Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life: You’re Doing It Wrong, You’re Doing It Wrong

Marissa Skudlarek brings us Part II of her article about the internet and its discontents.

In my last column, I wrote about the anxiety that “the endless stream of information on Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general” makes me feel. In this column, I want to focus on one particularly prevalent form of Internet writing, which I have come to think of as the “You’re Doing It Wrong” essay.

According to KnowYourMeme.com, “You’re Doing It Wrong” became a catchphrase circa 2007-2008, and has remained popular ever since. It was originally just a fun, slightly snarky photo-meme (“Running: You’re Doing It Wrong” above a photo of Italian race-walkers; “Governing: You’re Doing It Wrong” above a photo of George W. Bush), but it has become the guiding principle of a slew of online writings. The Internet is crawling with self-styled experts who just love to tell you what’s the matter with the pop culture you’re consuming and the sociocultural habits you’re unconsciously falling into.

That’s right: if my previous column was a 600-word piece freaking out about the sheer amount of stuff published online each day, this column is about how writers of You’re Doing It Wrong columns are, indeed, doing it wrong. I get the irony, OK?

Because condemnation and hyperbole generate more pageviews than praise or subtlety, a You’re Doing It Wrong essay frames its thesis as contentiously as possible – and thus goes viral. More reasonable voices, which point out nuances, or observe without condemning, get drowned out by louder, shriller voices. In this overheated Internet climate, it feels refreshing to read celebrations of people who are Doing It Right, rather than criticisms of people who are Doing It Wrong. Consider this a public plea to my editor, Stuart Bousel, to publish his crowd-sourced list of male playwrights who write good roles for women.

Of course, even if you do write a paean to someone you think is Doing It Right, be prepared for the backlash: someone will come along the next day and write a piece about how that person is Doing It Wrong after all. If Stuart publishes the list of male playwrights who write good female characters, I fully expect that it will generate a lively debate in the comments section. I also expect that someone will write a response saying that we shouldn’t celebrate male playwrights who write good female roles, because that simply reinforces the patriarchal structure of society, keeps women out of the spotlight, etc. It feels like we’re getting to the point where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; where no matter what choice you make, someone will tell you that it exemplifies everything that’s wrong with modern society.

I keep bringing up gender because it’s something I think about a lot and feel qualified to discuss. But, in addition, our culture’s overwhelming anxiety about feminism and gender roles means that many You’re Doing It Wrong pieces are targeted toward women. There was another meme going around Twitter yesterday – the #EdgyHeadlines hashtag, which generated humor and social commentary by flipping the gender of magazine-type headlines. I recall examples like “Men, Do You Dress Too Provocatively at Work?” and “Do Male CEOs Spend Too Little Time With their Babies?” Of course, the point of #EdgyHeadlines is that we never actually see headlines like these. It’s women who get told they dress wrong for the office, women who are told to fret about work-life balance. Women bear the brunt of You’re Doing It Wrong attacks, and suffer the most anxiety from them.

I’ve witnessed this happening in our own community. A couple of months ago, local theater director/producer Melissa Hillman wrote a “You’re Doing it Wrong” blog post directed at young female playwrights, whom she claims are writing too many passive protagonists and focusing too much on heterosexual romantic relationships. Her stated intent was to encourage women to “own” their own stories and thereby write better, stronger plays. But I spoke to several women who said that this essay gave them anxiety and made them want to throw in the towel, instead of making them want to write more and better.

Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure that my play Pleiades is one of the plays that prompted Hillman to write her blog post. I’d submitted Pleiades to Impact Theatre last year, and received a kind but firm rejection from Hillman only a few days before she published her piece. And I’d always thought of Pleiades as a play that might be too feminist for mainstream American theaters – it has eight roles for women, after all – yet, evidently, it wasn’t feminist enough for Hillman. This made me feel a little bit trapped and discouraged, rather than empowered. I know very well that you can’t please everybody, but read enough “You’re Doing It Wrong” essays and you’ll start to feel like you can never please anybody.

At the same time, though, I felt kind of flattered that Hillman might’ve been thinking of one of my plays as she wrote her blog post. If so, it’s the first time anyone has written about my work in a serious, critical way, and it did prompt me to think harder about what messages I’m sending in the plays that I write. These days (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), perhaps the only thing worse than being criticized is not being criticized. The Internet is an endless cycle of creation, reaction, backlash, and outrage. It can make your head dizzy — but don’t you want to go for a spin?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. So, come on, then, have at her in the comments section. She also welcomes additional criticisms on her blog at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Everything Is Already Something Week 3: The Kid’s Got Gumption

Allison Page brings us another startling tid-bit of wisdom gleaned from her years of serving the Muse.

