Theater Around The Bay: Good Craic Continues Tonight!

Looking to chase away the Monday blues with some theater? Look no further!

GOOD CRAIC continues its four-part exploration of the Irish Renaissance tonight!

This July, Theater Pub celebrates the playwrights who brought the voice of the common people and the Irish language onto the stage: William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge. Conceived and Directed by Meg Trowbridge, each performance of July’s Theater Pub will feature one of these playwrights’ shorter, lesser-know works, and will be accompanied by traditional Irish tunes we all know (right?) for a good old fashioned sing-a-long.

Join us. It will be Good Craic*.

goodcraic copy

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, July 20
Tuesday, July 21
Monday, July 27
Tuesday, July 28

All performances are at 8 PM. As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we recommend getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco) and try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the pub!

*”Craic” (/kræk/ KRAK), is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Savannah Reich

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Savannah Reich about her upcoming Bay Area production.

Savannah Reich is the type of playwright that when you read and hear and see her work, you’re like, “I want to do that! That’s so cool! Theater’s so cool!” I met her while in the second year of the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University, headed by Rob Handel, and was blown away by her humor, theatricality, and the moving moments of human connection and confusion she creates within her writing. So, of course, I was very happy to learn that her play, Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play was being produced by All Terrain Theater in the summer of 2015.

The show opens next Thursday, July 30th at 8:00 PM and runs on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until August 8th at the EXIT Theatre in downtown San Francisco. I had a chance to chat with Savannah about playwriting, the inspiration behind Six Monsters, and her creative impulses.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Babs: Very excited to interview you!

Savannah: Thank you! I am so excited to be interviewed!

Babs: To begin, could you tell me about your background? How did you get involved with theater and writing?

Savannah: I wrote my first play in the second grade. I’m not sure where I got the idea. My parents were both doing theater when I was a kid, as a prop-master and scenic artist at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, so I’m sure I had already seen plays? I am counting this as “my first play” because it was more elaborate than a show I did with friends in the basement or whatever- it had a typed script, which went through several drafts, and I think I forced my entire second grade class to be in it, although I don’t remember that part.

So as long as I can remember I had this incredibly specific compulsion to write plays. I briefly went to NYU for the undergraduate playwriting program, which I was not really prepared for at eighteen. I dropped out after a year and decided I would never write a play again- I was just going to be wild and free and be in punk bands and experience real life. But then I started writing plays again probably six months after that.

I recently found the script for my first play in a box at my parent’s house; it was about two witches who turn people into chickens and serve them to children at an orphanage, which actually sounds like something that I might be working on now.

Babs: How would you describe your style and what interests you?

Savannah: The way I’m thinking about it these days is that I am interested in taking inexplicable emotional processes and making them into something concrete and mechanical. I am obsessed with the Charlie Kaufman movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because it does this so nicely- it takes this very gooey personal feeling, the grief about losing a shared past when you end a relationship, and makes it into this action story. It literally ends with a chase scene. So that’s a really nice way to create ways to talk about things that maybe don’t fall into the cultural shorthand.

More concretely, my plays tend to be removed from true-to-life situations- as Sarah Ruhl says, “my characters have no last names.” They are animals or ghosts or subhuman beasts. They tend to be suffering greatly in some neurotic, cyclical way and they all talk on rotary dial telephones.

Also, I am interested in structure because it is the essential relationship between the play and the audience, which for me is at least as interesting as the relationships between the characters.

Babs: I think Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play has an interesting origin story – do you mind sharing and then how it developed from its inception?

Savannah: Yes! You were there! It was very early on in my first year at CMU, maybe the second or third week, and Rob Handel had us do a writing exercise that involved beginning a 60 page play at nine am and finishing it by midnight. The exercise was so great, but I feel like I don’t want to give it away in case he is going to do it again next year- part of what was great about it for me was the surprise. I had all these ideas for plays that had been percolating for a long time, and I was fussing over them and trying to make them “good”, and then we got this exercise that said, “Okay, forget about all those plays- here’s a prompt, now write this play. Write this play today.” It was totally liberating for me.

Before grad school, I had been writing plays and producing them myself, so I think that I had gotten into this trap of keeping my producer’s hat on while I was writing. I would think about making props affordable, stuff like that. It was dumb. This exercise broke me out of that. The original opening stage direction for “Six Monsters” was something like, “There are six audience members seated on a wooden cart. The wooden cart rolls through an infinite darkness.”

