It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: There Is No First Amendment in Pyongyang

Dave Sikula, keeping us topical and timely.

The subject du jour is censorship.

Readers with long memories (and enduring patience) may remember my series from the spring concerning my production of “The Farnsworth Invention” that inspired a group to protest the show.

Much to everyone’s relief – especially mine – I’m not going to rehash l’affaire Farnsworth. If you’re so inspired, click on my name up there, and you can relive the boycotting thrills.

What I am going to do is use it a springboard to talk about censorship in regards to this whole “Interview” thing. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, pick up a goddamn newspaper.

While no one would ever accuse entertainment executives of being brave or even acting for any but the most venal reasons, this thing manages to plumb new depths of cravenness. I’ve said before that I don’t believe actors do brave things in a performance. They do remarkable things – but “brave?” No. Soldiers are brave. Cops are brave (when they’re not shooting unarmed civilians). Firefighters? Brave. Actors who simulate emotions? Nope. They can be funny or moving or powerful or dull, but I don’t think they’re brave. That said, they’re Congressional Medal of Honor winners compared to the theatre owners and studio executives who shit the bed at the thought of unknown hackers making vague threats against unspecified audiences. I had no idea that North Korea had such a sophisticated intelligence and military structure that it could infiltrate – with weapons – each of the thousands of theatres that were scheduled to screen the movie. If they’re that effective, can’t we hire these guys to take on ISIS?

North Korea's finest

North Korea’s finest

Now, anyone who knows me knows I loathe Seth Rogen. Every one of his movies strikes me as the product of people who smoked way too much dope – to the point where they think a Seth Rogen movie is funny. While “The Interview” really didn’t need any help disappearing – from the reports of the few critics who saw it, it would have vanished on its own within a matter of weeks – the enforced prohibition of it is the first step on a very steep slope away from art or any kind of creative expression. What’s next? If a white-supremacist group threatens screenings of “Selma,” will that be banned? If anti-Semitic groups want to prevent a Holocaust movie from being shown, will the studios cave?

We’ve already seen numerous cases of productions of plays like “Corpus Christi” or “The Laramie Project” cancelled because certain groups – usually right-wing, usually Christianist, usually demanding that their own rights be obeyed by everyone while trampling everyone else’s – were offended by their content. And look at the recent protests over the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of John Adams and Alice Goodman’s “The Death of Klinghoffer.” How dare anyone even suggest that Palestinians have been oppressed by the Israelis? (For that matter, try doing a production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie;” a play that’s such a hot button that Wikipedia has a section of “Confirmed Performances.”) And I’ve mentioned more than once how a 1967 production of Michael McClure’s “The Beard” was raided nightly at my alma mater of Cal State Fullerton because of its on-stage simulation of a blow job.

In this continuum, the people who protested my production of “Farnsworth” were amateurs. Yes, they preferred we not do the show because they felt – with some justification – that the script doesn’t give credit to Philo Farnsworth and his invention of television. But their objections ended at picketing and the handing out of informational sheets; an activity we were happy to help them with.

For me, the idea that someone would want to protest and shut down a show is one of the compelling reasons to do it. I might disagree or despise a play, but I’ll damned if I’d call for it to be banned. (I might personally boycott it, but I wouldn’t prevent others from trying to see it.)

It’s like in my bookselling days. Anyone here remember “The Satanic Verses?” (Since this happened more than five minutes ago, I’ll explain it.) Back in 1988, Salman Rushdie wrote the book, and certain Islamic fundamentalists were so offended by the mere idea of it that they threatened Rushdie with death. The American publisher grew terrified at the prospect of issuing it and cancelled it. Of course, that just made everyone want to own it (much as they want to see “The Interview” now). Eventually, an anonymous consortium of publishers put the book out. It was scheduled, and my bookstore – like probably every bookstore (this is way pre-Amazon, remember) – had dozens of orders for it. When it finally came out, I spent many days calling people to tell them it was in and available for purchase. One call was to woman with an Arabic-sounding name. I told the deep-voiced man with a middle eastern accent who answered the phone that the copy of “The Satanic Verses” she’d ordered was in. There was a pause, then an ominous “Oh, she did … ?” I have no idea if she ever came in to get it. But is that what we’ve come to, though? An anonymous voice sounds mildly threatening, and we’re supposed to cower under the bed? Fuck that noise.

This story'll kill ya.

This story’ll kill ya.

For the last word, I surprisingly turn to the E! Network. In their report on George Clooney’s reaction to the boycott, they had this to say:

“The A-list actor … explains why the studio opted to scrap the Seth Rogen and James Franco flick while also discussing the lack of support from others in industry and urging everyone to see the bigger picture at hand—which is, mainly, that we’re now allowing North Korea to dictate what we watch.

“‘Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it. Forget the hacking part of it,’ Clooney says.

“’You have someone threaten to blow up buildings and all of a sudden, everybody has to bow down. Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared. They pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said, if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.’

I know I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot see, read, or perform. Neither should you. And if Dear Leader doesn’t like it, the little fat toad can climb a stepladder and bite me.

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – The End is the Beginning is The End

“My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
‘Tis given with welcome; to feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.”
– Lady MacBeth, MacBeth Act III Sc. 4, William Shakespeare

For all of us who have been there, it’s no surprise that Stuart’s apartment is often referred to as “The White Tower”. I honestly can’t recall what color the exterior really is, but I do know how exhausting it is to hike up those stone steps from one street to another, followed by another two flights of steps once you get inside – all for the sake of looking out over his balcony at one of the most enviable views of the San Francisco skyline without riding in a helicopter. Of course it’s The White Tower. What else would we expect from a self-proclaimed “Tolkien-nerd” who produces a festival based around ancient Greek mythology?

There’s a special something in the air for the first writers meeting of the annual SF Olympians Festival. If you’ve worked in the previous year’s festival, you’ve (hopefully) had time to decompress from that madness and have replaced your anxiety with excitement for the new fest, which is a good whole year away. If you’re new to the game, you probably have a walking-on-eggshells feeling of not wanting to look ridiculous in front of a bunch of folks who put on a festival where last year The Judgment of Paris was made to resemble RuPaul’s Drag Race. Don’t worry about it: before the night is over, you’ll be so stuffed with wine, cheese, and chocolate that you won’t think your idea is ridiculous – you’ll wonder if it’s ridiculous enough.

A typical Olympians meeting usually starts with a round of introductions, in which we all clumsily try to remember our names, our subjects, and our proposals for this coming festival. Even without alcohol, that’s a lot harder than you think – we didn’t become writers so that we’d have to, y’know, talk.

We then explain the logistics and mechanics of the festival. Again, those of us who have been through it before know that it’s nothing to be taken for granted, especially as the festival continues to expand – both in size and influence – with each successive year. There are going to be some major changes to the festival, come 2015. The fundamentals will remain the same, but the necessity for streamlining has presented itself. For all the new achievements, there’s also been the accumulation of a lot of dead weight that has slowed down what-should-be a rather expeditious process. That dead weight will have to be cut loose. The only folks likely to complain are those who have been letting others do their work anyway.

Which leads the meeting to another touchy subject: communication. It’s importance cannot be over-stressed. There were problems that sprung up in the last festival (and a few festivals before) that were the result of people not properly communicating with one another. As such, some of those people have become persona non grata with the festival. It’s not something anyone likes to do, but when people ignore repeated warnings, then action has to be taken. We want to be invitational, not exclusive. The idea of anyone feeling like they don’t belong is something we won’t tolerate.

So… after we’ve discussed scheduling, fundraising, and where to find cheap (or free) rehearsal venues all over the Bay Area, we finally come around to the main event of the evening: the writing samples. Every writer is (barring unforeseen circumstances) expected to attend every meeting, and every writer in attendance is expected to bring along two sample pages of their script as proof they’ve actually been, y’know, writing it. It’s not uncommon for pages to be written the day of the meeting (God knows I’ve done it plenty of times). Hell, some folks will actually write them during a lull in the meeting. So long as you aren’t doing this once the festival is up and running, we’re just glad to hear a sample.

I love reading for everyone else’s samples, but hate hearing my own. I mean, I know Allison will bring pages to have us on the floor holding our sides, that Rachel’s will make us all envious of her fertile mind, and that Bridgette will somehow, someway find a way to work iambic pentameter into her dialogue. I’m nowhere near as reliable with my writing, but I will at least try my best not to butcher the words of the fellow writer whose words I’m reciting.

My subject this year is a one-act based on the myth of Poseidon. I’ve always had a soft spot for Poseidon because I think he’s entitled to nearly as much fame (or infamy) as his brother Zeus. I mean, both of them had the tendency to be complete dicks, but somehow Zeus is the more revered dick. My play, in short, is actually pretty timely. I submitted it months ago, but thanks to certain recent revelations about one “Mr. Cosby”, my play has become topical in a way even I didn’t expect. Whether it will remain so in the coming year, remains to be seen.

Stuart calls my subject. I pass my type-written pages off to Sunil and Tonya. I turn my head away, but tilt it in their direction so as to take in every word. I keep my eyes to the ground because I don’t wanna know what everyone else thinks of it – not yet. The two readers keep a good pace with my pages. Two of my jokes even elicit laughs from the room. There’s a chunk about the modern world needing myths more than ever. I genuinely feel that the gravitas of the moment is working. For once in my self-deprecating life, I allow myself think that maybe – just maybe – people actually like the stuff I write. In about two minutes it’s over. I take my pages back, fold them into my bag with my red pen (for adjustments), and consider my work done for the night. I can breathe again.

I'm not saying this is the poster for my play, but I'm not saying it isn't.

I’m not saying this is the poster for my play, but I’m not saying it isn’t.

