Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Revolutions Don’t Start in Gilded Halls

Claire Rice can hear the people sing.

El Teatro de la Esperansa occupied a small corner of the Red Stone Building on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission. The Redstone is full of non-profit organizations that fall around every end of the spectrum; from social change organizations to arts organizations to support groups to animal welfare. There is also a wonderful empanada place on the ground level. The Red Stone also housed Theatre Rhinoceros and Luna Sea Theatre, both of which lay follow now.

I spent more than six years working in El Teatro de la Esperansa.

It was moldy. It was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It’s walls were too thin, the music from the art gallery below was too loud, and it’s equipment was old and grumpy. The booth was like a tree house that had to be climbed into through a small hole. Everything smelled weird. The risers were so worn they groaned in pain. There were never enough lights. The speakers were blown. The doorways were too short for tall people and too narrow for wheel chairs. The building owner’s son would throw illegal midnight raves in the space next door. Squatters complained that the rehearsals were too loud. The landlord was never available. And the bathrooms were definitely haunted.

I had some of the best times of my life in that building.

The little black box got its name from the company that built it. El Teatro de la Esperansa was founded in part by Roderigo Duarte Clark in LA and then moved up to San Francisco. Roderigo was a leader in Chicano theatre. El Teatro de la Esperansa produced bilingual touring shows and fostered playwrights like Josefina Lopez, Roy Conboy and Guillermo Reyes. You can read more about Roderigo here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977239022 and here: http://articles.latimes.com/1993-10-12/entertainment/ca-45067_1_el-teatro-campesino

Roy Conboy, a faculty member in the SF State Creative Writing Program, brought Greenhouse to that little theatre in the Mission. Greenhouse gives graduate students at SF State an opportunity to work with professional directors and actors to present new plays in reading. It was through this program I saw the first readings of plays by Karen Macklin, Chris Chen, Elizabeth Gjelten, Peter Sinn Natchtrieb, and Elizabeth Creely (among many others). I worked with Roy Conboy to produce several of his plays there. After I graduated, Gabrielle Gomez and I rented the theatre and produced three plays (by Gabrielle Gomez, Megan O’Patry and myself) as well as a reading series. I saw plays evolve there and find their feet. I saw writers fail, struggle and get back up and work again. I saw writers find their voices.

It’s in places like this where it all begins. Ugly, dangerous places. These dark corners of the world are romantic in the rear view, even if they feel frustratingly small and ignored at the time. But there is so much freedom in places where the rent is cheap and no one is really watching what you are doing. In these dark corners you are beholden to no one but yourself. Any audience you get is a gift, because they had to work so hard to get to your out of the way and mean little home. You do things that are crazy because there isn’t anyone to tell you that you can’t or you shouldn’t. And it doesn’t always work. So often it fails. And it fails like a supernova because you learn by doing. Slowly. Painfully. Beautifully.

These dark corners of the world incubate.

And it is so wonderful.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. Every company in that theatre will have a weird name. They’ll fuck and fight and die out. They’ll sing and celebrate and move out. They’ll laugh and cringe and dance out. They’ll grind and shake and rock out. They’ll come and go as they age and change and improve.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. A small, poorly funded, off the beaten track theatre. Places where you can be the first to see something. That “something” is the next thing. The thing that will in ten, twenty or thirty years be at Berkeley Rep, Steppenwolf, or The Public. The thing that will change the world. I don’t know what it will be. It’s an adventure. It’s a failure. It’s a triumph. It is mediocre. It is sloppy. It is lazy. It is powerful. It is life affirming. It is a good night out. It is a bad date night. It is unsterilized, it still has all its sexual organs, it might have a splash zone, it will be full of naked men and it will monologue too much. It will have an out of tune piano that will play the most beautiful song you’ll never hear again. It will have a puppet that offends you so much you tell your grandchildren about it. It will have Shakespeare, Shaw, Shepard and every other “S” playwright. It will have no name, no name, no name and you’ll still love it. You’ll be the only person in the house and you’ll be standing in the back for three hours and loving it. You’ll be afraid to use the bathroom and you’re bike will get stolen. You’ll fall in love with the lead actress and you’ll party with the stage manager. You’ll grin like a mad man and cry like a motherless child. It’ll be your classroom and your torture chamber. It is a story you’ll tell your friends. It’s the thing you always wanted to do and now you’re doing it. You found it. It’s yours. It’s your special place.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this.

