Photo Credit: Francis Gacad, Kendyl Grbac, Alyssa Ahle
Written by Patrick Chavis
Life can be fascinating sometimes. I watched a short play called “Anti-Soulmate” at the Wayward Artist in Santa Ana. It was part of a grouping of one-act plays, and the theme was communication. This show had multiple short plays, but “Anti-Soulmate” really stood out to me. The play, at most, runs somewhere around 15 minutes. In that short amount of time, the playwright, Alyssa Ahle. was able to do successfully what a lot of playwrights fail to do with an hour or longer. She brought her characters to life, and for a brief few minutes, we witness how fragile and how easy love can be lost, but it’s nice when it’s found. I met up with Ahle for coffee to talk about her play and the connections her characters make. In the process learned she was the cousin of someone I used to know from back in elementary school on the playground (RIP Cawthon Elementary School, go Eagles). You can chalk it up to coincidence or Kevin Bacon, but to me, it made her play resonate more with those invisible connections that bind us, and they tell a story.
So we had a group project for the gold rush in fourth grade. And the group I was with decided to do a play, and someone needed to write it. So I wrote the script. And I thought that was really fun. And I was like, oh, I want to do more. But I never really did any more of it until high school. I took a theater class to learn more about theater. And then in college, I went to London for study abroad, such a great experience. And one of the classes I took because I was in Roehampton University, which is kind of like a 30-minute train ride from London, was London Theater. I mean, I needed to fill my credits. I thought, what a great opportunity and excuse to go into the city. Every week, we would see a different play. And I had gone to musicals with my parents, like maybe a couple of musicals a year. My parents would take me to see Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and it was so beautiful.
Even with her early exposure to theatre back at home, Ahle described her theatre experience in London as life-changing.
I never realized how powerful theater could be. I saw how it affected people around me, and these are people who wanted to see the shows, and I [had] done theater in high school, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t as upheld. It grabbed me, and I wanted to bring it back with me in some way. When I got back I thought, Okay, I want to see if I can write something because I was a creative writing major and a Communication Studies major.
Ahle had a newfound purpose after her trip to London, and with help from her Comm theory teacher Dr. Samantha Dorros, she began working on the early foundations and ideas that would later guide her future works.
I had a class with Samantha Dorros and she was talking about this theory of uncertainty reduction theory, and how people will do certain things to reduce anxiety and uncertainty when they ask questions. And I realized that everything I’ve been learning in communication studies, I could put into a play to kind of try and understand human communication, because, quite frankly, I have always been terrible at it.
Using the advice from her academic advisor Dr. Michelle Miller-Day, Ahle enrolled in an independent study class with Dr. Miller as her mentor, where she could not only research how to write a theatre script but write her first feature play, Lost & Found.
I wrote a whole script, a full-length play. She [Dr. Michelle Miller-day] was like my angel. She helped me make it. She gave me books to read on it. And I basically, taught myself. And that fall, I had a reading, and that was amazing.
In the fall of 2017, Ahle put on a self-funded production of Lost & Found at the Chance Theatre in Anaheim.
I used all of my money, but it was good. I paid each actor 100 bucks; I paid the director, what I could, my lighting designer, what I could, the chance theatre what I could, rented the space, hired a friend to make the graphics, made the pamphlets myself. I had to self-teach myself a lot of things, and it was lovely.
because I was so close to the wings, I could hear the audience’s reaction. And I think what I remember most is that there was this one line that I had not written to be funny. And when it was said, on stage, and we hadn’t even rehearsed it, we rehearsed it very straightforward. And when it was said, the first time on stage, and people laughed, it was. Actually, it was like, I was back in London, and I felt that life again, like life-giving, like, oh, this is nice.
Ahle described her playwright process as a mixture of life experience and therapy.
I have had some interesting experiences in my love life. And I learned a lot with the relationships I’ve had. And when I wrote “anti-soulmate,” I was going through a breakup and I was, you know, sad, feeling sorry for myself, and I don’t like feeling sorry for myself. I think I was just having a bad day and I just thought to myself, you know, it just [would] be so much easier if my soulmate, you know, just showed up on my doorstep.
Lost & Found came from just something my mom said to me. I was walking across the college campus, and I was thinking about a guy I had a crush on in high school, and it never worked out, and you know, those thoughts, just go into your head. And I told my mom about it, and I’m like, I can’t even walk across the beautiful college campus without some past love ringing in my ears and bugging me. And she’s like, you got to stop carrying him around. I was like, oh, a metaphor. So I wrote a play about a character [who] literally carries her exes around in a wagon, and that helped me get over it. And I think “anti-soulmate” was another thing where I wanted to get this pain out of my chest and onto paper and turn it into something better.
Ahle’s passion for storytelling and love for stories can be traced back to moments she had with her dad when she was young.
My dad always read this book to me when I was little. I thought it was always called the lupine lady. But apparently, it’s called Miss Rumphius or something. It’s about a lady who throws lupine seeds all over the countryside, and in the spring, all these lupines bloom because her grandfather told her, you know, you have to do something to make the world more beautiful before you die, and then she took it literally. I always made my dad read that to me.