After all the pages are read, most of the wine has been drunk, and Rachel’s mac ‘n cheese has been completely devoured, we’re all dismissed for the evening. It’s a slow and steady process: phone numbers and e-mails are exchanged, last-minute bites of food are taken, Lyfts are ordered, what-have you. One thing we all take away from this meeting is the fact that the festival is changing. It has to. Everything does. It’s just a question of whether that change is one of a relic falling into decay or an organism evolving with its time and environment. I definitely think the latter is occurring. As I’ve said before, what I love about this festival is that it never ceases to surprise me. It’s almost irrelevant to try to explain certain things to newcomers because there’s something new for all of us. Now we’ve officially begun our yearlong journey into the Wine Dark Sea. And, as the name implies, just sailing out into it is an adventure in and of itself.

Also there’s gonna be a lotta dolphin sex. I mean, a LOT. You don’t even know…

Charles Lewis III can’t wait to make a splash with the upcoming festival. For more information about the history of the festival and next year’s readings, please visit http://www.SFOlympians.com.

Everything Is Already Something Week 48: I MADE IT!

Allison Page, sliding under the finish line.

You’ve heard it before: “I can’t wait until you’ve made it and I get to say I knew you back when…” Well, I am happy and proud to say that everyone who’s ever said that to me can cash in on that statement because I MADE IT, BABY! That’s right. I have reached the tippy top goal. I have climbed the mountain and am standing at the top with a flag pole and the flag is waving in the wind with my visage printed proudly on it. And what is the goal? What have I accomplished? Am I on Broadway? Or in a Scorsese movie? Or in a Broadway adaptation of a Scorsese movie directed by eight of my personal heroes?

US director Martin Scorsese poses during

No.

I’m working on things I’m passionate about.

OH SHIT THAT’S SO DISAPPOINTING, ISN’T IT? Sorry, cab driver from two years ago who is waiting to brag about my fame – that’s my version of making it. I don’t have those other goals. All I want out of being a theater artist is to be a theater artist. Would a trillion dollars be cool? Yeah, obviously. I’d love to fill a yacht with caramel sauce – who wouldn’t? But I am in no way, shape, or form attempting to make that happen. I want to work on things I care about…and that’s all. I just want to always do that. But nobody wants to hear that. That’s not sparkly and fun. And it’s maybe a little too easy, some might think. I mean – it isn’t – so those people are stupid, but they’ll still think it along with “I wonder what mud tastes like.”

I’ve felt this way for quite a long time. I doubt I’m the only one, either. But it sure seems hard to understand if you ask my grandma. (Other things that are hard for her to understand include “Why won’t you eat my sauerkraut salad?”) Every person working in some sort of artistic field goes home for the holidays and has to answer some questions. Except those few people that come from a family of other artists who totally get it, and even then they’re still your family so there’ll be something somewhere they don’t understand about your life. But the truth is, grandma, I’m doing exactly what I want to do right now.

I heard this great/cheesy thing yesterday: “Don’t wait for someone to discover you. Discover yourself.” UGH, SO CHEESY.

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But I totally agree with it. Everyone’s got their own goals and dreams and hopes, but I’m not trying to climb any ladders. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do that, if that’s what you want to do. And that also isn’t to say that if some giant thing came along I wouldn’t do it. If Scorsese comes knocking, cool. But I’m not waiting for that. How awful would that be? If I spent my whole life waiting for something to happen when in reality I fully have the power to just do shit myself? And that isn’t the sound of me settling either. I can see how someone could say that (GRANDMAAAAA!) I actually am truly fulfilled doing the small and mighty things, because they don’t feel small to me, they feel important.

Oh God, this is too inspirational. I can’t go on much longer. The point is – I MADE IT! Someone play a trumpet for me! Roll out the old bath towel – we can’t afford one of those long red carpets to walk down – and let’s get this party started!

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No, but really, I have to go figure out how to raise a few thousand dollars for this show next year otherwise the set will be made out of cardboard. Heyyy, cardboard set. Not a bad idea.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/person who exists in real life as well as on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

The Five: Stay Down, 2014

Anthony R. Miller checks in with his five favorite moments of 2014.

Hey you guys, let’s talk about years. I know some people like to use their birthday as a moment to reflect. But on my birthday I like to reflect on how old I am and how young and pretty I used to be. I like calendar years, four seasons, and the same frame of time for everybody. So here are five things I like to look at when gauging my success over the course of a year.

Did I make time for the people who love me?

In theatre, I think it’s really easy to sacrifice things for your art. It’s easy to turn down every social event because of rehearsals, staying home to write or go through email, research, or even just hide from the world. A lot of good stuff started happening when I starting making sacrifices for my friends and family. I didn’t quit theatre or anything, but maybe I took a lot less Sunday meetings. I try to spend a couple hours hanging out with my girlfriend, instead of hiding in my office. It wasn’t major but it made a difference. Now it’s the first thing I think of when a gauge a year

How’s work?

Am I happy with how I’m making a living? Actually yeah, I am. I love my day job and my twelve part time jobs. This year I actually paid bills with money I made writing and producing theatre. My money situation is still terrible, but hey that’s what next year is for right?

Did I meet my goals?

This year was year three of a five year plan I set for me. Being able to check things off a list year after year has been so helpful for me. It puts what I’ve done in perspective, and it helps in those inevitable moments when I feel like I’ve done nothing.

Did you try hard enough?

Once I’ve acknowledge the opportunities I’ve had in the past year, I think about if I made the most of them. Something that makes want to keep improving is just always asking “Was this the best I could do?”

Am I excited for the future?

This was an amazing year for me. Full of a lot of great opportunities and some incredible moments as a person, an artist and father, And I look at everything that was accomplished by having a plan, and I feel great about this. But as great as it feels, I know I can do better. I’m excited, real excited.

2015, Come at me bro.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and thinks theatre tickets make a great Christmas gift for all your friends and family. See more about his projects at www.awesometheatre.org.

Theater Around The Bay: And Home Before Dark

Here’s part three of our INTO THE WOODS discussion panel (you should check out part one and part two if you haven’t) with Stuart Bousel, Brian Katz, Corinne Proctor, Marissa Skudlarek, Oren Stevens, and Nick Trengove. Today we’re winding the discussion down and looking at how this show has impacted us, as artists and as people. But first…

Is there a fairy tale you wish was included in Into the Woods but is not?

Corinne: Not really, no.

Brian: I find the nods to Grimm and Disney fun, but not my favorite parts of the show. Generally, I want more of the (somewhat) original tale of the Baker and his Wife.

Marissa: I can easily imagine a version of Into the Woods that incorporates “Hansel and Gretel.” It’s a well-known Brothers Grimm tale that involves journeying into the woods, parents & children, loss of innocence, baked goods, feeling “excited and scared” — so it would fit the style and themes of the show very well. But perhaps Sondheim felt like he’d already written enough about cannibalism in Sweeney Todd?

Nick: “Hansel and Gretel”, for sure. There could be a whole duet about, like, gingerbread or something. But seriously, where are their parents? They have that in common with Jack and Little Red – absent parental figures.

Stuart: Actually, in the Public Theatre production in 2012, they did work in “Hansel and Gretel” into the show, somehow. I’m not sure how. I’d like to know how, but for all my Googling I’ve only been able to come up with references to it in reviews and such, not an actual explanation of what happened or if material was added. “The Three Little Pigs” were also worked into the first Broadway revival, but as time goes on that whole production seems to be a case of “The Less Said the Better” so they are hardly “canon”.

Oren: Honestly, there are so many more fairy tales that could be woven in. But most of the ones I love are just a little too dark even for this show (“Donkeyskin” comes to mind — Wikipedia that shit), but actually what I’m most sad about is that “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”, two incredibly well-known stories that have so much going on in them (mostly about gender politics — “Snow White” is a condemnation of female vanity and “Sleeping Beauty”, in its original form, involves an already married king cheating on his wife by impregnating the still sleeping princess), are given such short shrift. Ultimately, though, the show is so completely and tightly crafted that throwing any additional stories in there would throw the whole thing off balance — and throw the whole thing over the three hour mark.

Why are fairy tales something we keep coming back to- not just as the backbone for this show, but for so many shows? Why are they so endlessly appealing to many audiences?

Marissa: The rise of fairy-tale-themed entertainment in the last few decades is pretty astounding. Some of it can be attributed to capitalism and Hollywood (Disney got us Millennials hooked on fairy tales young, and now we’re loyal customers for life) but I also wonder if it could have a deeper, more spiritual meaning. Like, as the world becomes ever more technological and scientific, we’re trying to counter-balance that with these age-old tales of magic and mystery. I’d like to believe that. I think it’s important to cultivate the imagination. When I was a lonely teenager it always seemed to me like Rapunzel’s tower was a metaphor for the loneliness and isolation of adolescence, and having overprotective parents who don’t understand you. That’s a hard truth to face and sometimes it helps to face it in metaphorical ways, through the medium of a fairy tale. “Cinderella”, on the other hand, is an insidious tale because it teaches children that women who have big feet are grotesque. As someone who wears a size 10.5 shoe, I simply must protest.

Once a stepsister, always a stepsister. Backstage at the 2006 Vassar College Drama Department production of Into the Woods. Summer Scott as Florinda, Noelle McMurtry as Cinderella, and our very own Marissa Skudlarek as Lucinda.

Once a stepsister, always a stepsister. Backstage at the 2006 Vassar College Drama Department production of Into the Woods. Summer Scott as Florinda, Noelle McMurtry as Cinderella, and our very own Marissa Skudlarek as Lucinda.

Stuart: All Cinderella bitterness aside, I am inclined to agree with Marissa: I think we need magic in our lives, not just right now, but always. I think the acute desire for magic becomes more pronounced in some eras over another, but it’s always there. And I don’t see it as escapism, but rather I think it’s tied in with the part of us that needs language, math, meaning. Myth and folklore are sense-making mechanisms, which we use to understand things like love, death, wonder, loyalty, betrayal, courage, fear- all those aspects of the human experience which we can’t truly explain but so desperately want explanations for. Fairy tales and myths are the language of the imagination, the attempt at charting the unchart-able, with a language as flexible as the thing it’s trying to capture.

