Cowan Palace: How To Be A Better Theatre Person In 10 Simple Steps

Ashley invites you to join in her 2016 theatrical resolutions. Happy New Year!

It’s 2016! I hope by now your hangovers have subsided and you’re still feeling optimistic that this new year will be the one you finally overcome your sugar addiction while training for a marathon. You can do it!

For me, 2015 was a year of great heights and low valleys; a real rainbow of emotions. And I’ll be totally honest, guys, I spent way too many months feeling like I was standing in the center of a middle school cafeteria wondering where to sit. Crying because I felt like I had lost my place in my community, questioning my involvement in the local theatre scene.

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I was naive to think that things would stay the same after having a baby. But I didn’t know how difficult it would be to navigate the space between my old self and my new found role. Now, I promise I’m not here to blab about the highs and lows of my introduction to motherhood. Instead, I want to share my list of things I think I can actively do to be a better theatre person. Because I know I can do better. So! Here are 10 resolutions I’m going to be working on this year:

1.) Reach out to someone you worked with (preferably someone who is out of state and who you may not have spoken to in a little while) and say hi.

If you’ve ever done a show with someone and made one of those magical new friendships that quickly solidifies itself over a stressful tech week or a shared love for rehearsal snacks consisting of cake, it’s easy to think you’ll always stay bonded. The truth is, you both get involved in other projects and distance pushes its way between you. So think about someone like that and reach out to them. See what they’re up to and what’s new in their world. Ask if they’re working on anything now then request they keep you updated on it. If they are close enough to see, meet them for cake. If they’re far away, send them some cake. While this won’t help your sugar addiction, it’ll probably be delicious.

2.) For every negative thing you say, say two positives.

You may not know this about me but, wowza, I’m really great at complaining and bitching about stuff. I’m also pretty good at looking on the bright side and trying to see the best in people. I lost my patience easily in 2015 when I felt like I lost my place in my theatre community. Which made me sad. And mad. And other feelings that a first grader can spell. So I’m trying something new. Sure, I can bitch and complain to my heart’s content! But lately, I’ve been trying to then come up with two “nice things” to say to balance it out. It’s a work in progress but a worthy effort, I think.

3.) Don’t Always Talk To Theatre People About Theatre

Talk about literally anything else. Seriously. Try having a conversation with someone in the theatre community and don’t use it as a way to plug a show you’re working on or gossip about a crappy production you heard about or whatever. I’m guilty of small talking people I haven’t seen in awhile and immediately asking them what show or project they’re working on these days. Boring! You can do better, Cowan! At least I’m going to give it a shot. And if anyone out there wants to talk about dessert, I’m so obviously your girl.

4.) Give A Compliment To Someone You Haven’t Met Yet

Did you see a show and love someone’s performance but since you didn’t know the actor personally, you never told them? I do this too often. Not anymore, 2016! Next time I like something, I’m going out of my way to give that praise to the rightful recipient.

5.) Promote A Show You Had Nothing To Do With

Create a simple social media post that advertises some kind of theatrical event that you aren’t involved in. Keep the artistic conversation going and help give a show some press. It’s easy and free so just do it.

6.) Ask Someone How They’re Doing

Like, in a genuine, “I actually care”, active listening kind of way. They could be a theatre person or not. Make an effort to really connect with someone. You’ll be surprised how much it may mean to them. And relating to a fellow human does wonders for your artistic soul, right?

7.) Try Not To Take It Personally

I know I’m waaaaaay too sensitive for my own good. And most likely, 2016 Ashley is going to continue that habit. I so quickly assume no one likes me or wants my company if I haven’t heard from them in awhile. Usually, the other person is just busy and going through their own series of personal roller coasters. Send them a friendly text and then calm the F down. Take that sensitive energy and use it for something productive, like catching up on The Bachelor.

8.) Try A Non Theatre Related Activity And A New Theatre Related Activity

To help keep yourself balanced and entertained, why not try a hobby that has nothing to do with theatre? Want to be a better cook? Look up some recipes online and play in the kitchen. Want to learn to knit? Cool, go pick up some yarn. When you’re done with that, consider a theatrical field you’ve had an interest in but have never pursued. Love costumes? Ask if you can help the next Theater Pub show get on that. Want to write? Check out Saturday Write Fever. Step out of your comfort zone a bit and see where it takes you.

