“It is much easier for me to think big thoughts and love humankind from the top of a beautiful mountain,” says Ady Lady. “Grace comes easy at lofty heights. The big question is, can I love people when they’re up close and awful and annoying?”
Ady ponders and struggles with this question in a variety of situations and settings within her latest show, From Piss to Bliss. Whether captive on public transit, leading Segway tours through Golden Gate Park, or braving rough, unfamiliar terrain on a 39 mile walk to end breast cancer, she challenges herself to find connection, both to herself and to a world filled with “pee smells.”
“I was working on my first show,” Ady says, “And before a session with my director, David Ford, I had the experience that opens From Piss to Bliss. I was pondering the lesson I had gleaned from it and shared it when I got onstage. People laughed. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that it was funny, and it made me look at it from a whole new angle. At that moment, the idea started brewing for a comedy about the spiritual lessons of riding MUNI.”
MUNI, San Francisco’s bus and streetcar system, continually provided unlikely inspiration, often in unwelcome ways, and opened a door to revelation that continued to present itself. “I initially thought the whole show would be about MUNI,” Ady explains, “But once I finished the 15-minute section, it felt like it was going to start getting repetitive.” She turned to other areas of her life and found, “a lot of potential in my experiences as a Segway tour guide, many of which, as you can well imagine, were totally ridiculous.”
With two thirds of the show complete, Ady’s real life experiences continued to provide her with unexpected inspiration and material. “What was going to be a section on being stuck in gridlock traffic ended up being about a breast cancer walk,” Ady says. “So nothing was ever what I thought it was going to be, but at the same time, it’s so clearly what it was meant to be.
Even with more than 30 years of stage performance to her credit, solo work was,
until fairly recently, not a natural inclination. “The fourth wall can be very flimsy in solo performance, so I’m constantly confronted by the audience,” she says. “Despite the incredible fun I’d had performing in ensemble work, I still found audiences pretty scary. Solo work has left me no choice but to face that head-on. I’ve found real joy in the moments I’ve been able to give myself up to an audience and roll with whatever they've brought to the theater.”
“So many of the experiences that inspired the material were isolating and often lonely,” says Ady, “so I’ve been surprised by how relatable people have found the themes in the show. People share stories with me and seem relieved to be seeing this stuff played out in a way that’s funny and healing.”
Ady acknowledges that it isn’t only the audience that benefits from live performance. “I know I can’t finish a show without learning its lesson,” she admits. “I have to grow from the experiences I’m sharing, or the audience won’t get the full value of the telling. Engaging in this makes a person do the work of achieving perspective. Telling your story both requires that you be on the other side of it and helps you get there. "