Corinne: Fairy tales have staying power because of their simplicity. The stories aren’t tied to a particular time and place and the characters are archetypes that are eternally relevant. Fairy tales are satisfying because they paint a picture of a satisfying world that wish existed – a world where it is easy to tell the difference between right and wrong, where evil is punished and good people are rewarded. (Even the older, gorier, earliest fairy tales of oral tradition nearly always have a sense of justice and triumph of good over evil, though the picture of the world is much less rosy.) The brilliance of this show is how cleverly it contrasts the simple world of fairy tales and then deconstructs it as the characters face challenges that place them in a world more like our own – a world of grey areas and in-betweens where the right way isn’t clear and life is far from fair.

Nick: The strength of this musical comes from our cultural familiarity with fairy tales. We look to them, I feel, in some small way like the ancient Greeks looked to their myths. As sort of moral compasses, or cautionary tales. The lyrics are brilliant and the book’s fantastic, and they succeed in taking these deceptively simple parables and breathing fresh life into them.

Brian: Parents love fairy tales, because first of all they were taught them, so they are sharing a piece of themselves and, secondly, they are tales in which to learn life lessons like “don’t steal” and “don’t run away”. However, Woods and my own feelings go toward Dr. Bertleheim, which hopes that these tales are used in the way Woods uses them, not Disney: harder lessons are beneath their surfaces, such as coping with loss, and dealing with our hidden fears. But it’s because they can be explored on so many different levels, they have remained universal.

Oren: I read an article recently about someone who read children’s stories to her daughter replacing male protagonists with female ones. As I think about it more, I think it was actually The Hobbit, but ignore that for the sake of argument. What’s so lovely and useful about fairy tales is that they are just a little bit hollow — there’s just enough room for us to squeeze ourselves into them and push and prod to make them fit our purposes. Is Cinderella a heroine who gets rewarded for her hard work with a life of ease? Or is she an entitled princess who crashes a party and manipulates royalty to force her way into luxury? I’m also a big fan of adaptation in general, because I think that a strong way to make a big impact on an audience member is to force them to rethink and reexamine something that they believe they know backwards and forwards. That’s exactly what Into the Woods does.

So, speaking of parents and children- is INTO THE WOODS, unedited, for kids?

Brian: ”Kids” is too large a range. I think it is appropriate for age 10ish and up. But if it is right kid and the right parent, go for it. We don’t give children enough credit for having the capacity to understand basic life concepts like love and death, and sheltering them into some kind of make-believe security (which is more about their parents romanticizing their own childhoods) deprives them of necessary emotional skills, such as courage and empathy. Many of us working in theatre started going to much heavier shows than this at a young age. Then again, maybe that’s a case against it? The world needs more financial analysts, I’m sure.

Stuart: Woods was my second Broadway show ever and I was 10 the first time I saw it, so clearly I think it’s okay for kids, but then again, clearly I’m also screwed up for life because of it. Then again, maybe the only reason I’m still here, still working to be a good person in a tough world, is because of Woods, so who knows- it may have saved me even as it condemned me, right?

Corinne: It always depends on the kid, doesn’t it? In general my answer is YES. That said, it is nearly three hours long. Some people are worried about the deaths and adultery being inappropriate, but as far as I’m concerned the more important thing to consider is whether or not the child in question has the necessary attention span.

Oren: I would absolutely read it to kids starting at around fourth or fifth grade. At that point they could get everything, and anything they don’t get they’ll ignore. But just because I take my kids to see it doesn’t mean you have to. You decide what’s right; you decide what’s good. (See what I did there? I seriously think I could spend a week doing nothing but speak in quotes from this show.)

Nick: I’d read it to my kids. Depending on their age, I’d maybe gloss over some of the deaths a little bit, maybe the sex scene between the Baker’s Wife and C’s Prince. I don’t think it’s for kids, though, necessarily. I think it’s written more for parents or adults – you need to have some perspective on your childhood to understand what the book tries to say about parents and their effect on their children.

Nick Trengove, eating the baby prop from his production of INTO THE WOODS.

Nick Trengove, eating the baby prop from his production of INTO THE WOODS.

Marissa: It’s hard to say, because I’m not a mother myself and I’m not even sure how fast kids grow up/what’s appropriate for kids of various ages. I definitely don’t think it’s for small children, because they’ll get bored and the wordy lyrics will go over their head, but older kids may appreciate it. As I said, I first saw Into the Woods at 12, and I think I could even have seen it and enjoyed it at 9 or 10. But I was a precocious kid who loved theater, and it might be different for others. By the time I saw Into the Woods, I’d already seen several Shakespeare plays, so maybe there’s your answer: if your kids are mature enough for, say, Romeo and Juliet, they’re mature enough for Into the Woods. As an aside, it’s kind of a shame that none of us on this panel (as far as I know) has kids, because so much of Into the Woods is about parenting, and it’d be interesting to hear a parent’s perspective in this discussion. If I ever have kids of my own, I wonder if it will deepen or change my relationship to this show.

So who is the ideal audience for this show?

Oren: Preteens and their parents. I’m not kidding. For the preteens, the idea of hammering the childishness out of fairy tales will be attractive, and it’ll be the wittiest damn thing they’ve ever seen. They’ll enjoy the breakdown of moral absolute, because they’ll be just getting into their seriously rebellious phase and “because I said so” will be starting to wear thin. Their parents, of course, are starting to see the rebellious phase. They’re going to be in the mode of clutch-as-hard-as-you-can-so-they-don’t-slip-away. So much of the parent-child relationships (failure to communicate, disappointment, struggle) is going to hit home for them in a very real way.

Brian: I believe this is an everybody show, at least above the age of 10. It works on so many levels; therefore, Woods is enjoyable from pre-teen just getting the silly humor and adventure, to those further along in life thinking about things like morality and passing along the little we have learned. It is also a great show to bring for those who say they hate musicals, which to me is like saying “I hate sculpture.” If they are going to dismiss an entire art form, Woods can be used as a conversion tool, one that will make them go, “okay, you were right, there is a reason to sing sometimes. “Then make them watch Sunday In The Park With George. If they don’t get that, give up – they don’t want to enjoy life.

Corinne: I also believe this show really does have something for everyone, which is one of the main reasons it gets done so often. But I guess I’ll say parents and children. (Everyone is someone’s child after all!)

Marissa: Corinne’s earlier comment that the book and lyrics of Woods contain over 400 questions, plus my own prejudices when it comes to art, makes me want to say that Into the Woods is a show for people who question things. You know, if you’re the kind of person who likes easy answers, you’re not going to like the second half of Into the Woods. I also think it helps to be acquainted with the darker side of life — I’m not saying that this is a show only for neurotic or melancholic people, but it will resonate more with people who’ve already learned, through their own experiences, that happy endings don’t last forever. Also, it probably goes without saying that the show works best for people who come from a Western cultural background and were exposed to these fairy tales as a child. I’d be curious to know how someone who didn’t have that childhood experience would experience the show (although, considering how Western pop culture now blankets the globe, it might be difficult to find such a person). People also talk about how East Asian culture focuses more on the group than on the individual, and has a strong tradition of reverence for parents and ancestors. Those are major themes of Into the Woods, too — does that mean it has the potential to be a hit show in China?

Nick: I think it really helps if you like Sondheim, going into it. And really, what’s not to like? But it does take some getting used to – the orchestrations and the melodies are a bit more substantial than, say, Legally Blonde the Musical, and even most Rogers and Hammerstein. But the thing is, and I know that I may totally be wrong, but I have the feeling that nowadays, the ideal audience are 20- and 30-somethings – people who may be starting families, or new careers. People who are in the midst of sloughing off the last vestiges of childhood idealism and settling, more or less, into an understanding of the world. So much of the show is about children and parents – the inheritance of mistakes, the effect parents have on their children. The ideal audience member for this show is old enough to look back on their childhood and understand it from the lens of adulthood.

Stuart: Right… and maybe still young enough to learn something from it and make some better choices for the future.

Pick one thing you just love about this show. One thing that just rocks you to the bottom of your soul, the jewel of the crown, so to speak.

Nick: Okay, this is kind of a hard question for someone who tends to think that this entire show is just one giant jewel. But if I had to choose just one facet, I’d say it’s the mad dash to the end of Act I. The stakes get higher, everyone’s running around, ingredients are flying everywhere, Milky White gets RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD, the Witch transforms (spoiler alert!), and that all folds in nicely to Happy “Ever After”,  a song which is totally overlooked and the most perfectly wry ending to the Act possible. It just really gears you up for the next half of the story, which is the mark of really good story construction.

Oren: Surprise! That’s what I think is the jewel in the crown, the thing this show does best: the element of surprise. Here we have a musical built out of the most culturally iconic stories, we’ve all heard them a million times before, we know six different versions, and it still has the capacity to make us laugh, to push us back, to make us think, and to surprise us. Whether it’s the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s Prince haggling over a shoe, or the Witch exclaiming “The giant’s a woman!” each scene pulls something fresh and exciting out of stories that we heard before we could make out any of the words. That’s what makes it great theater, and for the sake of this question I’m going to pretend that it’s one thing in the show, and not something that applies to all the best parts of it. Don’t tell Stuart I’m cheating, please.

Stuart: Stuart knows and Stuart agrees with you, actually. SURPRISE!

Corinne: I know I already raved about “No One is Alone” when you asked us about it before, but here I go again. The biggest ideas in the piece — the nature of morality, the relationships between parents and children — come together here as we see the Baker and Cinderella become ‘parents’ to Jack and Red – and try to help them understand that there aren’t simple answers to questions about right and wrong.

Corinne Proctor, as Little Red, definitely struggling with one too many moral quandaries (Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCraryin the SF Playhouse production of INTO THE WOODS. Photo by  Jessica Palopoli.

Corinne Proctor, as Little Red, definitely struggling with one too many moral quandaries (Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCraryin the SF Playhouse production of INTO THE WOODS. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Brian: I’ve noticed that I am apparently the only one on this panel drawn primarily to the father/son relationship, so bear that in mind with this answer, but in the end, this is a story about relationships, and the first thing we learn is that there is a childless baker, and we then soon learn his father is possibly dead from “a baking accident,” but then probably ran away from life. The baker is internally convinced he IS his father, and has trepidation about having/raising children, especially after his wife is gone. This is what takes Woods from being a fun mash-up of fairy tales to something deeper for me. It’s about not succumbing to our fears, and all characters have this, but what really hits me hard, so “works for me”, is the Baker’s story-line, and how in the end he learns there is true strength inside him – not just giant-battling (that’s kind of easy) but being able to take responsibility for raising another human being.

