In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – With a li’l Help from your Friends

Charles Lewis III checking in from the most recent Olympians meeting.

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

“I had been alone more than I could have been, had I gone by myself.”
– The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

In all of the year’s I’ve been involved in the active production of the Olympians Fest (Years 3, 4, and now 6), I think I’ve only ever missed a single meeting. I believe it was during Year 4. I actually had planned on attending, but as the day wore on, I got so ridiculously sick that I eventually expected a CDC “Quarantine” tent to go up over the house. I’m pretty sure that once one agrees to write for the festival, the only excuse for missing a meeting is to be dead – at least that’s the impression we get from Jeremy’s e-mails. He’ll only accept actual death because being “on the brink of death” means you’re still alive and therefore should be at the meeting.

Granted, the folks who missed out on the most recent meeting had pretty good reasons: one was rehearsing his new show; one was acting, producing, and hosting this month’s Theater Pub; and one was actually having a baby. I… guess those are valid-sounding reasons, what do you think?

So as we all settle in, stuff our faces, and gossip about actors who have burned too many bridges, I really begin to notice that the meetings for this year’s fest carry a significance that wasn’t there in meetings for previous years. I don’t just mean the fact that Rachel Kessinger’s veggie lasagna has raised the bar on the food we bring, or that an entire cantaloupe-sized bottle of wine was finished off before the meeting proper even started. No, what I’m noticing is that this year’s meetings really do point toward a shift in the way that the festival is put together. There are fewer meetings this year than there were in previous years. As such, a lot has been packed into each one, so if you miss it, you’re missing something significant about how this year’s festival will differ from the last five.

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

We cover the normal bases: stating how much of the play has been written so far, if at all; mentioning how the premise has changed from the original pitch, if at all; finding a director, if you haven’t yet; and the reading of pages from the script-in-progress. As before, I pass my pages off to other writers in the room, tilt my head to the side, and try to just listen. I hear flaws, lots of them. Not in the way it’s read, per se, but the readings give the characters a different interpretations that what I’d conceived. One joke I wrote crashes and burns like the toilet seat of a Russian space station, so I know it’s not likely to be in the next draft. I will say that the back-and-forth aspect I wrote for this scene sounds better spoken than it did as I wrote it, so that’s good. All in all, I’m not entirely pleased, but I have an idea of what to work on.

That was a major topic of the meeting. Not my shitty pages, but the topic of collaboration. The simultaneous gift and curse of writing is its solitary nature: it often requires you to block out the white noise of the outside world so as to let your Id run free, but doing intentionally requires cutting yourself off from those to whom you look for support, solace, or even a few quick laughs. Writing means translating billions of mental synapses into finger movements that will somehow paint a verbal picture meant to be interpreted by someone other than you. But although the writing process can be solitary, it doesn’t mean that means to get the wheels moving have to be.

This meeting was about asking everyone in the room “What do you need?” and trying our best to make sure they got it. Maybe they have writer’s block, maybe they forgot the dates, maybe they wrote for a specific actor whom they now know they won’t get (FYI: pre-casting in the festival is frowned upon, and with damn good reason). As such, we threw out not only our frustrations, but also our solutions – particularly those of us who have done the festival before. A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of having the scripts read aloud. You might think this was a no-brainer – what with it being the entire point of the festival – but it’s how past entries that were meant to 10-15 min. shorts wound up being around 30 min. or more; it’s how a festival that starts every night at 8pm and expects to be out by 10pm (if not earlier) winds up having nights that go as late as 11:30pm. To this conversation I contribute “Just remember that it’ll always sound different out loud than it does in your head, ‘cause the voice in your head will lie to you. Every. Single. Time.”

Suggestions are thrown out for setting up writing sessions and readings. It reminds me of when I went to such a meeting with fellow Olympians writers during Year 3. I wrote the first full draft of my one-act about Atlas longhand in that café. I wound up drastically rewriting it when I finally typed it up, but that session in the café really got the ball rolling.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

Before we conclude for the evening, we touch on the other major necessary evil of art: funding. The fundraising template for the festival will be one of the most notable changes from years past. It’s a bit too early to say what it will be exactly, but it seems assured that it won’t resemble the campaigns from previous years. Of course, once your fundraiser video features creepy photo-bombing by Allison Page – 9:35 in the video – where else is there to go with it?