Mojo Theatre currently resides in this space. You can check them out on their website at http://www.mojotheatre.com/.

If you know a theatre like this, where ever it may be, please let us all know in the comments below.

Everything is Already Something Week 31: How to Make Actors Never Want to Work With You Again

Allison Page has some sage advice for producers, directors, and pretty much everyone else out there making theater. Of course, I may have to write one now called, “Actors: Why You Should Never Be Cast Again.”

ATTENTION: This is a public service announcement. If you do any of the following things, it may inspire actors not to work with your theatre company again in the future. Seriously. Actors may be meat puppets, but the USDA has standards, and so do we.

1) NOT CONTACTING THE ACTORS WHO WEREN’T CAST: Oh, come on. It’s 2014. Take the 5 minutes and email the actors who gave time to your project before the project even started, and tell the miserable bastards that you’re not using them. This coming from someone who usually forgets about whatever the project was until she hears about it again. Recently, that was not the case. There were very few people at the callback and I had the distinct impression that I was seriously being considered for more than one role. Naturally, I waited around to find out about it. *Crickets* *Crickets* and then they announced the cast online without ever telling the actors who weren’t cast about it. NO. DO NOT DO THIS. This isn’t your high school drama department. You aren’t pinning a list up on the wall so Susie Shithead can see if she got the coveted role of Chorus 2. Remember that actors are trying to plan their schedules just like you are – they want to know if they should take something else that comes along or be in your awesome show.

2) NOT CLEANING THE COSTUMES: Ew, stop it. It’s not the job of the actors to clean their costumes. It just isn’t. Especially if you have a costumer. If the costumer says “Um, I don’t clean costumes.” Then you need to take care of that by either A) Being sure that the costumer knows that IS part of their job, if it is or B) Making other arrangements or C) Being up front with the actors and saying that they will have to take care of their own costumes from the beginning. I don’t love this for several reasons (the actors might not know how to properly care for their particular costume and/or the fabrics it’s made of, they might be idiots and forget a costume item at home, etc.) but if no one else is going to be cleaning them, everyone should know that in the beginning, not after weeks of having a filthy costume and asking “WHYYYYY?” to everyone and getting no answer because you don’t feel like addressing it.

3) LETTING THE TECH SIDE GET AWAY WITH MURDER: You can appear to be a great producer, but if your stage manager or lighting or sound tech or costume person is a total douchebag – it’s going to reflect poorly on you. And what’s going to be waaaaayyyyy worse is if you don’t do a damn thing about it. If you hear about someone either being bad at their job or treating other people – the people who are trying to make your damn show come together – like shit, you need to intervene. Lighting tech who passes out in the booth in the middle of the show so the lights don’t come up? HI, SAY SOMETHING.

You're cute and everything, but could you take a sec to get out of bed and bring the lights up? I've been giving my monologue in total darkness and I tripped on the fake guillotine center stage. Thx.

You’re cute and everything, but could you take a sec to get out of bed and bring the lights up? I’ve been giving my monologue in total darkness and I tripped on the fake guillotine center stage. Thx.

Costumer groping the actors? STOP IT. More than anything – just pay attention. And if someone comes to you with a real problem (not a “my M&Ms are all supposed to be blue” problem) – listen and act if necessary. Don’t avoid the problem, it won’t go away. And don’t punish the people who’ve raised the issue in the first place. That’s completely ridiculous. If you show that you don’t care enough to do anything about the issues with your staff, that’s not going to look good to anybody. And actors talk.

4) DISAPPEARING: No cast is an island. Say your show is up and running – good for you! Now say it’s even been extended – WOW, THAT’S SO GOOD! Now say that because it’s been extended, it’s been running for weeks and weeks and weeks and no representative of your company has checked in with the cast, stage manager, or anybody. If we’re out there breaking our butts X amount of times per week, and not making much money to do it, it would be nice if someone checked to see if we’re still alive. Or if we had to tape our costumes back together backstage. Or if there’s something in the show that stopped working.

