Don’t Miss Measure For Measure!

Opening tonight, at the Cafe Royale, at 8 PM!

Get there early to ensure a seat, enjoy some sushi and mix with the San Francisco Theater scene! Admission is FREE (with a $5 donation encouraged)!

The story follows Duke Vincentio (William Hand), who appoints Angelo (Nick Dickson) and Escalus (Carl Lucania) to run Vienna while he goes on a spiritual retreat. What neither delegate realizes is that the good duke has remained behind in disguise to observe whether his subordinates embody the same compassion he possesses. Angelo revives long dead sodomy laws that result in the imprisonment of Claudio (Vince Rodriguez), a young man who has gotten his wife pregnant out of wedlock. Claudio’s drinking buddies Lucio (Neil Higgins) and Mistress Overdone (Linda Ruth Cardozo) enlist the aid of Isabella (Julia Heitner), Claudio’s sister who has recently entered a nunnery, to convince Angelo to dismiss the charge but things take a dire turn when Angelo tells Isabella she either needs to sleep with him or Claudio will be executed. Vincentio hatches a plan with the help of Marianna (Kirsten Broadbear), Angelo’s ex, and the Provost of the local prison (Tony Cirimele) to find a way to save Claudio’s life, Isabella’s honor, and his own reputation as a benevolent monarch.

Directed by Stuart Bousel, Measure for Measure promises to be a fast-paced, thought-provoking, atmospheric romp around the Cafe Royale- the perfect way to end the summer theater season!

Give Him A Hand

Start your weekend with an interview with Will Hand, who plays the lead role of Duke Vincentio in this month’s production of Measure For Measure, opening this Tuesday at the Cafe Royale.

Will Hand didn’t provide a headshot, so we’re going with this.

So this is your first Theater Pub, right? What’s got you excited about joining the ranks of Theater Pub’s ever expanding ensemble?

I think its a sweet thing, theater in a bar. But really, while everyone knows the San Francisco Bay Area theater scene is close-knit, sometimes those threads are a little loose. Anything that works to bring us together as a community is a pretty exciting thing to be a part of.

The annual Shakespeare production is becoming a tradition, basically because we will now have done it twice. What do you think is the bee’s knees about doing Shakespeare in a bar?

Well its actually something I’ve always wanted to do. That possibility of a rowdy, raucous audience is so infinitely more desirable for me than the complacent regional theater crowd.  An opportunity to do some Shakespeare, to make it compelling, make it count, and basically do what it takes to get a room full of people interested in the imaginary event happening in the room, is my definition of doing Shakespeare right.

Anything got you worried? Is this your first time doing a show like this?

Well sure. The Duke’s a selfish young man who loves doing good. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time exploring that incongruity.  He is a very complex character, but in a very unexpected way. I want to do right by all that. Now, towards the end of the process, I’m finding the time to focus on more fundamental moment-to-moment work, but in a such a rough, informal rehearsal and performance process I think you always worry if you’ll pull it together in time, and if any of it will translate when it comes down to you running around the bar dressed as a monk.

Speaking of who you play, tell us more about the Duke.

I play Vincentio, the good Duke of Vienna. Everyone has that friend who’s always asking how your relationships are going, who is essentially a bit of a meddler. The Duke is like what would happen if that friend had a kingdom over which he had essentially Godlike authority.

And how is your first Theater Pub experience going?

Its been really great working with the rest of the cast. I did some scene studies from Measure for Measure in college,  and I had no idea what to do with the Duke. Since day one, though, I’ve been really grateful for a cast that offers up so many and such bold choices for us all to play with; every rehearsal has been an explosion of new Duke flavors. Stuart’s also a master of bookwork, which meant that we really hit the ground sprinting.

Measure for Measure is an unusual choice for any theater venue. Why do you think this play is a challenge, good or bad, for any theater company?

We’ve talked a lot in rehearsal about how, invariably, this play is used as a launch-pad for ideological expression. I remember what Stuart Bousel said in one of the early rehearsals, “Everyone wants all of Shakespeare’s comedies to be Midsummer.” Fact is, some of the dude’s plays are about couples who’re just trying to make it work. You’re going to see a lot of hurt feelings before the night is over. Life’s not all cherries, and foursomes in the forest. Sometimes its a sex-comedy between a Nun and a Prince dressed up like a Friar, and you just gotta learn to deal with it.

