Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Things of Darkness and of Light

Marissa Skudlarek, walking in and out of the shadows. 

October. A new month, and none too soon. We Theater Pub bloggers chose comedy as our September theme, and then several of us found ourselves facing personal crises and challenges in September that made it very hard to be lighthearted. Hence my “maybe comedy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” article, last time around. Hence Stuart’s invocation of the terrifying momentum of this white-knuckle year.

Our October theme might be more in line with what we’re feeling. This is the month when the days get rapidly shorter, when the Sun moves into moody Scorpio, and the spooky Halloween holiday caps things off. And, appropriately, our theme this month has to do with the magic and mystery of theater (and life), ghost stories, horror theater, the frightening, the numinous.

What could be more numinous, more magical, than the thought that Ashley and Will, two of my co-bloggers, have together created a new life? This baby, conceived around the summer solstice, announced on the autumn equinox, will come into the world around the time of next year’s spring equinox. I think about that, and about how the Spanish euphemism for “giving birth” is “dar a luz,” “to give to the light.” And it feels both wonderfully appropriate and wonderfully mysterious.

My year hasn’t been quite as momentous as Ashley and Will’s, but it — and particularly, the past few months — have brought me bigger challenges than I’ve had to face in a long time. Halfway through the run of Pleiades in August, I began experiencing terrible stomach pains that started as soon as I lay down in bed and kept me awake for hours. After a few nights of this, I went to the doctor and got diagnosed with gallstones. Honestly, the diagnosis came as a relief, rather than shocking or frightening me. I wasn’t crazy! This wasn’t psychosomatic! I was really ill — I had stones in my abdomen that weren’t supposed to be there! And, while I’d have to go on a super low-fat diet and then get my gallbladder surgically removed (neither of which would be much fun), at least that would be an effective, permanent cure.

A few days later, the metaphorical resonances of my situation began to hit me. The process of producing Pleiades, from the time I floated the idea to director Katja Rivera in mid-December 2013 to closing night at the end of August 2014, took about nine months. And then at the end of the process, I came down with terrible abdominal pains and had to go to the hospital to get something removed from inside me! I wasn’t just giving birth to a play. I was giving birth to gallstones.

And then I decided that I needed to name my gallstone. I know this sounds kooky, but I come from a family that names everything — our cars, even our Christmas trees. Giving something a name makes it real and concrete in my mind, and as such, gives me power over it. After considering and rejecting a few silly names that didn’t feel right (gallstones are sometimes made of bilirubin, so perhaps I could name my stone “Billy Rubin”?) I reached back to literature for inspiration. And I decided that my gallstone was named “Caliban.” Partly because it was angry and caused me pain and would flare up if I drank too much alcohol. But mostly, I was thinking of the line at the end of The Tempest, when Prospero says of Caliban, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

This gallstone was a thing of darkness. This health crisis was no fun. But if I acknowledged it as mine — if I accepted it rather than falling prey to self-pity or anger — I could survive.

Then, too, I thought of a monologue I had written for one of the key moments in Pleiades. The character of Teresa (in our production, wonderfully played by Monica Ammerman) has been raped, late at night on a beach. The next morning, she tells her sister and her cousin what happened:

The sand. So much sand. Rubbing me raw and abrading me—getting into places where sand shouldn’t go— And at first I closed my eyes and tried to forget it was happening but that just made it worse. You know when your eyes are closed you feel things more intensely, right? So I opened them and saw him, of course, big and dark and close up. And the only other thing I could see was the sky. Big and dark and far away. But full of stars. And I remembered what they say, that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. The stars win out. They have to win out. There has to be more starlight than sand… But there was so much sand!

And I realized that if Pleaides was the starlight in my life, these gallstones were the sand. I was so proud of my show, this play inspired by mythology and constellations and sisterhood. And the stars would win out… even if I had this sand, or these stones, inside me, too.