Brian Katz, deep in the Humboldt redwoods with a mysterious man of his own- CMTC’s first TD, Dave Ampola (left).

Brian Katz, deep in the Humboldt redwoods with a mysterious man of his own- CMTC’s first TD, Dave Ampola (left).

Marissa: Reading the first round of the panel discussion and seeing the huge outpouring of affection for the Baker and the Baker’s Wife made me fully comprehend just how well that element of the story works, and how it’s another thing that I should have credited James Lapine for when we were discussing what’s successful about the book of Into the Woods. It’s hard enough to make familiar fairy-tale characters like Cinderella or Little Red seem human and complex, but I’d wager that it’s even harder to create original characters who coexist in the same world as the familiar characters and have the most meaningful journeys of all. The Baker and Baker’s Wife may have originated as a gimmick to tie together the stories of Cinderella, Jack, Little Red and Rapunzel, but they became so much more than that — they offer a modern, adult audience a way into the story, through a fairy tale that was specifically designed to resonate with yuppie New York theatergoers. (Kids and teens are likelier to find their way into the story through identifying with Cinderella, Jack, Little Red or Rapunzel — because those stories are familiar and, as Brian pointed out, they’re about adolescents coming of age. Adult theatergoers required another way in.)

What have you learned from the show- both as a person and as a theater maker? How has it influenced you?

Oren: “Never wear mauve at a ball. Or pink.” No, but there are so many things! I’m going to reach into the hat of my brain and just say whichever things I pull out first, but trust me there’s a whole lot more where these came from. First, if you haven’t heard me harp on about transitions you’ve probably never spoken to me at all. People tend to forget transitions, but they can suck all the life out of a show if they don’t flow. Every transition in Woods is totally seamless, and it’s beautiful. I think it’s also encouraged me to tell complicated stories – I like it when there are lots of words and lots of characters, and everything is firing off in different directions, but it’s all making one connected, complete, unified picture –– and I think I only got there because I encountered Woods right when I first started writing. It was also the first musical I encountered with rhythmic speech and sung-through scenes (“Very Nice Prince” I’m lookin’ at you), but they sound totally organic (not quite natural, but like exactly how the character would talk). I think that gave me a lot more confidence to tackle things like, for example, writing an entire play in iambic pentameter. Or an essay on a college exam, but that’s another story.

Oren Stevens, learning all the different things theater could be, as the Baker in INTO THE WOODS, set in a Walmart.

Oren Stevens, learning all the different things theater could be, as the Baker in INTO THE WOODS, set in a Walmart.

Marissa: I think Into the Woods made me see how I could engage with fairy tales on an adult level, how I could grow up and still remain attached to the stories of my youth. When I first saw the show age 12, I definitely enjoyed it, but my dad could not stop talking about how awesome it was, in particular the brilliance of how Act II shows you “what happens after Happily Ever After.” And I think it was really beneficial for me to see my dad react that way. When you’re 12 years old and in junior high school, there’s all this peer pressure to stop acting like a kid and start acting like a teenager. But there were so many things I loved about being a kid, especially the fact that it was socially acceptable to like fantasy and magic and fairy tales. I really didn’t want to give those things up! Later on, of course, I learned that there’s a whole 20th-century tradition of smart adult artists engaging with fairy tales in a serious way: Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber… But Into the Woods was my introduction to that kind of art, and I was glad to learn that fairy tales didn’t have to end when childhood did. I don’t know if Into the Woods has influenced me as a theater-maker — I don’t write musicals, and while I like shows with large casts and lots of moving parts, I’ve never sat down and looked at the book of Woods and said “let me see how James Lapine did that.” Perhaps, though, Into the Woods serves as Exhibit A for a theory I’ve been developing: if you want to write plays that deal with big philosophical issues, but you actually want people to come see them, you need to pair the big themes with a shiny/humorous/entertaining “hook” that gets people into the theater. I don’t know how successful I’ve been at this (either at engaging deep themes or at pairing them with cool hooks) but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, at any rate.

Nick: This is really gonna be the most cheese-ball thing I write, like, ever, but I guess this show always makes me think of my parents and the way they raised me. When I was younger I was a bit of a Rapunzel – no music aside from country and the occasional soft rock favorite. No R-rated movies until I was 16. Phone updates as to my whereabouts at regular intervals. My parents kept the leash pretty tight, and it was only after I escaped to college that I fully realized this. But I think about how people make mistakes – fathers, mothers. I think about how scared shitless I’d be if I was raising a child in this world full of wolves. I can’t say I’d raise my child under such heavy supervision, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be frightened all the time of making a mistake, of letting them get hurt. As an artist, this was the show that taught me how to direct, plain and simple. As an actor, it helped me to understand a show from a director’s perspective, and as a theater artist in general, it taught me that I was capable of so much more than just acting.

Stuart: Identifying as strongly as I did with one character at such a young age, I was able to pull from Into the Woods both comfort and a kind of vocabulary for beginning to talk about myself and others, and society and the world. It really introduced me to the concept and power of archetypes, both in narrative and life, and it was most definitely the beginning of my own personal cosmology, which has been developing ever since, and is a sort of hodgepodge of medieval legends and Greek mythology. As an artist in general, I think it’s safe to say that my whole life has been more or less dedicated to both preserving and reinventing our mythological roots, and Into the Woods certainly plays a role in that. As a director, Broadway in general has been hugely important (you’ll notice, I basically direct all plays as if they were musicals), at least as important as independent film has been (you’ll notice, I basically direct all plays as indie films). It’s as a writer, however, that I think Woods‘ influence is most evident in my work: even when I’m not writing new versions of old stories, I still tend to create larger stories about groups of people, ensemble plays with multiple lead roles and through lines, and I love breaking the fourth wall, direct address, post-modern structural twists, and surprising you with characters who don’t always act the way you expect them to. But perhaps most of all, I pride myself on writing plays where even the smaller roles are complex, nuanced, and everybody, good or bad, has a soul. I’m big into compassion, as an artist, and as a human being, and I definitely learned that value from Into The Woods, where compassion ultimately wins the day. Especially storytelling as an act of compassion.

Stuart Bousel: lover of trees and stories.

Stuart Bousel: lover of trees and stories.

Brian: The line that hits me hard at the end is “Children may not obey / But children will listen.” I think about that a lot when I teach, and sometimes when I direct; it is a reminder that even if someone is rebelling, pushing buttons, just being what one would consider “difficult,” they are still looking to you. Rejecting a parent/teacher/authority figure is often a necessary stage in someone finding their own path through the woods; the ones who come out of that darkness are the ones you truly reached. As for being an artist… two words: James Lapine. He is an early influence, although Sunday is the show that blew my mind, specifically at the moment George doesn’t like where a tree was onstage, and then it disappeared. The psychological reach of that was, of course, that nothing you see here is real. Or maybe it is, but it can all be altered at a moment’s notice by the creative forces telling us the story. Woods has moments like that too, when Milky White is simply picked up, when the Witch transforms, with the narrator’s warning of the story out of control. I love the deceptive simplicity of Lapine’s staging and writing, and try to remember is whenever I’m stuck: a tree can disappear, if we simply will it.

Corinne: Having the great good luck to work on the show at both 18 and 28 has reinforced for me how much you can find in a piece when you really dig into it. There’s a lot in this show that can pass you by the first few times, but there is SO much there once you begin to pay closer attention. On a more pragmatic level, it’s where I learned how to sing harmony – but only for 5 notes: “MAYBE WE FORGOT!”

And last but not least… what’s the moral of the story?

Corinne: Morality is self-determined; there is no “right” way to live.

Brian:I know this is the obvious choice, but it really is CHILDREN WILL LISTEN, with the added thought that we are all children in this way, we all need these stories to help us navigate life. That is the reason for all the humor, pathos, wrong turns, magic beans, and deaths. It is the reason we do theatre in the first place, or maybe it is how we justify spending a life in the theatre, we have to believe that someone is listening. That the tales we tell, even if misunderstood, mangled, applauded or scorned, have touched at least one person that night, and helped them work through something. Or maybe take something else less seriously, or maybe more seriously, or create empathy, sympathy or maybe just made them laugh when they really needed it. The point is, they are listening, watching, and learning. To me, to always know this is the responsibility of the artist, and our contract with the audience. Careful before you say, “listen to me.” Into The Woods says it better, in its finale, than any other show I can think of: “What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?/Only whatever you put in its head/Things that you’re mother and father had said/Which were left to them too…” This is how our stories continue, and within them are all the truths, lessons and myths we, in the theatre, try to pass along.

Oren: The first act is so full of morals. Every midnight we get another smorgasbord (opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, the slotted spoon won’t hold much soup, the prettier the flower the farther from the path) but in the end we get the truth: shit’s complicated. The point of “Children Will Listen” (which sits exactly where the moral should go) isn’t “be careful what you wish for” but “careful the things you say.” Ultimately what we’re warned about isn’t yearning –– we couldn’t stop that if we tried –– we’re warned against telling these stories thoughtlessly, teaching our children empty, hollow, meaningless lessons that simplify and diminish the world. I know, it’s not fun, but god damn if it isn’t the prettiest song you ever heard.

Marissa: What ISN’T the moral of the story? Trying to distill the musical’s many morals, both explicit and implied, into one overarching message, I’m tempted to say that all has to do with cycles of various kinds. Wisdom is passed from parents to children, who grow up and have their own children. Violence is a cycle and it takes extraordinary effort and courage to break the cycle. One wish begets another. You go into the woods, you come out of the woods, you go back to the woods. And you can’t run from your problems because you can’t run from yourself — no matter where you go, you’ll still be part of that great cycle of birth and maturity and decline and death.

