It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: The Topic That Wouldn’t Die

Dave Sikula, sliding in just before the weekend kicks off.

It’s the damnedest thing.

I don’t know what it is about this line of inquiry, but this series of posts garnered more clicks – and even Facebook shares – than anything else I’ve written. As far as I can tell, though, this will be the last entry for now on the topic. (We’ll see what happens in about 800 words when I realize I still have more to say and don’t want to strain your patience.)

Let me deal with the Arthur Miller reference I made in the last colyum. I need to preface that, though, with some background on Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre.

If I won't link to it, I should at least show it.

If I won’t link to it, I should at least show it.

Looking at their website, it seems like they’re a company dedicated to screwing around with other people’s creations while relentlessly patting themselves on the back for doing so. Consider this blurb for “Miss Julie:” “August Strindberg’s masterpiece has been hovering in the wings at Belvoir for a while now, waiting for the right people: Leticia Cáceres and Brendan Cowell both know how to combine tender and brutal to devastating effect. Simon Stone joins them with a rewrite of the play in the fashion of his The Wild Duck.” Note the “his” there, which refers to Mr. Stone, and not either the late Mr. Strindberg or the late Mr. Ibsen. Pretty much every description of the plays they produce refers to an “adaptation” of this or “a contemporary version” of that. Not content to adhere to the intentions of the playwright, they’ve decided that their only responsibility is to themselves.

Mind you, I'm not saying this would be Ibsen's opinion of Stone, but ...

Mind you, I’m not saying this would be Ibsen’s opinion of Stone, but …

In 2012, Mr. Stone decided to produce Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” – or, at least, some of it. According to Terry Teachout’s report:

Not only did he cut the play’s epilogue, but he altered the manner in which Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist, meets his death. In the original play, Willy dies in a car crash that may or may not have been intentional; in Mr. Stone’s staging, he commits suicide by gassing himself. On top of that, Belvoir neglected to inform ICM Partners, the agency that represents Mr. Miller’s estate and licenses his plays for production around the world, that Mr. Stone was altering the script.

Since rewriting dead playwrights seems to be Stone’s stock in trade, I can see why he didn’t feel the author’s representatives were worth notifying. I’m actually surprised he was did something as boring, traditional, and mundane as casting a male actor as Willy. They’re currently doing “Hedda Gabler” (a play that’s dismal enough) with a male actor playing Hedda. Because A) it’s supposed to make a statement about gender roles and B) apparently there aren’t any women in Sydney who are capable of playing the part.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Mr. Stone’s defense of his bastardized presentation of Miller’s play was “”Until recently we accepted the Broadway or West End way of treating their classics, now we are bringing to them an Australian sensibility and technique. The world is responding.” Since the “Australian sensibility and technique” seems to involve violating copyright and ignoring a writer’s intentions, it’s no wonder the world is “responding” – mainly by refusing him the rights to do anything. A look at their current season shows rewrites of “Oedipus” (two of them!), “The Inspector General” (“inspired by Nikolai Gogol” – who only wrote the goddamn thing), “Nora,” (“after ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen”), “A Christmas Carol” (“after Charles Dickens”) and “Cinderella.” They’re also doing “The Glass Menagerie,” but I’d imagine the rights-holders are keeping a close watch on them.

This kind of conduct goes to the heart of how the Facebook discussion about the Mamet case went. The opinions ranged from the conviction that the writer owns his or her words and has every right to determine how they’re presented to an audience, to a belief that since plays are more intangible things than physical, they should the property of any director or actor who wanted to do anything they wanted with them. One poster tried to make his case by saying that if I bought a shirt, he was free to do whatever he wanted with it: cut off the sleeves, dye it, or whatever. Never mind that he’s not buying that particular shirt; he’s borrowing it from someone who probably won’t appreciate the alterations.

"Here's your shirt back -- or at least all the pieces."

“Here’s your shirt back — or at least all the pieces.”

We Get Letters:

Eric L. writes: “How do you think this incident compares to the Beckett’s objection and legal action against Akalaitis’s production of Endgame?”

Thanks for asking, Eric. As expected, though, I’ve reached my weekly limit and will return to this topic next time

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: The Topic That Wouldn’t Die

Dave Sikula, sliding in just before the weekend kicks off.

It’s the damnedest thing.