What do you hope the audience will get from Measure?

I hope they grapple with the capacity for forgiveness demonstrated in the play.

What’s your favorite beer?

Brother Thelonius Ale. Part of the profits go to the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. You can get pie-eyed and be charitable, all on the same tab. How cool is that?

So if they do get a liquor license at the Cafe Royale, what’s the first cocktail you plan to order at Theater Pub?

Love’s Labour’s Lemondrop. Two Gin…tle…men of Verona?

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.

Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life: Re-thinking Tweet Seats

Marissa Skudlarek takes a break from her whirlwind life to ponder the ever-controversial Tweet Seat. 

Want to know how cool and glamorous I am? Some of the most fun I’ve had recently was the Friday night I spent alone on my couch watching the Olympics opening ceremony. My enthusiasm was enhanced partly by the large glass of Cabernet in front of me, and more by the fact that as I watched, I carried on a Twitter conversation with the equally glamorous @WayBetterThanTV and @Tullie23 (a.k.a. playwright Megan Cohen and director Eileen Tull. Perhaps you saw their work in the Pint-Sized Play Festival?)

In fact, I had so much fun that evening that I began to rethink my position on “tweet seats” in the theater. Advocates of tweet seats claim that they will make the audience feel more connected to the show. Increasing spectators’ level of engagement and sense of participation will create a more memorable experience. I used to regard this argument with skepticism, but that was before I joined Twitter and spent a Friday night live-tweeting with friends. And guess what? I’m pretty sure I did feel more engaged and connected to the Olympics ceremony because I tweeted through it! So was I justified in being against tweet seats?

When I first heard of tweet seats, I thought they were just one more sign of the decline of civilization. Yes, even though I belong to the “millennial” generation that tweet seats are supposedly designed to attract, I thought they were a dreadful idea, a conduit for rudeness and selfishness. If the purpose of theater is to immerse yourself in a work of art, tweet seats were the antithesis of that. Twitter encourages snarky humor, and it can take a lot of mental energy to figure out how to get your point across in 140 characters. Wouldn’t tweeting spectators care more about their own cleverness than about paying attention to the show?

But after enjoying myself so much while tweeting the Olympics, I’m willing to concede that live-tweeting can make an audience member more engaged or invested in what she is watching. At the same time, I’m not sure if that is enough reason to make tweet seats a regular part of theater.

The Olympics opening ceremony was a massive televised event; as such, it was practically designed to be live-tweeted. How can you show the Queen and James Bond jumping out of a helicopter and not expect people to tweet the hell out of it? But plays, by and large, are not written or staged with Twitter in mind. Perhaps, in the future, some playwrights and directors will make theater that specifically seeks to engage with Twitter as a medium and invites that kind of audience participation. But if a play is not designed for Twitter, you may disrespect the artists’ work by inviting audiences to live-tweet it.

The sheer global spectacle of the Olympics ceremony and the attendant flood of thousands of Tweets means it’s highly unlikely that any of the participants would see what I had written. Thus, I didn’t have to worry about the effect of my tweets on the artists or athletes. But theater, particularly indie theater, is a small, local endeavor. If a theater sponsors a “Twitter night,” you just know that the actors will run backstage as soon as the show is over to read what the audience is saying about them – perhaps they’ll even do that at intermission! While getting this kind of immediate feedback could be useful, it also has the potential to dismay or dishearten. At the very least, actors may feel compelled to alter their performances in order to garner better mentions on Twitter – and that seems like a dangerous path to go down.

Moreover, Twitter is geared toward the quick ‘n’ quippy. As a result, we have less of a filter when we live-tweet than when we engage in other forms of writing. This can lead to some great impromptu witticisms, but also to tweets that, a day later, seem too rude or judgmental or just plain unfunny. Again, I worry that it could be damaging for theater artists to read such unfiltered reactions to their work. You could say that Twitter provides the “raw, honest” feedback that artists need – but I do not believe in making a virtue of rawness. And besides, are tweets always honest? Don’t people sometimes tweet things they don’t actually believe, in order to make better jokes?

So, because of the inherently live, local, intimate nature of theater, I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of tweet seats. Part of me dislikes claiming this exception for theater, because I sometimes think that we modern theater artists are overly invested in the uniqueness of our artform, forgetting that most people see it as just one entertainment option among many. If people enjoy live-tweeting other forms of entertainment, why should theater be any different?

