Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Why “Songs of Hestia” Should Be on Your Summer-Reading List

Marissa Skudlarek, en route to her own vacation, imparts some advice for summer reading.

Songs of Hestia, the first book of plays from the San Francisco Olympians Festival, has just been released! Our friends at the EXIT Theater (whose publishing arm, EXIT Press, produced the book) threw us a lovely book-release party on Thursday night, where we drank champagne cocktails in honor of the five playwrights whose work is featured in the book. Find it on Amazon.com or at local bookstores.

All right, full disclosure: I copy-edited Songs of Hestia and also wrote the introduction. So if you pick up a copy, you’ll see an essay in which I attempt to say various erudite and analytical things about the plays in the book. But, I realized, my introduction may not fully convey just how fun these plays are. So consider this blog post a less formal introduction to Songs of Hestia. Even if you don’t normally read plays, you’re likely to find that this book has something for you. If you fit into any of the following categories, Songs of Hestia should definitely go on your summer-reading list.

Do you love reality TV and Hollywood gossip? Does “beach reading,” to you, mean a sexy Hollywood novel or the latest Us Weekly? Did you start watching reality television when Survivor aired twelve years ago, and never looked back? Are you (perhaps guiltily) fascinated with the lives of the men and women who appear on reality shows? If so, you’ll love Nirmala Nataraj’s Aphrodite: A Romance in Infomercials. This play tells the story of Psyche Pendleton, former reality-TV sweetheart and current infomercial star. There’s quippy dialogue and a “Dr. McDreamy” love interest, but also a thoughtful exploration of Psyche’s, well, psyche. This far into the reality-TV era, we’re wised-up enough to know that what we’re watching isn’t really “real” – it’s been manipulated and massaged by producers. So how does that affect the stars of these shows? Psyche may be a fictional character. But there’s truth – there’s reality – behind her story.

Are you a current-events maven? Maybe you’re the kind of person who prefers to read nonfiction dealing with current events, especially foreign affairs, business, or finance. You always have a copy of The Economist stuffed in your briefcase or purse. But it may be harder to get you to read fiction or drama, because you find the real world so fascinating and complex that you don’t want to spend time reading a made-up story. Well, I urge you to make an exception in the case of Bennett Fisher’s Hermes. While all of the characters in the play are fictitious – and the cast list includes the gods Hermes and Hestia – this play is tied to current events in a way that theater rarely is. It’s based on the origins of the Greek debt crisis in early 2010, and, as Fisher notes, “any similarity to real persons or events is entirely intentional.” Oh, and there’s also “bro” humor in the play. Lots of it. Somehow I don’t think you’ll find that in The Economist.

Are you eagerly awaiting Series 3 of Downton Abbey? Are you an Anglophile who loves fiction by the likes of Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy? Do you adore Downton Abbey for its upstairs-downstairs plotlines and its willingness to mention what the Victorians never did, like secret homosexual liaisons? If so, you will love Hera, or Juno en Victoria, by Stuart Eugene Bousel. The Hera of this play, like Countess Cora, is a loving mother to a marriageable young daughter. She also has a tart-tongued spinster sister, Hestia, who could give Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess a run for her money when it comes to acidly quotable lines. Add in two handsome young men – one rich, one poor – and a housemaid as capable and intelligent as Downton Abbey’s Anna, and you have the perfect recipe for Victorian country-house intrigue, with a modern twist. (Would Charlotte Bronte ever have dared write, “It’s all right, Hebe. I know what sex is. And your aunt has read about it”?)

Do you love female-centric historical fiction? These days, women are buying and reading more literary fiction than men are, so it’s no surprise that books that look at different historical eras from a woman’s point of view often become bestsellers. Maybe you are one of the readers responsible for the popularity of novels like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Shift your focus to the late 1940s with Claire Rice’s Demeter’s Daughter, set in Greece after their bloody civil war. Its all-female cast includes Louisa, a young widow who seeks solace and compassion, and the three goddesses she encounters: Hera, Hestia, and Demeter. The play explores many facets of womanhood: what it means to be a wife, a mother, a survivor left behind after men die in battle. It is a deeply moving story; certain lines brought tears to my eyes as I copy-edited the play. That doesn’t usually happen to editors.

