Art is life — with an Ash Sanborn show, we live the drama.

When we put on one of my shows, we live it. It’s not just that the actors sink their souls into their parts. It’s not just that we all work our tails off to set my words to stage. Take TFOJB for example. It’s about people in a tent city that moves in next door to Jovi, the caterer. Jovi and her loved ones decide to hear the stories from the tent city at fabulous dinners she prepares.

Malcolm and Jovi dish it out.

Malcolm and Jovi dish it out.

That’s when the story begins its sizzle. People. Experiences. Relationships. Food. Sports. They all collide by the second act. 

But the story doesn’t end with the chef’s final words (spoiler alert) “Bon Appetit!” 

It’s a show about homelessness and it means going out on the street. I’ve gone on and on about the show in New York, and about Daisy in the Diamond District (whose story I licensed for a future show — Clarity). 

The next show is in Boston (with Chicago and Pittsburgh emerging as the next places) and my trip to Boston in June set off another of these collisions. I spent a lot of time in the theater district, and talked to my friends at Howlround/Emerson College. It was night and something made me get off the T at the Boyleston Station. I saw her on the second landing — I didn’t ask her name but I think of her as Iris, after the eponymous song by the Goo Goo Dolls. She was for sure younger than my eighteen-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, and looked like someone Caitlyn would befriend, even with the change jar and eyes filled with fear. 

I set a few slips of money in her jar and was practically speechless by her appearance — neat and clean and not on the street long from what I could tell. I could think of nothing to say except: “Whatever you’re going through, this isn’t forever.”

She beamed. She quietly said, “Thank you.” She was not used to begging for money from strangers. 

I took the rest of the staircase, willing myself to not look back at Iris. I felt Iris to my core but even her glow was quickly eclipsed by the sight of the Old Park Church outside the T station. 

The outside of the church has on nearly three sides several shallow, wide steps leading up to a large landing before the main entrance to the building. On these steps, neatly stacked, were at least fifty homeless people, bundled and ready to sleep. I started for a minute. I wondered if there was a hierarchy, if there were friends or families staying together, if there was a morning meal at the church they awaited, or an evening one just finished. I wondered if their loved ones knew where they were. If they were missed. If someone loved them who would take them if they could, or if, like me, everyone older and/or wiser who loved them is gone. 


Before that, I met my Boston director, Laurie. She has lots of ideas to make TFOJB more than just a show. Boston is the perfect place to write more of the story of TFOJB. We’re making connections with people who have actually served, visited and talked with people who are homeless in Boston. Whether we get their stories on film or video for a part of the show, the cast, crew and audience goes out to them in the night, or we do something even more incredible, TFOJB is gifted with a Boston director who will make it come alive, onstage and off. 

We’ve been in contact with a major financier in Boston, but few shows are single-handedly produced. We need people wealthy with time, with talent, and with a gathering of funds to create with us. 

Are you in? 

Meet Matty Haze and Libby Seton in the new web show UNPAID

You heard about the lack of water in a huge swath of Detroit? They shut off tens of thousands of people because they didn’t pay their bills. Fine. But even those who paid their bills weeks ago are still without water. Either they want certain residents to leave Detroit (and go where?) or they want to have a Urinetown situation on their hands.

No water in Detroit

It’s not just water. Some have a vision to make food so outrageously expensive that we don’t even need to eat simple foods anymore — we can just choke down soylent green. I’d personally prefer to eat cake, thanks.

For-profit corporations have opened charter schools at the edge of certain neighborhoods and opted to not provide transportation. The result is a flight of middle class families out of what were diverse-income neighborhood schools.

“But you’re not entitled to something just because you want it.”

“Our taxes can’t carry the have-nots forever.”

“If you want something, earn it.”

“Stop expecting handouts.”

These handouts used to be simply the marks of a democratic society. What has changed? It’s no secret that I feel greed is truly the root of all evil. Without expanding the sociopolitical discussion here (though you’re invited to do so in the comments) I want you to meet someone.

Meet Matty.


Matty Haze is the namesake character of St. Marie-Therese Haze who started a free school during the French revolution, then was given charge of a debtor’s prison and a refuge for former prostitutes.

