It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: In Defense of Snobbery

In which the author endorses the idea of liking some things and disparaging others.

My name is Dave, and I’m a snob.

And so are you.

Last Sunday, The New York Times featured a column by its main film reviewer, A.O. Scott, on the subject of film snobbery. It turns out the word “snob” has an interesting (to me, anyway*) history. It started out as a term for a shoemaker, but, according to Scott, quoting the Oxford English Dictionary, “’in time the word came to describe someone with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who looks down on those regarded as socially inferior.’ A pretender. A poser. A wannabe. An arriviste.”

Scott goes on: “In this country, the meaning that has long dominated has to do less with wealth or station than with taste, and the word’s trajectory has almost completely reversed. Americans are in general a little squeamish about money and class – worshiping one while pretending the other doesn’t exist – and more comfortable with hierarchies and distinctions that seem strictly cultural. A snob over here is someone who looks contemptuously down, convinced above all of his or her elevated powers of discernment.”

This guy.

This guy.

Now, anyone who knows me, or follows me on Facebook (that is, those who haven’t gotten fed up and hidden me …) knows I have opinions. Lots of them. I like to think I express as many positives as negatives, but the general consensus seems to be “oh, you hate everything.” That I don’t is beside the matter. Those opinions are based on an aesthetic I’ve formed over the decades. This is good. That is bad. I don’t expect people to always agree with them (even if I’ve frequently said that everyone agrees with me eventually; it’s just a matter of when … ), but I hold them dearly, cherish them, let them keep me warm on a cold winter’s night. To take Shakespeare out of context, they’re an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own.

(Parenthetically, I suppose I might have written this time about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s stupid plan to adapt Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. Given some of the people chosen to do the work, it’s even more ill-considered than I would have thought initially. I actually know some of them personally, and am amazed they can string two sentences together, let alone be chosen to improve the Bard. But, as always, I digress – and am showing my snobbish discernment … )

My point, though, is that, as we go through our lives and become exposed to more and more media – be they books, movies, plays, television programs, whatever – we develop tastes that lead us to prefer some of them and disparage others.

Now, I’m not saying that all of those preferences are good. There are plenty of TV shows, books, and movies that I’ll devote time to even as I know they’re inferior (and not even in an ironic hate-watching sense). I’m a sucker for movies where stuff blows up or that involve intricate capers (if one of the Ocean’s movies is on, I have to watch it) and most comic book movies. I know they’re junk food, but will still ingest a lot of them (they’re the artistic equivalent of hot dogs – which I hasten to add, I also love). Sometimes you just need them.

Be still, my heart.

Be still, my heart.

Bad as they might be, I’ve assigned them some merit, or I wouldn’t spend time on them. I admit I prefer to spend my time with stuff that I know is worthwhile, but you can’t always have that, can you?

My point is, though, that because I’ve established a value system that rates some things as good and worth watching and some as bad and still worth watching, and some that I can dismiss out of hand as being awful (or seeming to be) in advance, I can be considered a snob. And so can anyone who’s decided not to see or read something because they know in advance that it’s going to be terrible. (To invert the disclaimer in the financial advisor commercials, past results are indications of future performances.)

It’s like senses of humor. During my last show, one night in the dressing room, most of the rest of cast spent a good chunk of time reenacting “great moments” from Billy Madison. Now, not having liked anything I’ve ever seen Adam Sandler do, I’ve avoided all his film work, and based on the excerpts, I’ve been more than justified. But every Sandler movie I’ve ignored is someone’s all-time favorite. (We’ll ignore the fact that these people are idiots.)

But for every movie you love, every book you venerate, every television show you cannot miss, every joke you think is hilarious and have taken the time to rate as essential, there’s someone who absolutely can’t stand it. And every actor, author, and comedian you wish would be wiped off the face of the Earth without a trace is a person who someone else would be devastated to lose.

My point is that we should just own up to the fact that we’re all snobs; that we all have things that we venerate and things we look down on as being unworthy. Oddly, though, while there’s never any way we can all agree on the former (I know there are plenty of people who hate Stephen Sondheim, Michelle Obama, and Martin Scorsese), there are plenty of people (the Kardashians, the dentist who shot the lion) we can all agree to dislike.

