The Five: Take This Dream and Shove It

Anthony R. Miller checks in for the second-to-last time.

Hey you guys, with the shutting down of Theater Pub, I have feels. But we’re gonna save those for next time, which will be the final appearance of “The Five.” Today however, I want to talk about something we all know. Something we have contemplated and redefined, and made sacrifices for: “The Dream.” For whatever reason, there has been a lot of talk about “The Dream” as of late; giving up “The Dream,” getting a new dream, or questioning if it was ever their dream in the first place. In case you haven’t guessed, I have some thoughts on it. Even more obvious, there are five.

Eat Shit, Wells Fargo
A few weeks ago, Wells Fargo Bank rolled out its new ad campaign with photos of young people doing smart-kid things with the caption “A ballerina yesterday, an engineer today.” Or “An actor yesterday, a botanist today.” And because the internet is a calm, rational place, outrage ensued. Some viewed it as Wells Fargo devaluing the dream of working in the arts. Some felt the ads inferred that at some point we all give up our grand dreams of being a famous actor or ballerina, because that’s what grownups do. Now, I gotta say, as annoying or insensitive the ads may be, I’m a lot more worried about the millions of fake bank accounts Wells Fargo created. But I can see how the ads are a little dickish. It should be noted that sometimes the dream changes, at a certain point priorities change, but did we really need an ad campaign to point it out? Is “People giving up on a career in the arts” a hot demographic right now?

What Did You Think Was Gonna Happen?
Another hot little internet frenzy comes from an article at Medium.com. Titled “Exit, Stage Left, What Happens when You Get Sick of Your Dream,” the guy makes solid points. It’s the story of a guy who after twenty years of running a theatre company with his wife, decides to walk away. Of course he’s sad about it, and the article is him trying to sort out those feelings. But seriously dude, cheer up. You got to “Live the Dream” of creating the theatre you believed in with the love of your life for 20 years. I mean, that’s the dream, right? That’s why we do this. The personal fulfillment of creating something you are passionate about. So, if one day, you’re not passionate about it anymore, that’s OK. But when I got to the part of the article where he spoke of bad reviews, small audiences, corralling actors, you know, theatre problems, that’s where I take issue. He got sick of the grind, no shame there. But make no mistake, that’s the grind, the hard, unglamorous part of doing theatre. Maybe I disagree with him because I don’t do this for trophies or critical praise. To me, this guy accomplished all we can reasonably ask for in a life in the arts. Everything else is gravy.

The Undeniable Privilege
I make no bones about the fact that Marissa Skudlarek is and always will be my favorite TPub writer, she’s insightful, thoughtful and has great grammar. One of my favorite articles of hers is when she states that doing this, doing theatre, producing theatre, is a privilege. Sure, it takes money, hard work, unimaginable hubris and perhaps talent to produce theatre. But the fact is the very notion that on more than one occasion, I have been able to write a play, find the money, and produce it. Regardless of its “success,” the fact I did it at all is kinda crazy. So be happy about it, appreciate it. To me, this is the win. Money would be nice, and lemme tell ya, every time I pay a bill with money I made in the theatre world, I feel pretty great. Sure, in my younger days, I practiced an imaginary awards speech or two. But I try to not overlook the fact that doing this at all is something lots of people don’t. Every time I put on a show, despite how good or successful it might be, I feel lucky. Some people don’t get this far.

Narrowing Down the List
A wise man once said, “When we are young, we are many things. Getting older is just a process of narrowing down the list.” I interpret this as when I was younger, I was gonna be everything. I was going to be a writer, producer, director, designer, poet, composer, rock star, and a media mogul. In case you didn’t guess, most of these didn’t work out, and that is OK. These days the list reads Writer, Producer, and Educator, all true, all legit. Not to mention I am a sometimes director, an always Dad, an always boyfriend, and Ticket Sales professional (sexy title, I know). There are only so many hours in the day, and I find that when I focus on a few things as opposed to lots, I get better results. Not to mention, at a certain point you gotta look up and see the world outside of our immediate goals. There are a crapload of things in the world that make me happy besides doing theatre. That’s not a reason to stop doing theatre, but it is a reason to stop and smell the effing roses sometimes. When theatre is no longer your “hobby” you gotta make sure you still have a hobby.

