Theater Around the Bay: Alan Coyne & Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”

The Pint-Sized Plays begin their 2nd week of performances tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Alan Coyne and director Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”!

“Bar Spies” is a spy-fiction pastiche, full of false identities, double-crossings, and heightened tension. Actors Courtney Merrell and Andrew Chung show off an impressive array of accents and some slick trench-coated style as the two spies.

Alan Coyne clown

Playwright Alan Coyne has a sense of humor.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Alan: I wrote a piece for Pint-Sized last year (“Relativity”), and this year I figured I’d have another go. I can’t write without a deadline, and this festival gives you that plus a setting, so it’s exactly what I need to write something.

Juliana: I first got involved with Pint-Sized last year as the writer of “To Be Blue,” directed by the wonderful Neil Higgins and featuring the hilarious duo of Eden Neuendorf and Tony Cirimele. The show was such a success last year, I knew I wanted to come back. I’m super excited to return as a director this time!

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Alan: For me, the hardest thing about writing a short play (or anything) is getting started. And after that, it’s translating the amazing idea in your head into the least-clunky language possible.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Alan: Knowing that everything in it has to matter. That helps focus me on what I actually need to put in, and what I can do without.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Juliana: The most exciting moment for me so far this year was watching my actors read the script for the first time out loud while Alan and I watched. I couldn’t stop smiling as Courtney and Andrew took these two silly characters and brought them to life so easily despite the ridiculous accents we are making them do.

What’s been most troublesome?

Juliana: Scheduling! But that’s what I get for wanting to work with such talented folks.

Juliana_L_003_layout copy

What are your biggest artistic influences?

Alan: P.G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams. They are who I would want to write like, if I could. For this particular play, it’s John Le Carre, who wrote Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; “Bar Spies” is very much a parody of that genre, and he, for me, is the best spy writer. And I owe a little something to Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, which is also a spy parody play. And Chess, which is the musical I’m rehearsing for at the moment, and is set during the Cold War.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Juliana: Sean Connery, because he is the best spy with the best accent.

Alan: Alec Guinness, who played the main character in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and did so definitively. Luckily for me, Courtney Merrell pretty much is Alec Guinness, so that worked out.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Juliana: Brian Martin is the first to come to mind, though we did do a scene study project in college together. Still, I think it would be a treat to work with him in a more professional setting.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Alan: My next writing project is for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, it’s called Hypnos, and it’s an excerpt from Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio. It’ll be performed Saturday, October 15. And my next acting projects are the aforementioned Chess for Custom Made (September/October), in which I play The Arbiter, followed by Feste in Twelfth Night at the Metropolitan Club on Saturday, November 5, which Juliana is also directing.

Juliana: Up next, I’m directing Twelfth Night as part of Shakespeare at the Club. I’m also performing in Chess at Custom Made Theatre Company and Avenue Q at New Conservatory Theatre.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Juliana: The Fringe Festival at the Exit Theatre.

Alan: The Olympians Festival is always wonderful, everyone should check that out at the EXIT this October. I had the opportunity to participate in Musical Cafe this year, and they’re doing another showcase in November, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for that. And PianoFight always has something good going on, especially shows which feature Andrew Chung.

What’s your favorite beer?

Juliana: Right now it’s Old Rasputin’s Russian Imperial Stout, but I’ll drink whatever you buy me.

Alan: For this show, I recommend drinking a pint of (Alec) Guinness.

“Bar Spies” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 3 performances remaining: August 22, 23, and 29 at PianoFight! 

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Working Title: That’s All One, Our Play is Done…

This week Will Leschber bids farewell to the Bay …

Since this is the last blog entry I’ll write while I’m still in the Bay Area, we are going to change up the format, as one is wont to do when times are a-changing. Call it indulgent but I’m confident anyone out there can sympathize with a time of transition.

I’m not sure where to begin. How to sum up the closing of a chapter that has redefined one’s life? We all know that ruminating swell of indigo emotion that accompanies a transition. Whether it be closing a show, semester’s end, season’s shift, a graduation tassel turn, a job change, an impending parting, or a big move: There is a particular bittersweetness reserved for such occasions. As you my know, dear readers, my wife (fellow blogger, beautiful Ashley Cowan of Cowan Palace fame) and I are moving out of the Bay Area. We are journeying due east to see what dreams may come on another coast. Endings lead to new beginnings and the bittersweet feelings remain…

I’ve never been fully satisfied with the term bittersweet. The blanket term of bittersweet doesn’t lock down everything encapsulated in the leaving of a phase of life. There needs to be a term that rolls the jumbled entirety of emotions that may appear in the garbs of… excited to start a new era, anxious about the uncertain future, melancholy for all things left behind, joyful for optimistic possibilities, wistful of times gone by, thoughtful of all the 525,600 minutes that made up each year passed, hopeful for a bright road ahead, cognizant of the fact that these are the last days of disco. The juxtaposed opposing emotions somehow simultaneously crossing vast plains and wide trains of thought.

