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.

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.


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.


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.


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 Write Stuff

Ashley Cowan shares thoughts from her journal as well as offering a few suggestions to make you a better writer.

When I was kid, writing creative stories was sort of a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t something I told my friends (because I would have been teased… more than I was already) but in my free time, I’d go to town writing pages about anything from the inner lives of those on the Oregon Trail (the game) to the secret workings of kids who were way more popular and had somehow missed adolescent’s awkward hazing process of braces, glasses, and growing out your bangs. Which, by the way, if those were the three parts in a nerdy triathlon, I would have been a serious competitor.

As I grew up, I continued to treasure my English assignments over most subjects but managed to keep the interest to myself. I actually developed a fear of sharing my work with others because it made me feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. So mostly, I kept my words hidden in various notebooks and journals.

The first time I shared my work with an audience was thanks to Theater Pub. It was their second show ever and it featured a more bitter examination of Valentine’s Day (conveniently playing a day after the romantic holiday itself). I read from my legit, very personal diary, things I had never planned to share with anyone (leave it to you to get it out of me, Theater Pub). But ever since that experience, I’ve been able to continue facing that fear and move on to the other hurdles of declaring yourself a writer.

Very recently, I decided to try and submit something for Theater Pub’s highly anticipated Pint Sized Festival. Not only did I wait until the last minute to choose what to write but I also misread the three character maximum rule and wrote something with four characters in mind.  Leaving me to hurry home from Monday’s fun performance and scramble to put something resembling my idea together into a play before midnight.

But it’s my own fault. I have mastered the art of distracting myself each time I try to get some work done. Whenever I should be writing, I suddenly become quite interested in doing things like cleaning out my closet or reading the latest gossip on past Bachelor contestants (will Sean and Catherine make it?!). And if you’re anything like me, maybe you’ve thought of some similar excuses. So I thought it may be fun to look into some of the habits of some more well-known writers; perhaps we can all gain some wisdom and advice in the form a gentle list of suggestions to get back in the world of written words.

So here we go. Without further ado, here are five suggestions to become a better writer.

Write Something Everyday

That’s right, lazy bones. If you want to be a writer you actually have to write. You wouldn’t run a marathon without prepping a bit, right? Maybe doing some stretching or whatever? It’s similar. Just take it from the pros; Stephen King vows to write ten pages every day. No matter what. Ernest Hemingway aimed for at least five hundred words. You don’t have to write about nightmare clowns or develop a famous alcohol issue (though, I’m not stopping you) but consider it a good push.

Change Your Position

Literally. Now, maybe you’re most comfortable at a desk but who’s not a fan of lying in bed?! And for some writers, like Truman Capote, they claim to be a “completely horizontal author”. George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and I’m sure many others, also shared a love of the good ole writing in bed routine. While you’re there for your next catnap, why not try documenting a thought or two?

Turn Off The Internet

Yeah, okay, I know you can’t actually turn off the Internet worldwide but you can do yourself a favor and disable it from time to time. From the mind-suck of Facebook to the endless array of new articles (but seriously guys, do you think Sean and Catherine have what it takes?!) it’s easy to become distracted. When Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants she said she would dedicate a few hours a day to work in a small, cramped private space devoid of distraction. If the online pull isn’t an issue for you, perhaps investigate other new ways to help your concentration. It could be turning off the TV or locking yourself in a padded room, whatever. Make focusing a priority.

Cherish The Small Stuff

Get those short stories done! Write that ten minute play! Before you can tackle the next great masterpiece; try to complete those projects that seem to be constantly left on the backburner because of their petite size. Mark Twain did it! He was a travel writer and journalist before he went on to write any material that would later be dissected by high school students everywhere. Besides, completing shorts gives you the wonderful opportunity to really know your story and make it solid.

Write Because You Love It More Than Your Journal

Don’t get me wrong – I love journaling. It’s how I survived my teenage years. And it’s a great way to keep stretching those writer muscles because it keeps the habit thriving. But consider writing for other people. Keep it personal (I’d love to read your gossip) just keep potential readers in mind. Push yourself to get those thoughts out from hidden inside your Lisa Frank binder to a larger interested audience.

Neil Gaiman once said, “Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” It’s not the easiest thing to love but know you’re in a welcoming community of fellow minded folks and if you fall, there are a bunch of us already down who can soften the landing… as we pick each other up again in search of flight.

What’s your typical writing routine? Any practices you’d like to share? Have you heard any interesting Sean and Catherine news? Please, leave us a comment!