I think October is about acknowledging those things of darkness that are ours. But also acknowledging the starlight. The sparks of light within us, like the candle in a jack-o-lantern.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She has never read “Illness as Metaphor” but she probably should. Find her on Twitter @MarissaSkud or at marissabidilla.blogspot.com.

Cowan Palace: Ashley The Actress Gets Knocked Up

This week Ashley talks about acting, pregnancy, apples, and oranges.

Maybe you’ve heard the news, gang. This gal has a bun in the oven (or a “pun in the oven” if you’ve seen our announcement video). And it’s awesome! It’s wonderful! But truth be told, it’s also hard. And complicated.

Before I say much more, it should be stated that being a mom has always been something I wanted to become. Since I learned to talk, I told anyone who would listen that I planned to grow up and be an actress and a mother. In fact, since I was always on the taller side, I spent a lot of my time in middle school, high school, and college getting cast as “the mother role”. Though, playing Mother in Roger Williams University’s production of Blood Wedding was still one of my proudest parts to date and landed me the nickname of “Mama” to all my college classmates.

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

That said though, I always imagined my journey into motherhood would be calculated and planned. To say the news of this pregnancy caught us off guard is the understatement of the year. (Then again, my family moved when my 5th grade class was taking Sex Ed so clearly, I don’t understand how babies are made.)

After spending eight months of planning our wedding and trading in rehearsals for workouts, Will and I were so thrilled by the idea of returning back to our life and just relaxing into our new relationship as a married couple. We were going to do more writing, push each other to audition for plays, and slowly save money for an eventual move. After a long talk, we also agreed that Will’s job wasn’t an ideal match and he decided to give his two weeks notice. A day later, we discovered we were pregnant and the world turned upside down.

As I bawled my eyes out into Will’s chest in the doctor’s office, a group of nurses kept whispering, “are they happy right now?” And yes, I was very happy but also totally terrified. We didn’t exactly feel “ready”. We had only been married a month! We live with roommates! Will just quit his job! But here was a new life inside of me! It was both amazing and overwhelming. Everything at once.

And no one mentioned how physically demanding it would be! Throughout my first trimester, I was too tired to do anything but go to work and stumble home. I was also so nauseated all the time that my good ole friend, food, became an enemy. Which has honestly been one of the most difficult elements for me.

We also couldn’t talk openly about it. Very few people knew. But one of the things we realized early on was that I wouldn’t be able to act in the late October show I had been cast in as by that time, I’d be about five months pregnant. Thankfully, my very understanding director, Colin, let me weep on the phone while promising to keep the secret. I had never dropped an acting role before and I started to realize that me and my acting love are going to have to take a bit of a break for awhile.

Earlier this week, that understanding hit me like a ton of bricks. While watching the Olympians Audition, I sat in the audience trying to curb my never ending nausea with snacks and small talk. I asked about how Terrorama (the show I had to drop) had been doing and I was greeted with enthusiastic replies. They were doing great! Which is fantastic! But I couldn’t help but feel a little sad knowing I was originally supposed to be included in this horror themed party and now couldn’t be a part of the terrifying fun. Once the actual auditions began, the weight sank in a bit more as I thought about how my body was getting bigger and I was watching an array of beautiful, young, slender actresses parade across the stage and impress everyone. It started to feel like I was being asked to leave a party I so desperately wanted to attend; that the exit was getting closer and everything was changing.

As you could have guessed, the feelings once again brought me to a tearful goodbye as I escaped the Exit Theater with two streams of water rolling down my face. Guys, I’m an emotional gal battling her way through some new hormones, you get it, right?

I worry you’re reading this and thinking I’m an ungrateful, selfish bitch. There are families out there trying to have a baby and here I am complaining and crying all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly grateful But no one tells you how grueling and taxing the process can be. Most of what I know about it all has been through movies and 90’s sitcoms. They all said it would be wondrous and they promised I’d glow! They don’t tell you that it’s also sometimes the worst. Also, I worry more about my unborn child seeing this one day and thinking for a moment that they were unwanted for even a second. Because I assure you, that’s truly not it.

