Made In China: The Saga Continues

Nicky Weinbach continues his push towards opening

Since my last entry, the Made in China cast and I have made quite a bit of progress with rehearsals. We’ve learned a good bit of new choreography from our choreographer, Alexandra Daily, and have blocked out a great portion of the play under the guidance of our director, Nick Dickson. Choreography is a hard thing to do with books in hand, so I’ve tried my best to prepare the actors musically such that they can easily memorize the music and lyrics on their own. It’s already hard enough to really get normal blocking going when actors aren’t yet off book, but attempting to do choreography with book in hand is pretty impossible. Luckily, the actors are inching their way closer and closer to memorizing a couple of songs each week, but it definitely is funny to hear them mumble the lyrics when they don’t know them completely well enough. At least, they’re pretty familiar with the music at this point. I meet with each cast member once every week to two weeks for about an hour and a half each session to work on the music. I don’t know if we’ll need to do that much longer, at least for a couple of the cast members. At this point, many of them might benefit the most from participating in group music rehearsals which we’ll start up next week. Overall, I think we’re in pretty good shape considering we still have two months to go before we open. I don’t want to get to confident because I know two months will pass pretty swiftly, but I have a pretty good feeling about all of this.

On the producer end of things, I’m pretty busy. I’m about to send out press releases for the show, tomorrow, I’m in the midst of setting up a Ticket Turtle account, and, every day, I’m having a discussion with someone else about how to approach building the set. We obviously want to take the most cost effective route, but, when you’re dealing with four to five doors, it’s pretty difficult. During Thanksgiving week, I took a trip down to Los Angeles (where I’m from), and I met up with a friend from college who’s quite the carpenter. He kind of sketched out the easiest way to have five doors onstage and still be able to change sets pretty quickly. It’s a little tricky designing a set when you have the placement of a pit orchestra involved, but my carpenter friend offered some great suggestions. He’s even going to help effectively design the set, which is also great. I’m looking forward to what he comes up with in the next couple of weeks.

By the way, check out the Word Press site for Made in China at This is not really a blog site for us but serves more as an actual website for the show. When you visit the website, you’ll be able to listen to music from the show, learn more about the play’s development, eventually purchase tickets (which go on sale Sunday, December 30, 2012), and just hang out, looking at pictures. Check it out when you get a chance.

Well, I think that’s about it for now. Everyone involved in this production is steadily pushing ahead, and I think we’re at a good place right now (I hope I’m not speaking too soon). Until next time!

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Once More Unto the Breach

Marissa Skudlarek is very busy, but she still has time to share.

As a postscript to my last column, written as I was about to go on the Theater Pub retreat, my editor added, “Tune in next time to find out if Marissa survives the weekend!”

An easy joke to make, I suppose, when you consider that twenty of us were going to be holed up in a remote house in the Marin Headlands during drizzly weather, and that the favorite pursuits of theater people are reputed to be drama, gossip, and backstabbing. Really, though, there wasn’t even the slightest hint of violence or anger in the air. In fact, being theater people, what we really possess is an endless capacity to entertain ourselves. When the apocalypse hits, come hang out with us. We’ll be the ones seated around a campfire, sharing a bottle of strong liquor and telling off-color jokes late into the night. (That’s basically what we did in Marin, anyway.)

The official Theater Pub postmortem of the retreat is well worth your time to read: it contains our lovingly crafted new mission statement, and information on ways you can get involved in the coming year. And thanks again to the person who commented anonymously on my last column; we used your remarks as a jumping-off point for a lengthy discussion on diversity and inclusiveness at Theater Pub. Our resolve to improve in this area has found its way into our revised mission statement.

So yes, I survived the weekend. More than that, I came back inspired to make art. (I’ll be submitting a proposal for a 2013 Theater Pub project – will you?) However, I will say that I’ve had such an incredibly busy few weeks that the retreat almost feels like it happened in a different lifetime. The Olympians Festival is kicking into high gear, along with the holiday season, so I’m entering another one of those stretches where I run around town like mad. I feel more glamorous and active and alive than usual, but also more run-down and confused. Was it really only twelve days ago that I was in the Marin Headlands discussing the directions that Theater Pub should take in 2013?