So, yeah. I’m a snob. And proud of it. And you are and should embrace it as well.

(*Just noting that, if you reacted with a “he thinks that’s interesting,” it’s evidence of your own snobbery. Just sayin’.)

In For a Penny: Casual Setting

Charles Lewis III gets set.

PIC BY CATERS NEWS - The amazing art of LIU Bolin, "THE INVISIBLE MAN " In this series called “Hiding in the City” LIU uses his body as an art medium by hiding himself in different city locations from China to the UK. Liu Bolin was born in 1973 in Shandong, China and graduated from the Sculpture Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts with a master degree.....SEE CATERS COPY

PIC BY CATERS NEWS – The amazing art of LIU Bolin, “THE INVISIBLE MAN “
In this series called “Hiding in the City”
LIU uses his body as an art medium by hiding himself in different
city locations from China to the UK.
Liu Bolin was born in 1973 in Shandong, China and graduated from the Sculpture Department of Central
Academy of Fine Arts with a master degree…..SEE CATERS COPY

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

It’s interesting to come across American Theatre’s recent article about the use of video projection on stage when our ‘Pub theme for this month is design. In fact, it was after our most recent show, Explore the Trope: Don’t Fall Asleep!, that I got into a conversation pondering the use of projection with live performance in a small bar venue.

Set design has always interested me because it’s one of the areas of theatre over which I’ve never had any sway. Having performed in stadium-sized theatres, countless black box theatres, a few outdoor venues, and one weeklong stint in a hotel room, I often have a hard enough time finding my bearings for each setting. Sure, I’ll secretly admire (or lament) each stage I’m on, but I’m often grateful that I’m not the one who has to decide what it looks like. I just don’t want to fall off of it.

That all changes when I have to direct, but thankfully the mental real estate that would be saved for remembering lines is taken up by wondering what shade of blue walls would best accentuate the scarf the actress brought from home. Having done the majority of my directing in black boxes, it hasn’t been much of a concern; black really does go with everything. Still, I look at my dream projects and I ponder the possibilities of what could be if I had the rights to certain plays and an unlimited spending account. I’d probably wind up doing a production of The Miracle Worker that would like look Mark Romanek and Hype Williams sharing the same fever-dream until they get trapped in it, Inception-style.

Still, it’s fun to imagine what my personal stamp would be on many productions I’ve seen. The simultaneous blessing and curse of an artistic mind is that it’s always working. So when I go to a show and see the greatest actors spout off the most beautiful words with the greatest of ease, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I can be completely distracted by atrocious set design that might as well be called Playskool presents “Baby’s First German Expressionism Play Set”. I’ve seen sets seemingly designed to try and kill the actors – and a few that nearly have. A set designer is an artist and should be encouraged in their sensibilities as much as any artist in the production, but like those other artists, they have to be reined in from time to time. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a crowd scene that’s ruined by an obtrusive set piece that juts out from CS-Right when the actors are supposed to run as if nothing’s there.

I look at the above article and I wonder if a truly if it’s at all possible to one day have what George Lucas called “The Digital Backlot” on stage. Will hologram and projection technology one day advance to a level of such sophistication that the actual building of sets is no longer needed? Would a marathon of the Coast of Utopia trilogy simply require a few keystrokes to put the actors in 19th Century Russia? Will someone one day do a production of Our Town in which we actually see Grover’s Corner and watch it transition through the years (which would miss the point of staging that play, but still…)? I kinda doubt it, but never say never.

I need to do laundry, so I’ve been wearing the same shirt for the past few days. It’s a black tee with the psychedelic likeness of Jimi Hendrix on the front. The short sleeves are stained with white paint. The paint is from when I was asked help build the set of a local production a few years ago. It was opening night with an 8pm curtain and I was asked to come in around noon to help with… everything. I mean walls needed to be hammered, doors needed to be hinged, and yes, everything needed to be painted. Since I knew the cool tech people in the show, I agreed and we finished juuuuuuust before the House Open. It’s one of those incidents that reminds me of why I love theatre: for an art form based around playing Make Believe, there’s something about the tangible that can’t be replaced.