Stuart: Life is complicated. Life is complicated and it’s never going to cease being complicated until you’re dead- and then, we’re actually only assuming that because we don’t know what happens after we die. I mean, in Into The Woods, if you’re the Baker’s Wife, or the Mysterious Man, or Cinderella’s Mother, or Jack’s Mother, or Little Red for that matter, death isn’t exactly the end, isn’t? Even beyond the grave, our stories continue, our influence continues to work itself on the people who shared the world with us and live in it after we’re gone. Life is complicated because everything is connected- there are paths between point A and point B, but also point X, and point Q, and point D, and point O. Far too many points than we can really see or even, maybe, begin to see, sometimes because the woods are dark and sometimes because we’re blind and sometimes because we’re just not meant to see all these paths because if we did, we’d almost certainly lose our way. Not that it’s the end of the world when we do lose our way- sometimes we have to do that, to find it again. Few paths are straight, and all paths lead into the woods… but all paths lead out of them too. And there’s always a light to guide you, you just have to find it, believe in it, wish for it. If there’s one moral in Into the Woods for me, it’s that: “Hold him to the light now/let him see the glow/things will turn out right now/tell him what you know.”

Nick: “No one is alone…” And no prosthetic wolf dongs.

We hope you have enjoyed our panel on INTO THE WOODS. We’ll do a follow up after the movie is out and we’ve all had a chance to see it. In the meantime, leave us questions and comments below!

The Real World, Theater Edition: A Conversation with True Heroes, Sean San José and Donald Lacy

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Sean San José and Donald Lacy.

I sat down with Sean San José and Donald Lacy about “Superheroes” to talk about the newest Campo Santo show, “Superheroes” written and directed by Sean San José and featuring Donald Lacy. “Superheroes” is a poetic look at the crack epidemic by using the research of Gary Webb and the real lives of people affected by this drug, and how the government is implicated in the utter decimation of black and brown communities that still continues to this day in policies and procedures regarding racial profiling, police and government misconduct, the prison industrial complex, not to mention the thousands of families that have been destroyed by it.

I am completely biased since I learned how to be in theater from Campo Santo. Their productions have always stood out as able to probe deep into societal injustices and present them in a way – along with the stories of real people and experiences – to create something incredibly moving and powerful. I talked to Sean and Donald about the process of creating this work, lessons learned along the way, and artists who have been heroes to us over time.

This conversation was especially poignant to me considering my time spent learning from people who I consider to be some of my most staunch mentors and advocates. To have a conversation with my own personal heroes describe their heroes in turn was an incredible experience. The transcript of our conversation follows.

BABS: I was curious about your process for creating “Superheroes” and connected to that what does it mean to be a Campo Santo production – Is that a kind of style, a philosophy, an approach or aesthetic? And then how does Cutting Ball get wrapped into the development process and why were they the right partner?

SSJ: Those are great questions, Barb. I think starting with the last one and I could probably handle this one. I guess to go backwards a little bit, this was an idea that was really a matter of the world speaking loudly enough and I felt like even without the wherewithal, the tools even, or the story, it was something I had to respond to. I feel like in some way all my stuff that I’m really interested in doing at the end of the day responds in some way to the two epidemics: AIDS and crack.

The funny thing, or the difficult thing, with crack is that maybe it’s too close or maybe I’ve tricked myself well enough like the rest of the country has, to not deal with it in a direct way. So I’ve always felt there was something in there and I think the media’s taken to it so fully, it’s hard to even decipher real life and, sort of, cartoon life. In other words, The Wire, passes as not like a good piece of TV, but somehow passes as very similar to like a version of journalism, which is not anything against The Wire, which I’m a fan of, but it brings a question to me of what does that say about our journalism or lack thereof any longer in the United States. And more than that, what does it say about us as a country responding to an epidemic that we’re living and dying through. So all that to say – I had never had an idea to do this.

I went out to Oakland when Donald was doing a live remote at the Jahva House when the Wiggins brothers used to have that place over there off the lake in Oakland and I was just going because Donald’s show, you know, like me, Barb, big fans of the show, just because it’s a great show and then to see it live was interesting. Gary Webb was on that particular day and he did probably 30-45 minutes-

D.LACY: 52.

SSJ: Yeah, a good healthy discussion with Donald. I had read one of the articles and then I had the book and so that was really deep in my head – like deep layered in me. Hearing him speak and the way – the combination of Donald speaking with him unconsciously sort of set the idea for the piece. It took me a long time to get to it. But, what it did was it gave you the facts and then it gave you a living sort of aftermath. So the facts are Gary Webb and then Donald responding as an active, civic member of the society, saying, “Well, yes… And still, and yet, here we are dealing with it all”.

There’s something about watching Gary Webb do it that sparked an idea to do it. It’s this weird thing again about journalism, about truth-telling, is that it took someone objectively speaking on it and just laying out the facts and the story – not that he was not vested in it, but he was not impassioned in it in the same way that maybe Donald or I might be. Hearing it that way- it was done with quietude, but an integrity, that actually made it starker – the facts of it, if that makes sense.

When I read it, someone had passed the article – the two articles – around. And all we- it was like inflammatory. I bet the article got ripped up by the third person who it got passed to. So you just go… Or, me, I just go from zero to one thousand when I read those facts. It’s so upsetting. It’s so… incendiary. And then hearing Gary Webb, this Pulitzer Prize winning journalist just lay it out and he just was… So that there could be no time to sort of filibuster like they do to us all the time and sorta say, “Well, that’s because you did that” and “You’re interested.” “Your vested interests this that and the other…” It was a guy that said, “You know, I’m not from here. I had no – I didn’t even set out to tell this tale. I did what a journalist does. I followed the trail and I uncovered the facts.”

So hearing that in sort of the context of “Wake Up Everybody” show, sort of laid it all out. But I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I just said to Donald after the show, “We gotta tell this story on stage” because, you know, like us, all three of us, that’s what we do, we tell stories on stage. But in getting involved in doing that, it took a long time to realize on a practical level, it’s really hard to do. There’s a lot of facts. It’s really hard to follow. But the more I spent time with it, the more I realized what Gary Webb had done was a reality. It was facts. It was published. It was confirmed, so what would I be doing by re-telling a version of this story? And what I realized was, what stuck with me was this story that given this reality, this confirmation of this horror, we were still living in it. Yet, we as a society hadn’t responded to it, so that’s what it became about. So, it’s really less about showing that connection, but showing what has happened since that connection.

And you know, I had a very early – I wouldn’t even call it a draft. I had a series of images and pages, as I often do, and I read it like solo for Donald and we got really deep in it and Donald is probably one of the bigger champions of Gary Webb, but interestingly Donald’s response – and this really broke it open – was now we have to show the lives that have been lost through this. Not the lives that are told in the Dark Alliance book that should be accounted for, but the lives that were surrounded by it. The spirits, the ghosts of the people that have lost, or the people struggling still, and that sort of cracked it open. It was like, oh right, it’s not “Dark Alliance – The Play”, it’s a response to the facts of Dark Alliance and us living in the aftermath of it.

So that’s a long way of saying that’s how all that happened. But that’s really how all of the things happen, right? Meaning that it’s a mixtured response of responding to the world around us and this just happened to be heavily weighted because it has really direct geo-political connections to it, like these massive, horrible, nefarious – all these words that you would never use in everyday life – are now come to light because of this horrible truth that he’s revealed. And I think that makes it a Campo Santo show in that way. In that we set out to tell some of the many untold stories and always try to be reflective of the world we live in. And what could be more reflective of the world we live in than responding to two epidemics we’re living through?

What was very interesting about getting together with Cutting Ball is that it was never something like I pitched or something. I had this thing in the cut. Me and Donald heard it. And that was about it. You know, that was kinda it. It took me a long time. It wasn’t even like, “Here’s the next Campo Santo play. Llet’s develop this.” It was more just something that ate at me a lot. This idea that we, as a society, hadn’t responded to it yet, and I needed to find a way for myself spiritually, personally, to respond in some way to the epidemic of crack.

And then Rob Melose had asked me. He said, “Do you want to do something here?” And I was like, “Yeah, no.” Meaning “Yeah, I do,” but “No, I don’t really know how to do things like their plays.”

D.LACY: Perfect place, right?

SSJ: I love the boldness. I love their experimentation. I love that integrity they have, but it’s not a thing that my tools set is like, “Number one, two, three,” so I was like, “Not really, to be honest. Yes, I want to do something with you guys, but I don’t know what that would be because we only do new things.” And he was like, “Well, what new thing?” And then I just sort of thought, “Well, why do something that’s sort of like midstream in development with Campo Santo. Here’s this thing.”

And it was actually Ben Fisher… I was like Ben “What do you think? Would this be interesting?” And he was like, “I think it would be the time and the place to have someone else sort of take it on”. And then when we all got over here, it just became- it was too… it would be as if, you know… Something else was at work, you know. That we’re doing a play responding to the daily lives of the crack epidemic and we’re on Taylor Street right here and so if we as a group say, “We’re trying to put the audience to the test, to the task of dealing with this,” we have to do that every single day we walk to rehearsal. It’s really right out the door every day. So that’s was a beautiful and real thing that had to happen and that’s how it happened, but Donald’s really kind of the heart of the thing.

D.LACY: Sure, buddy. You know something, man? I just realized something.

SSJ: Say what now.

D. LACY: I just realized from 2004 to when the piece was conceived in 2006. When we went up to the trees and when we did Hamlet about the crack shit that was all the-

SSJ: Yeah! I agree.

D. LACY: -that was all the grist for your mill-

SSJ: I agree.

D. LACY: To get to them spirits. I just- It had never occurred to me. We were subconsciously doing a part of this story then through that whole Hamlet process.

SSJ: Yeah, pretty much.

BABS: That’s so interesting.

D. LACY: And then hearing about Dr. Pamela and all the- And it just hit me. Wow! We were in this back then and didn’t even know it.

SSJ: Yeah, yeah. And the fact that one point after- This just sort of nerd stuff…

BABS: No, that’s what- We can… So just so you know too about the… I will print all of the worlds, not like editing it down. All of them.