But the one thing of which we are sure is that it will require the effort of every single person who was in the room that night, as well as many more who weren’t there. If there was an overall message of this last meeting, it was that it only works when all of the pieces are in sync. Those of us who have been part of it from the beginning (in one capacity or another) know this to be absolutely true. Writers must communicate with directors, directors with actors, everyone with friends and family to see this new work and others like it. Once someone gets in their head that their way – and ONLY their way – is what will happen… well, there’s a reason each year’s festival has That One Play. Hell, it’s usually not even one – I tend to count two or three, depending on the year. It’s the play or plays that clearly had a communication breakdown and wind up being complete and utter train wrecks. Not even the good kind with some redeeming element of camp; no, they’re the ones that make audiences want to chew off their own limbs in an attempt to escape. There’s at least one every year. I sure as hell hope it isn’t mine.

So as we began to leave for the evening, encouraging all present to see this month’s ‘Pub show (that includes you reading this, it runs again this coming Monday and Tuesday), I dare say the one word on everyone’s lips is “collaboration”. That and Rachel’s lasagna.

Charles Lewis III is planning to once again direct his own Olympians piece on Poseidon this year. As to how that’s still collaborative, he plans to elaborate in the next “Of Olympic Proportions” entry. To read his and every writer’s proposal, and to learn more about the festival’s past and present, please visit the official SF Olympians Fest website.

Everything Is Already Something Week 53: Things I Actually Said

Allison Page, daring to look back.

I’ve been writing this blog for two years.

YOWZA.

So I’m saying screw it, and doing my version of a clip show. Here are some of the most and least useful things I’ve ever written here:

On how commercial directors sound to me: “Now do it like your eyelids are on fire and your grandma stole your Chex Mix.”

“It’s okay if you’re tired. You’ll be tired sometimes, but it’s worth it.”

“Do sexy people wear sleeves?”

“I hadn’t been listening. Like, at all. Every one of my lines sounded like I was reading it off of a cue card written in wingdings.”

“When asked, ‘What’s the best role you’ve ever played?’ my impulse is to just respond with whichever was the most grueling.”

“When a show closes, I feel a slump. I always have. Like someone’s carefully lowering an Acme anvil down on top of me, and I’m moving in slow motion to get out of the way.”

“Mensa says you’re a doo-doo head.”

“The grass is always greener on some other asshole’s lawn…take a look at your own damn grass, it’s got things that mine does not and vice versa.”

“Maybe I don’t live on the top of Mt. Crumpit, but I do live on the 11th floor of an apartment building in the tenderloin.”

“Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m the black sheep because I’ve decided I’m the black sheep.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“While she was doing the most adult thing ever, making a commitment to a man for the rest of her life — I was doing a drunken interpretive dance to Katy Perry’s Hot ’n Cold.”

“Truthfully, when it comes to acting or writing or a bunch of other shit, the only person you can control is yourself unless you have access to a lot of booby traps.”

Musée des arts et métiers, Paris. Machine à écrire portable Corona, 1920.

“Any writer will tell you, the most important thing is to write, and if it is the suckiest thing in the world, just toss it in the digital trash. At least you wrote something.”

“In a time when the theater is always striving to bring more people in, to get more butts in the seats, the last thing that would ever help that would be to limit the types of stories we think should be told and poo-poo the everywoman.”

“This is my writing beard. Do I look smart yet?”

“If you’re going to not base your worth on someone’s negative opinions, you shouldn’t base them on their positive opinions, either.”

“Swearing is a creative choice.”

“You’re taking a lot into your own hands if you self produce, and hopefully that means you’ve worked really hard on the material, and that you have people behind you who really believe in it…and hopefully those people are smart.”

“I cannot work without an outline.”

