It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Put Your Head on My Chest, and I’m Mr. Success

Dave Sikula on how to succeed- and feel like you’ve actually succeeded.

Frank has the definition – as you’d expect.

I have a feeling the seams are gonna show on this one, but go with me.

I arrived at rehearsal last Tuesday night just in time to hear part of a discussion about “success” in the theatre, and just what that word might mean. (I also heard my name being bruited about as a hashtag standing in for “not liking things,” but that couldn’t be more false. Why, just last week, I caught Sister Play at the Magic, and loved it. But I digress … )

I believe I’ve mentioned more than once that, at this point in my career, I have a pretty good sense of whether a show I’ve directed or am acting in is any good. (And let me qualify that; once we open and the finished product is in place, I have an idea. Many is the time I’ve come home from rehearsal and said that I have no idea of how it was going to go over – or been sure on the final Monday or Tuesday that we were as doomed as doomed can be, only to have the ship right itself yet again.) I can tell if I’m good or if the show is good, but is it a “success?” Boy, is that a can of worms.

There are just too many definitions for success. Is it financial? Is it a (sincere) standing ovation from the audience? Is it (appropriate) laughter or tears? Is it good reviews? Is it personal satisfaction? Is it knowing you got the most out of all the actors and characters? All of the above? Some of them?

I don’t know. I can be satisfied and delighted with something, but does that equal “success?”

This is the part where it’s going to get sticky. In my last couple of offerings, I’ve talked about the plan by Actor’s Equity to kill Los Angeles’s 99-seat plan. For those who came in late*, in brief, there was a waiver that allowed theatres with 99 seats or fewer to pay union actors less than scale (like, as little as $7 a performance) in order for them to do material that was more challenging or interesting or larger-scale or experimental than work for television or movies. (I also expressed a wish that we had something similar in the Bay Area – not because I think actors shouldn’t be paid, but because I think they should be able to work on whatever they want wherever they want.)

Equity members down there voted on whether they wanted to keep the waiver plan in place (with changes) or scrap it all together. By a 2-to-1 margin, they voted in favor of keeping the plan. It was strictly an advisory vote, so Equity’s New York offices announced Tuesday (as expected) that they’d be scrapping the plan and, basically, putting dozens of successful companies out of business and preventing the very actors they were claiming to protect from working. At least one company, the Long Beach Playhouse (worked there; did two good shows, two okay shows, and one that was one of the worst theatrical experiences of my life), announced immediately that they were going strictly non-Equity, and I heard of at least three cases where actors were literally physically prevented from auditioning for shows.

The Long Beach Playhouse = in business since 1929.

The Long Beach Playhouse = in business since 1929.

Okay, what does all this have to do with “success?” A lot, I think. Consider the sides. The theatres in question? Mostly “successful” both artistically and financially. The way the vote went? “Successfully” for the actors. Equity’s take on what they’ve done? A “success” for themselves and their members. And yet, all three of them can be seen in just the opposite way. Those theatres? Well, not everything they did worked. (I mean, no theatre hits it out of the park every time. If they did, they’d have a formula that every other theatre would copy.) The vote? Well, about half of the 6,000 (yes, six thousand) Equity members in Los Angeles didn’t even vote, and Equity “lost” the vote. Where’s the success there? And Equity’s plan to kill the theatres is seen as a strong loss by the dissenters (my Facebook feed has been afire with outrage all day). Three events. Three successes. Three failures.

Getting back to the inciting incident (remember my walking into rehearsal way back up at the top of the page?), I was reminded of another conversation I’d walked in on, discussing a recent production some of us had seen. Some (like me) had liked it, others didn’t, though each side could understand the logic of the other. Was the production a “success?” It certainly was for me in that it succeeded (that word!) in illuminating the story and text it was trying to convey in an entertaining way. For others, it was a failure because the very nature of its story and text were fatally flawed. One production. One success. One failure.

