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.

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: Shut Up And Act

Ashley Cowan has ten auditions for you to sign up for right now. Well, maybe read the blog first. Then get out there, kid! It’s time to be a star!

Fall is coming early, friends. And I’m of course referring to the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks. Which will be available in a mere FIVE DAYS (on August 25)!

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Also, keeping with the Theater Pub trend of looking ahead at autumn offerings and reading about the upcoming theater we all have to look forward to coming this season, I started to wonder how the audition scene was looking for non-AEA San Francisco based actors.

The good news? There’s a scene! The better news? I’m going tell you ten auditions to sign up for right now. They may not all strike your theatrical fancy, sure, but if you’ve been sitting around all summer missing the stage, here’s your chance to get back on it. In between double fisting your pumpkin caffeine juice, of course.

Well, this first audition is for a film and it’s TODAY. But it can’t hurt to try and submit, right? Who knows maybe you’re perfect for it!

1) Banquet Productions’ “Labyrinth in Time” – August 20 (THAT’S TODAY!)

Shakespeare nerds! They’re searching for: actors for short film written in iambic pentameter. 2M (30-40); 1F (30-40).

Writer/Director: Hank Voge; the film will shoot in early October in a variety of Bay Area spots. To book a last minute appointment contact: Producer, Gabriel Brown, gabe@banquetproductions.com.

Looking to break out into well rehearsed song and dance? Here are a few auditions of the musical variety for you to check out!

2) FOGG Theatre’s “The Cable Car Nymphomaniac” – August 24.

Okay, the title alone is intriguing, right? Well, for this sexy piece, you’ll need two contemporary songs (one minute each). They are hoping to find: 3M (20s-30s, tenors, 1 to G, 1 to G & dancer, 1 to B & dancer); 4F (20s-30s, 1 belter & dancer; 1 2nd soprano, low A to high F#, & dancer; 1 belter to high E-flat; 1 low alto, low F to D4, & dancer).

The Playwrights are: Kirsten Guenter and Tony Asaro and the Director is: Terry Berliner. The audition is August 24 from 10AM-6PM (callbacks August 26 from 7-11PM). Salle Pianos, 1632C Market St., San Francisco. Rehearsals start on December 2 and the show performs January 15-February 1 at Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco. And it pays! $600-$1,400 bucks. For more information and to schedule your audition, contact: namnguyen@foggtheatre.org.

3) Indelible Voices Project’s “The Little Match Girl”

If you love puppets like I do, check this out. They’re looking for: performers with strong musical theatre skills for multimedia puppet show. 1M (20-50, baritone); 3F (30-60, soprano/alto), 1F (10-18, soprano); 2 any gender (10-15, soprano/alto).

Playwrights: Marcus Duskin and Katrina Cameron
Send voice recordings via email; those called back will sing samples from score. Stipend available. Callbacks will be middle to late September. Rehearsals begin in November and the show performs December 13-21 in San Francisco and Berkeley. To apply for an audition, send voice recordings and information to: marcusd@igc.org.

4) Steve Silver Productions, Inc.’s – “Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon” – September 13

For this iconic show, you need one ballad and one uptempo number (please be ready with sheet music in your key as an accompanist will be provided) Bonus points if you can imitate some pop culture icons and you come ready with your dancing shoes!

Playwright: Steve Silver. Auditions are September 13 at 2PM at Club Fugazi, 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd., San Francisco and the performances are ongoing. The show also provides a competitive salary and sweet benefits!
Info: auditions@beachblanketbabylon.com; ­beachblanketbabylon.com/auditions/index.shtml

5) General Singer Auditions for High Seas

Sponsored by the St. Francis Yacht Club, this one is just for the ladies! They’re seeking two singers to join their 12-voice, female jazz vocal group. The auditions will take place in early September and they’ll be looking for a first soprano and first alto. For more information and details contact: Auditions Chair, Janet Mansinne: janetmehlhop@yahoo.com

Always wanted to do a play for kids? Awesome. Get out there and audition for this!

6) San Francisco Youth Theatre’s “In and Out of Shadows” – September 4

You’ll need: 16 bars to be sung acapella and clothes to move around in to dance.
They’re looking for: 2M & 3F (18-26, Latino, Filipino or other Asian). Spanish, Chinese &/or Tagalog language facility a+.

The Playwrights are: Soto, Klion and Brooks and the Director is: Cliff Mayotte. Auditions are September 4 from 4:30-7PM (callbacks are September 9) at Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco. Rehearsals begin September 11 and the show performs November 23-December 7 and Brava Theater and Fresno City College with a possible tour to follow. Stipend and travel expenses available! To book an audition slot, send your headshot/resume to: Emily Klion, sfyouththeatre@gmail.com.