Okay, so this cast in on an island, but even they weren't alone because the smoke monster was hanging out, too.

Okay, so this cast in on an island, but even they weren’t alone because the smoke monster was hanging out, too.

These things happen all the time and a company’s total absence from their show after opening allows standards to fall rapidly in all kinds of areas. Maybe on Broadway this isn’t such an issue, but when you’re gettin’ $150 for several weeks of performances…well, you know. Stuff can happen. Just check in, that’s all. We’re doing this show at your company, maybe remind us of that by existing occasionally after the second week’s run. Doesn’t have to be every night (and probably shouldn’t) but some feeling that we’re not floating out to sea, abandoned, would be nice. Being able to call you like you’re a hotline isn’t as good as you just showing up once in a while.

5) FIGHTING IN FRONT OF THE CAST: Um, we’re right here. We can hear you. And see you. Because we’re in the room. Take it outside, or wait until after rehearsal. This also applies to aggressively second-guessing the director’s direction. It’s really uncomfortable if the producer/artistic director/whatever comes in, watches a scene, and turns to the director – in full view of everyone – and says “Why are you making them do that? That is stupid. This is all wrong.” over and over again while the director looks like a sad puppy and the producer proceeds to re-block and change every scene while the director watches, helplessly. If you’re choosing a director, hopefully it’s someone you trust. Hopefully it’s someone you actually want to direct your show. If changes need to be made because you don’t think something is working, talk to the director about it before shoe-horning the show they’ve been working on by sauntering in and pointing your finger for three hours only to disappear for two weeks, come back and do the same thing. Embarrassing the actors’ leader in front of them isn’t exactly going to solidify their confidence in him/her/zir is it? Working together to fix issues – YES. Parading your authority around – NO.

Actually, this looks intriguing. Go ahead and fight like this. I'll watch.

Actually, this looks intriguing. Go ahead and fight like this. I’ll watch.

6) SAYING WEIRD STUFF ABOUT ACTORS’ BODIES: “You’re too flat-chested! This bigger-chested person is totally going to upstage you because you can’t fill out your costume the same way! HAHAHA!” – (an actual thing I’ve heard said) NOOOO WE DON’T SAY THIS. Just say you want a different costume. Say that one’s not working. That’s cool, costumes don’t work all the time. Don’t make it weird. You don’t know how many times that person has heard something like that before. Just say things you would say to a fellow human being. Shouldn’t be too hard. The actor didn’t do anything wrong by putting the costume on. Just tell the costumer to get a different one and explain what you want out of it.

7) REEEAAAALLY LONG AUDITIONS: Dude. Just split it up into two days. There are 147 of us in the lobby. That’s too many. We’ve been here for 3 hours and haven’t read anything. You’re only stressing yourself out by constantly feeling rushed and staring out at a sea of bored/expectant faces. Split it up and ensure that you’ll have the time to consider everyone you’re seeing, and that the actors can concentrate on trying to show you what they’ve got, instead of worrying that someone stole their purse in the lobby or feeling like they have no reason to be there. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, yo.

Listen, I know a lot of these sound like “Oh, God, OBVIOUSLY.” – actually, I hope they all sound that way. They shouldn’t be surprising. But, as always, I wouldn’t have to bring it up if it hadn’t happened. A LOT. These are all very real things. I love working in independent theatre. I really do. But because we’re small/mighty instead of big/mighty we have to work a little harder, with a smaller staff to make things happen. This shouldn’t mean that you cut corners on being a human. Again – PAY ATTENTION. I mean, feel free to not take any of these things seriously. What do I care? But just know that actors talk to each other all the time. We know if your company is a shitshow of disorganization and misplaced priorities and though you may think actors are a dime a dozen, there might be one dime you want who doesn’t want to work with you when you want them.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/person in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Theater Around The Bay: Another Pint, Please

Christian Simonsen interviews local producer Michael Laird about turning a second Pint Sized Play script into a film.