Nearly 10 years ago, the woman, (let’s call her Ms. Bonnie Rockingham) who had been directing all the plays at my high school, decided to quit directing right after my senior year. There were murmurs that there would be no more plays, which wouldn’t be that surprising considering the diminishing arts programs basically everywhere, and certainly in small towns like mine. Ms. Rockingham had been directing for quite a few years (someone would have to give me the right amount, but I’m going to make one up…so it’s 20 years.), and it seemed that without her, there would be no theater to be had. Sad, yes, but she was waiting until I graduated, so I was happy. Her staying for that last year meant I got to play the title role in “Antigone”, wear a giant hoop skirt and be saved by a guy with a cape, have an excuse to read scripts and generally forget the desolate wasteland of my teenage angst existence in the frozen tundra of small town northern Minnesota.

Allison "Medusa Hair Director" Page and Lyndsey Engelstad wearing puff paint t-shirts made for the show.

Allison “Medusa Hair Director” Page and Lyndsey Engelstad wearing puff paint t-shirts made for the show.

Then I started getting some phone calls. Some of the remaining students were upset at the prospect of losing their outlet. That whole time I guess I thought I was the only one who cared but apparently, as in most things, I was wrong. The incoming seniors thought I should be directing the show, naturally my mother found out and she added her nod to the other nods and suddenly I was marching to the high school to confront the Activities Director (a hilarious title they gave to a guy who really only cared about sports and couldn’t hear out of one ear) to tell him that I was there to save the play. What do you wear to an occasion like that, you might ask…I wore a zebra print, fake fur, spaghetti strap party dress and a floor length, fake fur, Dalmation print coat, complimented beautifully by my platinum blonde, painstakingly curled hair with a little strip of brown in the front, because I wanted to be taken seriously. I looked insane. I clomped in with my knee-high pleather platform boots and said, “Uh…I want to…direct the uh, the play. The fall play. Here. I have a script picked out. And…and that’s what I want to do.”

“Alright, kid.”, he said. And that’s how I became a director. I had no idea what I was doing. I was always desperately trying to keep my composure. I felt like a non-prostitute version of Pretty Woman that everyone could spot a mile away. It didn’t help that we dressed pretty similarly. It was hard. It was really fucking hard. Why, for my first directing excursion, would I choose a show with 22 characters in it?! WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?!? Because I was young. Because I didn’t know any better. Because all I wanted was to take risks and have someone tell me that I could take risks. Even if that someone was a half deaf guy who didn’t understand me in the slightest, and introduced me to large groups of people as “The Kid”. Did I cry several times? Ohhhhh yes. Did I suggest we should all hang ourselves because there’s no way we could get it together in time for opening night? Yeah, I did that. (I regretted that part. I apologized.) Did I choose a script with a portion done as a silent movie with strobe lights and giant cue cards and a Frankenstein monster? Yup. Was the cast just as terrified as I was? Probably. Did we pull it off?


Why am I talking about this? Because sometimes, as we get older, we lose some of that, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but let’s DO THIS!” instinct. We get careful. We get cautious. We get lazy. We get tired.

We get scared.

I try to constantly remind myself that Allison from ten years ago would jump in platform-boots-first and go for it in every way. That Allison ten years ago started her own theater company that she was so passionate about that she did medical studies to get the cash to put up the shows she wanted. That Allison ten years ago would be really proud of Allison now, but would always want to take everything to the next level, even if she didn’t know how; especially if she didn’t know how. No matter what facet of the arts you participate in, I think it’s important to think about what Old Artist You would say about New Artist You.

It’s been a decade, but I still remember the excitement I felt traipsing into that office.  It really did change my life, and it’s a testament to the power of the arts, the power of passion and the power of giving someone a chance to do something, when it would be easy to say “Go ‘way kid, ya bother me. And I can’t hear out of my left ear.”

Keeping that drive can be a struggle for lots of artists (see also: Humans), and I’m mostly writing this as a little reminder to myself: “It’s okay if you’re tired. You’ll be tired sometimes, but it’s worth it.”

Pass the espresso, I’ve got some creating to do.

Announcing The Line Up For May’s “Pub From Another World”

Audrey Scare People Play
by Audrey Kessinger
Audrey tries to get Scare People out of her house.

Support Group for the Mortally Challenged
by Bridgette Dutta Portman
Immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Overnight Exchange
by Kirk Shimano
What if you had someone sleep for you? Would you miss your dreams?

Days of Future Whatever
by Sang Kim
Kevin time traveled. Kevin time travels. Kevin will time travel.

Mrs. Youngblood
by Allison Page
One psychotic nanny. One terrified girl. Three knives.

Origin Stories
by Sunil Patel
Two superheroes walk into a bar. Who walks out?

The Progress of Perception
by Timothy Kay
A mad scientist enhances his sight and doesn’t like what he sees.

by Marissa Skudlarek
You can have a unicorn, or you can have sex.

Don’t miss The Pub From Another World, on May 20th at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale!

Proud Paduans

ChiRounding out our series of interviews with the cast of Taming of the Shrew, we have Jan Marsh, Vince Faso and Sarah Stewart, who essentially play the people of Padua, the city where Shrew takes place. Each of them plays an essential part, with Sarah in particular playing a key character who has less than a dozen lines in the play. But supporting roles are still critical roles in this play, and each of these folks brings more than their share to the table.

So who are you, in 100 words or less?

Jan: Good question. The answer changes daily.

