Working Title: I Love the Smell of Crappy Holidays in the Morning

This week Will Leschber talks madness and holidays with Lisa and Nick Gentiles…the holidays…the holidays.

Apocalypse Wow. I’m sure everyone has their own story about trying to wrestle greatness. Was it an occasion where you had a single solitary moment to shine? Where the spotlight was on you and the play has built to this? When the coach called your play? What careful words did you choose as your child had a their first emotional crisis? Was it just surviving the holidays? Was it a season long slog towards a a project that may have been bigger than you? Were your limits tested? Did you emerge fractured or more sane that you ever thought before?

I used to see these moment of grasping towards greatness as single defining tests: the moment you had the lead; the moment you walked across that stage, shook his hand and took your diploma; the moment that culminated after arduous wedding planning; the moment of moving away; the moment you faced Death; the moment they gave you the award; the moment she took her first step. Now I think wrestling greatness may just be closer to an endurance test that a moment of strength.

How long can you rage unphased through the chaos? Some people thrive in havoc. It’s a bit extreme for my taste but to each his own. My god, how many people do you know who just gel when the chips are down, the curtain is up and the final dress is now? I feel like we must be a little mad to want to be constantly part of the process of tumultuous creation and destruction.

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One beautiful mad event that pull together variant strings of creation and chaos is the San Francisco Fringe Festival. 150 performances by 34 Indie theater companies. I was lucky enough to bend the ear of two great writers who are returning to the Fringe this year with another set of short plays. Nick and Lisa Gentile are the warped, beautiful minds behind Crappy Holidays. Crappy Holidays is a trio of dark comedies showcasing the cynical side of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Nothing sounds more like a warzone than holidays with Death, your family and a cursing Santa Claus, am I right?!

Since I have an incessant need to know what film pairing would perfectly with their play, I asked them. What film would send you up the thematic river and get you in the perfect unsound mindset to enjoy their play, I asked. Here’s what they had to say:

There are a lot of holiday movies, but we have a different recommendation: Apocalypse Now. We think this movie can be seen as a kind of twisted metaphor for what a lot of us go through during the holiday season.

We feel obligated to enjoy the holidays, as if it’s a mission. But a family gathering can feel like a journey into a heart of darkness. We often end up face to face with someone who’s methods have become … unsound. Sometimes, you eat that green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, or unwrap that Christmas sweater and you can only say “the horror…the horror.”

I can think of nothing that fits better on top of the yule log than a big ol’ helping of the horror…the horror. Makes me want to sing Carol of the Bells immediately. Yeeesh. Apocalypse Now, more like Apocalypse Wow. Am I right?

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If you are looking to cut through the chaos and get an early serving of holiday fruitcake, go see Crappy Holidays and any number of the other SF Fringe Festival shows. Greatness…and pumpkin pie…await.

The 2015 San Francisco Fringe Festival, 150 performances by 34 Indie theater companies,
September 11 through September 26. For more info visit: Apocalypse Now can be found for rent on many of the usual platforms (iTunes, Vudu, ect)

Working Title: Thankful for Thanksgiving Violence…?

This week Will Leschber gives thanks.

Fall finds it’s way into the corners of our lives blowing an ever cooler breeze off the bay and we pause whatever errant projects we are working on to come together for some thanks-giving. My Thanksgivings over the years have been peppered with family (distant and close), food (pleasant and gross), friends (old and new), and good times (never too few). Also I find this time of year is wrapped up with a sensation of endings, of the curtain’s close, of the year-wheel spinning down before the new start. A mixture of celebration, reflection and bitter-sweetness always flavors this season for me. That combination is somehow my favorite. Currently, this is all enhanced by the fact that I’m in the middle of moving into the first apartment that my new family (beautiful wife and lovely daughter on the way) will call home. It’s a time of High Transition.


