Monthly Archives: February 2011

Life List #58 – Part II

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the second post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here. On this trip, life and fate pulled out all the stops. Witness below, Vineyard karma.

This month at the Vineyard, I check out Zach Helm’s production of “Interviewing The Audience.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Zach comes out in the beginning of the production and introduces himself, explaining we will hear the stories of three audience members, who he will pick to come on stage, one at a time, and talk to him for 20 minutes. The show was originally created by Spalding Gray.

Zach Helm wrote about seeing “Interviewing The Audience” for the first time and why he wanted to revive it:

I saw him [Spalding Gray] do it as a freshly graduated theatre student at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1997. Of note that evening, Mr. Gray interviewed a young girl from the South Side who had never been to the theater before, and who had only attended that evening because her school was working on a project that required the students to “go see theater or dance” and his show was the only one the girl’s mother could get tickets to see. The interview played out as a mix of Art Linklater and WAITING FOR GADOT, and when it concluded, Mr. Gray noted that the girl had not only fulfilled the requirement of seeing theater, but had become theater. The girl responded incredulously: “That’s weird. I could’ve been anybody.”

Three of my close theatre/college friends joined me for “Interviewing,” so the night was already meaningful, but I had no idea it was about to go to a whole new level.

Zach came out on stage, introduced himself and began to scan the audience. Then, he started walking up towards our section. I suddenly felt it in the pit of my stomach, he’s going to ask me. Sure enough, we locked eyes and he invited me up on stage.

After I got miked and settled, he asked me the first question he asks of everyone: “What brought you to the theatre tonight?” I answered, Spalding Gray. I told Zach I had a few brief conversations with Spalding, but I never really knew who he was until after he died. He asked me if I would have done or said anything different if I knew who Spalding was during those phone conversations. Only one thing came to mind: I wish I had listened harder.

The next questions he asked was if I was ambitious. I answered “yes” and, apparently, smiled, which lead to talking about what ambition means and how I’m ambitious. I explained my feeling about ambition was that it only felt true and real if accompanied by passion. It’s important to have both.

From there, the questions turned more into a conversation between myself and Zach, punctuated by occasional laughter from the audience. I sometimes forgot they were there until they laughed. We talked about how my sister and I shared a 500 sq foot studio apt, then how we moved to another building where we lived directly above/below each other. Then, we talked about everything from how I was raised macrobiotic to my history with the Vineyard Theatre; and how important it is to always know every job you can within your industry — knowing who does what and  learning as much as possible for the next step, because you never know what/when it’s going to happen.

At the end of our 20 minutes, as I left the stage, Zach told a fable about knowing when a person is a leader because they know all the jobs involved from the bottom up. He gestured toward me when he said “a leader.”

When returned to my seat in the audience, every feeling hit me at once. I was buzzing with energy, but also very overwhelmed. I had just been sitting on a stage in a theater where, 15 years (nearly to the day) earlier I had made the decision to pursue a career in the arts. And, here I was, on that stage, talking about how I fulfilled that goal and continue to reach for a higher bar every day. I had good friends sitting beside me, who were excited and proud of me, hugging me as I made my way back to my seat. I had come full circle. My eyes welled with the tears of every emotion I felt at that moment, but the crazy karma of the evening wasn’t quite over yet.

The second person Zach picked was sitting in the same row as me, opposite end of the aisle. He had come to with a friend. His friend was none other than my editor at TDF. We had no idea we were seeing the show on the same night. The third person picked (I later learned) was a business partner of a friend of mine.

At the close of the show, Zach invites the audience to stay after and talk to each other because, we all experienced a show that will never ever happen again. This is the nature of live theater. We are all people with stories to tell; with stories worth sharing. We are all living art.

When I asked Zach how he had picked us. He told us the following: “I get handed a slip of paper on which an arbitrary letter of the alphabet is written. I use that as a sort of mnemonic. Tonight’s letter was ‘S.’ I looked out on stage and the first word I thought was “smile.” That’s when I saw was you, Ashley, you were the only one sitting there, smiling.”

After each show, Zach does a post-show “Top Three Moments” video. I’ve been watching them faithfully, but it was extra entertaining to see mine. Out of all the things we talked about, I had a feeling he was going to pick this particular moment.

“Interviewing The Audience” has a home at the Vineyard Theatre through February 27th. You have four days. Run!

Life List #22

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. This year, my goal is to cross five big things off my list. #22, Start a reading/performance/conversation series, seemed like a far-off dream that would never turn into reality. Sometimes, however, the dreams are closer than you think.

I met Larry Smith this past December, at the party of a mutual friend who was passing through town. Larry is the founder of SMITH magazine, creators of the six-word memoir. Here’s a little video back story into the history of six words, SMITH, and the six-word memoir book series:

Ironically, I had attended Larry’s book party for the first SMITH publication in 2008, which we talked about at our mutual friend’s gathering. Larry was filling me in on what he had done with SMITH since then (the books, in school events, etc) and where he wanted to take it. Thinking in part about my life list, I told Larry he should start live reading series. This idea excited both of us. We got together for a meeting in January along with Jason Boog of GalleyCat and a month-and-a-half, plus one baby later (Congrats, Larry and Piper!) we found ourselves at the 92Y Tribeca hanging up six-word memoir posters, doing sound checks with Michael Hearst and Deb Kogan, and gathering our group of nine readers together for a pre-show rundown in the green room.

I knew a reading series would be a ton of work, but I never imagined it would really feel like a mini version of making a movie — so much prep leading up it, then the show happens in the blink of an eye. One part I found (surprisingly) satisfying was deciding on the lineup. There were so many aspects to take into account. What would they be like as a performer? Which story would work the best for opening the show? For closing it? I kept in mind themes or people who might be good to follow each other. It turned out to be a great flow, and I think the order hit all the right notes.

What was particularly exciting was that I finally got introduce some really talented writers I know to a group of friends and strangers. Deborah Copaken Kogan was someone I had wanted to do an event with for a long time. Most people were likely familiar with Deb’s writing, but even for those who were, this was something entirely different.

(*Thanks to Paul Kogan, who documented his wife’s performance for posterity)

Photo Credit: 92Y Tribeca

Kimberly Kaye is someone I met through the 140-character world of Twitter, then via her writing at and her new blog, which confirmed what I already knew to be true, she is an insanely talented writer in nearly every genre. People like this should be shared with the world.

I also discovered a new writing talent via the Facebook invite page we set up for the event. Anyone who wanted to could post their six word memoir and, if chosen, was eligible to come up and tell their memoir and back story. Qraig De Groot posted the following, which I immediately hearted and knew he had to be our winner: “Heart united us. Band, not organ.” His back story was funny and touching. I loved being able to introduce him and he totally killed it on stage.

Photo Credit: 92Y Tribeca

In addition to these great talents, we also had stories from Baratunde Thurston, Darin Strauss, Sara Barron, Rachel Sklar, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Molly Schulman, and Michele Carlo. To pull this off with these amazing people was an immensely satisfying accomplishment. It was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve had thus far. From the sound of the laughs and applause, it seems the 150 people who came out to celebrate with us hearted it, too. You can read more about the event on SMITH. And find more photos over here on the 92Y Tribeca’s Flickr page.

If you missed this reading, never fear! We have another one coming up in May. I’ll post on The Brow about it when we have more details. Remember, this life list item specifies “a series,” so this will be an ongoing adventure.

Photo Credit: 92Y Tribeca