Vince: I’m an Oakland resident and have a degree in Performing Arts & Social Justice from the University of San Francisco. I have performed with many companies around the Bay Area and enjoy the occasional stints as a director and playwright. During the day I teach middle school Drama at Redwood Day School in Oakland where we’re currently in rehearsals for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” My other love is improv and I’m a proud member of Chinese Ballroom Comedy Improv.

Sarah: I am a mom, an engineer, a musician, and now happily again – an actor! I strive to find balance in life and to enjoy the good things that come my way. I feel incredibly blessed to live in San Francisco, where just tonight I watched the sun set from Ocean Beach. I enjoy playing music for toddlers in my spare time at a weekly tot jam, doing yoga, and hanging out at the playground with my family.

How did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Jan: I had worked with Meg O’Connor at Playwrights Center of San Francisco. She was directing Theban Chronicles for Theater Pub and her choragos dropped out so I replaced her.

Vince: I also performed in the Theban Chronicles several years ago and have been a fan since. I’m glad to get a chance to perform in a full Theater Pub production.

Sarah: The director (Stuart Bousel) is one of my oldest friends. I have seen many of his shows & have always dreamed of performing in one. Stars aligned for me to be a part of this show, and I have Stuart to thank for making it happen.

What do you love about being in a Theater Pub show?

Jan: Working with Stuart Bousel.

Sarah: I love this cast and the director! Everyone is so talented, professional and fun! And I love how accessible Theater Pub is!

Sarah Stewart: Ray of Sunshine

Sarah Stewart: Ray of Sunshine

Vince: The talent is impressive and the atmosphere is exhilarating. The audience is so much a part of the show, and it reminds me of improv.

What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Vince: The audience is so much a part of the show, and it reminds me of improv.

Sarah: The short time frame. This play came together over a few weeks.

Jan: Synching the show/cast’s needs with the Pub’s needs.

Tell us about your character- who are they, what do you love about them, what do you hate?

Jan: Baptista is a mother who wants to provide for her daughters; one has many suitors and can choose the highest in a bidding war, the other is valued by her mother, but not the market. A man comes who understands Katherina, knows how to deal with her, marries her, and facilitates change for her. Baptista makes the best of all possible deals for Bianca, who then ruins it and the family by marrying her tutor. In the long run, Baptista gets what she wanted for both of her daughters, one of whom shows her true colors, the other of whom comes to herself. I like Baptista’s fierceness, and enjoy playing her dualities.

Jan Marsh: Fierce

Jan Marsh: Fierce

Vince: Hortensio is a guy who can get things done (or can put you in touch with someone who can). He’s traveled extensively and soaks up experiences like a sponge. I like Hortensio for his quick, fearless wit and how he moves seamlessly between every plot in Shrew.

Sarah: The Widow marries Hortensio after he loses Bianca. She is wealthy. I think she is a bit ahead of her time as a liberated woman (this is what I love about her). She gives her husband a hard time, but is also disturbed by Katherina’s scolding tongue. I hate (strong word) that there isn’t more time to get to know the widow, she is a brief part of the play.

Tell us about Padua, since all your characters live there. What’s it like? Good schools? Housing market?

Jan:Pretty churches, nice river, good economy, great university.

Sarah: I imagine Padua to be similar to Tucson, AZ. There is a rancher, there is a university, there is a lot of drinking and dating of the same people. Average people can afford to have decent places to live.

Vince: Padua is a small, well-to-do town. The kind of place that thinks very highly of itself and resembles larger cities on a smaller scale. Seems like a place where most folks know each other and there’s only one of each occupation.

Each of you plays key supporting characters- what’s the best thing about having a “supporting role”?

Sarah: Less lines to learn! And a great opportunity to learn from watching
the other actors.

Jan: Every cog is important in any play, but Shakespeare even more so than normal. I am small, but I must turn precisely in order for it to work.

Vince: It’s one of the toughest things to do in theatre but sometimes it’s fun to be on stage and not be the center of attention; simply being present in the moment.

Vince Faso: Motivating Like A Champ

Vince Faso: Motivating Like A Champ

One of your characters, the Widow, doesn’t have a name in the script. What do you think her name actually is?

Sarah: I’d like to name her “Gloria” (after Gloria Steinem).

Vince: Florence Isabella Domenico-Bernelli-Pontedra-Lombardi-Giovanni-Francesco-Farfalle.

Jan: Girrlfriend!

What’s your favorite line in Shrew?

Vince: “Better once than never, for never too late.”

Sarah: “He that is giddy thinks the world turns round.” –The Widow

Jan: I like that it starts out with “…good pastime toward….wonderful froward”, and ends with “…children are toward…women are froward”. Kind of a Shakespearean chiasmus.

What’s your favorite beer at Theater Pub?

Sarah: Anchor Steam.

Vince: Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale.

Jan: Well, I don’t drink, but have had their Australian blood orange soda.

Join us for the last two performances of Taming of the Shrew- tonight at 8 PM and Wednesday at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale.

Pansy Blog #2: Time. Space. Shadows.

