Cowan Palace: I Like Totally Did That Show In College

Ashley returns to an old love from her younger days.

It was our first night out without Scarlett and Will and I decided to see Talley’s Folly at The Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. Ah, Talley’s Folly. Just thinking of the title makes my heart cartwheel a bit. As someone who has a very difficult time picking a favorite anything, this play may indeed be my number one.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and loop around the Cowan cul-de-sac, shall we?

My freshman year of college started with a role in Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch. At 17, I got cast as this 40-something year old woman who was kind of abusive to her mom and who shot a real gun on stage. It was awesome.

Being the Hermione Granger that I am sometimes, I took my winter break to read as many Lanford Wilson plays as I could to try and keep up my theatrical education. I fell in love with Talley’s Folly on my first reading. I then reread the play over and over again and would read Sally’s lines out loud to noone. Practicing the part for no real reason other than just needing to play it if only for myself. I would wait until everyone else in my family was asleep and then I would whisper the words alone in my room. I also later attempted to learn how to smoke a cigarette convincingly because the script mentioned that the two characters briefly smoke together… which went about as poorly as you’d imagine.

I hear you all yelling, “nerd alert”. And I respect that. It’s pretty nerdy. But needless to say when my friend, Jill, decided to do the show for her senior directing project during my junior year, it’s safe to say I would have done almost anything to finally do the role in an actual production with a real audience.

We were a small cast and crew with a limited budget and we only had two shows but we were all so devoted and in love with the whole process that for us, it was the world.

I played one of my dream roles at 20 and it reinforced one of the reasons why I love theatre. You can live an entire lifetime full of high stakes and big gestures in an evening and at the time, I was a nerdy college kid in Rhode Island who dreamed of worldly adventure and intrigue.

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I held that show on a blurry pedestal afforded to any of us who have done high school or college theatre. That magically hazy place where no one is really playing age appropriate roles and yet you can’t possibly imagine doing the play with anyone else. For the most part, everyone working on the show is doing it because they genuinely want to do it. They may grow up to do very different serious adult things but those youthful productions can sometimes be these beautiful, short-lived acts of love that can’t exist anywhere else.

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Since closing our production of Talley’s Folly, I’ve continued to seek out audition opportunities to play the role I loved so much again. I assumed that doing it in a more professional setting would only increase my love for the show.

When I saw that Aurora had put it in their season I made a game plan to pimp myself out like never before! I was going to campaign to audition with the fire to fuel 10,000 suns! Two days later I found out I was pregnant so I just ate pizza everyday for a week instead.

After spending two full months with our own little production, our daughter, taking our first date night was a pretty big deal. And introducing my favorite show to my favorite guy seemed like a great evening. As we sat in the dark theater listening to the love story of Sally Talley and Matt Friedman unfold I couldn’t help but get emotional. Here I am, the actual age of Sally, still holding that college production on its pedestal. While I’m not saying I’ll never go for the part if given the chance now, I’m more grateful than ever to have had the show with my Roger Williams University cast and crew. I was young, doing a play I loved with my best friends. How could anything ever compare?

It can’t. And that’s another reason theatre can be so powerfully heartbreaking and heart lifting all at the same time. It’s both fleeting and fulfilling.

I left Berkeley hand in hand with my husband after texting my director and cast mate that even after seeing a lovely telling of my favorite show that I was more in love with our own production than ever before. Not because it was “better” but because it gave me the chance to recall one of the happiest times in my life and find a peace in allowing that memory to just exist without the need to relive it. Plus, I still have the character of that nerdy college kid and that’s what I’d like to hold onto. So I dried up my thoughtful tears and sweetly demanded we conclude our big date night with a burger in honor of that memory and everything that came after.

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Cowan Palace: Sex Pledges, Discounted Books, And One Woman’s Passion

Ashley’s got fire! Sometimes with heartburn and passion for women in theatre on the side.

As we wind down our month dedicated to passion, I recently found myself literally bumping into the subject in the book section of a thrift store in Fort Bragg.

Will and I were finishing our quiet weekend away by picking over a decent collection of theatre books and plays when I came across Lysistrata by Aristophanes. I clutched the tiny script close to my heart before exploring the pages. “Oh, I wish I could do this play again!” I loudly exclaimed, “I loved doing it in college but I feel like I’d bring more passion to it NOW!”

Ashley Cowan: demanding sex pledges from her homegirls since college

Ashley Cowan: demanding sex pledges from her homegirls since college

For those who are unfamiliar with the work, it’s a story about a woman who convinces her fellow lady pals to withhold sex from their sweeties so the fellas will stop waging war and consider a more peaceful path to resolving issues. Lysistrata is strong and passionate and just a true force. I was 20 when I was cast to play her in our Roger Williams University production and I adored the experience. But I was a kid who grew up in a small town and went to a small liberal arts college in New England; I wasn’t really that “fired up” about injustices going on in the world or between women and men. Mainly because I was just so focused on getting good grades and running our school’s theatre club. Maybe it’s just me getting older or being exposed to more of the realities outside of school, but I find myself getting much more fired up about issues that may have little to do with grades or theatre these days. And while I reread some of my old lines, I found they meant something different to me now.

Before heading to the register, Will handed me another book he thought I’d be interested in, entitled, Women In Theatre (edited by Karen Malpede). Like many great things, it’s from the 80’s (which you may be able to gather from the colorful cover) and it’s full of experiences from ladies all over the theatre industry sharing their stories and struggles. Sing it sisters!

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I was high off my Lysistrata memories and I was sold after reading the quote on the cover which states, “How often these great women did their work with little response, audience, or resonance… This collection, long-awaited, gives them to us alive. So now let them speak to us. And let us listen.” – Meridel Le Sueur. Plus, did I mention the sassy collection of bright colors? I added it to my already large pile and headed down to meet the cashier.

As he was ringing the items in he looked at the book and laughed. “This one’s been marked down to 75 cents from a dollar. I guess people don’t want women in theatre, huh?”

Then my eyes widened and flames erupted from them, lighting the entire thrift store in a destructive fire. My hair blew back like Beyonce’s would do and I stood strong, embracing my feminine powers, as the world around me burned. (C’mon, don’t you guys want to see me play Lysistrata now?)

I mean, sort of. I’m kind of hormonal so that’s what it felt like.

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A book dedicated to women in the theatre was marked down from a dollar to 75 cents (before tax); last I heard, women still make something like 78 cents to every dollar a dude does in the workforce. C’mon tiny thrift store, why you gotta set yourself up for my scrutiny?

I mumbled a bit about how women have always been fighting for equal rights and as someone involved in theatre, I sure as heck wanted them around. But I left feeling irked wondering if I had offered to pay the extra quarter for the book if I’d feel better. This was one tiny store in the world who discounted a used book about women in theatre; was this even worth the emotions I was giving it? And what can I do about it? I mean, thanks to the Sony scandal, we’ve learned what we already knew: even Hollywood ladies are still often making a lot less than their male counterparts. So what hope does this New England gal living in San Francisco have these days and what can I do to feel better?

I don’t totally know. Someone help me here.

So far this is what I’ve got: maybe maintaining and growing my passion can help. If I keep reading about women in theatre, if I keep going to see women in theatre, if I keep strengthening my relationships with women in theatre, and if I keep fighting to be a woman involved in theatre, maybe that’s a start. So here’s to you, passion! Plus, maybe if I keep your fire going, my rally cries to play Lysistrata again will be heard!

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.