Are you a science-fiction buff? It’s cool these days to be a nerd or a geek, and if you are, you have lots of sci-fi movies and books to choose from. You also know that science fiction isn’t just an escapist fantasy – instead, it uses speculative tropes to explore meaningful themes. So why aren’t there more sci-fi plays? Well, Evelyn Jean Pine is attempting to remedy that. In Hephaestus and the Three Golden Robots (see? Robots!), Hephaestus has created three beautiful androids to help him with his work in the gods’ smithy. Meanwhile, the titan Prometheus has discovered the secret to making artificial life – and created the human race in the process. Thus the stage is set for an exploration of what it means to be human, as opposed to an immortal or a robot. And hey, my sources tell me that a little movie came out last weekend that has an android in it and speculates about the origins of human life. What’s it called, again? Oh yeah – Prometheus.

Marissa Skudlarek copy-edited and wrote the introduction to Songs of Hestia. Also a playwright and arts writer, she can be found at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Don’t Miss Hit Trip Fall Run Dream Stick Sleep!

Tonight is the only night you can catch this new work, starting at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale! 

 
Founding Artistic Director Victor Carrion returns to Theater Pub after more than a year long hiatus with HIT TRIP FALL RUN DREAM STICK SLEEP, a new performance piece about the early days of AIDS research in the 1980′s.

Of the piece, Carrion writes, “It’s a dramatic portrayal of coming up in the medical industry during the discovery of AIDS and the impact of homophobia on the development of young medical students and residents.” Seeing this as a way for Theater Pub to contribute to the general discussion of LGBT history and rights that marks every June in San Francisco, Carrion adds that this moment in past was particularly interesting because “The innocence of medicine at the time combined with the social ignorance of the early 80′s to have a profound effect in the lives of a generation of gay men.”

Written by James D. Lock and directed by Carrion, the evening will employ a number of narrative styles, including screenplay, and will be performed by some of our favorite actors: Nick Dickson, Julia Heitner, Rik Lopes, Brian Markley, Theresa Miller and Nick Trengove. As usual, it’s free to attend, though we recommend a five dollar donation at the door, and get there early as we tend to fill up!

Actor Nick Trengove Talks AIDS, Gay History and Pushing Boundaries at Theater Pub

Actor Nick Trengove has been frequently featured at Theater Pub, and will be appearing in his third show with us this season with Tuesday, June 12th’s one night only event, AIDS in the 80’s: Hit Trip Fall Run Dream Stick Sleep. We realized we hadn’t yet given Nick the website interview of his dreams, and so here he is, in all his glory. Enjoy!

Nick Trengove. Who can resist a guy with this smile?

In a nutshell, who are you and what’s your involvement in the SF Theater scene?

My name is Nick Trengove, I’m a recent graduate from UC Berkeley, and I got involved with the SF Theater scene as an actor right after I graduated. My first project out of college was We Players’ staging of Hamlet on Alcatraz, and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work on various projects all over the city — from new works to well-known contemporary plays, and of course, more Shakespeare.

So, you’re doing a lot of Theater Pub these days…. any particular reason why?

Well, people are actually asking me to be a part of Theater Pub, so I think that really is a big part of why I’m doing more of it. But really, there is a community of actors and patrons in the Bay Area that has grown around Theater Pub, who view it as a forum for trying new things, or old things in new ways, and all in the comfort of a neighborhood bar, and I just think that’s the bee’s knees.

What can you tell us about this latest project with Victor Carrion?

The project I’m working on with Victor Carrion, “AIDS IN THE 80’S: Hit Trip Fall Run Dream Stick Sleep AND Forgetting Teddy,” is the story of medical professionals dealing with AIDS and homophobia against the backdrop of the 80s, when there was still a lot of speculation and fear surrounding the virus and its contraction. It’s a story told twice — once in a more stylistic, fractured way, and then again in a more conventional theatrical narrative, and I think it’s a really unique approach to AIDS during that era that, despite current understanding and desensitization, still begs to be understood and memorialized.

What’s your particular role like, and what about him appeals and challenges?

I play the role of Teddy, an intern doctor with aspirations of one day becoming a surgeon. The appeals of this role are also, I think, its unique challenges — Teddy is a guy who’s trying to figure himself out sexually — it’s a bit of a coming of age story for him, but compounding his confusion is the looming threat of AIDS. It’s an interesting balance that has to be maintained — the exploration and uncertainty and, sometimes, joy of discovering yourself, but staying true to the terror and proximity of the AIDS virus.

This piece has some pretty dark elements to it- how is that to work with?

The darker elements of the play represent another set of challenges as an actor. I’ve already touched on some the challenges associated with AIDS, so I’ll talk instead about the instances where characters run abreast against homophobia — both in professional and personal instances. I don’t think anyone, especially men, straight OR gay, escapes adolescence without being confronted by homophobia in some way. We may even extrapolate homophobia to talk about bullying in general – at some time in each of our lives, someone has told us that there is something innate about us that is different or wrong, has made us feel shame, and has hurt us physically and emotionally. In playing these darker moments in the play, and, to a certain extent, in watching them unfold, I think we relate on very visceral levels, so there is a tension, then, between treating these moments with emotional sincerity and receding from them for protection.