Still, I’d be more likely to support a relaxation on tweeting at the cinema than at the theater. Like the Olympics ceremony, movies are large, global events, so a critical tweet of a movie will have far less potential for injury than one of a play. But then how do you tweet while wearing 3-D glasses? This problem, unfortunately, is yet to be solved.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you want to be in the know next time she live-tweets an event, follow @MarissaSkud.

There Are No Small Parts…

This month will feature the Theater Pub debut of three well-known Bay Area actors: Linda-Ruth Cardozo, Tony Cirimele and Vince Rodriguez, playing the three supporting parts in our production of Measure For Measure. Proving there are no small parts, only small actors, Linda-Ruth, Tony and Vince talk about what it’s like to step into their first Pub roles  and breath life into these small but essential character roles.

So this is your first Theater Pub, right? What’s got you excited about joining the ranks of Theater Pub’s ever expanding ensemble?

Linda-Ruth: I’m excited about the community atmosphere coupled with professional level performers. And the nice folks. I feel very welcome.

Vince: Not only is Theater Pub a group that produces work for artists who have an insatiable thirst for cool and relevant projects, but the demographic they reach out to is sexy, young and willing to re-envision classics in a modern way. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

Tony: The most exciting part about joining Theater Pub is that they asked me. No nerve-racking audition, no tension-filled callback, just an email saying, “Tony, we like your style. Bring some of that over to our motley crew of drunken theater-goers.” Also, the opportunity to wear RenFest clothes in public appealed to me greatly.

Tony Cirimele: what a guy!

The annual Shakespeare production is becoming a tradition, basically because we will now have done it twice. What do you think is the bee’s knees about doing Shakespeare in a bar?

Tony: First off, unlike this question, Shakespeare has no unnecessary ’20s jargon. Secondly, Shakespeare in a bar is great because it takes his work back to its roots. Shakespeare was first performed for groundlings, people who were dirt-poor, weren’t paying attention to the show, and would often yell things at the performers, much like your modern day alcoholic theater patron. Shakespeare is not just for the scholars, it’s for the people who can’t afford War Horse tickets.

Vince: It’s funny you bring up “groundlings” because I like to think of the audience as “grinders”: people who take the time to do their work AND appreciate the finer things in life, like exploring the depths of the human soul. Although the majority of people are content dealing with the nine-to-five stress, I think we give people who want it the chance escape the myopic and mundane.

And when the text is edited effectively, as it is done here, the kernel and bloom (am I mixing metaphors?) of the story become accessible to a modern audience and then the actors make it fun by playing amidst the audience in a comfortable, informal place, so all the pretentious element is stripped away and the potential for genuine enjoyment increases.

Anything got you worried? Is this your first time doing a show like this?

Tony: This is definitely my first time doing a show where the audience is encouraged to drink excessively.

Linda-Ruth: I’ve done dinner theatre before, so I’m okay with it.

Linda-Ruth Cardozo: Everything’s Under Control

So who do you play in Measure for Measure, and what do you like about the part?

Vince: I play Claudio, a character who has sex with a girl he fully intends to marry and gets thrown in jail for it. Kind of wack right? Some say “test the bicycle to make sure it works for you” but back in the day this wasn’t exactly kosher with the law. I’m excited about this role because he’s like any twenty-something trying to do well and then something bad happens. We’ve all been there: desperate for success and trying to make things work but the world is working against us.

Linda-Ruth: I play Mistress Overdone, the bawd. I like that she can be feisty, sexy and funny. We’ll see how I do.

Tony: I play the Provost, who runs the local prison. Provost, by the way, is his occupation, not his name. It’s like having a character named “Officer” or “Warden”. It’s a little demeaning that he is defined by his job and not by who he really is, but such is the laziness that is the Bard. My favorite part about playing the Provost is that he is the only normal character in the show. Everyone else is working in the heightened reality that is a Shakespearean comedy, but the Provost is a just an average guy trying to do his job and get through the day.

Measure for Measure is an unusual choice for any theater venue. Why do you think this play is a challenge, good or bad, for any theater company?

Linda-Ruth: Measure for Measure is a challenge because I think we don’t know what to think of it. The characters are not clear cut bad or good. The Duke is good, but a little perverse. Angelo is a hypocrite, but still sympathetic. Isabella’s attachment to her virtue at the price of her brother’s life seems ridiculous. This, I guess, is why it’s called a “problem play.”

