Show Notes

Ann Randolph is an award-winning writer and performer. She has performed her solo shows in theaters across the U.S, garnering awards along the way. Her awards include the Los Angeles Ovation Award for “Best Solo Show” and the San Francisco Bay Critic’s award for “Best Solo Performer.” Mel Brooks produced her first big hit, Squeeze Box, Off-Broadway.

She addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • That in these times, more people are feeling compelled to tell their stories and speak their truths
  • That our stories of flaws and shame can give others permission to live authentically and to be fully themselves
  • That healing, integration, and transformation can come from sharing stories
  • That preaching rarely works when trying to change minds, but vulnerable story-telling will create impact
  • That finding commonality in our human experience allows for unity in conflict

Resources

Connect with Ann Randolph

Website: www.annrandolph.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/annrandolph12

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ann.randolph.56

Transcript

Vicki Robin

Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project to the Post Carbon Institute in which we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, asking each one of them our core question: with all that seems to be going awry in this world, what do you see on the horizon? What could possibly go right? Our guest today is Ann Randolph, who is a writer and performance artist whose ability to inhabit a multiplicity of characters, from the timid to the aggressive to the weird, makes her a one woman show of bridging divides. In her workshops and in workshopping her own pieces, she’s probably heard most of the mortifying deeply regretted things people have done, and she helps them (us I would say, because I’ve been a student of hers), all turn that into the most poignant and transformative art.

Her current show, Inappropriate in All The Right Ways has been described by the Huffington Post as “a show like no other” after taking the audience on an audacious, disastrous and glorious ride, and invites audience members to take the stage for an unforgettable evening. Her show Loveland played for two years straight in San Francisco, where it won the San Francisco Weekly Award for Best Solo Show and garnered the SF Bay Critics Award for Best Original Script. Loveland also played to sold out audiences in LA and won the LA Weekly Award for Best Solo Show. After the show, audience members would wait in the lobby to share with her their experiences of loss and grief, themes touched on in the show, with absurdity and candor in response, and created a unique theatrical experience at the Arena Stage in Washington DC, where she held post show interactive writing workshops on grief and loss. Her solo show Squeezebox was produced by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft and enjoyed a successful off Broadway Broadway run, before touring the United States and headlining at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Squeezebox also garnered both the LA Ovation Award and the LA Weekly Award for Best Solo Show. So with that, here’s Ann Randolph.

Vicki Robin

Okay, hey, welcome Ann Randolph. I’m so glad you said yes to my invite.

Ann Randolph

Of course. You’re Vicki Robin.

Vicki Robin

Okay. How could you not, right? Well, plenty of people have been able to say no to me, but not everybody. So I just want to go to a little history here. I first met you on Cortes Island, right? Where you performed all or part of your one woman show, Loveland, and I sat there and I was slack jawed to the whole performance, at your imagination and your artistry and your courage, and your physical… I mean, everything. I’m like, “I want to be Ann when I grow up”, and then I got to study with you for a weekend and somehow in that weekend, I did a little schtick and, just through the little theater of it, I told more truth about my life than I actually admitted to anybody. It was just amazing, so needless to say, big fan. And then to say that in the pandemic, you started Happy Cock Church, an online weekend writing community. I love what you say: Your story matters. Unmute yourself. So you are a storyteller, a story creator, a story nabber from where you can get a story. And there’s so many stories now about what could possibly go right, about where this ship of us is heading, and what shores we’re gonna land on. Stories can be like our navigation devices or our compass or our sextant – and don’t do anything with that word. So what is the story you see emerging that seems to be headed for healing and adaptation? Over to you my friend. In the midst of all that seems to be going wrong, what could possibly go right?

