SANTA FE, N.M. — Ann Randolph has seen her share of ups and downs, some of her own making, some stemming from fate.
Consider this: She was taking classes with people like Will Ferrell and performing at The Groundlings in Los Angeles, considered by many to be a launchpad to “Saturday Night Live.”
But then she quit, even though it seemed to be pointing her in the direction she long dreamed of taking.
“That was a huge turning point,” she said. “Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner had been my heroes.”
But comedy wasn’t enough. She wanted the addition of pathos, the funny but heartbreaking stories she had mined in her years working with residents of a mental health institution and down-on-their-luck women in a homeless shelter.
“I felt I was cheapening their stories just doing comedy,” Randolph said in a telephone interview. “I could hear their voices, ‘I’m much more than a three-minute comedy sketch,’ and ‘Speak my truth.'”
Randolph is going to reveal how their stories taught her how to tell her own story in “Inappropriate in All the Right Ways,” a one-woman show she’ll be presenting 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Adobe Rose Theatre. This performance is in conjunction with a weeklong workshop near Santa Fe she’s conducting with Tanya Taylor Rubinstein to help others learn how to write and perform their own stories.
As a matter of fact, after her own performance on Monday, she’ll invite audience members to tell their life stories in one or two minutes in a “boo-yay” style she gleaned from an old Arthur Godfrey song that summarized the ups (yay!) and downs (boo!) one encounters over the years.
And Randolph, just like the rest of us, has had her share.
She left the straight comedy route for longer theatrical shows, many of which she was told were “inappropriate” for regional theaters and their audiences, whom theater managers feared might not be able to tolerate stories of people like the “crack whore” she included in one of her shows, “Squeeze Box.”
But then actress Ann Bancroft saw the show, told her husband, Mel Brooks, he had to see it, and then the two went for a movie option and helped produce the show, taking it to performances on 42nd Street in New York City. “Ann said she wanted to play that crack whore,” Randolph said.
From her $8-per-hour job working at a homeless shelter in California, Randolph periodically was whisked to New York to present her show to people such as Liam Neeson and Chevy Chase to critique and help her fine-tune the performance. When the comedy couple deemed the show ready to open in New York, it did – but with a different producer and a hold placed on the film plans after Bancroft was diagnosed with cancer.
Brooks still took out ads and did some publicity, chatting up interviewers with comments about Randolph such as, “She plays many characters and she’s brilliant at it,” and “This woman is so gloriously gifted … I wanted the world to see this (show).”
Bancroft said she was “bowled over” by the show, which made her laugh, cry and think.
But the Brooks/Bancroft train to fame for Randolph ground to a halt, along with the well-reviewed show, with Bancroft’s growing illness and then her death.
“It was devastating. She was my friend and mentor,” Randolph said. With no money and no work, Randolph at age 40 went back to live with her parents in Ohio.
She was close to her parents, so that was not a bad thing but, just around then, her mother had a stroke and her father was diagnosed with untreatable lung cancer. “It was a beautiful thing, I was able to be with my father as he was dying.”
It’s something she wouldn’t have been able to do if she had been busy with a successful show and pending movie, but she also mourned the loss of those dreams, along with the thoughts of when she no longer would have her mother, Randolph said. During that low point, a friend gave her a book of poems by Sufi mystic Rumi.
One, which especially struck her, told of a chickpea being boiled and asking, “Why are you torturing me?” Its answer, as it was swept back into the middle of the pot, essentially was: “I’m giving you more flavor, more character,” Randolph said.
That inspiration helped get her writing again. “Writing has saved my life over and over and over again,” she said.
That spate of writing led to “Loveland,” a show about grief and loss that she named after her Ohio hometown, located between Dayton and Cincinnati. The San Francisco Examiner called it the best solo show in the city, and it toured nationally and internationally. Randolph also was named “Best Solo Performer” by LA Weekly.
A return to Santa Fe
The show she is bringing to Santa Fe opened last September in San Francisco.
But it won’t be the first show she performed here.
Randolph, now 52, said she was in her 20s when she stopped in Santa Fe to visit a friend on her way to New York and her friend convinced her to present a solo show in the City Different. With an image in her head of performing outdoors with the Sangre de Cristos in the background, Randolph got permission from St. Bede’s Episcopal Church to have her contractor boyfriend build a rustic stage on some property the church owned among the piñons.
When she realized she had no place for the audience to sit, she mentioned it to “a good ol’ boy” she ran into while hiking. No worries. It turns out he had some bleachers in his backyard that he delivered the next day to the performance site. “I got my first review in the Albuquerque Journal,” she said, of that show titled “Betsy Loves Snap Beans.”
That performance site, she added, now is covered with homes.
She ended up staying in Santa Fe for a year at that time after riding a bike up Canyon Road, seeing an Airstream trailer parked in a yard and leaving a note asking if she could stay in it. She got a call back from the guys living at the “adobe mansion” where it was parked, three professors at the Santa Fe Institute, who offered to let her move in with them. “I didn’t pay rent all the time I was there,” she said.
“My hope would be to come back to Santa Fe,” Randolph said. “My dream is to make a destination theater, where people can come to a show and then experience writing their own stories.”
“I’m all about audience participation,” she continued, adding that she loved Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek’s TED talk in which he sang the praises of art that regular people can participate in.
Noting that she has been touring a lot, she said, “I would really like to stay in one place.”
She’s booked through January, but hopes to return here in April to see if there’s a chance to make that dream a reality.