(Belated) Tuesdays With Annie: STOP. COLLABORATE AND LISTEN.

Annie is very sorry that this post is not, in fact, appearing on Tuesday — she was too busy washing sunscreen out of her hair.

I got back last week from a whirlwind trip down and back up this looooooong state of California, to work on a solo performance in progress by Joshua Tree artist-in-residence Gedney Barclay. I came back exhausted, invigorated, awe-struck, inspired, existentially-minded, and, most of all, pondering the nature, value, and conditions of collaboration. Like with my last few posts, this week primarily I want to open dialogue and hear from you. So let me start with my own fragmented thoughts from the last few days:

Collaboration, by definition, requires at least two entities. I would also argue that the separate identities of these agents must be more salient than the collective identity of the group in collaboration. But surely this isn’t always true — what are the exceptions?

It’s pretty clear-cut that Gedney and I are separate entities. I am an actor-director-producer-SM based in San Francisco, who tends to work with several different companies; Gedney is a Philadelphia-based director-actor, who works primarily with her own company, No Face Performance Group.

But at the same time, there was a tiny fragment of our collaboration this weekend that felt less like a collaboration and more like a reuniting. Not to get too sappy about it (TOO LATE), but this piece marks our 20th collaboration as theater artists — the first of which was when we were both 9th graders. In the almost 12 years since then, we have had many actor/director collaborations, a few actor/actor collaborations (my Varya notably cockblocked Gedney’s Arya in a 12th grade production of The Cherry Orchard), and various other relationships, from director/dramaturg to actor/stage manager.

I don’t quite know how to explain the difference, but my instinct is that is has something to do with translation. In short, for Gedney and me, there’s no translating needed. Generally, in any artistic collaboration, you’ll spend some amount of time translating. Not that you’re speaking literally different languages (though sometimes that may be the case too!), but rather you have differing (or even contradictory) language to describe an emotion, a mood, an action, a meaning, or a style. Often due to culture, training, idiosyncratic imaginations, generational differences, or something more nebulous (ZEITGEIST??), these disconnects in communication can be agonizing, particularly when one or more parties fail to recognize what is happening. You’ll leave rehearsal in a huff, frustrated that your actors just CAN’T take direction/your director just CAN’T give intelligible directions/your assistant stage manager just CAN’T get that prop on stage at the right time.

And so in many ways, speaking the same language (so to…speak…ah shit) in a collaboration is GLORIOUS. It’s luxurious and feels effortless and is, frankly, just ridiculously efficient. I was able to give Gedney notes like “in this last text you have a tic, I think it’s lifting the left side of your mouth” or “don’t let the foot die,” and she could ask me questions like “is this folding too whiskey dick?” and we both understand each other 100%.

But at the same time, I’ve really come to value and appreciate these little acts of translation in collaborative relationships. Sometimes you have to resolve them almost by brute force, or sometimes you come to an elegant third option that you both understand, but most of the time, in my experience, the result is synergistic, a greater, more surprising, more original and interesting product that either of you would have arrived at alone. I frequently think about a particular scene from Cutting Ball’s production of Pelleas and Melisande (for which I was the Assistant Director), which was singled out by many reviews as a highlight of the show. The director had a very clear idea for the scene, but he handed it over to the choreographer first to work on. Her proposal was very different from his idea, and they each greatly preferred their own version of the scene. The final version, however, was a muddled cocktail of these two singular visions — not a clean synthesis, but almost a patchwork quilt of two very different styles and aesthetics. And it WORKED.

I don’t have any answers here. I don’t know if one collaborative mode is inherently better than another. I don’t even know if I can coherently define “collaboration” without two dozen caveats. And all I’ve done here is ramble (per usual). So as always, I turn it over to you. I don’t even have a clear question in mind, but just want to hear thoughts, experiences, and musings. What is the nature of collaboration to you, in your experience? What value does collaboration offer for you, in your work? And under what conditions does collaboration occur, or what are the necessary conditions for fruitful collaboration?

Rehearsal photo from Via Negativa

Rehearsal photo from Via Negativa

Annie Paladino is an actor, director, producer, and stage manager. You still have time to catch her on stage in Ragged Wing Ensemble’s Time Sensitive, and you can always find her on Twitter @anniepaladino.


Theater Around The Bay: Your Place Is Not To Complain, Young Man

Every day in his mind, Stuart Bousel holds a one man conference about gender parity in the Theater Community. Today, he offers you a glimpse inside.