Ann Randolph

I love this question Vicki and well to me story is what is going right? The very thing that as tons of people are waking up everybody, not everybody, a good majority want to tell their story. They want to speak their story. They know their story matters. Never in the history of time have I seen so many people like, I must speak my truth, I must share my story. And in that, to me, that’s like, okay, they’re not keeping it suppressed anymore. People are releasing themselves, letting themelves live very authentic, living out loud, as they say, no longer hiding and when people don’t hide, and they really let themselves be seen and heard, I believe anything is possible, truly anything is possible. And I’m interested also in how we begin to listen to one another. Like at Happy Cock Church, I see people listening to different beliefs and values that are not their own. Right.  I say the name Happy Cock Church. Hello, people are triggered by those words. They’re triggered by cock,  they’re triggered by church, right? So people are like, already like, ah, but if you can sit and then acknowledge what is it in you that is triggered by certain words? Or makes you turn off from somebody not like you? How can we lean into and begin to listen to somebody with different beliefs and values, then I believe, possibility for creating wholeness, unity? Well, it’s right there. And so I’m seeing it in Happy Cock Church, and I’m seeing it in the world that we’re seeing that story is the only way once we hear somebody’s story, there’s not a person that you could not fall in love with. So and people are sharing, they’re speaking their truth.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, I’m so interested in that. Because it’s like, if you lecture somebody, they will just like… but if you tell the story, and even, I’m just thinking about the Moth Radio and those sorts of public, that sort of radio performance radio stories, and how people can tell the most god awful story about themselves and something that happened in their lives, but you love them. And so is there a clue in this about, about how we lure humanity away from beating up on each other and pontificating and insisting and dominating and exploiting, the whole ball of wax, what’s the clue in here about how to how to bring stories really into the whole public domain.

Ann Randolph

But first, I want to address that people do push, they get like this when they hear any sort of preaching, or you must go this way and do this way. It’s through your own story, and not your own story as I’m just perfect, I’m Pollyanna, I do nothing, I do everything right. No, it is through sharing the flaw, your flaw and your shame. And we often don’t want to share that. But when we do, like you said, hearing The Moth, and hearing people share horrible things about themselves. But we see our own selves reflected back in them. And it gives us tremendous  permission in order for us to be fully ourselves. Because we try to hide that part of ourselves that has shame. And the stories are letting us speak that shame. There’s this incredible quote by Steve Allmond,  a writer, saying “The path to truth runs through shame.Even if you’re writing fiction, it’s colored with the dark ink of your own freakish secrets.” And I love that quote, and I think that’s what we’re hearing people who are stepping forward and saying out loud what it is that they’re trying to hide. And when we do that, there’s integration, there’s healing, there’s transformation.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, I wonder, just as you are talking, I’m thinking about world leaders. I’m wondering if the head of the WHO, or the CDC or, I wonder if Anthony Fauci stood up at the microphone… of course, that there are people who think he’s the devil, I cannot, for me, he’s like, Thank God there’s Anthony Fauci. But I wonder what would happen if he stood up and told the story of how, something that happened to him that might have been shame loaded, that brought him to the desire to offer public health? I mean, he could be I don’t tell my I don’t tell my shameful stories, because I don’t want anybody to know that. We could do it in a workshop but I mean, what if our world were more friendly? Because look, really, I mean, what we’re up against is literally a crying shame. Yeah, literally our predicament, collective predicament is so full of shame. Somebody said to me recently that they thought that people who are, who are responsible for lying about fossil fuels have so much shame that they can’t admit anything. I mean, I jwould just be interested in your reflections about how people come to your classes and have broken through that. What do you see out there? Have you seen public figures tell the truth about something and have it change things?

Ann Randolph

I’ve seen it change lives on an individual basis when people no longer hide. And if that person changes, and they release that shame it’s spoken out loud, then the possibility for that human being is immense. Because when that shame is in there, this is an internal conflict going on, right. And then once you can speak it, it’s like going to AA, right? Once that person goes and shares their story, in a 12 step program, there’s a liberation that occurs. And I am a believer in like, one story at a time, one person at a time and I, I see it, I see it in people’s lives, I see people changed. And I had a student who would, for I want to say every week she would come in and speak against violence, physical violence against women against children, she’s like, You all must, she was like, stop, we must stop like preaching and yelling at us for like weeks. And of course, all of us are agreeing that there should be no physical violence against anybody. And she’s ranting on it. And then I kept on encouraging her, in her work, can she identify, or even be able to take the position to understand somebody that would do that. And then I think it was the fifth class, she came in, and she talked about hitting her child slapping her child, and she broke into tears and the vulnerability of her being able to share her own place where she has so much shame. And here, she’s preaching against it. And I said, if you’re going to make an impact on the world, you’re going to start with that own story, your own story. It’s, it’s the most important way to to open up for us to get for somebody to come on board and listen to you. So it’s huge.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, yeah. I wonder if we, if, if I know this sounds hokey, but I wonder, I wonder if we could try telling the story of COVID. Like, here’s a little COVID, just hanging out with the bats or whoever, and they took me into this lab, and it was cold. And it was like, I couldn’t stand it. And they kept poking things in me and like, trying to make me something that I’m not, I mean, everything. Yeah, the story of the Amazon rainforest. Yeah, I’m so I can’t feed my people anymore. Yeah, yeah. I mean,

