On stage, Marshall emphasizes self-empowerment. Photo by Daniel Triassi- Mustang Daily
On stage, Marshall emphasizes self-empowerment. Photo by Daniel Triassi- Mustang Daily

Sitting behind a nondescript office desk, the actress sighs, “Last count I’ve had 64 jobs. Now, I’m not 236 years old, so obviously some of them were for unusually short durations.”

So begins the opening scene of Melanie Marshall’s senior project performance of “Blown Sideways Through Life,” an autobiographical play by Claudia Shear, which debuts tonight in room 212 of the H.P. Davidson Music Center.

“Blown Sideways Through Life” chronicles Shear’s life as an unstable employee. Shear’s résumé includes being an artist’s model, receptionist at a whorehouse, Bloomingdale’s sales associate and waitress at a restaurant called Bar Louis; all in search for an identity more sincere than any job description.

Both Marshall’s parents were actors, so in a way she was literally born to perform. At three months old, she was cast in her first diaper commercial. Marshall eventually was cut out of the commercial for crying too much, her first unsuccessful brush with show business. At seven years old, she began taking her first acting classes.

“My parents would pull me out of elementary school, especially six months before elections, because I was doing a lot of commercials (for ballot propositions),” she said. “(People would call asking for) ‘students for the background,’ and I was like, ‘I’m in!’”

Although Marshall realized her passion for theatre early on, many Cal Poly students aren’t as fortunate. Students end up switching majors because they must declare their intent when they are 18, Marshall said.

“I think that something this show really says is that you should find what you like to do, but you shouldn’t be expected to know what that is right away,” she said. “That it’s okay to try things that don’t work out and fail.”

“Blown Sideways Through Life” is also an honest look at the life many of us live. During and after college, many people have jobs, not careers, working to make money necessary to live. A job has minimal impact on a future work life, while a career provides experience and learning to fuel one’s future. Shear makes no apologies for the meandering work path she has chosen. Marshall instead retells Shear’s seemingly menial jobs with dignity and insightful humor.

“We all need jobs, and they’re not there. I think this play explores what we are willing to sacrifice to keep the job we need. How much of yourself are we willing to put away and smile with sand and shit in your mouth to have this job that sustains your livelihood and when is it just not worth it?” Marshall said.

One lesson the playwright has learned from all those dead-end jobs is that nobody is just a busboy or just a cashier; everyone has “at least one story that will stop your heart.”

Following the play’s rehearsal, senior theater major Ashley Merchak was drawn to the minimalism and the strong word choice fit for a monologue.

“The simplicity and bareness of the stage enables a stronger audience connection, focusing your attention more on her words than the scenery,” Merchak said.

On stage, Marshall emphasizes self-empowerment. Through Shear’s voice, she finds joy in her everyday jobs.

Theater assistant professor Virginia Anderson agrees the message is less about the visual aspects of the play and more about finding yourself through what you do and despite what you do.

“(The show is) a wonderful opportunity to share in the work of someone who, even in the thick of the college experience, allows us to genuinely celebrate what comes next,” Anderson said.

Marshall holds the stage, and our attention, for 45 minutes, and her energy and commitment to Shear’s storyline never wanes.

“Blown Sideways Through Life” will begin at 7 p.m. tonight and will run until Saturday. Tickets are available for $5 by phone: (916) 803-4530, email: mkmarsha@calpoly.edu and a select few at the door.

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