On my way to work, I walk past a grade school playground where young boys and girls are running and playing, engaged in their physical education routine. Now and then I have helped them retrieve a ball that went over the fence, but rarely do I notice them beyond the general background noise and semi-suburban quaintness that characterizes that particular stretch of Castro. Today, however, my mind already muttering over the pieces of this essay as it formed in my head, I heard one of their instructors (a man) say to one of his students, “Your place is not to complain, young man, but to just do the best you can do!” and of course, that got under my skin as quickly as possible. Partly because I agree with the spirit of what the instructor is saying, and partly because I think that a person does have an obligation to complain, when a person really thinks there is something to complain about. The trick is knowing when to do it, and for how long, and how to recognize when it’s time to stop complaining and start doing something. And then, of course, just what exactly you should do so that you can solve the issue without becoming the issue yourself.

Today, on the other side of the Bay, the annual TBA conference is going on and one of this year’s focuses is Gender Parity. An important subject to be sure, but I prefer my important subjects argued over in living rooms with articulate people sipping cocktails, or on Facebook where I can somehow justify procrastination easier than in my actual life, so I skipped the conference. Also because I’m broke and need to go to work while I still have a day job. Still, it is a bit of a shame, because as a person in the Theater Community (see how I used the capitals there to emphasize Big Picture) who pays attention to what’s trending and what everyone is talking about, I’ve been very aware of the ongoing discussion about opportunities in the Theater Community, who gets them, and how gender plays a role in that, and I’m almost interested in hearing what official representatives of the Community are saying about it. I say “almost” because another part of me is also just truly bored by the whole thing.

Saying I’m bored by the discussion about gender parity doesn’t mean I believe we shouldn’t be having it: it just means that I, personally, am beginning to wonder if I really have anything valuable to either get from it or to contribute to it. From what I can tell, there are a lot of angry women out there and they have every right to be angry, but at the same time, I’m starting to feel like their effort to be heard is overwhelming their ability to listen, and that the protest, though necessary, would rather be resolved with immediate re-action over measured discussion and strategic action. And that if some of them can exact a little retribution in the process- even better.

Perhaps I feel this way because I find myself tempering my own desire to engage with a nagging doubt that I’m really welcome to do so. I find that, depending on who is doing the talking, I now have an earnest fear of being accused of sexism should I do anything aside from absolutely agree with whatever that woman is saying. The truth is, while I know that I am not sexist (or racist, or homophobic, or anything else I’ve been accused of for just not being of the same mind as everyone else), my desire not to spend hours defending myself (as opposed to defending my stance) can sometimes sorely outweigh my desire to engage, more so lately than in the past.

Perhaps my reluctance is also because a lot of the solutions I see many of my concerned peers propose or champion, seem to be the theatrical equivalent of a crash diet: i.e. let’s over-compensate for as much as we can for past imbalances, even if that won’t actually provide a long term solution to ensure a healthy future. Or in straight forward, non-allegorical terms: let’s minimize involvement of men in the theatrical process, if not take them out of the equation entirely. Which sounds ridiculous when I write it out (and probably more so when you read it) but it takes very little digging around to find that quite a lot of female exclusive groups, festivals and events seem to be cropping up lately. Which, personally, I find distressing, because if there is one thing nobody in the Theater Community needs, it’s less inclusivity- even if the motivation behind that is, ironically, to be more inclusive.

I understand, enormously, the impatience of people (regardless of how they identify) who feel they have not been treated fairly or given a chance, and I also understand the earnest desire (usually fueled by guilt) on the part of the people who have been given a chance, to “correct” the past by making the most earnest effort possible in the present. That said, as someone who firmly believes we only condemn the future to be the past when we continue the systems of the past under a different name, this mentality of “you had your turn, now it’s ours” doesn’t work for me. You can’t balance the scales with imbalance on the other side. And you can’t win a war without allies. The complications, of course, lay in how we define allies,  how we win them over, and how we keep them on our side, whatever our cause is. Generally speaking, alienation is never the solution to any of these questions, and yet alienation is sort of where I see the current discussion heading.

And sure, maybe I just feel that way because I am a man. A white man. Because I am currently in a romantic relationship with another man I am a homosexual, and because I was raised by a Jewish father whose family had a stronger influence on me than my Christian mother’s did, I tend to identify as a secular Jew, but the truth is, the only religion I’ve ever really loved are the cults of Helios, Selene and Apollo, and my personal mantra is better expressed by the myth of Eros and Psyche than, say, The Joy of Gay Sex, so essentially I’m a white man and many people in my life, particularly many people in my artistic life, feel a need to constantly remind me of that. Sometimes they are right too, and sometimes they are annoying and pretentious, and sometimes they really hurt my feelings because they make me feel like the part where I was born lucky enough to be part of the dominant culture means I somehow have limitless possibilities, no hurdles of my own to overcome, and perhaps most outrageous, am not as inclined to need and desire the love, respect and good will of my peers as they are.