D. LACY: Oh, shit!

BABS: So it really is just like a- We can go as-

D. LACY: Well, in that case tell that mothafucka I want my money!

SSJ: Yeah, I heard that. No, but after we did Blood in the Brain, I was talking with Naomi Iizuka and I was just so… You know. You come out of a project and you immediately want to stay coupled with those people. And I think for us a lot of times, I think it’s like – especially when we work with writers – like, as one is starting to hit its zenith my producer/development brain is always like, “Let’s do the next one!” I get so excited working with these people, you know, I was like, “We have to do something, Naomi. We have to do something and she was like, “Yeah.” You know, Naomi’s so cool and so down.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: She was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “I’m sort of sifting through a bunch of stories now. Why don’t you throw something at me.” You know, because we worked together in a really cool way on Blood in the Brain. That was really very instrumental in the way I tell stories and the way I collaborate with people. The way she both empowered me and collaborated with me throughout, but then I was like, “Yeah…”

There was this one book that she and I had always liked a lot and we were like, “Maybe we should do that book…” And then I said, “Hey, there’s this thing I’m really trippin on. This Dark Alliance. It’s based on this. And, you know, out of a series of six, she was like, “Those are really interesting”. She goes, “You know that thing about the CIA thing…” She was like, “that’s the one,” but she was like, “But I can’t do that. We just did Blood in the Brain. I can’t… Like that was hard enough to enter a world that’s not my world and that doesn’t feel like solid ground for me. Let’s think of another thing.”

BABS: Interesting.

SSJ: And so I was like, “Okay,” and then it made a lot of sense to me and I was like, “Okay, okay, that makes sense. I’ll just kinda mess with this on my own.” It was sort of a further… It ended up being a helpful step. But it was further for me to go, “Oh, okay, I’ll pull this one back to my desk and just kinda poke at it and see what comes out.”

BABS: That is interesting, just to hear the- you know, how Naomi informed your process too.

SSJ: Yeah, I mean Naomi did a great thing when we did Blood in the Brain. I mean a lot of times we would just riff on – She’s so smart so it’s like kinda once in a lifetime type stuff, but she would say, “What would two people say in a situation that’s like this?” So she would sorta set the stakes for you, and I could like put it in the context of what we were dealing with.

I think what Donald said was right. That was almost like either sharpening the tools or however you want to say it. Sowing the seeds to get closer to this thing. I think what was helpful for that, you know an interesting process in that Blood in the Brain was that we were taking something that seemed so, for me, in a lot of ways, out of reach and really kind of disconnected. In that we were sort of taking themes from Hamlet and placing them in a world that we – me, Donald, Tommy, and-

BABS: Ryan, Ricky…

SSJ: Yeah, Rick and Ryan and others and Margo, of course, were dealing with in the play. And Joy Meads, that was the big key in that one, connecting to the real world. But the idea that you could take big themes – I still think we have this idea that “big themes” are for “big theaters” or for “white theaters” or there’s “white themes” and we have “different themes” or our themes are “different” and they’re “smaller”, and subsequently- but obviously that’s not true.

And there was something great in that process of Blood in the Brain is that we were taking- I mean we were actually taking the themes from Shakespeare, regarded the greatest dramatic writer there is, taking that and placing him in our world. And in doing so, it gives you a sense of the scale of your lives, of people’s lives. You go, “Right, we struggle. We love. We fight. We wonder. We wrestle with the same – not only the same issues, but the same scale. The same urgency. The same need.”

And I know that sounds a little simplistic, especially for a group like Campo Santo or whatever. We’ve been doing this since 1996 so we understand the need and obviously the nobility in our people’s stories, but that was a different kind of affirmation, I think. I think because it was something so close to the world for me. Like, “Well, describe East 14th Street,” and you know. That kind of – now I think it’s very in vogue in the theater world to say like, “we’re doing a documentary play.” I don’t even know what the fuck that means really, to tell you the truth. Like, what do you mean you’re doing a “documentary play”? I don’t know what that is. I think there’s journalism and then there are performances. And I don’t see how there’s like a – what is that – I don’t see how there’s a- I don’t know. What does that mean? You know what I mean?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: If the great August Wilson is a documentary playwright, then none of us are. Because he wrote the rhythms and the tales of the people, so like if that doesn’t count, then nothing does. And if he counts, then everyone counts. Because everything falls underneath him in a way. I mean obviously there’s other great writers, but…

BABS: Yeah, right?

SSJ: You got August Wilson. You got Caryl Churchill, and the rest of us are just playing.

I say all that to say though, you know, the idea that literally our blocks could then be on the stage. In a certain sense Hamlet, or what we did, Blood in the Brain was a mixture of that. That sort of alchemy of going like, “There’s this and there’s that. And this is how it lives in the world,” that lets us see our world, but in a different scope or with a different view finder. And that was really cool. I mean, it was beautiful and it was hard. Hard, meaning the struggle of our peoples and our neighborhoods is hard sometimes, but it’s also very beautiful. That would in particular was a response to the violence in our neighborhoods, and that’s really hard, you know…

So, you know, it’s really interesting that Donald brings that up because he’s exactly right. It was totally unconscious. It’s why…

BABS: I felt it.

SSJ: Yeah! It’s why you get to do the stories you do as long as you do. Some stuff stays in the front of your brain and some stuff just melts right into your skin. And Naomi Iizuka’s like, she’s one of my heroes. Everything I’ve done with Naomi… yeah, it’s like melted into me, so I maybe don’t put that at the forefront of my brain like, “We’re going to do Dark Alliance like we did Blood in the Brain.” No, I never thought of it like that at all.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But there’s certainly something to that. She does this thing. She taught me a lesson a long time ago.

The great Luis Saguar was writing his play, his masterpiece, Hotel Angulo, and he would dictate sometimes and I would write. He was just a natural born great storyteller. So, I knew what he was writing as he was writing it, and by the time he’d compiled say 25 pages of this stuff, he was like, “I’m going to give it to Naomi Iizuka and another writer friend of ours.”

And I was like, “Uh… Okay… You sure? Don’t you want to finish it? Or get a draft or something like that?” He was like, “No, I wanna see what I have. I love them. I trust their opinion.” You know, I was like- it obviously hadn’t- it wasn’t telling it’s full tale, but the heart was in there.

And I had this sort of, you know, this brainy, dumb idea, and I was like, “Hey, why don’t you think of it as not a big night of theater and maybe it’s a smaller refractions. Think of it as kind of a quartet thing.” He was a little bit like, “Yeah, that’s not what I’m thinking. That’s not what I see. So, I’m gonna see what this story is.” And I was like, “Eh, I don’t know… I really don’t-” And you know, that was my big brother. He is my big brother. I wasn’t being critical. I was just being like what I felt like is a real collaborator, to say-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: -here’s my opinion. The same way I that I would offer to Dennis Johnson. Not because I think I’m so smart, but because I’m in the lab with those people. And… You know, he was very sure. He said, “nah”. That’s it. “Nah” meaning like- “Nah” not “no, you’re wrong”, but “no, that’s not what I see, so I’m not going to write that”. And I was like, “Yeah, I just don’t think – It’s not forming a story, B.” He was like, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

And Naomi read it and I was like, “Well, what’d she say?” He was… I was like, “Naomi, don’t you think he should make more like collage-like or more… It doesn’t have the shape to hold up to like play like that.” She was like, “I think the storytelling is so from the heart and so real that it should dictate its own form. And it should just be that. He should just continue writing that.” And I was like, “O-Okay…” You know I still- I heard what she was saying, but maybe I didn’t see it on the paper when Luis was writing it.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But he took that and he was like, “Yeah! See? That’s what I want to do. I want to follow whatever it is that’s in me.” And that’s- I mean, what a lesson. That’s the lesson, like follow the real shape even if you don’t know where it’s headed. If it’s true enough and strong enough in you, it’s gonna tell you. It’s gonna inform you.

And sure enough, that’s… I have no hyperbole when I say that’s a masterpiece that he wrote. A transcendent piece that sticks with me almost every day of my life. Like, I’ll hear a word or a line or a motion from that thing that just… that kills me and it’s because of the fullness of his theatrical storytelling, which he didn’t- he knew, but he didn’t have it sort of stated out and she knew that. She’s just a genius like that. She knows that part. She knows that the truest, greatest structure is the one that the story is as opposed to- She never said no obvious shit like, “Well, if we’re going to follow this guy, Mike, we gotta like him and when he kills his best friend, that might not be the best thing.” She said, “You have to follow the thing and let the thing be the thing.” And sure enough, we did a bunch of passes on that thing, and it became one of the most eye-opening – very structured – non-structured thing.

And I say all that to say, Barb, that with this. It never- I knew that again. Naomi’s sort of lessons, Luis’s lessons are melted inside of me where I don’t even think like, “Here’s my Robert McKee and-

BABS: Right?!

SSJ: “And I’m gonna look at this before I start it.” I just start guttin-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And just put it out. There wasn’t a part where I said, “Well, if you follow these two guys, maybe you should just follow these two guys.” Then the voices just start talking. Then you just start putting it out. Then you can start to shape it. And there was something must have been in me that still remembers that conversation with Naomi about Luis’s piece that just like whatever the story’s gonna be, it’s gonna tell you at a certain point.

And I feel really great about… Great and true. Like, I think what this does is true to, at least my experience, of trying to take all this stuff in – not just Gary Webb stuff, but like walking around the street and the experience of being almost thirty years later and sort of looking back at this broken refraction of what it used to be and what it could be and yet, in a lot of ways, is still there. So, I feel like all those jagged pieces find their way into this storytelling that way.