9.) Give Someone New A Chance To Be Involved

Or simply introduce two people who you think may benefit from just knowing each other. If you get the chance to help cast a show or if someone asks you for a recommendation, don’t just go to your usual small list of friends; try to think outside your immediate bubble to those, perhaps, shyer folks who want to be involved but don’t know how to do it.

10.) Be Both Critical And Kind To Your Efforts

Could you be a better theatre person? Yeah, probably. It’s almost always worth trying. And if you can think of something that may make you better or how you can make someone else’s day, give it a whirl. Then give yourself a high five and some credit for being a part of a community and doing what you can to strengthen it. You’re awesome.

That’s what I’ll be working on, anyway. Maybe you’ll consider joining me in a quest to make 2016 our bitch? I mean, our friend? Whatever! Until next time, gang. I hope you’re all off to a wonderful 2016.

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Cowan Palace: Audition Tips With Ashley

Ashley’s gonna make you a star, kid!

After nearly a year and a half away from auditioning, I found myself at a real life actual audition on Saturday afternoon. As you may remember my feelings regarding having to prepare a monologue from my past blog I was delighted to be in the company of printed sides and fellow cold readers.

Honestly, sometimes just getting out of the house without forgetting my keys is a victory, so I was pretty jazzed to simply get out and go play. But I thought I’d try to also use the experience and write some tips for the next audition.

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

Here are a few of my pearls of wisdom:

1.) Dress to impress… or press your dress… or try not to be a mess.

So you’re an actor. You probably know how to make yourself look pretty, good for you. But if you can, put a little effort into what you’re wearing and consider how you want people to see you. On Saturday, I picked a dress to wear and ironed it and did my best to remove all the rogue, single pet hairs that had found a home and formed a community on it. I had a pretty lengthy mental debate about whether or not to fish out some Spanx because truthfully, I’m not quite back into my old audition body thanks to nursing. Little did I know I wouldn’t really have to worry about that because I ended up popping a button off the bust of the dress on my walk out the door. It was unfortunate. So my advice? Along with ironing your pretty clothes, perhaps try them on the night before to make sure you feel comfortable and confident. Also, have a backup.

2.) You can be warm and welcoming. Or cool and collected. Just don’t be an asshole.

On my second audition in the Bay Area, I was scolded by another actress in the waiting area for being too friendly with the stage manager and other people waiting for their audition slot. She told me it wouldn’t get me into the show. I did get into that show and that show pretty much depended on the actors being friendly with strangers (holla, Tony ‘n Tina’s crew!). But I realized that people handle their audition nerves in different ways; some are overly talkative, some are silent and thoughtful. I usually lean on the chatty side; it helps me feel better to talk to those in my boat. What I’ve found auditioning for stuff in the Bay Area is that often, you’ll come to know a majority of the actors in the waiting room with you. And while you want to get in a show, you’re also really rooting for many of them to get in, too. That’s cool! So I suggest either embracing the opportunity to hang out with other actors and enjoy the conversations or politely give yourself some space. But you don’t need to embrace the people looking for space. So be aware and stuff. And keep in mind, being an asshole in the waiting room isn’t going to secure your chance to be cast, either.

3.) Give yourself a dress rehearsal

Once you get a side, it’s in your best interest to read that sucker out loud. Even if it’s just once. On Saturday, I got the chance to read with a few different people who were luckily interested in taking a moment to read the lines aloud together. Each time I read a side out loud for the first time, I flubbed some word or sentence. But then when I got into the space, I was way less likely to mess it up again. So lesson learned, mentally reading lines over in your head is good but if you can find a place to voice them before the director hears it, do it!