“Dream” Is an Interesting Word
My dream of being an actor died at 19. I’ll spare you the story, but the fact was, when it came to the things that great actors do, I didn’t want to do the work. That ambition and determination was there in other facets of theatre. So as fun as getting onstage can be, I realized this wasn’t my path, so I largely gave it up, because it wasn’t my dream. That said, I’m not entirely sure what my “dream” is. Sure, making a living doing theatre is the goal, I would love to be a “blue collar” theatre worker, taking the less glamorous jobs, not famous, stable-ish. Maybe that’ll happen for me, and maybe it won’t. It depends on your definition. But at a certain point, dreams and wishes need to become plans and goals. One of the first things my high school drama teacher told us in Drama 1 is “most of you will never act again in 4 years.” Now call it harsh, call it the truth, but when I look up my old theatre friends, it’s true, most of them, even the ones voted most talented, the ones who everyone thought would be a star, haven’t walked on a stage in a long time. I don’t feel bad for them because they all have good jobs, savings accounts, and stability. Here I am, with a day job selling theatre tickets, falling in love with teaching, writing and producing as much as I can. I’m still here, still doing it, and one day I might not. I wouldn’t call this my “dream,” it’s more of an obsession, a compulsive thing I do. I’ll keep doing this as long as it makes me happy, as long as it’s reasonable to do it, and sure, I probably will not become an icon of American theatre, but that stopped being “The Dream” a long time ago. “The Dream” is just being here at all.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Producer and Educator. His show, TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT opens Oct 14, learn more and get tickets at www.awesometheatre.org.

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost – the Who, What, & Why, with Director Claire Rice

Stupid Ghost director Claire Rice tells us about the immense talent involved in this month’s production, the challenges faced in staging the show in a bar, and the reasons it’s important to catch before we close tomorrow night!

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Who are you? Who is involved in this production?

I am Claire Rice and I’m the director of Stupid Ghost. Tonya Narvaez, Theater Pub co-artistic director and the producer of this play, brought me this script in early 2016. Along the way she’s been my sounding board for ideas, my champion, my anti-procrastination machine, and a constant source of positive energy. Savannah Reich is the playwright. Early on I decided that the song in the show needed to have music arranged for it so I brought on Spencer Bainbridge who wrote the music. To help promote the show I created a short video. Spencer played guitar, Karen Offereins sung and it was recorded by Christine McClintock. I was able to convince Tonya to play a ghost in the woods along with Marissa Skudlarek, Neil Higgins, Erin Merchant and my husband Matt Gunnison. Tonya and Theater Pub co-artistic director Meg Trowbridge helped cast the show. The actors are Megan Cohen, Christine Keating, Ryan Hayes, Celeste Conowitch and Valerie Fachman. Celeste designed and did the lettering on the costumes. The actors designed their own costumes. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get such a talented group of people together.

What is Stupid Ghost?

Stupid Ghost is a story of love, regret, selfishness, the search for life experiences and the destruction of lives. In many ways it really does follow the path of a traditional ghost story. A ghost follows a girl home and slowly begins taking over her life and the consequences are tragic. But instead of it being a horror from the perspective of the living, it is a tragedy from the perspective of a lonely ghost. She doesn’t mean for the things that happen to happen. And I think following her journey we can see ourselves in her. Searching for contact with other people. Searching for love and light. Trying to be seen for who we really are and falling in love when we shouldn’t. It is a really lovely play that packs a great deal into its short run time.

What challenges did you encounter staging this production in a bar?

