Theater Around The Bay: Tonya Narvaez Talks Rainbows

Our next show opens a week from tonight and it’s not secret that people are already a little obsessed with it. We sat down with author/director Tonya Narvaez to talk about just why people love Lisa Frank… and fear her… and why this show is another Theater Pub event that you can’t miss!

Tonya was told to submit a "fun" photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it - Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

Tonya was told to submit a “fun” photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it – Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

So, what’s this crazy show all about?

A young Lisa Frank finds a portal (in her bathroom) to The Wonderful World, where all her stuffed animals have come to life. She quickly discovers that everything is not as it seems. That the rules are different here. That even the cutest of characters can have a vicious streak.

Okay… and where did you get this idea?

Ashley Cowan and I were going to write a play together for the February show. It would be about love and dating and about how two people can have such different reads on the same experience. While developing the idea, I started talking about Lisa Frank with someone at PianoFight – I believe it was Megan Cohen. Suddenly the idea had morphed into a play about Lisa Frank on Tinder. This idea thrilled me, so I let myself fall into a Lisa Frank rabbit hole. I read everything I could find about her. She’s the most curious person. She’s guarded but outgoing, bubbly with a hint of sadness. Every article I read included quotes from former employees, who had terrible experiences working at the headquarters in Tucson. It seemed like there was a better story there. Better than imagining Lisa Frank on Tinder. So I decided to write a fictional origin story.

What does the cast think about this project? How are rehearsals going?

I am very fortunate to have this cast. Truly, they have been so game and so fantastic to work with thus far. Some amazing work has been done on these characters. They have taken every bit of information I’ve given them about Lisa Frank and about this strange, topsy-turvy world I’ve created and just ran with it.

When casting, did you ask people what their feelings on Lisa Frank are?

Yes! I asked for their “Favorite Lisa Frank image or character and why”. I received such a mixed bag of responses. Some people were genuinely interested in Lisa Frank characters and had childhood anecdotes to tell. Others were never really interested in Lisa Frank but sent their favorite Nihilisa Frank image. (http://nihilisa-frank.tumblr.com/)

What’s your own personal relationship/history with Lisa Frank? Do you have a favorite product?

I really liked some of the Lisa Frank imagery growing up but I thought I was too cool to admit it. I would make fun of it in passing, but secretly wanted a Trapper Keeper with dolphins and hearts and rainbows all over it.

What would you do if she showed up to the show?

I’m not entirely sure. My instinct says I would hide. My intellect says I would be really interested in what she thought of the show and would try to have a conversation with her about it.

When you write a play, what’s your process and how do you go about shaping a script?

I start with a really basic premise, like “Lisa Frank origin story a’la Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland”. Then I do more research than is needed. Then I develop the characters and the world/s. Once I have a really solid cast of characters to begin with, I’m able to write pretty freely. There are times when I get stuck. When I do, I usually realize it’s because I didn’t build a character out enough, or am trying too hard to stick to some sort of “rule”. Or clinging on to something that isn’t as important as I think it is.

You’re also directing this. Is directing your own work something you like to do? How is directing your own play different from directing something someone else wrote?

I do like to direct my own work, but for selfish reasons. I like to be able to change the script to suit the cast. Or if I see something I’ve done is terrible, I can still change it early on in the process. Often times right then and there at rehearsal. I find it much more challenging to direct another person’s work. There isn’t as much liberty to be taken, and there has to be more structure to the development process. I think as I continue to grow as a writer and as a director this answer will change.

Any shout outs to the rest of the community and what else is going on?

Yes! I want to give shout outs to all the shows I missed because of this show and because of the move I just completed this weekend: Mousetrap at Shotgun Players, Of Serpents and Sea Spray at Custom Made, and Peer Gynt at The EXIT Theatre. And two shows I hope to see soon:

1. Anything from the new Undiscovered Works Series, part of Custom Made’s New Play Development Program. Tomorrow is their second offering at 7pm, “Truest” by Megan Cohen, directed by Ellery Schaar. At the Gallery Cafe – 1200 Mason Street, San Francisco. Free and open to the public, with a $5.00 suggested donation in support of new play development at Custom Made. Food, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase!

2. Killing My Lobster’s most recent offering, Sex Battle written and directed and performed by many people more hilarious than me. Pay What You Can: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-pay-what-you-can-night-tickets-20912564042 or other nights: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-tickets-20912351406

3. Tinderella from Faultline, because February deserves a Tinder play! Book by Rose Oser, Music by Christian B. Schmidt, Lyrics by Weston Scott and Directed by Rose Oser. http://www.faultlinetheater.com/#!tickets/cmt5

Don’t miss OVER THE RAINBOW, opening next Monday, only at Theater Pub!

