Pint Sized Plays Interviews 4: Megan Cohen and Sunil Patel

Two more playwrights tell all, just in time for your July 4th celebrations!

So how did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Sunil Patel: I really enjoyed the first Pint-Sized, and I was in the second Pint-Sized. Last year, I did submit a short play about two superheroes in a bar that I do like but, in retrospect, didn’t really fit in the festival. So, having seen two festivals, I thought about what sort of play would really be appropriate in a festival of shows centered around drinking beer, especially considering that I don’t drink. And it’s funny that you used the word “possessed,” because that’s what happened: I was possessed by this image of a guy talking to a giant beer that is trying to convince him to drink it, along with the title Man vs. Beer. I thought it would be a fun contrast to submit a piece about not drinking.

Megan Cohen: This is my third year having a play in Pint-Sized. I work with Theater Pub a lot, but Pint-Sized tends to be my favorite show of the year because it really makes the most of the bar setting. Since all the shorts in the evening are meant to happen in a bar, it’s a totally immersive theater experience– the festival really invites the audience to live inside the plays, which I love.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Sunil Patel: You have such a short time to develop your characters, you need to make every word count. You want your characters to have an arc, but you want it to feel natural and not rushed, even though any change will have to occur in a few minutes, rather than over an hour or two.

Sunil Patel

Megan Cohen: People are less amazed afterwards than if you’d written a long play. A short one’s not actually easier– it’s a lot quicker, but in the time you spend writing and editing, it’s just as difficult.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Megan Cohen: There are only two difficult things about writing: starting, and finishing. With a short play, finishing is easier than with a long piece just because you need less time– when you’re only aiming for a few pages, you have a genuine fighting chance of getting the whole thing done before you get distracted by a loud noise, hunger, facebook, a house fire, or by a so-called “better idea” that lures you away.

Sunil Patel: There are some concepts that are uniquely suited to short plays: no one wants to sit and watch a guy talking to a beer for two hours. Well, unless it were a really interesting, erudite beer. With this play, I wanted to make sure it didn’t overstay its welcome; it was nice to know that it was designed to have a specific trajectory that lasts a short amount of time. I could simply stay focused on that rather than worry about supporting characters, subplots, or other things that can complicate longer works.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Megan Cohen: Writer/director Charles Ludlam (founder of the “Theater of the Ridiculous”), and the devising ensemble Forced Entertainment are really huge for me. Tom Stoppard and Stephen Sondheim are the writers I wanted to be when I grew up, so they’ll always loom large. I really love the pilot episode of “Lost,” it’s sort of like an hour-long narrative manifesto for me right now. Lanford Wilson, of course; he was one of the first “real” playwrights who I actually worked with in the same room, and my work doesn’t sound like his at all tonally but his empathy as a writer and as a person are definitely a heartbeat in terms of what motivates me to write.

Sunil Patel: Joss Whedon. I think I’ve picked up a lot of his rhythms and dialogue quirks, especially his use of humor (though I am perhaps more fond of puns). And we both like taking unusual, ridiculous situations and characters and treating them with sincerity.

Megan Cohen


If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Sunil Patel: Alison Brie as Beer! She’s hilarious, and she’s shown such range on Community and Mad Men (and she also had a small role in Scream 4, what the hell) that I think she could portray the different facets of Beer. Also, then I could meet Alison Brie. (Oh! Donald Glover as Teetotaler! Somebody make this happen.)

Megan Cohen: Well, our actor (Allison Page) is already pretty famous– she performed with Bill Irwin this year, and has been in viral videos that pretty much a zillion people have seen– so, this question is basically moot, ’cause I have a celebrity already. But I always say– and it’s true of this piece as well– all the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Sunil Patel: Last year, I wrote the first act of an epic sci-fi drama called Gravity, and the second act was improvised, so I am trying to write my own second act. I am also working on a romantic comedy about a golem, tentatively titled The Dating of Gilgamesh.

Megan Cohen: So far this year I’ve written my first game, my first TV script, and my first screenplay; next, I’m planning to write my first good TV script, and maybe my first novel. I also have a lot of projects bubbling for next year that I can’t talk too much about, but expect some adventures in transmedia storytelling with live and online components… and I am revising two full-length plays and drafting a whole new one… the new one is probably the craziest thing I’ve ever written.