One of the most enthusiastic audience members of Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays Festival IV was Michael Laird. Luckily for me, he also happened to be an aspiring independent filmmaker who works through the Scary Cow film collective. Michael chose my Pint Sized script, “Multitasking”, as his first short film project as an independent producer. Not one to remain idle, Michael immediately set his sights on another script from the same festival: the clever and poignant “Mark +/-” by Daniel Ng (also recently remounted by original director Adam Sussman at the 2014 Titan Award Directors’ Showcase).

So, who is this Michael Laird guy?

ML: A regular guy from Nor Cal who always had creative thoughts but no outlet. Went to UC Santa Barbara to study physics, but ended up with a history degree – which I still read for fun (history, I mean.)

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

ML: I got tired of thinking great comedy lines and skits but doing nothing about them, or watching movies and thinking they could be more creative. Several years ago I heard about Scary Cow, where people make their own films; last year I finally decided it was time to do something, rather than just wishing that I did.

How does the Scary Cow film collective process work?

ML: Every four months they have a member’s meeting, where people who want to make a movie pitch their idea, to draw others into their group. Usually a movie takes twelve people, including a couple actors, but also someone who owns light equipment, knows how to run a camera, wiling to hold a boom microphone, and the most important – who will bring food?

The producer is the one who owns the film, pitches, recruits volunteers, juggle schedules, and rides the volunteers until there is a finished project. If the length is within 10 minutes, the film is then shown at the Castro Theater, where Scary Cow screens their results every four months.

What have you learned most from working as a crew member on other filmmakers’ productions?

ML: My first lesson – going up to Marin County one Friday evening, spent four hours, all for 20 seconds of finished product showing a scared women walking through an alley where several homeless stand around a fire. The lesson: making films takes a lot of time and patience.

The second lesson – you volunteer, give, help, be a friend, and then people are more willing to help you on your film.

Producers in both film and live theater are stuck with a lot of the unglamorous dirty work needed to bring a production to completion. What qualities do you think are most needed in that role?

ML: Organization and people skills. The producer is the one ultimately responsible for all the details – if a key actor doesn’t show up when everyone else is at the set, it isn’t the cameraman’s responsibility. Which means a lot of leadership skills, to bring out everyone’s best (since no one is getting paid).

You need to bring many different people with diverse talents together for a common goal. How would you describe your “management style”?

ML: I have to be a good listener and accept a lot of direction from those who have more skills. I don’t know as much about key lighting or camera angles as those who bought their own equipment and worked it for years. It would be different if I studied film in college and worked on a dozen films.

Most short films are based on original screenplays. What inspired you choose playwrights’ scripts from the local live theater community?

ML: In live theater you get an idea how the finished product looks and sounds-though film is different, since you get close ups and softer voices.

What drew you to Daniel Ng’s script, “Mark +/-“?

ML: I saw it live and almost fell off the chair laughing. But that wasn’t all – I immediately “boxed” the view, meaning I could see how to film it. Two actors around a table, one scene, no complicated locations or scenery. An easy shoot, compared to some that takes five days and renting three apartments for an extended story.

The script presented unique technical challenges, since the main character interacts with both past and future versions of himself. How did you overcome them?

ML: There were two possibilities. I first imagined “green screening” the main actor. You film him in front of a green screen, and then in editing you use a computer to paste his image over a café scene. That way you paste his image three times.

But on the day of the shoot, the cinematographer and director though it best to shoot him three times, with same unchanging background, then paste the images together in editing. That was easier for lighting and cinematographer, since not filming over an imagined background, but proved immensely more difficult for the actor – he had to repeat his words, hand movements, and timing exactly for all three shots of him sitting around the table.

So overall, was producing your second film easier or harder?

ML: The only harder part of a second film is I got over confident. My first film went so easy, I forgot that most films actually take longer to shoot and have more fires that need to be put out. We almost didn’t get the second film shooting finished, because it took longer than I expected.

What do you look for when you are hunting for a potential new “Michael Laird Production”?

