Cowan Palace: The Show Must Go On (And One Woman’s Quest To Have It All)

Ashley’s back to balancing.

I’ve never really considered myself to be a triple threat. But I’ve always wanted to claim that title. I’m an actor. Who can sing. Who likes to dance (but who maybe should think twice before doing it in public… let alone an audience). But despite my lack of threatening skills I’ve always had big dreams that somehow, someway, I get myself to Broadway. Or Bollywood.

For now, I’m here in The Bay Area and redefining my idea of a “triple threat”. I’m a new mom. Who has just gone back to work. Who is returning to performing in her first show in almost two years.

And I got to tell you, it hasn’t been easy. Honestly, it’s all felt quite heavy and at times, endlessly difficult. But, yet, I still still want to be a triple threat. I still want to have it all!

And I guess I’ve always had that mindset. Back when I was a kid, my mom struggled with the decision to return to work after having my brother, her third and final baby. As the stubborn oldest child that I am, I told her she had to go back to work. Because she was good at her job and it was what made her my mom.

When I cried to my mom asking if she thought my own daughter would resent me for going back to work she reminded me of how insistent I had been when she was trying to figure things out. And how much child Ashley needed to believe that women really could manage a family and a professional life and a personal life. That “having it all” was completely doable.

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Yikes. What a boring, weird kid. Thank goodness I’ve grown into such an interesting, normal adult, right?

Though, I do want to “have it all”. Even though I don’t know what that even means.

I returned to work in part because I didn’t really have a choice. You know how expensive San Francisco is. In order to continue living here, Mama had to get back to earning some bucks. I also really like my job. I love my coworkers, I love using my brain in different non diaper related ways, I love having adult conversations, and so on. But, oh dear God, leaving my kiddo to return back may have been the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

And we’ve got a pretty good setup! Scarlett is with an amazing nanny that watches her alongside another sweet baby three days a week while Will watches her Thursdays and Fridays and I cover the weekends while he works. No, we don’t all get a full day off to enjoy together. And yes, I had to excuse myself to cry a little in the work bathroom when I learned Scarlett had rolled over for the first time and I wasn’t there to witness it. But for now, we’re making it work. And our latest theatrical adventure is a play Will and I are both in and our cast has kindly agreed to have rehearsal at our apartment so we don’t have to find a babysitter. Honestly, in my quest to have it all, I definitely lucked out with some of this stuff.

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

And yet, the pursuit of trying to be a triple threat is hard. It’s so fucking hard, guys. I’m tired, I’m emotional, I’m everything all at once and fighting to be more. But the show goes on. It has to keep going.

Plus, I still want to do all the things! I want to be the best mom! I want to do well at my job! I want to keep performing! I want to keep getting better at dancing! I want to use a lot of exclamations in my blog!

Striving to be a triple threat is okay, I guess. But learning to forgive myself for not always being the best at it all seems like the real lesson. Sometimes it’s okay to just be a single threat with a thrift store Mary Poppins’ bag of tricks.

Ugh, I don’t know, guys. Stuff is so hard all the time, you know?

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Day by day. Breath by breath. That’s kind of how I’m living at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll still keep taking Zumba classes at the gym and waiting for my big Bollywood break.

Everything Is Already Something Week 43: Kander And Flubb or Don’t Make Me Sing

Allison Page, mistress of horror. And singing. 

Gather ‘round the campfire, young’uns— for here comes the tale of the most foolish of ideas which have so far come to pass on this great earth. YES, this is the tale of Allison singing “Cabaret” with piano accompaniment.


The year is 2006. I had just finished my first paid acting gig, as Myrtle Mae in a summer stock production of HARVEY several months before. I got that part by way of auditioning with the least age-appropriate monologue for a 21 year old – Martha from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and when they asked me to sing my song as part of the general audition, I said proudly, “No. I will not be singing a song for you today, for I do not wish to waste your time or mine. I am an actor, but I am not a singer.” I thought perhaps that would mean they wouldn’t even consider me for something, being that I was a weirdo and didn’t do everything they asked. So when I got a part, I was beyond thrilled and surprised and delighted and all that shit. Being paid to act was some super cool bragging rights for me, particularly because I’m not sure I had ever known anyone who’d gotten paid to act before. (This is a good time to remind you that I’m from a tiny town which might as well be on the moon.)