So, certainly not a play. Certainly not linear. But, you know, structured in the same way that your experience or your memory or a haunting does that to you. Like, I don’t sit down and be like, “Yeah, Imma be haunted by my partner that got shot at the Grand Auto. Yeah, I want to write about that haunting.” That shit just happens, you know. Those hauntings just happen. I think about Donald’s daughter a lot, but I couldn’t consciously – nor would I have the sort of hubris to go like, “yeah, I’m gonna write something that sort of responds to that.” I can’t do that. I can feel my feelings, then see where the spirits…

This one has taken on that sort of ability – not ability, but openness to sort of saying, okay, now let- If we’re trying to unearth something, then whatever you unearth is going to talk back to you also. It sounds a little frou-frou and hippy dippy, but it’s- Hey man, that’s how it got written, you know what I mean, so-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I don’t know what to say there.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And, I wouldn’t say that- Say we set out to do another that I lead in this way with the pen, I don’t think I would necessarily set out to do it that way. It’s the subject matter that did that.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Yeah, let’s hear Lacy! I keep talking too much. Come on, playa, spit! Give us some jewels before we cut!

D. LACY: Nah, I just-

SSJ: Give us some jewels! Put that in the text there, Barb!

BABS: I will!

D. LACY: I just realized-

SSJ: We want the jewels!!

D. LACY: I’m abouts to give ‘em to you. If you just- It’s just amazing that 8-9 years later since we did Blood in the Brain that how that was the tilling of the soil, if you will, for this piece. The whole workshops at Santa Barbara, the whole talking to the kingpin of the heroin trade, the whole everything. And how that’s where really… Sean’s “eggs” were fertilized, if you will, and the baby was conceived.

And I really feel that strongly because the first thing we did in preparation for that was we went up to the Children’s Memorial Grove where they have trees for my daughter. We took Naomi. It was me, Sean, who else was with us? It was one other person. But it was the three of us for sure-

SSJ: No, and Joy.

D. LACY: And Joy, that’s right.

SSJ: The beautiful Joy Mead.

D. LACY: Joy Mead, that’s who it was.

SSJ: Yep, that was… You’re right!

D. LACY: That was where the baby was conceived, not born, conceived. We meditated up there, prayed a little bit, and it’s Sean said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “This is something so tragically beautiful.” And that’s the apt description.

And I call that place, “Halfway to Heaven”. There’s a lot of spirits there – because it’s only children 18 and under who have been murdered in Alameda County. There’s babies in there – four months old. When we looked at the plaque and we read all the names of the kids. There was a couple- They were murdered. There’s a four month only baby in there. I don’t remember his or her name.

But relating to Sean what saying about channeling spirits, he really isn’t so much a writer, to me, of this piece, as he is a vessel. And he’s letting the spirits of the grave injustice be heard, you know. And did it so brilliantly by using the circumstance of what the late great Gary Webb unveiled. But taking the top of it, much in the way – As I was listening to him say about Hotel Angulo like how Luis did. He opened up this world of heroin. “Okay, this is what it looks like.” He just took us in that dirty, grimy, nasty, filthy, beautiful… all the layers of that world and this is what Sean has created with this piece. You see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between that this insidious monster of a drug created and how-

I was talking about it on the radio yesterday and someone called in and said, “Yeah, but you gotta tell people, it’s uplifting! Even though it was fucked up-” – he didn’t say it on the air-

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: He said, “I saw it and even though it was fucked up, at the end I felt uplifted. Like I wanted to do something or there’s gotta be hope.” And he said that thing about the children really struck him. “Not seeing children in the park”. He said, “Man, we gotta do something!” So, I thought, “Okay, wow!” If you can get just one person to have that mentality, that’s a major victory.

And Myers [Clark, one of the other actors in the cast] said something in the circle about a week or so ago that has become – I mean, as it was already, but it just reinforced it for me – he said, “We’re changing lives every night with this piece.” And it was just like BANG! The bells! For whom the bell tolls. I was just like, “Wow, that’s what we’re doing! We’re changing lives. We’re changing consciousness. We’re changing minds. We’re changing hearts. All of that.” You know, so…

Man, you know I can honestly say – I love Sean to death, I mean he’s my brother – but he’s a genius. I know he’s very humble and he hates people to talk about him, but I’m still learning this play! Every night it teaches me something. I tell all those younger actors since I’m the senior, especially Ricky [Saenz], “Don’t settle.” I tell Britney [Frazer], “Don’t settle. Keep digging, we’re not even there yet.” And then Juan’s been doing the same thing.

And it’s like, every night as an ensemble, this play teaches us something new and wonderful and amazing. And I can honestly say, it’s going like this [He indicates growth], we haven’t went back. We had one false start in the early preview because of whatever, but since then it just keeps going. And every night I say to myself backstage, “I don’t think I can do – or we can do – it any better than that!” And then the next night, we go someplace, totally fucking different! So, I’m not even going to say that to myself anymore. I’m not gonna put it in ether. I’m gonna just jump in this boat and… [sings] “sail on honey!”

Cuz this is an amazing experience. Just from the feedback I got from people I know and respect who’ve been seeing me on stage my whole life and telling me things and impressions of this piece and what it did to them. How it put their stomach in knots, how it made them hate the US government, how they want justice, how sad it was, how it made them think of their cousin who ODed. I mean, and this is the kind of stuff I’m receiving, and it’s all valid. I haven’t had one person say, “Critics be damned,” you know. I haven’t had one person say they weren’t affected by it, and that’s incredible.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: It’s definitely power of the people though, right, Barb?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Because you commune in a room like this-

D. LACY: Yeah.

SSJ: And if you come true with it enough and if the topic is relevant enough to the world, then it takes care of itself.

D. LACY/BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I mean the performance of it is great. Cutting Ball, they’re bold. They’re experimental by mission and by integrity.

D. LACY: Right.

SSJ: Campo Santo, you know, I’m sorry, man, but they’re just the best.

D. LACY: The illest!

SSJ: They’re the best actors. They have great techs.

D. LACY: And all the other acting community knows it.

SSJ: But see, the shows are always – and I say this, not sort of arrogantly, but just because you put good people together, they’re good.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But the specialness comes from putting it in the atmosphere.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And if it’s deep enough and it’s real enough-

D. LACY: That’s it.

SSJ: -then, you will affect. You know, I think Donald’s right, that word, “consciousness”. I don’t think we’re not masters, we’re vessels in that sense in that we’re able to help bring about a new thought or have it surface. People think these things. We’re not the only ones who think these thoughts, but you see it manifested before you and you go, “Oh yeah!”

A guy said last week in the talkback – here’s where it gets deep, when you don’t talk about the play. He said, “Look, all I want to know, is given this is our government, what are we going to do? I’m not asking you [the actors], I’m asking you!” And he points to everyone sitting here [the audience], all fifty, selling out.

D. LACY: Right, right, that’s my boy.

SSJ: And he says, “What are we gonna do?” And that’s not a “Q&A” question.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: That’s when you go, “Yeah, great.” That’s why you worked the time and worked to get the timing down to make this that and the other. And you edit it here because you have experience where you can put it in the atmosphere in a room like this and Donald’s right, one person says it.

D. LACY: Then most people have been saying. And the thing that I’m getting is that it’s hitting people viscerally. And I don’t know-

BABS: Oh, yeah, I still feel it.

D. LACY: Yeah! So, I should ask you, what was it like for you?

BABS: I mean, to piggyback off what you’re saying and what we’ve all been talking about is that, I, you know, I’ve been following the news about Intersection and Campo Santo and stuff and I was like, “how is this gonna be possible again”, you know?

SSJ/D. LACY: Right.

BABS: Like, is it going to be possible? And I think this did it. To have that- When I came in – The first show I came in was when I met you [acknowledging Donald] and obviously-

Donald: So, I brought you in, huh? I jumped her in the gang.

SSJ: Well-

Donald: You can print that!

BABS: Well, UCSB that’s when I met Sean-

SSJ: Yeah, don’t be trying-

D. LACY: I’m taking credit!

SSJ: Anyone who’s dope, Lacy’s always like “Well, actually…”

D. LACY: Yeah, I brought her in, yeah!

SSJ: Shoot!

D. LACY: Right or wrong, Barbara?! And she’s in Lovelife, so there.

SSJ: Don’t you be cutting. I remember the first time we were down at Santa Barbara, Barb was like-

BABS: I was doing this [indicating recording discussion], wasn’t I?

SSJ: This how we met Barbara – She was sitting in the middle of the fucking floor with the recorder, with the mike-

BABS: Yeah, just trying to get everybody recorded.

SSJ: Yeah, man!

D. LACY: That was where they had the great shut-out conspiracy. They wouldn’t let me run, but anyway. I’ll just say this before I gotta go. I really hope and pray that this play lives forever. I think everybody needs to see this. The non-believers as well as the believers.

I mean tonight was probably the most choir members we ever had. A lot of the people here know the story and are pro-justice and I don’t think we’ve ever had that many in one audience. There was at least- I can count the ones I know and it’s at least twelve off the top of my head. And that’s why the play went to a whole different place because “mmhmm, that’s right, tell it! Yeah!” You know, and all that it was like preaching to the choir, but this is to the choir and the non-believers.

So, I’m hoping that it has a long shelf life and it can continue to be seen til like Sean referred to the gentleman that said, “well, what are we gonna do?” and keep raising that question. As long as there is breath in my body, Imma be saying it on the radio that the US needs to be held accountable for this bullshit. You know and if this play or any play can still make that point, it’s the greatest story ever told, in my opinion. And I’ll say this again on your periodical, to me, Sean San Jose has written and directed the most important play in the last 25 years – and you can quote me on that.

Other than what August Wilson means to the black community. This means as much if not more because it’s speaking specifically to a grave injustice that has destroyed millions of lives. Millions of lives. And somebody, and I’m gonna beat this drum til I’m dead and the good Lord take me home. Somebody gotta pay. Somebody gotta be held accountable. That was the question I asked that lawyer. It was the last question in the talk back. She was all, “Well, we don’t know if it was intentional or if it was just neglect.”

SSJ: I do.

D. LACY: I was like, “Wait a minute, This a white male supremacist society, I would suggest it’s not only intentional, it’s extremely intentional. And even if it isn’t, who gives a fuck? It’s been proven they did it, so now what is the statute of limitations on genocide?” There is none. Let me answer the question for you. She was like, “Well, you’re right, but this could be difficult politically.” I said, “I know it’s gonna be difficult. I ain’t saying it’s gonna be easy.”