“Nobody noticed the characters going to the bathroom too much.”

“The odds that you’ll find me at a desk in an office, or selling shampoo, or baking fucking peach pies for cash are pretty high.”

“It’s fantastic to be a last second replacement. Everybody’s really relieved they got someone on super short notice. They may not be expecting much. I mean, they’ve never heard of me. So that means that if I’m even a little good – I’m a savior!”

“I can’t write it’s cold,
I need a pony to write,
I can’t write it’s hot”

“Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you’re just bragging.”

“You can appear to be a great producer, but if you’re stage manager or lighting or sound tech or costume person if a total douchebag — it’s going to reflect poorly on you.”

“I don’t need the rubber chicken. The rubber chicken is within us all.”

“Overall I think it’s a cop-out to say that you can’t write anything unless you’re in the mood or feeling inspired. Maybe I say that so that I can convince myself not to wait for inspiration, knowing that I’m so lazy I might never get around to feeling inspired.”

“When you include a bio about yourself, maybe don’t make it a novella.”

“Everything’s a nightmare.”

“It’s okay to laugh.”

“I’d love to fill a yacht with caramel sauce — who wouldn’t?”

“Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.”

Allison Page is a writer/actor/person. You can catch her first produced full length play HILARITY at the EXIT Theatre through March 28th.

The Five: A Theatre Nerd Looks Back on GLEE

Anthony R. Miller Checks in with his farewell to a show that should have ended a long ass time ago, but didn’t so here we are.

Last Friday marked the series finale of GLEE, a show about singing and dancing teenagers. Some would argue that it’s final 12 episode season was a mercy killing. With a revolving door of cast members, hack writing, plot inconsistencies you could drive a truck though and the nagging feeling of “Wait, am I the only one who’s notice Will Scheuster is a TERRIBLE teacher”? So why is this relevant to Bay Area theatre? Well, I feel in love with this show while living in SF, hanging out with other theatre friends, watching, totally blown away that a musical comedy had become mainstream culture. The show may have been awful, but deep inside we all rooted for it. As a former high school theatre nerd who was anything but popular, I couldn’t help but be excited to see a show where annoying, over enthusiastic, socially awkward kids who were passionate about expressing themselves were the main character. But it went to hell eventually and as we stand in the smoking crater that was the bad writing fiasco known as GLEE, I have a few thoughts, as usual, there are Five

A Show About High School Theatre Nerds

Seriously you guys, this was as close to a mainstream television about teenage theatre nerds as we get since FAME. It was a TV show about kids who wanted to express their friggin feelings and had the ability to do so through the performing arts. And sure, it was show Choir, not actual Musical Theatre. We had a pretty decent theatre department in my High School and a good band department, but I can’t recall a show choir, did we have that? I gotta be honest, even Sondheim listenin’, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat singin’ , theatre dork Anthony would think Show Choir sounded lame. Every now and then they would throw us a bone and do a show tune that wasn’t from wicked. (One assumes too many show tunes hurt album sales and who doesn’t need a copy of Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle singing “Poker Face”.) Let’s not forget though, all of these wildly talented kids didn’t want to be professional show choir singers, they wanted to be on Broadway. So if nothing else, it was a show about dorks in High School who had the same dream we had when we were High School Theatre Dorks. Most importantly, this was a show about the safe place that the arts can create. These kids found their true selves because of a High School Arts Program, even though it turns out some of their true selves were assholes, that’s beside the point.

My Kid Loves This Show

My nine year old daughter has become obsessed with this show. Which is a big step (I guess) up from whatever is on the Disney Channel. The best part though? Every time two guys kiss, or two girls kiss, or one person expresses their their romantic love to someone of the same sex, my kid doesn’t flinch. There has been no “Why is that boy kissing that boy?” conversations. You know, the conversation that all the parents who trash the show are mortified of having? She doesn’t know what a huge deal it is, to her it’s just…GLEE. Although at some point I assume she’ll ask me what “scissoring” is.