Evan Johnson chronicles the journey of his new play, Pansy, from concept to production.


A google search for “how to freeze time” led me to www.spellsofmagic.com where a spell simply referred to as “Freeze Time Spell” instructed me further. The site states that with “strong focus” one can actually stop time by saying the following words, with eyes closed and a strong visualization of a clock ticking:

“Time stand still I order you,

no minutes pass until I’m through,

doing what I have to do,

Time stand still I order you”

When would you use this spell? As a parlor trick? To plan your escape?

In PANSY there is a conscious play of time, namely a 20 year span between the two lives I’m exploring; Peter Pansy in 1993 and Michael Darling in 2013. With the theatrical device of Peter Pansy’s VHS video footage, Michael rewinds and plays and fast forwards until he reaches (in the climax of the piece) a personal moment of pause.


A couple days ago I was sitting at Cafe Flore with Ben Randle, my director and Zack Kasten our Videographer/Video Artist extraordinaire. Zack was talking about ways we could get the effect of a giant hook dragging Peter Pansy offstage, which was something I had written into the script without a real clear plan of execution. He suggested stop motion animation. Immediately Ben and I said “Yes!” because we knew how right on the idea was. Our plan now is to shoot all the video elements mid April so we have them to rehearse with in May. Shadow hook stop motion animation sequence included.

Zack’s help with video is going to be a tremendous asset to us, since the video elements are so crucial in telling this story. We aren’t making a show with cool multimedia effects just for the sake of mixing mediums; rather, the video and technology in PANSY are truly plot driven and integral to the action.

For more about Zack, check out the trailer for his film “The Perfect Hello” here: http://vimeo.com/zackkasten

In addition to a new Video Artist collaborator in place, I also want to take time to announce we’ve been super fortunate to score an amazing Sound Designer, Teddy Hulsker! Teddy’s work has been heard around the Bay Area at Box Car Theatre’s  “Buried Child” and “A Lie of the Mind” as well as Mark Jackson’s “Woyzeck” for Shotgun Players and currently at Z Space in Mugwumpin’s “The Great Big Also.” Here’s some of Teddy’s (bad ass) sound work on soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/teddy-hulsker

And lastly, before I bow out on this blog-

Ben and I also met with our friend Cabure (Shot In The City) to discuss promotional images for PANSY and we are taking photos next week so stay tuned! Hopefully we’ll have some fun images to share next time I write. Cabure was our first choice to photograph Peter Pansy for the promo shoot because of his fabulous eye and nightlife/party flier sensibilities. Here’s Shot In The City on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shot-In-The-City/225421338535


Cheers everyone! Happy Spring!

– Evan, the Pansy

Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life: Sur Moi, Le Deluge

Marissa Skudlarek brings us part one of a large article, and hence we’ve decided to let her have a week out of turn. We think you’ll agree, it’s worth it.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Sure, I’ve got a busy month ahead of me: I’m directing a staged reading of my play The Rose of Youth on March 29, and my new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée performs at Theater Pub on April 15. But I think what’s really pushing me over the edge of sanity is that, in addition to working on my artistic projects, I feel a compulsion to keep up with the endless stream of information that appears on Twitter, Facebook, and the internet in general.

That’s why I suspect that, even if you’re not as outwardly busy as I am, you might be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, too. Do you, also, suffer from the Fear of Missing Out? Are you, also, caught up in the cycle of reading the essay about the topic du jour, and then reading what other people are saying in response to the essay about the topic du jour, and then feeling like you should prepare your own brilliant, incisive critique of the topic du jour? Do you feel like it’s impossible to merely enjoy things anymore – that if you enjoy something, you should broadcast your appreciation by writing an essay about why you like it so much? And, moreover, if you find something at all offensive or problematic, do you feel like you have a grave moral duty to write an impassioned-verging-on-hysterical condemnation of it?

Because I feel all of these things, and more. Briefly put, we’re living in an information deluge, and the salt water is starting to fill my lungs. Indeed, the physical sensation of feeling overwhelmed is similar to that of drowning: a shortness of breath, a clenching in the chest, a mad desire to run or escape or just flail around. (Otherwise known as “the precursors to a panic attack.”)

At other times, my reaction to the information deluge is not panic but paralysis, verging on despair. In part, my despair is that I’ll never catch up with everything, never read all I want to read, never know enough. But I also wonder if our addiction to cultural commentary and over-analysis directly leads to a sense of despair. I think about how I was a brooding, unhappy teenager; in my diary, I overanalyzed every detail of my high-school drama. Only years later did I come to understand that my brooding exacerbated my unhappiness, rather than assuaged it.

Could the same thing be happening now? Whenever something becomes successful or popular, cultural commentators tear it to shreds, analyzing its every detail and using that as the basis for sweeping judgments about The Way We Live Now. Or they’ll seek to undermine it, telling you why it isn’t very good or shouldn’t be popular in the first place. But after something’s been torn apart or undermined, what’s left of it? That’s right: messy shreds and fragments.