The Radiant Indigo Fade...or Crimson Wistful Waveaway...the new "bittersweet" should more resemble something of that ilk. If only wordy!!

The Radiant Indigo Fade…or Crimson Wistful Waveaway…the new “bittersweet” should more resemble something of that ilk. If only wordy!!

I knew that feeling when I moved out here 5 years ago. I travelled west to be with the one I love and to move towards a future in a new place and a bright space. I found a small place in the indie theater community here in the City which meant the world to me. Being a part of a living, breathing, evolving beast of creative theater forces was exciting.

12th Night cast copy

Living in a city where every street felt paved with history and character, the light and the dark. Working exhaustive long hours at huge party events from the rolling hills of Napa to the wet cliffs of Monterey where I would not get to attend the affluent galas but I would get to tear down the billowy tents and bright lights afterwards. Living in the middle of the socio-economic divide. Watching the 3am moon kiss the San Francisco skyline from the autumn avenues of Treasure Island in the middle of the Bay.

Treasure Island Living copy

Winking at the final sunset on the roof of our 2nd apartment as we moved into the last apartment we would have in the City. Seeing theaters close their doors when landlords decided they could get more rent. Performing Rent! Performing Shakespeare from bars to redwood forests. Performing my wedding vows in front of 150 of my closest friends and family on a day that could not have been better. Experiencing my first child come into the world and knowing joy unlike any other. Making last plans and saying goodbye… all these things are wrapped in that opalescent mass that color the experience of leaving.

San Francisco U Turn copy

I know anyone who has lived in this tumultuous time and hurly burley place will hear the echoes of my experiences within their own.

I don’t know how to properly put into words the feeling that I know the decision to move on is the right one, yet a part of me will feel as though they never got enough time here. The truth is I am past the point of being able to live and breathe the City. To experience a place fully one needs time and the means to do so. Too often I’ve found myself busy with the act of getting by and being an bill-paying adult to truly enjoy this glorious place. So much of living in the Bay Area within the Theater scene or otherwise feels so transitory and impermanent. But that is the way of all things. The edge of impermanence is just sharper here. Outside all of the sharp edges, I can say in all cliche, I will leave some of my heart in San Francisco. I am so grateful to have known the people I have known. I am so thankful to have been part of the projects of which I was a part. To Theater Pub, to theater goers, to the blog readers, to the bay, to the City, to all co-workers, to the friends I’ve made, the the daughter I made, to love that never fades…thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

…Be seeing you.

I leave you with a little Shakespeare and a little rock ‘n roll bard named Tom Petty

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.
~Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act V, Sc 1

It’s time to move on
It’s time to get going
What lies ahead I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, babe,
The grass is growing.
It’s time to move on
It’s time to get going…
~Tom Petty, Time to Move On, Wildflowers

Cowan Palace: Ten Times I Broke The Rules And It Ruled!

Ashley’s not always much of a rule breaker but when she is… it’s something!

When we last met as a Theater Pub unit to talk about the rest of the year, the bloggers decided to use September as a way to explore “breaking the rules” in theatre. So, to get things going, here are ten times I broke the rules:

1.) Cat Improv

Closing night of Godspell (the last play I did before leaving New York) I decided it’d be funny if I changed my normal, expected “adlib” line about being too busy to being too busy because I had to wax my cat. (Looking back, I think I was trying to impress some boy I had a crush on who had miraculously traveled all the way out to Queens to see the show after months of my begging.) Sure, some of the cast wanted to kill me because the random weird new line made them break but the audience LOLed and I thought I was a bad ass. As I always say, it’s the cat’s pajamas when you can improv a line about a feline.

2.) The Switch

It was a double show day a few months into Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding (the interactive, Italian wedding show!). We hadn’t brought on many swings or understudies yet and almost of of the cast had been playing the same part each night. After one performance as “the dorky” bridesmaid my castmate, who was scheduled to play “the sexy singer” bridesmaid, mentioned she didn’t feel like wearing her character’s heels for the next show. I tried them on for fun in the ladies dressing room and we started joking about switching parts. (Considering we both had the same dress on anyway, it would only take a few different accessories to become the other character.) But this was at the beginning of the run when we had a pretty strict and regimented production team who absolutely would have said no to the request. We decided to just do it without telling anyone figuring they wouldn’t stop the show and make us switch back. (So sneaky, right?!) The new role I was covering required me to sing four songs and make out with a groomsman without having practiced either activity. Whoa, baby, it was quite the show! And even though we got a stern talking to about our switch, it opened the door to being able to play more of the parts in the show. I then went on to sing many more songs and stage kiss many more groomsmen.

