Cowan Palace: Facebook Is My Favorite Costume

Ashley’s kick starting October’s design theme month with a look into in her favorite costume.

Last week I found myself sobbing in stairwell at work. And my coworker, who happened to be coming out of the bathroom, helped put me back together so I could continue the day. As I cried, she kindly said something about being surprised to find me in such a state because I tend to publicly highlight all the good, positive stuff. I laughed as I tried to manage the snot situation after a pretty ugly cry. “No.” I answered, “That’s just Facebook Ashley.”

Facebook Ashley stars in her own sitcom. It’s a place of laugh tracks and corny music. Even when things seem dark and gray, most of the time there’s a silver lined bow and things wrap up in 22 minute segments. Positivity is pretty makeup she uses. I like Facebook Ashley. She’s the better parts of myself thoughtfully edited and filtered. A better representation of the person I want to be.

Like this. But not at all.

Like this. But not at all.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s not a total sham. I do completely adore my husband. My daughter makes my heart feel like a Lisa Frank binder. And I actually like my job! Better yet, I love my coworkers. I also have a tendency to put myself in situations that lend themselves to great stories. Like taking the 38 bus. That place is full of tales that I have been put on this great earth to share. Plus, I’m still involved in the theater scene. Sure, it’s not what it used to be but at least I’ve been invited to the party and that’s pretty cool.

But there’s so much I don’t say. Partially because I don’t want to admit when I’m having a hard time and I have difficulty asking for help. And, to be terribly truthful, I do need help sometimes. Ah, even more honestly, I need it often but I hardly ever say anything. Instead, I make sure my Facebook costume is falling in all the right places to flatter my figure and try to get through each day without getting it too wrinkled. Who needs a colorful scarf when a well-placed emoticon does the trick, right?

However, at some point, I have to launder my costume. The real you has to take the clothes off and wash them. And last week I pushed my own limits in thinking I could do it all. An annual work conference with twelve hour days? No problem. At the same time as my first show in two years? Sure, I guess that will be fine. While your husband goes out of town and your childcare plans for your daughter fall through? Wait, what’s that now? (Cue breakdown in the stairwell!)

As I mentioned earlier this year, I still want it all! It’s been a couple months since I wrote that piece and there have been some very challenging struggles to attempt the routine along the way. And yet, I still find it so interesting that whenever I run into friendly acquaintances I haven’t seen in a few months or talk to long distance relatives, they always, always bring up what I’ve posted on Facebook followed by how happy I am. It’s never a question. It’s always a statement. An exclamation. And then that’s always the end of the conversation.

Sometimes the key to a great costume is that you forget it’s a costume. (Not always of course, sometimes after a rough show your friend made you see, you gotta be able to compliment something and costumes can be your talking point!) The actor wearing a good costume looks so natural in it that it’s simply just a part of them. Costumes help the audience put together an understanding of the character and how they connect to the rest of the cast. It’s absolutely a key element to the success of a production.

Facebook Ashley is a costume devised of my best wardrobe pieces. She doesn’t like to wear some of those poor fitting pants from the past (why were flares such a hot jean style anyway?) or less attractive turtleneck sweaters, unfit to even be donated. But they’re still there, hiding in the back of a messy closet.

We’ve all got a closet. We all get to pick and chose what we wear and what people see us in. We all get to be the costumer of our own play. But the play is more than what the characters are wearing. More than the surrounding set or time period. So while yes, to everyone I talk to about my many Facebook posts, I am happy. But I’m also so many other feelings, too. And I’d love to talk about them, as well! Until then, I guess I’ll continue to like all your status updates and doing what I do. Sharing feelings one post at a time. Wink face emoticon.

LIZ

Cowan Palace: From Hugs and Cuddles to Blades and Waves

Ashley approaches the aftermath of a yes, a new voice, and what it means to be a kind artist.

Another month has come and gone. Mercury hopped out of retrograde and we’re about to spring forward in time. And considering I almost always have a song from some musical in my head blaring on repeat, I keep coming back to the line, “March went out like a lion, a-whippin’ up the water in the bay” from Roger and Hammersein’s beloved, “Carousel”. Because it sure seemed like it took a lot to get here. And the waves continue to make their presence known.