And then, if information overload is driving me half-mad, why the hell am I calling myself an arts writer, hoping that you will read my column, telling you to visit my personal blog and my Twitter feed? I worry that unless I have something brilliant to say, my writing will just waste your time and contribute to the cacophony of the world. This thought, in turn, only causes me to feel more desperate, more panicked, more paralyzed.

These days, there’s more information and commentary out there than ever before. Computers have made it easier for people to share their bright ideas and live the life of the mind, should they be so inclined. Still, I feel that I’m living cerebrally, which is far different from living mindfully. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life can make you feel like there’s nothing to live for.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you’re handling the information deluge better than she is, you can find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: Bombs, Dog Food, and Audition Woes

Ashley Cowan dramaturgs her own audition process. 

On Monday night I bombed an audition. And no, I’m not being hard on myself. I was really terrible. I got up, introduced myself, and a few words into my first monologue I just blanked. It was the worst. Especially because it was a piece from my homeboy, Willy Shakes! The same fella I’ve been writing about these past few weeks in honor of Taming of the Shrew. But while those guys were honoring the language, I was destroying it.

Maybe you’ve been there. You have those lines down cold a moment before you step into the audition room; you’ve literally run it twenty times that day without freezing up and then boom. And you wail, “why oh why, did it all leave my brain the second I actually needed it?”

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the evening curled up into a ball and soaking my pillow with defeated tears. I was heartbroken.

Lately, I feel like auditions haven’t been coming around as often as I’d like and here I go and ruin the one chance I have. I’m being dramatic, yes. But that’s the business, baby, haven’t you been watching Smash? Bad TV aside, auditions are hard. You learn to make a business out of rejection. I’ve been told I’m too big, too small, too tall, too similar to Rose McGowan – you get the point, but it’s supposed to be my job to do whatever I can to try and land the part, right? And when you suck at it, you can’t help but feel like you suck at life.

On Tuesday, I woke up in a sleepy haze and tried to get ready as usual. I noticed that the dog food jar was sitting open on the floor with its top lying next to it. I found that to be strange but since it was 7am, I decided not to care and put the cap back on and continued hurriedly getting ready. As I was packing my things, I noticed our cat was pawing at the jar and biting it with her small teeth. She was slowly working the lid off the jar so she could sneak her paw in and scoop out a piece of kibble. The scene made me literally LOL. After four years of living with a cat who loves to eat dog food, this was the first time I had seen her actually go after what she wanted in a new way. Usually she just sits by it and meows. But suddenly she changed her ways. And as silly as it sounds, it made me feel better. It seemed to say that there are other ways to go after the things you love and want. You’re not destined to fail the same way each time if you attempt a new route.

So tonight, I decided to get back out there. I had another audition. Same two monologues as Monday’s bombfest. Plus a song. All day I felt torn between wanting to cancel so I wouldn’t have to worry about further murdering my  dreams  and desperately wanting to redeem myself. In typical dramatic fashion, I put a lot of pressure on what would ultimately only last about three minutes of my life.

After helping me run my pieces again a few times, my cheerleader (best) boyfriend (ever) kindly drove me to the audition and made me yell “I’m the man” (ala Beasts of the Southern Wild) a few times before heading upstairs. And while my stomach may have given a home to every butterfly in town before I uttered a word, I got the lines out this time. Which, after my devastating Monday night, was a huge victory. And I had a great time. While I’ll never really enjoy the pressure of showcasing acting talent in the form of one minute monologues, I do love every opportunity I get to become a different person for a moment and act. It’s a gift. So perhaps, I’ll attempt to make that my new route. Or at least I’ll keep at it. Because even if that cat never gets into the dog food, she’s never going to stop trying. And I just can’t live with a cat fighting harder to chase her dreams than me.

And if you want to see talented folks not destroy Shakespeare – make sure to check out  Taming of The Shrew playing at Café Royale Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26 at 8pm!

Gremio vs. Grumio

In honor of our second night of Taming of The Shrew, we thought we’d take a moment to highlight the real conflict of the play: Gremio vs. Grumio! Here to share their thoughts on these two characters are Ron Talbot and Shane Rhoades, who bring these two characters to life all this month at Theater Pub.

So, who are you in a hundred words or less!

Ron: I am a contrarian. All my life society, family, friends and not-so-friends have attempted to categorize me and lock me into a nice comfortable slot to match their world view. As a very stubborn and ornery individual by nature (sometimes to my detriment) I have taken a perverse joy in reshaping myself to consistently defy expectations. Now I enjoy a wonderfully fulfilling life that revolves around family, friends, challenging work, and theatre. And my cat.

Shane: I am a Bay Area native, born and raised. I grew up in San Bruno, went to school at San Jose State, and I have been acting in San Francisco for the past two years. Before I caught the theatre bug, I was a major sports junkie. Wrestling (I love spandex), football and baseball were my favorite sports.

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Shane: I heard about Theater Pub quite often during a production of 12th Night that I was in a couple of years ago. Many of my cast mates were previously involved in Theater Pub and my director (Stuart) I believe was producing Pint Size around the same time as the run of our show. The following spring, Stuart and Karen Offereins asked me to be a part of Odes to March, which reunited me with many of my fellow 12th Nighters and I had a blast doing it.