“I really hope, out of everyone we know, Nicholas Greene makes it big some day,” my friend, the writer Alexander Pope, says to me as we’re talking about all our fellow writers.

“I hope we all make it,” I respond.

“Yes,” she says, “But I hope she makes it more. I mean, I love you and everything, but she’s a woman and the world needs more women playwrights.”

Yes, that’s definitely true… but I guess I don’t see why the world needs more women playwrights any more or less than it needs me. Which is not, I think, how Mr. Pope means me to take her comment. In fact, I know it’s not. But it still hurt because it sent me the message that by virtue of being a man, I was less valuable and most certainly not unique. An entirely selfish perspective on my part, I realize, but in an industry where all but a chosen few are constantly being told how un-valued they are (and even those people get rejected), forgive me for clinging to the belief that I am just as deserving of recognition and reward as Nicholas Greene- a playwright who I absolutely also believe should get everything their heart desires. But because she is a great writer, a visionary artist, a good person, hard-working and dedicated to her craft and much better at putting herself out there than I am. Not because she is a woman. That means absolutely nothing to me except that, so long as current personal trends continue, I probably won’t ever be sleeping with her. Naked time is really the only time I ever concern myself over who has a penis and who doesn’t.

I also allow that this particular issue might be particularly poignant for me because I was dedicating myself to making the Theater Community a better place for women- and men- long before it became fashionable to do so. As long as I have been attending theater and making theater I have been attracted to work that featured interesting female characters. I have never given much thought as to who wrote or directed something, but as a guy who has numbered the Broadway musical of The Secret Garden and the play ‘Night Mother as amongst his top ten favorite shows since he was 12, let’s suffice it to say I’ve got gender blind taste (I was once informed by an obnoxious writing colleague, who we shall call Archduke Henry, that I had “women’s taste”- unpack that shit, if you will) when it comes to whether a man or woman wrote it, directed it, or stars in it.

As a theater maker, I have done my best to uphold a value system based on this premise. As a producer I have produced a number of plays by women, and I have hired a number of female directors over the years. As a director, I choose work where the women play important roles and which will allow me to work with actresses whose skills and strengths I admire. When I have chosen to do classic plays where the women’s roles are fewer or less interesting I have found ways to rectify that: I made a number of characters in The Frogs, for instance, female, and I directed a production of Hamlet with women, as women, in the roles of Claudius, Rosencrantz, Horatio, Polonius, Marcellus and Hamlet himself. As a writer I pride myself on creating interesting, complex women’s roles in all my plays, and with the exception of three plays (out of forty) that I have written, if there are more than four roles, at least three of them have been women, and my only single-sex full-length show is an entirely female cast. And I know I’m not the only male theater maker who can make claims like these, all I’m saying is, it’s really sort of a slap in the face when somehow I get lumped into “the problem” side of the problem. Which I sometimes do, usually when I’m asserting that as much as I value the contribution of women, I don’t value the contribution of men any less, and while we’re at it, yes, I am offended, producer, when you tell me, “I love your play but sadly, I only produce the work of women writers.”

I think everyone is valuable. I include myself in “everyone.” If we’re going to have to rank people and prioritize who should be successful and who shouldn’t be, I would want someone to do it based on talent, ability, hard work, dedication, good will and vision (not necessarily in that order), with gender (or race, for that matter) not factoring into the equation at all. I also understand that this can be hard for some people to do, and that on some level, as a white man, it’s easier for me to cry “Hey, let’s all win the war this way!” because for centuries, I have been winning the war without really having to try. For me, it’s a choice to get involved rather than just continue to reap the rewards of my birth (though for the record, the ability of the average white man to benefit purely from being a white man is greatly exaggerated) and I recognize that. But while I don’t expect to get a medal for throwing myself on the side of the side that should win (Gender Parity, in case you were confused), I also don’t expect to be punished for doing that, particularly by the side I’ve been fighting on! And lately I’m starting to feel kind of punished. For having a penis.

Not that I think people mean to punish me when they uphold as progressive theater companies that prioritize works by female writers or plays with all female casts, or when they champion certain productions because the director is female, or the lead, etc. Though I think it’s a bit patronizing to emphasize those aspects of a work over whether or not it’s actually good, I would be lying if I said I had never done the same thing, and I think we do that kind of thing, as people, out of well-meaning intentions that should be applauded for their sincerity, even if they are somewhat lacking in a sophistication of thought that fails to see the greater implications. I am 100% behind subject-based festivals, showcases and groups putting out work in an effort to gain more awareness for those female theater artists or female-centric art they believe are under-represented so long as no effort has been made to exclude men who might be able and/or interested in contributing to that conversation. It’s only when I find myself being belittled or shut out for being a man that I get angry and then sad. Angry because I hate being shut out just for being who I am, and sad when I recognize that many women have probably felt this too, but apparently some gleaned a desire to be the one barring the gates due to that experience, rather than being the one throwing them open.