Ann Randolph

To personify the COVID. to personify through story, it makes it definitely more….You can hook on you can you can listen, you can listen in a deeper way. So I think that’s a great idea, Vicki, I think you should do a one person show for the virus, or of the Amazon forest.

Vicki Robin

I think we should do a show together. You can play the scientists and I’ll play the COVID that you’re you’re trying to slice and dice. And you could try and

Ann Randolph

My role is the bad guy, the villain.

Vicki Robin

I think if it was lab originated, I mean, it’s all this debate, but I think there are two bad guys, there’s sort of, I think the COVID is the good guy, just like I was just in the forest last week, just hanging out with my friends.

Ann Randolph

Yep.

Vicki Robin

I mean, what, what would be other stories.

Ann Randolph

We also want to talk about just story in general that every story I like to teach is like, there’s a hero story, right? And we’re watching the hero or heroine take action in their life to get what they want, right? But in getting what they want, if it’s revelatory, a good story is going to impact all of humanity, it’s going to help others along the way. The problem is with many stories that I run across is every story should have within it ourselves, us as the lead character, that we are the hero, we are the victim and we are also the perpetrator. That’s a hard word for people. When I say perpetrator, I mean where I screw up where I put my foot in my mouth where I have evil, where I have bad things in me we all we don’t want to tell a Pollyanna story. Like that woman sharing how she hit and slapped her child. Right? Horrible. She admitted that, right? But you’re looking at these flaws in you these imperfections and the hero’s journey is being able to look at those imperfections and then begin to transform them. And so it’s a deep self inquiry, for sure. And I’m seeing more people willing, this gives me hope, willing to look at, look at that, and then transform it.

Vicki Robin

Joanna Macy used to, when I first heard her speak, she told the story of Parsifal, it’s a Grail story. And he had to go, and I think he has to get something from a King. And so, I’m going to screw up the story, but something like, he goes, and he tries to take it and he can’t get it. There’s like a series of approaches that he uses. And please forgive me everbody. But then he, he goes, and he just says to the king, because the king is clearly suffering. He says, What ails thee and it unlocks the king, it unlocks the king. I don’t want to go too much into the trauma narrative. But it’s like, if we can connect with some understanding to the pain that generates the behavior we can’t stand, somehow that can unlock it, giving somebody an opportunity, like you do with this woman to tell the story unlocks it, it’s like we’re stuck. Right now in this world, we’re stuck in very solid stories that will not budge will not budge. And so it’s a lot of it is we identify as a character in the story. And we really don’t want to be we don’t want to go around that Karpman triangle, we want to be the hero. I’m trying to be the hero and you don’t tell me I’m the villain and the perpetrator? Don’t tell me, right, that I’m those other roles. So there’s this sort of like, dome of pride that sits on top of our truth.

Ann Randolph

Yeah. Look, it takes immense courage it that’s the name to really say, okay, here, here’s where I’m at fault. Here’s where I call the other person an idiot, when they don’t agree with the way I think. But if you do that, you’re doing a separation right away. They’re there, and I’m here, and there’s no room for unity. So you have to look at what is it that’s triggering you about that person? And then go look at it because there’s a wound inside of you. There’s a wound inside of me when I’m triggered I have to really look at that. What is it? In story, you’re going to mined that you’re going to find it. And I also think about when you hide it, there’s this great, I think it’s in the Cherokee tradition, a man’s very sick, and they bring them to the medicine man. And the first question he asked is nothing about the physical symptoms. The first question is, when’s the last time you told your story?