To bring all of this up to the present, the rehearsal I was at was for Grey Gardens. It’s a musical. A very good one. (One might even call it “successful,” if one were so inclined.) It ran on Broadway for “only” seven months, so one could term it either a success or not. (And, no; I’m not being paid each time I use the word “success” … ) I think this production will be a very good one. The cast is marvelous (I exempt myself from this assessment) and we’re having a great time even though we’ve barely started. There are two things to discuss here, though. The first – and more germane – is whether it’ll be a success. I believe it will work artistically and will sell very well (get your tickets now!), so from those standpoints, it was be a success. Though for all of that, I have no doubt that there will be people who see it and think it’s putrid and the worst thing they’ve ever seen. They’ll storm out at intermission, angry at having that hour of their life eradicated. No success there – unless there’s a perverse success in not succeeding …

But on a personal level, I’ll be dealing with not just my usual struggle with lines (though these are – knock wood – coming reasonably easily), but I’ll need to add music, lyrics, and choreography to the mix, and other assessments will come into play. Will I move (I won’t say dance) as directed? Will I get those damn harmonies? Will I get the lyrics right? For my purposes, doing those will constitute success. Will I be good while doing it? I’ll do as well as I can and then judge whether I think the results are good. As with the rest of the production, I know there will be people who will roll their eyes and shake their heads at how inept I am.

So, what’s the upshot? That there’s no such thing as artistic success. It’s too objective and personal. I can be satisfied or happy (or neither) about whether I think I’ve met my personal goals for the role and my place in the show. Whether that’s a success or a failure will be in the eye of the beholder.

(*Completely, and literally, parenthetically, in the late ‘90s, I directed a production of The Night Boat. It was an okay production of a not-very-good 1920 musical. About 20 minutes into the show, three women called the “Plot Demonstrators” came out and did a number titled “For Those Who Came in Late,” which recapped the plot to that moment. About 20 minutes before the end of the show, they came out again to tell how it all ended, so that people who had to catch trains would know how things turned out [spoiler alert: happily]. It was that kind of show … )

"The Night Boat's" original production. That kind of show.

“The Night Boat’s” original production. That kind of show.

In For A Penny: The All-Seeing Eye

Charles Lewis III SEES YOU.

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“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
– William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, Sc. 1

I was originally going to write this post about the similarities between professional sports and theatre – what with baseball season now in full swing, the Warriors kickin’ ass in the play-offs, and Wrestlemania a few weeks back (the latter would have included several nods to my ‘Pub colleague and fellow wrestling fan Anthony Miller). But as I took a peek back at my last entry, in which I pondered on-camera work vs. on-stage work, I found myself stuck on a lot of recent conversations about the two possibly converging in order to survive.

Let me start off by saying something we all know: theatre is neither dying nor dead. It’s been around longer than any of us and will still be around after we’re gone. The reason for that being the fact that in the end all one needs for theatre is at least one performer and an audience. That’s why you can’t look any changes to it the same way you look at recent changes to film (going digital), television (cord-cutting and Netflix binging), or radio (also transitioning to digital and competing with Pandora/Spotify/Rdio/etc.). All three of those of those formats are technologies first, performance art media second (if that). Theatre should never be wholly dependent on technology (despite the fact that tech people are super-amazing powerful wizards in whose hands we put our lives and whom I love dearly).

But what about when theatre does incorporate tech? Hell, going from soft blue to a spotlight to a blackout can mean the difference between a play being brilliant or just confusing. In recent years we’ve all seen a significant rise in theatre productions incorporating technology not traditionally associated with theatre, even here on the indie theatre scene. Some of them, when done right, can add a powerful new element to the story (video projection), whilst others are just a plain intrusion to the entire process (tweet seats). And of course, there’s technology that allows you to watch theatre when you’re nowhere near the theatre. And that, my friend, is what I’ll be focusing on today.

Recently, as I was scrolling Facebook, I came across this article posted on the wall of Melissa Hillman, Artistic Director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley. It’s an op-ed blog about two new apps – Periscope (owned by Twitter) and Meerkat – that allow you to live-stream events directly from your phone. Naturally this has led to heated discussion as to when using such an app would be appropriate, if ever. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go to a play and sit behind someone holding up their phone or tablet like some concert-goer (something that actually has happened to me in recent years: once at a Thunderbird show and once at BOA). And that’s not even getting into the whole piracy question; the whole reason Google Glass is banned in American cinemas is for that very reason.

Still, I’m not opposed to the idea of live-streaming theatre. I mean, why not? The big guys are already doing it. I’ve been part of productions for the SF Opera that were either broadcast live or recorded to re-air on PBS. Fathom Events is a company specifically dedicated to transmitting live sporting events (like boxing and wrestling – I still mentioned wrestling this week) and performances into cinemas across the country; most notably those of New York’s Metropolitan Opera before they also re-air on PBS.

