Pansy Blog #5: 2 Weeks Away!

Evan Johnson updates us on his magnum opus as it wends its way towards opening night!

PHOTO by Cabure Bonugli

PHOTO by Cabure Bonugli

We are deep into rehearsals at this point, the script is no longer in my hands (thank god) and I survived the first “stumble-through”. PANSY opens 2 weeks from today (holy shi%t!). I think I’m holding it together fairly well, considering the enormous amount of weight on my shoulders. I admit at times the pressure feels immense and I am constantly stepping back and pinching myself, this whole experience has been an incredible ride and I can hardly believe that it’s actually happening. My Director, Ben Randle, for three years now has seen me at my best and at my worst; I am so thankful we’ve had time to really let down our guards and be real with one another. As much as the weight of this show and pulling off this crazy split-character/doppelganger thing falls on me and my performance, it’s also Ben’s cross to bear and the shared sense of responsibility is comforting in those moments of solo(theatre) blues.

Costume changes (!) have been incorporated into the scene transitions for me to get the flow down. Our props and costumes are mostly complete and they look fabulous thanks to designer Eli Magid. The transitions between the two character’s worlds, which I admit I was nervous about, are being greatly enhanced (not just disguised) thanks to Teddy Hulsker, our talented Sound Designer, who is editing sound live in the room with us. His presence at rehearsals has been really wonderful.

Since my last post, we’ve shot two video segments with our badass Video Artist Zack Kasten and we’re awaiting the final versions. I am so glad we shot those early because there were a lot of details to work out, including coordinating background talent and locations which was more stressful than anticipated. Luckily, thanks to my favorite San Francisco nightspot, The Stud Bar really made it possible to get what we needed to get and the actual shooting process went incredibly smooth once we started rolling. Mike, the owner of the bar, even entertained us with his stories of moving to the city- another wide-eyed homosexual youth flying to Neverland story- which I loved.

Posters and postcards have been printed (designed by my patient and foxy boyfriend, Ernesto Sopprani) and they are being distributed by the theatre (so thankful for that!) and yesterday I was interviewed for an upcoming story the SF Chronicle is writing on me and our process of making PANSY! I am so thrilled that we’ll have some press prior to opening weekend. Tickets are on sale and I’ve been really trying to encourage people to reserve seats early, the direct ticket link is: http://click4tix.com/showdates.php?rtt=1&domain=NCTC&s_id=NCTCPANSY

I was so delighted to hear that since PANSY is technically a “Special Event” and The Emerging Artists Program is underwritten by NCTC Producer’s Club, The San Francisco Foundation, Grants for the Arts and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation…that means PANSY tickets are cheap! I was worried that half my potential audience wouldn’t come because of ticket cost..but now there’s no excuse! 😉 Ten dollar tickets! Holler!

My main concerns right now are understandably related to my own performance. Script and production details aside, I’m running up against my old hat “habits” as an actor and battling with my “writer-self” that wants to have such-and-such effect on the audience and deliver this-or-that meaning. It’s important that these characters exist in real time and space and that I fully inhabit their specific characteristics. Some things I’m realizing are that my “understanding” of these characters really needs to get chucked out the window. I can hold onto my ideas as a basis or foundation, which will inevitably inform my actions and choices as an actor..but I need to live in the and stay open and vulnerable to every beat and discovery. It cannot be a cerebral performance. This show demands a high level of attack in regards to the physicality and my energetic relationship to the space. It’s difficult because I often feel compelled to step back and see the piece as a whole and lump all the choices occurring all around me together..It can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming and in those moments, like he has for years now, Ben brings me back to the task at hand. It’s clear he’s the “sensible one” in our collaborative relationship, often keeping my “what if’s” in check and grounding me, keeping us on track. At the same time, part of the joy of being an actor/creator of devised performance work are those big picture inspirations and we’ve been making adjustments to the rehearsal script by swapping out lines, adding sequences and incorporating new images entirely due to this all-hands-on-deck approach. In fact this approach was best illustrated three nights ago when Eli (aka drag performer Elijah Minelli), our Costume Designer, stepped in as a “Drag Consultant” and helped us plan and execute what will likely be one of the big highlights of the show, the moment when Peter Pansy performs his manifesto-like performance piece on the first night of Club Neverland.