I’ve seen shows that made subtle-but-effective use of projection and I’ve seen some that were garishly showing off. Like all technology it’s a tool; less defined by its use so much as how it’s used. Off hand, I can’t think of many potential shows were I’d want to use it, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option. ‘Til then, I’ll just admire the countless hours of labor spent building walls to make me believe I’m somewhere other than a theatre.

Everything Is Already Something Week 64: Haiku For Rehearsals In October

Allison Page, ever the poet. 

Dracula is drunk
“Children of the night” means beer

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.02.40 AM

Let’s reinvent this
Rocky Horror meets Mad Men
Meatloaf in a suit

Where is the blood bag
We’ve lost the machete yikes
You’re sitting on it

Pumpkin spice break time
The cast is all in sweaters
Lookin’ like Gap ads

No you die first you
He pulls my head off ‘member
After the guts thing

Careful for the corpse
Exit over the corpse dude
Great there goes his leg

Okay hear me out
Frankenstein is a dancer
That’s why he moves weird


These are all pumpkins
No I said Jack O Lanterns
Not the same thing Todd

We talked about this
We can’t really kill someone
Put down the fake sword

What do you mean Todd
We can’t be out of fake blood
Did you drink it Todd

You are the Wolf Man
You look like a Cat Man bro
No one’s scared of that

Look there’s a full moon
I’m a monster haha not
Let’s make out after

The witches’ brew Todd
You made it an IPA
Witches fell asleep

Trick or Treat haha
Just kidding I’m 43
I can’t have candy


Allison Page is a writer/actor/monster in San Francisco. You can catch her in Theater Pub’s production of DICK 3 this month at PianoFight, as the evil henchman Ham.


Anthony R. Miller checks in with some shameless self-promotion.

Hey you guys, so this Monday, the Horror-Theatre Double-Feature returns with the first public reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT. It’s a fund raiser, it’s a developmental reading, it’s a party. I have a million reasons I want you to be there, but I’ll whittle it down to five.

Join us on the Journey

This “Grand Unveiling” of sorts is just the beginning. TR2 will get a full production in October 2016 at the lovely new PianoFight. This reading begins our year-long effort to produce the show. Just like last time we will give you a crapload of behind-the-scenes access like photos, videos and the backstage journal known as the TERROR-RAMA DIARIES. Follow us as we fundraise, design, plan and stage this crazy, crazy show.

New Plays

I feel like we’ve really upped our game here. We’ve got two brand new plays that we’ve developing over the last 10 months and now it’s time to show you what we got. The first is “Purity” by Claire Rice, it’s a creeptastic look into the world of Purity Balls, religion and fear. The second is “Sexy Vampire Academy” by me, it’s about a coven of vampires who live the year 1996 over and over. Think “Lost Boys” meets “Jawbreaker”. Oh and it’s pretty funny, I think.

An Awesome Cast

We totally lucked out on this cast, we love them. You should come see them be great. It’s not every day you get to see fellow t-pub blogger Ashley Cowan-Leschber play a teenage nineties Vampire.


We’re trying something a little different for fundraising. Not crowdsourcing, not officially, not with kickstarter or indie go-go. We plan to have a “My Bloody Valentine” fundraiser in February, we have outside investors and there will be a way to donate on line, but we’re trying to do it the old fashioned way. We’re trying to grow , but in a smart way, the venue is larger, the cast is (slightly) larger and god willing the payroll is larger. So if you like the idea of one less Kickstarter campaign in the world,and giving actors and designers raises, come to the reading, make a donation in person like people did back in 90’s.