3.) Dating My Co-Star

Not sure if it’s really a rule but it’s certainly not always the best idea. Lucky for me it worked out. And we made a baby. A beautiful theater baby and actual child. Boom. Thanks, fellow actor/blogger Will Leschber!

4.) Getting Too Into Character

It was my first weekend playing Tina (in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding) and I took the whole “in your face, interactive Italian bride” role pretty seriously. Near the end of the show, Tony and Tina have a big fight where they break up (spoiler alert: they get back together) and I grabbed a glass from someone’s table and threw it at my Tony. The glass shattered and water spilled on a couple attending the show. After the performance I was asked to never do that again by our stage manager. But then a guy who had been at the show (and drank way too much) came up to us and told me I was so fierce that I “must have real balls”. He then spelled “balls” incorrectly and missed a high five. It was rad and totally worth it.

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

5.) Turning On My Phone

While rehearsing God Satan Beer (part of Theater Pub’s second Pint-Sized Festival) I had the instinct during one rehearsal to play God as a real dick and just start taking selfies of myself during Satan’s smart and poignant monologue. We ended up keeping the bit (after cleaning it up and better defining it) and I got treasured show pictures every night!

A tale of two dresses…

A tale of two dresses…

6.) Sewing A Wedding Dress

When I first got to play Tina in TNT they costumed me in a dress that had long sleeves (though they were too short to fully cover my arms). It was also slightly too wide and too short. And, covered in random sequins and lace. Then our show switched venues and a bunch of our clothes never made it to the new location. Including that dress. (Perhaps it returned to the magical Lisa Frank world from once it came). I knew I couldn’t fit into the dress worn by some of the other Tinas but I didn’t want to tell our production team because I knew they’d take away my chance to play the part. So I found the backup dress that I could almost fit into. Then I stole it from our collection and brought it home (huge no no). Next, I cut it apart and sewed it together to fit me better. Keep in mind, I can barely dress myself sometimes and I really don’t know much about sewing. But somehow after hours of effort, I pulled it off! I had a dress I could wear. When I put it on for my first show back in the role, one of my castmates told me she hoped I could wear that dress in my own wedding because it seemed “made for me”. I did not wear it for my own wedding but that comment still makes me laugh.

7.) An Unconventional Headshot

Before I auditioned for Terrorama, I sent the production team a picture from a film I did in NYC as my headshot and resume. It’s just me screaming in a nightgown. Awesome (Theatre), right?

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

8.) Male Monologues

For two years whenever I was asked to have a monologue ready, I went in with a male Shakespearean selection. For some reason, I always felt free to make bigger choices with them. Now this tactic did not always result in getting into the show but I like to think it helped with playing Viola in Twelfth Night.

9.) Auditioning With A TLC Song

Not a whole lot more to say other than I sang an acapella version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” at an audition that asked us to have a more classically driven song prepared. I did not get cast. But I have no regrets! One step closer to achieving my solo TLC cover band dream.

10.) Drinking On The Job

Now, I’m pretty strict about not drinking during a show. Even when I’ve played characters who were drunk and suppose to be drinking AND the director allowed me to have a real drink, I’ve always asked for the non alcoholic stuff. I have way too many butterflies before and during a show and booze doesn’t lend itself well to that (for me). But during one TNT show, when I was back to playing “the dorky bridesmaid”, a table ordered me and one of the groomsmen a shot and demanded we take it together. We tried to talk our way out of it but they insisted. Plus, the drinks were expensive! So in the nature of the “yes, and” style of the show, we took them. Even though it was just one drink, it felt a little dangerous and reckless (again, for me). Enough to say, alright, I did that but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Even if it’s just my own silly rules, sometimes it’s cool not to break them.

Cowan Palace: Audition Tips With Ashley

Ashley’s gonna make you a star, kid!

After nearly a year and a half away from auditioning, I found myself at a real life actual audition on Saturday afternoon. As you may remember my feelings regarding having to prepare a monologue from my past blog I was delighted to be in the company of printed sides and fellow cold readers.