The Real World – Theater Edition: Gino Dilario

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Gino Dilario, the writer of SAM AND DEDE (OR MY DINNER WITH ANDRE THE GIANT), opening at Custom Made Theatre on February 11th.

On his website, Gino describes the play as such —

True story: 12-year old Andre the Giant, already over 6 feet tall and 240 pounds, didn’t fit on the school bus. Andre’s neighbor, as a kind gesture of returning a favor, offered to drive him to school in his truck. The neighbor was Samuel Beckett. Out of that bit of trivia comes “Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant,” imagining three scenes between a giant – a man who cannot hide, and a writer obsessed with silence.

So of course, I was intrigued. I mean lately I’ve been obsessed with silence and subtlety and how it’s theatricalized. Gino and I talked about that and also his influences and creative process.

Enjoy the interview below!

Gino Dilario

Gino Dilario

Barbara: First off — your premise for SAM AND DEDE sounds amazing — a man obsessed with silence and a giant who cannot hide — how did you come to the idea for this play? What intrigued you?

Gino: My son was very interested in professional wrestling. And I mentioned that when I was his age, I was as well and he asked who were my favorites. And I mentioned Bruno Sammartino and the British Bulldogs and of course, Andre the Giant. He had never heard of him so we Wikied him and that’s where I found out he knew Sam Beckett. And I thought if anyone can write this play, it’s me. Cause I love Beckett as well.

It was great fun to write because once I got them in the room together, I couldn’t shut up them up. They just had great takes on the world, such different experiences and in a way, (not to be too egotistical) but they’re extensions of me. And I guess that’s true of all writers, every character we write is just an extension of ourselves. But Andre is the part of me that thinks I can do everything and that everything is simple and nothing matters and so what if it did? And just have a good time and live life to the fullest. And theatre is about being big and over the top and crazy. Beckett is the part of me that doubts everything, my ability to do anything, the reason to get out of bed in the morning, the weight of the world, the heaviness of existence, the inability to construct a sentence. In this regard I suppose they’re probably like everyone else on the planet!

Barbara: Tell me about your creative process. Is each play unique or do you generally approach new work in a similar way?

Gino: I try to put the characters in a room and let them talk. And if it’s going well, they do things that surprise me.

Barbara: Anything that you’ve come across in your trajectory as a theater artist that made you question or overhaul what you do? What happened? What changed?

Gino: Good question. I sometimes think I’m a bit of an anachronism. I tend to write stuff that’s very linear, straightforward plot lines, etc. I think it’s harder to write a play with a plot. Most writers avoid plot because it’s so damned difficult. But then again, it’s good to try to write something that perhaps doesn’t follow a traditional line and I guess Sam and Dede is just that. It’s a play where I didn’t feel to urge to have anything happen. Kind of like a Beckett play I suppose. Nothing happens. and in turn, things begin to happen in that absence. If that makes sense.

Barbara: How did you get into theater and writing in particular?

Gino: I began as an actor. I did a lot of Shakespeare, regional stuff, commercials, etc. I did it in high school mostly cause I was good at it. And I liked losing myself in the role.

Barbara: Tell me about the current state of theater. Where are we going?

Gino: Oy. In some ways,there’s a lot of good going on. I see a lot of focus on new play development. The problem is it’s too expensive to produce new plays on Broadway and Off Broadway. So it’s hard for plays to get their New York pedigree,if you will. If i could snap my fingers and change one thing about theatre, it’d be that. I’d make it easier to produce new works on the New York stage. it’s just too cost prohibitive. Negotiating a new deal with the technical unions would be a good first start.

But here’s the good news, people still love writing for the theatre. And going to the theatre. It’s wonderfully atavistic and despite the cost and the assault from new technologies, it still remains unique and vibrant.

Barbara: Anything about it that scares you or makes you dream big?

Gino: Wow. I don’t know. I think I get scared that I’ll die before I finish all these play ideas I have in my head! I don’t dream that big. I dream of small honest moments on stage. If I get a lot of those, I’m happy.

Barbara: What’s next for you?

Gino: I’m researching a historical piece on slavery in the 18th century. Yeah, I know. Good luck getting that produced! But it’s what I’m interested in.

Barbara: Words of wisdom for people who want to do what you do?

Gino: If you can do anything else, do it. If you must write or be in the theatre, don’t think you can make a living at it. Remember what makes it great, what you love about it, and judge your success by how much you live in that.