I think the biggest challenges with this play have been trying to translate it to the bar. It isn’t easy, but it is fun, to come up with concepts for a canoe and a car chase through the woods in a black box theater, but it feels impossible in a bar. Even simple choices in any script become a strategic nightmare. Both Savannah and I were worried about ensuring that the intimate scenes remained quiet and intimate, which can be difficult in a working bar in the Tenderloin. I tried to work on as many levels as I could and keep the play moving so that when we get to that scene the audience is ready for stillness.

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Why Stupid Ghost?

I am drawn to plays that reach out beyond themselves to connect with the audience. It isn’t just the direct address, but the use of unreliable narrators, linear storytelling, unique world building, and moments that almost feel like lessons in empathy. In this play the characters need so much and they discover what those needs are as they go. They learn about themselves through mistakes and sacrifices and successes and connections. The characters are well drawn and the action is entertaining. It has been a fun show to work on and I’ve really enjoyed watching it over the past two nights as well.

Why here? Why now?

What I love about the San Francisco theater scene is the urge of its artists to do theater in every nook, cranny and corner they can. There is an urgency and a living quality to the scene that makes it feel as necessary to the fabric of San Francisco as cable cars and strangely warm weather in the Fall. Stupid Ghost is a storytelling play reaching into the audience. It makes sense that the audience be in arms’ reach and in a place that doesn’t feel like a traditional theater space. And Stupid Ghost is entertaining. It is funny and lively and lovely. You feel hope and fear and love and all the things that make seeing theater fun.

You have two more opportunities to catch Stupid Ghost at PianoFight (144 Taylor St.)!

TONIGHT – Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
TOMORROW – Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciate to our hosts.

In For a Penny: The Numbers Game

Charles Lewis III, ranking it up.

We’ve all done it.

We’ve all done it.

It should come as no surprise that as much as I detest reductive labelling in this business we call “play-acting”, I’m not above sharing in some backstage gossip during my off hours. I’m only human. I find it both a great bonding experience with theatre colleagues as well as an incredibly cathartic way for us to air all of our frustrations. And as we snipe and snark in private, away from the sensitive ears of those who’d recoil in terror if we said these things on the record, I also find it a way to learn more about Bay Area talent beyond what I’ve read off of resumes. I hear about rehearsal showmances fizzling out on opening night, actors with poor personal hygiene making backstage a biohazard, and I get to tell about the time I was kicked on stage during a show by an actor throwing a tantrum.

That’s what I call a “10”.

You see, I have personal scale that I use for theatre folk based on how much they irritate me. It goes from folks whom I consider human mosquito bites to folks whom I will – over drinks with close colleagues – refer to as “everything wrong with the contemporary performing arts scene”. My list has no regard for race, gender, or position in the theatre community: a respected actor can be in the same category as an overworked concessions manager.
And since I know I’m on similar lists for other people (a producer once tried to threaten me by saying aloud “We [producers] talk to each other, y’know!”), I feel no guilt about having my own personal reference guide for folks I see on a regular basis. In fact, I’d dare say my list has been invaluable in creating pleasant work experiences, as many people I respect tend to avoid the same people I do.

But, as the increasingly irrelevant MPAA has proven, a rating scale that fails to adapt will eventually become obsolete. With that in mind, I looked at the categories on my list and reflected on an incredibly busy year of theatre to see if my scale needed adjusting.

1 – Lovably annoying
These folks are just as likely to be on my list of my favorite theatre folks, they just have quirks that get to me. Maybe they have short attention spans that can slow rehearsal, maybe they won’t turn off their phone, maybe they start to strip off all their clothes to make everyone pay attention. But I love them. This number has the most names because it’s full of all the best people.

2 – Pebble in my shoe
These are the folks I really like, but seem to think I’m a walking, talking font of intimate knowledge of the entire Bay Area theatre scene. When they find out I’m not, they get annoyed. Nice folks, but they have no reason to complain about me lacking knowledge they could look up themselves.