4.) Don’t be boring or too quiet

You never know what’s going on in the minds of the folks in charge of casting but most likely, they’re tired and they’re swimming in similar dialogue read to them over and over again by countless eager actors. Do them a favor and try to go in there confidently and prepared to give them some energy. Be loud. Sometimes making the conscious choice to up that volume can encourage bigger choices to be made. You’re there to make an impression and when you get the chance to be the focus, fill that room however you can.

5.) Care

If you’re attending an audition, put some time and thought into it. Or at least, fake it. Read the script you’re trying to get a part in, familiarize yourself with the playwright or the play’s production history. Consider how cool it would be to do the show. Whatever. That passion reads and people want to be around others who are passionate about something so don’t be afraid to care about the project.

6.) Try not to care so much

Don’t get so stuck in researching the play that you’re unable to come in and take new direction and approach the text with fresh eyes. Don’t beat yourself up if your delivery didn’t nail the punchline and get a laugh. And don’t get caught up in whether things are running late or getting a last minute side to read after you studied and prepared another one. Auditions can be fun! Let yourself enjoy them a little if you can. It’s the chance to perform! So get out of your head and just play in the moment.

7.) Pack comfortable shoes for the walk home

Picking audition shoes are always a battle for me as I truly believe a change in footwear can change your portrayal of a character in a big way. Sometimes I’ll bring two pairs in or ask if I can just go barefoot and sometimes I just want the shoes to look pretty and cute so I look like I kind of have my act together. On Saturday I made the rookie mistake of not packing an extra pair of comfortable shoes to put on after my final read. Dummy! My pretty, vintage red shoes had served their purpose but my feet decided to wage a rebellion so I ended up walking home from the theater barefoot. Luckily, it was only eight blocks but I did look like I was attempting a quick walk of shame. In any case, you want to be comfortable! Even if it’s after the audition. So keep footwear in mind.

The biggest tip I have though is to go to the audition. Do not talk yourself out of it or make stupid excuses. I’m the queen of second guessing myself and coming dangerously close to canceling my audition thinking, “I don’t have a chance in getting in so why bother.” Gah, don’t do that! Just go try! You don’t have anything to lose! I almost didn’t audition for Twelfth Night years ago and I can’t imagine my life without having had that show. Plus, I’ve also auditioned for things that I didn’t get into only to have the director call me years later and offer me something totally different. You never know. But, please, if you want to act and be in shows then put yourself out there and do it over and over again! And if you need me to push you or hold you accountable, fine. Cowan Palace in the house! Hopefully I’ll schedule a new audition again soon and in the meantime, I’ll keep taking tips. So if you have an audition tip, please feel free to share. Until next time, pals!

Cowan Palace: Motherhood, A One Woman Show

Ashley’s back from maternity leave, y’all! Hugs, cuddles, and cupcakes for everyone! And this week she’s bringing Cowan Palace back with a performance log of her new role: Mama.

“Line?” I hear myself call out.

Silence.

“Line? Sorry, can someone please… is anyone there? Line?”

Silence. Then I hear my audience start to cry. I sigh. Where is the stage manager? The audience grows restless and the cry turns into a wail.

“Okay. Improv it is!” I say to myself in encouragement and begin singing another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. I’ve been trying out Cinderella this week after exhausting Oklahoma!’s score last week. My audience weeps again. My rendition of the duet, “Impossible”, must be leaving something to be desired. While I strive to inspire some kind of emotional response from those that have seen me perform, I’m pretty sure it didn’t always result in bringing them to tears. But I love the challenge!

Perhaps my audience is in need of something more from me.

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When I auditioned for this show, it was a total whim. I hadn’t even prepared a monologue and I did not feel confident about that cold read. I was pretty shocked that the production team had decided to cast me. Sure, my friends asked if I had really read my contract before agreeing to the role but I couldn’t pass up the chance to star in a one woman show! What a part! What an opportunity! What could go wrong?!

They asked how I felt about topless scenes. “Gah, these things?” I mumbled awkwardly, “Nah!” I told them it wasn’t really my thing; could we figure something else out? How about a rewrite? Or a body double? But they promised it would be an honest and potentially beautiful piece in the show. I finally agreed when they let me have control of the lighting and my wardrobe.

