Theater Around the Bay: Theater Pub At Short-Lived!

Will Leschber has the day off, so we’re going to plug his wife Ashley’s show instead!

Tickets have gone live for PianoFight’s ShortLived: Round 2! That’s right! That IS the week Theater Pub and our play, THIS IS WHY WE BROKE UP, will be competing! We’d love you to be a part of the fun (and yeah, we’d really love your vote) so get those tickets for March 12th -14th: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shortlived-round-2-tickets-15752196243?aff=efbevent

Be sure to take note of the awesome group discount for groups of 6 or more; tickets are only $12! So grab your pals, reserve some seats, and support Theater Pub. Only you can get us to the next round and hey, after the show, maybe we can celebrate over a round of drinks. Dream big, kid.

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Theater Around The Bay: Announcing Our March Show!

What are we doing in March? THIS is what we’re doing in March!

On-The-Spot copy

Coming to Theater Pub this March: 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.

Track our event page and blog about the playwright selections, and our cast and crew line-up!

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!

In For a Penny: Shedding the Pounds

Charles Lewis III, contemplating sound body and sound mind?

“Heartthrob? Never! Black ‘n ugly as ever…”
– The Notorious BIG, “One More Chance”

I have this thing I do before every show. It’s really not all that different from the pre-show ritual of any other performer: a series of physical warm-ups and vocal flourishes that, to the untrained eye would probably give the impression that I’d been possessed by the kind of demon only Max von Sydow could defeat. Y’know, the usual. At least I think it’s usual. One of my physical moves is to do a handstand against the wall, with a few push-ups for good measure.

It’s a move of such fundamental simplicity that it’s taught small children. But for some reason it’s become my “signature warm-up move”. I’m not even kidding. Claire Rice mentioned it in her intro for me during the third Olympians Festival. Granted, her comments were nice. Usually people tell me that this simple maneuver – which, again, is so damn simple that it’s taught to toddlers – is just me showing off. As if I were a Dell’Arte alumnus flaunting my skills in front of a room of paraplegics.

Cirque du Soleil – Ovo – Spider contortionist

Cirque du Soleil – Ovo – Spider contortionist

I used to just laugh off this baseless accusation. Then I got annoyed. More recently, I’d get angry. But lately I’ve just felt sorry for those other folks. I took a moment to remember that someone who cares that much about something as insignificant as a pre-show warm-up is likely speaking from insecurity. And what would artists – theatre folk in particular – be without our sense of insecurity?

I actually wanted to write about this in my last piece. Early February 2015 was a perfect storm of body issue articles appearing in mainstream media: both Cindy Crawford and Beyoncé Knowles had un-retouched photos from their most recent photo shoots leaked to the public; the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was revealed to include an advertisement (not an actual photo spread) with model Ashley Graham as the first-ever plus-sized model to appear in the magazine; the same day of the SI announcement saw the release of the trailer for the upcoming film Magic Mike XXL; a million articles were written about stars getting into shape for the Oscars red carpet; and I read this article about one of my heroes, Kate Winslet. And that’s just the stuff I can remember off the top of my head. Apparently it was Body Conscious Week, but no one told me.

Now one would think that the pressure to achieve “perfection” wouldn’t be as important to the average indie theatre person as it would to the average red carpet all star, and that’s true to a degree. We’re all low enough on the totem pole to where it’s rare to have anyone following us around with high-speed cameras, asking how we intend to get in shape for bikini season (hell, most people don’t even believe what we do is “real acting/directing/writing” simply because it’s theatre – the last thing they care about is what we eat). But that doesn’t change the fact that we notice, both in the mainstream and in our little “underground” world. When the Ashley Graham thing was announced, a stand-up comedian friend of mine joked that “Ashley Graham gives me hope that one day I too could have my luscious bod airbrushed within an inch of its life, featured in SI, and called ‘plus-size’.” I’ve mentioned before that backstage can easily turn into an area of silent tension as performers positively and negatively assess their own bodies with those of their colleagues. It’s that oft-mentioned “junior high mentality” that we find ourselves unable shake. Being artists affords us an outlet for these anxieties, if not an actual relief.

Eventually – seeing as how so much of our work (writing in particular) is based on a mental acumen in which we take pride – some wiseass will ask “Well, if you’re so smart, why don’t you try exercising your body as much as your mind?” Honestly, it’s not a bad question – it’s just one for which it’s incredibly easy to make excuses.

My workout regimen (if it can even be called that) is very rudimentary. It has to be: I can’t afford a gym membership (hell, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a professional gym in my entire adult life) or exercise equipment, so what I do is done around the house. I’ve just made a habit of incorporating it into my everyday life. I work my stretching and balance in the morning as I’m waiting for the stove to heat up as I make my breakfast. I spend some days adding in jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges. Days when I don’t do that, I make it a point to go jogging at least three miles. That’s about it, really.