Are readings more your thing right now? Who wants to memorize words, anyway? Then you need to check out this audition!

7) San Francisco Olympians Festival – September 28 and 29

They are looking for literally DOZENS of actors for this festival of new plays running November 5-22! Rehearsals will be in October and November and will include a maximum of 3-5 meetups for each show.

For more information about the festival and the plays involved, visit: http://www.sfolympians.com. Auditions are September 28, 2PM-10PM, and September 29, 7-10PM, at the Exit Theater. Please email: sfolympians@gmail.com to schedule an audition slot.

Straight up theater is your jam, huh? These are all for you, actor face!

8) Alma Theatre Company’s “You Are My Sunshine” – September 19

Bring a contemporary monologue and prepare to cold read. They’re looking for: 1M (20s-60s), 1M (20s-50s), 1M (20s-30s); 1F (mid-40s), 1F (20s-50s), 1F (20s).

Playwright/Director: Kelli Colaco, auditions are September 19 with rehearsals beginning in mid November at the San Francisco Playhouse Rehearsal Space, 323 Geary St. Ste. 211, San Francisco. And, yes, there’s pay. To book an appointment, contact Kelli Colaco: kellicolaco@gmail.com. Info: bykennethjones.com.

9) Custom Made Theatre’s “The Braggart Soldier (or Major Blowhard)” – September 2 and 4

Written by Plautus and adapted and directed by Evren Odcikin, they’re looking for: 3M/2W/2 any gender, any ethnicity. Auditions are September 2 and September 4. Callback will be September 6 with rehearsals beginning on February 24. The show performs March 27-April 26 (with a possible extension to May 2) at Custom Made Theatre, 1620 Gough St, San Francisco. There is a stipend available. For more infomation and to sign up for an audition slot visit: http://www.custommade.org/open-auditions-blowhard/

10) No Nude Men Productions’ “Desk Set” – October 20

This one is just for the fellas! Written by William Marchant and directed by Stuart Bousel, they are seeking men of all ages, races, etc. who have evening and weekend availability in June and July of 2015. The show runs for nine performances, July 10-26 at the Exit Theater in San Francisco and there is a $150 stipend available.

To schedule an audition, send those handsome headshots and resumes to Stuart at: sfolympians@gmail.com with “DESK SET” in the subject line.

So whether you submit to all of these auditions or just get inspired to grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Bay Area theater scene is ready for you. Get off your butt, dust off that monologue or song, and act. That’s all you have to do. As always, I’m rooting for you, kid!

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Cowan Palace: How To Make Actors Definitely (Maybe) Want To Work With You Again

Let’s be honest, actors can be real flakes sometimes. But Ashley Cowan has some thoughts on how you can encourage them to like you and commit to working with you again. Or at least avoid some of the mistakes Allison Page presented in her last blog.

When I read Allison’s last blog, I let out a whole lot of “mmmmhmmmms” and “that’s right, girl”s. Because apparently, I’m a sassy grandma. Werther’s Original, anyone? Anyway, I found myself feeling pretty worked up by her points because each and every one of them struck so close to home. Guys, we are better than this! Allison knows it, I know it, and you know it.

Last week Allison served up some advice. This week Ashley serves up... salad? Oh, and I guess appreciation.

Last week Allison served up some advice. This week Ashley serves up… salad? Oh, and I guess appreciation.

So to try and balance my frustration and not immediately leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in an act of dramatic expression over some of those poor theatrical habits, I thought, why not make a list of theater practices gone right? Because there’s a reason so many of us are willing to wade through the muck. Sometimes there are some truly great producers/directors/general theater makers who deserve more recognition.

1.) I ENJOY IT WHEN YOU FEED ME: Well, we all know I love food. But I’m obviously not the only one. It goes a long way when someone thinks to bring a little snack to a rehearsal or before a performance. Considering most of us aren’t doing shows for the money, these food items are often enough to say, “hey actor, I appreciate you”. And at the end of the day, feeling appreciated can be everything. Next time you’re organizing a reading or rehearsal, remember that a little bite can go a long way. And for me, it’s often made a world of difference.

Here's a treat I once made my cast. No need to nerd out like I did but I like to think those weird little owls helped make our rehearsal a little more memorable!

Here’s a treat I once made my cast. No need to nerd out like I did but I like to think those weird little owls helped make our rehearsal a little more memorable!