So much was my confidence boosted, that when I scheduled my audition for the same company’s next season, I decided I would sing. It would be magnificent. I chose the song “Cabaret” because…I like that movie, Liza Minnelli made it look so easy, and it didn’t seem as crazy high and complicated as some songs that I had heard in my life.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

I took a voice lesson. That’s right, a voice lesson. We worked on the song for an afternoon. I was what I like to call Diet Confident. It’s sort of like being cautiously optimistic but pretending not to be cautious even though you are.

On the day of the audition, I drove the 90 minutes to the theater. Sure, there was some wringing of hands, some clenching of teeth, but I considered myself ready to go. I went in and said hello to the person working the door, waited until I was called, went into the theater and greeted the people I had worked with last season. So far, so good. I handed my music to the pianist.

I was probably sweating. I had to be. I don’t like singing. And obviously I don’t like it because I’m not good at it and it makes me nervous. But today would be the day! Today I would crush my own feelings down – pack them in hard like potato chips that have settled to the very bottom of the bag after riding in a truck. I showed the pianist where I wanted to start in the song. I had a specific place I wanted to go from because there was a note I was avoiding. An awful, awful note that I just knew I couldn’t hit. I was avoiding “What good is sitting” because it just felt too low and I didn’t want to start on it for fear of falling apart when it inevitably went awry. All was planned for. All was right.

“Uh, I’m Allison, obviously, you guys know that…and I’m gonna sing Cabaret, from…well, from Cabaret. Heh.”

I look to the pianist, the pianist looks back at me, smiling. I do a big old inhale so I don’t run out of breath. Aaaaaaaand…

“Put down the knitting, the book and…the…UHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

The pianist is not playing the same thing as I’m singing. I can’t be sure where the pianist was in relation to where I was but it wasn’t the same place, I can tell you that. It fell apart so quickly. All that practice and thought and the whole things collapsed. At some point it just petered out and we didn’t address it. I just paused and then went into my monologue, which – SHOCKER – didn’t go very well because I was freakin’ panicking like the last Tickle Me Elmo was snatched out from under my nose on Christmas Eve 1996 and Tiny Tim was waiting back at home for the last gift he’d ever receive which would now have to be a tube of toothpaste and a necktie. It was a disaster. I piled myself into my ’87 Dodge 600 and drove the 90 minutes back home, crying all the way.

…And that is why I don’t sing, kids. Now eat your s’mores and go make out in your tents, Miss Page has to watch puppy videos on her phone to forget the torment of the past.

What good’s permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret


Allison Page is an actor/writer/director/comedy person. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Cowan Palace: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost… Well, Sorta… Kinda…

This week Ashley Zumba dances with her past and future selves.

Ah, it’s August. You can almost taste the seasons sinking in and deciding to change. Back to school wardrobes adorn Union Square and it’s the time of year I start thinking about beginnings, middles, and ends.

It was around this time seven years ago that I first moved to California but even before, August always seemed to symbolize a new start. It’s the month I’d head back to school for RA training, the month I packed all my things and got ready to move to New York, and it’s the month where I learned to start to say goodbye to summer nights and begin to welcome pumpkin flavored treats.

So naturally, in my reflection, I began thinking back over the last year. One year ago I was acting in Book of Liz at Custom Made, it’s the last fully staged production I’ve done since then. And while I had an absolutely wonderful time working on the show, I also have to admit that I don’t necessarily think the play showcases the finest writing in the world. But after seeing it again this year, I can understand Custom Made’s decision to remount it. For some reason, the production manages to guarantee its own unique (and full) crowd. Even though the text sometimes feels like an inside joke you’ll never quite understand, it’s a way to get paying customers into seats and actors a chance to try and join the jest.