No, really, that’s it. Without any personal trainer or set plan, I just know enough to raise my heart rate and not injure myself.

And yes, I enjoy it. I enjoy jogging more than anything because it’s when my mind is at its most fertile. I don’t play music when I jog or exercise and jogging relieves me of the burden of having to count reps. As such, I spend a good amount of time coming up with what-I-think-are-great-ideas and the rest of the jog trying to remember them, so as to write them down when I get back home.

This is just the latest version of a routine I’ve tried to keep since my early 20s, with varying degrees of success. Last month I turned 34, which means I’m officially in my “mid-30s”. My metabolism isn’t the same as it was when I was 17, and it’s just gonna get slower from here. I don’t smoke or drink coffee (I tried both when I was a teen, instantly hated them both, and never went back), have no known food allergies, and I try my damndest to get as close to eight hours of sleep as I can – and believe me, that one is the hardest. And I’m still not satisfied with how I look or how much I get accomplished.

To say nothing of the fact that as a Black man in America I’m far more prone to every ailment and illness in the Western world, not to mention more likely to have his jogging mistaken as running from the scene of a crime. (Yes, that has happened to me. More than once.) This is why my sympathy disappears for most folks who say “I’d work out if more, if I could.” Barring any serious injury or other condition, it’s often that they just don’t want to. I make the same excuse for whenever I don’t write. I write on a non-electric manual typewriter, so when I’m sitting in my room and I don’t hear that “klack-klack-klack” sound, I know I’m not doing something I should be doing. And I’m pissed off at myself for it.

But I’m still not satisfied with how I look. Now I know that as a guy there isn’t nearly as much pressure on me to conform to bodily norms as there is for a woman (if only someone would explain that to Russell Crowe), but that doesn’t make me any more secure about my lack of a six-pack. Or my increasing number of gray hairs. Or the crow’s feet around my eyes. Or the zit marks and moles all over my fa—Jesus H. Christ, how does the woman I’m dating even stand to look at me for more than fifteen seconds without her face melting?!

But as lacking as I am in admirable physical traits, I’m secure in the knowledge that at least I’m healthy by most counts. I can easily pull off the “sit and rise test” (sit on the floor, stand without using your hands or arms) and simple balance tests (stand on one leg for 20 sec. without falling over). Maybe one day I’ll have enough money to be under the guidance of a personal trainer on a regular basis, but until then, I’m happy to be healthy.

More importantly, I actually like how my exercise fits into my artistic life. As I said above, I love jogging because all of my best ideas happen when I’m jogging. If I have any skill as a writer – and I’ll be the first to say that I don’t – then I’d attribute it regular exercise. And, like all things artistic, it’s great when you find others with whom you can share it. A theatre artist I admire has been aiming to start an exercise group for some time now; should she ever get it up and running, I’d love to take part. About three years ago I was part of a weekend exercise group composed of SF State alumni-turned-theatre folk (I never went to SF State, so I’m still not sure how I got into that group?) and the sweat-inducing routines were presented as being just far more exerting pre-show exercises. And I’m always someone who will take part in pre-show warm-ups with the rest of the cast. I don’t think it should be required – for some actors, it’s akin to putting a gun to their head – but it’s an invaluable bonding experience for people who will spend the next few weeks/months/what-have-you running around playing Make Believe together on stage.

So no, I’ve never done my physical work to show off. It’s so rudimentary, I don’t know where “showing off” would even begin. No, I do it for the same reason I do everything else in theatre: I’m passionate about it. As the month of February draws to a close, so too does Theater Pub’s month-long look at the themes of Passion and Desire. I desire to be the best artist my skills will allow, and I’m passionate about taking the steps that will make me better at it. Plus I just like the view from this angle.

Charles – upside-down handstand

Charles – upside-down handstand

Charles Lewis’s biggest physical goal is to one day be able to pull off a “human flag”. Look it up. His next feat will be having four actors join him in the 20-yard dash that is spending one week producing Ashley Cowan’s This is Why We Broke Up for ShortLived 2015. See you at the finish line.

Everything Is Already Something Week 51: What Collaboration Does For Me

Allison Page, collaborating.

I used to be a loner. Picture a grouchy old bearded man in a sweater, hunkered down in an armchair, scribbling away on a stack of paper, occasionally shaking his fist at the sky. Possibly at some point he throws half a glass of bourbon in the face of his wife. That was me, but not a man with a beard. You know, but bearded on the INSIDE. Often, I think people have this idea of what a writer is and immediately they think of Ernest Hemingway. And that’s how you’re supposed to be a good writer, isn’t it? All the geniuses and masters toil away in their own well-crafted solitary confinement – crouched down in their pillow forts where all the pillows are barbed wire, and we tell ourselves that’s how you get to be a writer. That’s how you get to be an artist. AN ARTISTE. That suffering makes your art better is a long held idea. I admit to buying into that at some point. I think we all have – especially when young and impressionable. Anyone who caught the bug of wanting to write books or plays or poems (DEFINITELY POEMS) or to act or dance or paint or sculpt or…I don’t know, whatever you guys are doing – puppetry? Anyone who had that impulse at a young age probably started identifying their artistic heroes and began to define what they wanted to be by taking note of what created the artists they connected to most. That was a hell of a sentence.