2.) REJECT ME LIKE YOU MEAN IT: I get that we can’t all get a personalized rejection each and every time we audition for something when we don’t make the cut. Thankfully we have froyo for that kind of pain. And perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to encourage it but whatever, this is a fairly intimate community. We’ve got a lot going on here and we all have a lot of feelings. Sometimes, after spending hours preparing, traveling, and giving it all you’ve got at an audition, the rejection can be a real bitch. It’s softened my blow, ever so slightly, by the folks who reached out to genuinely acknowledge me as an individual and thank me for my time rather than simply sending out a mass generic email. I’ve appreciated this rather rare occurrence in the past but more than anything, being kind goes a long way and everyone who walks into your audition room will thank you for it.

3.) RESPECT THE SCHEDULE: It’s just the worst when you’re called to a rehearsal for hours on end and not used. Granted, I’ve worked on knitting several scarves in the process but overall, if you don’t need me, I’d rather be binge watching some reality show at home. But when you get a team who can organize a schedule thoroughly and honestly, with respect to everyone’s time, well, that’s just so great! Your actors are more likely to give you focused work that leaves them feeling excited and productive because they won’t feel like their precious trashy TV time is being wasted.

4.) THROW A CAST PARTY: Nothing promotes company spirit like getting your cast and crew together to enjoy spirits… and each other. For me, the biggest successes in this area were the folks who threw an event at the beginning of the rehearsal process and a celebration to conclude it. People like feeling like they’re a part of something. Ariel sang a whole song about it. So a big cheers to those of you for making events like this happen and giving us a moment to party together!

5.) HELP US FEEL PRETTY: Anyone who says they don’t have a moment of insecurity before a show opens is either a liar or an idiot. Most of us have small budgets and tiny crews to help put on large productions. The producers/directors who have remained calm in front of their actors and reassured them that things are fine have certainly earned my approval. We don’t want to hear you bitch, we want to feel confident our show is in good hands. Voice your appreciation for your actors. Give them constructive feedback and acknowledge their successes. If you can do all that along with keeping steady, confident control of every situation, you’ll continue to make our “I want to work with them” list.

6.) DELEGATE LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB (SPOILER ALERT: IT’S YOUR JOB, HOMIE): We all know great shows can be ruined by poor leadership and management. Have a huge tech heavy show? Well, then yes, you probably need a stage manager. Have a dance scene? Well, then get someone in here who knows how to move besides your actress who’s dabbled in Zumba at the local YMCA. The shows I’ve been a part of who succeeded assigned jobs for the entire process of the production and clearly defined those positions to interested applicants before moving forward. Wow, that’s a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to ensure that person is capable and up for the responsibility. It’s amazing what having a strong team can do to helping your show surpass its potential.

7.) MAKE IT ABOUT MORE THAN BUSINESS: One of my favorite parts of being involved in a show is getting the privilege to bond with a new, unique group. The directors who have encouraged their casts to check in with one another before getting to work and reward each other with positive feedback at the end of the rehearsal are truly giving their team a great support system. You’re strengthening trust and building friendships beyond the text of the play. People feel invested in not only the work they are creating but each other. It’s awesome and I thank you for making this positive effort a presence in your rehearsal.

 I'd much rather be rehearsing with you than watching this dummy! Most of the time...

I’d much rather be rehearsing with you than watching this dummy! Most of the time…

Just with anything else, your experiences are what you make of them. And if you can promote a good one, you’re doing something right. Thank you to the producers/directors/general theater makers who welcomed me, made me feel appreciated and valued, and established a space for creativity to thrive. I know it wasn’t easy but I’d trade countless evenings with the TV to work with you again.

Cowan Palace: A Page from the Book of Theatre Fears

This week Ashley Cowan talks about taking on a role with some history.

It’s a question every actor faces when accepting a role that has been performed before: why me, why here, why now? Or at least I do. Because unless it’s a world premiere, the part has been played already and sometimes stepping into footsteps that are not your own can be a tricky business.

Maybe it’s been done just once before, maybe a million trillion gazillion times before (remember that summer in 2011 when everyone and their mom put on a production of Twelfth Night?) so it’s no secret that you run the inevitable risk of being compared to those who came before you.

And this summer, I’ve found myself having to embrace this idea. I’m beyond delighted to be performing in Custom Made’s Book of Liz with three talented and hilarious other actors (with a preview tomorrow night and our opening scheduled for Friday). But I have to admit; I’ve been a bit terrified of the role.