Ron: Kim Saunders (Kate) recommended me to the director and he was brave (foolish) enough to cast me sight unseen. No pressure, nope, none al all… (Editor’s note: not entirely true: I had seen Ron before I cast him and I liked his look for the character; plus I know Kim well enough to know she’d never be married to a bad actor).

What’s got you excited about working here? What’s got you worried?

Shane: I always love doing Shakespeare, and roles that require a lot of physical comedy. I also love performing in plays that tend to be very divisive and elicit very passionate responses from the audience. People are never indifferent about their feelings towards Shrew, and I think that what makes it such an exciting play. The atmosphere of Theater Pub is always so much fun to perform in as well. At first, I was very concerned if I was the right fit for Grumio. I never pictured myself playing him, but I am working with a great cast and the process has been great, so I am not as concerned now.

Ron: Excited – I have a long standing love of Shakespeare and the opportunity to perform in such and fun and vibrant atmosphere as Cafe Royal/Theatre Pub is a dream come to true for me. I am a strong proponent on making Shakespeare’s plays more accessible, fun and direct. All to often they are presented either in a stagnate and overly rarified manner or they are forcibly warped and corrupted to illustrate some social or political agenda. Worried – A beer falling on my head. (We have a balcony) Seriously though we only have 2-3 weeks to fully stage an entire Shakespearian script; exhilarating, challenging, and deeply terrifying.

Have you ever been in Shrew before? What’s your history with this show?

Shane: I was in Taming of the Shrew a few years ago in San Jose. I played all of the roles that were, in essence, background scenery (Officer, Haberdasher and one of the servants), so I am very happy to revisit this play with a much more substantial part.

Ron: This will be my third Shrew, and in may ways this play is tracking my life progress. First I played the young idealistic lover, Lucentio, then I moved on to play the mature and somewhat cynical Petruchio, and now, the grumpy old man, Gremio.

Ron Talbot: A Shrew's Best Friend

Ron Talbot: A Shrew’s Best Friend

Tell us about your character- what do you love about them, what do you hate about them- what do you see as the biggest challenge?

Shane: There are many things that I love about Grumio, but I especially love the relationship he has with Petruchio. It’s almost like they’re siblings. One minute they have each others back then they’re at each other’s throat the next. I can’t say that I hate anything about Grumio. There are a couple of challenges with Grumio because there really isn’t very much revealed about him throughout the play. He’s a pretty obscure character who is prone to making very random statements. He can be interpreted many different ways, which is exciting, but therein lies the first challenge. The second is to not make him a caricature, which is very easy to do with this role.

Ron: Gremio is a fairly straightforward character with roots in Comedia. I like to think of him as mixture of a country gentleman and a dirty old man. I suppose the biggest challenge is not to lose the audience’s sympathy, Winter/spring marriages are looked upon with abhorrence by our society and while I want the audience to root for Lucentio I also don’t want to despise Gremio.

One of you is named Grumio and one of you is named Gremio. What do you think is up with that? Was it a misprint? Does it mean something? Was Shakespeare just lazy?

Shane: I have no idea. I was too lazy to look into it.

Ron: I don’t read to much into this. There are lots of names in english that sound almost identical. To an Italian they probably don’t even notice the similarity. Consider Ron/Don/John or Lauren/Laura.

In a fight between Gremio and Grumio, who do you think would win?

Ron: My only hope would involve a Bazooka and 100 yard starting range, other then that Grumio would win hands down. Our Grumio is pretty much the personification of “Big Strapping Lad”.

Shane Rhodes: strapping lad.

Shane Rhodes: strapping lad.

Shane: Grumio, by far! Grumio is a bit more rough around the edges and can take a beating. Gremio’s chin is questionable.

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

Ron: One of Kate’s lines that resonates strongly with me as well, oftentimes to my detriment: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.”

Shane: A line that was unfortunately cut from this version. “Am I but three inches?”-Grumio

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

Shane: I could always go for a good IPA.

Ron: Bodington’s! Come see the and show and if you like it, buy me one.

Shrew has its second performance tonight- don’t miss it! It starts at eight, only at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco, but get there early because we fill up! Plus, we have a pop-up sushi kitchen tonight, starting around 6 PM, so get there early to get a table and enjoy some sushi before the show!

Bizarre Love Triangle

Everyone knows Taming of the Shrew for its warring leads, but the action of the story begins with Lucentio’s quest to marry Kate’s sister, the fair and mild-mannered (or is she?) Bianca. In honor of our show opening tonight, we took the time to interview our Lucentio (Brian Martin), our Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) and our Tranio (Sam Bertken), Lucentio’s loyal servant who in some ways spends as much time courting Bianca as Lucentio does.

So who are you, in a hundred words or less.

Brian: I am Brian Martin, a native San Franciscan and a recent graduate of the theater program at SF State. I have been acting steadily in San Francisco for several years now.

Shay: I’m a performer in the Bay Area that loves to dance, act and sing (only alone in my apartment with my cat). I started a theater company with two of my good friends senior year of college called Do It Live Productions and have been producing lots of shows, including new work in the area.