Honestly, sometimes just getting out of the house without forgetting my keys is a victory, so I was pretty jazzed to simply get out and go play. But I thought I’d try to also use the experience and write some tips for the next audition.

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

Here are a few of my pearls of wisdom:

1.) Dress to impress… or press your dress… or try not to be a mess.

So you’re an actor. You probably know how to make yourself look pretty, good for you. But if you can, put a little effort into what you’re wearing and consider how you want people to see you. On Saturday, I picked a dress to wear and ironed it and did my best to remove all the rogue, single pet hairs that had found a home and formed a community on it. I had a pretty lengthy mental debate about whether or not to fish out some Spanx because truthfully, I’m not quite back into my old audition body thanks to nursing. Little did I know I wouldn’t really have to worry about that because I ended up popping a button off the bust of the dress on my walk out the door. It was unfortunate. So my advice? Along with ironing your pretty clothes, perhaps try them on the night before to make sure you feel comfortable and confident. Also, have a backup.

2.) You can be warm and welcoming. Or cool and collected. Just don’t be an asshole.

On my second audition in the Bay Area, I was scolded by another actress in the waiting area for being too friendly with the stage manager and other people waiting for their audition slot. She told me it wouldn’t get me into the show. I did get into that show and that show pretty much depended on the actors being friendly with strangers (holla, Tony ‘n Tina’s crew!). But I realized that people handle their audition nerves in different ways; some are overly talkative, some are silent and thoughtful. I usually lean on the chatty side; it helps me feel better to talk to those in my boat. What I’ve found auditioning for stuff in the Bay Area is that often, you’ll come to know a majority of the actors in the waiting room with you. And while you want to get in a show, you’re also really rooting for many of them to get in, too. That’s cool! So I suggest either embracing the opportunity to hang out with other actors and enjoy the conversations or politely give yourself some space. But you don’t need to embrace the people looking for space. So be aware and stuff. And keep in mind, being an asshole in the waiting room isn’t going to secure your chance to be cast, either.

3.) Give yourself a dress rehearsal

Once you get a side, it’s in your best interest to read that sucker out loud. Even if it’s just once. On Saturday, I got the chance to read with a few different people who were luckily interested in taking a moment to read the lines aloud together. Each time I read a side out loud for the first time, I flubbed some word or sentence. But then when I got into the space, I was way less likely to mess it up again. So lesson learned, mentally reading lines over in your head is good but if you can find a place to voice them before the director hears it, do it!

4.) Don’t be boring or too quiet

You never know what’s going on in the minds of the folks in charge of casting but most likely, they’re tired and they’re swimming in similar dialogue read to them over and over again by countless eager actors. Do them a favor and try to go in there confidently and prepared to give them some energy. Be loud. Sometimes making the conscious choice to up that volume can encourage bigger choices to be made. You’re there to make an impression and when you get the chance to be the focus, fill that room however you can.

5.) Care

If you’re attending an audition, put some time and thought into it. Or at least, fake it. Read the script you’re trying to get a part in, familiarize yourself with the playwright or the play’s production history. Consider how cool it would be to do the show. Whatever. That passion reads and people want to be around others who are passionate about something so don’t be afraid to care about the project.

6.) Try not to care so much

Don’t get so stuck in researching the play that you’re unable to come in and take new direction and approach the text with fresh eyes. Don’t beat yourself up if your delivery didn’t nail the punchline and get a laugh. And don’t get caught up in whether things are running late or getting a last minute side to read after you studied and prepared another one. Auditions can be fun! Let yourself enjoy them a little if you can. It’s the chance to perform! So get out of your head and just play in the moment.

7.) Pack comfortable shoes for the walk home

Picking audition shoes are always a battle for me as I truly believe a change in footwear can change your portrayal of a character in a big way. Sometimes I’ll bring two pairs in or ask if I can just go barefoot and sometimes I just want the shoes to look pretty and cute so I look like I kind of have my act together. On Saturday I made the rookie mistake of not packing an extra pair of comfortable shoes to put on after my final read. Dummy! My pretty, vintage red shoes had served their purpose but my feet decided to wage a rebellion so I ended up walking home from the theater barefoot. Luckily, it was only eight blocks but I did look like I was attempting a quick walk of shame. In any case, you want to be comfortable! Even if it’s after the audition. So keep footwear in mind.