I was going to write that, like a good theater person, I thrive on stress. At its best, stress can bring a kind of ruthless clarity: when you have so many demands on your time, so many things that need to get done, it’s easier to know exactly what to do when. But here I am, coming to the end of my lunch hour, tap-tapping away at my laptop, stealing WiFi from Starbucks, and I realize that I have no idea how to bring this column to a thrilling conclusion. Perhaps stress only muddies my thinking, after all.

But, in the interests of clarity, I should let you know exactly why I am so busy. I have a staged reading of my screenplay Aphrodite, or the Love Goddess coming up on December 7, as part of the Olympians Festival. It’s a sexy 1940s interpretation of the Aphrodite myth, and will be paired with Amy Clare Tasker’s existentialist take onPhoebe & Theia. Please RSVP at our Facebook event if you are interested!

Beyond plugging my show, the only thing I can think to do is borrow the words of another when my own fail me; to think of the hectic two weeks I have just experienced and the hectic two weeks that lie ahead; and thus tell myself “Once more unto the breach, Marissa, once more!”

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Check her out elsewhere or on Twitter @MarissaSkud – or in person on December 7 at the Exit Theater, for the staged reading of Aphrodite.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: The Break

Bay Area actor Eli Diamond continues his path through his first year at NYU, braving natural disaster, academic confrontations and artistic growth with equal aplomb. 

First off, I would like to apologize two weeks ago for the delay. In case the world did not notice, there may or may not have been a hurricane that devastated New York, specifically the area of New York that I call my home, and well… It was really really bad. We did not have school for the week, and we spent the time we would’ve spent at school searching for non-perishable goods, electricity, and, if all else failed, a hotel. Eventually, due to a major falling out with some friends, we did end up finding a hotel in the middle of Morningside Heights, though it may be more aptly described as a crack-den.

Nothing occupied the room except for a bed and a dresser, the nearest bathroom was about 7 or 8 doors away, and a piece of the door was lying on the floor. It, suffice to say, was not good. The three of us spent most of our time there watching television, trying to fight off the madness that unfortunately came with the territory. Dinners consisted of KFC and possibly Chipotle, if we were feeling fancy. Most stores were closed down, and the entire place had a sort of dead feel about it. The day after the Hurricane, the streets began to resemble the sub-par Will Smith film I Am Legend.

The worst part of the Hurricane and its aftermath had to be the stir-craziness. With nothing to do except talk, and watch TV on our computers, we quickly ran out of jokes, and ways to amuse each other. By the end of the Hurricane, we had all agreed not to speak to each other for the next two weeks, hoping that by that time, we could reinvigorate our friendship with a well needed shot of adrenaline.

When classes started again, I felt almost broken. I needed to go back home, I got very upset and irritable very easily. I started not going to some of my academics, and at one point lay in bed for almost 2 whole days. It escalated to the point where the head of my studio called me in and gave me a number for a shrink, saying “Hey, we’ve noticed something”. After a while, and some wonderful scene work with my friends Kane, Brigette, and Alex, I was able to get back into the flow of things.

On that same note though, it’s hard. I feel the need to return home now more than ever, and even though my parents came up for Thanksgiving, that does not quite compare to having my own bed, in a city where I can go visit my old friends, while I eat a home-cooked meal. And with only final scene day on the horizon, it looks like the only thing I need to kill right now is time.

Falling With Style: Theatre’s My Church, So Don’t Text In My Pews

This week in her continuing journey towards building an artistic life, Helen explores the dichotomy between her feelings as an actor and those as a theatregoer.

As an actor, I feel it’s a privilege to take audience members on a journey (and perhaps even “rehearse them for their lives” as one teacher described it to me). That privilege stands no matter who the audience member is, how he found himself at my show, and what he takes away. I am ever hopeful about my congregation, the audience members.

But as a theatregoer, I usually want to punch those fellow congregants in the face.

Watching live theatre has always been a venerated experience for me, whether it be Waiting For Godot or Legally Blonde. I may not be moved by every performance, but hey — some sermons are more life-changing than others. But I would never dream of talking or texting during a live performance, and I have very little patience for people whose experience at the theatre spills over into mine.