It’s just me processing life. And trying to be honest in the process. I have a lot of emotions. I feel all the feelings. I’m still an actress after all and it’s just something I do.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This week the baby is the size of a navel orange. Or an apple, if you read other sources. And as I contemplated the well known idiom and my feelings on my sabbatical from acting, I thought about trying to compare things that can’t really be compared. Life isn’t easy. And being an adult has proven to be harder than I imagined. You have to make grown up choices sometimes that you don’t feel ready to make. Some days, you need the apple and some days you need the orange; you don’t always get both. But when you’re ready to strike a delicious balance, maybe life will grant you a fruit salad. That’s what I’m aiming for anyway.

Comparing acting to my new motherhood is impossible and pointless. I’m delighted to take on my new real life mother role and I’ll also be excited to return to the stage sometime (hopefully soon) to continue to follow my passion. Goodness knows, I’ll be in the company of other amazing parents who are navigating a similar course. So until then, I thank you all for letting me be open and truthful about the adventure so far… and for following me on yet another journey of harmonizing theater with life.

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.



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.

wedding_selfie copy

Cowan Palace: Connecticut Dad Bans “Amazing”

Ashley amazes you with her amazingness.

I’ll make it short and sweet this week, folks. Will mentioned it in his piece yesterday and Charles kindly gave us a shout out earlier this week but in case you hadn’t heard me wailing into the night, our wedding day is just nine days away and we’ve been a bit preoccupied with it.

I’m also writing this somewhere between Philadelphia and San Francisco on a late flight home sitting near a sweet Amish couple and a grandma wearing festive socks listing different types of spices.

I had the pleasure of heading back east to be a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding (not as dramatic as the movie). When my dad picked me up the airport, it wasn’t long before he shared his current distaste for the word “amazing”. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Dad: I’ve banned the word “amazing” from our house.

Ashley: Okay.

Dad: There’s a Facebook group devoted to the cause.

Ashley: You’re not on Facebook.

Dad: No, I’m not.

Ashley: Hashtag ironic? (Said in my sexiest reality TV show baby voice.)

Dad: So no more “amazing” in the house.

We then went out to breakfast and it was delicious.

I guess I hadn’t really thought about how much I use the word or some of the other words on my dad’s hate list (which also include: passionate, baby bump, and man cave for those of you following Ashley’s dad trivia). But over these last few nights on good ole Winding Lane, boy did I!

Right before we left to return to the airport, we somehow managed to catch the tail end of some reality show about weight loss. When the woman featured in the program came out and said she had lost 150 pounds (half her body weight!) I said, “wow, that’s amazing.”

My dad stopped me. “It’s what?” he repeated a few times before I caught on. “No, it’s actually amazing.” I said. And explained that I truly thought her achievement was worthy of such a description. Even though we were watching a scripted reality show.

He granted me back my speech.

My dad’s main point is that the word has managed to take on a new meaning with the social media/reality show loving world we live in. He’s passionate, whoops – sorry, he feels strongly about words and believes they deserve better. And as a writer who has a weakness about blogging pop culture references, that struck something in me. I’ve certainly used the word “amazing” when I experienced something that did not cause me to feel “overwhelmed with great surprise and wonder” and I’m also too confident that I’ve given that line to a character or two without thinking twice.

So in your honor, Dad, and as part of a bizarre Father’s Gift (how will my siblings ever compete?!), I promise to be a bit more selective with my words. At least this week. And in any case, your daughter still thinks you’re pretty cool… perhaps even, amazing.

The Cowan Family getting their Cowan on and thinking about words.

The Cowan Family getting their Cowan on and thinking about words.

Theater Around The Bay: Isn’t it Showmantic?

Charles Lewis III returns to get romantic.


