. (Which, sounds like a BLAST.) Holi is celebrated in India as a way to acknowledge the new season; those taking part will often prank each other in good fun.

In any case, April Fools’ Day is something we continue to recognize. As news travels faster than ever, it’s become easy to prank almost any susceptible soul (so… me). And along with the havoc we Americans do with our fake pregnancy schemes, several European countries continue to celebrate it as well.

After potentially starting the tradition in the first place, those in France who get tricked are called a “Poisson d’Avril”, which if you’ve taken French in high school, you’ll know means “April Fish”. In fact, one common practice is to get a cut out of a fish and hook it to someone. Why a fish you ask? Well, that’s kind of unclear too. Perhaps it relates back to Jesus (because doesn’t it always?) who was often connected to fish or maybe it’s for those astrologers out there who know that fish relate to the zodiac sign, Pisces, which also falls in April.

In the end, whatever you believe about the potential origin of April Fools’ Day is up to you, pal. And how you celebrate it? Well, the jokester’s sky’s the limit! Any worthy pranks to share?