Misery worked pretty well for Alanis. Teenage girls of the 90s, can ya feel me?

Misery worked pretty well for Alanis. Teenage girls of the 90s, can ya feel me?

Let’s take young, pink-haired, angry Allison for example.

I’ve known I wanted to be an actor since I was probably 5 years old. At that age I was mostly inspired by cartoon characters – let’s be real, cartoons are fucking great. Actually, I remained inspired by cartoons for a while. Actually actually, I still am. I was the only little girl I knew who wanted to be The Genie from Aladdin instead of Jasmine. Animaniacs was a big deal in my life. I mean, it still is. It holds up. (Garfield and Friends does not. Don’t bother.) Once we start getting into the real people I looked up to, though, it doesn’t take long to start finding the darkness. (If we’re being honest The Genie isn’t actually that happy a character, he just deflects his sorrow with jokes. So I guess the darkness crept in even earlier than I thought.)

By the time I was 14, I was already very into old movies. Yes, I was very cool and popular (lies). It was at that age that I first watched a little movie called Der Blaue Engel, or The Blue Angel. It’s a little German tragicomedy about a teacher who falls in love with a cabaret performer. IT DOESN’T GO WELL. It ends with Emil Jannings dying while regretfully clutching the desk from which he used to teach before the succubus Marlene Dietrich ruined his life because he loved her so much that it turned him into a literal sad clown. SO FUN. And that’s the actual movie that made me want to be an actor. Isn’t that wild? Sorry, spoilers in case you haven’t had time to catch this movie since it came out in 1930. But really, it’s beautiful and cruel, you should see it. That was sort of a sidebar because I’m really talking about writers, but I was an actor first so there ya go. When I was 16 I decided I finally had a favorite play. It’s still my favorite play. What is it?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Yikes.

Quite a choice for a teenage mind. But just because something is dark, does that necessarily mean it came from a person who is feeling dark? When you look at comedies, they certainly don’t necessarily come from people who are feeling fun and light. I’m meandering a little on the topic at hand. Let’s get back to it.

Here’s a sampling of some writerly heroes of mine:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dawn Powell
Dorothy Parker
Raymond Chandler
Dashiell Hammett
Clare Booth Luce
Robert Benchley

Go ahead and google how many of them were lonely writers and avid drinkers. Just as a sample group. Get ready to be sad!

Robert Benchley: absolutely hilarious and definitely died slowly of cirrhosis of the liver because he loved sad/alone drinking. YAYYYY.

Robert Benchley: absolutely hilarious and definitely died slowly of cirrhosis of the liver because he loved sad/alone drinking. YAYYYY.

I’m not saying I’m as gloomy as any of those people or that they were alcoholics because they were writers, but I think writing can breed loneliness or at least nudge it along. You so often do it alone. I mean, in the end you have to do it alone, right? You can’t have 20 fingers typing on your keyboard or writing with your pencil. Well, you could, but it would take forever. As much as I am alone when I write, I try to spend an equal amount of time either writing WITH other people – like, actually collaborating on something, or writing NEAR other people. I think if you’re in the business of writing about people, that it’s good to maintain connections to people as opposed to doing the opposite of that.

When I write sketch comedy, I do that in a super fun writers room scenario. There are something like 10 – 15 of us (some writers, some actors) throwing out ideas, talking about possibilities, and laughing really hard. It is AMAZING. It feels like magic should feel. So much so, that when I’m executing all those ideas, it still feels collaborative even when I’m alone. Weird, right?

Clearly that’s kind of specific to sketch. When you’re writing a novel, or a play, or whatever else you’re writing, you’re not always looking for that level of collaboration. But that doesn’t mean you have to stew alone all the time. I like to be alone together. I can sit and work on what I’m working on, and a friend can sit across from me or next to me at the table to my left, and we work in silence sipping coffee as long as we can, then turn to each other when we kind of can’t bear it for a minute. We’ll gossip about something, or talk about the trouble we’re having with a particular section, or even *gasp* read a bit we’re particularly proud of to the other person. Or if we’re really struggling, just talk about the coffee we’re drinking. Sometimes if I’m working on something particularly draining, chatter about coffee might be the most I’m able to think about. It’s been good for me, this process.