“I want you to lie to me just as sweetly as you know how for the rest of my life.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Offshore Pirate”, The Saturday Evening Post (29 May 1920)

I have no problem saying “MacBeth” in a theatre. I never have. I’ve done it in nearly every theatre I’ve performed. It’s just a name, and there’s no sense in fearing a name. It’s also the title of a play and I’ll be damned if I’m scared to say the title of a play – in a theatre, no less! But where I lack a sense of terror of the spoken word, I try to make up for it in a certain level of social grace. Though I have no problem saying it, I recognise that others feel differently. And given that those people are my collaborators, and that we rely on one another to perform our best in a comfortable work environment, I’m discreet with my relationship to MacBeth. I don’t flaunt it because doing so would affect the production. My fellow cast and crew likely suspect, perhaps it’s a major topic of post-show gossip each night. Regardless, MacBeth and I keep our thing on the down-low.

It’s just common courtesy. Some theatres or troupes might have specific rules in regards cast/crew behavior. As such, there will always be someone in the cast who takes this as a challenge and will immediately break the rule. Be it as trivial as “No reading reviews backstage” (seriously, just because we’re not hanging up a newspaper, you think we aren’t sharing links via smartphones?) or as sensitive as “No hook-ups with cast members”. And it is the latter, dear reader, to which I’d like to direct your attention today.

Try as you might, there’s only so much you can do to discourage a coupling amongst co-stars. You put two people together in a scenario where they have to express their deepest passions, eventually those passions will find their way off the stage or screen, and into someone’s bed. You add the specific nature of theatre – particularly independent theatre, where the entire cast will often share a single dressing room – then you’re just adding scantily-clad fuel to a very horny fire; to say nothing of the temptation of it being a taboo in some companies.

But is it taboo for a good reason or are some folks just envious of the fun these two are having? Have hooked-up actors found a healthy relief for built-up tension within the show, or are they putting the entire production in jeopardy? Ah, the tricky business of starting a “showmance”.

For the sake of argument, I’ve never been in a showmance myself. Not for a lack of interest, mind you, I’ve just never been the object of any actress, director, or crewmember’s affection. Nevertheless, I have at times (often inadvertently) set the wheels in motion for other cast members. Plus, I’m usually right in figuring out which folks are the ones trying a bit too hard to keep their hook-up under wraps: the two who are careful not to leave or arrive together, but always do so within minutes of one another and in/from the same direction; the two who know more about one another’s personal lives than any two cast members, despite weeks or months of us all being together; the two who constantly compliment one another’s work when the production is discussed. For Christ’s sake, folks, why don’t you just wave a frickin’ banner already?

But their discretion is understandable. The Bay Area theatre community, like all such communities, is full of gossips. Anyone who says they aren’t a gossip is just trying to hide the fact that they gossip about you. And showmance gossip is tastier than free wine & cake at an opening party.

“You know she only got cast ‘cause he wants to fuck her, right?”

“The reason she never comes to my shows anymore ‘cause she knows he’s gonna be there.”

“What? They’re a couple? When did he turn gay?”

“If she can keep a girlfriend for more than a week-and-a-half, I’ll be very impressed.”

Hell, during last year’s auditions for the Olympians Festival, there was a moment on the first day where I realised I knew far too much about these folks’ sex lives. I could positively identify one particular actor on whom a certain local actress had a crush. Said actress was in the very next group of auditionees – as was a past flings. And that was just the start of a two-day marathon that eventually became just as much about me matching actors with roles as it was about creating my own mental “Our Chart”. (Yes, I’ve seen every episode The ‘L’ Word and yes I know I will never get those hours of my life back.)

There are quite a few on-line articles about why one shouldn’t date an artist (actor, musician, painter, etc.). Those articles are written because the appeal of doing so is obvious: when they’re “on”, they can be whomever you want them to be. The downer is realising that for some of them, that’s all there is. But when the spark is there, it’s nothing but pure magic.