Vicki Robin

I think there’s a clue in there too, about. There’s a lot of people who are trying to, like, promote their story of coming through this well. there’s a lot of stories afoot about, it’s almost like, because when conditions are so fluid, the ability to frame to storify the circumstance, because it’s so fluid. So you can just take elements of the fluidity and you can make it into a story. And so, I have found myself a bit aversive. I shouldn’t say that, not now, because what am I, What’s inside me that’s aversive to it, but it’s like the stories of, of, of prevailing, the stories of winning, whether you are in the conscious evolution game or whether you’re in the vaccine game, or whatever your preferred happy ending is where we are, um, you’ll start promoting it, but I, it’s absent going through something and I feel like right now, collectively, we’re going through something. Yes, we’re in the dark. Good. Yeah. And so we’re in that part of the story where there’s allies and enemies and the enemies look like allies and the allies look like enemies. And what’s your sense of the this part of the story, the dark wood? The getting lost part of the story? Where are we?

Ann Randolph

I go more for individual than where are we? Because I can’t speak about my neighbor, do you know?

Vicki Robin

Right, right. And I’m an all where are we but but go for the individual.

Ann Randolph

Yeah, so I’m looking at, I’m also looking at what’s happening in the culture as far as, as much as stories out there, we’re encouraging people to tell story, we’re also I’m seeing, there’s the cancel culture where, which oftentimes allows for no room for redemption. And that’s a very challenging thing to see out there in the world as well. Of course, cancel culture did incredible positive things, calling out people that have done wrong. But if we, if there’s no room for redemption or forgiveness, to me, that’s, that’s, that’s the hero’s journey, right? That we are redeemed, that we can be forgiven, that we can move forward. And if that’s gone, that concerns me deeply.

So that’s where I see the dark night in our culture right now is people on tiptoes often afraid to say anything for fear of being not on the right side of whatever ideology or political divide, whatever that might be. So they’re, they’re being quiet. And that’s extremely dangerous. Because they’re suppressing their truth. What is my quote, it’s from the Bible, the truth shall set you free. And if we can challenge ourselves to speak our truth, every single day to say out loud, what we, we feel and we think and we believe and also hold space for another’s truth, then we make progress. But right now, I think there’s a lot of tentativeness. People pick sides, they pick sides, and we’ve got to let go of that, because that’s a separation. This is separation. And we forget that every single individual on both sides, they are fighting a battle. Every character in every story is fighting a battle, we all have our battles, some of us know what they are, we are very conscious of them, some of us aren’t conscious, right? But we’re fighting something. And we’re hoping, hoping and taking action to integrate, to heal, to begin to, resolve that the character resolves. At the end, the invisible line at the end of every story is the characters are never the same again. Right? The perception has changed, they see the world differently. But we’re not going to see the world differently if we’re like, I can’t hear you that blah blah blah….

Vicki Robin

Exactly. I think about the hero’s journey, because I actually map that onto the journey people go through when they do the financial independence program, and they set forth and they think I’m going to get my money all handled, and then they get themselves enough, a little stash so that they can live on the income from their stash. And then there’s this whole identity crisis, like, where am I now? What, what is this thing called freedom, I’m too free, I don’t know what to do. And then they go into the hero’s journey, then they go into Who am I in this world? What am I called? What is my call? Right? Who really is on my team? And who are the people from my past who are who are betting against me, that feeling and then so and then you get into the deeper and deeper stuff, and the thing that you have to put on the altar is your certainty of who you are, and what you’re here for, and what success looks like, all of that stuff goes on the altar. You have to surrender that. And there’s Yeah, and then there’s this very simple you sort of l say, oh, that’s the truth. And then totally humbled you march back to the village. And  you say your sentence like, Love is the answer. Or something. You come back with the humble truth. And are you are you noticing like people like this woman who was like, violent against violence? Yeah. Do you notice people that feel like life has meaning and they found their story and they want to share it because they’ve seen something? Do you find people like that in your writing group?

Ann Randolph

Well, yes, I think when you tap that place that you’ve been trying to hide and then you release it and it’s shared, it opens up your heart. There’s a compassion for yourself in your journey in a way maybe you didn’t have before. And I think that’s truly beautiful and and you don’t know when you do it you don’t know what the repercussions are from speaking that out loud. That’s why it takes immense courage to even share these stories because you don’t know what can happen. So you’re welcoming uncertainty, you truly are welcoming uncertainty. But, you have to do it in order to, it’s a hero’s journey, to transform. Yeah.