The biggest tip I have though is to go to the audition. Do not talk yourself out of it or make stupid excuses. I’m the queen of second guessing myself and coming dangerously close to canceling my audition thinking, “I don’t have a chance in getting in so why bother.” Gah, don’t do that! Just go try! You don’t have anything to lose! I almost didn’t audition for Twelfth Night years ago and I can’t imagine my life without having had that show. Plus, I’ve also auditioned for things that I didn’t get into only to have the director call me years later and offer me something totally different. You never know. But, please, if you want to act and be in shows then put yourself out there and do it over and over again! And if you need me to push you or hold you accountable, fine. Cowan Palace in the house! Hopefully I’ll schedule a new audition again soon and in the meantime, I’ll keep taking tips. So if you have an audition tip, please feel free to share. Until next time, pals!

Theater Around The Bay: Sometimes A Commission Is A Love Letter

Stuart Bousel lets Will and Ashley linger in the spotlight just a moment longer. 

So, you’ve probably heard that Ashley Cowan and Will Leschber got married.

You may have even heard something about me writing part of their ceremony (which was predominantly written and spoken by Chris Quintos Cathcart).

What you probably haven’t heard is that I sweated bullets over this page and a half like it was my own wedding.

I get asked to write stuff for people all the time: letters of recommendation, reviews and testimonials, the occasional play. The blessing/curse of being articulate and having a decent command of the language is that people often hit you up to make something sound better or put into words what they can’t, but there’s a big difference between, “write us a two person sketch about XXX”, or “list the five reasons I should get into this grad program”, and “try to capture the poetry of our romance.” That’s a lot of pressure. I mean, it’s one thing to be the weak link in an evening of shorts, or one of the myriad of reasons someone doesn’t get into grad school; it’s quite another to potentially ruin someone’s wedding. And like, their parents will be there. Is there anything worse than disappointed mom stare?

On the other hand, it’s deeply flattering to be asked to do something so important for someone, to be so earnestly trusted, and recognize the faith a friend or pair of friends (in this case) has in you to not only not fuck up, but enhance what was already bound to be a special day. It’s not only flattering, but also inspiring, especially if you’ve been going through a bit of a creative slump, as I have been. I hemmed and hawed and complained and procrastinated, but when I finally forced myself to sit down and write something, I ended up walking away a few hours later, immensely proud of what I’d done.

Sometimes, when we are writers, and particularly writers whose work is getting performed and/or published on a regular basis, we forget who we are writing for and why. In the last few years I have really been embracing the creation of art for its own sake, and for my sake, and the sake of “the right people.” I’ve stopped caring about being producible or commercial, I’ve stopped caring about critics, and I’ve stopped caring about whether or not people really get what I’m doing. When asked “what about the audience?” I’ve pretty much adopted the stance of one of my favorite auteurs, Hal Hartley, “What about them?” This has actually been a really liberating place to be, and if I’ve been running a bit dry this year it has less to do with any kind of writer’s block so much as exhaustion: I wrote 4 full length plays last year, a number of essays and articles, and 3 short plays. If it wasn’t for the part where I’m supposed to have a new full length by the end of this year, I’d be fine with giving myself the year off to just read and revise, but there is no rest for the articulate human with something to say. And I always have something to say.

Meanwhile, thanks to Ashley and Will, I’m sort of getting back into the swing of writing again. This was the short sprint I needed to prep for the marathon. And while I’m way past the point of writing for the audience, I hope you enjoy this as much as they did.

Monologue For Ashley and Will

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that without me, none of this would be happening.

I first met Will in the summer of 2002 when he was acting in a play I wrote, “A Random Act of Creation.” It was being produced in Tucson, Arizona, where he was spending the summer being an actor and I was packing my stuff to move to San Francisco that fall. Will played the god Thor and wore super-tight leather pants. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Will’s youth, and the kind of plays I wrote in my early twenties.

I first met Ashley in the spring of 2009 when I was holding auditions for a production of “The Frogs.” Ashley auditioned for one of the frogs, and despite some really excellent Frog Moves, I did not cast her, but remembered her audition and later that summer cast her in another play as a peasant girl who is abducted by a king who wishes to marry her, but she regains her freedom with the help of a talking magic fish. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Ashley, period, and the kind of plays I wrote in my late-twenties.

One of those plays was a larger, expanded version of the magic fish story, which opened here in San Francisco in 2010. This play, called “Giant Bones”, was based on a collection of short stories by a writer named Peter S. Beagle, of whom Will happens to be an ardent fan. On the opening night of the show, Peter’s agent, Connor, was planning to throw the cast and crew a very fancy party in an art gallery over looking Union Square, with Peter in attendance, and audience members who wished to attend could purchase a special ticket that allowed them to do so. Will, fan that he is of both Peter and myself, decided this was something not to be missed, purchased a ticket to the show and a flight to San Francisco, and flew out for the gala of “Giant Bones.” About the same time, as if by fate, Ashley, who was friends with a number of people involved with the show, also purchased a ticket to the gala night of “Giant Bones.”