And speaking of the wardrobe… no one seems to be cleaning the costumes. They keep getting so dirty and the stains are mounting. Has anyone seen the stage manager? Maybe they can help. Until then, I guess I’ll keep wearing them.

Anyway, it seems that the audience responds to my topless scenes, finding nourishment in the performance. I have to admit, in the beginning, I found this part of the play to be a bit more difficult and physically demanding. But now I’ll throw my shirt off in many public spaces and parking lots if the moment is right. I respect the integrity of the production. Who knew this show would be so freeing! I’m hopeful my songs will one day inspire such a reaction.

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Still, the audience appears to fall asleep after those big scenes. I wish I could fall asleep; this show can certainly be a bit exhausting. Is an actor allowed to sleep when the audience does? Is that a real thing? Though, I can never manage to stay backstage very long. While the audience does not always love my acting, they do seem to love theatre and demand that the show continue.

Also, I’m not here to make waves (I like to save my blades and waves for occasional blogs) but, sometimes I wonder if I should inquire with a union. Most days I work long hours without a break. Sometimes I have to wait a long time to eat something or use the bathroom. Again, I’m not complaining, just wondering if that was hidden in the contract? Hmm, I wish I could find the stage manager and ask them.

I shouldn’t be surprised though considering our tech week. And wow, our final dress was a bit traumatic. I mean, over 36 hours is a long rehearsal, right? But you know what they say, rocky dress, great show! And as soon as we opened, I knew I had found the role of a lifetime.

Yes, the show is a bit more interactive than you’d think (but I was in Tony ‘n Tina’s for years!) and it’s certainly the hardest part I’ve had the chance to do but when I’m out there performing for my small audience, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. So I keep singing. I keep dancing (badly). And I keep giving it all my heart. Because even if the audience is small, they deserve a grand show full of big moments.

Lucky for me, the audience seems to be having a bit more fun these days. Sometimes I see smiles and hear the early attempts of laughter. I’ll get there. The show must go on!

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Cowan Palace: Hugs And Cuddles Heads Out On Maternity Leave!

Ashley says a quick goodbye before maternity leave.

I’ve been feeling mentally blocked from writing this blog for a few weeks. Once I admitted to myself that, yeah homegirl, you’re gonna need to take some time off for a maternity leave, I immediately felt anxious.

See, I’m not the best at taking time off or stepping away from stuff I feel invested in; my thoughts start drowning while my heart races me into a fury.

Take today for example. I’m six days away from my due date and have managed to catch a terrible cold. #Hashtag literally, my entire body hurts and my brain feels like it’s been placed into a blender of fog. But I’m still at work! Partially because I’m still in denial about it all but also because I want to be here and I suck at admitting to myself that sometimes you can’t do everything.

But I’ve been writing this column for awhile and I’m sure you’ve heard me sing that song a few times before; in any case, here we are! So needless to say, when I decided to take the month of April away from writing Cowan Palace, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s happening though and next month you’ll be sans Ashley!

So what to write about in my last entry before motherhood? Well, as always, my life comes back to theatre. In these last few days leading up to our due date, my body has been dealing with the nerves the same way it handles a new show opening. Some of the butterflies feel exactly the same as they do when they’re fluttering around my nervous stomach because of a crappy tech rehearsal leading up to a highly anticipated opening night.

I’ve also found myself feeling a tad defensive in these past few weeks, like I need to explain my production vision to an audience expecting a different show. When I was a kid and I imagined raising a family, I didn’t immediately paint the picture of my life right now. Did I think my husband and I would be bringing a newborn home to a small one bedroom apartment in San Francisco where we pay three times more in rent than many of our friends pay for their mortgages? Nope! But it’s sure fun to watch acquaintances’ eyes bug out when we share our reality!

Here’s the thing though: having the money to invest in fancy costumes or props or sets doesn’t always guarantee your show is going to be a meaningful success, right? (I mean, I could throw some big productions under the bus here but eh, that’s not today’s point.) Some of my favorite and most memorable shows have been in small spaces with minimal tech needs where the production may have been a simple labor of love, but you left feeling connected to something greater.