21st century Matty starts a free school (True Liberty School) with her friend, Libby Seton, using four abandoned Detroit mansions and a couple of vacant lots to run an upper and lower school, a community organic garden (where students grow their own produce for their breakfasts and lunches, several vocational programs, an art and music collective, a secret water source, and a mentoring program.

True Liberty School

Libby Seton is the namesake character of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, an American contemporary of St. Marie-Therese, who began the parochial school program in the U.S. with the idea that access to education should not depend upon social class.

MATTY just turned forty. She has been an activist since her undergrad days and has the scars and tattoos to show it. Her ailing father is in exile, headed for debtor’s prison, because he could not pay an old student loan he forgot about that went into default decades ago. Her mother has fled a similar fate by emigrating with her boyfriend to Portugal. Matty’s younger sister, Ferdy, just returned from a stint as a nurse at a school called City of Joy in Rwanda. Clearly something happened to her in Rwanda that left her traumatized, but she won’t say what it was. Ferdy volunteers as a nurse at  True Liberty and mentors two upper school students who seek careers in medicine.

LIBBY is sardonic artist type who wears a beret and has posters of hard rock bands in her office. She was left widowed when her husband, Cole, was killed in Afghanistan. She supported her children teaching in a good school in Ann Arbor, but parents started pulling their children from the school because of Libby’s “spin” on oppression in history. Her daughter got a scholarship to military school and moved away at 15. Her younger son lives with his grandparents who are paying his tuition to a private STEM school. Her eldest son is autistic and is in art school learning glass work.

The Lower School

DYLAN THOMAS SETON: That eldest son. Age 22. Refers to years where he barely spoke and did digital art on his laptop. Does janitor work at the school. Navigating young adult hood, romance, jobs, etc. in an autistic young adult.

ERIC TAYLOR: Emergency services coordinator for the Sheriff. Friendly cop who warns Libby and Matty when LE is on a rampage. Also gives them an in to get water delivery and avoid shutoff to the school.

SYLVIE JASPER, ALFONSE WILDE, PIPER GREENE: The three potential seniors in the school. Piper lives with her strung out mom and sometimes is still a prostitute at night. She later shows up at the refuge for prostitutes and even later her mom does, too. Sylvie started the community garden in the vacant lots and wants to study horticulture at Mich State. Her mom died and her dad works two jobs as counselor at rehab centers. Alfonse got his girlfriend Navi pregnant and works nights at different places under the table. They all try to get Navi to come back to school but she doesn’t believe she can do it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 9.51.01 PM

BARON SIGFRIED – the bad cop of the neighborhood who is gunning for the school. Proponent of debtor’s prison, shutting off services, etc. “We can’t carry you people anymore.”

DAHLIA HANOVER – the city manager/code enforcer who’s always hanging around finding things wrong. They must run the water from the secret source through the hidden pipes and fill the water jugs only when Dahlia is not around.

Secret water source

GAVIN JOHNSON – an urban field psychologist who runs the after school program for the younger kids. MATTY’s love interest before she’s taken away.

TIFFANY CORDERO – Brings MATTY to the debtor’s prison to run it. Hostile at first, she may become an ally.

HARRY, TATE, NOEL, JAZZY, KENDALL, PIPPA, LOUISA, VERNON, LELANI, JADE – debtor’s prisoners whose stories will be told over the course.

JOSEPH LEWIN: a journalist investigating the debtor’s prisons.

Lilac building - horticulture

It really happened — TFOJB on 42nd Street, NYC!

The cast was incredible!

Things came together like it was a miracle (though we’re still finishing the full funding of the show). The one wish that did not come true was the producer with the big checkbook. Next time, our outreach will reach farther.

The audience left happy.

Manhattan Rep Theatre said, “You and your team are a class act — you’re invited back any time!”

Cammerron, the actor who played Kevin, flew in from Idaho, went to auditions during the day, had a callback to play Princeton in “Avenue Q,” and was offered a part in Company 68’s troupe. Not bad for a 23-year-old’s first try at NYC.

I not only have a 42nd Street theater ready to put on my plays, and a place I’m “always invited back,” but I have a dozen and more theater contacts in New York City, and I’ve decided when I do go back, I will sublet my own apartment in Greenwich Village through Airbnb.