“People don’t become better people if we don’t sometimes tell them they have hurt us or done something wrong,” my therapist, let’s call him Queen Elizabeth, once said to me. “Morality is not inherit, neither are ethics. We have to work at them. We have to help each other work at them. The joy comes from the moments of victory we achieve in our struggle to be good. The struggle is because no one can master it, we are all just trying to do the best we can do, fighting against both the world and our own natures at the same time. One of the ways we support the people we love is to tell them what they’re doing wrong, or could do better.” In context, he is telling me this because I have been having intensely negative feelings towards an ex-lover of mine (let’s call him Princess Sasha), and struggling with the part of me that wants to scream at him, versus the part of me that wants to rise above it and move on. “What do you think you will get out of it if you scream at him?” Elizabeth asks me. “Will it help you feel better? Will it help you focus on moving on?” Excellent questions, really, especially as I was mad over a past I really couldn’t change and probably was keeping alive via all the anger I was carrying. But figuring out what to actually do about something is much harder than complaining about it, and finding a path towards internal balance that didn’t involve hurting other men like I had been hurt turned out to be even more challenging. For a while there, I had to build a walled garden that only a selected few were let into because I was suspicious of everyone, including myself, and you really had to be like me to not be put on immediate watch. But the truth is, nothing there really bloomed until I was open to a variety of gardeners and I came to understand that there was room for everyone and anyone who had the common goal of creating a beautiful garden. Maybe we’re not there yet as a community. Maybe we’re in a stage of needing to complain, or of putting walls up around the garden. I get that. But boy is it starting to feel like I’m being shut out of a lot of walled gardens.

My friend Shelmerdine, who in some ways is the love of my life (sans penis), and certainly a muse of mine, struggles with her own version of this. She has so much anger and fear that is sourced in years of being dismissed, ignored, undervalued, objectified and generally treated badly because she is not just a woman, but a physically attractive one, smart and sensitive and talented and in other words, a threat to everyone, including other women. She frequently submits her writing under a male pseudonym and when I confronted her about it she admitted that it was partly because she felt she had to in order to be to taken seriously, but also because “I’d rather be a man, anyway. I rarely find women interesting.” And I laughed and tried to come up with all the examples I could think of strong, interesting women, real and created by artists, only so she could nod and shrug and say, “Sure, but it comes down to this: I don’t relate to any of them. Not really. And it’s not because they’re strong or not strong, but because they’re still fundamentally defined as women. And I don’t want to be a strong woman. I want to be a strong person.” And I understood what she meant. Personally, I can’t stress enough how much I love being a man. But I don’t want that to define me, in the eyes of other men, or women, any more than I want to be defined as white or gay. And I definitely don’t want it to define my work, or be the basis on which my work is judged, funded or performed.

“Your place is not to complain, Young Man,” is an accidental statement that to me implies some of us have the right to bitch about feeling like the deck is stacked against us and some of us do not. The truth is, we all feel that way sometimes, and we all have the right to complain. “Just do the best you can do!” is also an accidental statement, and to me, it’s solid advice, because really, that’s all we can expect of anybody, in a world where everything is unfair and probably most things always will be, because fair isn’t really something ingrained into human nature and it takes work to be good. And that struggle to be good and to be fair, is neither male nor female, and being one or the other makes you no more naturally inclined to be part of the solution or part of the problem. Each individual soul is on its own journey, and that is why each voice is valuable, and should be individually evaluated when it speaks through its art or otherwise.

A project I have just begun is adapting Kristin Hersh’s memoir Rat Girl into a stage play and I’ve already made the sincere but ridiculous proposition that it should be adapted, in part, because it’s a great story about young women and would provide excellent roles for young women to play with the added bonus of being based on real women they could admire and look to as role models. While I do believe all that, the truth is, what interested me the most in the project was that, as a long time fan of Hersh’s, I bought her book expecting a celebrity autobiography with a hipster twist and instead I got a book about a young person struggling with her art and her life and her own insanity and it reminded me so much of myself I knew I had to work with the material somehow. The fact that she is a woman and I am a man didn’t really occur to me at any point, but when I read this particular passage I felt oddly vindicated for all the years I had maintained that none of that should ever really matter anyway:

“…writer after writer points out that we’re teenagers and three of us are female. We never have answers to these non questions. “Teenager” just means stupid. And is there a difference between male and female people? Is there?  Seriously. I have yet to identify a single character trait I would attribute solely to one gender or the other.

Tonight one of the sexist journalists is a woman who’s angry that Dave is a man. “Why didn’t you hire a woman to play drums?” she asks me accusingly.