Then the Writing Got Really Shitty

It’s as if I have dated GLEE for 6 years, and it’s all because of one really fantastic first date and a really good second and third. GLEE’s Pilot still stands as one of the best pilots ever. It was funny, weird and really touching. It went south in a hurry. For those not familiar with Ryan Murphy, (Creator of GLEE, nip/Tuck and American Horror Story) he has a tendency to start strong and go unimaginably off the rails as the show progresses into later seasons. And GLEE got painfully bad, a show that once had ten million viewers a week, had plummeted to 2 Million. Musical numbers because incredibly forced, characters would disappear and re-appear with no explanation, even when a character would, self referentially point out how bat-shit crazy a plot had become, nothing actually changes, they just wanted to let you know that they know. It is my belief that the biggest alcoholics in Hollywood are staff writers for GLEE . They’d have to be, here’s a dramatic version of how a normal day might go;

(RYAN MURPHY and IAN BRENNAN enters the writers room.)

RYAN: Ok guys so, this week is our “Twerking” Episode.

WRITER 1: Seriously? An episode about Twerking?

RYAN: Twerking is huge , and we need to do a twerking episode so kids can see it on TV and believe they can twerk someday too.

IAN: Oh and we want Will Scheuster to Sing “Blurred Lines” while the Cheerios (The High School Cheerleaders, who are in fact supposed to be 16.) Twerk next to him. Have fun!

(They leave.)

WRITER 1: Sweet jesus I cant do this anymore

WRITER 2: We have to; it’s our job I’ve got a mortgage and two kids

WRITER 3: I went to Yale dammit!

WRITER 2: I hate myself for writing this as much as you do but it doesn’t matter! (Takes out large jug of Whiskey and pours it into his coffee cup till it slightly overflows, he gulps down half of it.) Ok I’m ready.

WRITER 1: (Pulls out his own bottle and drinks from it like it’s the water of life, he hiccups, almost vomits and swallows it down.) OK Scene 1, Blaine is dusting a piano while Twerking.

Kurt’s Dad Tho

Inarguably, the constant glimmer of hope in even the worst episode was Mr. Burt Hummel (Huh, Burt and Kurt, I just caught that.) The Middle America, blue collar average dude, who just happens to be the most loving, understanding and progressive Dad on TV, like ever. Was he a guy who was coming to grips with accepting his gay son? Sure, but he loved his gay son, defended him, stood up for him, he let Kurt be Kurt. Burt gave impassioned speeches promoting tolerance and understanding; there has never been a bad scene with this guy in it. I don’t know how many times I would exclaim while watching or post on Facebook “Kurt’s Dad”! With a show full of openly gay kids, their accepting teachers and friends, Burt was the face of America still getting used to all the changes in the world, but he did it because deep inside he was a good dude, he is representative of all our liberal hopes and dreams that even the most beer drinking, John Cougar Mellencamp listenin’, Blue collar guy can be an ally.

Taking What We Can Get

Real talk, by Season 3 GLEE had become a train wreck, but try as I might, I never stopped watching. I’d turn the volume down when Lea Michelle would do her umpteenth Barbara Streisand tribute, sometimes I’d shout “There is no reason for you to sing that song!”, and it is a well known rule that once a popular song is sung on GLEE, it isn’t cool anymore. (This is probably why, Dave Grohl never let Nirvana or Foo Fighters songs be used.) But as I said before, this was all the representation Theatre Dorks got in Mainstream Culture. Sure, in the midst of GLEE-mania came SMASH (which I loved, but was in small company.) But not since FAME was their a show about the kids I went to High School with, the kid I was I was. GLEE may have been awful far longer than it was goods, but sometimes we need to take what we can get from Mainstream Culture. In the end we had a show that pushed the importance of Arts Education, never giving up, finding strength and community amongst your fellow underdog, and Social Progressivism. Oh and Jane Lynch, she was the funniest fucking thing ever.

So Goodbye Glee, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer. Keep up with his project at www.awesometheatre.org

Theater Around The Bay: We Open Tonight!

