Why I Go...

11:19 AM / Posted by Ashley / comments (1)

This is an excerpt from a piece I did during a COTE "Home and Garden" rehearsal. The prompt was "Why Do You Go to the Theatre"?

A friend of mine, who’s a pretty well respected Manhattan therapist recently asked me, “Ashley – why are you in theatre?” and my response was “I imagine it’s the same reason you’re a psychotherapist.”

This threw her off guard.

“And that is?”

“I have a lot of unanswered questions about myself and the world that can only begin to be explored through art.”

“Oh?” Her eyes got big and invested like she had hit gold. I probably should have stopped there, but apparently since I like to “test boundaries” (something she often brings to my attention) I add, “Yeah. And I’m sick of being lied to…”

I have no idea where this even came from but I think that’s what she was looking for because she smirked. Not a big grin, but just enough that I could tell she’s onto something. She’s totally baiting me but I’ve been around too many therapists for far too long to fall for this so I make an allusion to “In Treatment”.

“Don’t Paul me..” I say.

“Paul?”

Paul is the psychoanalyst on HBO’s drama “In Treatment”, Gabriel Byrne’s character, the role he should have received the Emmy for… God, there’s nothing I like more than making obscure television references to make awkward situations slightly more… awkward.

Of course, she brings me back down to earth or back to the conversation at least.

“Who’s lying to you?” She asks it sweetly at first and I pretend not to hear which only makes her ask it again with more motivation, “Who’s lying to you?”

I shrug. Alright, I admit, that was the wrong can of worms to open. Now I would be forced to give an explanation. I should I give her something deep, something worth pondering. Something about my childhood. Therapists love that shit. It’s like on that episode of the X-Files where Mulder undergoes hypnotic regression that totally brings up severe childhood traumas stemming from when his sister was abducted by aliens … I digress.

“Well, you see, as a kid my only solace in my broken home was through becoming someone else. It was the only place I could find my true self, my many selves…” Insert “United States of Tara” reference right here.

I guess there’s no need to manipulate. Perhaps she really does want to know why I feel I have been so mislead by my family, my country, my government, the whole damn world that the only place I can be free is on stage – whether it be through the characters I develop as a playwright, breathe life into as an actor or the incredibly deep worlds I invent as a director, the worlds that most of the time I wish I could dive into and live in forever. The truth is, for a number of reasons, I don’t feel safe exploring the controversial and sensitive material that my work deals with outside of my “workspace”. Blame it on whatever you’d like, the twenty six death threats I received in my e-mail box after speaking on CNN World or the third “terrorist watch list” my name was added to after directing a show about Palestinians, and no not Hamas fighters, just the regular day to day happenings of life under military occupation.

“Have you heard the saying ‘Politicians use lies to cover the truth while artists use lies to tell it?’ It’s in the film V for Vendetta. I’ve seen too much truth and the only way to even begin to scratch the tip of the iceberg of rage I’m feeling is through theatre. I am one angry mother fucker. And if I didn’t have an outlet for it, I guarantee you I’d be painting a white padded cell with my own blood and shit… like Miguel Alvarez in Oz. Oh, don’t tell me you missed Oz… I’m not talking about Dorothy’s Oz either…

Okay.

Maybe I “go to” the theatre to avoid the hard stuff.

In recent months I’ve become so good at transforming my pain to paper that I’ve forgotten how to feel.

I don’t pretend to think this is a good thing.

Or a funny thing.

Or something I should be particularly proud of.

Well, it’s not entirely a bad thing either.

There’s no shame.

It just is.

It is.

It is perhaps the only way I have been able to get through the day.

It is a survival mechanism of sorts.

I once played this character who was incarcerated for arson. She would get mad and just light shit on fire in her cell. She was bad ass. Crazy, but bad ass.

I want to be bad ass.

Jolene Shatila, a character I penned, handled the illness of her beloved life partner a lot better than I have my mother.

I want that courage.

And assistant directing Ragtime made me almost forgot how abandoned I feel by my own father when the curtain falls.

I go to the theatre when I can’t go home.

At some point I learned that it’s easier to have the dialogue I want to have in real life through my characters. You know what dialogue I’m talking about, the one that most recently has been ending with me making references to obscure television shows…

I guess you didn’t expect to hear that, huh?

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8:39 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

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Ode to the Haters

7:15 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

I'm fascinated by "theatre people" that hate theatre. No really, I am.

What I mean... A friend of one of my creative partners was making his Broadway debut and we were hooked up with free tickets for one of his first previews. Generally these previews are packed with fellow "theatre people"... producers, directors, actors, playwrights, designers, marketing, etc... Often times, the discussions before and after the show with audience members are just as interesting as the play itself.

That night I got into a conversation with a typical 20-something director sitting near me that went something like this: "I heard great things about this playwright and show. I'm very excited..." I said and spoke a bit about the playwright, the development of the work and how exciting it was that it was his Broadway debut and how the play had evolved.

"Oh. I'll believe it when I see it..." He responded in a typical smug mid 20-something director way and went on to acknowledge how he has absolutely hated everything he has seen this season, hasn't been blown away by the theatre in years and can't fathom why half the shows in NY are a waste of time, the actors suck, the playwrights suck and the directors suck even more etc. etc. etc.

When he finished I stared at him for a moment. Of course, this is nothing out of the ordinary. I have several friends like this. There are many people like this in the theatre community (and even more in academia). In fact, with his big fro, hipster glasses and blue button down, he reminded me of a graduate student.

When conversations like these go down generally I smile, nod and go back to reading my program but this time I said "Wow. That's really sad."

"What do you mean?"

"It must be really sad to be an artist and so uninspired by other people's work."

"Uh...um..."

"I mean, how do you grapple with that? How do you stay inspired? "

The lights went down and he jetted after the show so I didn't have a chance to hear his response but it really brought this issue to light, yet again. There is a fine line between being an intelligent critic and an insecure asshole. Often when reading reviews you can tell who writes with a passion for theatre and who writes as a failed artist who takes their rage out on others who are putting themselves out there.

So, this is my ode (or perhaps just a public acknowledgement) to the "theatre people" that hate theatre. We all know these types. They are our friends, colleagues, teachers and former classmates. Mostly they are artists (or former artists) who at some point couldn't handle the rejection any longer (and who can blame them really?) They are the ones who go to shows wanting it to flop, perhaps to make themselves feel better about their own failures or because they genuinely get a thrill from watching others suffer.

I feel bad for these folks.

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