I want to be a good writer. I think I’m an okay one. I want to be good, but not at the expense of my grip on reality and connections to other people. I don’t need to be Fitzgerald or Parker or Powell, I just want to be the best writer I can be while not falling into the gloom. If that means I don’t go down in history, I’m okay with that. Since allowing myself the possibility of collaborating or writing alone together, everything seems like a little bit less of a struggle. I mean, geez, writing is already not so easy. If you can find a way to make it a little bit easier, I don’t see how that can be bad. I still have my grouchy-old-man-in-a-cardigan moments, but I have fewer of them. And there’s a nice space of happiness in between: the comfort of knowing that the person next to you is dealing with the same thing you are. Or, if you’re competitive, the knowledge that you may be kicking their ass in the number-of-pages-typed-in-a-day department.

I’m not going to say collaboration will kick your depression. What am I, a doctor? No. I’m not a doctor. Don’t ever let me tell you otherwise. But what I am saying is that while hell may be other people, it is also probably a lack of other people. We need each other a little bit. Maybe even just for an occasional reality check.

There isn’t one way to be a successful/good/happy writer. Just like there isn’t one way to be nearly anything. Don’t try to fit yourself into a dangerous mould. Make your own mould. Hell, BE the mould.

Me? I get by with a little help from my friends.

Not actually Allison's friends, but let's pretend.

Not actually Allison’s friends, but let’s pretend.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian. Her new play HILARITY, about a comedian struggling with alcoholism and jokes, is being produced by DIVAfest and has its world premiere at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Previews start March 5th. Tickets at hilarity.bpt.me

The Five: Five Musicals that need to happen immediately

Anthony R. Miller checks in with five sure-fire hit musicals.

Hey you guys, it seems like anything can be a musical now, and no property is safe. And if it isn’t a new musical adaptation of your favorite 80’s movies, it’s a revival of a show that no matter how many times it’s produced, people just keep seeing it. So in lieu of saying anything substantial about theatre of art or the Bay Area or whatever, My article, nay, MY GIFT to you this week is 5 guaran-damned-teed big money hit musical ideas. You’re welcome.

Joan of Arc: The Musical, Featuring the Music of Pat Benetar

Blending inspirational biopics with the jukebox musical. Joan’s songs would include “Promises in the Dark” (As sung to God). “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (As she’s being burned at the stake) and of course a bad training montage to “Love is a Battlefield”.

Baby Animals The Musical

Self-explanatory. Highlights include, Tap-dancing Ducklings, Golden Retriever Puppy Hoedown and Kitten Dream Sequence Ballet.

RENT 2

Mark and the gang are now in their mid-forties. Now living in Bushwick, they deal with all of their favorite coffee shops, diners and performance spaces have been turned into condos and high end night clubs. Maureen and Joanne are married yuppies, Mark works for Benny making You-Tube videos. Due to breakthroughs in treatment for HIV and AIDS, everyone else is still alive and figured out there is nothing romantic or counter culture about being broke in your mid-thirties. Subjects include, Maureen and Joanne adopt a French Bulldog, Going to Brunch and everyone gets healthcare by working at Starbucks

Cirque Du Solei Presents: Laser-Floyd

Following such hits as “The Beatles: Love” and their Michael Jackson themed show, it’s only natural they blend their mind boggling French Canadian acrobatics with, the great American combination Pink Floyd songs and lasers. Possible numbers include; A “Wizard of Oz” themed performance of “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Comfortably Numb” doing aerial acrobatics, and a contact improv performance of “Run Like Hell”.

Labyrinth Directed by Julie Taymor

Ok, I’m actually kinda serious about this one. And David Bowie could be in it, cause he doesn’t age. She’ll go millions over budget on real farting rocks an actual trained owl and 30 puppeteers.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer, check out his projects at www.awesometheatre.org

Theater Around The Bay: So Much Going On At Theater Pub!

TONIGHT!

Final performance of H/D: A Symphonic Romance In Space!

Tonight, Theater Pub invites you to emerge from stasis to travel through the vast expanse, seeking music, violence, and romance in the outer limits of the cosmos! This Theater Pub transmission explores instinct, evolution, and technology through a reading of original monologues and adapted text from 2001: A Space Odyssey, set to a live soundtrack.

This transmission brought to you through the mind of Tonya Narvaez and cinematic musical stylings of Storm Door. Featuring Stuart Bousel, Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Chung, Neil Higgings, Dan Kurtz, and Meg Trowbridge.

Final Show TONIGHT, Monday, February 23, at 8 PM at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street)

February Theater Pub

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!

And don’t forget- you can even get dinner at PIANOFIGHT!

AND SPEAKING OF PIANOFIGHT…

Theater Pub Returns To Duke It Out In PianoFight’s ShortLived Competition!

Big news! PianoFight’s audience-judged short play competition, ShortLived, returns to San Francisco next month and Theater Pub will fighting for the chance at the glory!