Opening Tonight: On the Spot, a night of 10 minute plays written in 24 hours! Six playwrights will be selected on March 5th, and put “on the spot” the morning of March 13th to write a 10 minute play that must include a line of dialogue, prop, and set piece all provided by Theater Pub. Their scripts are due the morning of March 14th. Six teams of actors and a director will rehearse and stage these brand new works at PIANOFIGHT the last two Mondays and Tuesdays of March.

Our six playwrights (five, plus one team of two!) for the evening are Jake Arky, Gabriel Bellman & Sara Judge, Rachel Bublitz, Barry Eitel, Seanan Palmero, and Madeline Puccioni!

Our six directors are Mike Fatum, Neil Higgins, Christine Keating, Charles Lewis III, Rem Myers, and Sam Tillis!

Our fabulous acting company is Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Jan Gilbert, Annabelle King, Michelle Navarrete, Annette Roman, Carole Swann, Jess Thomas, Meg Trowbridge, Steven Widow!

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: What? And Quit Show Business?

Dave Sikula, having switched places, last week, with Barbara.

The thing that’s foremost on my mind this week is the 99-seat kerfuffle in Los Angeles. I’m sure many of my constant readers are aware of the situation, but for those who aren’t, here’s a precis (as best I understand it). Back in the ‘80s, a plan was implemented in Los Angeles theatres to allow members of Actor’s Equity to act in theatres with 99 seats or fewer at pay rates below Equity minimum. This usually amounted to token payments (in the low single or double figures) for rehearsals and performances. The most contentious part of this was that Equity had to be forced into the plan because of a court order.

Now, I’ll stipulate that, in a perfect world, anyone involved with a theatrical production – actors, designers, directors, technicians, stage managers, running crew, front-of-house staff – would be paid a living wage, but anyone in this business knows that we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? If we get paid at all, it’s a token amount that pays for gas or BART or Muni fare. And that’s fine. There’s an old saying that you can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living; none of us does this to get rich. It’s all about – or should be about – the creative process and the chance to do interesting work.

When I started auditioning for shows in Los Angeles in the late ‘70s, it was (for the most part) not good. The scene was filled with shows that were intended mainly as showcases for people to get agents to do film and television. There was some quality work – at The Odyssey, The Matrix, South Coast Rep; some other places – but most was middling or bad or featured TV and movie stars who wanted to tread the boards, to mixed results. (The Charlton Heston/Deborah Kerr Long Day’s Journey was particularly gruesome, but Dana Elcar, Donald Moffat, Ralph Waite, and Bruce French did an unforgettable Godot; the second-best I’ve ever seen).

Didi, Gogo, Pozzo

Didi, Gogo, Pozzo

Chuck as Tyrone. Not for the faint of heart.

Chuck as Tyrone. Not for the faint of heart.

After the waiver was implemented, LA theatre bloomed and entered, if not a golden age, then an explosion of creativity. Companies sprang up and thrived as actors, both known and unknown were able (to use a phrase I hate) to “practice their craft,” be creative, take artistic risks, and find their own level of success, unhampered by undue financial concerns.

For the last twenty-some years, this system must have stuck in Equity’s craw, and in recent months, they’ve announced plans to get rid of the waiver and ensure union actors are paid, at the very least, minimum wage. Now in theory, who could object to that? Actors should be able to make at least as much as the kid at McDonald’s who runs the drive-thru (a job that actually requires him or her to act being friendly for at least part of a shift), but doing that will drive up production costs to ruinous levels (I’ve read between 5,000% and 9,000%) that will drive a lot of companies out of business – ironically depriving the very actors whom the union wants to be paid for working. It seems Equity’s position is that actual work at small compensation is preferable to no work at minimum wage.

I was stunned to hear that there are 8,000 Equity members in the Los Angeles area. I don’t think there are 8,000 actors in the Bay Area, let along Equity members. (Of course, it seems like a good portion of the Equity actors working here live in New York … ) Now, obviously, not all of those union actors are working on stage, either fully paid or underpaid, but even if half of them were/are doing waiver shows, that half will soon be deprived of work, because the companies that have allowed them to do something with substance (or even something frivolous) won’t be there anymore.