Within this whirlwind, I was still able to take a brief moment to enjoy some fall entertainment. The unlikely pairing taken in within days of each other turned out to be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 and Thrillpeddlers’ annual Grand Guignol horror plays: Shocktoberfest. Although seemingly an odd pairing, I found it interesting how both pieces of disparate entertainment used violence as a cathartic reward for the audience. Mockingjay presents it’s conflict as straightforward and serious. The wartime violence of this section of the story has a dramatic cost to the characters we’ve come to love, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that the action is part of the draw. It’s what we are coming to see. (Along with the emotional character components…my wife just wants to see the lovers kiss! Except Gale…Gale sucks).


Similarly, though presented with a much different tone, Shocktoberfest celebrates a genre of theatre that is built around rewarding the audience with a sort of climactic blood letting. In keeping with Grand Guignol’s programming history, the four varied, short plays presented within the night offered psychological and physical terror that wove in humorous work, dance, and song. I haven’t seen much like it on stage and I was surprised on how much fun I had. This dance macabre was made all the better by the group of friends that assembled to see the show. We were cautious to call it “boys night” because that indicates regularity. With adult social life being as fickle as it is, we just appreciated the shit out of the time we were given. A bloody good time.


Thanksgiving is all about community and coming together. We journey across state lines, bus lines, car lanes, and packed planes to join friends and family. What the hell does this have to do violent entertainment, you say? I’m saying this entertainment like any other is enhanced by the company in which we see it. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful The Hunger Games is improved by my wife and her sister whispering about how much Gale sucks. I’m thankful that popcorn/franchise entertainment can occasionally be high quality. I’m thankful that diverse kinds of theatre exists in the Bay Area and in the world at large. I’m thankful that five guys can make time in their adult schedules to hang out, have a beer and have some bloody fun. I’m thankful for you too. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Cowan Palace: Gratitude and Other Food for Thought

Ashley Cowan is thankful for you.

 Courtesy of Café Gratitude’s website.

Courtesy of Café Gratitude’s website.

Thanksgiving. It’s that special time of year when all at once you’re surrounded by seasonal selections and the pressure to be grateful. Most likely, somewhere between your first and second serving of pumpkin pie, someone asks you what you’re thankful for this year. You savor a bite of that flavorful fall-inspired dessert and silently wonder if you’ll be judged harshly for showing more appreciation for food over family. But hey, that’s okay. Because the thing is, acknowledging gratitude, in any shape or form, can change your life.

When the National Institute of Health decided to examine blood flow in the brain while subjects focused on feelings of gratitude, they found higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. Which as you bio kids know, is the area of the brain that controls some major body functions, like eating (told you it’s good to be grateful for food), drinking, and sleeping. It’s also a targeted area for measuring metabolism and your stress. As the study progressed, it soon became clear that those who had higher feelings of gratitude were the people who exercised more, slept better, experienced lower levels of general body pain, and tended to identify with more positive emotions on an everyday basis.

But how can you become one of these happier, healthier, more grateful folks? Well, it takes work. It’s a lifestyle decision with a daily choice: how am I going to view the world today? It’s easy to get caught up in negativity. Your job sucks, you can’t afford a needed vacation, these winter hours just make you want to hibernate, whatever. Once you start focusing on less positive stimuli, your brain has a much harder time suddenly switching to a happier extreme. It becomes much easier to mentally trap yourself in a cruel cycle. While being grateful or appreciative isn’t the same as simply being positive and happy, it can significantly alter your thinking when you attempt to counter negative thoughts with it. And the good news is, once you shift it, and reward your mind with additional affirmative thoughts, you’ll be able to take advantage of the chemistry magic in your brain.

Maybe you’re thinking, “easier said than done, Ashley!” And to that I say, “thank you for remembering my name!” Also, seeing as this is the time of year to reflect and be thankful, here are 3 of my suggestions to spice up that dish with a little shake of gratitude.

1.) Give More Specific Compliments (and Order Extra Helpings of Them)

Instead of just telling your mom that you love her pumpkin pie, tell her a special feature about why you enjoy it so much. By identifying a specific detail, for example, the creamy, cool consistency or the subtle use of nutmeg matched with cinnamon, it helps you to focus on being thankful in a genuine way by deepening the experience and creating a longer lasting impact. Look around you. Take the time to give people real compliments! Make a goal to try and reach out to a new person each day. Or more if you’re feeling it! You will be amazed how much a small, kind word can do to someone who needs it. Trust me. You get to shine a light on your enjoyment and appreciation while uniquely brightening someone else’s day. Shine on!