Featuring five season rounds, Theater Pub will be competing in round two with Ashley Cowan‘s play “This Is Why We Broke Up”, which will be directed by Charles Lewis III and performed by Andrew Chung, Caitlin Evenson, Dylan Pembleton, and Kitty Torres. The romcom explores one couple’s rocky relationship in the present and past through their drunk decisions on a quest for love. It will be performed Thursday, March 12th at 8pm, Friday, March 13th at 8pm, and Saturday, March 14th at 5pm and 8pm against five other short plays.

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The winner will move on to the Championship Round and the second place finisher will return to compete in the Wild Card Round (for a second chance at a place in the final round). And the stakes are high! Not only are we fighting for bragging rights but the winning play receives $5,000! That could buy a ton of booze.

So we need you! Yes, you. If you love Theater Pub as much as we love you, you’ll come support this awesome and fun competition and vote our play forward! The power’s in your hands.

AND DON’T FORGET…

We’re still looking for folks to join us for…

ON THE SPOT
A Night of Brand New Works by Emerging Playwrights!

Seven playwrights are put “on the spot” and given 24 hours to write a new ten minute play. They are assigned two-four actors, a director, and given a line of dialogue, a prop, and one set piece they must incorporate into their script. TheaterPub will produce these plays at PianoFight’s incredible new venue on March 23, 24, 30 & 31.

Are you a playwright looking to challenge yourself? Are you a director who is quick on your feet and full of ideas? Are you an actor who likes performing in bars? Then this show was MADE for you!

If you’re interested, please email Artistic Director Meg Trowbridge (thesingingwriter@gmail.com) with the following information by March 1st:

Name
Contact info
Resume/Headshot
Desired roles (playwriting, directing, or acting- or combination)

Confirmation you are available on the following days:
Rehearsals: March 14, 15, 21, 22 (12pm-6pm),
Performances: March 23, 24, 30 & 31 (6:30pm-10:00pm)

We’d love to see some new faces on stage or on the page, so if you have a friend you know who is looking to get involved with us, please forward them this post!

See you at the Pub!

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview With Allison Page

Barbara Jwanouskos, helping us catch up, with both Allison and the blog.

Allison and Babs selfie

Allison and Babs selfie

Allison Page and I met over lunch to discuss the upcoming DivaFest production of her play, “Hilarity” directed by Claire Rice. Over quesadillas, we discussed the darkness of comedy and addictions and what it’s like to write something that becomes very taxing. I found it extremely interesting how Allison writes and her process of preparation. She has always been a source of inspiration because of her boldness in her convictions and how she approaches work. As I’m looking to hunker down into my own passion projects, I found learning about the background of the creation of “Hilarity” useful in helping to form my own strategies. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.

Babs: Can you tell me a little bit about the premise of “Hilarity”?

Allison: “Hilarity” is about a comedian who happens to be a woman who is also an alcoholic. And it’s completely dependent on her best friend who is also her personal assistant. So basically, that’s the person who’s in her world. The only other people that exist are her agent – who is funny, but kind of a coward and non-confrontational – and her mom who flies in once a year and just acts like an asshole. So, it’s about her sort of… I hesitate to say, “trying to get her shit together” because she only tries to get her shit together when someone forces her to get her shit together, but it’s basically about her and her life, which is starting to fall apart. So, it’s a fun romp!

Babs: How did it come to be? How did it start?

Allison: It’s something that I started thinking about 4 years ago, which is a pretty long time for me because I’m used to things happening much more quickly than that. I’ve always been really fascinated with comedians in general. Then I knew more and more of them. And then I became one myself and then I was engaged to one. So they’ve always just sorta been around and been the people I understand best, even though they’re often times – not always – so very conflicted. And I feel like it’s become this stereotype that comedians have some sort of substance abuse problem. But it’s a real thing that happens a shitload.

You know, people like Marc Maron talking about his previous substance abuse problems and how they affected all his relationships with all these other comedians. Anyone who listens to WTF knows that shit gets really complicated and really fascinating. So, I just started thinking about it and jotting some things down. I had met with one person from another theater company about producing it and sort of faded away so I put it away for a while. But I just kinda couldn’t stop thinking about it – which was unique – because I tend to drop things if they don’t happen. Like, who cares, whatever. I’m not precious about stuff that I do. But this was just the one nagging thing in the back of my head that wouldn’t really go away. And so about a year and a half ago, I sent Claire Rice a facebook message like, “Hey! Want to direct a thing maybe nex year?” And I was really vague about it. At that time I had another play that’s not mine – that’s from the thirties – that I considered putting up instead. Like, “well, maybe I’ll just do this thing because this thing I wrote would be harder…”

And then in the end I ended up choosing my thing. But she was was onboard immediately. I asked her, “Would you want to direct this thing next year?” And she was like, “Yep! Whatever you want!” Or I think she actually said, “Anything for you,” which is an embarrassing thing to admit.