3 – If it weren’t me…
In the first episode of Atlanta, Earn (Donald Glover) suppresses his rage in the company of a White friend who casually says “nigga” around him. That’s how I feel about local actors, producers, and directors who think they JUST HAVE TO touch my hair. I try my best to explain it to these otherwise nice, talented folks, but it never gets through. Way too many people in this category.

4 – The “Well Actuallys”
These folks are smarter than you. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, they feel their purpose in life is to be the Big Brain in the room showing off to everyone. No matter how good you thought a show was, they could have done it sooooo much better, y’see? If it weren’t for the fact that they actually have talent, I’d cut them all out of my life like a pre-cancerous mole (alcohol is the sunscreen that makes them tolerable). Thankfully, I’ve cut down on these folks, but I can still think of about seven off the top of my head.

5 – The 50/50
This is the sort of theatre person for whom there is no question of his/her talent and his intelligence, but there’s a loooooong list of folks who’ve sworn never to work with him/her again. I’ve worked with them enough to know why others swear them off (conversations about them usually have me nodding my head and sighing “I know… I know.”), but I don’t think they’re lost causes. I have only one person in this category.

We’ve all been there.

We’ve all been there.

6 – The Insurrectionist
Unlike the folks in No.4 who feel the need to voice their opinions, but still respect the hierarchy of production roles, the Insurrectionists will do their damndest to take over a show. They’ll tell the music director/production composer/professional music teacher “That’s not a ‘G’, that’s a ‘D’.” They’ll ignore the choreographer’s work and tell their fellow actors to move in a way the Insurrectionist thought up on the bus to rehearsal. They’ll overstep their role as artistic director and attempt to act as, well, director, despite having hired someone else for that very role. Ours is a collaborative art form, but the Insurrectionist sees each production as potential coup d’état.

7 – The Drag-Ass
The prima donna actor who doesn’t bother to show up on time, let alone be off-book by the specified date. The conceited costumer who can’t be bothered to either wash the costumes or suggest to the actors how to care for them. The sound designer insisting s/he is put-upon because the director asked for specific cues rather than stock F/X. The casting director who doesn’t get back to you in time, then gets angry when you stop waiting and accept a role in another show. I’m really glad to only know a handful of these folks by name (especially tech folk, who are usually rock stars in this business).

8 – The Obliviods
Audience members who constantly talk and take photos. Also directors and actors who think an entire production should adjust to their personal “process”. Yet they wonder why no one wants to work with them anymore. If you think they’re disrespectful, well then it’s actually YOU who fails to respect the master craftsmanship they’re applying to this black box production of Seussical that’s oh-so-sure to be written about in Playbill and American Theater.

9 – The Stairmasters
Both you and this production are just a way to kill time until they move to NY/LA/Narnia and get to do “real acting”.

10 – Just… no.
The casting director who sleeps with actresses he never casts.
The actors who physically attack you on-stage and/or off.
The directors and producers who go out of their way to slander your name so you never work again.
The actors (male or female) who can’t keep their hands off their fellow actors.
The stage manager who shows up drunk.

I’ve known people who have done each and every one of these terrible things, so I keep a list. Anyone above a “6” I make it a point never to work with again. Anyone who’s a “9” or “10”, I dislike for personal reasons in addition to their lack of respect for this art form and business.

Looking at the categories above, I can see some parameters I could adjust, but the scale continues to serve me well. As I said above, I know I’m on other people’s personal lists, but I won’t lose any sleep as to who or what category. Instead, I’ll continue to hang out with the ones I genuinely like and respect as we gossip about and avoid working with people who think the world revolves around them.

Charles Lewis III was once told he would never get cast again. That was two years ago… two of the busiest years he’s ever had performing theatre.

Theater Around The Bay: In Every Ending, A Beginning

Barbara Jwanouskos, thinking, remembering.