The actors and directors and crew were amazing to work with and went way above and beyond to make it happen. The actors did their own costumes and many of the props, because they had to step up given I was in Iowa and our budget was tiny. Learned many lessons which will be applied to next time.

Stayed in a small hotel midtown for two nights then did not have a place to hang my hat Thursday-Sunday. Instead, went on adventures, hung with the homeless, experienced New York at streetview, became inspired. I lived at the New York Public Library, in Union Square, Washington Square, and Madison Square parks (thank God it was in the 50s and 60s that week before Christmas, with lows only in the 30s-40s).

I could not have collected so much material for future creative work in a month of living New York the sheltered, tourist way.

Sometime, I will tell the stories of Daisy from the Diamond District, Plaza Pete, and Mavis, the Midtown woman who misses her son but doesn’t want him to know how she’s living.

I found nothing to fear in New York until the last day. By then I was rather sleep deprived, and weary from dragging my wheeled bag all over, up and down subway stairs, and all the rest. (I would, however, put in a commercial for the Campaign bag from Herschel Supply Company. I bought it on Zappos. The wheels and the bag itself suffered days of heavy abuse and came out swinging. For $189.99 it cannot be beat and I’d challenge it against the $500 carry-ons.)

Life affirmed in those days. So much beauty in what some consider the underbelly. So much peace and joy in Washington Square Park and throughout the Village — and I had not yet been educated in the great points of Washington Sq. Park’s history of activism, equality, and social justice. Now I am just more in love.

Sometimes I make the life I’ve been given an adventure. Sometimes, adventure finds me.

The Feast of Jovi Bono in NYC!

It’s true. I can’t quite grasp it. December 16-18 we can mount a production of The Feast of Jovi Bono in Times Square at Manhattan Rep. It will be part of the Stagecraft Play Festival.

So much to do in a short time! I never thought the world premiere would or should be outside Iowa.

But it’s New York. Near Christmas time. How can we not? I’ve offered the original cast of TFOJB (the remix production that had been slated for July 21) a part if they want to come to New York. I will be doing the rest remotely — recruiting cast through my theatre contacts on LinkedIn, holding auditions and rehearsals over Skype or Google Hangout, arranging costumes and everything else remotely WHILE still doing my real job.

Needs: actors, crew, publicity, money — really everything. But anything worth going for requires hard things, right?

I sent them TFOJB in the past, and it’s not that they didn’t like it; it’s the set requirements. Their stock of furniture has changed for the better in the last couple of months and now TFOJB will work.

Does that not seem like God?

Perhaps you think it’s the universe or serendipity.

It’s some higher force that sent this theater company some expanding tables, made two of their previously slated productions drop out suddenly, and the artistic director to say, “Oh, yes. I liked your play. It was the table issue, really.”

We’re going to New York! Lots more to follow!

Tickets on sale for TFOJB the Remix by Ash Sanborn!


Order tickets via Eventbrite:

TFOJB the Remix is an improvised, interactive play by Lakes area playwright Ash Sanborn. Cast members host a fabulous party and the ever-expanding table creates room for everyone ready to tell their story of destruction and redemption. A snarky chef-narrator-host ties it all together.

Immediately following the play is the launch of the Spencer-Okoboji Time Bank. Audience members can offer their talents, then use their time credits to purchase services and products from other locals. Time banking is a generative local economy. Everyone can participate.

We seek to fill the Sami Center to capacity — 1,000 locals ready to make a difference.

We had to improvise

We had to improvise

The feast is still on and the table still grows but now there are more places at the table. Instead of bringing a 90 minute play, “The Feast of Jovi Bono” to the stage in the traditional way, let’s call this “TFOJB – The Remix.” Improvisational. Interactive. The Spencer-Okoboji Time Bank is about all of us, and TFOJB will be, too. Instead of assuming a character and memorizing a part in the usual way, we’re inviting people to bring their own stories, characters, personae to our table. Think “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” but with a snarky chef/narrator/host and a lot more rock! From here on out, we’re updating twice a day. Tickets on sale soon. Casting now. The questions are unchanged: “Does it seem right that some people really live while others are expected to merely exist?” and “What’s your hunger?”