2.) Approach Crappy Situations with Appreciation

Okay. This one sounds hard. And crazy. And super unrealistic. I get that because it’s also a struggle for me. But I didn’t say, immediately feel thankful after your car breaks down or you get dumped. Because sometimes stuff is just the worse. So allow yourself to process the anger, grief, whatever, first. Cry, scream, and talk to Ben & Jerry about it!

I’m thankful for you, Ben & Jerry! And this picture courtesy of, which is a real thing

I’m thankful for you, Ben & Jerry! And this picture courtesy of, which is a real thing.

But then, do what you can to step away from it and think of how you can twist the moment into something else. It can be a minor, simple detail. Maybe it gave you the chance to see a place of the city you wouldn’t have stopped in otherwise or perhaps it’s the excuse to look into carpooling. Maybe being newly single means finally catching up on Glee (your coworker SWEARS it’s getting “better” this year) or giving yourself permission to get a crazy haircut. Who knows! It’s not easy. But if you can try to find one thing that you can be grateful about in a terrible moment, I promise it will help heal those awful feelings a little faster.

3.) Write it Down.

Imagine being able to present an entire list of things you were thankful for at Thanksgiving instead of racking your brain for cliché blanketed answers. Maybe that’d be considered dorky. But then again, you’re reading a theater blog when you could be looking at pictures of the Kardashians, so maybe you’re already on my team. In any case, if you made it a habit to write down one thing you were grateful for each day, you’d be able to restart your brain and rock the positive effects.

Kim may be sad that you’re not looking at her photos. But Ashley’s glad you’re still here!

Kim may be sad that you’re not looking at her photos. But Ashley’s glad you’re still here!

So to conclude, here are a few things I’m grateful for: food – judge away, I love this time of year for many reasons and one of them is absolutely because I find it to be delicious, my fiancé Will’s jokes, when my sister talks to me in one of our designated pet voices, how my mom ends each phone call telling me she’s proud of me, getting an email from my dad that both promotes the Connecticut weather and quiet, beautiful hope for a scenic season, emoticon-happy texts from my brother, reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years thanks to social networking, writing this blog and meeting to talk about my dreams of starting a Theater Pub podcast all on the same day, blankets, Dunkins coffee brewed at home, Hallmark holiday movies, and all of you reading this right here, right now. You’re a part of this community and I greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cowan Palace: Five Festive Factors and How To Survive this Season

In honor of “Crappy Holidays”, Ashley Cowan explores the holiday season divide.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, for like half of us.

I, for one, bust out the holiday music as soon as I put my Halloween costume away and begin openly singing my praises. Though honestly, I watch Love Actually and sing “All I Want for Christmas” all year round. But even Mariah’s sweet jam can’t help that the holidays are also notoriously linked to the highest number of reported incidences of depression. Whether it’s the darker weather conditions, the excessive commercialism, or just the Grinch getting his Grinch on, it can be a hard time of year. The National Institute of Health sadly states that this is the season when suicides and attempted suicides skyrocket and one American survey found that 45% of those they interviewed claimed to dread and despise the holidays all together.


Following that sentiment, Theater Pub is preparing for its November offering with Nick and Lisa Gentile’s “Crappy Holidays”. An evening showcasing three new plays taking place during the fall and winter festivities. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas will each take their turn exploring some dark comedic colors in the rainbow that is the holiday season. And considering the mixed reviews that this time of year can bring in from the general public, Saturday’s show may be a perfect way to both celebrate and commiserate over them.

But why is there such a divide? These next few months present an array of challenges some seem to revel in and others yearn to avoid. From my research and understanding, I found the reasoning to surround five major factors. Consider me your Rudolf and I’ll guide this sleigh through them:

1.) The Food!