I also think I put a bunch of things that felt really vulnerable and revealing to me in this play, and maybe I wouldn’t have if I had been imagining that it would ever be performed. I write much better when I am able to convince myself that no one I know will ever see it.

After I finished the play, I co-produced a one night workshop performance of it with our fellow MFA writer Dan Giles, with him directing, me as the skeleton, and six amazing CMU undergrad acting students as the chorus, which I will get to brag about when they are all famous in like twenty-five minutes.

Babs: When I last saw this piece, you were actually performing in it as the Skeleton. How do you think performing/not performing in your own work influences how you see the play, what to develop/not develop next?

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah: I’m not sure how I feel about this anymore! I am worrying about it a lot in a neurotic and cyclical way! I have performed in my own work a fair amount, and sometimes I think I don’t want to do it anymore, because probably it would be better with real actors who are good at acting. But then I recently saw the performance artist Dynasty Handbag in New York, and I love her, and I thought that maybe I should always perform my own work. Not that I am a performer like she is- I tend to be visibly thinking on stage in that way that playwrights do when they try to act- but I do think there is something special about seeing someone perform their own words, there is a kind of specificity to it.

But I’m not going to be a performance artist because I love actors so much. They are my favorite thing to look at, especially when they are in my plays being hilarious. It’s great to be a playwright because we get to see all these very attractive people pretending to be us, pretending to have our same anxieties about capitalism or intimacy or whatever, which feels deeply healing in some probably very messed up way. Also good collaboration makes the show better, of course. The actor can see a lot of things about the show that I can’t.

I don’t know that I learn anything much from being in my own plays. I played the part of the skeleton in the workshop mostly because it felt too personal to turn it over to an actor. But now I have a little more distance, and I’m so excited to see what Laura Peterson does with it.

Babs: In the San Francisco production, is there anything that you are most looking forward to seeing or experiencing?

Savannah: I was just talking about how much variability actors bring to the table but of course that’s also very much true of directors. I haven’t worked with Sydney Painter before, and seeing her take on the piece is probably what I’m the most excited about. I haven’t been in town for rehearsals yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this crew has interpreted the show in different ways than I would have imagined.

Babs: Any advice for playwrights in creating new work or getting it produced?

Savannah: For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.

Babs: Any shout-outs for shows, events, or other things going on around the Bay Area that you might check out while you’re here?

Savannah: If you come to Six Monsters; A Seven Monster Play you will also get to see a short play by the fabulous Tracy Held Potter called Texting. And we should probably all get on a plane to New York to see Dan Giles’ play How You Kiss Me is Not How I Like To Be Kissed at the New York Fringe Festival.

Also, this.

Learn more about Savannah Reich, her screenplays, plays, and upcoming artistic projects from her website, http://savannahreich.com/.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: My Dance Card is Full

Marissa Skudlarek isn't just a writer in real life -- she also plays one onstage. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Marissa Skudlarek isn’t just a writer in real life — she also plays one onstage. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Sometimes life can get a bit too glamorous.

What with acting in The Desk Set, producing Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays, preparing for Theater Pub’s staff meeting on Saturday, and working 9-hour days at my job, I’m juggling a lot of things this week. So my editor has kindly agreed to let me take the week off from writing my column.

“Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” will return on Thursday, August 5!

Cowan Palace: The Show Must Go On (And One Woman’s Quest To Have It All)

Ashley’s back to balancing.

I’ve never really considered myself to be a triple threat. But I’ve always wanted to claim that title. I’m an actor. Who can sing. Who likes to dance (but who maybe should think twice before doing it in public… let alone an audience). But despite my lack of threatening skills I’ve always had big dreams that somehow, someway, I get myself to Broadway. Or Bollywood.

For now, I’m here in The Bay Area and redefining my idea of a “triple threat”. I’m a new mom. Who has just gone back to work. Who is returning to performing in her first show in almost two years.

And I got to tell you, it hasn’t been easy. Honestly, it’s all felt quite heavy and at times, endlessly difficult. But, yet, I still still want to be a triple threat. I still want to have it all!

And I guess I’ve always had that mindset. Back when I was a kid, my mom struggled with the decision to return to work after having my brother, her third and final baby. As the stubborn oldest child that I am, I told her she had to go back to work. Because she was good at her job and it was what made her my mom.

When I cried to my mom asking if she thought my own daughter would resent me for going back to work she reminded me of how insistent I had been when she was trying to figure things out. And how much child Ashley needed to believe that women really could manage a family and a professional life and a personal life. That “having it all” was completely doable.