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that without my “Giant Bones”, none of this would be happening.

Anyway, the party was amazing. It had the three true signifiers of success: 1) an open bar; 2) sushi; and 3) a dude in a tux playing a harp. Everybody who is almost somebody was there, like probably 60 people, and at some point between beer 2 and 15 I notice that there is this tall blonde kid in a suit who keeps smiling at me but to be honest I hadn’t seen Will in 8 years by that point and I didn’t recognize him so I just assumed what I always assume in these situations which is that I must have slept with him. Because of this, at some point, I apparently leaned over and told Ashley, “Hey. Go find out if that guy’s gay.” Turns out the answer is no.

What I want all of you to walk away with, is that we never know when or how or where the most important person in our life is going to make their appearance… but if we’re lucky, it’s through the most whimsical means possible, and within 8 feet of an open bar… or at the very least, in a city by the sea, full of glass and iron towers, and mysterious fog banks and lonely piers, and exsquisite little parks and coffee shops and all the other magical things you can explore like Will and Ashley did, together, the whole rest of his first trip out here.

Like all good stories, there is a mixture of magic and hardship and when two young people who live in different cities and are on different trajectories with their lives meet, the inevitability of the hardship is almost as surefire as the magic. It was not always easy after that first incredibly easy, incredibly magical weekend. As someone friendly with both parties, it was often times as heartbreaking as it was heartwarming to watch Will and Ashley’s relationship grow and deepen, but I have to say what always both impressed and inspired me was their unflagging respect and admiration for each other, and their refusal to stop caring for one another, even when life was pulling them in opposite directions. I think to fully understand the relationship of these two people you have to realize that both Will and Ashley fundamentally believe in love at first sight, and that such a belief is fundamentally courageous, and requires people with both fluid imaginations and huge, open, gaping wounds of hearts. And while I’m not saying that my belief that when two such people meet they should never let go of one another informed my decision to offer Will a role in my 2011 production of “Twelfth Night”, I’m fairly certain that it was Ashley’s belief in such things that gave her the courage to suggest it to me. And it really was a brave thing to do, especially as they weren’t together at the time- and she was playing the lead in the show. And it was a really brave thing for him to say yes, and give up the familiar things of his life, and move to a strange city for a summer, and parade around in a pair of tights, all for a possibility that was only supposed to be vaguely, faintly possible.

But what I want all of you to walk away with, is that because their love is true, and because their love is brave, all this is happening.

Cowan Palace: Our Big, Fat, San Francisco Theatrical Wedding

This week Ashley Cowan (Leschber!) thanks eight special people who helped make a San Francisco wedding even more theatrical.

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I’m sure you’re feeling a little tired of all this “Ashley and Will’s Wedding” content floating around the internet. But forgive us. We promise in two weeks we’ll be on to other topics. Most likely.

As I’m still floating on Cloud Nine’s layer of exhaustion, I was tempted to make this blog a collection of my favorite pet pictures. Instead, I decided to perhaps make better use of it by offering a thank you to some of our theater friends who deserve a bit of recognition. Besides, there’s still plenty of time to post an all pet related post!

As Marissa mentioned in her blog, putting on a production can be a lot of like planning a wedding. And for Will and me, the reverse proved to be true. As you can imagine, planning a wedding in San Francisco comes with its fair share of challenges. When the going got tough, we decided to think outside the wedding box and look to a group we knew we could count on: the theater community. And we were overjoyed with the individuals who helped make this event even more meaningful.

In honor of the eight months we had to plan it, here are eight theater makers who helped make our day:

Chris Quintos Cathcart: Will and I thought long and hard about who may be a good match to officially help us tie the knot. We knew we wanted our officiant to be a San Franciscan who knew us both, who had a way with words, and who could comfortably speak before a group. We brainstormed a few options but nothing seemed quite right. We kept coming back to Chris: the person who Will and I had both separately opened up to during Twelfth Night rehearsals, the woman who offered us fantastic love advice and young adult fiction suggestions over various pieces of cake, and the friend who made us laugh during times of insecurity. Throughout the entire planning process, Chris listened and collaborated with us. Most of the time she magically incorporated the thoughts we tried poorly to articulate with unbelievable ease. After working together on theatrical projects of the past, Chris proved once again to be a master of the stage and we can’t thank her enough for lending her talent to this new union.