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: “But is it legally possible to sue the people responsible for this shit?” She said, “Yes, but.” Hey, I don’t give a fuck! What’s the character pushing the rock up the mountain, Sisyphus, or some shit? I’ll be him.

SSJ: Did you just Sisyph-y?

D. LACY: I’m gonna sing this song, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll pick up the baton. Now.

SSJ: And on that note, BAM!

http://vimeo.com/110932723

Sean San José is the writer and director of “Superheroes”. Donald Lacy Jr. is an actor in the show, a Campo Santo family member and host of the radio program, “Wake Up, Everybody,” Saturday mornings on KPOO 89.5 FM. The world premiere of “Superheroes” is presented by Cutting Ball from now until Dec. 21st at 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco. More details are found online at http://cuttingball.com/season/14-15/superheroes/.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright who got her start in theater learning from Naomi Iizuka, Sean San Jose, Donald Lacy and became an engaged theater citizen from Campo Santo. You can find her on twitter @bjwany.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Catching Up with Corinne Proctor

Marissa Skudlarek, with the first ever Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life interview!

I first became acquainted with the delightful singer-actress Corinne Proctor in 2011, when I went to see a staged reading of the new trip-hop musical Ozma of Oz at the Cutting Ball Theater. Corinne stole the show as a sassy, talking, rapping chicken (complete with hand puppet). Later that night, following a party in a bohemian loft of the kind that I thought existed only in New York, the two of us belted out “Cabaret” on the streets of SoMa at 2 AM. Definitely a night to remember!

Corinne moved to New York about two years ago, but fortunately for her friends and fans in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Playhouse has brought her back here twice. She played Little Red Riding Hood in their production of Into the Woods this summer, and is currently starring as Marge MacDougall in their holiday production of Promises, Promises. Marge is a kooky barfly who hits on the musical’s heartbroken hero, Chuck Baxter (Jeffrey Brian Adams) at the start of Act Two. It’s a brief but notoriously scene-stealing role: both Marian Mercer, who played Marge in the original production, and Katie Finneran, who played her in the 2010 Broadway revival, won Tony Awards for it. Playing Marge is also special for Corinne because it marks her first role as a member of Actors’ Equity — “I’m overjoyed to have an asterisk of my own [by my name in the playbill],” she says.

I caught up with Corinne recently to chat about holidays, stage names, and how to throw a swingin’ office party.

Marissa: You’re originally from the East Coast: you grew up in Maryland and went to college in Upstate New York. What brought you out to the Bay Area after college?

Corinne: I wish I could pretend it was something cooler, but the truth is I ran out of money after spending my first year after college living outside Boston, and this is where my parents lived at the time. My mom was heading to our place in Florida (my parents are both there permanently now) so I moved in with my dad. I really miss that SOMA condo. I used to be able to walk to SF Playhouse!

Marissa: Then, about two years ago, you relocated to New York City. What prompted you to move back East?

Corinne: I had always been planning to save money to move to NYC by living with my dad and working full-time, which I did virtually the entire three years I lived here. I might have moved sooner if the Bay Area theater scene hadn’t been so wonderfully loving and fun and so incredibly kind to me, especially Susi Damilano and Bill English at S.F. Playhouse. I kept thinking I’d move when I hit a slump, but I ended up having incredibly good fortune. The longest I went without knowing what my next gig would be was five days. (I can’t resist bragging about that, haha.) I also just fell in love with my life out here, and it was definitely hard for me to leave. Then, in 2012, my dad was relocating to Houston and I knew it was time for me to finally make the move. I was in My Fair Lady at SF Playhouse at the time, and toward the end of that run I was living alone in the condo with no furniture except an air mattress!

Marissa: If any of our readers are Bay Area residents contemplating a move to the Big Apple, what advice would you give them to help them make that transition?

Corinne: HAVE LOTS OF MONEY. But no, seriously. I had saved about $20,000 and I can tell you that it didn’t last me a year. Now, I don’t claim that I was living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I wasn’t having pheasant under glass for dinner every night either. Plan to drop upwards of $3,000 in order to get into an apartment. Someone who grew up in California might also have some culture shock, but since I spent the first two decades of my life on the East Coast I’m very used to the quicker, louder pace.

Marissa: Many Bay Area actors, especially those in your demographic (young and female) agonize long and hard over whether or not to join Equity. Was this ever a concern for you? If so, did it become less of an issue when you moved to New York?

Corinne: Many people wanted me to be more worried about joining Equity, but I have to tell you I barely thought twice about it. (If I were staying in the Bay Area, I might have given a bit more pause, but I won’t swear to it.) I’d been working consistently as a non-Equity actor since 2008, and I was ready to take it to the next level. Particularly in New York, being non-Equity is super rough — although being an EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) does get you on a slightly better waiting list.

The one and only, Corinne Proctor.

The one and only, Corinne Proctor.

Marissa: I know that one of Equity’s rules is that no two members can have the same stage name. I suppose it’s pretty unlikely that there would be another Equity actress called “Corinne Proctor,” but if you’d needed to choose a different stage name, what would you have done?

Corinne: Haha, I had a lot of fun thinking about this, of course. Because I speak Spanish, I thought about taking my paternal grandmother’s maiden name, Gomes. It’s actually a Portuguese name, but I thought maybe it would help me be considered for roles where I could employ that skill. Of course I always could have tried “Cori” instead of Corinne. Another family name I thought about was my mother’s maiden name, which is Gormley. Then again, there’s always that old trick of taking your middle name and the name of the street you grew up on, in which case I’d be Elizabeth Greenwood — very Old Hollywood, don’t you think?

Marissa: As Marge in Promises, Promises, you make drunken-dancing and tipsy comedy look easy, but what are the biggest challenges of playing this scene-stealing role?

Corinne: You are sweet to say so! I am certainly having a ton of fun and am super lucky to be onstage with the extremely talented Jeffrey Brian Adams. I’ve stayed nervous so much longer for this role than any other I’ve played, and I think it’s because I have all of Act I to build anxiety, and because I spend such a short amount of time onstage that it’s hard to really get comfortable or used to it. (In the end, I think that serves me well in terms of keeping it fresh.) Comedy is so hard in a way that’s hard to put a finger on. Every audience is different and it seems like the smallest shift in line delivery can take something from hysterical to boring. In all, I guess timing/navigating the laughs is the biggest challenge.

Corinne Proctor as Marge MacDougall in Promises, Promises -- vodka stinger in hand. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Corinne Proctor as Marge MacDougall in Promises, Promises — vodka stinger in hand. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Marissa: In Promises, Promises, Marge gets drunk on vodka stingers. Did you drink any of these as research for the role? What’s in a vodka stinger, anyway?

Corinne: I am fully committed to important character research such as this. My professionalism cannot be doubted since I willingly consumed crème de menthe mixed with vodka for the sake of my art. Yes, that’s what’s in a vodka stinger — crème de menthe and vodka. My only thought is that it’s for people who want to get drunk in a bar and still have minty-fresh breath if anyone hot shows up. And if you think that’s gross, consider this: the reason “vodka” is specified in the drink name is because the original “stinger” is brandy and crème de menthe.

Marissa: They also must have been associated with a certain type of woman during that time period: Joanne in Company, which came out two years after Promises, Promises, drinks vodka stingers too. (Joanne’s a lot angrier and more cynical than Marge is, but they’re both well-to-do, drunkenly promiscuous Manhattanites.)

Corinne: Honestly, though, the vodka stinger was surprisingly drinkable despite being inherently disgusting. It kind of reminded me of the spearmint snow-cones that used to be served at our community pool.

Marissa: Still, it doesn’t sound like vodka stingers will become your drink of choice any time soon. What do you typically order at the bar?

Corinne: CHAMPAGNE! But, of course, that is too expensive for starving actresses, so I am usually seen at the White Horse with a Trumer Pils. I’ve also been known to enjoy a Hendrick’s Gin on the rocks, or any drink that is free.

Marissa: At this point, the Bay Area is your “home away from home.” What are you looking forward to doing in San Francisco this festive season?

Corinne: I love being back here! I’ve been having a lot of fun going to my old haunts and seeing friends. In terms of holiday cheer, I’m currently accepting applications for ice skating partners… doesn’t anyone else like to do cheesy things like that?

Marissa: Is it hard to stay connected to loved ones when you’re in a show and can’t go home for the holidays?

Corinne: This will be my third Christmas where I’m in the Bay Area doing a show and everyone else in my family is in Florida. My family is fantastically nerdy, so we do a reading of A Christmas Carol every year. When I can’t be there, I Skype in — usually as Marley’s Ghost, which is fitting for someone who’s not really in the room.

Marissa: Apart from Promises, Promises, what’s your favorite holiday show? And what’s the movie that you HAVE to watch every Christmas?

Corinne: I guess I like holiday movies better than holiday shows. I’m not terribly familiar with the stage versions of most of them. But you know what, haters? I really like seeing various versions of A Christmas Carol. That said, I can be super picky about them. As for movies, THE one for my brother and me is Muppet Family Christmas. NOT Muppet Christmas CarolMUPPET. FAMILY. CHRISTMAS. This article from AV Club nails it.

Marissa: Several of us Theater Pub folks will be involved in Stuart Bousel’s production of The Desk Set next summer — which, like Promises, Promises, is a mid-century Manhattan workplace comedy that features a wild office Christmas party. Got any tips or advice for us?

Corinne: There’s no such thing as too big when it comes to hair, ladies. Bump it, tease it, rock it. Otherwise, I feel wild partying is solidly in the skill set of most theater people. Tell the men they have a free pass on butt pinching and ta-da! It’s mid-century!

Marissa: Corinne, it was a pleasure catching up with you and even more of a pleasure to see you back onstage in the Bay Area! Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2015!

Promises, Promises runs at the San Francisco Playhouse through January 10. Tickets here. If you’d like to hear more from Corinne Proctor, check out her contributions to Theater Pub’s roundtable on Into the Woods.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her blogging at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.