ML: I still love the funny skit, Saturday Night Live style. I love funny dialogue rather than beautiful costumes or scenery. And something that isn’t a rehash of a dozen TV shows you already seen.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

ML: Editing my last film is taking longer than my first film. I am working on that, and also helping others on their films – which will come in handy when looking for volunteers for my Next Great Comedy.

Theater Around The Bay: It’s All In The Name

Guest blogger Fontana Butterfield shares how her improv troupe found the perfect name.

We were finishing our rehearsal and had 10 minutes to figure out a name for our improv troupe. Postcards needed to be made, our first show was already sold out. The clock was ticking. Many names had been thrown into the soup. Everything else but finding a name was going like gangbusters.

The three of us met at a rehearsal for an Armando Company show produced by the improv company Leela. Soon after our Armando show, Mariah sent an email to Claire and me saying she had this crazy fantasy where the three of us would quickly form a trio for the sole purpose of submitting to the all women comedy festival “All Jane, No Dick”. The name of the festival was so perfectly fucked up, we had to do it. We had four days to book space, rehearse together, gather an audience and tape a “show”. It was ballsy. Luckily we are also teaching artists with built in studio stages, random directing students with really good cameras and an audience of improv students.

It happened. We filmed a “show” and came up with a very trippy name on the spot based on audience suggestions. “Father’s Day Remix”. Yeah. It was one of those funny-when-we-said-it and then just plain weird on the tongue. We did not book “All Jane, No Dick” but we did create something that excited us to the core. I feel like I manifested this troupe in my little lady heart. Yes, I actually wrote it in my precious thoughts journal. I want a new troupe that’s small and mighty and is made up of members that are, I’m gonna say it, even better at this than me.

So there we were, in our rehearsal space, sitting in a tiny circle, throwing out names. The past week I had been consumed with names like “Lady Parts”, “3 Chicks Squared”. We even laughed our faces off for far too long and almost went with something like “Sister, Woman, Sister” (homage to The Kathy and Mo Show). And then Claire said it out loud. “Why does it have to have gender in the title?” Boom.

Why does it have to have gender in the title? We are three improvisers. Check. Then we broke it down. Why do we do this? What’s it all about? This is one of those moments in life where you remember everything with all your senses. The room, the sounds, the light, the position of Claire’s face, the posture of Mariah’s back all expectantly listening to Claire say what it is that turns her on most about this magical work. “It’s about being in this moment, it’s about the right now.” The Right Now. This is how we do it.

Find out more about The Right Now Improv Trio by checking out their website at http://therightnowimprovtrio.blogspot.com/. They are performing next at FemProv Fest ’14, headlining the opening show: http://www.femprovfest.com/

Higher Education: Meeting the Fear Barrier

Barbara Jwanouskos ponders when and why we push ourselves.

Interestingly enough, Howlround posted an article on two theater artists’ journey to create a new play about female boxers this week right as I am also working on a new play with a female martial artist as the protagonist. I found myself relating on many levels as they talked about what it was like to box, what stories from real life to bring into the rehearsal room, and how exactly the story should be told.

When Suli Holum (of Pig Iron Theatre Company) described her experience working with her boxing trainer and being ashamed of crying in front of him, I thought of the times in both training in martial arts and in working on a new play where the same thing has happened. Holum says:

I had to overcome my aversion—which manifested as a wave of nausea—at throwing a right hook to my trainer’s head. And finally I had to be willing to move towards risk, to lean into fear. To box is to be vulnerable, radically vulnerable—it’s an intimate agreement made between two people to push each other to their very limits. It reminds me of acting, until I get punched and then I remember the difference.

I’ve been writing and thinking a lot lately on the need to push yourself. When you spar with someone, there is no way that you cannot address the fear of getting hurt and also hurting someone. As Holum describes, it’s this weird contract you make with your partner that you will hurt one another physically in order to be ready to defend yourself if that ever is called upon. I absolutely can see how to people who don’t train in martial arts or fighting skills, the idea of this is completely masochistic and insane.

The truth is, I am not a violent person. In fact, I find it to be one of the most all-consuming upsetting things about the world we live in. And while I may have fun as I playfully spar with my trusted friends in kung fu classes, there is a difference between that and real violence. Because ultimately both a sparring session and a play are pretend. For the survivors of physical and emotional violence, I think is essential to acknowledge this important distinction because real violence is never agreed upon by both parties.