I don’t know what it is about this line of inquiry, but this series of posts garnered more clicks – and even Facebook shares – than anything else I’ve written. As far as I can tell, though, this will be the last entry for now on the topic. (We’ll see what happens in about 800 words when I realize I still have more to say and don’t want to strain your patience.)

Let me deal with the Arthur Miller reference I made in the last colyum. I need to preface that, though, with some background on Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre.

If I won't link to it, I should at least show it.

If I won’t link to it, I should at least show it.

Looking at their website, it seems like they’re a company dedicated to screwing around with other people’s creations while relentlessly patting themselves on the back for doing so. Consider this blurb for “Miss Julie:” “August Strindberg’s masterpiece has been hovering in the wings at Belvoir for a while now, waiting for the right people: Leticia Cáceres and Brendan Cowell both know how to combine tender and brutal to devastating effect. Simon Stone joins them with a rewrite of the play in the fashion of his The Wild Duck.” Note the “his” there, which refers to Mr. Stone, and not either the late Mr. Strindberg or the late Mr. Ibsen. Pretty much every description of the plays they produce refers to an “adaptation” of this or “a contemporary version” of that. Not content to adhere to the intentions of the playwright, they’ve decided that their only responsibility is to themselves.

Mind you, I'm not saying this would be Ibsen's opinion of Stone, but ...

Mind you, I’m not saying this would be Ibsen’s opinion of Stone, but …

In 2012, Mr. Stone decided to produce Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” – or, at least, some of it. According to Terry Teachout’s report:

Not only did he cut the play’s epilogue, but he altered the manner in which Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist, meets his death. In the original play, Willy dies in a car crash that may or may not have been intentional; in Mr. Stone’s staging, he commits suicide by gassing himself. On top of that, Belvoir neglected to inform ICM Partners, the agency that represents Mr. Miller’s estate and licenses his plays for production around the world, that Mr. Stone was altering the script.

Since rewriting dead playwrights seems to be Stone’s stock in trade, I can see why he didn’t feel the author’s representatives were worth notifying. I’m actually surprised he was did something as boring, traditional, and mundane as casting a male actor as Willy. They’re currently doing “Hedda Gabler” (a play that’s dismal enough) with a male actor playing Hedda. Because A) it’s supposed to make a statement about gender roles and B) apparently there aren’t any women in Sydney who are capable of playing the part.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Mr. Stone’s defense of his bastardized presentation of Miller’s play was “”Until recently we accepted the Broadway or West End way of treating their classics, now we are bringing to them an Australian sensibility and technique. The world is responding.” Since the “Australian sensibility and technique” seems to involve violating copyright and ignoring a writer’s intentions, it’s no wonder the world is “responding” – mainly by refusing him the rights to do anything. A look at their current season shows rewrites of “Oedipus” (two of them!), “The Inspector General” (“inspired by Nikolai Gogol” – who only wrote the goddamn thing), “Nora,” (“after ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen”), “A Christmas Carol” (“after Charles Dickens”) and “Cinderella.” They’re also doing “The Glass Menagerie,” but I’d imagine the rights-holders are keeping a close watch on them.

This kind of conduct goes to the heart of how the Facebook discussion about the Mamet case went. The opinions ranged from the conviction that the writer owns his or her words and has every right to determine how they’re presented to an audience, to a belief that since plays are more intangible things than physical, they should the property of any director or actor who wanted to do anything they wanted with them. One poster tried to make his case by saying that if I bought a shirt, he was free to do whatever he wanted with it: cut off the sleeves, dye it, or whatever. Never mind that he’s not buying that particular shirt; he’s borrowing it from someone who probably won’t appreciate the alterations.

"Here's your shirt back -- or at least all the pieces."

“Here’s your shirt back — or at least all the pieces.”

We Get Letters:

Eric L. writes: “How do you think this incident compares to the Beckett’s objection and legal action against Akalaitis’s production of Endgame?”

Thanks for asking, Eric. As expected, though, I’ve reached my weekly limit and will return to this topic next time

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: The Topic That Wouldn’t Die

Dave Sikula, sliding in just before the weekend kicks off.

It’s the damnedest thing.

I don’t know what it is about this line of inquiry, but this series of posts garnered more clicks – and even Facebook shares – than anything else I’ve written. As far as I can tell, though, this will be the last entry for now on the topic. (We’ll see what happens in about 800 words when I realize I still have more to say and don’t want to strain your patience.)