I find the success of Book of Liz similar to Christmas Carol, the play used by countless theaters to help secure a season’s finances. It’s always a pleaser, right? And while no one loves the holiday season more than this gal, I can’t stand that play anymore. Sorry. One too many viewings. Screw you, Scrooge. Considering many feel the play is making a statement regarding capitalism, I can’t help but find it slightly amusing that it’s so often used to make money.

But in honor of the play and feeling like I’m presently dancing with both my past and future selves, I thought about what it would be like if I were visited by theater ghosts from the past, present, and future. So enlisting the help of Theater Pub, here we go:

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Booooo! I’m a ghost! Booooooo!

ASHLEY: Right. I got it. Whatcha thinking about the past, ghost?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: “…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.”

ASHLEY: Wait, me? Am I the dud?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Duh. You wrote that, dummy, remember? Last year. Right before you opened Book of Liz. In this Theater Pub Blog:

ASHLEY: Yes. Wow. I was pretty nervous I wouldn’t live up to my own expectations. But, hey, I’ve come a long way since then, huh?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST: Eh. Would we say that?

ASHLEY: We would. And then we could sing about it!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PAST epically rolls her eyes and leaves ASHLEY alone. GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT enters holding a burrito.


ASHLEY: That must be for me! I just ate one alone last night!


ASHLEY: Okay, so you’re here to represent what’s going on currently.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: Party on. “For every proud moment in theatre, I have a very stressful experience or a time my feelings got hurt, or a time I hurt someone’s feelings, it’s not all awesome, but it’s not all terrible either. It’s just, well…dramatic.”

ASHLEY: Word! Yes, that feels appropriate right now!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: That’s all Anthony from his latest blog entry:

ASHLEY: After looking back on some of my own work and trying to decide how to move forward with it to keep things interesting and relevant, yet still me, I have to say I agree. Once again, it feels like a crossroads. The end of one stage but the lights haven’t quite come up on the new one so it’s hard to figure out what’s next. Sometimes things just feel dramatic.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: Dramatic enough to break out into song?

ASHLEY: Always.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: “That being said, I’d rather focus on the surprise successes. This summer we’ve seen familiar ground retread to spectacular ends. That’s my point, There is comfort in the familiar and also hope that these retellings or new genre entries will aspire to be better than their predecessors.”

ASHLEY: That sounds hopeful. You know I’m into that.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: That’s from your husband’s latest blog:

ASHLEY: Will wrote that?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT: What a babe, huh? (GHOST OF THEATER PUB PRESENT takes back the burrito and bites into it.)

ASHLEY: Yeah, you should probably go now. (GHOST OF THEATER PUB shrugs and continues eating the glorious burrito until they are both gone.) Yikes.

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME enters but all ASHLEY can see is fog.


GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME reveals a series of theatrical scenes: new plays being mounted, writers furiously typing on laptops, and Future Ashley crying.

ASHLEY: Oh, come on. I’m crying? Why am I crying? (GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME shoots out more fog). Yeah, I get it, I know how to use tears. But to be fair, I use them in all types of situations and for varying feelings!

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME reveals Ashley laughing and then singing!

ASHLEY: Okay! So there’s hope! I gotta tell you, mysterious fog of the future, I once again find myself a bit fearful of my theater fate. What if I can’t get into another show? What if I don’t know how to move my blog forward? What if I lose the desire to break out into constant song?


ASHLEY: You’re right. That’s unlikely. But is there reason to be hopeful? Is the future of our theater scene going to improve?

GHOST OF THEATER PUB YET TO COME starts to leave but the fog remains.

ASHLEY: Ah, I guess it’s still up to us, huh? We’ve still got work to do to seal that destiny. Well, here’s to August and everything after.

ASHLEY stands alone on stage, deep in thought. After a moment she laughs and then hums. It turns into soft singing as lights fade to black.

Six characters in search of an Ashley from the past. Also from Book of Liz.

Six characters in search of an Ashley from the past. Also from Book of Liz.