Barbara: Any bad advice that might actually be good?

Gino: Wow, good question. I’ve been lucky, I haven’t gotten that much bad advice. But I will share something my good friend Gary Garrison told me, it’s good to listen to lots of people but reserve the right to ignore all of it. Or some of it. You can pick and choose your advice. Ultimately the piece has to mean something to you. It’s why you wrote the thing in the first place.

Barbara: Shout outs and plugs for your things (theater and otherwise), friends’ things or just anything you thought was rad?

Gino: New Jersey Rep is the greatest. Suzanne and Gabe Barabbas, great people. Clark University rocks. Which is where I met Leah Abrams and Brian Katz of Custom Made!

Dave Sikula and Brendan Everett in rehearsal at Custom Made for SAM AND DEDE.

Dave Sikula and Brendan Everett in rehearsal at Custom Made for SAM AND DEDE.

You can catch SAM AND DEDE at Custom Made Theatre from February 11 through March 5.

Theater Around the Bay: All the Theater Pub News that’s Fit to Print

Marissa Skudlarek is wearing her news-reporter fedora (and not her columnist cloche) this Thursday.

The year is still young but it’s already been very kind to Theater Pub and many of its affiliated artists.

Theater Pub in the media!

Writer Beth Spotswood and photographer Gabrielle Lurie attended the penultimate performance of The Morrissey Plays and then wrote this wonderful feature article about it for the San Francisco Chronicle! We’re thrilled that Theater Pub is now described, in print in the local paper of record, as “creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of 1960s Greenwich Village than 2016 Tenderloin” and targeting “pop-culture-savvy, intellectually snooty theater kids.”

Travel bloggers Shine and Isis of Let’s Go Travel Show, a new web series, attended January’s Saturday Write Fever and filmed it for inclusion in their series! We haven’t seen the footage yet, but keep an eye out on their web page http://www.letsgotravelshow.com/.

Theater Pub artists creating new work!

The Custom Made Theatre Co. has just announced the writers participating its inaugural Undiscovered Works play-development program, and three of them have Theater Pub ties: Dan Hirsch (author of “Shooter,” Theater Pub’s contribution to the 2013 Bay One-Acts Festival), Marissa Skudlarek (longtime Theater Pub columnist and “Pint-Sized Plays” tsarina), and Kirk Shimano (author of Theater Pub’s shows “Love in the Time of Zombies” and the upcoming “Portal: The Musical”). Congratulations!

Meanwhile, the three women writing plays for the 2016 Loud and Unladylike Festival, which commissions new works about lesser-known historical women, also have Theater Pub connections: Skudlarek once again, plus “Hit By A Bus Rules” columnist Alandra Hileman, and Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez. More info is available at http://loudandunladylike.com/. Remember that Tonya is also writing and directing our February show, the Lisa Frank fantasia Over the Rainbow!

Opportunities for actors and directors!

Theater Pub founder, Stuart Bousel, will be holding auditions on February 24 and 25 for his production of Paradise Street by Clive Barker, which is happening at the EXIT Theatre (co-hosts of Saturday Write Fever) in December 2016. This is an especially good opportunity for actors who’ve been working on their British Isles accents — the play features Liverpudlian, Cockney, Scottish, Irish, and time-traveling Elizabethan characters! 5 roles for men and 4 roles for women are available. For more information and to sign up for an audition slot: https://www.facebook.com/events/513349952159221/.

Sooner in time and closer to home, our own Sara Judge is still seeking actors and directors who are interested in being a part of Theater Pub’s March show, On the Spot! This is our twist on the ever-popular “24-hour theater festival.” Writers have 24 hours to write a ten-minute play based on a given prompt, actors rehearse with a director for just one week, and the show performs at PianoFight on March 21, 22, 28, and 29! For more information and to sign up: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/how-to-get-involved/.

Cowan Palace: Drowning in Beauty Beyond a Grand Victorian Soap Opera and Other Chats With Margery Fairchild

This week, Ashley’s talking to Margery Fairchild about her new production!

Quatre Pic

Featuring, Christy Crowley, Kirsten Dwyer, Katharine Otis, and Courtney Russell; Photo Credit: Basil Galloway

As we get ready to begin The Year Of Monkey and dive deeper into 2016’s second month, Dark Porch Theatre is preparing to kick off their new season! Pas de Quatre, opening at EXIT Studio in just a few days, is the poetic brainchild of Margery Fairchild who has spent years developing this work exploring the relationships between ballet dancers and their art.

Here to bring us further into the world of dancing, is the writer and director herself, Margery!

Please tell us a bit more about Pas de Quatre.