Let me deal with the Arthur Miller reference I made in the last colyum. I need to preface that, though, with some background on Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre.

If I won't link to it, I should at least show it.

If I won’t link to it, I should at least show it.

Looking at their website, it seems like they’re a company dedicated to screwing around with other people’s creations while relentlessly patting themselves on the back for doing so. Consider this blurb for “Miss Julie:” “August Strindberg’s masterpiece has been hovering in the wings at Belvoir for a while now, waiting for the right people: Leticia Cáceres and Brendan Cowell both know how to combine tender and brutal to devastating effect. Simon Stone joins them with a rewrite of the play in the fashion of his The Wild Duck.” Note the “his” there, which refers to Mr. Stone, and not either the late Mr. Strindberg or the late Mr. Ibsen. Pretty much every description of the plays they produce refers to an “adaptation” of this or “a contemporary version” of that. Not content to adhere to the intentions of the playwright, they’ve decided that their only responsibility is to themselves.

Mind you, I'm not saying this would be Ibsen's opinion of Stone, but ...

Mind you, I’m not saying this would be Ibsen’s opinion of Stone, but …

In 2012, Mr. Stone decided to produce Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” – or, at least, some of it. According to Terry Teachout’s report:

Not only did he cut the play’s epilogue, but he altered the manner in which Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist, meets his death. In the original play, Willy dies in a car crash that may or may not have been intentional; in Mr. Stone’s staging, he commits suicide by gassing himself. On top of that, Belvoir neglected to inform ICM Partners, the agency that represents Mr. Miller’s estate and licenses his plays for production around the world, that Mr. Stone was altering the script.

Since rewriting dead playwrights seems to be Stone’s stock in trade, I can see why he didn’t feel the author’s representatives were worth notifying. I’m actually surprised he was did something as boring, traditional, and mundane as casting a male actor as Willy. They’re currently doing “Hedda Gabler” (a play that’s dismal enough) with a male actor playing Hedda. Because A) it’s supposed to make a statement about gender roles and B) apparently there aren’t any women in Sydney who are capable of playing the part.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Hedda Gabler, ladies and gents.

Mr. Stone’s defense of his bastardized presentation of Miller’s play was “”Until recently we accepted the Broadway or West End way of treating their classics, now we are bringing to them an Australian sensibility and technique. The world is responding.” Since the “Australian sensibility and technique” seems to involve violating copyright and ignoring a writer’s intentions, it’s no wonder the world is “responding” – mainly by refusing him the rights to do anything. A look at their current season shows rewrites of “Oedipus” (two of them!), “The Inspector General” (“inspired by Nikolai Gogol” – who only wrote the goddamn thing), “Nora,” (“after ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen”), “A Christmas Carol” (“after Charles Dickens”) and “Cinderella.” They’re also doing “The Glass Menagerie,” but I’d imagine the rights-holders are keeping a close watch on them.

This kind of conduct goes to the heart of how the Facebook discussion about the Mamet case went. The opinions ranged from the conviction that the writer owns his or her words and has every right to determine how they’re presented to an audience, to a belief that since plays are more intangible things than physical, they should the property of any director or actor who wanted to do anything they wanted with them. One poster tried to make his case by saying that if I bought a shirt, he was free to do whatever he wanted with it: cut off the sleeves, dye it, or whatever. Never mind that he’s not buying that particular shirt; he’s borrowing it from someone who probably won’t appreciate the alterations.

"Here's your shirt back -- or at least all the pieces."

“Here’s your shirt back — or at least all the pieces.”

We Get Letters:

Eric L. writes: “How do you think this incident compares to the Beckett’s objection and legal action against Akalaitis’s production of Endgame?”

Thanks for asking, Eric. As expected, though, I’ve reached my weekly limit and will return to this topic next time

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: The Adding Machine

Last week Claire talked about all the shows happening on a particular day in September. This week she’s going to make wild assumptions based on guesses, wishful thinking, and poor research.

When we say there are over fifty shows playing on a given night (my rough count is 54), what does that mean people wise?

This shouldn't be too complicated...right?

This shouldn’t be too complicated…right?