A few weeks ago, I was in New York, sitting at a fantastic performance of Peter and the Starcatcher. I was so engrossed in the make-believe onstage that I almost didn’t notice the group of high schoolers seated on all 3 sides of me and my husband, their chaperone seated in front and completely oblivious. When they started to whisper to one another about upcoming plot points, I lost it. The actor in me was happy that they were engaged in the performance, but the audience member in me was doing everything she could to keep from going all Linda Blair on them.

At intermission, we moved. But as intermission closed, I cringed to see a woman in front of me return to her seat with a drink (the now-ubiquitous Broadway sippy cups, sometimes tied into the production with a logo’d cup and/or themed drink specials). It was obviously not her first, as the admittedly-hilarious Act II opener left her literally cackling and gasping for air through the entire next scene, which was quiet and serious in nature.

I’m not a teetotaler by any means. I understand producers’ incentive to sell overpriced drinks — Once has even turned Broadway drinking into a plot point by putting a working bar onstage. But it’s all fun and games until the orchestra level gets bathed in drunken audience-member sick during a performance.

I’ve even witnessed fellow actors be terrible audience members: at my summer program’s culminating scene share, I saw multiple actors-cum-audience members surreptitiously thumbing their phones, texting and checking emails. I did a terrible job hiding my disgust as I quietly requested they put their fucking phones away.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share stories with people, and I begrudgingly understand producers’ desire to pack the theatre full of all types. But if I ever have the chance to man my own theatre company, I may very well have rules of etiquette a la the Alamo Drafthouse.

Cowan Palace: David Rakoff On Rent

It’s been a busy week with the Theater Pub gang. With a retreat, the holidays, and rehearsals for December’s show, I thought perhaps this week I could “gift” you this essay from David Rakoff, a celebrated contributor of This American Life. It’s hilarious, fun, and insightful… and better written than anything I could provide at the moment. I’ll be back in two weeks to further discuss the excitement, fascination, and backstory of the Broadway musical that made history: Rent because it is also the inspiration for December’s Theater Pub: Christmas Bells Are Ringing! But for now, in between your seasonal celebrations, please enjoy David’s piece and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!


Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at

We Have A New Mission Statement and New Opportunities!

So, nineteen of us went to the woods: Founding Artistic Directors Stuart Bousel and Brian Markley, Art Director Cody Rishell, and long time collaborators Megan Cohen, Jeremy Cole, Ashley Cowan, Nick and Lisa Gentile, Karen Hogan, Dan Kurtz, Sang Kim, Maria Leigh, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Jan Marsh, Karen Offereins, Sunil Patel, Kirk Shimano and Marissa Skudlarek. We spent two nights making food together, drinking, arguing and laughing about art, the local theater scene, and the best and worst of the first three years of Theater Pub.

On Saturday we spent six hours seriously looking at the future of the Pub, the way we structured our season, how we got people involved, etc. We talked a lot about what made Theater Pub special, what worked the first couple years, and most importantly, what wasn’t working any more, and what needed to change to allows us to not only move into the future, but continue to grow.

We decided one thing that definitely had to change was our mission statement, and after about half an hour of tinkering and trying out different phrasing, this is what we came up with:

“The San Francisco Theater Pub produces re-imagined classics and scripted orginal works in a casual bar environment, emphasizing collaboration and connection between new and established theater artists and audiences.”

That’s one classy complex sentence, isn’t it?

But in all seriousness, we are excited to have a mission statement that fits what Theater Pub has become, and encourages us to keep in mind our core value systems (namely fun, inclusivity, creativity and artistic challenge) as we move into the future. To get things going on the right foot, we spent dinner that night brainstorming the January show, which will be produced by Sang S. Kim, producing for us for the first time!

In it’s three years, we’re proud to say that Theater Pub has worked with over 200 actors, directors, musicians, writers, producers, artists, dancers, and tech people- fifty-three of whom have been involved with three or more shows! Those are impressive numbers for any theater company, and we’re glad to have given so many people a chance to shine, try something new, push their own boundaries, and entertain our audience. Going Forward, we want to make sure that we keep bringing in new people, even as we work to strengthen relationships with our favorite collaborators, and hence we will be opening six of our one night slots in our 2013 year, to new producers.