That’s hard to explain to those living outside of our San Francisco theatre bubble. The ones that constantly ask me to repeat how much rent prices go for these days and demand I share how I plan to support my child. But Will and I love it here. Sure, raising a baby in this insanely expensive place with our current financial means sounds crazy and we know it’s going to be difficult.

We also know that we met in San Francisco, we fell in love in San Francisco, we got married in San Francisco, we made a baby in San Francisco, and we chose to stay in San Francisco. And thankfully, we’re surrounded by people who enrich our lives in so many more important ways than money. We live in this city because we feel like we’re a part of a community. A group who will laugh at our terrible jokes, bring us chocolate when we’re grumpy, challenge us creatively, open their minds to new ideas, and just love us as we are, right here, right now. I couldn’t imagine bringing our baby into a better environment.

And on that note, hormonal Hugs and Cuddles thank you all for being a part of that. I’ll miss you but look forward to reuniting again in Cowan Palace soon!

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Cowan Palace: Reality TV: My Theatrical Fast Food

Ashley hopes you’ll accept this rose.

As I sit down to write this, I continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Meaning, I stupidly ate some Sonic on our road trip home from Arizona and my stomach feels like it’s been repeatedly stabbed with a dinglehopper.

But I’ve also been distracting myself with the current Facebook message chat group I have with some of my lady friends entitled “Bachelor Chats”. It’s been our way to organize our next weekly viewing night of our current reality show, share stickers and emoticons, and speculate about the love lives of our mutual friends. Our discussions can be unapologetically gossipy and brutal. It’s awesome.

Now, it’s no surprise that I have a weakness for reality TV. Yeah, I know it’s trashy and it’s not good for me; it’s my Sonic meal when I should be eating a salad (hail kale and all that). But my love for it has only strengthened over the years as I’ve tried to tempt people into watching it with me. And The Bachelor is my favorite.

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What’s not to love about watching thirty beautiful, crazy eyed women fight for a flower given by some studio groomed fella who is either shirtless for almost no reason or in a tux for almost no reason? It’s also the place I learned the phrase “grown sexy” and that’s simply invaluable! Maybe it’s the actress in me who enjoys seeing these gals “audition” and fight rejection. Or maybe it’s the writer in me wishing I could capture some of the overly dramatic dialogue and sloppy displays of gruesome affection. Or maybe it’s the romantic in me that can’t help but root for love, even when it’s manipulated. And sure, I hate myself a little for being cruel and laughing a bit too hard at the montages of people weeping but it’s still pretty delicious. Besides, even if it gives me a stomachache, similar to the one I have now from eating what I’m now calling the devil’s food, I keep coming back for more. I’m a true glutton for punishment, I guess.

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But I’m actually not alone in my reality TV haze. In fact, over in England, reality TV is having a pretty big influence on their theatre scene. It’s believed that because of the reality shows dedicated to casting some of the city’s big productions (which began with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? on BBC1), tickets sales are the highest they’ve been in 25 years. In addition, they’re finding that the musicals used for these reality shows are getting nearly a quarter of their audience from those who watched the reality show and became invested in the production.

I can’t help but wish this trend would gain some popularity in the United States. We had In Search of the Partridge Family, Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, and Legally Blonde: The Search For Elle Woods across various networks but the ratings never seemed to be high enough to warrant another show. Though, Jersey Shore’s Snooki recently announced she’s interested in being on Broadway and I wouldn’t be surprised if MTV turned that into another opportunity to cash in on her unexpected fame. And who am I kidding? I would absolutely watch that train wreck.

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In the meantime though, I take what I can get. Though, I will say, most of my Bachelor watching group consists of ladies I’ve met thanks to theatre world in some capacity. Which totally seems appropriate given the theatrical element to the show. Whether we met thanks to a shared show, working at a theatre camp for wealthy New York City kids, or we share a mom, we’ve got a good group (and a crew of people always open to others joining us). The hardest part of scheduling our viewings though is that most evenings have already been promised to a rehearsal for some exciting new project. Damn you, talented friends!