Vicki Robin

Have you worked with a lot of activists?

Ann Randolph

Have I worked with a lot of activists? Ah, oh, I see. Yeah, I’m trying to think I definitely have worked with her I’ve worked with, I guess I coach Alannis Morisette, she’s a major activist to me, she’s always out there. There’s an activist in all of us, right, that is passionate. And we want to change, we want to create a more beautiful world. So yeah, Vicki, I would say so.

Vicki Robin

I wonder how we, we talk about this thing that’s unknown, that we are in the middle of, like how it feels to be, not angry at somebody else or not angry at COVID? And I wonder, I wonder how we come through with more honesty in this. One, if that’s sort of the the light on the horizon? Is this honesty about our vulnerability here on this planet? Yeah, I think because so many of us want to know the answer. And we want to deploy the answer, we want to give the answer because we want it to turn out/

Ann Randolph

But what is the truth? And what is the answer? And, and if we hold in a fixed position, like I love this quote, by Emerson, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, right? If we hold firm and fast and my way is the only way and there’s no room for possibility, then we’re screwed. Um, this really speaks to me like, well, what can bring us together? I made a video maybe a year ago of the deplorable and the elite in the bathtub, and then myself. They were fighting. the deplorable is like, elite going Whole Foods, and the deplorables going Whole Paycheck, Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck, Whole Foods, they’re fighting back and forth. And then one’s going Shanti and the other’s going Jesus, so they’re fighting. They’re fighting, they don’t want to listen, and then I say something about the deplorable. And that character turns on me and say, How dare you call me deplorable? You’re stereotyping me. And the other one says, How dare you call me elitist? So they’re now ganged up against me, right? As the writer of this sketch and, and so my thing was, how do these two find unity and myself included? And so I started with commonality. And I asked them both, Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever lost somebody you love? Have you ever looked up at the night sky with awe and wonder? So finding things in the commonality that both these characters could, could relate to ? We’ve all suffered loss, we all have shame. And so it ends with them being able to come to agreement that the humanness, the humanity, of loss of the shared experience that we all go through, and that we want, and I asked him both, what is it? Do you both have a hope and dream for a better tomorrow? And they’re both nodding Yeah, right. But you start in this angst. So that’s where we are as a culture right now. And then you find you find this through story. That’s the way.

Vicki Robin

Did they say what their hopes and dreams are for a better tomorrow?

Ann Randolph

No, I was doing a three minute sketch and I thought I could do go down. I just was asking them in the bathtub. I put them both in the bathtub together. And I know that they both would have the same that there would be unity. Like if I asked that because I was writing the sketch, right? It would be that we could come together that we could come together. I know they both would say that.

Vicki Robin

And then they are together in the bathtub. Yeah. See, the thing is, is that they’re in the bathtub. We’re in the drink. We’re together in the little life raft. We’re together in the life raft.

Ann Randolph

That’s great. Yeah, exactly.

Vicki Robin

Yes. That’s the whole thing is like you’ve seen these, probably this is a trope that’s been used by more cartoonists and one about, the rich people and the poor people and they’re in a single lifeboat. Yeah, and the poor people are bailing like crazy and the rich people won’t do a thing. But the fact is that we’re on the, I remember I heard one of the 13 grandmothers, because Alice, I think she’s already passed. And again and again, she didn’t have like, long speeches, she just said, we’re all in a leaky canoe and we’ve all got to paddle. It’s true. And when you’re in a leaky canoe together, then you have to relate. If you presume that you can somehow come out of this with terraforming Mars, if you believe that you can come through this intact if you sacrifice the other people who are in the bathtub. Yeah, the story’s stuck. But the story happens when you recognize that we’re all vulnerable. There’s another character in this story, which is the climate, which is just the earth doing her thing. When I’m feeling a little hot flash, I think I’ll move the jet stream. Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, thank you so much for entertaining this question and, and sharing. You have you offer ike these very essential, simple truths, but you deploy them with hundreds and thousands of people through getting them to unmute themselves. Yeah, yeah. It’s like, it’s like an acupuncture point in the body of humanity. I really appreciate you and thank you so much.

Ann Randolph

Thank you. Thank you.

 

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