Stuart Bousel: As he mentioned in his reading, Stuart is the reason I’m here writing this blog. Along with letting us write for Theater Pub, he’s also played the leading role in our meet cute story. Aside from using his magical theater ways to inspire a romance, Stuart was also the one person we knew we wanted to perform a reading. After surviving an already crazy year of rehearsals and multiple shows, we asked Stuart if he would write something for our ceremony. We were not very helpful with the specifics of what we wanted (sorry, Stuart). But we had faith in his words considering they had, in fact, brought us all together in the first place. Once again, he blew us away with a beautiful, humorous and thoughtful retelling of our story together. My friends and family outside of our theater circle haven’t stopped raving about it and we’re left thanking Stuart for his treasured part in our relationship.

Tonya Narvaez: Will and I have the pleasure of living with Tonya and that poor lady has probably seen more wedding induced sweat and tears than anyone else. She calmed our nerves by suggesting we take a moment to focus on the emotional journey of Felicity instead of our own stress. She made us laugh by creating unique talkative voices for each of the pets. But most of all, she was a friend to us when we simply needed a calm voice telling us that everything was going to be okay. Tonya also saved the day by writing all the text on our various chalkboards (and my goodness, we had a lot of them), helped us to arrange our centerpieces, and incorporated her creative ideas into our overall design. Tonya proved to be so many things to us during this process and we’ll never stop singing her praises. (Literally. We sing A LOT on Treasure Island.)

James Grady and Christi Chew: I got to know James and Christi through Theater Pub’s glimpse into Rent. Not only are they incredibly good looking but they’re also super talented. So when my job at the time needed performers for a summer concert series, they were at the top of my list. And wowza, they hit it out of the park. Will and I crossed our fingers they would be willing to play at our ceremony and cocktail hour. When they said yes, we probably high fived each other at least a thousand times. They were willing to quickly learn the song we envisioned as our “walk down the aisle jam” (Gold from Once, for anyone curious) and they performed it with skill and passion. Once the reception started, James and Christi continued to encourage the party atmosphere we had hoped for by impressing guests of all ages with their dance moves. Fun fact: several of my friends asked me to introduce them to Christi because they believed she was the “inventor of dance”. James and Christi, we love you and thank you for your music.

Ellery Schaar: I was introduced to Ellery thanks to Chris after she heard me moaning about not being able to find a headpiece to wear with my wedding dress. I have a decent sized head and everything I tried on looked just ridiculous. As soon as I met Ellery, I knew I was in good hands. She greeted me with such a positive and creative force that I knew my hopeful vision of a birdcage veil could be brought to life with care and dedication. She somehow managed to match my love of vintage books with a beautifully detailed piece to wear. The veil included a quote from Twelfth Night, the light peach color from the bridesmaids’ dresses, and the bling that every bride can appreciate. Honestly, I anticipate several future evenings of me alone in my room putting the veil on and remembering the wedding day. Ellery is truly a gifted artist and I’m very grateful I had the chance to be a canvas.

Ashley Ramos: Not only does Ashley have a great name but she can do all the artistic things I wish I could do. Earlier this year, I was super impressed with her draft for the Olympians Festival surrounding Allison’s take on Cerberus but she really delighted Will and me by creating our very own large book where guests could take a picture inside it and literally become a part of the story. She crafted this giant beautiful piece and managed to draw a gorgeous image of The Golden Gate Bridge on the book page. Ashley took a crazy idea and helped bring it to life. She was so sweet to work with and we were truly blown away by her design. So much so, that we plan to hang the creation on the wall. Ashley, you’re wonderful and we can’t wait to see your next creation!

Wes Crain: I first met Wes over beers and margaritas (which Tonya and I had combined… obviously) at a “cleavage and mustaches” birthday party for Chris. After I purchased my dress from Glamour Closet, I needed to find someone to slightly alter the straps before it was ready to wear. I investigated a few options and quickly found the price of altering a wedding dress was almost as much as promising your first born child. Yikes! One place said that if I simply wanted to ask an alterations question, I would have to pay them $35. Regardless if I chose them to fix the dress or if they knew the answer. Barf. So when Tonya suggested I ask Wes to take a look at the dress and see if perhaps he could fix it, I was both anxious and hopeful. Not only did he fix my dress within an hour of first seeing it but he also went on to help my bridesmaid, fellow blogger-Allison Page, with altering her dress as well. I’ve since been bragging that the talent behind the San Francisco Ballet accepted my freelance job but in all seriousness, Wes was fantastic. He made me feel comfortable in a situation that would have otherwise made me feel vulnerable and insecure. He did a perfect job with the alterations and I will continue to suggest him to anyone in need of a seasoned costume master!