In 1845, Benjamin Lumley, the director at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, had a brilliant idea; to bring together the four reigning Ballerinas of Europe and have them dance together. He also commissioned the famous choreographer Jules Perrot, to create the Divertisment (as it was billed) and the Pas De Quatre was the result of that collaboration. It is considered, along with La Slyphide and Giselle to be one of the seminal works of the Romantic Era in Ballet.

However, the mixing of these powerful celebrities with very distinct styles and personalities, proved somewhat volatile and many historians marvel that it even made it to the stage! Perrot had been married (and divorced) to one of the dancers, partner to two and Ballet Master to all. The dancers themselves had been subjected to incredible public scrutiny and as manufactured as their rivalries were, it still had a distinct impact on their working relationships.

The story has all the makings of a grand Victorian soap opera, but my goal with the project was to dig beyond that temptation.

How has the production evolved since you first began working on it?

I wrote Pas de Quatre as a screenplay in 2002, but it travelled to the back burner. In 2012, I wrote PDQ as a full Two Act play with a cast of 8, which had a staged reading as a part of DIVAfest. In 2014 PDQ morphed into a 50 minute long experimental dance/theatre piece and had a 4 performance workshop at DIVAFest. After several revisions and a new cast, it will debut as part of Dark Porch Theatre’s 2016 residency at Exit Theatre. It’s not a straightforward narrative. The story is deconstructed and organized to parallel the actual music score of the Ballet, a format that allows for greater exploration in the storytelling and character investigation.

As the show focuses on the relationship that forms between ballerinas and ballet, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship and background with ballet?

I studied Ballet for 9 years at The Boston Ballet and I had a love/hate relationship with the experience. Ballet, like all Fine Art studies, created a foundation of discipline and dedication, but it was also incredibly difficult. While putting your body through the transformation needed to achieve the lines and perfection of the craft, one must deal with a lot of pain and disappointment. I never had the right body and feet to continue as a professional, but I still put myself through it out of love. I quit Ballet at 17 after multiple back and neck injuries. It took a couple years before I started studying Modern Dance in college and began to identify myself as a dancer again. Now as an actor and director, I’ve always recognized the edge and vision that as come from my formative training.

While the show may take place in London, 1845, what do you think San Francisco audiences in 2016 will most relate to?

The Dancers, like ghosts, almost appear as if summoned by the audience themselves and once conjured, they must play out their stories. The history is important, but it is not the lesson of the story, it’s about the people themselves. We connect to human stories, in so far as history repeats itself and we find ourselves navigating the same conflicts and trials despite the Age. I suppose that’s why I’m always drawn towards historical re-imaginings, because there’s so much to learn from it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing this show to its feet?

The biggest challenge was casting. Finding actors with the dance/ movement background to pull off the physical requirements. Ballet isn’t something you can fake. I needed to craft the Play in a way that could accommodate different levels of strengths, but ultimately balance them.

What’s been your favorite moment of mounting this production so far?

The question: “Why do we put ourselves through this?”, being answered one night during the tail end of a Monday Night rehearsal, when the cast has had a collective breakthrough despite their exhaustion and you’re left smiling in wonder. The inevitable doubts being answered by the creative process itself. It keeps us coming back again and again!

What’s your favorite local place for a post show drink/snack?

I like to shake it up! PianoFight and the White Horse are the usual destinations these days.

What’s next for Dark Porch?

Dark Porch Theatre will be presenting the darkly hilarious The Diplomats! Written and Directed by DPT’s co-artistic director Martin Schwartz. It will run through the month of May on the EXIT Main Stage.

What’s next for you? Any projects you’ll be working on in the future or shows you’re excited to see?

I’ll be performing in and co producing The Diplomats in May. I’m also involved in the final shooting phase of the feature film, To No Good End, which I’ve co created with my fiancé Kindrid Parker… And then we’re getting married!

As far as shows I’m excited to see? I’m honestly overwhelmed with the wealth of good Indy theatre/dance/performance happening in this town right now, despite the struggles that artists have faced to stay here. Between Exit Theatre, PianoFight, CounterPulse all on the same block, it’s proof that we’re holding our own!

In 160 words characters or less, why do we need to see Pas de Quatre?

This play is only an hour and you will spend the entire 60 minutes drowning in beauty!

And, it gets even better Theater Pub readers! Margery has offered a special discount code for you! To get it, use: Code: DPTdiscount16; Discount: $10 off per ticket ($15 tix)!