It starts during Halloween. And then it’s a few solid months of delicious edible opportunities. 90 million pounds of chocolate are sold during Halloween week and nearly $2 billion dollars is spent each year preparing for an evening of candy sharing. Next it’s November when we set aside a day to stay inside and eat a whopping 535 million pounds of turkey. Followed by trays of December holiday cookies and endless pumpkin inspired delicacies. For some it’s the excuse to overindulge (that’s what resolutions are for, am I right?) while the other half tries to slam the door and stay away from the temptation. My advice? Don’t let it overwhelm you! Rest assured that the latest studies show that in reality, people don’t tend to gain all the weight they fear they will; the average is only one pound! If you allow yourself to sample a few of your favorite treats in moderation, you should be just fine. Why not consider walking to get your next peppermint mocha and taking the long way home?

2.) The Family!

Whether it’s the trick-or-treaters, the guests sitting around your dining table, or the expecting recipients of a wrapped gift, chances are, you’ll find yourself faced with families. Be it your own or the crowds of others. And it can be overwhelming for anyone. If you spend these next few months surrounded by close loved ones or hiding from them, this time of year encourages the examination of family relationships. Try being patient with those you come in contact with and be gentle with yourself regarding your feelings. Families have the power to both push every button until you want to burst into flames and keep you warm on those chilly winter nights. You’re allowed to take a moment for yourself if you need it and return to the family festivities at your own pace.

3.) The Money!

Businesses can expect to see a rise of 25-40% in their sales during the holiday season. Last year alone, consumers spent $579.8 billion dollars! And to prepare for 2013, $9.6 billion dollars worth of toys have already been shipped from China to the United States. That’s a lot of money, y’all! It’s easy to get caught up in the commercials, online ads, or your own finances and wake up in January with a huge credit card balance. Take it easy. Consider organizing your shopping needs early and slowly checking them off your list. Pay attention to your buying habits and it may not seem so bad. If you can avoid the waves of endless shoppers it may help to make it all a bit more manageable.

4.) The Entertainment!

The music, the movies, the games, the parades, the decorations – you get it. There’s no lack of stimuli during the holidays. If you’re like me, you love dancing along to it all but so many people out there just hate it. You’re not alone! If you don’t like the music, put your headphones on and drown it out. If you can’t stand another Hallmark made-for-TV-movie, re-watch Breaking Bad. Yes, the entertainment may feel like it’s all around you but you can avoid it. That’s the beauty of DVR or a non-holiday themed book.

5.) The Reflection!

It’s hard to escape the mirror following you like a shadow during this time. It’s everywhere. You can’t help but reflect back on your year and compare yourself to those around you. It can be a painful reminder of challenges you faced or the sweet song of treasured memories. My suggestion is to treat yourself and each other with a little extra kindness and keep some reasonable expectations. 2013 wasn’t an easy year for a lot of us; why not use these remaining days to pat ourselves on the back for surviving it. Yes, there’s always room for improvement and maybe 2014 will help inspire that but you got through this year, kid, and that’s something! So try and let that mirror show you some of the good things as well.


The holiday season may have only just begun but as I’m sure you can see, it’s everywhere. And this week, it’s taking over Theater Pub with plays that are both naughty and nice. So before you get taken over by these five major powers of the season, come join the fun on Saturday at 8:30pm at the Exit Theatre’s Cafe (156 Eddy Street, San Francisco).

You can come listen to more of Ashley’s work tonight (November 13) at the Olympian Festival’s evening of plays surrounding the Trojan Women, see her perform in “Crappy Holidays” on November 16, or in a reading of SEE ALSO ALL on November 23rd. All of which will be happening by the Exit Theatre. See you there!

Cowan Palace: David Rakoff On Rent

It’s been a busy week with the Theater Pub gang. With a retreat, the holidays, and rehearsals for December’s show, I thought perhaps this week I could “gift” you this essay from David Rakoff, a celebrated contributor of This American Life. It’s hilarious, fun, and insightful… and better written than anything I could provide at the moment. I’ll be back in two weeks to further discuss the excitement, fascination, and backstory of the Broadway musical that made history: Rent because it is also the inspiration for December’s Theater Pub: Christmas Bells Are Ringing! But for now, in between your seasonal celebrations, please enjoy David’s piece and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!


Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at