And we in the indie theatre scene have HowlRound TV. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never attended the One-Minute Play Festival (for which the ‘Pub’s own Marissa Skudlarek has written several plays), but I make it a point to watch HowlRound’s annual live-stream of the production. Now think of how many productions you’ve done that friends and family members wished they could attend, were they not halfway across the country. Before I inherited this piece of internet real estate from the esteemed Claire Rice, she made a Top 10 list of things she thinks theatre needs. After re-reading No.s 8 and 10 (and maybe even No. 5), I can see live-streaming of plays as something that could be a real boon to the indie theatre scene, if done right. In fact, in regards to No. 10, I’d love to see our friends at Theatre Bay Area take this under consideration, even if it meant teaming up with a company like HowlRound. Imagine the TBA Awards – which, incidentally, is now Claire’s jurisdiction – streamed across the country (nay, the world) for theatre-lovers all over?

And how, pray tell, do we do it “right”? I’m glad you asked. I happen to have a few suggestions that would appeal to both the folks at home and those with butts in seats:

1. Mic. The. Stage. I really should say “Use the best equipment” because this first suggestion comes from being told personally by a member of the 1MPF crew that they don’t have the capability to use HD camcorders, so the cameras they do use are archaic. I hope this is something they can solve soon, but I also hope they don’t resort to the mobile phone antics of Periscope or Meerkat. Still, I’ve always been able to see what’s happening on stage, even if it wasn’t always clear. But it can be a real pain in the ass to hear what’s going on. In a perfect set-up, there would be unseen mics either on or directly pointed at the stage, so as to not be drowned out by the ambient noise of the theatre. If live-streaming or recording for archives, tap into that audio. I’d like to actually hear a playwright’s words before I criticize them for using the word “irregardless”.

2. Good camera location. For the past few years now, me and Paul Anderson have been the officially unofficial chroniclers of the Olympians Festival. I take photos, he records video – not something we planned, just what happened. Both of us have to do these from rather static positions. When I saw the above article on Melissa’s wall, I immediately began thinking of exactly where I’d place cameras around Impact. Then I started thinking about The EXIT. PianoFight. Cutting Ball. Even the SF Playhouse. Each and every one of these venues could easily use some discreet, high-quality cameras that would transmit in crystal clarity whilst remaining invisible to the audience. Just be sure that your camera operator and sound person are part of the rehearsal process, so the folks at home don’t miss out on the moments that the live audience sees. Speaking of the live audience…

3. Audience quota. I’ve been in a couple different productions that had to cancel performances due small audiences. Let’s be real: with the average indie theatre ticket running somewhere between $15-$30, some folks would be tempted to never leave the house if they knew they could just watch it at home – that’s the “dying” aspect of theatre people fear. Now, I don’t know if services like HowlRound TV will always be free, but I certainly think live audiences should always take priority. Which is why I propose that live-streaming be done ONLY if a certain audience number is met each night. It doesn’t have to be a full house, but depending on the capacity of each theatre, there should be a minimum number of filled seats or no broadcast that night. This is less about the folks at home seeing the seats filled and more about the folks putting on the show being able to pay to keep the lights on. The actors can perform with a small live audience, but for the folks at home it should be a privilege.

And that, to me, is the point: this isn’t about taking away from live theatre, it’s about enhancing it for a wider audience. I’m not against the idea of apps for theatre. Hell, I get what apps like Periscope and Meerkat are trying to do, but they’re not solving a problem, they’re adding to it. But if a life of being a tech buff has taught me anything, it’s that’s folks will eventually choose low-quality convenience rather than having to wait for top-quality expense. That’s why VHS beat out Betamax and why people are losing their hearing with crappy digital music. Live-streaming represents a bold opportunity for indie theatre to get in on the ground floor of both a new technology and a new wider performance venue.

Technology in and of itself does not improve art; it’s just another tool of the artist. The most important thing to remember is that in the end, the folks at home and the folks in front of you are both hungry for the exact same thing: they want to see a good show.

Everything Is Already Something Week 55: The Birth, Life, and Further Adventures of a Play

Allison Page, reminding us how it’s done. Also that today is actually the day for her blog.