Pas de Quatre runs Thursday – Saturday, February 11 – 27 at 8:00 p.m. with an additional matinee performance at 3 p.m. on February 20. For tickets and more information, please visit www.darkporchtheatre.org.

Working Title: Death and All His Friends

This week Will Leschber talks little deaths and Aurora Theater’s Little Erik with Mariah Castle.

This time of year amidst the frenzy of the award season, there is something that rings undeniably true. Glossing over the red carpet facades and the self congratulation, I guarantee you that 5 minutes or so of anyone of the myriad award shows will capture genuine emotion. It’s possible it will pop up elsewhere in the programming but the section of which I speak is the “In Memoriam” section. We don’t want to linger there (God forbid we focus on death too long in our culture) but for the minutes of montage, I know I am locked in sad admiration and recognition for those who have passed on. The time for award and applause has moved along and all that is left is a 4 second clip and our memories.

Everyone’s relationship with death is their own. Even having lost a brother and a best man, I still feel at arms length and very distinctly separated from death. Maybe that is the proper way we should be as the living moving forward with our lives. As a new parent, I cannot imagine what it would be to lose a child or a spouse. What that would mean to have to re-define how you draw the lines of your personal identity. This playground of dark emotion is called out in the Aurora Theater’s new world premier play, Little Erik. This contemporary adaptation of Henry Ibsen’s Little Eyolf is written and directed by Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson and described as “a dramatically charged, volatile exploration of personal responsibility, grief, guilt, and the nature of desire…as a family searches for meaning and connection after the tragic death of their young child.” (www.auroratheater.org). I spoke with Bay Area actress, educator, and theatre-maker, Mariah Castle, who plays Andi in Little Erik, and she had some excellent recommendations to get you in the headspace of the show before you go.

little-eric-home

Since death (and the way we conduct going about our lives) is rarely simple or without a tension of opposites, Mariah’s recommendations run the gamut in tone. Which is perfect to chip away at the complexity that this subject calls for. Here’s what she had to say:

When our cast first sat down with Mark Jackson, the writer and director of Little Erik, to start digging into the script, he encouraged us all to go watch Hitchcock movies. He said they capture something of the eerie, quiet but potent tension that’s in our show. One of the films I watched was Rear Window. It has a strange, sexy, very stylized, and sometimes even silly quality to it that I would say overlaps with our show a bit. It captures some of the feeling but not all of it.

Rear-Blog-7

There’s also tragic loss in Little Erik, amidst the pleasurable suspense. I’m personally doing a little bit of digging into the experience of loss as research. I have Showtime’s Time of Death on my to-watch list. Lastly, I find some important feminist themes in the play so I’d also recommend watching something with an off-center female character who is finding her voice. Like…The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Haha. No but seriously, I can’t wait for the 2nd season.

unbreakable

It appears that the play has much more to wrestle with than simply despair: strange, eerie, sexy, stylized, silly, off center characters, pleasurable suspense…I’m definitely intrigued. When presented with the tragedies of life, it is curious the colors and emotions that paint the complexity of that time. Traveling back home for a funeral is an awful reason to return (I know; I did it in the recent past) but once there, I found joy amongst friends. I was happy to be brought back to a community of built family to reflect and laugh and grieve. As in the montage of “In Memoriam”, when we remember those passed, not only tears but celebration too is in order.

Aurora Theater’s Little Erik opens January 28th and runs through the end of February. More info can be found at http://www.aurorateater.org. Read Window and Time of Death are available for rent/purchase on the usual platforms (Google play, iTunes, vudu, etc). The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can be found on Netflix.

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing OVER THE RAINBOW!

Our next show is a delight! Be sure to come check it out!

Web

The mere mention of Lisa Frank often conjures daydreams of pencil cases, folders, erasers, notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. Of rainbow unicorns, ballerina bunnies, painting pandas, and glamorous kitties. But this cheerful aesthetic may not be all it seems.

In OVER THE RAINBOW, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez, a young Lisa Frank discovers a portal to another world, filled with all her stuffed animals come to life. Soon after arriving, Lisa is swept up in a whirlwind of candy, mushrooms, magical paint, murderous monkeys, a limbo battle, and comes face to face with an oppressive frog king. Join Theater Pub through the looking glass, and over the rainbow this February as she meets specious characters in this glittery, sugar-filled, and completely fabricated origin story.

Featuring performances by Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Calabrese, Andrew Chung, Danielle Doyle, Caitlin Evenson, Danielle Gray, Danielle Ishihara, and Christine Keating with movement direction by Liz Tenuto.

Playing February 15, 16, 22 and 23, performances are free, with a $10 suggested donation, and seating is first come, first serve.

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!