My first teacher in playwriting – really, the first teacher that taught me how to write and parse out creative thought – was Naomi Iizuka. Among many things that have stuck with me over time is how she would describe beginnings and endings. She asked us to take notice and reflect on how every ending within our play was also a beginning – and vice versa. I think about this frequently. How the end of one period of life can welcome a new stage and moment, which is exciting.

I’m thinking about this in the context of the news about Theater Pub’s closure. How this space, company, and group of people has given us confidence and joy in making art and exploring its edges together. And I’m thinking about the ways in which an ending of Theater Pub means a beginning of something else. Something new and exciting and that we don’t know anything about yet.

I’ve written before about relishing in the space of the unknown and how in this realm, anything is possible. That it’s all about ideas and trying them out and learning from them. I think this is one of those times again. Where we can allow ourselves the time to ask questions that get to something deeper than probably a lot of us realized we were capable of. The start of those questions resulted in the closure of Theater Pub, but this is just the beginning. This means that artists and thinkers of all types now can go out trying things on their own or with new people, old friends, whomever. It gives us all space to put on stage exactly what we want to see and really make it a project we truly care about. It’s not that we didn’t have that with Theater Pub – quite the opposite, Theater Pub taught us how to do this. How it was possible.

So, I’m looking at this moment and looking beyond the foreground to what’s on the horizon. We may not be able to fully see it yet, but I am confident with the experiences we had from doing things together under this umbrella, we will be making some great art for our communities to share in. Thank you for reading, seeing, and supporting us! There is always more to come though maybe it looks a little different than in the past.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. For more, check out her blog, The Dynamics of Groove.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: What I Did For Love

Marissa Skudlarek shares some thoughts on our impending closure.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Theater Pub will wind down operations after our December show. It’s not a decision that the artistic staff made lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision they made with no regrets and no sense of heartbreak. Theater Pub is dying a peaceful, natural death; we’re not looking for a miracle to “save” us and, in fact, we might not accept it if it was offered.

Indeed, we really don’t want people to see our closure announcement and spin it into some story about how The Arts Are Dying In The Bay Area Because It’s Too Expensive Here. Maybe that’s true for some arts organizations that have had to shut down, but not for us. Nor do we feel like our passing will leave an un-fillable hole in the local theater scene. Contrary to popular belief, “there are a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be,” as Meg Trowbridge wrote.

When we posted our closure announcement on a Bay Area theater message board, a local theater patron reacted with concern and alarm. He offered to set up a GoFundMe page if that would allow us to “stick around.” As I said, we want to nip this narrative in the bud, so Stuart Bousel gave me the go-ahead to reply to the man. This is what I wrote:

“I’m a longtime Theater Pub attendee/writer/producer/blogger/actor and friend of the Pub’s current leadership, Stuart Bousel, Meg Trowbridge, and Tonya Narvaez. We appreciate your concern and your desire to keep art alive in the Bay Area, but as Stuart and Meg and Tonya wrote in their post, money has very little to do with why we have decided to end Theater Pub. Theater Pub was never going to be a full-time, quit-your-day-job career for any of us. We are indie theater artists juggling a lot of responsibilities (both theater-related and not), and after many years of hard work to produce a new show in a bar every single month — not an easy task! — we want to concentrate on other projects, other ways of making art, other things in our lives. None of us are quitting theater or leaving the Bay Area — on the contrary, I think we’re all busier than ever! So Theater Pub, the institution/organization, is going away, but WE, the artists, are not going away. The friendships and connections we have made, the skills we have learned, are not going away. It may sound strange, in a capitalistic age in a crazy expensive city where nearly every conversation turns to money, but the reason we’re ending Theater Pub isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.”

Meanwhile, this Medium post by Jeff Lewonczyk about why he gave up making indie theater in New York, has been making the rounds. As I said, for the time being, none of the core Theater Pub folks are planning to give up theater the way that Lewonczyk has. But I also think that we all understand his sentiments and don’t blame him in the least. There comes a time to step away from things, thoughtfully but without regrets.