As might be guessed, this proposal is causing large rifts in the LA theatre community, with plenty of actors – and plenty of them famous, if that makes any difference – pitted against their own union. (And let it be notes, the new plan has plenty of supporters.) While both sides are pretty adamant in their stances, Equity isn’t really playing fair, using phone banks to spread, if not misinformation, then incomplete information and deleting opposing comments from their Facebook and other web pages. And, on top of that, even though Equity members will be voting on whether to institute a new plan, it’s strictly advisory, and the union’s board will be free to dump the old plan and put in a new one. (And let me hasten to add, many of the people against the new plan acknowledge that the current one could stand some changes – just not the proposed one.)

Even Hal Holbrook is in favor of the waiver (hey, that rhymes).

Even Hal Holbrook is in favor of the waiver (hey, that rhymes).

Now, even though I’m a member of two unions (which will go unnamed) myself, not only am I in favor of keeping the waiver in Los Angeles, I wish we here had something similar; not because I don’t want actors to be paid, but because the talent pool available to a lot of directors and theatre companies in the Bay Area would rise dramatically (no pun intended). I haven’t been a member of the LA theatre community for over 20 years, but from what I read and hear about it, it’s vibrant, experimental, bold, and, most important, open. Even though theatre space has always been at a premium in the Bay Area – now (when it seems like any building in mid-Market is being replaced by skyscraping condo projects) more than ever – I’d have to think that a move that allowed actors to work in so many venues and with so any company that met the criteria would be a shot in the arm and kick start the golden age of theatre that San Francisco’s been on the verge of for the last 20 years. #pro99

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Privilege to Produce Art

Marissa Skudlarek… checking her privilege?

When we decided the theme for this month’s Theater Pub blog entries, we thought about St. Patrick’s Day and the Luck of the Irish, and decided on “luck and chance.” Those are ancient words and ancient concepts. In the olden days, people often saw a religious component to luck and chance: a god, or gods, had chosen to smile upon you, and therefore you had good fortune. Luck was synonymous with blessings, with fate, with grace.
These days, though, there’s a new synonym for “lucky,” one that is much in the news and the media. And that word is “privileged.”

The theory of privilege asks us to understand that no, we’re not merely lucky, we have benefited from systematic inequalities and prejudices that happened to work in our favor. Grandpa didn’t just pull himself up by his own bootstraps and buy that house in the suburbs; he benefited from racist housing policies that prevented other people, men just like him except for the color of their skin, from buying houses in the suburbs. We shouldn’t be asking people to “count their blessings”; that’s such an entitled, tone-deaf thing to say. Instead, we should ask them to “check their privilege.”

In a sense, privilege is blind luck, because none of us choose what circumstances we’re born into. But it has much more insidious connotations and ramifications than words like “luck” or “chance” usually possess. Therefore, asking someone to check their privilege can be a tricky thing. Take, for instance, this piece about how being a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, as not every mother has the luxury of being able to stop working and support a family on one income. One of my co-workers posted this article on Facebook recently and then got a lot of push-back from her friends who are stay-at-home moms. People can get incredibly defensive when asked to think about their own privilege.

Therefore, at the risk of stirring up the outrage and defensiveness of the people reading this column, I will now say: being able to make and attend theater is also a privilege. Even if we’re working our butts off at day jobs and then rushing to a six-hour tech rehearsal and surviving on five hours of sleep at night, we’re still privileged to have that kind of stress (stress mostly of our own choosing) in our lives. Even if we lament the fact that theater is becoming an upper-middle-class pastime, we are forced to admit that it isn’t always easy for less-privileged people to attend theater. Upper-middle-class people possess disposable income, leisure time, and status anxiety — but if someone lacks some or all of those things, it’s much harder to persuade them to come see a show.