I estimate that on the night of September 19th there are over 450 actors performing in the Bay Area. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are as many shows in rehearsal as there are in performance. Continuing that argument, let’s say there are at least as many actors in rehearsal as there are performing. Yes, I understand that many actors might be in rehearsal and in performance at the same time. I also get that shows like Beach Blanket Babylon and Foodies! The Musical aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and those performers aren’t necessarily going anywhere either. So, we can put an estimate on over 1000 actors working (or enjoying a well earned night off) on the night of September 19th.

The estimates above are based on published cast lists and play descriptions. It’s a rough estimation, but the number is close. A harder estimation to make is the numbers of directors, writers, artisans, designers, crew members, house staff, and administrators are also being employed on a single evening. Some of the directors, and many of the designers, double up on shows. Some theatre companies need a very large crew of ushers to handle the large numbers of audience. Some theatre companies are able to work with a single stage manager who also acts as box office manager because there is no one else to do it. We’ll imagine, for this exercise, that it averages out to five on site crew members for each performance that evening. That’s 270 people working shows that night. Yes. I agree. I also think that number is too small. But let’s keep going. If we say that there are as many shows in rehearsal as performing then we’ll also say that there are an average of three crew working each of those rehearsals (I’m counting the directors in this number). So that’s 162. So, that’s 432 total.

1432 actors, directors, artisans, crew, administrators and assorted ner-do-wells working on the evening of the 19th.

But Claire, you say, you just made up all those numbers. Correct, smarty-pants-math-person. But, let’s keep playing pretend for now because I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts my number is off because it is too low.

Let me say that again. 1432 is a low end, non-scientific estimate of how many theatre artists are actively engaged in their art on the night of September 19th.

1,432 artists.

If Bay Area Theatre were a single employer, then they would be almost on par with Twitter, who employes 1,500 people in San Francisco. Twitter is, by the way, the third largest tech employer in San Francisco.

So that’s something to make you feel good. Sure, it’s a little superficial , but even so it’s the kind tag line that could get you through the day if you need to feel good about your life choices.

Next time we’ll go back to that 432 number and see how many of those roles are actually available to Bay Area actors, take wild guesses on who in that number is getting paid, and check out hot button topics like gender and ethnic parity.

Everything Is Already Something Week 40: Sorry I Didn’t Go To College Pt. 2

Allison Page, going back to school. Sort of.

Sorry guys, I still haven’t gone to college.

A little over a year ago I used this blog as a platform to tell the story of my first 4 1/2 years in San Francisco, being poor – really, really poor – and trying to find work that paid enough to feed myself and pursue my artistic life. That was harder than it could have been because, uh…I didn’t go to college. As you may have figured out.

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A lot has happened since I wrote it and I’ve been meaning to write an update. Now here we are, in August 2014. ’Tis the season for people to go back to school, so it seems only fitting to talk about it now. Lack of education has also been rearing its ugly head lately. January 31st I was laid off from the cushy job I enjoyed for two fleeting years and which pulled me out of poverty and sleeping on floors. It wasn’t just me who lost a job. 314 or so other people were laid off the same day I was. It was a strange day to say the least. Aware that some people seemed to go into conference rooms with a manager and then immediately exit, looking like they had just had lobotomies, meant that whatever happened in that conference room wasn’t something I wanted to happen to me. I tried not to make eye contact with the manager in hopes that if I were about to be laid off/get a lobotomy and he didn’t look me in the eye, he would forget and I’d get to stay there/keep my brain function. When I got an overly gentle tap on the shoulder, I knew what was going to happen. I was losing my job. No one wants to lose their job, not so much because that job won’t be theirs anymore, but because that means now you have to go find another one, and you remember how much work it was to get this one.

They pretty much looked just like that.

They pretty much looked just like that.

I’m sure everyone was feeling a little overwhelmed and worried when they were given the news. The whole building felt tense. The people being laid off were shocked and sad, and the ones not being laid off were some combination of not being sure they wouldn’t still get the ax by the end of the day, and trying not to look happy that they were spared because that would make the sad people hate them. I couldn’t help but feel a little different. The truth is that most, if not all, of the other people who got laid off, will probably end up with the same position at a similar company. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had new jobs waiting. Job poachers wait outside that building when news of a layoff starts to spread. They have business cards and yell out “ARE YOU AN ENGINEER? WE NEED ENGINEERS!” So many people leave with their belongings and a possibility of future employment at the same time. These jobs are what they do for a living – the thing they know the most about. The thing for which they went to college and are passionate about. But I got my job there (game writer/narrative designer – basically the person who creates the fiction of a video game) based on a number of lucky things coming together. I have no educational background in that, or really anything else apart from the time I spent in cosmetology school in my home town’s technical college, from which I didn’t graduate. Otherwise I’ve just been acting and writing my entire life without proof that someone showed me how to do it. And you better believe none of the job poachers were outside the building shouting “ARE YOU AN OUT OF WORK WRITER AND FORMER HAIRSTYLIST WITH NO EDUCATION AND A COMEDY AND THEATER BACKGROUND? WE NEED THOSE.”