This is the life cycle of a play. Specifically, my play. The content of the play itself isn’t particularly important, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t even know which play it is. Process is interesting to me, so here’s one experience and how I reacted to it along the way.

CONCEPTION
One day, I had an idea.

INCUBATION
And then I didn’t write shit about it for at least a year. Not a damn word. I just sat around and brooded about it. For the record, I don’t necessarily recommend this. It’s just what happened.

SLOW GROWTH
I started jotting down notes, bits of scenes, but mostly character descriptions and vague plot outlines. Thought of a title right away.

FALSE LABOR
I met with someone about producing it. Yes, that means I met with someone about producing it before it actually existed apart from the most scattered outline ever. That person, though fairly positive about the project, ended up not following through.

HIBERNATION
Then the play just lived inside my body for a year and a half. I shoved it away in a drawer but continued to think about it, because the drawer in my brain wasn’t actually closed.

INDUCTION
Unable to give up the ghost, I met with a director and we decided to produce it ourselves come hell or high water because otherwise my sanity might be at stake. Thank goodness for collaborators.

THE HARD PART
For six months I actually worked on the damn script. And by actually, I mean that sometimes I did and sometimes I just pretended to. “I’m gonna stay home and write!” often means “I just watched 6 seasons of Frasier and I want to live in the ground with some moles.” but sometimes it means I’m actually writing. Usually for an hour at a time, and then a long lemonade break. And then another hour, and then I get too invested in a youtube video and it all comes crashing down.

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FIRST GLIMPSE
And then we did a first reading…with an unfinished script. I don’t mean that it needed more drafts (yes, it did) but I mean that it didn’t even have an ending. And it was 60 something pages. At this point we thought it’d be a 90 minute no-intermission play. LOLZ.

ONBOARD
The play is brought to a producer several months later who agrees to take it on. Now the director and I aren’t producing it alone. This is amazing. This is surprising. Oh dear god now it better be good…or at least finished.

THE HARD PART AGAIN BECAUSE THE HARD PART IS ALWAYS
Many more months of writing and not writing and writing and not writing and napping when I should be writing and drinking when I should be writing and watching tv when I should be writing. Still not finished though. Still missing the final scene. Three drafts in and still not a final scene. Approaching 100 pages. Surpassing possibility of having a 90 minute zero intermission show. Avoiding ending like the plague.

MORE BODIES
Two roles are pre-cast. Oops. Now one of those actors has to be on the other side of the country. Now one role is pre-cast. Auditions happen. They take 3-4 days and are exhausting but we end up with our cast of 5.

THE HARD PART AGAIN BECAUSE DID I MENTION THE HARD PART IS ALWAYS
Finally, mere days before rehearsal has started, I write an ending. A good one. I THINK. Wait, I know. I know the ending is good, and now I begin to wonder if the entire rest of it is terrible.

PAPER
In-house publisher at the theater would like to publish the script. Naturally I’m all for that. Oh god that means I have to send them a finished script. I turn it in on the exact date of the deadline. This endears me to the editor, who says most people don’t manage to get it in on time. I high five myself but only for that.

WORK
Rehearsals for five weeks. Relatively mild revisions during first couple of weeks. But those revisions fuck stuff up for printing in spite of/perhaps because of, locking the pages in Final Draft. Stage manager saves the day.

EMERGENCE
Opening night. Good feelings. Not perfect, but good.

SECOND WEEK
Boom. Got it. Feels fantastic. Hit its stride. Not a terrible piece of shit. Thankfully this is when the critics came, though only one of them actually had a review published. It was a really good review. This felt great and lucky because you very much cannot win ’em all.

This is what he DIDN'T say. Phew.

This is what he DIDN’T say. Phew.

THIRD WEEK
Thursday audiences are stupid. Not tiny, just sleepy. But the cast probably is too. What I really mean is that I hate doing Thursday performances and I probably will always feel that way. Consider whether we can change Thursday to be called Pre-Friday to give it a better association. Abandon that because it’s stupid.

FOURTH WEEK
Good. Good. WHAT. Closing night, a sudden not-great show. Lucked out with great shows the other weeks, suddenly closing night is this confusing occurrence.