But considering my current state, these nights have become even more appetizing to my hungry palate. Because for a few hours, I get to surround myself with talented theater makers while I’m not involved in a show or production of my own while ridiculous and brilliantly edited “romantic” scenes light up our space. I get a piece of the community I love while elevating my feet; I catch up the latest local juicy news and laugh in excess; I celebrate being there for the right reasons and to make friends. Plus, there are snacks. There are always so many snacks.

Evenings like this are limited for me. In like eight weeks, “ladies night” will consist of my newborn and me making late night bets over which fame-seeking biotch will get the final rose and inspire hours of further sleep-deprived online reading.

While I desperately miss being involved in a show, I’m grateful for the company and entertainment. Reality TV is no real substitute for theatre just like Sonic isn’t really a smart replacement for a meal and it never will be, but for now, I’m thankful for that handsome farmer dude and the women with questionable jobs and ages for entertaining me greatly in the meantime.

Everything Is Already Something Week 39: It’s Okay To Laugh

Allison Page sharing something personal… and also her glamorous new headshot.

Oooh boy. Everything’s a nightmare. Each day brings a clutch of dark clouds. The news is a series of alarms and images of innocent people in unthinkable situations. Living legends turn into just legends. You’re reminded of your own mortality. Your own illnesses. Your own downfalls. Your own failures. You feel bad about not feeling bad about the right things. You feel bad about feeling so bad about the wrong things. The job market is terrible. Rent costs are sky high. What would you do with a better apartment, anyway? You don’t even keep the crappy one clean. Some people don’t even have apartments. Or dogs. Or families. Or lunch. You don’t take care of yourself the way you should. You’re low on vitamins and high on espresso. You think about how no one lives forever. Not even that guy. You wonder why some friendships don’t work out. Some relationships. Some jobs. Some sandwiches. Nothing seems easy, everything seems hard. What can you do?

Everything’s a nightmare.

It’s okay to laugh.

Sometimes you think you can’t, but you can. Don’t you hope that in your last moments, you laugh? And this probably isn’t even your last moment, so you should consider it. It’s okay not to, for a little while. But please don’t wait too long. It’s okay to think about how bad and wrong something is, and to try to make it better and less wrong, or to just understand it. That’s good. That’s important. But the cause of You is also important. You’re the only one there is, after all. Maybe you think that sounds stupid. You’re right. You should laugh at that, too, if you want.

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Share a moment with someone that makes you both happy. Now, look what you’ve done. That’s quite a thing to do. If you miss someone, think about why you liked them so much. I bet they made you laugh. Think about how they did that. Now laugh about that, too. It’s okay to feel bittersweet. Sad. Exhausted. Scared. Filled with ennui. To know that all the answers are hard, and that some might not even exist. To say “Well, it’s not as black and white as that.” It’s okay to be in a weird gray area that makes no sense to you. To say “I’m upset. Nothing will make me not upset.” but recognize that something probably will. And it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person if you’re able to see the sun coming up over the horizon.

As theater makers, art makers, comedy makers, anything makers – we sometimes exist to provide escapism that is desperately needed. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t care. It’s really the opposite. Sometimes we’re here to face an issue head on, to take on the burden of trying to explore the source of unrest, messed up power dynamics, injustices, loss, mourning, outrage. But sometimes we just need to lighten a load that can be so heavy no one person can bear it all. Because people need to talk about the bad things, work out the bad things, actively try to solve and understand the bad things – but they also need to remember there is some goodness left. A beam of light to look forward to.

Right now it feels like there are a million contests happening at once and all participants are trying to win the “No, This Is The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened” award and begrudging the pain of others if it doesn’t align with their own pain. Different pain is not mutually exclusive. Don’t worry, all these things can be awful at once. And other things can still be good while those things are being awful. That’s okay too.

Two days ago I wasn’t sure if I thought anything would be funny ever again.

I tried to take a picture of myself smiling yesterday, and this is as close as I could get.

I tried to take a picture of myself smiling yesterday, and this is as close as I could get.