What’s next for you?

Sunil Patel: See above. I would love to finish both those projects this year, but life is busy!

Megan Cohen: Oh man, I am working on like seven hundred things– I blog about them at http://www.megancohen.com, and tweet about them @WayBetterThanTV, so you can always keep tabs on me there!

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Megan Cohen: Really excited for the San Francisco Olympians Festival this winter– my play Zeus is on Dec. 20th, but I’ll be coming to as many of the other shows as I possibly can. I love the diversity of voices in the festival, a lot of different viewpoints and styles at work.

Sunil Patel: Custom Made’s Merchant of Venice, because who doesn’t want to see American Psycho meets Mad Men? And Vamp’s It’s All in the Mix, because I have no idea what it is except this “DJ play” and I’ve never seen a play about a DJ. Oh, and Dark Room’s Princess Bride Live!

What’s your favorite beer?

Sunil Patel: Ginger.

Megan Cohen: Who’s buying? If it’s me, PBR. If it’s you, Consecration from Russian River Brewing.

Don’t miss the Pint Sized plays, opening July 16 and playing July 17, 23, 30 and 31 with a special performance at the Plough and the Stars on July 18. All the rest are at our usual stomping grounds, Cafe Royale, located at the corner of Post and Leavenworth in San Francisco’s lovely Tendernob neighborhood. Performances are free, no reservations necessary, but show up early and stay late- we’re bound to be sold out and the crowd is always the best part of Theater Pub!

Pint Sized, Props and Good Vibes

Theater Pub Artistic Director, Julia Heitner, talks about what it’s been like for her to put together this year’s Pint-Sized play festival. 

It’s not everyday that I get to carry around a large box of vibrators and a bag full of dildos on BART, but it’s all part of the fun of directing for San Francisco Theater Pub.

Last week I had the honor of picking up a package of toys from the Good Vibrations warehouse in San Francisco’s SoMA district. Good Vibes has graciously donated for a new play I’m directing for Pint Sized Plays III, Put it on Vibrate, by Tom Bruett, featuring the acting talents of Kirsten Broadbear and Maggie Ziomek.

After riding home to Oakland with my shopping bag of sex positive swag open for any passerby to see, including the group of BART police next to me (I wonder if they got a peek?), I unpacked everything and snapped some photos of each prop to send off to the playwright, concluding that this was “pretty much the weirdest email I have ever sent someone.”

These may be the first props for a show that have genuinely made me blush, but it is not unusual as an indie theatre director to be on the hunt for less-than-conventional stage props. For the first Pint Sized plays, in 2010, the play I directed, Queen Mab in Drag, by Stuart Bousel, called for a diamond snail ring, and a fairy princess costume for a man (worn very well by Rob Ready). After wondering what the heck a diamond snail ring was, I thought, “I’ll have to make one!” Out came the Sculpey clay and paint.

For Ashley Cowan’s play, Word War, part of PianoFight’s ShortLived, I created a giant iphone/ipad out of cardboard and tape for a dream/dance fight sequence. I also ended up making custom t-shirts for M.R. Fall’s play, Test Preparation, when it was included in BOA X. I’m proud to say the playwright and I designed these ourselves!

For me, part of the fun of putting on theatre with a small budget is finding a way to bring interesting props to life with a bit of glue and paint. Although homemade clay versions of sex toys would have provided a fun and interesting challenge, I am very grateful to Good Vibrations for donating props that we otherwise could not afford in order to bring Tom’s play to life.

I’d like to maintain some element of mystery, so I haven’t posted any pictures of the props. To see what Good Vibes has donated for Put it on Vibrate, plus nine other original short plays by some fantastic local playwrights, you’ll have to come see the show!

Pint Sized Plays III
July 16, 17, 23, 30 & 31, 8pm at Café Royale, 800 Post St. San Francisco, CA 94103
And July 18, 8pm @ The Plough and the Stars, 116 Clement St. San Francisco, CA 94118