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Yikes. What a boring, weird kid. Thank goodness I’ve grown into such an interesting, normal adult, right?

Though, I do want to “have it all”. Even though I don’t know what that even means.

I returned to work in part because I didn’t really have a choice. You know how expensive San Francisco is. In order to continue living here, Mama had to get back to earning some bucks. I also really like my job. I love my coworkers, I love using my brain in different non diaper related ways, I love having adult conversations, and so on. But, oh dear God, leaving my kiddo to return back may have been the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

And we’ve got a pretty good setup! Scarlett is with an amazing nanny that watches her alongside another sweet baby three days a week while Will watches her Thursdays and Fridays and I cover the weekends while he works. No, we don’t all get a full day off to enjoy together. And yes, I had to excuse myself to cry a little in the work bathroom when I learned Scarlett had rolled over for the first time and I wasn’t there to witness it. But for now, we’re making it work. And our latest theatrical adventure is a play Will and I are both in and our cast has kindly agreed to have rehearsal at our apartment so we don’t have to find a babysitter. Honestly, in my quest to have it all, I definitely lucked out with some of this stuff.

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

And yet, the pursuit of trying to be a triple threat is hard. It’s so fucking hard, guys. I’m tired, I’m emotional, I’m everything all at once and fighting to be more. But the show goes on. It has to keep going.

Plus, I still want to do all the things! I want to be the best mom! I want to do well at my job! I want to keep performing! I want to keep getting better at dancing! I want to use a lot of exclamations in my blog!

Striving to be a triple threat is okay, I guess. But learning to forgive myself for not always being the best at it all seems like the real lesson. Sometimes it’s okay to just be a single threat with a thrift store Mary Poppins’ bag of tricks.

Ugh, I don’t know, guys. Stuff is so hard all the time, you know?

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Day by day. Breath by breath. That’s kind of how I’m living at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll still keep taking Zumba classes at the gym and waiting for my big Bollywood break.

Hit by a Bus Rules: The Post-It Note Apocalypse

Alandra Hileman is about to reveal personal secrets that will probably make her unemployable.

The title of this column comes from a sort of unofficial but universally understood rule of stage managers, the concept being this: in the event that, on the way to the theatre, you are hit by a bus and can no longer run the show, your master book and all your paperwork should be in such good order that anyone else with a basic understanding of the backstage side of things could come in, pick up your book, and run the show. Obviously, there is no one standard way to create a call book or issue a rehearsal report, but however you do it specific to your company/show/personality should follow enough of the universal language of stage management that another stage manager could figure it out in a pinch.

I am terrible at this.

When I first really started stage managing in school, I went full out: digitized script (separate from my blocking script) with typed in cues, color coded highlighting (carefully chosen to still be visible and readable under blue booth lights), set-up/take-down checklists typed in triplicate and posted by all the doorways. I really took the spirit of the “hit by a bus” rule to my little type-A anal-retentive heart, and I was determined to be the best of the best and turn myself into an unstoppable force of stage management.

And this is what my call-book for the shows I’m currently running looks like right now:

Messy SM Book copy

I have a somewhat synesthesia-eqsue association between colors and cue types that usually changes on a show-by-show basis. This time around, yellow is lighting, blue is sound, green is naptime, and so on. You’ll notice which color ISN’T featured in the photo above.

Anyway, the Post-It notes were only supposed to be a temporary solution because we were writing cues into my book in little bits and snatches of whatever available time we had (including at 1am in the hotel lobby the night before the sound designer had to catch a 6am flight – 0/10 do not recommend). I kept trying to block off time to write things in properly…and then it was opening night. So, I just started calling the shows from my “temporary” notes.

So at this point, we just finished week 4 of 6, and I’m terrified that my visual-recall memory would be MORE screwed up by trying to write my book out properly now that I’m used to where on the page to look for cues in any given scene. So, I’ve decided to leave it be and just pray that none of my commutes go viciously awry in the vicinity of CDL-only vehicles. To be fair, I have a really good sense of it at this point – I know not only what the color-coding system is, but the exact scenes where it’s wrong (because I ran out of yellow). I’ve moved things as blocking changed (MOVE DOWNSTAGE DAMMIT) and when cues got cut because they were unnecessary, I got to just pop the Post-It off the to the trash. And I pity my crew members every time they ask if they can look something up, because these are the shenanigans they have to deal with.