The best compliments actors receive is when they’re told they “come off so natural, so effortless”. Actually there’s a great deal of effort involved. I first started directing in highschool. An original piece (which I’d also written) my senior year had a kiss. It was then that I learned one indisputable truth about acting: be it a NorCal highschool or the Globe theatre, getting two actors to kiss is really fucking awkward. You try to tell yourself “They’re good-lookin’ folks who’ve probably kissed folks before; they’ll figure it out.” I’m not the best-looking guy, but I’ve done plenty of kissing scenes to know how awkward they are. Two years ago I was let go from a play because the director was incompetent, a fact made all the more apparent by the way she tried to direct rehearsals for my kissing scene.

Every first stage kiss. Ever.

Every first stage kiss. Ever.

That’s why successfully pulling off chemistry between actors is considered nothing short of a miracle. And, as anyone who’s been camping can tell you, once you’ve got the flame started, the trick is to keep it going for as long as possible so that everyone can feel the heat. This is why directors will turn a blind eye towards a none-too-subtle romance between actors. So what if Romeo and Tybalt are having “a word and a blow” when they aren’t on-stage? As long as Romeo can bring a fraction of that heat with Juliet, more power to ‘em, right?

Well that’s the thing: whether positively or negatively, a coupling between two people on the same production will always affect the production itself – ALWAYS. By bringing a real relationship into a production, you’re bringing with it all the baggage of said relationship. I once worked on a show where the director and lead actress were married. A simple conversation about using their coffee table as a prop in the show turned into a gritted-teeth argument where the tension could have been cut with a knife. I’ve seen the sort of jealousy that rears its ugly head when one castmember’s crush starts dating another castmember (hell, I’m as guilty of that as anyone). I’ve walked home from the bar after a post-show cast drink and tried to ignore the fact that two cast members are shouting at one another right next to my bus stop. I’ve even known an asshole in a long-term relationship who carried on a three-year affair with an actress, then actively prevented said actress from being cast in his company’s shows (I can’t stress enough how much of an asshole he is).

Last year I directed a wonderfully well-written piece about the relationships that truly define us at the end of our lives. When I divided a set of speeches between two actors, I gave the better actor the more loquacious parts. During our first or second rehearsal, I peeked ahead in the script to be sure of who was reading what. It was only then that I realised I’d given the aforementioned better actor the speech in which three months had passed since his painful break-up; which would have meant nothing, if not for the fact that a month or two had just passed since the actor went through a break-up. Needless to say, he was great with that speech (and given who was in the audience the night of the performance, my heart nearly stopped when he spoke it).

They always affect the show. We’re artists; even if our influences aren’t always obvious, rest assured that all of our life experiences will be reflected in our work one way or another. And it won’t always be pretty.

Yet, it’s no secret as to why folks in the same industry get together: they clearly have the same interests; their circles of friends no doubt intersect; they both understand that they have to plan their social lives around unpredictable performance schedules; and they probably both know how to read. Fuck Match.com, where’s the Natalie Cole-scored commercial for dating someone in your cast?

God forbid they date someone outside of the theatre community. You know them when you see them: those sad, pathetic creatures who show up at the party just to huddle in the corner with their wine; feeling horrifically underdressed in a party full of people who are friends with costumers; the ones who stick out like sore thumbs because they’re the only ones in the room who don’t know the full libretto to Into the Woods by heart. The poor bastards. They can feel everyone’s judgemental eyes on them and they just want to leave. You know that feeling because it’s the same one you feel when you go to one of their parties.


But at least dating an “outsider” will add some variety to your usual routine. They show you people outside of your usual circle, they expose you to things that aren’t part of your repertoire, they allow you to believe that there’s more to life than being able to recite Tom Stoppard ad nauseum. Y’know why showmances fall apart so quickly? Pure boredom.