Talking to Chad Jones from The SF Chronicle made me really think of this whole PANSY process and the adventure Ben and I have been on since June of 2010. Telling my story of moving to the city and all the experiences that brought me to this point in my life was really gratifying. I even got a little choked up thinking back on my first play ever produced, “California Here We Come: OR Put Your Brussel Sprouts Where Your Mouth Is” at 12 years old at The Poverty Playhouse melodrama house, back in Pollock Pines, CA. I wanted to make theatre that would provoke audiences to laugh and think and escape the everyday for as long as I can remember. I think PANSY will be a real conversation starter and I look forward to the face-to-face chats after the show. For now, with bubbling up nerves and waves of “holy shi%t! I got so much work to do!” I’m just trying to take Peter Pan’s flight instructions to heart and remember always to: Think happy thoughts.

I hope to see everyone there at the show! Next blog post will likely be opening night!!

With love and humble gratitude for following my journey,

Evan Johnson

RSVP for PANSY on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/197773297013506
Check out NCTC’s PANSY page:http://www.nctcsf.org/press_room/pansy.htm

Falling With Style: To Do Good Work, Surround Yourself With Inspiring People

Helen divulges one of the truths she’s learned about being your best, most creative self.

When I started writing this column, I’d been underemployed for about 6 months, trying to figure out how I wanted to manifest my creativity. Those who have read any of my articles have bared witness to the falling and/or flying I’ve done since then. Most recently, my energy has been directed towards finding a stable job in an environment that I love, working towards a vision that I can get behind.

In the 9 months that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve had a handful of jobs, ranging from mundane to engrossing, within a variety of sectors. Whether the roles satisfied me had to do with a variety of factors: salary, challenge, my feeling as though I affected the company and, through it, the world. But when it all came down to it, nothing was more important than my day-to-day interactions with my teammates.

A good teammate, and even moreso a good team leader, can inspire me to do great things in a role that I might otherwise be unsatisfied with or unsure about. There are people who are inspiring just to be around, and when you find those people — “your” people — you should pay attention to that. It’s not common.

I think there’s a similar phenomenon in the community/homegrown/indie theatre of the Bay Area. There are a few people whose light is so dazzling, and we moths flock to their flame, hoping to be inspired by it. Many of those people are wonderful directors and writers. One of those people is Stuart Bousel, who was recently honored by the SF Weekly as a “Ringmaster of Bay Area Theatre.”

When people like Stuart inspire us, they deserve recognition. Who in the Bay Area inspires you with his/her writing, direction, or other work?

Helen Laroche is a writer and artist living in San Francisco. You can learn more about her upcoming projects at www.helenlaroche.com.

Cowan Palace: Why Being a Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best… and Worst

Ashley Cowan takes a moment to express some of her many feelings about being a “Theatre Person”.

Being a “Theatre Person” is both the best and worst thing about maintaining a professional career outside of the industry.

Like many others, when I’m not fortunate enough to be spending my time near a stage, I have to work a “real job”. And real jobs can be kind of the worst for folks like us, you know? At least they can sure seem that way. Maybe it’s because my Mercury is in retrograde or whatever but this year I seem to be struggling with that balance of doing what I love and doing what I need to do to do what I love.