I went to the place where I make comedy, and laid my head down and cried alone for an hour. And then I had to go to a rehearsal, which I considered a nightmare. How was I supposed to be funny? How was anyone? But the strange thing is, within 15 minutes of being there, I was laughing again. I was still sad, don’t get me wrong, but I was laughing. And that did a lot for me. A room full of people all keenly aware that the world just got a little less funny and wonderful – and we were laughing together. That’s a pretty powerful thing. What would I have done if I tried to skip out on rehearsal? I would have gone home and cried some more until I fell asleep, probably. Which is okay, but I think the former was better.

And so tonight I will put some comedy into the world, in front of an audience. I really need that. And I can only imagine that they need it too.

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Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedian in San Francisco. You can catch her tonight in the live sketch comedy show Killing My Lobster Goes Radio Active at Z Below, or catch her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Cowan Palace: Casting Makes Me Itchy

…and scratching it makes it worse.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Casting is the worst. Yes, I know I have tendency to say a lot of stuff is the worst but sometimes, putting a cast together can be tricky. If you’ve been in the Bay Area theater scene for more than a minute, I’m sure you have a story of some casting nightmare. Either as an actor, director, writer, producer, WHATEVER, we’ve all been there at some point.

Yet even as I sit down to put this blog together, my heart starts to race and I get itchy. (I have a bad habit of breaking out into hives when I’m uncomfortable or nervous. Sexy, right?) Because I don’t want to go publicly airing all my theatrical horror stories out and about! This is a small community and I want to be able to work again!

It never seems like the right time to be honest with these types of experiences. They’re better saved for tipsy parties and whispered secrets in the back. Or passive aggressive blog entries and tears in dream journals. But when we can’t openly talk about these things as they’re unfolding, how do they have any chance to improve?

I’m sorry, guys. I think we can do better! This can be a brutal business and I think there’s some room for improvement. In my experience, too often across a range of theatre companies, I’ve found an unfortunate lack of communication throughout a production’s development. Maybe it’s just one too many callbacks because the “right” people weren’t there during an earlier audition or perhaps it’s hearing that the producer loves you but the director wanted to go for someone with a different look. Sometimes casting can really put the “itch” in bitch (am I right?!). And even once your group is set and you high five those involved, the production process and run can be a whole different beast.

Okay. Calm down, Ashley. No one wants to work with a Debbie Downer (waaaaahh waaaahhh). You have to understand that I come from a place of love. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be. I love being involved in as many capacities as possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to wear a few different hats during my time in this community. And I love hats. But each one certainly comes with its own set of challenges.

I’ve directed pieces and made strong casting choices that the writer did not envision. I’ve written work and seen it played by characters I didn’t expect. As an actor, I’ve watched writers undermine a director’s creative power by interjecting themselves deep into the rehearsal process. I’ve observed directors ignore a playwright’s opinion in lieu of their own. And I’ve struggled to honor the true intent of the play without the right guidance. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

One thing about San Francisco these days is that there’s lots of new stuff being done. Which means, often, the writer is very much a part of the production process. And while I haven’t had a ton of plays produced here, I still tend to have a hard time letting the grasp around my words go and allowing someone else to come in and direct them. Often, when I’m writing, I’m envisioning very specific details that don’t always come across in my stage directions or character descriptions. So when a director and I don’t see eye to eye on who should play a role, it opens up an interesting discussion. Who should get the final say? At what point does a writer have to step back and allow their story to come to life through the collaboration of others? Who ultimately takes ownership for the words once they’ve been sent out into the world?

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Like anything else, I suppose it’s a delicate balance. We all (hopefully) want what’s best for the show. Our communication could be stronger. We need to be able to talk about these weaknesses and struggles for the sake of the art. Roles need to be defined and agreed upon. Writers need to trust their words and their directors, actors need to be confident to take risks and strong enough to stick to the text, and producers need to encourage these types of instincts and conversations.

When I’m not being Debbie Downer, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by words gaining new input and vision. I’ve witnessed the positive effects of a strong collaboration matched by earnest communication. And I like being a part of something with purpose. While casting and putting a show on its feet may never be the easiest thing in the world, we can each strive to be more aware of our place and how we can best move forward together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some Calamine lotion.