Like Holum, I find the connection between training to fight and in creating theater. When we put an event on the stage, just like when we square up with our training partners to spar, we have a contract with our audience and ultimately that is an implicit promise that they will get something out of sitting there for an hour or two. The audience trusts that this is going to happen (whether it does is another thing entirely). Everything in theater requires a kind of vulnerability that is so difficult to bear sometimes.

Artwork by Annie Yokom, part of the cast of "The Imaginary Opponent"

Artwork by Annie Yokom, part of the cast of “The Imaginary Opponent”

As I head into the last week of rehearsals for my thesis play, “The Imaginary Opponent”, I have to remember not to beat myself up for the times when my own fears have pierced through and caused me to express emotions in a way that I am not usually comfortable doing. This vulnerability of showing something that you’ve created, worked long hours on, and struggled time and time again to understand is why I think we need to be confident, but also humble as artists, as Ashley Cowan grappled with in her article for this week, “A Confidence Question”.

The humbleness, for me, comes from acknowledging that there is intense fear in putting an event on stage, because you never know what is going to happen and how people will react. The confidence goes back to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. To me, it’s recognizing that “this is something I’m afraid of and uncomfortable with” but still gently telling yourself that whatever happens, it will ultimately be okay. Good, bad, success, failure… it’s all relative. But at some point, it has to be done. A choice has to be made about whether you will continue forward or not – like an on/off switch.

In martial arts we train a fighting technique over and over so that once we spar we can address the attack from our partners. The repetition of it becomes routine. It becomes easier to stay relaxed and not freeze up once the attack comes, and then we learn that we can react quickly in the moment. It’s the repetition that builds up our confidence with squaring up against our training partners. We do the same thing in theater. We rehearse a play over and over again so that it becomes routine. Every move, look, word and feeling is mapped out. We bring in people to watch us during the process so that an audience feels routine. Everything we do helps us feel more comfortable and more confident for the actual performance.

For me, the repetition proves to me that it’s okay to be vulnerable because whatever I’m afraid of, I can handle. It absolutely is a privilege to get to that state and I am consistently impressed by the people around me who demonstrate this quality with fears and experiences much greater than mine. It’s inspiring that I too can meet my fear barrier and, yes, take a foot across.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Declaration of Independence

Marissa Skudlarek says “no thank you” to the gilded cage.

I don’t know about you, but ever since the Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon vs. FEC earlier this month, I’ve been getting about an email a day from liberal groups asking me to protest the ruling, which strikes down limitations on campaign donations and therefore, further opens our political process to the influence of super-wealthy donors.

Lately, I’ve also been reading article after article about the rise of income inequality and the increasing corporatization of all facets of our life. The prediction seems to be that we are entering a new Gilded Age, where life is easy for the privileged few but becomes increasingly miserable for average folks.

In the face of all this, an anti-corporate sentiment is starting to take root among liberal-leaning young people. There has always been an anti-corporate strain among leftists, but it used to seem like a scary, fringe movement (e.g. the anarchists smashing windows at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999). I am not a radical or an anarchist. I probably come off as a nice girl who likes to have nice things. But I would like those nice things to be produced and distributed equitably, and for there to be competition in the marketplace rather than corporate monopolies, and for the money I spend to go to small-business owners rather than corporate coffers. Laugh if you want to at the hipster subculture that fetishizes anything “artisanal” or “handcrafted,” but also acknowledge that buying from independent producers is, in a way, an act of political protest.

So what does this have to do with theater? Well, in this political climate, it strikes me that one of the best arguments we independent theater-makers have for our work is just that: we are independent. We talk a lot these days about how to distinguish theater from other entertainment options that are perhaps cheaper or more convenient. Such discussions often focus on the fact that theater is a live event rather than a recorded one, but I don’t know if this argument actually has much traction with audiences. It seems to me that a stronger argument would be that independent theater is not beholden to any corporate overlord; no marketing executives or focus groups influence the work we present; the money you give us goes directly to artists in your community.