It makes me uncomfortable at times to think about how what I do embodies my privilege, and how the majority of audience members are privileged, too. Many theater-makers look back to the Golden Age of English-Language Theater, Shakespeare’s era where peasants and nobility alike attended the same shows, and we dream of being able to re-create that in our own, 21st-century theaters. But I wonder how realistic that dream is, when we live in a nation, and a city, with rising inequality. I tend to believe that if we want to make theater less of an upper-class or elitist pursuit, it will take more than just making low-cost theater tickets available to low-income people, or of providing more art classes in inner-city schools. I believe it will instead require a radical restructuring of society, a re-thinking of Art and Class and Work and Entertainment, and much checking of privilege. It will take a wide and concerted effort that involves, and affects, more than just theater-makers.

In between our day jobs and our tech rehearsals and the challenges of making art in a late-capitalist society, we do spend time talking about the problems of inequality in the arts. But I don’t know if we necessarily have the time or power or resources that would make us the ideal people to find solutions to these matters. Sometimes I want to say, “I signed up to make theater; I didn’t sign up to solve all the inequalities of society!”

And then I realize how horribly privileged that sounds.

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

Cowan Palace: Hugs And Cuddles Heads Out On Maternity Leave!

Ashley says a quick goodbye before maternity leave.

I’ve been feeling mentally blocked from writing this blog for a few weeks. Once I admitted to myself that, yeah homegirl, you’re gonna need to take some time off for a maternity leave, I immediately felt anxious.

See, I’m not the best at taking time off or stepping away from stuff I feel invested in; my thoughts start drowning while my heart races me into a fury.

Take today for example. I’m six days away from my due date and have managed to catch a terrible cold. #Hashtag literally, my entire body hurts and my brain feels like it’s been placed into a blender of fog. But I’m still at work! Partially because I’m still in denial about it all but also because I want to be here and I suck at admitting to myself that sometimes you can’t do everything.

But I’ve been writing this column for awhile and I’m sure you’ve heard me sing that song a few times before; in any case, here we are! So needless to say, when I decided to take the month of April away from writing Cowan Palace, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s happening though and next month you’ll be sans Ashley!

So what to write about in my last entry before motherhood? Well, as always, my life comes back to theatre. In these last few days leading up to our due date, my body has been dealing with the nerves the same way it handles a new show opening. Some of the butterflies feel exactly the same as they do when they’re fluttering around my nervous stomach because of a crappy tech rehearsal leading up to a highly anticipated opening night.

I’ve also found myself feeling a tad defensive in these past few weeks, like I need to explain my production vision to an audience expecting a different show. When I was a kid and I imagined raising a family, I didn’t immediately paint the picture of my life right now. Did I think my husband and I would be bringing a newborn home to a small one bedroom apartment in San Francisco where we pay three times more in rent than many of our friends pay for their mortgages? Nope! But it’s sure fun to watch acquaintances’ eyes bug out when we share our reality!

Here’s the thing though: having the money to invest in fancy costumes or props or sets doesn’t always guarantee your show is going to be a meaningful success, right? (I mean, I could throw some big productions under the bus here but eh, that’s not today’s point.) Some of my favorite and most memorable shows have been in small spaces with minimal tech needs where the production may have been a simple labor of love, but you left feeling connected to something greater.

That’s hard to explain to those living outside of our San Francisco theatre bubble. The ones that constantly ask me to repeat how much rent prices go for these days and demand I share how I plan to support my child. But Will and I love it here. Sure, raising a baby in this insanely expensive place with our current financial means sounds crazy and we know it’s going to be difficult.

We also know that we met in San Francisco, we fell in love in San Francisco, we got married in San Francisco, we made a baby in San Francisco, and we chose to stay in San Francisco. And thankfully, we’re surrounded by people who enrich our lives in so many more important ways than money. We live in this city because we feel like we’re a part of a community. A group who will laugh at our terrible jokes, bring us chocolate when we’re grumpy, challenge us creatively, open their minds to new ideas, and just love us as we are, right here, right now. I couldn’t imagine bringing our baby into a better environment.

And on that note, hormonal Hugs and Cuddles thank you all for being a part of that. I’ll miss you but look forward to reuniting again in Cowan Palace soon!

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