I’m at a loss. “Because Dave’s not a woman,” I answer, “I didn’t ‘hire’ him anyway; he doesn’t get paid.”

“I’m a volunteer!” Dave chirps happily.

She gives him a blank look and then turns back to me. “Surely you would agree that you play female music.”

“Sometimes we play female music,” I say. “But not any more often than men do.”

Which is really what I’m getting at here: there is no such thing as Men’s art or Women’s art. There is just Art. Sometimes that Art is about women, and sometimes it is about men, and sometimes it is about both, but the idea that the nature of the Art (and the audience it is intended for) is inherently decided by the gender of the creator is implying that its value is also based on that. And the fact is, I value this memoir because it’s amazing and insightful and beautifully written and that’s really what I should be talking about when I talk about why I want to adapt it, and why someone should produce it, and why it needs to be in the world, reaching as many people as it can, for all those young women who can look on Hersh as a role model. And all those young men too.

Ask me who my influences are and I will rattle off a dozen names and still feel like I haven’t named everybody (I’m big into inter-textuality) but certain names always come up quickly: Peter S. Beagle, Hal Hartley, Stephen Sondheim, John Guare, Marsha Norman, E. M. Forster, Bret Easton Ellis, Sally Potter, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Tolkien, The Bronte Sisters, HP Lovecraft, Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donelly, Chopin, Berlioz, Racine and All The Greeks. Yes, it’s a very white list, and it’s a lot of men. But if you were to dig deeper and ask which characters in fiction, plays, movies most influenced me, you might be surprised to find out how many of them are women. And if I had to pick one figure, above all others, that really solidified my sense of self it’s probably Orlando, from Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name and Sally Potter’s film adaptation of it.

From the first time I saw the film I immediately identified with this strange, lost, erudite but horribly naive soul who feels like a complete freak regardless of its sex. The love affair Orlando begins, both with a woman and with poetry, strikes a deep chord with me, and it’s true she experiences this as a man. But a deeper chord is struck with me when he is in the body of a woman, and running from the garden where she has lost himself, trips and whispers to the ground, “Nature take me- I am your bride.”  To me, that moment is all about how we finally start to accept and love ourselves once we recognize that feeling like you’re left out and unwanted and there’s no opportunities is kind of the human condition.

With or without a penis.

Stuart Bousel is one of the Founding Artistic Directors of the San Francisco Theater Pub and a prolific Bay Area writer, director, producer and occasional actor. You can find out more about him here, at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: And Your Prize Is Work

Seeing as it’s been a while since I last wrote about the work, I decided to do a brief summary of my largest projects right here. The work-load has most definitely increased this semester to astronomical proportions, with all of us doing at least 7 scenes this semester, alongside all of our papers and other homework. My scenes have all went pretty well, with a few rough edges here and there, but nothing I can’t really polish off with the knowledge I’ve been given.

The first scene we did was a scene dealing with a character’s temperament. Using our knowledge of the play, we’d analyze the character’s temperament to make a better choice in action for the scene. For this scene, a friend and I made a decision to do Rabbit Hole, and, although we ended up rehearsing the scene for upwards of 40 hours, we constantly had it rejected by our teacher, up until the final run-through, which our teacher said was astounding. It was interesting using temperament work to study the character, because, I feel like at first it made me act more of a basic archetypical character, rather than an actual person.

The next scene we had to do was a scene with an external. An external, through Practical Aesthetics, is any accent, disability, or thing that needs to be added on top of all the work. For this, I did Dublin Carol, using the externals of drunkenness and Irish-ness (in other words, just being Irish, my teacher joked). This scene was quickly rehearsed and finished, and we had it run-through and fixed in record time.

Not as fast as our multiple-person scene though, which is exactly what the name describes it as. For this, we learned how to do scenes with more than two people, using other people as tools to get our objective from the person our test was in. It was rough, but the scene from Children’s Hour proved to be strong material for us to use, and after about 30 minutes in class, we never had to do that scene again.

In my Script Analysis class, I have been working on a ten minute scene from Shining City, which has quickly become the bane of my existence. We have brought it into class 4 times now, and been shut down each and every time. I need to discover a truer form of guilt in myself in order for the scene to work, and not just spout defensiveness, which the scene can quickly devolve to if not done well.

In Repetition, we had to find a historical figure we loved, write a monologue as them, dress ourselves, act out the monologue, and improvise a question and answer session afterwards. I chose Emperor Norton (homeless guy in San Francisco thought he was Emperor, city played along with him, fun stuff) and my class seemed to love it. Every moment I performed that was gleeful and exciting.