I think what throws people is that Measure for Measure is a comedy that deals with dramatic events. Really dramatic. There are executions, broken engagements and bastard children involved, not really “ha-ha” funny. Most productions tend to toss away the comedy in favor of the more dramatic moments, or they just don’t get the jokes (It’s 400 years old, they can’t all hold up.) What we’ve done with this production is really play up the comedy while still respecting the more serious subject matter. After all, the best comedies are the ones with the occasional dramatic moment. We’re also throwing in just a little bit of audience participation. Not too much, but just enough to keep things light.

What do you hope the audience will get from Measure?

Vince: For me, this show is about power, and as the audience sips their drinks and embarks on this journey with us I hope they think about who they relate to and why. Often we find ourselves walking past someone near a BART or Muni exit and think, “Never will I find myself like this” or worse saying something out loud to the effect of: “No I can’t help you today”. Theater allows for one to take themselves out of their set of problems and worries for an hour and a half and feel for people who aren’t related to them. This is empathy y’all! If we were all slightly more empathic imagine how much more pleasant our human-to-human interactions would be. Isn’t that legit? I’m going to answer for all of us and emphatically say “YES.”

Vince Rodriguez: Here To Feel

Linda-Ruth: I just hope they’ll laugh.

I would love to see our audience get a newfound appreciation for the play. It’s one people tend to gloss over when discussing Shakespeare and I hope people will walk away from this and say, “Oh Measure for Measure? Great play. I saw Theater Pub do it and it was fantastic.

What’s your favorite beer?

Tony: Finally, something I can answer. A nice cool reasonably priced Guinness in the tallest glass you can find. I did a play a few years back that was set in Ireland, and I got pretty much all the free Guinness I could hope for. Now they got me hooked on the stuff. It’s great tasting, plus you get that great nod of approval from your fellow bar patrons when you order it. A silent nod that says “You drink Guinness, I like that in a man. You’re hired.”

Vince: My favorite beer is Imperial. It’s a Costa Rican pilsner. As a Costa Rican I have to represent properly. If you haven’t tried it-add it to your list! You can buy it at BevMo!

Linda-Ruth: I hate beer.

Do you know the bar is trying to get a liquor license?

Say whaaaat? I think that’s super sweet.

Tony: Mazel Tov!

If it happens, what’s the first cocktail you plan to order at Theater Pub?

Linda-Ruth: Scotch and soda.

Vince: I’d have to go with a Makers Mark and Coke. I like my Whiskey.

Tony: Anything you have to set on fire to drink.

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.

From Tripple L to M4M: Stuart Bousel Talks About His Life With The Bard

In preparation for our next production, a scaled down version of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure opening on Tuesday, August 14th, director Stuart Bousel talks about his previous tangles with the world’s most famous dead white male.  

Like many directors, I have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare.

I love him in that he’s an amazing writer who has left us almost forty plays, many of which are masterpieces and all of which are eminently performable, and because these plays are the magical combination of incredibly universal and public domain, his work is a sort of lyrical playground for any director looking to put on a production where he or she can flaunt their innovative choices while still taking advantage of a several centuries long pedigree. Of course, there in lies the problem: these plays have been around for so long and are so well known that it’s somewhat impossible to just put them on as plays, and when you do so, inevitably, half your audience comes in with expectations that can have little to nothing to do with your production.

The first Shakespeare play I ever directed was his lesser-appreciated romantic comedy, Love’s Labors Lost, or as I like to call it, Tripple L, a play I adore, in part because it’s one of the rare, truly “original” plays Shakespeare wrote (most of them come from historical or mythological sources), and also because there’s something youthful and charming about it that makes me think it was, for Shakespeare, what SubUrbia was for Eric Bogosian or This Is Our Youth was for Kenneth Lonergan: that charming, quasi-autobiographical play you write about being good looking, reckless and having nothing to do but get wasted, flirt and act like you know everything about the world. Hence, when I directed my production in 2006, I re-set the show in a modern San Francisco nightclub, scored it with pop-music and costumed it with trendy clothes and an eye towards contemporary realism, making it about the people I knew. At the time, I figured this would be my one and only Shakespeare foray.