Sam: I’m a Bay Area native returning from four years in the Midwest. I like writing, performing, drawing stories in general.

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Brian: I got involved with Theater Pub in its first year when Stuart Bousel asked me to be a part of the Lovecraft staged reading series, and since then I have done a reading of The Dragon, and was in the second Pint Sized Play Festival.

Shay: I had started going to theatre pub a few years back and have always been interested in what it was all about. Finally, I was asked by Stuart to be a part of Taming of the Shrew

Sam: I met Stuart while volunteering at the SF Fringe Festival. I was described as “always auditioning,” which I guess is how I got this part!

Who wouldn't hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

Who wouldn’t hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

What’s got you excited about working here?

Sam: Honestly, at first I was just excited to be performing in San Francisco, but the sense of camaraderie is very infectious.

Brian: I’m so excited to be back at Theater Pub; I have a blast every time I perform here. I really like the atmosphere and excitement that comes with performing in a Theater Pub show, the audience always seems to appreciate the work and the fact that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere.

What’s got you worried?

Brian: So many things can happen at Theater Pub shows that you have no way of preparing for in rehearsal, so I am little worried about doing a full production in this situation but it’s also part of what makes this process exciting.

Sam: Yeah, I’m mostly worried that I’m going to step on someone.

Shay: Well, im always excited to do theater! And I always get excited about doing Shakespeare. Doing a show with a company that I have never worked with is always a thrill, I just worry that I wont fit in so I stay shy for a good portion of the process. I get worried about putting up a show with a three week rehearsal process, especially Shakespeare. It always takes a bit longer to learn the lines. But, I
have put my trust in this very talented cast and will perform with all my confidence in them.

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?

Have you ever been in this play before? What’s your history with this show?

Shay: I had never been in or seen this play. I had actually never read it all the way through (bad theater student)! I have seen the wooing scene done in high school at competitions, and those scenes always stand out in my mind so because of that, I have always wanted to be in it! One day I will conquer Kate…

Sam: Never been in Shrew but I have been in other Shakespeare plays! I watched some classmates do the opening scene between Tranio and Lucentio once, but that’s the extent of it. The interpretation this time is a bit different.

Brian: This will be my first production of The Taming of The Shrew. I am familiar with it from reading it and from seeing the Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton film and a DVD of a really entertaining comedia del arte performance ACT did in the late 70’s.

Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?

Sam: I think the go-to answer is perceived misogyny.  The gut reaction to this play is that it preaches subjugating women to the will of their husbands.

Brian: Well, I have to admit that’s how I use to think of the show, but working on it and understanding it better, I no longer believe that.

Shay: The only thing I could really think could be controversial about it is how open it is about women in the time it was written being seen as objects and property. But that is still true, in some ways, in modern times, and I think what is great about this play is how Kate is a strong woman, despite the times, and she doesnt loose that through the play. Through some say a ‘man’ changed her, I see it as someone who took the time and effort to see past her ‘shrewishness’ and to dig out the good while still respect her personality.

So tell us about your characters. 

Brian: Lucentio is a wealth young man from Pisa, who is thrilled to begin his studies in Padua until he spots Bianca and can think of nothing else but how to win her and with the help of his best friend and servant Tranio, concocts a scheme to do just that. I love him for his passion and commitment; when he sets his sights on something he will work to overcome every obstacle to get it. I don’t hate anything about him, but this passion and commitment can make him inconsiderate and selfish at times. I think the biggest challenge is to make sure I create a well-rounded three dimensional character that fits into this particular production.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Shay: Bianca, the other shrew. I love that she, like Kate, has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants. She has a strong hold on so many men in this play. I like to love vicariously through her. She, like me, is the little sister, so I could connect with her and the younger sibling manipulation element to her character. I wish she was more out spoken! But I guess there cant be that much shrew in one show.

Sam: We’ve been talking a lot about the commedia stock characters that are the root of the characters in this play, and Tranio, my character, is definitely Arlecchino, who is a personal favorite of mine.  I like that I get to be mischievous and play silly characters, but the biggest challenge is coming up with interesting stakes for the character.  If he succeeds or fails, he just goes back to being a servant.  So, why strive for success?

What makes Tranio different from the usual sidekick role?

Sam: For one thing, this sidekick has some brains on him.  He’s quick on his feet and takes on some big risks but pulls it with aplomb (I hope!)  One of the possibilities that also exists in a character like Tranio is having his own aspirations be interesting and important, outside of helping his master woo a dame.  Even though he can never transcend his actual role in society, it’s interesting to see how he takes to manipulating folks for his (master’s?) own ends.

When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago?

Shay: I like to look at what I say in regards to myself, and the others that I interact with. Then I like to go through everyone else’s lines to see what they say about me. I make decisions on whether those things are actually true or if its a facade. I then discuss my relationships with the other actors and create secrets about each one that they never know about. I think whether the character is written yesterday or 400 years ago, you can still find something in common with them that will ring true to who you are as an actor.