This decline and fall of my fictional stage managerial empire, in a terribly cliché and slightly forced-sounding way, is pretty much the perfect parallel for the rest of my general life-crises. The incredibly logical and organized life-plan I had all the way back in high school has pretty well devolved into a chaotic mess of events that constantly get rearranged, are frequently unintelligible to anyone but me, and are often bizarrely and specifically color-coded. And, just like my cue book, I’m hoping I can get it in order before someone drops it and it implodes in a flutter of tiny colorful squares and tears.

But at least it would be a colorful apocalypse.

Theater Around The Bay: So, Good Craic?

Meg O’Connor Trowbridge is here to sell you some good craic.

goodcraic copy

Yes. It’s pronounced like crack. We’re hosting an event in the Tenderloin advertising Good Craic. Who knows what mayhem may ensue?!

Well… I do. I put this thing together. Back in December, Stuart Bousel asked if I was interested in being an Artistic Director for Theater Pub. Considering I have loved everything about Theater Pub since it’s inception, I jumped at the opportunity. Perhaps naively. When I quickly became overwhelmed looking at four months of programing, Stuart calmed me while also stoking the flames, saying: “It’s a gift and a curse – you can do whatever you want, but you have to do something.”

Whatever I want? Well, hows about a night devoted to turn-of-the-20th-century Irish playwrights accompanied with an Irish sing-a-long? Hows about a title that needs a translation? GOOD IDEA MEG!

I was born Meghan Kathleen O’Connor. My father’s side of the family is PROUD of our Irish roots. My Grand Dad was a Grand Marshal in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Minneapolis. I was programmed to be drawn to Ireland. And, I had the fortune of living in Dublin when I was 20. How many times I was asked “what’s the craic?” ( what’s up?) or told that a party was going to be “good craic” (hella fun), I can’t keep count of. After 6 months, I fell in love with Ireland. This evening is a selfish trip back there.

Granted, we don’t actually have any Irish folks in the piece, and we’re completely BUTCHERING the pronunciation of towns and Gaelic names, but having a night to tell stories, sing songs, and drink Guinness and Jameson… well, that’s getting pretty close to the 6 months I spent in Dublin.

Come hear lesser-known scripts by Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge. Come get a Guinness freshly poured behind the PianoFight bar. Come hear me sing with a band of misfits thrown together for this very event (including a Brit! Oh sweet Irony!) It will be good craic.

Good Craic starts tonight at Theater Pub, and plays Monday and Tuesday of this week and next week. Find out more information HERE.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Art May Not Be a Democracy – But It’s Not a Dictatorship, Either

Dave Sikula waves the flag of theater revolution.

As I’ve mentioned, one of my favorite pastimes is watching old movies and TV shows. In my case, “old” means shows of the 1950s and ‘60s. (As I write this, I’m watching episodes of What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret.)

"Do you deal in a service or a product?"

“Do you deal in a service or a product?”

With old television in mind, I had another one of those coincidences today that makes writing these posts so interesting.

The first part of it was an episode of Naked City, which was an early cop show. Based on the movie of the same name, one of the things the show (like the movie) was notable for was being shot on location in New York. In fact, the narration of the film (and the first season of the show) mentioned how all the locations were real and that there were no sets. (As the show went on, this “rule” was broken regularly, and obvious sets were used. In fact, there’s one set of a duplex apartment that gets used so much in the second season to represent different locations, that they must have thought the audience had the attention span of a gnat.)

"Look out! He's got an axe!"

“Look out! He’s got an axe!”

The main reason I watch the show, now, though, is that it features early appearances by “New York” actors who have gone on to greater things. (Nowadays, of course, the only way to see New York actors is to see Equity shows in the Bay Area … ) It’s interesting (for me, anyway) to see Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Maureen Stapleton, Sandy Dennis, Christopher Walken, and (my favorite so far) William Shatner as a Burmese sailor with a German accent. This week’s episode featured George C. Scott as a sculptor who had been commissioned to create a statue of a revolutionary leader. In an obvious analogy to Fidel Castro, the revolutionary became a dictator, and Scott’s character came under incredible pressure to stop sculpting and destroy the statue. Despite a cash offer of $20,000, pickets at his apartment house, and even a sniper killing his pregnant wife, Scott refuses to give up on the project because Art is more important than anything else …

Or something.

Now, I’ve long advocated for art that gets people agitated and causes controversy, but this was taking it too far for even me – especially when the sniper shot the statue itself. (Spoiler: Scott keeps sculpting it, plugging the bullet holes with clay.)