It’ll be fun Dammit

PianoFight is already a great place to see a show, awesome bar, good food and a great atmosphere. We couldn’t be happier to be partnering with them for the reading and the actual run in October 2016. Our stalwart Director Colin Johnson is back. Horror-Host Sindie Chopper is back to run the show and dammit, these plays are awesome. We’ve really gotten to focus on the development of these plays over the last ten months and it’s crazy to think how ahead of the game we are compared to the last production. So there it is, two world-premiere Horror-Plays, a great venue, the best host, an awesome cast and the promise of a very fun time. October is chock full of awesome, spooky theatre, so kick off your spooky theatre season with us! I hope you can all make it; we need your help to make this happen. Instead of giving us $10 online for a credit in the program, give us $10 in person and we’ll entertain the crap out of you.




Monday October 12, 8PM

Pianofight 144 Taylor St. SF

$10 suggested donation at the door


Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with all things TERROR-RAMA at You can also learn more about his play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party” at

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing DICK 3!

Announcing this year’s Halloween show at Theater Pub!

Facebook-2 copy

It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former king Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

The Real World – Theater Edition: Setting Intention

Barbara Jwanouskos, last postcard of the summer.

The sun setting in Maui.

The sun setting in Maui.

Over September, I was fortunate enough to accompany my partner on a journey to Maui to learn more about his Hawaiian heritage and culture by learning traditional lomi lomi massage and healing. So, suffice it to say, I’ve been out of the theater scene for a bit. But in that space, I was able to open myself to new modes of looking at the world and find new doors with possibility waiting eagerly on the other side.

I want to just share a little something about the importance of ritual. I’m not talking about anything cultish or so ingrained that it becomes boring and mundane. I am talking about setting the space and intention and inviting something beyond what we can touch, see, feel, hear, taste and know to enter in and help to guide us towards a better understanding of ourselves and the world. This, to me, more than anything is what theater provides.

In the practicing of lomi lomi, we set our intention, chant pule, or prayer, and begin our energetic and physical assessment of the client. We follow, perhaps, a particular routine, but leave enough room to improvise based on the needs of the client. We go from light to deep. We sooth our work. We re-assess and then cut the cord that bound us together, sending them off with love and light.

Our theatrical performances are the same way and can have the same depth of spirit, other-worldliness, and wonder. I’m hoping that coming back is just the beginning of practicing with this new found awareness that I can explore in my writing and creating art with others.

Mahalo for the gifts of time, readers! And I will be back next time with more interviews to provide us with inspiration on the creative process.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based writer and theater artist. Follow her on twitter @bjwany.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Practical Magic of Props

Marissa Skudlarek, giving props to props.

Making theater means spending your life creating and re-creating other worlds onstage. Some of the tools we use to create these other worlds are abstract – language, gesture, spatial relationships. But there’s also a whole heap of tangible stuff that becomes part of the world of the play: sets, lighting, costumes, props. These items need to be carefully considered, and obtained, and maintained. October 2015 is Design Month on the Theater Pub blog, so, to kick things off, I asked friends and members of the community to share their favorite stories about props.

Playwrights have vivid imaginations, which means that scripts can sometimes require weirdly specific props. If a prop is mentioned in the stage directions but not the dialogue, you might be able to do without it, but if the characters discuss it, you’re probably on the hook for including it.

The Desk Set requires a plush rabbit that can conceal a bottle of champagne. In the production I was in this summer, we substituted a rabbit hand puppet, but it still caused some problems during a dress rehearsal.

Other shows require people to get more artsy-craftsy. Claudine Jones shared the following story on Facebook: “The plot of Angel Street literally hinges on a brooch that contains hidden jewels. The description in the script is so vivid, it’s almost impossible to fake. I set out to make a brooch that fit all these requirements: small enough to wear as an article of jewelry, easy to open and close, and able to hide “jewels” that are big enough to be recognized as such by the audience. A couple of weeks of trial and error, bizarre prototypes that went straight into the trash, and I finally succeeded. The main component was an old tuna fish can, painted gold, with a pin epoxied on the back and an overlapping series of metal triangles that formed a kind of iris that opened and closed. The “jewels”? 3mm ruby Swarovski crystals that shone like crazy. I think the playwright would have approved.”