What are you hoping your audience will walk away with?

I’m hoping the audience walks away with the unique perspective the play puts forward, but also that Theater Pub can act as a forum for a variety of subject matters, not just things that happen to be contemporary or comedic in quality.

What’s coming up in the SF Theater scene that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m excited for the Pint-Sized Play Festival — I don’t even know when it is, I just know I had a great time watching the last one, and I’m ready for a repeat!

What’s your favorite beer to drink in mass quantities?

I can drink Racer 5 for days. DAYS!!!

Don’t miss Nick, and AIDS in the 80’s: Hit Trip Fall Dream Stick Sleep, this Tuesday, June 12 at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, San Francisco). Admission is, as usual, free, with an encouraged donation at the door.

Theater Around The Bay: Lisa and Nick Gentile Discuss Writing as a Couple

We recently got a great submission from Nick and Lisa Gentile, a husband/wife writing team from the East Bay who have been participants and supporters of Theater Pub for years. Here in all its glory, is their funny and insightful look into life as an artistic duo. Enjoy!

People often ask us what it’s like writing as a couple. We usually give a glib answer, because we haven’t really thought about it. We thought we could try to answer the question by interviewing each other.

Nick: So, Lisa, when did we first start writing?

Lisa: 2004. Your birthday. I took you to see 8 Tens at 8 in Santa Cruz. Remember that?

Nick: I remember we both thought that some were good and some were . . . not inimitable. I never thought that I could write a full-length play, but after that we both thought that we could do ten minutes. I didn’t realize before then that there was an entry-level length. I thought you had to write this big honking thing like Long Days Journey into Night right off the bat. Do you remember where the idea for our first play, Ten Minutes to Burn, came from? Or anything about its origins? Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember any of it.

Lisa: We were at that little surf film fest at the Roxy and we ran to Arinell Pizza during intermission. We had only a few minutes and I complained that I knew the dude behind the counter was going to say, “this is all I have for ten minutes.” And he did! And that other guy came in and went on and on about death metal versus black metal. Funny how people never ask us whether that play is autobiographical.

Nick: Probably because the characters are all dead. Now our second play, Russian Roulette for Lovers – I know where that came from. Our only real argument as a couple, about the philosophical meaning of The Godfather. I was going on and on about it, and you thought I was ignoring your opinion due to a sexist belief that women cannot truly understand the movie due to its hyper-masculine subject matter. I’m glad you realized that wasn’t true. I was just in some strange oblivious testosterone-fueled movie-analyzing reverie.

Lisa: Yeah, once I gave up interrupting you to defend the position that I actually had a position I just watched, stunned, as you lectured the imaginary crowd.

Nick: You yelled, “Who are you having this conversation with?” which became a line in the play.

Lisa: Then I saw potential, both for our relationship to continue and for the new play. How would you describe our writing process?

Nick: Well, what I think goes on is we both throw out half-baked ideas, and we both try not to say anything critical until it becomes too painful to bite back our sarcasm. Then we try to come up with some plot that threads together the ideas or bits of dialog we really like, even if that plot doesn’t contain the other person’s ideas. And finally we both try to come up with something that melds both sets of ideas into something semi-coherent. So what does it look like from your perspective?

Lisa: So I’m not far off when I tell people that we take turns assuming the fetal position under the desk. One of us is usually willing to carry on the work if the other has fallen into the pit of despair. I know I whine a lot over story arcs. But I think it’s your way with dialogue, your inner Mamet or Stoppard, that really gets us through.

Nick: Stop. I should rend my garments. Nobody gets compared to Tom Stoppard. Now, the Mamet comparison I can live with, because I share one thing in particular with him, which is observing the way people express ideas in the vernacular. I mean the way that people express complex ideas and emotions with ungrammatically correct phrases and metaphors. And by swearing. Who influences you?

Lisa: Chekhov. And it’s not just about the gun, seriously. I think his work shows the tension and suspense that are inherent in relationship. I love how the service of tea can be wrought with anguish.

Nick: Is that grammatically correct? What do you mean “relationship”?

Lisa: It’s a poet thing. To explain it would kill it. What’s your favorite idea that we developed?