AFTERMATH
Indescribable feelings. Not quite like sadness but not unlike it either. People keep asking what’s going to happen with it next. Uh, I don’t know. We did it. I did everything that I was going to do. Show’s over. Got it out of my system. Pried it out of my mind and flung it off of a spoon onto the eyeballs and earballs of several hundred people. Isn’t that enough? But it’s published, so now it’s this thing that people can buy and do. College students can mount shitty productions of it. Some director in Idaho can set it in 1940s Amsterdam. A company can do an all-nude version of it in a cornfield — but I’m not going to pretend I have control over that, or that any of those things are my hopes and dreams for it. To be honest, I don’t know what my hopes are for the damn thing. My biggest possible hope was to just get to DO it. And we did. And it seems almost foolhardy to want more for it. It’s lived such a good life with the people who love it and it’s nearly arrogant to think I can say “And now it’s going to do THIS, AND THIS! MY CHILD’S AN HONOR STUDENT AT THE ACADEMY OF DRAMATIC FARTS!” So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m not out in search of more opportunities for it. I’m happy with it. I’m comfortable with it.

But if it gets a shitty college or all-nude production I will absolutely fly there and watch it because that’s my baby up there.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedy person in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage and you can buy the script of her play HILARITY on amazon.com.

Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED PLAYS SUBMISSION GUIDELINES!

Ashley Cowan is still on maternity leave, so we figured we’d run our call for PINT-SIZED PLAYS V again because- hello! EVERYBODY AND ANBODY IN THE BAY AREA CAN AND SHOULD SUBMIT! 

San Francisco Theater Pub is pleased to announce that our popular PINT-SIZED PLAYS event will be returning for a fifth year and that we are now accepting script submissions from Bay Area playwrights!

PINT-SIZED PLAYS is an evening of short plays that take place in a bar and involve people drinking beer. The 2015 PINT-SIZED PLAYS Festival will happen August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at PianoFight in downtown San Francisco.

The Rules:

* Plays must be no longer than the time it takes to finish a beer. This means plays may be as short as a few seconds, but no longer than eight pages.

* Plays must require no more than three actors.

* At least one of the characters in the play must be drinking a beer during the scene, and the play must end when someone finishes their beer.

* Plays must take place in a bar. This is for both thematic and logistical reasons. The plays will be performed in the bar space of the PianoFight building and the only set items we can guarantee are tables, chairs, and beers.

* Plays must respect the bar space. PianoFight is incredibly supportive of this festival, but in return, we need to be worthy of their trust. Don’t demand that actors do anything in your play that you wouldn’t do in a bar yourself (with some degree of sobriety).

* Submissions should be emailed to theaterpub@atmostheatre.com, with the subject line “Last Name, First Name – Pint-Sized 2015 Submission.” Attach the script to the email as a PDF or Word doc. All scripts should include playwright’s name and contact information.

* Submission deadline is midnight Pacific time, May 15, 2015.

Selected plays will be announced in June 2015.

The Suggestions:

*We especially like: plays that can be cast flexibly (with actors of any age, race, or gender); plays with good roles for women; plays that have fun with style, language, or genre.

* We especially dislike: plays that promote stereotypes or clichés; plays that have been previously produced; plays hastily rewritten to fit our parameters.

The Legalese:

* Open to residents of the following counties ONLY: San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Monterey, or San Joaquin. You must be able and willing to prove your residence and identity upon request.

* There is no fee to submit a play for consideration in Pint-Sized.

* Selected playwrights will receive a small stipend and the opportunity to have their play produced by San Francisco Theater Pub for four performances in August.

* San Francisco Theater Pub will handle all production responsibilities for the selected plays. We reserve the right to choose a director and actors for each play as we see fit.

* The submitted plays, whether chosen for production or not, remain the intellectual property of their authors. San Francisco Theater Pub makes no claims to these scripts and will not cut, edit, or otherwise change the playwright’s dialogue without the writer’s express permission.

* If you have additional questions, please email theaterpub@atmostheatre.com.

We look forward to reading your submissions!

The Five: Shakespeare Smoked Weed, Maybe, Just Go With It.

Anthony R. Miller checks in with…wait, what was I saying?

Hey you guys, in honor of the national stoner holiday of 4/20 (At least it was when I was writing it), were going to decide if William Shakespeare was one of theatre’s first functioning stoners, because 4/20, whatever. Also, this is meant to be silly, let’s not get too worried about details here. What’s important is that I’ve got my reasons, predictably, there are five.