So- got an idea for a one night show that works in a bar-space like ours and you think fits in with the new mission statement (and the kind of crowd we tend to attract)? Let us know! We’ll be accepting project ideas for the following dates, all the way up till January 1st!

February 18
April 15
May 20
June 17
August 19
November 18

Additionally, we are looking for a larger project for October, to play October 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29. Halloween themed preferred, but not limited to. This production could potentially be fully staged, though once again, within the limitations of the bar (i.e. we don’t do much in way of standing scenery, full orchestras, or lots of light and sound).

Be sure to include as much info as you can- about you, anyone you want to bring in with you (actors, musicians, etc.), how you see this idea working in the bar and what your plan is to get thing thing on its feet with a budget of zero. Remember this is indie theater as trench warfare- innovative and passionate wins the day!

Send proposals to

Looking forward to hearing your ideas!

Made In China: The Saga Continues

Nicky Weinbach continues his chronicle of bringing his new musical to the stage.

I don’t have much time to write something too in depth this week, but for this entry I would like to talk a little bit about reserving rehearsal space.

I must say that it can be pretty stressful being a producer. One of the most consistently nagging issues to deal with as a producer is having to constantly scout out rehearsal space. It makes me long for the rehearsals when we get into the actual theater space in which we’ll be performing Made in China. Thank goodness that’ll be in the beginning of December. Until then, I only have one more rehearsal for which I still need to book space. This topic must be getting pretty dull by now, so let’s talk about something else.

At our first pit orchestra rehearsal two weeks ago, about 75% of the music went pretty smoothly. The other 25% seemed rough, and I realized that some of the harshness had to do with the actual music I had written. Since that rehearsal two weeks ago, I’ve revised / simplified some of the music, so now it’s easier to listen to and to play. Sometimes, simple is better. I realized that for some of the orchestrations, there was just too much going on, thus taking away from the actual melody that the singer(s) sing(s).The idea of a pit orchestra is to provide support for the singer without overpowering him. A score for such an effect can be a little tricky and requires practice. It sucks to have to revise music this late in the game, but you gotta roll with the punches. If you hear something that sounds off, you gotta change it. We have another orchestra rehearsal tomorrow. Hopefully, things will sound a lot better with the recent revisions.

Actor rehearsals have started off pretty well. Our new director, Nick Dickson, and I seem to see eye-to-eye on an approach for this musical. He seems to understand a lot of the esoteric humor of the play in addition to the more silly, quirky, and slapsticky humor. I think he’s leading the actors in the right direction and realizes what needs to be done to accomplish our shared artistic vision for the show. Next Tuesday will be our first day learning choreography from our talented choreographer Alex Daily. That should be a lot of fun.

Anyway, sorry to have to cut this entry short. I should have a lot more to talk about for the next addition to the Made in China guest blog in two weeks. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Into the Woods

Marissa Skudlarek prepares for a weekend away with the Theater Pub crew…

How’s that for a double shot of Sondheim references? This won’t be a long column, because tonight I’m running around getting ready for Theater Pub’s upcoming retreat.

Yes, this weekend, about twenty Friends of the Pub will be staying at a house in the Marin Headlands for two nights. In between all the merriment and mischief that theater people can create when left to their own devices, we’ll be taking stock of where Theater Pub is at now, and where we’d like to see it go in future.

This feels like the right time to retreat so that we may gather our forces and come back even stronger. “Retreat, not in the run and hide sense, but rather in the, let’s assess our assets and make a plan sense,” said the original email announcing this weekend’s gathering. In its three years of existence, Theater Pub has become bigger, more rewarding, and more critically acclaimed than its founders ever imagined when they started it. And we want to continue to excel – which might means that we need to re-think how we do things. Strategies that worked for us in 2010 might be outmoded now – we’ve grown that fast!

Moreover, we want to continue to be a welcoming and friendly part of the San Francisco theater community. To that end, I thought I’d use my column this week to ask: is there anything you’d like to say to us? Anything that you particularly hope that we discuss on our retreat? Any suggestions that you would make, if you were sitting with us in the Marin Headlands this weekend? Any kudos, any gripes? Anything at all.