All I could think was “Well, Allison, say goodbye to making any money. You lived on easy street for two years. That’s amazing. Now say farewell to the sweet life and say welcome back to the hustling days of yore, because you’ll never have it this good again.” In my mind I went from rags to really, really nice rags back to rags again. And I had all these plans for the future. I was going to produce my own full length play. I had intended to just save up and pay for it. Now I would have to think about a fundraising campaign during a time when I wasn’t sure how I’d be making regular money for my own expenses. The good news is, I got a good severance package. Good enough that I decided to not pursue a job immediately and instead devote my days to writing. Doesn’t that sound magical? I thought so.

But I couldn’t write shit.

Most days I stared at my laptop in dismay and worried about the future. This was not helped by everyone always asking “What are you going to do in the future?!” (Thanks, EVERYONE IN MY ENTIRE FAMILY) After a few months of sitting on my couch eating sad sandwiches, or drinking an entire pitcher of sangrias in the union square sun, something weird and unexpected happened. I became Co-Creative Director of a theater company. I threw myself into it head first. It’s been crazy, exhilarating, awesome, and only slightly complicated. “Now,” I thought, “It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a degree. I already have the job!” Well…yes and no. The Managing Director, while working on funding strategies sends me a text:

He: “Hey, where is your undergrad degree from?”
Me: “I don’t have one.”
He: “HA! Ok. Just trying to make us all sound more qualified for this grant.”

Ah-HA! It’s come back around. Now it may be a granting issue? Even though the company has been around for 18 years and in the few months the other Co-Creative Director and I have been in charge we’ve gotten more done than most people would think could happen in a year? What if we didn’t receive some kind of funding because of my lack of a degree? Ohhhh that would be a bad day. I’d have to pour a pitcher of margaritas down my gullet just to swallow the shame pill. I haven’t heard more about this since he brought it up, so I’m going to take the pleasant road and assume he didn’t send the grant and a receive a response that just said “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU’RE SO DUMB, GO TO THE DUMB STORE, WHERE YOU’LL FIND LOTS OF CLONES OF YOURSELF HAHAHA.”

The theater community in general is pretty chock full of people with fancy educational backgrounds. And it’s the same with the specific group of people with whom I most frequently associate and collaborate. I’m the quaint loose cannon from the middle of nowhere who has never used Viewpoints and hasn’t read The Cherry Orchard. It’s actually amazing to me sometimes that my friends in the arts are…my friends in the arts. They actually listen to me sometimes, which in light of the stuff I’ve never studied or cared about, is kind of crazy. (Cut to next week when they’ve all read this and decide “Yeah, why do we listen to her anyway?”)

I’ve also managed to land myself a steady stream of freelance writing gigs. Mostly working on scripts for web commercials. Hey, it keeps me from getting evicted.

Actually, that’s my biggest piece of advice to both college students and life students. Not that I’m prone to giving advice. Anyway: don’t beat yourself up for making a living. I’m still just as dedicated to my artistic pursuits as I’ve ever been (possibly more so) and I don’t feel bad about using my skills to pay the bills. It doesn’t make me a hack or a sellout – not in my eyes, anyway, but feel free to call me either of those if it makes you feel good. I think It just makes me an adult who knows that to be able to nail my artistic endeavors, I gotta eat lunch. Many of the artists (theatrical and otherwise) I respect the most, have other jobs to keep them afloat in this workaday world. On the upside I think it gives us a broader view of life.

I know, I hate myself for using this picture too.

I know, I hate myself for using this picture too.

I could sit at home and torture myself into writing all day, or I could go out into the world and have experiences worth writing about. Even if that means I’m writing jokes about the effectiveness of a certain kind of Bleach®.