Britain Loved Weed
In the late 1500’s England used hemp for everything, rope, printing bibles and textiles, even a few of Shakespeare’s early plays were written on Hemp paper. Also, social behavior was not as closely monitored, at the time people could pretty much do whatever the fuck they wanted as long as they didn’t murder anybody. Smoking Tobacco was also getting pretty huge at the time. So it’s not crazy to conclude that the far more fun at parties version of hemp was also grown and Willie was smoking a jay by the Thames writing about Magic Fairies making people fall in love.

Finding Shakespeare’s Stash
In 2001, anthropologist Francis Thackeray suggested that a source of Shakespeare’s productivity and creative inspiration came from smoking cannabis. He led a study which analyzed residues from pipes found in his home. Sure enough, the test showed traces of Cannabis. Keep in mind, there’s no proof those were his pipes, he was probably holding them for a friend. Also, according to several Shakespeare biographers, including Rene Weis (Author of 2007’s Shakespeare Revealed”.), Shakespeare suffered from almost crippling back pain and needed help getting around. Could The Bard have been the first medical marijuana patient? Was Avonian Willie using a Sativa during the day to focus and create content and an Indica at night for pain management?

Sonnet 76
The only way to know for sure would be to exhume Shakespeare’s body and sample hair and teeth. Thackeray even considered petitioning the Church of England to let him do exactly that, but decided against it. After all, the guy’s tombstone basically curses anybody who messes with the grave. But the poem that started Thackeray on his quest was Sonnet 76, which features the lines; “And keep invention in a noted weed,” and “To new-found methods and to compounds strange.” Now it’s not quite “passeth the duchie on the hath left handeth side.“ but, Thackeray and others think these are clear references to The Bard of Avon smoking two joints in the morning and thusly, two more at night. Taken with the right context and interpreted the right way, these could clearly be seen as drug references, especially if you’re high. I mean c’mon the poem says “WEED”.

Doobie or Not Doobie
Put a few theatre nerds in the same room, bring up the Hamlet Soliloquy and the proper way to perform it, and you may get a fist fight. So what if this often analyzed, quoted, performed, and debated monologue was just the internal ramblings of a grumpy introverted stoner? What if those famous words were preceded by Hamlet taking a fat bong rip? Taken in that context, is it so crazy the death of his father and the betrayal by his own family has led this moody Dane to wanting to sit in his room , puff blunts, listen to some Depeche Mode and have an existential meltdown? Enjoyeth the Silence indeed.

Rosencheech and Guildenchong
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had one job, get Hamlet to England. But those lovable goofballs screw it all up. (And Die, but let’s not split hairs here.) Whether it’s Harold and Kumar or Bill and Ted, they all owe their existence to Hamlet’s Child hood friends. Two guys with no real responsibilities, who seem happy to just skate through life, aren’t too bright and have no idea and bless their hearts, just can’t do anything right. Their propensity to just back into adventures is another key component for any lovable but not all there duo and it all started with these guys. Even the sincerity of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the notion that they truly have no idea how ridiculous they look, is a key component of the naïve nature of camp and silly comedy. Is this all just the result of Shakespeare being short on a lid a of grass and he told his dealers, “Ok, what if I write two characters in my new play based on you, think you can spot me till Friday?”

Anthony R. Miller is a good upstanding contributing member of society and for no reason should be investigated by the DEA. He is also a Writer, Director and Producer, keep up with his work at www.awesometheatre.org.

Theater Around The Bay: A Day in the Life of Artistic Director Meg Trowbridge

We’re opening a new show tonight, so we figure it makes sense to look back on our last show one last time. Artistic Director Meg Trowbridge shares what it was like to helm the first BIG show of the new Theater Pub season.

March 23, 2015: Opening Night of On the Spot

I awake in the middle of the night to the crash of cymbals.

I awake in the middle of the night to the crash of cymbals.

6:30am
Wake up, Meg. Come on. You can hit snooze, but you know those nine minutes of extra sleep are just a cock-tease. Just put your phone in front of your face, open Facebook, and you’ll be wiiiiiide awake. Good, good.

I wake up to go to the gym with my husband and neighbor – one of the few habits I kept from wedding-preparation. I consider skipping. I mean, I am opening a show tonight. I should probably get as much sleep as I can. Alas, my brawny trainer is like a siren on the craggy rocks. I go to him and my body weeps.