As you can see, our wedding was made special by the many talents of the San Francisco Theater Community. We’ve found a family here in this city. Will and I are so thankful to know you all and we’re so happy that our big day was a celebration made better by the immense theatrical talent you all possess. Thank you for supporting us and believing that where there’s a Will (and an Ashley), there’s a way.

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Cowan Palace: Ashley the Actress Versus Ashley the Bride

Ashley’s her own Bridezilla.

I hadn’t really planned to document any of the marriage process here in Cowan Palace, but alas, it’s consuming me at the moment. At least until The Bachelorette starts up again on Monday. The good news is that the big day is just over a month away. And I only have two more blogs after this until that time! So I promise not to bore you too much with all of this nonsense!

As I’ve mentioned before, the reason I moved to San Francisco was because of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. My first show in California and certainly a new chapter of my life. I was first cast as “the dorky bridesmaid” character. SHOCKING, I KNOW. I knew how to dance so awkwardly, audiences were unsure where Ashley ended and Marina Galino began. I got rave reviews from that one guy who kept bringing new dates to our show.

Marina Galino chokes under the pressure of dancing while looking for love.

Marina Galino chokes under the pressure of dancing while looking for love.

In real life, I couldn’t have been further from a boyfriend. But it didn’t matter! I got to hang out with my love, the theater! Sure, he forgot my name a few times and didn’t call when he promised to but I figured, eventually I could change him!

This had been sort of a theme for me since high school. Once I started taking drama class, acting became everything. I went through a lot of college oblivious to romantic opportunities because I just wanted to be in as many plays as possible. And even when I moved to New York City to pursue acting, I somehow managed to only involve myself with the reject characters from “Sex and the City” while enduring countless rejections from auditions.

When I moved to California, it was because I needed a change. I wanted to pursue my career in a new time zone and I wanted to finally fall in love.

What got me to change states was an internship program in Merced where upon first meeting, one of the theater board members told me, “don’t let theater be your only thing. You’ll need more than that to be happy”. And at the time, I rolled my eyes. I was 23 and clearly I knew everything. My pursuit of the craft had gotten me this far, hadn’t it? I wanted it all. I wanted to continue surrounding myself in everything theatrical and somehow end up with my Prince Charming.

Once I was in San Francisco, kissing way more boys on stage than off, I continued my familiar trend of taking any and all acting opportunities that came my way. Sadly, as I realize now, my dating history followed a similar path. I lacked a sense of selection. I said yes to things before thinking them through and once again, I felt like I was just a hamster having a go at the wheel. And while I loved any chance I had to act, I also continued to love the idea of falling in love. After years of coming to terms that maybe I wasn’t meant to be in that type of serious relationship, I still yearned for the possibility.

I met Will at a theater gala. And I kid you not, earlier in the day I had a long chat with myself over a coffee and a pastry regarding being more aware and active of the things I was doing to better my life. If I wanted to truly fall in love and be a good partner to someone, I knew I had to make it a priority and be more thoughtful with who I lent my heart stained sleeves out to.

When Will and I got our second chance at a relationship (after we dated and then broke up because of the distance… and then rekindled our feelings when he returned to San Francisco to act alongside me in Twelfth Night) I knew things were starting to change. I began saying no to some acting opportunities when my feelings for them weren’t strong enough. My time was suddenly worth a new value knowing that Will would only be living in the same city with me for a summer. And as much as I wanted to be in every show and project ever, I was also falling in love with someone in a whole new way. I wasn’t ready to let my grasp go.

Needless to say, I’ve held onto Will’s hand ever since. Yes, I’ve continued to pursue theater but I do think my relationship with it has matured into something new. I’ll forever love it but I know now that it can’t be “my everything”.

Being the bride is bringing out the best in me.

Being the bride is bringing out the best in me.

When Will and I get married, I’ll become two people. Ashley Cowan will remain my actor/writer name (Leschber Palace doesn’t quite have the same ring) and Ashley Leschber will be my married name. Currently, while I stress and cry over the ache and pains of the wedding planning process and missing evenings devoted to the stage, I’m realizing that my next challenge is to learn to balance these these two people and these two loves. As with anything else in adulthood, you learn that you have to be flexible and you have to make compromises and adjustments if you want to fight for your happiness. Luckily for me, I have a fella who pushes me to pursue those acting and writing opportunities while letting me develop from that once dorky bridesmaid into my new bridal role. Strangely enough, my dance moves remain the same.