We were just going to produce it ourselves, but Claire thought of bringing it to Diva Fest, and she did. They accepted it. And now, that’s why it’s happening.

Babs: Can you tell me about DIVAfest?

Allison: I know that they’ve been around for 14 years. It started as a festival to produce work of female playwrights. It sorta has expanded since then to produce solo work. They have a burlesque show, Diva or Die, and other miscellaneous stuff. And they had sort of a “season”, I guess you could say, before, but now it’s more that throughout the year they just have sprinkled things that they’re doing. So, it’s not that there’s a Diva festival happening in March and I’m part of that with a bunch of other things. There’s just different points that they do stuff. I know they have some things in development – like there’s a big solo show that’s in development. Claire’s worked with them. I think this is her 4th year.

Babs: Over the last four years, you’ve were developing the script and working with Claire-

Allison: Yeah.

Babs: Can you walk me through the steps of development?

Allison: So Claire’s only been onboard for the last year and a half or so. Before that, I would sort of work on it and not work on it and I was really arguing with myself about whether or not I was really going to do it.

Babs: What was the “no” voice saying? What was the difficulty in continuing?

Allison: Well, so… here’s the “Oh no! She almost let a man tell her what to do” situation. So I actually thought of this while I was still with my ex-fiance who’s a comedian.

I remember saying like, “I have this idea for this play and I’m kind of obsessed with it and just thinking about it.” And he was like, “But you can’t write a play…” And I was like, “Why not?” And he said, “Because you don’t write plays.” Okay, fair enough.

But then I did it anyway, but not until three years later. I mean between the time we had that conversation and now with this happening, I’ve written so many more things, which I actually think is good. It kinda prepared me for this a bit more. I don’t think I could have done this right out of the gate at the time. But now, I’ve written tons of stuff – lots of different things that have been able to prepare me.

So that was maybe part of the “no” voice and also, it just feels like… It’s a tough story. Strangely, for whatever reason, a lot of people in the cast have tough times with certain aspects of the script – reading it or watching it, or whatever – because most of us have experiences with people who have drinking problems – friends, relatives, parents who are alcoholics. So, we all have these ties to these people who have these problems and we’ve had to watch it and deal with it and all that stuff. I’m included in that. I’ve been really close to some people with very severe problems. So the complexity of the material is a little scary and that makes it- When I was writing it, it made it hard to work on. I felt like I’ll just go and do something else I was working on that was more fun, that was less draining. So, it would distract me from working on the thing because I was working on something else that was easier.

I certainly am glad I’m doing it. It just took me a long time to feel like I could deal with it all.

Babs: Do you feel comfortable with where it is right now? And is there a sort of future trajectory that you kind of have in mind for it?

Allison: I feel pretty good about where it is now. I think if you had asked me a week and a half ago, I would have been like, “I don’t know, man!”

Doing the re-writes while something is in rehearsal has been incredibly fascinating. I’ve made a lot of changes that I think are good. It’s in a much better place than I think it was a few weeks ago. And I really like it now.

I said that last night after rehearsal when we were done. It’s like ten-something PM and we’re like on this mattress in the middle of the floor – because that’s the set. It’s set on a mattress on the middle of the floor, so I’m just like lying on this mattress and I look up at Claire and I’m like, “Hey, I like this a lot more than I thought I liked it!” So, that’s pretty cool.

And I feel pretty good about where it is. The EXIT Press is publishing it, but I can still make changes after the production. Actually, having a deadline of when they needed to have the script to publish it was really helpful because then I was like, “Now is the time for it be really close to what it’s gonna be.”

I’ve sort of relaxed. I sent the final draft a couple days ago and now I’m like, “Huh, I feel pretty good about that!” I think I feel like I can leave it for now. Maybe I’ll do something to it later, but now I feel like I could leave it.

Babs: Is this the first full-length play that you’ve had produced?

Allison: Yeah, this is the first full-length that I have had produced. You know, exciting and moderately terrifying, I guess. I’m not a person who’s prone to fear, but I really like- And I don’t even know if fear’s the right word, but I’m just feeling a lot of weird stuff. It’s a weird thing that’s happening. And I’m in it. So like, that’s weird. I always have in the back of my head people going, “Oh, she’s in the thing she wrote,” and sort of like rolling their eyes.

Babs: Has that made it challenging – not only as the performer in your own piece – but hearing the other people around you too? Does your “writer brain” go off like, “No, that’s not what I was thinking!”

Allison: No, I don’t really… I’ve really been enjoying disconnecting from it as a writer. It’s been pretty cool. Sam Bertkin, who’s the Assistant Director, was saying after the first few rehearsals, “It’s really interesting to watch you try to interpret your own material.” Because I do feel like I’m doing that. I’m not looking at like “I wrote this.” I’m looking at it like, “what can I do with this? What can I do with that?”