I moved to San Francisco after landing a role in a show and managed to make ends meet by performing and working at some nonprofit Theatre companies in a variety of ways. And I was happy. I had a lot of responsibility and I wore a lot of hats (and you know I love hats). But I was also struggling and making my parents nervous with my lack of a long-term financial plan. So I got a job working at another nonprofit outside of the Theatre and made a little more money but gave up a little piece of my soul. When that didn’t pay off (literally), I took a more corporate track that offered some stability but demanded an even larger chunk of my soul in exchange for a position lacking challenge or creativity. Which are two of my favorite things! So I can’t help but feel a little stuck. And torn. So I endlessly analyze to no avail.

What I want to be able to tell my higher ups is that thanks to my background in Theatre – I can do anything. Okay, maybe that seems a bit ridiculous but follow me for a second. Thanks to my experience working on a variety of productions I can confidently say that I will do whatever it takes for the show to go on. And in a more corporate setting that may mean a variety of things.

In my current position, I feel a bit under utilized, and I blame the Theatre. It’s taught me to be resilient, passionate, quick thinking, flexible, good under pressure, a team player, all without breaking a sweat. I’ve watched my coworkers panic about small details and crumble with anxiety over minor moments. To them I want to say, “have you ever been through a tech week?” Or a dress rehearsal where the actors are barely off-book, the set and costumes are incomplete, and everything seems impossible? Because I have. And I continue to strive for that because I don’t know how not to. I’ve always believed that the Theatre is magic and blessed are those who make magic. Theatre people can do anything.

But I don’t really get the opportunity to tell my corporate higher-ups any of that. I’m a mere chorus girl in a cast of professional myriads; singing and dancing my heart out in the back hoping someday they might notice. And while I’m thankful to be making a decent enough living, it’s sadly not in my nature to silence my ingenuity and be satisfied.

Unfortunately though, I don’t have a solution. Do you? How do we similar minded people manage when we’re away from our true love? For me, spoiler alert, that love has always been the Theatre. Is it too much to ask to find some joy from the jobs that allow me to keep it a part of my life? I seek any and all council on this, my friends, as I seem to be at a crossroads and unsure which step to take next. In the meantime though, I’m incredibly grateful to be writing for an artistic community that I love dearly and who gets me through some of the darker day job frustrations. So I thank you all for that and will keep you in my thoughts until we meet again to discuss Theater Pub’s next project!

Some Echoes Of The Pub From Another World

It’s been a week since we had The Pub From Another World and we’re following it up with a couple of links for people who just can’t have our one night only event stay one night only.

First up, you can see the video made by one of our Founding Artistic Directors, Brian Markley, here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L28OHv7_Ec (part one)

and here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vixjkZbKXaI (part two)

Actually, you might not have realized this, but virtually every show we do is recorded and you can find the footage here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/SFTheaterPub

Second, on May 12, Theater Pub had a special preview reading of The Pub from Another World at Borderlands Cafe, adjacent to Borderlands Books, which specializes in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror/mystery genres, making it the perfect place to tell tales of unicorns, mad scientists, surrogates, and superheroes. Just as the bar remains a bar, the cafe remained a cafe, the sounds of coffee grinding in the background giving the audience the true Theater Pub experience.

Thank you to Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman for their support of Theater Pub, and we encourage you to pay a visit to Borderlands, the bookstore from another world, at 866 Valencia St.

Sad that you missed it? Thank Taylor Gonzalez for recording the performances! Turn on a coffee grinder and it’s just like you were there.

https://www.box.com/s/zc9c60nru8tos0ck1gxo

The recorded pieces, in order of presentation, are:

Horny
The Progress of Perception
The Overnight Exchange
Origin Stories

Thanks to everybody who made it out to the show and we’ll see you in June when we present James Joyce’s The Dead!

Theater Conservatory Confidential: Hurricane Buddies & Summer Lovin’

Eli Diamond delivers his last blog… for now. 

