Everything Is Already Something Week 54: The Most Waiting For Guffman Things That Have Ever Happened To Me

Allison Page is still waiting.

“You’re bastard people. That’s what you are, you’re bastard people!”

Even humans with a passing interest in theatre are probably familiar with the magnificent mockumentary Waiting for Guffman. I saw Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer in conversation with Adam Savage a couple months ago and my brain was squealing with delight the entire time.

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In honor of that, and of general shenanigans and absurdity, here are some of the most Waiting for Guffman-esque things that have ever actually happened to me in real life:

1) An actor didn’t show up to a performance because he was playing softball, so I had to go around and tell the audience to go home…luckily I knew all of them. ALL OF THEM. It was dinner theater so they still got to eat some rolls and an iceberg lettuce salad.

2) Overheard from one of the other actors in a Shakespeare play: “I feel like as long as I get the gist of the line, that’s close enough.”

3) An actor got drunk, put an audience member in a head lock, and then fell through a window. HE FELL THROUGH A WINDOW. An actual window. Glass and everything. We kept going. Also he broke that guy’s glasses.

4) I was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo broke up with me right before opening night and I shouted, in absolute sincerity, “YOU CAN’T BREAK UP WITH ME I’M FUCKING JULIET!” I mean…I was like 19. So. What do you expect?

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

5) An actor couldn’t remember, like, ANY of his lines. And in the middle of the show I had to crawl across the stage and off to look at the script and mouth the lines to him. (I did this maybe a dozen times) And then I crawled back on again, mumbling about my contact lenses.

6) I ate Little Caesar’s Pizza before the show and threw up offstage several times, then got dizzy and sprained my ankle from running back and forth, meaning the other actor in the scene who started the show alone, had to improvise fake phone conversation until I stumbled in.

7) Cast mate chased me with a knife “in character” because I stole her boyfriend. Listen, I know, WE’RE BOTH WRONG HERE.

8) I owed someone a favor and they decided to cash it in by asking me to do lights for Bye, Bye, Birdie. (Birdie couldn’t sing, BTW) Which I did, and then they demanded that I come down FROM THE LIGHT BOOTH at the end of the show so I could bow and wave at the audience. It’s a fairly large theater, so I had to descend a ladder and run from the back of the room onto the stage.

9) The fog machine set off the smoke alarm and a bunch of firemen arrived with axes so we had to evacuate the theater and stand out on the sidewalk for 30 minutes. I was wearing a blue helmet and dystopian future clothes.

10) Nuns wearing eyeliner and lipstick and having nose piercings.

11) Being 150lbs and saying the line “I’m 106lbs!”

12) Actors literally saying “Peas and carrots, peas and carrots” in the background, probably loud enough that people could understand it.

13) My character was being assaulted onstage and my assailants were supposed to be tearing at my clothes. I was wearing a corseted dress with more layers under it so they could rip my costume off. The problem was that one of the two actors who was supposed to be disrobing me was my boyfriend and he was terrified some bit of flesh would pop out, so the other guy would grab a piece of fabric and pull it, and my boyfriend would put it back on.

14) Older men with bad eyes doing their own stage makeup and applying a LOT of eyeliner. And blush. Lots and lots of blush.

15) The costumer REALLY wanted to be on stage. Every time an actor was a couple minutes late to the theater, she’d start asking if she should get ready because she TOTALLY knew the part — she didn’t, but I guess she thought she could make it up.

16) The only Equity actor in the show is the one who doesn’t know their lines. Extra points because this has happened half a dozen times.

17) Lead actress fell down and chipped a tooth mid-show.

18) I saw a production of Little Shop where Seymour was 17 years old and Audrey was 50 years old. And he didn’t know any of the words to the songs. Made ‘em up.

19) An actor casting actual spells backstage on the actors she didn’t like. Ya know, because she’s a witch.

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20) A bunch of the actors hanging out in the men’s dressing room with a bag of coke. The women had no idea what was going on. But it made a lot of sense when we heard about it later.

21) Two actors went out drinking the previous night and got in a fist fight so one of them wore sunglasses through the entire next performance because he had two black eyes.

22) The bed backstage broke in the middle of the show with a giant CRRRAAAACK! so when the bedroom scene happened, it was just a mattress on the floor. I guess the Capulets were on a budget.

23) Oberon WOULD NOT stop smoking stogies in rehearsal. Indoors. He also had two girlfriends and they stood around kissing each other and giggling while we all just waited for them to not be doing that so we could start rehearsal.

24) I was playing an 8 year old but I lost my voice and then sounded like Brian Doyle Murray for the duration of the run.

