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?

FUCK YES.

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.

Horny
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.

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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.

EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS

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

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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!