8:45am
Breakfast. The most important meal of the blah blah blah. I shovel eggs in my face and check email – the conference call I’m supposed to be on today gets pushed to 5:30pm. I’ll be at the theater by then. That’s fine, that’s fine.

10:45am
Obsessively continue to check emails, awaiting a fire that needs to be put out. Instead, I read encouraging email from a director about tonight’s show – Neil Higgins is a real mensch.

12:00pm
Head up to the Haight for some needed items for the show. I stop into the sunglasses shop to get some mirrored aviators for the play I will be performing in. I pop into the organic grocery store to pick up some bananas. 10 is enough, right? Let’s see, they use four in the first play, one in the second… we need a peel for the fourth… Fuck it, I’ll get 16 bananas.

3:30pm
Post to Facebook that the show opens tonight and YOU SHOULD ALL BE THERE. (Thanks for being there.)

5:00pm
Buy a load of single condoms at Super Discount for SEX EDNA. (True story: the guy gave me a condom discount for the arts.)

5:30pm
Get on the conference call and discuss ways to make tech people funny while also writing down the show order and banana break-down.

6:30pm
Actors arrive. We all nervously go over our lines and sip on beers.

7:00pm
Get encouraging text from Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez and feel warm and gooey inside. <3

7:30pm
Manning the donation table. My other Theater Pub crew are manning the Olympians ship, so I am flying solo tonight. At this time, I realize I haven’t eaten since breakfast. It’s cool. I’ll eat after the show. Pfft.

8:00pm
Lights up! Music down! I walk on stage and introduce the evening’s show.

And it goes off without (almost) a hitch! There may have been a few misplaced set pieces, a banana may have ended up inside a kick-drum, but the audience liked it! The actors knew their lines! We had fun!

Putting together this show involved an enormous learning curve. Theater Pub has changed a lot since moving to our kick-ass new venue, PianoFight. We have four nights a month to put on a show. This means we can be ambitious and risky. We’re dreaming big, and we know it’s only going to get better from here.

Oh, and I had the dinner of champions that night: beers.

It’s good to be an AD.

But I still see bananas in my dreams...

But I still see bananas in my dreams…

Don’t forget- we have a brand new show opening tonight and playing the next two weeks, only at Theater Pub!

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Outré Trappings of Outrapo

Resident Francophile Marissa Skudlarek continues her exploration of the Parisian avant-garde.

Last Friday, a co-worker challenged me to see if I could have five adventures over the weekend. My calendar was otherwise open, and the weather was lovely, so I eagerly embraced the constraint. After all, my experience as a playwright has taught me that you often have more fun, and are more creative, when you have a challenge or limitation to live up to. I’ve written before that “the blank page can be daunting” and I still believe that’s true. “Live life to the fullest” is an impossibly abstract maxim. “Have five adventures this weekend” is pleasantly concrete and tangible.

(And if you’re a playwright who agrees with me about the value of a challenge, why not write a play that follows the constraints for Theater Pub’s 2015 Pint-Sized Plays festival, and submit it before May 15? Full guidelines here.)

I ended up having four adventures this weekend. At least, I think I did. Because when you start counting your adventures, you also start making philosophical distinctions, asking ontological questions about the nature of adventure. If I rent a bike to go tooling around Golden Gate Park, and my phone flies out of my back pocket and pops out of its case when I coast down a hill (my phone’s fine, don’t worry), and I become so tired trying to pedal back up said hill that I get off the bike and walk it back to the rental shop, is that three small adventures, or one big one?

So constraints make you creative and philosophical and self-aware, which is to say, they make you feel rather French. Maybe that’s why the artistic movement that explores how art can be produced under various types of whimsical constraints started in Paris. Circa 1960, a group of French experimental writers formed the Oulipo (“Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” or Workshop of Potential Literature). Oulipo writers have composed 300-page novels without the letter e and sequences of sonnets whose lines can be interchanged with one another. Artists in other fields then started to get in on the action, founding their own workshops. The workshop that deals with theater is known as the Outrapo, which stands for Workshop of Potential Tragicomedy. It’s a great name because it sounds like “outré” (Oulipians adore puns) and because the word “tragicomedy” is less neutral than a word like “drama” or “theater.” “Tragicomedy” evokes emotions, highs and lows, grandeur and farce, in a way that appeals to me very much. (Not to toot my own horn, but sobbing in an alley after a postmodern vaudeville show strikes me as very Outrapian.)