This is not a plea for independent theater to present more plays with an overtly anti-corporate agenda. I do have a soft spot for ’30s-style agitprop, but one San Francisco Mime Troupe per city is enough. I tend to prefer plays about complex characters and situations, not plays that shout out their support for a particular political viewpoint. Instead, I am arguing that the mere fact of independent theater’s existence — the fact that we are making art outside of the corporate media who control so much of the conversation — should be used to our advantage.

Think of all of the slogans we could build around this marketing angle. “We tell the stories that The Man doesn’t want you to hear.” “100% locally grown and crafted.” “Netflix wants your personal data. We want your personal well-being.” “You hate Amazon, you hate Wal-Mart, you hate Monsanto — so why do you love Broadway?”

Again, you can laugh at the artisanal-hipster movement, but it’s increased the dignity and the visibility of such formerly humble trades as farming, bartending, and woodcarving. And you can joke that hipsters want to move us toward an idealized version of the 1890s, but this “new gilded age” talk suggests that all of the worst aspects of the 1890s are coming back. If we have to retrogress to the late nineteenth century, in other words, let’s not bring back the parts of it that have to do with racism, sexism, and inequality. Instead, bring on the small-batch distilleries, hand-knitted scarves, and widespread theatergoing.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She doesn’t really consider herself a hipster, but she did grow up in Portland, Oregon. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: A Confidence Question

Ashley confidently proclaims she has a confidence problem.

On Sunday evening, I celebrated a friend’s birthday over cake, carnitas and chitchat. After a full weekend of callbacks, cleaning, and Cowan craziness, it was delicious to sink my teeth into a distraction. Spoiler alert, the cake was chocolate and the conversation was with the very talented and lovely writer herself, Rachel Bublitz.

Eat Me.

Eat Me.

As I continued to cram my face with food, we started talking about her kids and their many skills, which are apparent even in their early ages. Rachel mentioned that her daughter possesses a notable confidence. So much so that a teacher actually suggested that she be signed up for an activity she wasn’t particularly good at, so that she could experience what it feels like to be challenged outside of her immediate skill-set.

I was so struck by that idea! Personally, I grew up (and grew into) a person with the opposite issue. If you hadn’t noticed, I have a real confidence problem in almost everything. And sometimes it feels like my whole life is just a bunch of humbling activities to remind me of current skills and weakness. (I invite you all to watch me in a Zumba class sometime!) Besides the fact that my main creative love is a passion rooted in rejection. The theater isn’t always the first place one goes to feel confident, after all.

When I was younger, I was incredibly shy and while I dabbled in a myriad of after school activities, it’s fair to say I was merely mediocre at most. And sadly, it took until my senior year of high school for me to finally get the courage to sign up for drama class. Granted that decision proved to be one of the biggest influences of my life but I certainly didn’t come upon it with an abundance of assertive grace. In this case, my teacher pulled me aside after class and said I had to follow this seemingly crazy dream; that I should feel confident in my talent and continue the pursuit. Truthfully, without him, I’m not sure if I would have gone on to study Theatre in college, move to New York and then inevitably chase it to San Francisco.

While thinking about my conversation with Rachel and her daughter’s teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder about the key to success. Does confidence ultimately breed triumph? Is it better to be overly self-assured and not acknowledge your weakness so that you always believe your work is strong? Or would you rather be insecure and forever question your potential but hope that you can actually make it better?

And on a slightly bigger scale, if we lack confidence (or lack the ability to fake it) how can our audiences trust in our work? But if we remain overly confident, do we risk not being truthful to the process, the product, and its perception?

I think, once again, the secret is finding the balance of being confident enough to keep moving and humble enough to acknowledge that the path isn’t always easy or clear. Sometimes it’s okay to stop for directions if it gets you to your destination.

Luckily my love for theater has given me strength when my self-assurance lagged behind. But, I’m still a victim to my own lack of confidence. Too often, I talk myself out of auditioning for things or submitting my writing to a new opportunity. But I am working on it. We are all a work in progress. And in the meantime, we still have each other and cake.

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!