25) There was a trapdoor on an elevated flat in Scrooge’s house, so that the ghosts (I was Christmas Present and Christmas Past) could just “appear” in the middle of the room. But the flat was only raised about a foot off the stage, and the opening was in the center of it, so we had to get down on our bellies and slither like snakes to get there, and then miraculously do a 90 degree backbend in order to go through the opening. Visions of it collapsing in on me attacked my brain as I scraped several layers of skin of my back each night. But at least I didn’t fall through the trapdoor during a blackout. Someone else did that. “AahhhTHUD.”

Now, go home and bite your pillow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian in San Francisco. She’s currently producing a sketch comedy show written by 8 year olds. Learn more and be afraid, at killingmylobster.com

Cowan Palace: Chasing Happiness and Learning to Love the Pursuit

This week Ashley explores finding professional happiness in unexpected places.

It could be the air of anticipation in a new season but I recently realized I’m happier than I’ve been in awhile. Sure, there have been some interesting hurdles to conquer over these past few weeks but overall, I’m feeling much more balanced, inspired, and optimistic. Suck it, 2013.

Why such a change? Well, my endless quest for answers has brought me to an interesting realization.

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As you know, I came to San Francisco to pursue theater. And at the time, I thought that meant working any and all part time jobs surrounding the theater that I could get my hands on. I worked for several nonprofit groups in the hope that I was getting closer to my dream, my happiness, to “having it all”!

I was exhausted all the time. And poor. Which was a bit deflating. I would work so hard but never have much to show for it. Most of the time I could barely financially support shows I wanted to see. But I may be one of the most stubborn people out there and I wasn’t willing to give it up without a real fight. And then a sequel to the fight. Followed by a half-hearted third round.

It started to seem stagnant. I never felt like I was moving. I was constantly surrounded by the thing I had claimed to love the most and it wasn’t adding up; theater was all around me in one shape or another but it wasn’t providing the joy I had expected and fought for. I lived in the pressures of budget cuts, harsh industry realities, and consistently changing staffs. It seemed that most people who crossed my professional path were uninterested in fighting to the death for places unwilling and unable to fight for them in return. What a concept.

So I left my string of multiple nonprofit jobs because I couldn’t afford to stay and I just wasn’t happy enough to fight anymore. I switched over to marketing in more corporate settings with companies who appeared overly enthusiastic to bring a “theater person” to the mix. I figured maybe in this different setting I’d pursue some other interests while still getting the chance to do my theater stuff in my free time.

And I was pretty miserable. The environment did very little for me and I found myself surrounded by people with very different passions. Even when I left the office, I found myself to be angry and irritated. I had hoped to pursue my dreams outside of work but mainly, my energy was low and I didn’t have the drive to chase projects I should have.

When I was in college, I double majored in Communications (focused in Marketing/Public Relations) and Theatre (focused in Performance). So in attempt to find my happiness, I traded in one career path for the other. One side had heart, character, but an unsteady foundation and the other side had ambition, money, and an ignored foundation.

I quit my corporate job to go to Disney World with a group of my closest friends (BECAUSE I’M AN ADULT AND I DO WHAT I WANT!) and when I returned I was unsure which path to try. So I watched a lot of Netflix. (Seriously, if anyone wants to talk about Revenge or Scandal, I can do that now!) And I applied to hundreds of jobs. In all different fields. I figured, eventually, a door had to open and I’d know where to go. This process proved to be frustrating and soul-crushing at times for a sensitive gal, such as myself. People would encourage me to “hang in there” and that the right job would find me and it would all be worth it! I wanted to punch them all in the throat.

But a few months later, after filling out a seemingly random online application and continuing to move forward with a new company, I found something different.

Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail about it because I need to save some juicy details for a later blog (and it’s pretty juicy, guys, it’s like almost as interesting as Scandal). But I will say that I currently work in the tech industry San Francisco is known for… just in a fairly unique way. It’s not theater and yet, something feels right.

I love being able to work in an environment that doesn’t drain my energy and pushes me to go home and be creative during my free time. I love working with people who appreciate my contributions and are still willing to laugh at my puns (it’s a fairly small office and they’re getting some of my best material). But mainly I love finding happiness in the most unexpected places.

In my experience, I found that when I’m happy, theater is everywhere. Even when it’s not my main source of income or the place I go to for 40 hours a week. I’m still going to keep fighting for my dreams but at the moment, I’m content with where I am. And the only thing I can suggest is that everyone deserves to find a workplace that works for them too. Don’t go down a path that you’ve already tried if it made you sad, keep opening doors! Eventually, something will be worth going inside for; you’ll step into kinder grounds. Until then, you’re welcome to imagine punching me in the throat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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