(By the way, after searching for images from Naked City, I just want to warn you: don’t do Google Images searches for “Naked City.” Just sayin’.)

The second part of the coincidence actually came earlier in the day when I read this story. In Manchester, England, there’s an artist named Douglas Gordon. He’s won the Turner Prize, but his work seems to consist of adapting and mashing the work of other, better artists and taking credit for the results. (See also “Lichtenstein, Roy”) As far as I can tell, Mr. Douglas has neither a theatrical background nor training, but was nonetheless engaged to direct a show in a relatively new $40 million theatre. (I’ll pause here while my brother and sister artists wonder A) why and how Manchester spent $40 million on a theatre building while our own governmental agencies provide next-to-no support for theatre companies, and B) how and why an artist was hired to direct a play when so many qualified directors can’t get work. Must be an English thing … )

The answer to the latter question may be found on the theatre’s website: Manchester International Festival “ has invited Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait) and celebrated pianist Hélène Grimaud to create Neck of the Woods, a portrait of the wolf brought to life in a startling collision of visual art, music and theatre.” I guess because they don’t have enough wolf theatre in northern England. (Who does, really?)

Despite the presence of actress Charlotte Rampling, the BBC reported the general media reaction:

The Daily Telegraph said Neck of the Woods had “the unmistakable whiff of a vanity project,” with a script that “simply isn’t very good,” while “Rampling looks terribly uncomfortable most of the time.”

The Guardian, meanwhile, described it as a “humorless and sedate Red Riding Hood retelling” that “takes itself very seriously” and is “so old-fashioned you wonder if Gordon has any familiarity at all with contemporary theatre.”

Well, Mr. Gordon took exception to the notices and decided to take matters into his own hands – literally. The BBC notes that “the show begins with the sound of an axe, and the stage has a number of axes screwed to it.” Mr. Gordon took one of those axes and tried to chop a hole in the theatre’s concrete walls. After knocking out a few chunks, he drew a demonic hand around the holes, then signed and dated the resulting “artwork.”

This guy...

This guy…


...did this.

…did this.

As might be expected, the facility’s management didn’t take kindly to the act and will be allowing Mr. Turner to pay for repairing the damage. (Apparently, management doesn’t feel the benefits of having this uncommissioned sculpture outweigh the chance to get rid of it.)

If you haven’t guessed by now what these two have in common, it’s not that sculptors are stubborn boobs; it’s that there are times you really need to let go and not take your work so goddamn seriously. I’ve never quit a show (I may have once, but I’m not 100% sure), but if someone offered me the equivalent of $150,000 to stop working on one, I admit I’d to consider it. And in the second case, who the hell takes reviews that seriously? Well, Mr. Gordon does, but what anger management issues does a guy have that he reads his reviews, gets mad, tries to figure out what to do, makes up his mind, puts on his shoes, gets a jacket, finds his keys, gets in his car, drives to the theatre, goes in, says hello to the staff and crew, heads into the house, finds a way to remove one of the axes he’s attached to the stage, then attacks the concrete wall of a new theatre because some reviewer thought you were humorless – which is something you’ve just, ironically, proven.

We’ve all gotten bad reviews (and if you say you haven’t, you’re a liar – or an amnesiac), but we’ve all laughed them off or called the reviewer “an asshole who just didn’t get it” and moved on. But this guy? I don’t want to see anything by this guy.

There was actually a third story I also heard about this week, but it’s one that will go unmentioned because there are things I just can’t – or shouldn’t – talk about. Suffice it to say that, when I saw a quote on Facebook (and I hate quotes on Facebook) that said something to the effect of “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right,” I took it to heart – and that comes from an opinionated hothead.

To bring my headline into this, no, Art isn’t a democracy. If you solicit opinion before making a movie or pander in an attempt to make everything appeal to the lowest common denominator, you’re just going to end up with a bunch of bland crap. (Although I have to admit this formula has been working for Disney for decades.) You’ve got to be bold and individual, even at the risk of offending people. I know I’ve seen a lot of stuff I didn’t like, but (in most cases) it was because I didn’t agree with the choices the director made. I’d rather watch an evening of bold, stupid choices than a bunch of stupid non-choices. At least the first one makes me think of how I’d do things differently.

On the other hand, if you’re so bloody-minded and determined to make art that, if you’re criticized or corrected, your only recourse is to hit a building with an axe or let your wife get shot, well, that’s another stupid choice.