But then, one has to wonder: what about those couples that do make it work? How do they stay together for so long? You know the ones I mean: the adorable sci-fi sweethearts that run a theatre out of a pizzeria; the sickeningly cute couple who spearhead The City’s most famous mime troupe (notably devoid of actual mimes); the consummate performers who never let the stress (see what I did there?) of the world crush their artistic drives or their feelings for one another. How the hell have they got it figured out when so many others fail? What do they know that we don’t?!

It’s simple, really: their relationships aren’t based solely on their work. Oh sure, they may or may not have met during some business-related function, they might be running the business together, the business itself might even be central to dinner conversation – this business is a major thing to them. It’s just not the only thing to them. Their devotion to one another doesn’t stop when the curtain goes down; their respect for one another isn’t based on acclaim or gross revenue; the passion they feel for one another lasts more than a single fleeting night of sweaty two-backed-beast-making. What’s more, they know that relationships – actual relationships – are a commitment, and a commitment takes work. There will be arguments, there will be miscommunications, there will be moments when they both just want to escape – but the truly committed folks have been around long enough to know which things (and people) are worth fighting for and which are best to let fall by the wayside.

They know there’s never a wrong time to say ‘I’m sorry."

They know there’s never a wrong time to say ‘I’m sorry.”

That’s what separates a relationship from a showmance: the latter is falling for someone based on who you want them to be; the former is loving them for who they really are. But when you’re caught up in the moment, who cares what happens in the long term? Who cares what damage is done to the show just so you can get your rocks off?

When all is said and done, the risks outweigh the rewards. The inevitable conclusion is that showmances aren’t worth the effort, right?


I have something to confess, dear reader. For someone who’s spent the majority of this piece showing off his unapologetic cynicism, those who have known me long enough will know that I am, in fact, a hopeless romantic. I don’t put emphasis on the negative because I want anyone to fail, I do so because the one thing I really love is when someone I know succeeds – it’s the greatest feeling in the world to me. Every scenario I’ve written about in this piece has been drawn from real life, so I’d like to conclude with a hypothetical for us to ponder.

Let’s say there’s a couple – in the tradition of TheaterPub pseudonyms, let’s call them, oh, Lilliam Weschber and Cashley Aowan. So Lil and Cash (I know, it sounds like a Country-Western duo) come from origins as opposite as can be: he from the dry desert of Arizona, she from the cold Connecticut wilderness. Somehow, someway they both make their to the greatest city in the Golden State in the hopes of pursuing their dreams. By an act of fate or pure chance, they wind up at the same fancy gala at the same time. They strike up a conversation. They click. Now this is the point in the Choose Your Own Adventure book where the story can go either way.

Maybe they choose the option neither really expected. Maybe that option winds up with both of them doing stints in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding. Maybe they really hit it off. Maybe geography keeps them apart so they decide to cool things off. Maybe, through another inconceivable act of fate or chance, they both get cast in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night playing – get this – Orsino and Viola. Maybe the spark reignites. Maybe cast members start bumping into Lil and Cash (Depression-era bank robbers) a number of times outside of rehearsal. Maybe the other cast members of what-has-now-been-nicknamed-Twelfth-(M)ight start to take notice of the fact that Orsino and Viola seem very comfortable with their kiss scene. Maybe – in defiance of every unspoken showmance law since the beginning of the open stage – they drop all pretense and make a grand declaration of their love in front of the entire cast and crew. Maybe, just maybe, they decide to make it permanent.

But that’s just me thinking out loud. The simple truth is that although showmances involve (hopefully) only two people, it has repercussions for an entire group of people who have poured their hearts and souls into a work that has deep meaning for them. When a showmance goes right, it can mean great things for the show. When it goes wrong, the whole show could wrong, and that could just be the start of your problems. But if there’s something we can take away from the parable of Lil and Cash (Vaudeville Comedy Duo), it’s that sometimes it can be more than just one-show fling; that sometimes risk is worth the reward; sometimes auditioning for a show and all the effort in the director finding the most compatible pieces results in a union that can last for years and years.