So, how do I feel about not going to college, a year later? I feel pretty good. I feel just like people who did go to college in that I can’t predict the future. But I feel prepared to deal with whatever that future holds. Even if it means I end up selling shoes or sweeping chimneys…hey, are chimney sweeps still a thing? Maybe they bring that up at Harvard. Damn.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/co-creative director in San Francisco and you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

The Five: Gone Fishing

Anthony R. Miller is on vacation in Yellowstone National Park, he will return
with part 2 of his 2014/2015 Season Preview on 9/8/14.

Till then, enjoy this photo and quote.

photo-5 copy

“All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction, which thou canst
not see; All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is,
is right”-Alexander Pope.

Anthony R. Miller is usually a writer, director, producer and that guy who won’t
stop calling you about your theatre subscription. But this week, he is a rugged
outdoorsman. (not really) His show, Terror-Rama, opens in October.
ARM

Theater Around The Bay: Get Ready To Fringe

Stuart Bousel, who moonlights once a year as the San Francisco Fringe Hospitality Coordinator, gives us a sneak peak at this year’s Fringe Festival.

On Saturday, following a picnic with former Theater Pub AD Julia Heitner (who was in town for the weekend) I headed over to the EXIT Theatre for the first event of this year’s Fringe Festival.

In case you don’t know anything about the Fringe or fringe festivals in general (which seems unlikely, if you read this blog), the San Francisco Fringe Festival is the second oldest/longest running fringe festival in the United States (23 years), and is a variation on the world’s most famous fringe festival, which was started in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is widely considered the largest annual arts event on the planet. Though the term fringe theater has come to mean “non-mainstream”, at a good fringe festival you’ll find almost everything represented, from classical works to performance art, to music acts and dance troupes, to world premieres of new plays and musicals. Over the years a number of shows we now think of as mainstream actually had their premieres at a fringe festival, and the number of actors, performers, artists, writers, directors, dancers, musicians, acrobats, clowns, magicians and whatever-else-you-can-think-of who have passed through a fringe festival somewhere, one way or another, is incalculable. I myself performed in a fringe play during my first year in San Francisco- a little musical about a gay baseball player called “The Seventh Game of the World Series” by poet (and avid baseball fan) David Hadbawnik.

One of the best (and worst, depending on your perspective) things about the SF Fringe is that EXIT Theatre artistic director Christina Augello has kept the festival un-curated, and every year would-be participants must submit applications which are then thrown into a hat. At the annual Fringe Lottery, projects are pulled from the hat randomly before a live audience, and once the 35 available slots of the festival are filled the program is set. The beauty of this is an annual theater festival with local, national and international participants, that is entirely uncensored and devoid of theater politics. The downside is that quality control is virtually nonexistent. Then again, since quality really is in the eye of the beholder, of all the evils a festival might have, this one strikes me as the least, and considering all the other ways the SF Fringe sets the bar for fringe festivals (for instance, performers keep all of their box office), I’ve come to not only accept but embrace the less palatable aspects of the theater roulette that is seeing shows at the Fringe. As an environment intended for experimentation and risk, whatever that means to the performer whose work you are seeing, there is bound to be some mistakes, half-baked ideas, or just work that is still finding its way or its audience. That said, sometimes seeing a terrible show at the fringe is also like scoring a jackpot, as every year there is usually at least one show so bad it passes into legend. Depending on who you ask, the show I was in back in 2003 was one of those shows. Last year there were two, and we’re still talking about them.

On Saturday, festival staff, volunteers, performers and long-time patrons/fans assembled at the EXIT for free pizza and a sneak peak of 7 shows that will be playing at this year’s Fringe. I have to say, over all, it looks like there’s some really strong work this year, and nothing seems, at first glance, especially disastrous. Susan Fairbrook over at Play by Play has already done an excellent survey of what’s on the boards this year (including a shout-out to work by former Theater Pub Founding AD Bennett Fisher), but I figured as the Hospitality Coordinator for the Fringe (read: guy running the craft-services lounge/guest services desk) and a long-time Fringe audience member and staffer, I’d pass on my recommendations based on the preview, and also my ever-sharpening ability to call ahead of time what’s going to be especially good (which pales in comparison to the mad skilz of Fringe Tech Director Amanda Ortmayer).