Not because the part is challenging; consisting of six different characters in a fast-pace, high energy, comedy. But because two years ago, a close friend of mine played it on the exact same stage. Let’s call her Gallison Gage! Crap, no. She’s much better at making up fun aliases than I am… Anyway, Allison’s performance was memorably dynamic and strong so my fear kicked in immediately, imagining audiences with rotting tomatoes waiting to be thrown at the dud who tried to live up to the past.

The interesting thing is, Allison and I have traveled this territory before. Kind of. We met over five years ago when she joined the cast of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. She was first hired to cover bridesmaid extraordinaire, Marina Galino; the role that I had been covering for the past few months. I was going on to play Terry, the nun-in-training, as she began making Marina memories. And I’ll admit, I had a hard time letting the part go! I had originated the current San Francisco role of Ms. Marina so I was very protective of it. But it was the nature of the show, and maybe the nature of show business in general, that you can’t be clingy for long and we were forced to learn quickly that each performance would be different. Everyone brought a new energy, a varying perspective, and their own “thing” to it. After a few months, we were both playing a series of different roles, and by the end of the run (years later) we had played virtually every female part and kissed many of the same people along the way (but that’s another blog all together). In the process of makeshift changing areas in stairwells, sharing costumes, and perfecting the use of hairspray and blue eye shadow, we became friends.

Here we are playing Tina and Terry. And Terry and Tina. When we switched parts a week later we wanted to capture the same picture as different characters for our selfish enjoyment alone. Friends forever!

Here we are playing Tina and Terry. And Terry and Tina. When we switched parts a week later we wanted to capture the same picture as different characters for our selfish enjoyment alone. Friends forever!

So when I was asked to audition for the 2013 production of Book of Liz, I went to Allison first. (Well, after I texted her about something Bachelorette related. We still can’t believe Mikey T. is no longer in the running! It’s so wrong!) And before accepting the part, I had to make sure that it wasn’t going to be weird for us considering she had just done it two years earlier (while I was in one of the many productions of Twelfth Night). Although sharing roles was something we had become acquainted to, I remember how much work Allison had put into her Book of Liz and the many conversations we had about it. When she offered her support in me taking the role, I was excited but the fear followed close behind. Fear that I couldn’t compete with the past.

And I’ll be truthful. We’re all friends here, right? That fear has weaseled its way into our rehearsals from time to time. It’s become a slightly sore subject for our current cast to be constantly compared to the last cast. Our production process has been fast and furious so often we’ll hear, “well, when this was done two years ago…” as means of figuring out how to solve a problem. Which unfortunately doesn’t always provide an appropriate answer for a group trying to create their own identity.

On top of that, since Allison and I can sometimes roughly fit into some similar costumes, I’ve been awarded many of her old pieces and I can’t help but worry that everyone will be expecting me to make all of the same choices she did and will end up disappointed when I don’t.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love having this opportunity and I am so grateful to be working with a cast and crew who make me laugh each day and push me to be better. But I can’t help but wonder if this is an obstacle many other actors are facing. How do you make your role special and unique when you’re following in someone’s footsteps? And how do you move beyond those thoughts to just get out there and try your best?

I think what I need to remember from my Tony n’ Tina days is that different doesn’t have to mean better or worse. It can simply just be different. The energy we’re bringing to the theater will undoubtedly be changed from the past production and that’s okay. We’re not aiming to be better than any other cast, we’re striving to run a solid show and make people laugh.

And I’m sure that’s the conclusion many other groups come to when they’re involved in a show that an audience may have seen numerous times before. We’re not inventing the wheel here but actors across stages everywhere still have the opportunity to pour their passion into a role as only they can and for that I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s so easy to get into the frame of mind that everything is a competition. In a competitive industry, I think it’s an easy leap. But if you get caught up in who is winning, you ultimately lose the chance to leave a footprint or two of your own.

And while I’m still battling my own private fears (well, I guess you now know about them reader, but you can keep a secret, right?) and trying to find my own way, I hope that Allison (and others!) will come see the show and allow this current cast to take them on a new journey of an old story. (And then we can go out to froyo as that’s something that Gallison Gage and I are great at!)

In any case, I’d love to know your thoughts. How do you go about acting/directing/producing/etc. a show with a history? Does it impact your choices during the process? Does it forever change you as an audience member when you see someone else doing a show you once worked on? And what’s your favorite flavor of froyo?! This gal needs to know! It would be swell to see you and discuss this further at Custom Made Theatre during the Book of Liz run or at Theater Pub’s newest installment of Pint Sized Plays. And I look forward to spending the rest of the summer in the company of San Francisco Theater.