The other scenes I’m working on and will be putting up before the end of the year are excerpts from Breakfast Club, American Psycho, Clue, and Dog Sees God. I’m really excited for all of these and these have all held strong places in my heart. Almost makes me regret leaving. Almost. On the other hand though, the last time I was really inspired at NYU was in a Meisner and Strasberg class, so who knows? Maybe I’ll find something else somewhere.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Someone Had to Throw a Bomb

Marissa Skudlarek unpacks the luggage, la-la-la…

On Monday April 15th, around lunchtime here on the West Coast, the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I saw the headlines, kept the breaking news feed open in my internet browser. I watched the shaky footage of the explosions, with the Boston cop saying “This is fucked up ovah heah.”

And then I recalled that I was producing a show that night at Theater Pub, and quickly reviewed the script of Orphée in my head, wondering if the day’s events would lend any moments in the play an unintended resonance. I realized, with a jolt, that in the first scene of the play, Orphée says “Someone had to throw a bomb.” He’s speaking metaphorically, of course – he’s expressing his belief that the artist’s duty is to “throw a bomb, create a scandal, [provide] one of those storms that refresh the air.” Nonetheless, I wondered if it was appropriate to include that line in performance, on a day when real bombs (not metaphorical ones) had been thrown. Would it upset the audience? Would it prejudice them against the character of Orphée?

I emailed the director, Katja Rivera, and the actor playing Orphée, Andrew Chung, to say I was thinking of cutting the line. Both of them responded that they’d prefer if I left it in, and, upon reflection, I decided that they were right. If we left the script as is, we’d make a statement that art cannot be constrained or cowed by terrorism. And if our audience was mildly scandalized, so be it – one of the messages of Orphée is that true poets do not fear scandal and death. If we cut the line, I realized, we’d betray the spirit of Jean Cocteau. And the terrorists would win.

And really, why should I be afraid to leave the “Someone had to throw a bomb” line in the play when, all around me, people were doing far braver and bolder and more provocative things with their art? For the 2012 Olympians Festival, Stuart Bousel wrote a play (Twins) based on the myth of Artemis and Apollo killing Niobe’s twelve children – and then the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred the day before Stuart’s staged reading. Stuart didn’t cancel the reading, though he did warn the audience that the play dealt with a difficult and sensitive subject. Perhaps some people stayed home rather than see a play about the murder of children; perhaps a few people were offended. But many of the people who did go see the reading found it incredibly cathartic and moving. No Olympians Festival show has ever made people weep the way they did at the reading of Twins that night. Art needs to tell difficult truths; otherwise, it’s just pabulum.

I attended some of the 2012 Olympians Festival readings with the man who is now my boyfriend. The festival must’ve made quite an impression on him, because a few weeks later, he wrote me an email telling me about a dream he’d had:

I dreamed that we were at the Olympians Festival and the city was in panic because  the gods were coming to punish us for blaspheming them. “But we didn’t blaspheme them,” I protested. “Oh, but we did,” you said, turning to Stuart, “in so-and-so’s play and in what’s-his-name’s play too, really.” You turned back to me and nodded slightly. You seemed not the least bit concerned and Stuart had his usual air of interest and mild amusement. Your body language suggested that this was part of the writer’s life: sometimes you win trophies, sometimes you inspire blogs, and sometimes ancient gods come to punish the city, and that’s just how it is.

I was flattered that he was dreaming about me, of course, but even more flattered by the way that I appeared in his dream. I liked how the dream-Marissa had the artistic and moral courage to say “An artist must be permitted to write whatever he wants, even if he blasphemes the gods and attracts divine retribution.” These sentiments also seemed to tie in nicely with Stuart’s Theater Pub blog post about artistic courage (otherwise known as “the post with all of the Lord of the Rings in-jokes”), which appeared the same week my boyfriend had this dream.

In real life, I may not yet have the courage of Eowyn the Shield-Maiden, or of Orphée the poet who faces an angry mob, or of the coolly nonchalant figure in my boyfriend’s dream. But I’m trying to be braver and more honest in my work this year. I’m trying to live up to that ideal.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Everything Is Already Something Week 5: If You’re Sexy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands

The scene opens on Allison Page, in a spotlight, swiveling her hips like a drunk chimpanzee and winking too hard with her right eye. She’s wearing a lot of lipstick and shimmying her shoulders with too much gusto. The director appears:

DIRECTOR: Allison, I said “be sexy”, not “make everyone seasick and uncomfortable.”

ALLISON: I thought that was the same thing…?

DIRECTOR: Well, it’s not.

Allison is replaced by Super Sexy Blonde Woman as the lights fade to black.

Sorry, Allison, but you've been replaced.

Sorry, Allison, but you’ve been replaced.

Welcome to my nightmare. I’m a 28 year old woman and I don’t know how to be sexy. I’ve got the parts in the right places. I’ve got all the makings of a lady, and none of the swagger of a confident, sexified female. I am most assuredly not bringing sexy back.