Brian: When I create a role I read the play over and over and then think about the themes and how my character fits into the play as a whole. Then I investigate my character line by line, his actions and what others say about him to find his objectives, obstacles, relationships and backstory and with Shakespeare I look for the directions he gives in the writing. Then I set about relating to and understanding him so that his choices are my choices and his backstory become mine. Even though they were written so long ago I really don’t think the process of getting into a Shakespearian character is any different from getting into a modern character, except for certain beliefs at the time that influence the way a character thinks and behaves. Lucentio wants the same things any modern character might want: love, success, sex etc.

Sam: I love physical theatre, and since there is some commedia influence here, I start from the outside, creating the character body and developing a caricature that way.  That’s the first impression the audience gets.  Then, from this center point, I think about what situations prompt the character to change–how does he react to different stimuli (specifically, the ones in the play)?  That takes the character where he needs to go for a larger-than-life type of production like this.  It’s also helpful to think about the character in relation to his double–Lucentio–and ruminate on what sets him apart and what makes them peas in a pod.

For Shay and Brian, Shakespeare is known for having several sets of lovers in his comedies- usually a serious couple and a not-so-serious couple. Which couple are you and what’s cool about being that couple? What kind of sucks about it?

Brian: It depends on what you mean by serious, we are the serious couple in behavior and story as our character’s behavior and arc is a little more traditional than that of Petruchio’s and Kate’s, but we are “not-so serious” couple in that I think Petruchio and Kate are the couple the audience becomes more invested in. I am enjoying being a one of the more traditional young lovers, because I get to work with the very passionate and sincere romantic dialogue and scenes. I don’t think anything sucks about it, Shakespeare’s characters are always interesting and challenging to play, and unlike some of the other secondary young lovers in Shakespeare’s play, Lucentio and Bianca are not goody-goodies, victims or dupes; we go after what we want despite the trouble we may cause. We’re kind of selfish.

Shay: Well, I think out of the two, we are actually the serious couple. But I think we have a lot of comedic moments between us which were not necessarily written into the script, but that we discovered through the process of our of character building. Yes, we get some good kissing moments but I admit I wouldn’t mind slapping someone around on stage a bit.

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

Brian: “Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, / If I achieve not this young modest girl.”

Sam: “I am content to be Lucentio, because so well I love Lucentio.”

Shay: “The more fool you, for laying on my duty.” I enjoy this because I feel like its a moment where Bianca, a newly married woman, shows she can still stand up to the men around her. Stating that she is not just property you can order around and place bet on.

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

Brian: I’m a wimpy beer drinker so Blue Moon, Shock Top or any beer you can put a fruit in!

Sam: Does it need to be one on tap? Cause mine is Oberon from Bell’s Brewery. But I’m sure I’ll find one I love at the bar.

I had a chance to take a look at the beer list during tech to better prepare myself for the after party. Though I usually go for a nice white, Belgium beer, one of my favorites is Chimay. But lets be real, Im not picky. Except No IPAs. Ever.

Don’t miss Taming of The Shrew, playing for four nights, starting tonight. Admission is FREE, no reservations necessary, but get there early to ensure a good seat!

Theater Conservatory Confidential: Rehearsal 24/7

Eli Diamond continues to brave his first year at theater school.

So spring break is almost here, and I find it really sad that I haven’t really been talking about the actual meat of what I’m learning here, so I guess this is where I’ll get into that. The biggest issue for me coming back from winter break had to be the disconnect I had from staying in the moment. I kept intellectualizing the work too much, as opposed to simply experiencing each moment as it came, and reacting to that. This was seen, and commented on by my teachers in my first scene (This is a Chair by Carol Churchill). I had to go into a lot of intense repetition in order to get my moment to moment work back in action, which I was luckily able to do, thanks in large part to my scene partner Heather.

Heather and I are doing a scene from Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire, and the fun of repeating with her really lies in the amount of animation she has. She’s a very open, expressive person, and as such has allowed me to really become expressive in all my repetition, not just that with her. Our scene from Rabbit Hole has become an exercise of endurance, for what used to be a 2 minute scene has, with all the pauses our teacher insisted on, become 16 minutes. Our last rehearsal ended with both of us face down on separate couches, praying for sleep.

This is another reason I love this technique: It really makes you feel. Like if you have a scene that would be representative of an exhausting encounter in real life, by the end of the scene, you will feel as exhausted as the character, if not more so. It’s a truly remarkable technique in both its simplicity and depth.

Recently, I have been working on beat changes, namely in my scene from Shining City, by Conor McPherson. Changing entire actions when using this technique is an exercise in trial and error, as oftentimes I find myself merely inhabiting the idea of the action rather than truly feeling it in me. The scene is going fantastically though, as my scene partner and I performed it last weekend for Script Analysis and, even though she edited our analysis quite a bit, she thought our moment to moment work was beautiful. So we’ve got one thing down.

So I’m kinda glad I get this much needed break now, for I have to start working on my largest project for the semester: Writing, performing, and improvising a monologue and Q&A session as a historical figure, but that’ll all be news for after break.