Nick: When our friend Kate Owen said to us, “You should write a play about mumble-mumble”, and we both though she said “maggots.” I don’t remember what she really said, but I remember talking about it on our drive home, trying to figure out what kind of play you could write about maggots. We decided that they should be philosophers, because they have mouths but no limbs.

Lisa: Metamorphosize, mon Amour sent us back to the college textbooks night after night. Remember that big chart that we made to outline coherent arguments for the three characters?

Nick: I think that chart shows how you take the lead role in providing the structure for our works, while I concern myself with coming up with amusing lines. Our different strengths merge synergistically. Or something. I’m getting points for saying this stuff, right? Pookie, would you say that playwriting together has been an extension of our love? I sure hope so, because this Fringe Festival show is going to be stressful. We’ll need all our love to make it through.

Lisa:
That’s sweet. But I have to confess something. I needed that chart because around that time I started spiking my mochas with rum. Speaking of booze (hint, hint), what’s your favorite production so far?

Nick: Why, God, Satan Beer, of course, at San Francisco Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays in August 2011. It’s obligatory that we mention that this was a great opportunity to get involved with a bunch of talented people through that production. And it’s also true, because we are working with some those people at the SF Fringe.

Lisa: I wouldn’t change a thing about Pint-Sized. Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, and Ashley Cowan made the crowd laugh. That’s what it’s all about.

Nick and Lisa Gentile’s show “Weird Romance” will be performed at the SF Fringe Festival on September 8, 9, 11, and 14. http://www.sffringe.org/wordpress/

Postcards From The Odyssey #4: “There’s a Lizard in my Hiding Spot” and other tales from The Odyssey

We continue our inside coverage of We Players’ “The Odyssey on Angel Island” with some stories from the backstage crew that’s responsible for bringing the Bay Area’s own Ithaca to life.

Loe Matley, Bailey Smith, Hannah Gaff, Eileen Tull and Ruth Tringham – just part of the extraordinary production team for The Odyssey on Angel Island. Photo by Frieda de Lackner.

Today’s Postcard from The Odyssey on Angel Island comes courtesy of Eileen Tull, our intrepid Stage Manager extraordinaire. Eileen makes a lot of the magic happen onstage; but her backstage is outdoors, hiding behind rocks and trees and trekking over hill and dale. She writes:

Most of my backstage experiences have been in small black box theaters. I’d never bothered to count the acreage of the backstage area. For The Odyssey on Angel Island, my black box theater is now a seven hundred and fifty acre stage. My stand by calls are moot, as I am typically yards ahead of each scene. I push the GO button to no avail and my only light instruments are the Heavenly Bodies.

This show is a unique experience, in that we have been rehearsing as well as living together on the Island every weekend for the past few months. We have many rules in place: ten minute showers, no personal clutter, Island quiet hours start at ten, but the most important rule is open and creative collaboration.

Many cans of gold paint were harmed in the making of this production. Photo by Eileen Tull.

A typical day in the life of a stage manager on Angel Island:
6:00am – Try to turn off alarm, turns out to be birds
6:30am – Wake up, camp out next to the one bathroom in the Fire Dorm, to ensure a morning shower
7:00am – Eat breakfast, drink precious, precious coffee
7:15am – Pack up truck, kiss actors on the forehead and begin morning HERD (which is what we call the morning preset — stands for Hannah, Eileen, Ruth and David, core members of the production team)
7:30am – Make blood and milk
7:45am – Carry carpets and pillows up a flight of stairs
8:30am – Raise the We Players flag at West Garrison, Angel Island
9:00am – Drive to Ithaca (also known as Ayala Cove, Angel Island), check in with actors
10:00am – Call soft places, thank you soft
10:15am – Lie in wait for my next cue, atop a secret path. This is when I usually play shoot bubble on my phone or call my mother.
11:30am – Ferry actors around, set up The Land of the Lotus-Eaters
11:35am – In the process, recoat my hands with orange food coloring
12:30pm – Travel to the Cyclops’ cave
12:35pm – Chase a bird out of the cave
12:40pm – Okay, it chased me
12:45pm – Try to get to my hiding place. There’s a lizard. Try to poke it with a stick. It looks at me. I let it know that I have to get in my hiding place. It runs away.
1:30pm – Ferry actors/wait to ferry actors
3:30pm – Race the audience back to Ithaca, actors in tow
4:00pm – End of show, just about. Begin reset for next show. Begin drinking.

A shot from the driver’s seat of one of the We Players vehicles used to ferry actors, team and props around Angel Island. Photo by Eileen Tull.

Eileen Tull is a director and writer who relocated to the Bay Area from Chicago in June 2011. http://www.eileentull.com