As Stuart, Meg, and Tonya wrote in the title of their joint post, “autumn is a time to say goodbye.” Many of the Theater Pub usual suspects are also involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which begins in just a few weeks and whose theme this year is myths of death and the underworld. But at least for me, looking at death through a Greek-myth framework means seeing it as inevitable, and necessary, and possibly peaceful. (The mythological figure I’m writing about this year is Macaria, Persephone’s daughter and the goddess of peaceful death.) It means thinking about the cyclical nature of things; how Persephone goes to the underworld for half the year, but she is never lost down there forever.

And in the meantime, we’re ending Theater Pub with a show about a ghost (September), a show about a gravedigger (October), King Lear (November), and, finally, a musical celebration/funeral/wake. Because we’re theater people, and we know how to end things.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See the staged reading of her new play Macaria, or The Good Life at the Olympians Festival on October 14.

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost Opens Next Week!

Co-Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez reveals what drew her to Stupid Ghost, announces the marvelous cast, and releases a teaser trailer.

One week from today, San Francisco Theater Pub will open Stupid Ghost, written by Savannah Reich (http://savannahreich.com) and directed by Claire Rice. I chose this play for Theater Pub after it was shown to me by a friend, Theater Pub’s own Barbara Jwanouskos. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This play touches me in so many ways. It has heart, it’s dark and twisty, and it has the kind of humor that sort of tickles you on the chin before punching you in the gut. To me, this play is about the desire to connect above all else, being unsure how to do so, and being willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get what you want.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

I selfishly wanted to direct this piece myself. After sitting with that decision for awhile, I realized there was only one person I knew who could direct this play. That person is Claire Rice. To me, this play screams Claire Rice’s name from the rooftops. It pleads to be read by her. It begs to be thoughtfully analyzed and synthesized into a production by her mind and her heart. I sent the play in Claire’s direction and let her know how I felt. Thankfully she agreed with me and took on the project.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

I’m now incredibly delighted to announce our cast and release a teaser trailer for this very special Theater Pub production.

Ghost – Christine Keating
Ronnie – Celeste Conowitch
Poltergeist – Ryan Hayes
Lecturer – Valerie Fachman
John Pierre – Megan Cohen

See Stupid Ghost only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco):

Monday, September 19 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 20 @ 8:00pm
Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts.

See you at the Pub!

In For A Penny: Accepting New Membership

Charles Lewis III, on long term goals and short term contributions.

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“What is true of creed is no less true of nationality. There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Address to the Knights of Columbus (1915)

Now that the cat’s outta the bag, I thought about following up Meg, Tonya, & Stuart’s recent entry with my own reminiscence about what the ‘Pub has meant to me and what I think will happen when it’s gone. I’m going to hold off on that for three specific reasons: 1 – with a few more months to go, it hasn’t actually ended yet; 2 – I wrote a good-bye piece the first time the ‘Pub “died”, and the new one I’m thinking of shouldn’t be repetitive (which it won’t – I’ve already started it and it’s a bit heartbreaking); and 3 – I’ve also been thinking about just precisely how the ‘Pub has made a positive change for the Bay Area theatre scene.

Specifically, I’m thinking about the ‘Pub’s inconspicuous sibling, the Olympians Festival. We held auditions for the latter last week, and are officially cast as of three days ago. As usual, it was an embarrassment of local acting riches. As we pored over more than 100 headshots, resumes, and scheduling calendars, several of us noted just how diverse was this year’s talent pool. I’m pretty sure no year of the fest has been 100% White (especially since I’ve been acting in it since its first year), but there was a noticeable uptick in the number of Black, Latina, and Trans actors auditioning this time. (So much so with the latter that a gender-specific direction had to be modified halfway through auditions.) And yes, we were all delighted by this.