Mandarin Orange by Kate Robards, directed by Jill Vice
There are a lot of one-woman shows at the Fringe (last year I saw four of them and that wasn’t even half) and so it struck me as appropriate to begin there, and this was actually the first preview of the evening as well. Kate Robards’ piece is a memoir of her life as an ex-pat in Shanghai, China and the contrast between that and growing up in small-town Texas, USA. As a guy from the semi-rural portion of Tucson, Arizona, I found Robards’s choice to set the scene with a piece of ridiculous local news (“Man’s Penis Lodged In Vacuum Cleaner!”) pretty spot on, but things got much more interesting during her portrayal of the circle of female ex-pats who take her under their wing upon her arrival in Shanghai. With each woman, Robards demonstrated a keen eye for detail, both in the material and the physicalization/vocalization of who these women were and what had brought them, and kept them, in China. Playing both sides of a conversation is always hard to pull off, and is the Achilles heel of most solo shows, but Robards jumped feet first into a group discussion and her ability to move back and forth between all five participants was expert and elegant. The subject matter of the show doesn’t seem to be particularly new, but Kate’s spin on it certainly seems fresh, and with China becoming more and more of an international presence once again I suspect it will spark some interesting conversations.

My Body Love Story by Dominika Bednarska
Speaking of one-woman shows- here’s another. Dominika Bednarska is a queer disabled femme whose press release boasts “rhinestones, storytelling, dancing and many laughs” but if the snippet on Saturday, double entendre of the title, and remark in the press release about “the body and self trying to get along” aren’t just red herrings, I suspect it will mostly be a show about disabled queer youth trying to get laid. Similar to Kate Robard’s show in that it’s based on the author’s experiences, Bednarska’s approach (from what I saw) seems to be less theatrical and more discursive, with her telling the stories rather than impersonating the participants- something that works beautifully because Bednarska is a delightful storyteller, laughing along with her own absurdities and daring you not to laugh with her. Simultaneously coy and bold in revealing the details of her sex life, she challenges not only conventional ideas about female storytellers and their stories, but conventional ideas about disabled youth, presenting them as horny, insecure, awkward, and basically ordinary young people pre-occupied with the usual woes of who will love me/want me/fuck me when I’m such a mess of problems/fears/on-going inner dialogues. To say it was refreshing doesn’t do it justice; of all the pieces presented on Saturday, it was the one I found most inspiring.

Genie And Audrey’s Dream Show! by Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola
Keeping with the female performer theme but moving into the two-hander fusion show, this circus comedy about two friends is a return from last year and won the Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Award in 2013 for “Best Chemistry.” You can read all about that here, and if that doesn’t convince you to see the show this year, I don’t know what will (except maybe this delightful account of how the show came together). For those of you who have already seen the show, it’s been touring around the country and growing and shifting, so seeing it again should be a whole new experience in and of itself as Audrey and Genie’s victory lap will no doubt be older, wiser, and better. Even if it’s exactly the same, though, there’s no other show like it, so you won’t want to miss it and I would definitely recommend getting tickets ahead of time.

An Awkward Sensation by Kurt Bodden and Allison Daniel
Rounding out my recommends is another two hander that combines elements from many different styles of performance. Kurt Bodden also won a SEBATA last year (for “Best Solo Show”) but that is the least of the accolades that have been deservedly showered on him over the years. Performance partner Allison Daniel is held in equitably high esteem for her puppetry skills, but like Genie and Audrey, what makes this show work is the chemistry between them. Also gifted with impeccable timing, their five minutes on Saturday was perhaps the most astonishing to watch as it veered from comedy (Allison as a crime-fighting cat easily distracted by Kurt’s laser pointer) to pathos (Allison turning a coat and hat into a strangely sympathetic puppet that silently asks to be carried by Kurt) and contained within that stretch a wealth of other emotions. Somewhere between sketch and performance art, I’m probably most intrigued by this piece, both by what other surprises it might contain and in what directions these two obviously adept performers would and could go. Plus that puppet bit will make my boyfriend cry, and that’s enough of a reason to go see anything.

Speaking of Cody Rishell, if you didn’t have enough reasons to come down to the Fringe this year, the Green Room (where I and my amazing band of volunteers will be dispensing snacks and information) will once again have his art on display. This year it will be a retrospective on Clyde The Cyclops, who just had his first birthday. Never will those walls have been cuter, so how can you miss out on that?

Stuart Bousel is one of the Founding Artistic Directors of the San Francisco Theater Pub and editor-in-chief of this blog. You can find out more about him at www.horrorunspeakable.com.