Now, hold on, I’m not some shrinking violet. I’m a strong woman, with strong ideas, very little fear, I’ve worked my way up and through all kinds of things and I’m tough as nails…but that whole sexy thing…I can’t take it seriously. So much so that I’ve been known to burst into laughter during intimate moments, make jokes at THE WORST POSSIBLE TIMES, and a plethora of other embarrassing idiosyncrasies I’ll spare you now. I don’t dance sexy, or talk sexy, or act sexy in my daily life. And when asked to be sexy? It’s like if Roger Rabbit were trying to act like Jessica Rabbit. Just doesn’t look the same, does it?

So, what is sexy, anyway?

Sexy Possibility #1 

I feel like mystery factors into it. I am so unmysterious, people probably think they know everything there is to know about me in the first 5 minutes of speaking to me. I lamented about this to a friend at one point (let’s call her Belle)

ALLISON: I think I’d do better with this guy if I knew how to be mysterious.

BELLE: Yeah, you totally have to Bo Peep it!

Belle is, of course, referring to the classic tale of Little Bo Peep, who has lost her sheep:

And can’t tell where to find them;

Leave them alone, And they’ll come home,

Wagging their tails behind them.

So basically, in this case, the best tactic is to be super mysterious, causing someone to think you might be more interesting than you let on, so that they’ll chase you down instead of you chasing them. Quite a theory…that I’ll never get the chance to really try because I find it impossible.

Sexy Possibility #2

“Sexy is being confident!”

Alright, well, I’m pretty confident…ABOUT EVERYTHING EXCEPT MY ABILITY TO BE SEXY.

Ain't nobody got more confidence than Allison Page.

Ain’t nobody got more confidence than Allison Page.

Sexy Possibility #3

Dictionary.com says of the word “sexy”: “sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality: the sexiest professor on campus.”

I really don’t have time to become a professor. And last I checked I’m only radiating perfume. At least it smells good.

Sexy Possibility #4 AKA My Biggest Fear

It’s some intangible IT factor that cannot be harnessed by someone who does not clearly possess it already. You’ve got it or you don’t got it. Like one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld; Elaine is at a job interview, and the employer is talking about Jackie O.

EMPLOYER: She had such…grace!

ELAINE: Yes! Ahhh, grace!

EMPLOYER: Not many people have grace.

ELAINE: Well, ya know, grace is a tough one. I like to think I have a little grace. Not as much as Jackie O. –

EMPLOYER: You can’t have a little grace. You either have grace or you don’t.

ELAINE: Okay, fine, I have no grace.

EMPLOYER: And you can’t acquire grace.

ELAINE: Well, I have no intention of getting grace.

EMPLOYER: Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.

ELAINE: Alright, look, I don’t have grace. I don’t want grace. I don’t even say grace, okay?!

She doesn’t get the job, in case you were wondering. Just replace the word “grace” with the word “sexy” and replace Jackie O. with Scarlett Johansson and that’s the imaginary conversation I have with the imaginary man in my head any time I need to be sexy.

This is on my mind right now, because I’m rehearsing to play a sexy-ish character. I mean, she’s no Scar-Jo, but she’s got this sort of vixen-y, sexually free, comfortably seductive mindset and she knows how to get her man when she wants to. Some days I have a better handle on that aspect of her. If I think too much about specifically what to do with my body, I get bogged down in the details of how I walk or what shapes my mouth may be making. The less I think about it, the more I focus on the hunky man in front of me, the sexier I’m able to be. Which I guess makes sense…you’d never think someone was sexy if they were busting their balls to act sexy, would you? No, that’s too desperate, there’s not enough Bo Peep in it.

Oh man, there’s that Bo Peep again! Maybe my Bo Peep is that I need to not think about how to be sexy, but why I’m being sexy. And the why is easy – it’s because she’s falling in love. Now there’s something to which I can relate! There’s nothing sexier than the rush of being in the beginning phases of falling desperately in love with someone, when everything they say or do is interesting, when you’re just dying to be closer to them than you’ve ever been to anybody because you have no reason to believe that they’re not ABSOLUTELY THE BEST THING EVER. There’s a nervous energy that gives way to sexy at the right moment. And even the nervousness can be sexy, because your affection is peeking through.

Alright, Scar-Jo, maybe I don’t exactly exude “come hither” quite the way that you do, and maybe I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I’ve still got some love tricks up my sleeve.

Wait, do sexy people wear sleeves?

Watch Allison Page do her best “come hither and stay hither” in The Custom Made Theatre Co.’s production of PRELUDE TO A KISS opening May 21st. You can even get tickets to that show right here https://app.ticketturtle.com/index.php?ticketing=tcmtc. 