Throughout these past two weeks, since my last article ran, I must have written a separate follow-up at least a dozen times. A lot of the drafts can be found in the various streets of San Francisco after choosing to try and “walk out” some of my many feelings. The steps would range from stunned to apologetic to angry to hurt to sad… and so on and so on. Emotions have never been a lacking area for me, after all.

When we had our end of the year team pow-wow over sangria, the other Theater Pub writers nicknamed me “Hugs and Cuddles” as most of my past work tended to focus on building people up, highlighting the positive sides of the local scene, and wearing the heart that longs to love on my thrift store sleeves. I was truthful, sure, but often it was easy.

Two weeks ago, my emotional honesty took a turn in a new direction. Using Theater Pub as a platform, I stood up and shared something with a slightly different pulse. Suddenly and all at once, “Hugs and Cuddles” stepped aside to allow another perspective. And to say I was ill prepared for the reaction is an extreme understatement.

Now, before I go too much further, I would like to reiterate some points that may not have been clear. I wrote the piece because I wanted to acknowledge my very personal feelings as an artist and attempt to create a conversation about what that role translates to within a community. It wasn’t written out of anger or because I believed I had been the helpless victim of creative theft. I didn’t script it with the intent to hurt anyone or bad mouth any project, past or present. And I truly apologize if it was understood in that manner.

But I’m not sorry I wrote it.

My new alter ego "Blades and Waves". She'll cut you. But with a cake knife. We're working on her...

My new alter ego “Blades and Waves”. She’ll cut you. But with a cake knife. We’re working on her…

I’ve spent my entire life obsessed with the idea of “kindness”. It’s the force that has governed my whole existence and I consider it both a blessing and a curse. I’m much more driven by it than by competition and in an industry that thrives off of determination rather than simply rewarding the nice guy, it hasn’t always worked to my advantage.

However, being nice is not the same as being weak. In fact, within these last few weeks, I’ve found that to be clearer than ever when choosing to stay away from cruel words as my retaliation; even when they were shot at me with the aim to wound. It took all my strength to hold my hurt tongue and chose to move forward without harboring a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve also gained strength in the company of some other amazing writers over these past few weeks that have chosen to speak honestly but professionally, strongly but not meanly. From reading open Facebook discussions with a playwright and an audience member to a blogged candid exploration of the writing process, it’s been fascinating to see the bigger conversations that can stem from online discourse. I find myself an active participant in the larger picture of creative development. While I will never advocate for other artists to be ripped apart, I do feel that writing honest, thoughtful work serves a greater good and it would be an injustice and a step back to limit our voices to safe, held responses.

While I understand my feelings may not be shared by all audiences, it doesn’t mean they are invalid. We have to be able to converse and connect if we want to create something worthwhile. And sometimes that means you have to step away from the “Hugs and Cuddles” persona in search of an alternative voice. It’s certainly not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do if it means we’re evolving as a group and continuing to challenge each other.

As someone who spends a lot of time being her own personal mirror, these last two weeks have proven to be a time of more intense reflection. But I’ve also used the time to reach out to people all over the country who have crossed my path in one artistic way or another to discuss what it feels like to be a participant of art. And of life. It’s created a fire inside of me and I want to make s’mores. S’mores made out of feelings. Delicious feelings.

More than ever, I’m getting a better grasp on what’s important to me and what I want to focus on in the future. I want to keep the doors of communication open. If we’re reacting and responding to each other, it means we are keeping something alive. Thank you for giving me a chance to take a breath and providing me some air to continue. I love, love, love that I seek a life blessed with creativity. I’m always rooting for more work good work. Especially new pieces by women, for women, and starring women regardless of if I have any involvement on the project. I still appreciate kindness above almost anything and value a voice that contains the ability to hold strength while remembering the “Hugs and Cuddles”.

A typical "Hugs and Cuddles" picture. Knits AND pets?! There's so much to snuggle and love!

A typical “Hugs and Cuddles” picture. Knits AND pets?! There’s so much to snuggle and love!