Director Sara Staley on “Brainkill”

Bay Area thespian Sara Staley will be directing “Brainkill”, by Stuart Bousel, for this year’s BOA Festival. The show is being produced by San Francisco Theater Pub, who is one of ten producing partners that make the festival happen. For more information on the festival, check out http://www.bayoneacts.org. For more information about Sara, just keep reading! 

So we know you’ve directed for Theater Pub in the past, but what else do you do out there in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

A lot. Since 2001 I’ve been the director of the YouthAware Educational Theatre program at the New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC). I’m also directing my first Pride Season show there, The Laramie Project: Ten Year Later, which will open March 31st and then go on tour in Northern and Central California in June with NCTC’s new Pride on Tour program. I directed my first show for Wily West Production last summer, and now this season I’m working as Artistic Producing Director with them. I’ll also be directing a Pat Milton play called Believers for Wily West that will go up in August. In my spare time, I like to produce and direct sketch comedy. I’m directing a sketch for PianoFight’s next Foreplays show going up in April, and working on the second show for Hot Mess SF, a new sketch group that I started with some very talented producer, writer, director and actor friends, that will happen the third weekend in May.

This isn’t your first time directing for BOA either. What have you done there in the past?

In 2008 I directed an eerie, twisted little play called Absolute Pure Happiness by Isaiah Dufort for Three Wise Monkeys. Theater Pub alum Theresa Miller, who is in Brainkill, was also in that show for me. I met Jessica Holt , who kicks booty producing the BOA festival, when she started working at NCTC directing for our Teen Summer Stock program. I designed sound for her show (one of the other theatre hats I wear), and we synced up well, so she asked me to sound design for one of the BOA programs in 2010. Then last year for BOA I was lucky to get to direct a lovely play called Twice as Bright by Daniel Health for the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco, another local theatre organization that I worked with for several years.

How is this show, Brainkill, a potentially new experience for you?

The pace and the dialogue moves unlike any show I’ve staged before, but I think that’s also what attracted me to the play in the first place.

When directing, what steps do you go about to get “inside” a piece?

The plays I want to direct are the one’s when I read them the first time and the production immediately starts coming to life inside my head. I think having that initial vision or connection with a play is really important as a director. That makes the getting inside the piece part much easier because you don’t have to work as hard to get past the surface of the material. I try to learn as much as I can about the world of the play, but not so much that it distracts me from just telling the story, which is the essence of what we do as theatre artists. In a play like Brainkill, where the world of the play is less specific, I enjoy filling in the missing piece. I also enjoy the fact that it allows more flexibility as a director when the play takes place in a world where really anything can happen.

So what’s this thing about?

To me Brainkill is about the desire to fill the voids that this society creates for us with stuff, when really what we desire is a connection with other people. In a world where we are so very connected with technology, we are actually feeling disconnected from basic human interaction. Theater is wonderful because it not only creates community, but it can also provide society with the emotional catharsis and connection with other humans that we crave.

What speaks to you, or draws you in the most, about Brainkill?

I love the pace and the surprises in the script. Also, I tend to connect more with theatre that tells a story that comments on society in some way. To me, a good play will get audiences to think about society’s flaws and their own, and hopefully spawn a discussion about how we can improve things.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle to overcome to make this thing rock?

The fast paced dialogue will, I’m sure, be a hurdle for actors to get over, and the play shifts from scene to scene a lot for a one act which will be somewhat challenging to stage, but luckily the set configuration/design at Boxcar Playhouse this year gives me lots of options as a director.

What excites you the most?

I love a good dark comedy, and this one also feels very edgy and unique. I’m also really excited to work with the talented actors I’ve cast.

What do you hope the audience will get out of the show?

I hope it helps audiences look past the noise and the clutter in our world to pause and think about what is really important in our lives. As one character says in Brainkill, “There is so much more to life than stuff.”

What else in this year’s BOA Festival are you looking forward to seeing?

Really all the plays. BOA is such a fabulous collaboration of local independent playwrights, directors, actors and production companies. The BOA play I directed last year was in the same program as Megan Cohen’s play A Three Little Dumplings Adventure directed by Jessica Holt, and I grew very fond of that wacky play and it’s amazing cast, so I’m also looking forward to the next installment, Three Little Dumplings Go Bananas, this year.

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