Please leave your comments below, and I promise I’ll read them and bring them to the discussion. Use your real name or be anonymous, whichever you prefer. We at Theater Pub love discussion, we love dialogue, we love being at the crossroads of the theater community. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do what we do, right?

OK, I’ve got to go continue packing. Here’s hoping that I can come equipped with all of the essentials: pajamas, bourbon, my thinking cap… and, of course, feedback from you!

Tune in next time to find out if Marissa Skudlarek survives the weekend…

“Directing” Chrysalis

Julia Heitner shares her experience as one of three directors for Chrysalis, A Solo Tragicomedy.

I arrived in New York this week after a very sad farewell to San Francisco and Theater Pub in October. Theater Pub has become like a second home to me and I am very much going to miss the friendships and fantastic artistic colleagues I have gained through my last three years with the company.

In my stead, I am so pleased to introduce the San Francisco Theater Pub community to Evangeline Crittenden. Evangeline and I met will studying Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz and coincidentally are also both Marin-Country raised gals. During college Evangeline directed me in an original musical that she adapted from Ace of Base songs, The Sign: The Ace of Base Lip-Synclical (in which I played the male lead…but that is a whole other story!) The show played a few nights at the Barn Theatre on campus and was a huge success; sold out houses and got the whole audience singing along. I would have to say it was one of my most treasured theatre experiences.

Evangeline moved back to the Bay Area from Brooklyn in 2011 and left me a message sometime in the fall that said, “Hey, do you want to help direct my show?” I returned the call, said, “Yes!” and she came by a few minutes later to drive me out to Marin for our first rehearsal together.

Evangeline Crittenden and The Grief Monster. Photo by Jonathan Talaveras.

The best part about “directing” Evangeline is that she is a true writer/performer, a skilled actor, comedienne, improviser and very open to feedback. In rehearsing the show, Evangeline and I would sit and talk about what she wanted the show to be, what characters she wanted to add, then she would go off to write a section, and then perform it fully-realized at the next rehearsal. This allowed me to act more as a mirror to the performance and feedback on the content and context. Although there are three directors listed for this production, this is still Evangeline’s show, it is her story and it is what she wants to showcase to her audience.

We had a bi-coastal phone meeting on Sunday night to talk about Tuesday’s performance and how to translate the show into the Cafe Royale space. We bounced around some ideas about where different elements should be staged,  playing with the unique environment and making dynamic choices that will include the audience as much as possible.

I have been honored to work on this very personal, hilarious and emotional play and I truly hope you enjoy the performance!

Chrysalis, A Solo Tragicomedy performs this Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at Cafe Royale, 8 PM, Free! Seating is first come, first served so get there early to ensure a seat.

Falling With Style: Artist’s Temperament or Artist’s Temper?

Helen Laroche continues to chronicle her life as an emerging actress in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I am in tech week for a show, and to be honest, things aren’t going well.

We’ve all been there, right? I mean, sometimes you get lucky: cue-to-cue goes quickly, tech week is a breeze, and you sail right through opening weekend without once silently begging yourself for a nap.

But most of the time, it’s a bumpy ride to opening night. You may start to question whether the show will come together in time — and often, miraculously, it does. (At which point you decide maybe this is one of the shows you’ll invite people to after all.)

Tech week can be a roller coaster for any show. But with the wrong attitudes, it can be a full-blown nightmare. I’ve experienced this a handful of times: a web of negative energy cloud that can ensnare every member of the cast and artistic staff. It’s sometimes passed off as “the artist’s temperament,” and symptoms include yelling, lack of discipline and poor preparation.

My job as an artist is to bring my work every day regardless of what’s brought around me. But it’s hard not to get ensnared in negativity, particularly this close to opening night.

The questions I’m tackling now are: 1) What do I need to do to operate at an artistic level I’m proud of without getting distracted by others’ energy?, and 2) At what point does the artistic merit and exposure from a given production outweigh the experience of slogging through negative rehearsals?

Do the ends ameliorate the means? I’m finding that, in most cases, they do not.