Yet we’d have been remiss not to mention how we wished for it be even more diverse and to see such casting all over the Bay Area. I’ve mentioned before in this column that I once had to use an Indian actor in my play because there were no young Black actors auditioning; well, this year there were still no (young) Black male actors auditioning. I’ve done lots of work with the SF Opera, whose technical crew has recently added lots of younger members, many of them women and people of color. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much diversity with the faces on-stage, much of it quite noticeable (at age 35, I may be the youngest regular supernumerary and one of the few Black faces).

Yes, yes, it’s that “diversity problem” we all notice and lament, but none of us seem to know how to solve. It’s the sort of thing that makes powerful people declare “There’s no talent in the Bay Area” as they walk past the very folks who just want an opportunity to prove themselves.

By why is it so damn hard to connect talented folks with the people who need them most? One of this year’s Olympians writers mentioned having a difficult time casting for a recent production because the role required a young Black actor to play a Gay character. He said he was unable to find an actor comfortable with the physical affection needed. I understand both sides of that. The first time I had to kiss a guy on stage, it was the result of the director insisting on it and me being caught off-guard before I could object. In hindsight, I’m glad I did it, but I understand the hesitation of a young Black actor – most likely from a Christian household – not wanting to be seen that way in front of friends and family.

On the other hand, I think of all the young Black actors who already have the fearlessness I had to work on to get. I also frequently find myself frustrated with the Black actors I know who are incredibly talented and fearless, save for one area: they won’t leave the comfort zone of Black theatre. I know this because I’m constantly egging them on to audition for Olympians, see shows at Theater Pub, and just get to know the good folks who put on shows at The EXIT and The Flight Deck. Contrary to popular belief, the dearth of noticeable Black actors in the Bay Area theatre scene isn’t entirely the result of them “go[ing] equity so quickly” (What work do you think they did before they went equity?), nor is it solely a result of them migrating out of the pricey Bay Area (if that’s not true for ALL people, it’s not true for just Black people). Part of the blame also lies at the feet of Black actors not wanting to take the leap outside the Black theatre bubble.

And I understand why. Black theatre offers them something they rarely get outside of it: substantive roles. Why would a Black actor audition for a company that only casts him in a play where he only appears in two scenes, when a Black theatre would likely make him the lead? Why would a Black actress settle for constantly being cast as, at best, the best friend of the young ingénue when a Black theatre would make her the love interest? Why would anyone want to be a company’s token attempt to make their diversity quota when they can just work with a company full of people with similar backgrounds, experiences… and complexions? Even if that company has a notoriously dodgy reputation.

Theatre Bay Area’s 2013 exposé of the Berkeley Black Rep

Theatre Bay Area’s 2013 exposé of the Berkeley Black Rep

I’ve also seen this with Latinx actors who only wanted to work with companies like Campo Santo (whose work was great) and LGBTQ actors who only audition for New Conservatory or Theatre Rhino. It doesn’t mean those theatres should stop putting on shows with these talented performers, but I really wish I didn’t have to go to a specifically themed theatre to find these folks.

At this point you’re probably wondering what this look at the greater Bay Area theatre scene has to do specifically with Theater Pub or Olympians. Simple: exposure. The great thing about Theater Pub performances being free (though the people who donate find a special place in Heaven) is that anyone can show up, and everyone has. Both the show performed and the networking afterward have connected talented folks who may never have even seen one other through regular channels. So many recent grads have gotten their names out through Olympians that I personally think of it as a rite of passage (but that’s just me). These methods work. These methods have been adopted by other local theatre companies. These are valid, legitimate ways to create diversity.

But, at the same time, it’s also up to the people begging for those opportunities to not expect them to simply fall out of the sky. I say that not as a criticism, but from personal experience. Just as I encourage non-PoC to take in shows at Af-Am Shakes, so too do I encourage PoC (and women, LGBTQ, and other such performers) to take that one step forward to getting yourselves seen.

At the very least, you can say you took a chance.

Charles Lewis III will be directing two shows – one of which he wrote – for this year’s SF Olympians Fest. He hopes you’ll come see both of them, as well as the final four Theater Pub shows.