Announcing Our Next Night Of Theater Pub On May 20th!

This May, Cafe Royale transforms into THE PUB FROM ANOTHER WORLD, an interdimensional crossroads where theater is not bound by the constraints of reality. It is a world where time travel is possible, where unicorns exist. From the minds of eight Bay Area playwrights—including a four-year-old girl featured on Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/2013/03/02/horrorsf-play-by-a-four-year.html)—come imaginative tales of everything from superheroes to surrogates, monsters to mad scientists, and other flights of fancy. This night of staged readings will be talked about for all eternity by those afflicted with immortality, so don’t miss it! Or you may find yourself stabbed by a psychotic nanny.

This strange brew of stories was concocted by Timothy Kay, Audrey Kessinger, Sang Kim, Allison Page, Sunil Patel, Bridgette Dutta Portman, Kirk Shimano, and Marissa Skudlarek. The intrepid troupe of actors includes Giovanna Arietta, Sam Bertken, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Caitlin Evenson, Paul Jennings, Timothy Kay, Dan Kurtz, Meg O’Connor, Sunil Patel, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers.

The wormhole will be open for one night only: Monday, May 20, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Admission is free and no reservations are required for this journey, but we recommend you come early for the best seats. Hyde Away Blues BBQ will provide food for all human guests.

And for an exclusive glimpse at what’s in store, come to the special Preview Reading on Sunday, May 12, at 3 PM at the Borderlands Cafe (870 Valencia St)!

Pansy Blog #3: A “Pansy” Progress Report!

Evan Johnson updates us on his show as it steadily moves towards production.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The “Pansy” Progress Report continues and we’re thinking happy thoughts!

Pansy Program Print Ad

At a production meeting a couple weeks ago, Rene Vasquez (NCTC’s lovely and smart publicist) was talking with Ben Randle (Director of “Pansy”) and myself about various things we could do to “engage audiences and invite participation”, especially after the performance ends, which is when all the juicy stuff is still sinking in (hopefully). We talked about dressing up the lobby space to allow for after show discussions to happen, which would be kinda cute…maybe a wall that people pin their stories onto, or a giant image that might somehow invite participation..Since our show deals so much with queer history and it is happening during Pride Month, it was a good conversation to have.

We also discussed inviting 6 Guest Speakers to come see “Pansy” and open some topics for greater dialogue, live, onstage, following the performance. Doing so, we thought, might contextualize the piece with factual accounts and jumpstart even more intergenerational dialogue. At the meeting, I got really excited about this prospect.

Side note: I started working as a Barista at Spike’s Coffee in the Castro in 2009. Since then, I’ve become more curious about history, about my time now, about queer lineage and the city I live in. The shadows here. Small chit chat while making lattes can add up over time and I know there’s a lot of rich CONTENT that I can now give to queer storytelling and queer playmaking because of it. I thank Spike’s’ owner Mike Delgado, for keeping me around this long and supporting me artistically, SO MUCH. I interviewed customers from Spike’s while writing “Pansy” and I know that the person I’ve turned into since moving to San Francisco (Evan 2.0?) is certainly due to my time at Spike’s shootin’ the shit and being social.

At the tail end our our meeting, Ben, Rene and I compiled a list of local queer legends (our dream list) and I’ve already begun contacting people. Actually, as of today, we have 5 of the 6 slots filled and we will be releasing all 6 of our Guest Speakers’ names once we have the full list confirmed. 🙂

In other news, our photo shoot with nightlife photographer Cabure Bonugli (Shot in the City) was splendid – his photographs are so rad and appropriately sleazy and we couldn’t be happier with our flier art by Ernesto Sopprani! The image I shared above, was cooked up for an ad space in NCTC’s current production’s program! Stay tuned for more images!

In the coming weeks I will be meeting more with Rene and Ben to flush out the details of the Guest Speakers and how we’re going to structure that, promote the concept, etc. Also, we need to capture some video soon (for the video segments), we’ll be getting the fabulous Zack Kasten involved with that. Like I’ve previously mentioned, Zack’s work is so closely aligned tonally with the “Pansy” text and story, we’re just so thrilled to be collaborating with him.

I am also busying myself with line learning (7,700 words!) in preparation for when we start officially rehearsing the play mid-May. A 5 week intense rehearsal schedule like you’ve never seen! I’ve got lots to do and I’m just trying to keep swimming…er..flying! At the moment..I think I’ll make a sandwich.

Hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful San Francisco weather! Stay tuned for more updates as we prepare for the big World Premiere Run of “Pansy” June 14-29th at New Conservatory Theatre.


P.S. Holler at me! I’m on Twitter! @EvanLJohnson