 Oh, Tony Kushner and your weirdly specific, metaphorical props. Photo by Dale Ratner.

Oh, Tony Kushner and your weirdly specific, metaphorical props. Photo by Dale Ratner.

The play Slavs requires a Russian-style icon of St. Sergius of Radonezh with the face of Lenin. When Dale Ratner directed this play in graduate school, he commissioned someone to paint the icon on salvaged wood – and still has it in his living room. Alandra Hileman has a similar story from when she directed the short play Overtones, in which the characters discuss an “ugly but expensive” lamp. After searching in vain for a suitable 1910s-era lamp, Alandra “assembled this from a candlestick, a votive holder, and an LED tea light for like $5 total. It’s lived on our mantle since then because my mom thinks it’s adorable.”

Ugly but expensive? More like cute and $5! Photo by Alandra Hileman.

Ugly but expensive? More like cute and $5! Photo by Alandra Hileman.

Dale and Alandra aren’t the only people who’ve been known to take props home and use them as décor. For the last month or two of my freshman year of college, I lived with a stylized wrought-steel horse’s head hanging on the wall, because my roommate had been in a student production of Equus.

Theater is all about provoking emotion, and it can be either cathartic or harrowing to see something destroyed before your eyes. But what a nightmare it must cause for the props master! I’m thinking of plays like Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, where, at a climactic moment, the characters muss and dirty a pristine living room. Or, my friend Catherine Cusick shared the following story: “I did a play where a character pours a full bottle of vodka onto a MacBook laptop that we’ve seen working and being used for two hours onstage. My mom called me up out of nowhere during rehearsals asking if I still needed that. Turns out a neighbor had left a lookalike to the working laptop out on the side of her driveway. My mom walked right by and promptly swiped it.”

Speaking of finding props on the street… When I worked with director Katja Rivera on the production of my play Pleiades in summer 2014, I learned that she has what I call a “magpie superpower” – a preternatural ability to find cool and useful stuff on the sidewalks of Berkeley. This year, a record player that Katja found has starred in three productions in a row: Grey Gardens, at the Custom Made Theatre; The Desk Set, produced by No Nude Men; and The Real Thing, at Masquers Playhouse. You have to admit that’s a pretty snazzy resume – and such versatility too, going from the 1970s in the Hamptons to the 1950s in New York City to the 1980s in London without missing a beat! “Do I have an eye for talent, or what? I literally picked that baby up off the sidewalk, and he’s done three shows this year. Next stop Broadway!” Katja writes.

Katja’s record player got passed around between these three productions thanks to informal bartering and Katja’s generosity in loaning it out to friends. If a theater company maintains a proprietary stock of props and costumes, one can even more frequently see the same items appearing in multiple productions. Stuart Bousel recalls “a dress that appeared in five productions I directed in Tucson: a simple red ankle-length gown with a gathered bodice. It was made for a chorus member in Lysistrata, then used in the Oresteia, where it was worn by Clytemnestra. Then we used it in a comedy sketch about the Oresteia where it was worn by Cassandra, then in a production of Faust Part One, where it once again went back to the chorus, then a production of Salome, where it was worn by the Cappadocian (female in our version). I’m almost certain it was finally retired after that… but maybe not.”

In the first show I ever did in high school, I had a small role as a Russian noblewoman attending an opera, and got to wear a beautiful mink stole. I grew very attached to the stole and, later on in high school, basically insisted on wearing it again when I played Mrs. Luce in Little Shop of Horrors. It’s been over ten years, but in all likelihood, that stole is still being worn by teenage actresses at my high school. Though, if I’m honest with myself, I still think of it as “mine.”

Indeed, if you love a prop or a costume piece enough, you’ll find ways to keep reusing it. Catherine Cusick, again: “I worked with a theater in high school that made a papier-maché cow for a production of Into the Woods, but managed to slip it into any other show that could conceivably involve a cow on wheels.”

Marissa Skudlarek is a playwright, producer, and arts writer. She still wants a mink stole, especially now that it’s October. For more: or Twitter @MarissaSkud.