Claire has brought so much to it and I completely trust her drive the direction of what’s going on. I’m also really not precious about the stuff that I’ve written, so if somebody says a line and then says, “I don’t know if that’s exactly how that should be”, I’m like, “Well, what do you think it should be?” You know, I could tell them to fuck off, but they probably are going to be right. But that doesn’t even really happen. There’s been like such minor things.

There’s some really intense fight scenes and I’ve been working on fight choreography. I wrote the fight really specifically in the script, but we’ve messed with it since then. As long as the intent is the same that’s what I care about.

Babs: I feel like I can definitely relate to you on that one. I guess I’m also sort of wondering, though you say you’re not precious about your words and are really interested in being collaborative, are there moments where you were like, “Well, for the sake of where we’re trying to go with this, I have to let go of this part or this scene”. And maybe have an emotional attachment to it that was unexpected? Or if it was something you just thought was funny, but ultimately it didn’t work?

Allison: Not really. Like, I haven’t had to cut a lot stuff I really cared about. There was one thing that I thought I was maybe going to have to cut that I would have been pretty sad about, but I ended up being able to re-arrange it and re-word it and sort of re-think it.

Babs: Do you think it still works in the re-arrangement?

Allison: Yes. It works better now. Before it mostly just, “This is what Allison thinks about this particular topic” and here’s a mild tirade on that completely from Allison’s perspective.” Then I re-worked it and made it fit more with the person who’s saying it and the show as a whole as opposed to it really being me. But that was the only thing.

Because Claire read it and said, “This is the one part where I feel like I don’t know if that should be there.” And then I changed it and she didn’t say that anymore, so either she forgot or it is better now. I think it’s better now. I like it. But that’s just me. It was very specific to comedy. It’s like a comedy tirade.

Babs: Hey, rants are great. I feel like often times when you’re doing playwriting exercises that can be a really good one to sort of jog people and get them going. Like, “have your character go into a rant right now”. Always really interesting…

Allison: It’s a rant about hecklers, which is fun.

Babs:So in writing this, and also in performing in it, I’m making an assumption – partially because I know I do this – that you’re drawing a lot from your own life?

Allison: Yeah, so I always say that Cyd, which is the main character’s name that I’m playing, that she’s like the nightmare version of myself. So, she’s me if I was given the exact wrong opportunities. And I can totally see that I – She’s pretty monstrous, but we all can be that. So she’s the combination of my worst fears about myself and then also my worst fears for the people that I know that have the set of problems she has. I can see how I could have gone down that same road. There’s definitely some real life stuff in there. There’s one male character in the show and some of the things he says, does, the way he is, the fact that he exists at all, is reminiscent of people that I know unfortunately.

Babs: Or even conversations that you’ve had

Allison: Yeah!

Babs: I would imagine that that becomes difficult when you’re inhabiting that character. And how do I make this person different from me because I wrote it? It’s coming from my experience.

Allison: There’s a lot things about her that are not like me, thank god. The toughest parts have been when she’s really vulnerable and when she’s really not doing well. The parts where she’s being really crass and mean and obnoxious – I don’t know, those can be hard sometimes depending on who I’m directing them at because it’s hard to be mean to Heather Kellogg, who’s the nicest person in the world.

But Claire says that we are totally different, but it’s got shadows of me and other people. I mean she is such a nightmare person. I really hope people don’t think of me that way, like “is that what’s going on in there?”

Babs: I have hope for you. So, as you’re talking it sounds like this is much more of a drama than a comedy.

Allison: It’s really dark. The other night we did a scene from it for the DivaFest gala fundraiser that’s the lightest friendliest part of the show. But it’s really brutal. I mean there’s tons and tons and tons of jokes in it, but it’s really really sad. Sam’s way of describing it was as a “cruel play”. I honestly don’t know how people are going to react to the tone of it because it’s so bizarre. Because even when it’s dark the people are still joking about things in order to cope. That’s pretty standard in a drama in some ways – that there’s still laughter intermingled. Especially the second act, which I said yesterday was like an acid bath. So, maybe people will laugh or maybe they’ll just be like, “oh god, this is not okay!”

Babs:
I think it’s always good writing when you’re having characters in the play that have these jokes or they are saying something that they intend as funny and either people within the scene or the audience are like “cringe!”

Allison: There are so many cringy things about this for sure. Any time that Cyd is left alone in her apartment, it’s like the air just get sucked out. She can’t even bear to be there. So it feels awful. There are many things that will hopefully feel awful – that’s a terrible thing to say! But it’s sort of meant to feel that way. But I hope that they laugh at the jokes too. There’s a million jokes in it because it’s a person who speaks primarily in one-liners. Which is also how I write. I write in single sentence responses and I write a lot of jokes. But there sometimes really sad jokes or mean jokes.