Totally not the real Lil and Cash.

Totally not the real Lil and Cash.

Not always. But sometimes…

Charles Lewis doesn’t know if he’ll be able to make it to Lil and Cash’s San Frantastic June wedding, but he was there when they played Orsino and Viola. To say that he wishes them the best would be a gross understatement.

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.

Working Title: It’s Pornography!

This week Will Leschber takes a look into Venus in Fur and a look back at the film Kinsey.

Look at the poster. Look at the Tag line. Look on the surface and what do you see? Sex! Sex? Sex. “Wanna talk about sex?” Should I take my clothes off now? Where do you fall on the scale? When was the first time you…you get the idea. As the say, sex sells. And for A.C.T.’s Venus in Fur and Bill Condon’s 2004 film Kinsey, sex is a key component of what gets you in the door.


In brief, Venus in Fur gives us an hour and a half glimpse into the window of an audition. A frustrated writer/director is looking for his perfect leading lady to place in his adaptation of the sexually controversial classic novel of the play’s title. The play seductively spirals on from there. Kinsey, a bio-pic of none other than Alfred Kinsey, stars Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. The film chronicles the life of this pioneer of sexology from childhood to declining age. The crux of the film, and Alfred Kinsey’s legacy, rests on his academic exploration of the range of human sexuality.


Fortunately, what keeps you in your seat past the reveal of leather lingerie or the disclosure of sexual history details is a layered creation that is interested in much more than simply sex appeal. It seems to me a cake. Initially what is seen is a surface coat of frosting. The Venus advertising is splashed in red moisture and the promise of skin. Kinsey’s poster has less flair but enlarges keywords: pleasure, sexuality and size. Sounds delicious. Ok, I’m interested. What else you got?

The layers of cake taste something like this:

Venus in Fur:

Power dynamics

male/female gender roles,



social norms,


theatre archetypes and personality types,


creativity chemistry,

the sources of inspiration,

the amount created work reflects and defines it’s creator

…plus an eclectic and forceful performance by Brenda Meaney.


Father son dynamics,

male/female gender roles and their implications on social acceptance,

actual sexual practice versus perceived socially acceptable sexuality,

Kinsey Scale/scale of sexuality,

intricacies of long term relationships,

academic reputation escalation and disintegration,




…plus two excellent lead performances. Laura Linney was Oscar nominated for her role and Liam Neeson was nominated for a Golden Globe.

This may read more like a thematic ingredient list than distinct cake layers but the point is, all of these call out for discussion when viewing Venus and watching Kinsey. For me that makes an artistic creation worth watching.

And on a side note, this is first non-touring production at A.C.T. that I really enjoyed in a long while. I’d love to get into more conversations about what Venus ultimately added up to. Did it say something instead of just present discussion points?

As for Kinsey, it’s worth a look for its curious location in Liam Neeson’s filmography. Post-Schindler’s List / pre-Taken, his performance reminds us of the caliber of Neeson’s ability before becoming the leading geri-action hero of today. Grantland.com recently named Liam Neeson as the current holder of the action hero championship belt (http://grantland.com/features/the-action-hero-championship-belt/#fn-13) and after Taken and The Grey, I agree. Yet looking back to another era of his career is refreshing. Take a look.

Venus in Fur runs until April 13th.

Kinsey is available for rent on Google play, You Tube and iTunes.


Condon, Bill, dir. Kinsey. Perf. Neeson Liam. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Film.

Kinsey Theatrical Poster. 2004. Photograph. IMDB.comWeb. 1 Apr 2014.

Simmons, Bill. “The Action Hero Championship Belt.” Grantland.com. 27 Mar 2014: n. page. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Venus in Fur Program Cover Image. 2014. Photograph. ACT-sf.org, San Francisco. Web. 1 Apr 2014.