As soon as I heard about Oulipo and Outrapo, as a high-school student under the influence of an English teacher who loved everything “postmodern” and “meta,” I was intrigued. However, there’s not too much about these movements – Outrapo in particular – online, and the best sources seem to be in French, which I did not start studying till college. And not just any French: pataphysical French. Oulipians have their own calendars, codes, shibboleths, patron saints, heresies, and orthodoxies. Their overriding philosophy is called “pataphysics,” defined as “what comes after metaphysics.” (Don’t worry, I don’t quite get it either.)

For an example of pataphysical humor, here’s my translation of the opening text on the Outrapo website: “Stanley Chapman committed the gesture of dying, 9 Shritt 136 (May 26, 2009). Exit. Applause. Curtain. It was on Stanley Chapman’s initiative, thanks to his pataphysical spirit, his passion for theater, and his vital poetry, that the workshop was founded in London with Cosima Schmetterling and Milie von Bariter. Then Jean-Pierre Poisson, Anne Feillet, Félix Pruvost and Sir Tom Stoppard quickly joined the group. Stanley Chapman is therefore now excused from meetings and public presentations.”

Anyway, when I was studying in Paris in 2007, I was poking around the Outrapo website one night, and saw that the address of their headquarters was not far from the university where I went every Wednesday to take a course on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and not far from my favorite bistro. (Le Petit Cardinal, right by the Cardinal Lemoine metro stop. You can feel the trains rumble beneath your feet as you eat. I highly recommend it.) Instantly, I resolved to try to meet the Outrapians when I was next in the neighborhood. I had wanted to connect with French theater-makers when I was abroad, and what better group of theater-makers than these? I also thought that this could be a potential (no pun intended) way for me to achieve my life goal of meeting Tom Stoppard.

That Wednesday, I visited the building, which looked like an ordinary Parisian apartment house. There were no indications that pataphysical activity was taking place there. Nonetheless, I was undaunted. I waited for someone to come out of the building, slipped in the open door, went up the stairs, found the apartment in question, screwed up my courage, knocked… and received no response. So I sat on the narrow little staircase, ripped a page out of my cahier, and in my best schoolgirl French, wrote a brief letter to Milie von Bariter, the leader of Outrapo. This is the part of the adventure that embarrasses me the most in hindsight. I should have written a bizarre Outrapian letter, not a polite schoolgirl one. How the Outrapians must have laughed when they received my earnest missive! Yet perhaps, in its very absurdity, my letter fulfilled the Outrapian spirit. I slipped the letter under the door, then slipped out of the building.

In retrospect, I cannot believe my daring. Sneaking around apartment houses, trespassing where I should not have been! I think, too, about how I assumed that my privilege as a young white girl would protect me. It was unlikely that anyone would stop and question me; and even if they had, I could probably have gotten away with a white lie (e.g. “I am visiting a friend”). Even telling the truth (“I am a playwright trying to get in touch with Outrapo”) might’ve been OK. One likes to think that the French have such reverence for art and literature that even the gendarmerie couldn’t argue with such an excuse. Maybe they’d think I was weird, but they wouldn’t think I was dangerous or criminal.

I had provided my email address in my letter to von Bariter, and that evening, I did receive a response from him. He thanked me for the letter and I think there was some brief talk of meeting up for coffee, but that never came to anything. I didn’t want to bother him again. My courage started to fail me. The adventure petered out.

I’ve been thinking about Outrapo lately, not only because my attempt to get in touch with the movement is one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done, but also because the show that we’re producing at Theater Pub come Monday sounds rather Outrapian. According to the blurb on our website, Steven and Megan in Megan and Steven Present a World Premiere by Steven and Megan deals with the nature of constraint. Steven Westdahl and Megan Cohen will be repeatedly presenting a new 5-minute play, while simultaneously adding more and more elements (props, costumes, blocking) and chugging booze. As the constraints get tougher, their minds will get foggier. And what could be more adventurous, what could be more pataphysical, than that?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She’s wonderign if we should start a branch of Outrapo in the Bay Area. Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.