Babs: Do you have a favorite line?

Allison: Oh gosh… Okay, so, “You know what else everybody thought was a great idea? Painting watch faces with radium. Everybody’s happy until Betty’s face starts melting off.

Babs: Shifting gears a little bit, do you have any thoughts or advice, words of wisdom, not only if you’re a playwright and you’re thinking about how to produce your work?

Allison: Get a director that you trust. It would be such a nightmare if I didn’t have a director that I really trusted. I mean I wrote it and handed it to her and then she takes it. I’m still there and if in rehearsal someone asks a question specifically about the writing or has a question for me specifically as a playwright, but I kind of look to Claire first. And 95% of the time, she takes all questions about anything and I only chip in if they really want me to. I just feel like that separation is important. Also, because I’m in it so I don’t want it to feel like, “Well, I wrote this and the only reason someone else is directing it is because I can’t do it myself because that would be three things.” That’s not why she’s directing it. I asked her to direct it because I felt like she was the right person for the job. There was never anyone else I thought was right for the job. Definitely not me. So, I guess that’s my biggest advice – get a director that you believe in that understands what you’re doing.

Babs: Any thoughts about the writing process? Anything that helps you out?

Allison: Mostly I spend my time trying to trick myself into writing. So I set standards like “I’m going to write for 45 minutes”. Then take a break or whatever. But also because the writing was so hard, it was nice to take breaks and write something that was lighter. So, I just had to pace myself because sometimes it was a slog. Or sometimes I can’t write in my apartment, like the walls are closing in on me, so I go some place else or I meet up with other people that are doing the same thing and we write at the same time and sometimes we take really long breaks where we’re talking and drinking coffee.

I’m also fascinated by other people’s processes, I don’t know how others do it – and this is going to sound more impressive than it actually is – but there’s basically seven drafts of this. But to call them full drafts isn’t really genuine because sometimes not a lot has changed. So the first two times- So, I wrote up the whole thing and then side by side, I had another document and typed up the whole thing. So, the first draft to second draft are really different because I was re-typing up the whole thing. That meant anytime I had to type up a word, I had to really think if I wanted that word. That for me was really useful, but obviously a huge pain in the ass because it takes a really long time. I feel like it was worth it though.

Or like in the first one I didn’t worry about the formatting and then fixed that in the second one. I did have some interesting experiences with “locked pages”. Have you ever locked pages when you’re writing something?

Babs: No, what’s that?

Allison: It’s tough. It makes sense when you’re in rehearsal with something. Do you use Final Draft?

Babs: Yeah.

Allison: So, there’s several things in Final Draft that I never use that are really useful. Like in rehearsal you don’t want to print off the whole document again because the pages will change, so instead of that, with this feature, it locks the page number and adds an A, B, and so on after the number and you insert that into the existing scripts. But due to some inconsistencies in something, or my computer or whatever, Linda Huang, our amazing Stage Manager, had to spend hours printing pages with my computer. And we made the decision together so we just had to live with the consequences.

It also took me a really long time to write the end because I didn’t want to put a pretty ribbon on it, but it took a while to figure out what that was. Because in the end I want people to get what they want, but that doesn’t happen and sometimes it’s not always best for you.

Babs: Any last thoughts? Plugs?

Allison: It’s been a shock how great the project has been. People have been really supportive, which puts some pressure on. It’s tough to make something. Writing and now all these other people and all these working parts added into it, which creates more possibility that people will disagree. But that really hasn’t happened. I don’t know how. It’s been so harmonious. Claire said, “it’s been going so well it’s kinda freaking me out a little. Like am I going to get to opening night and go – I did everything wrong!” But I kinda don’t think that’s going to happen.

And if it does, I guess I don’t really give a fuck. I got exactly what I wanted. I did it how I wanted to do it with the people I wanted to work with.

Babs: It’s also not necessarily the end because it’s a play and a play lives on.

Allison: Yeah. Will it be? I don’t know. I kinda can’t imagine anyone else wanting to go through that, but you never know. It is fun. But it’s a part that’s a lot. I’d love to see someone else do it though, I’d watch the shit out of that.

The cast of "Hilarity" courtesy of Claire Rice.

The cast of “Hilarity” courtesy of Claire Rice.

For more of Allison Page’s “Hilarity”, check out http://www.theexit.org/divafest/2014/12/15/hilarity/. The show runs from March 5 through 28 at the EXIT Studio. Tickets are available at http://hilarity.bpt.me/. For more of Allison Page, follow her on twitter @AllisonLynnPage or her bi-weekly column on the SF Theater Pub blog, “Everything is Already Something”.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay-Area based writer. Follow her on twitter @bjwany.