The trouble is, Shakespeare is sort of an addiction, and once you find your gateway play, it’s hard not to be tempted to do another one. And then another one. I did Hamlet next because, well, why the hell not, right? And that’s when I first figured out (as many people do on their first production of Hamlet) that there are some shows you do knowing virtually everyone who sees it is going to have “their version” in mind and that in their head it’s going to be superior to whatever you do. Which means you might as well go hog wild and that’s what I did, setting the show in modern times, once again, having actresses play the men and actors play the women and a terrifying seven foot tall ghost in what could best be described as Japanese horror flick drag. To date, it’s actually one of my favorite shows I’ve directed, being almost entirely wrapped in my own particular brand of experimentalism and cloaked in Bousel-ian touches: abrupt acts of violence, monochromatic color schemes, romantic suicides, homo-erotic undertones and surprise redemptions.

My next two Shakespeare productions were A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, both for Atmostheatre’s Theater in The Woods, an annual summer production staged in a Redwood preserve near Woodside, California. Both shows were exercises in charm and period theater, the first staged as a Regency era bittersweet romantic comedy, the second a more experimental foray into tragicomedy set in the early 18th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of the two, I personally think Midsummer was the more successful (you really just can’t beat setting that play in an actual forest) but on some level it’s virtually impossible to mess up that show unless you really try (and that said, I’ve seen it happen) and the fact is I learned more from Twelfth Night, which was a reminder that directors should play with these classics but never lose site of the story they are telling and what that story’s emotional core is for them.

Which set me up for directing Merchant of Venice, a production that, as of this writing, is still playing at the Gough Street Playhouse (home of the Custom Made Theater Company), having just been extended for another two weeks. In some ways a return to form for me, my Merchant is a sprawling commentary about the world of modern business and how its various social dramas of status and exploitation are played out in nightclubs and bars, break rooms and boardrooms. There is a light motif of pop music, drug and alcohol abuse, and retro fashion, setting the play in the 1960’s, 1980’s and contemporary world all at the same time, while preserving many of the antiquities of the text and finding numerous sight gags in the use of current day technology. To me, it’s the best Shakespeare I’ve done yet, using narrative to study the contrasts and comparisons between a time and society we think of as so removed from our own- and yet with which I think we have a lot in common. A lot we probably aren’t terribly proud of.

For the Pub’s Measure for Measure, however, I may be foraying back into the realm of charming, albeit this time with more edge than previously, as Measure packs a dirtier, nastier punch than Midsummer or Twelfth Night. Last year I had the honor of adapting Henry IV and V into The Boar’s Head, in which I also had the honor of playing Ned Poins. Something I loved about the show, directed by Jessica Richards, was how we moved throughout the Bar, which was transformed, through the text alone, into the Boar’s Head tavern from the plays, with only two moments of stepping away from that infamous East cheap locale so that Henry IV could bemoan his vanishing son and later die of unknown causes on the pool table. This time around I knew we shouldn’t do another show set in a pub. There are only so many times that could happen, even in Shakespeare’s vast canon, and the sooner we set a precedent that there were no precedents, the better it would be in the long run if, as it seems we intend to, there was to be an annual Shakespeare play at the Pub. When Measure for Measure was first suggested it seemed like an excellent fit because it would, like all Shakespeare plays, defy expectations even as it created them. Plus, it was an unusual choice, a play not frequently done or particularly well known, and so liberating myself and the cast to do with it what we would. Ironically, it’s going to be the first Shakespeare play I have ever directed that will be costumed in 16th century clothes, but the traditional take ends there.

Something I have discovered while putting together an 80 minute version of this show (that I now affectionately refer to as M4M) is that I’d actually love to do a full production sometime. We cut a lot of material and characters to make this play flow as smoothly and slickly as possible in the bar, and some of that is stuff I’d really like a chance to play with. But I’m also now completely hooked and going through a love phase with Shakespeare, so it may be a while before I allow myself the luxury of directing a second production of any of the shows I’ve done so far, when there are so many left I’d like to sink my teeth into.

In the back of my head, I’ve been considering both King John and Henry VIII for quite some time, and recently it was put into my head by a producer friend of mine to consider Romeo and Juliet. The pre-production phase for a production of The Tempest has been going on for about three years now and some part of me is always fantasizing about Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline. I have no real desire to direct Two Gentlemen of Verona or Much Ado About Nothing and yet if offered the chance, I wouldn’t turn them down because I see how both could be lovely shows and I have ideas. Which is the problem. I have ideas for all the shows. So do most directors.

And once you open that door for us, it can be a really difficult one to close. 

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.