So this is the end of my journey through New York University’s fantastic theatre program at the Atlantic Acting School. Though I did not manage to spend the two years I should have, I have been able to completely redefine what it means for me to act. In my opinion, through application of the technique, I have become a far superior actor than when I started. Line readings no longer burden me, and I feel a lot freer on stage. I’ve been told that the second and third years of Atlantic Acting School are spent mostly on applying the technique, and though I won’t be able to do that in a classroom setting, I hope to get that same application experience where it matters: out in the real world. I have spent the majority of the first two weeks of this summer auditioning, and have gotten a number of promising offers I plan on following up on. Most of my summer though, will be spent working over at LD Alliance over in South San Francisco. I’ll be working on lights with this company and making some money, which should provide some wonderful technical experience wherever it’s needed. The rest of my summer will be spent in class, making some GE credits for next year.

So recently I’ve been wondering what exactly it is I learned about myself from NYU. I guess I can start with the positives. I’ve learned that I have the capability to live on my own. I’ve learned that I’m not as weak as I sometimes can make myself out to be. I’ve learned that even if a hurricane is threatening the entire city, I can make friendships which I’m sure will last the rest of my life. On the negative side, I’ve learned that I can get incredibly bitter and cynical if left to my own devices for too long. I’ve learned that my mind needs constant stimulation in order to keep myself motivated, and if I don’t get that, I start to go stir-crazy. I’ve learned that I am a much more practical person than I give myself credit for, and have strayed away from the wild ambition that I used to pride myself so much on.

I used to be a wild, proud boy who would do anything to get what he wanted. I would not think of the failures, I would just bolt forward without a care in the world. New York made me see the other side of the coin, and that I can’t just do that or when I hit a wall, I’ll hit it too hard. I need to keep the practical side in my head and in my heart or else I’ll tear myself apart from madness. New York is a cold, passionate, powerful place, and I’m glad to have received everything its offered me. And I hope to bring all my new knowledge to San Francisco, to Olympians IV or Theatre Pub or whatever stage I happen to find myself on. It’s been a blast, and I thank each and every one of you for following me on this journey.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Greet Me with Cries of Hate

Marissa Skudlarek ponders the idea that if a bad review is a good sign that good art is going on, does this mean Dan Brown is a genius?

“Melissa Fall has such an interesting perspective on things,” Megan Briggs said to me the other night. (Megan is currently starring in DIVAfest’s production of Melissa’s play You’re Going to Bleed.) “When she was here for the premiere, do you know what she told me? She said, ‘I hope that at least one critic hates this show — really hates it — because that’d mean that the play was effective. We’re trying to do something controversial here, and not everyone should like it.’ Isn’t that an interesting way of looking at things?”

It is, but it’s not a completely unique viewpoint. I’ve heard other artists make that claim; I’ve even thought it myself. In our culture, there’s an idea that great art should shock or unsettle its audiences, rather than appealing to their sense of contentment and complacency. I also think it this has something to do with the idea of the artist being a lonely prophet, a Cassandra, a teller of inconvenient truths. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde saying “Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong,” or Groucho Marx saying “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Or Meursault, at the end of The Stranger, wishing for the crowd on the day of his execution to “greet me with cries of hate.” If you started making art because you felt like a misfit or an outcast, and then people actually like and accept what you make, you must not be doing it right. You must’ve betrayed yourself; you must’ve sold out. At least, that’s how the thinking goes.

But one of the problems with the idea that “great art arouses controversy and gets negative reviews” is that badartists can lay claim to this as a convenient excuse to justify their own mediocrity. This week, I heard a BBC radio news item about Dan Brown’s reaction to the bad reviews for Inferno, his latest potboiler novel. “All you’re hoping to do, as a writer, when you put something out, is make people care about it, make people react to it. I kind of believe if there aren’t people angry, then you really haven’t said much. So, you know what, on some level, I guess I need to welcome those sorts of comments,” Brown said in a clip.

But reviewers are angry at Brown precisely because they think that he hasn’t said much; they think that his novels are trashy, the literary equivalent of empty calories or worse. Still, how can Melissa Fall (a writer I respect, and know to have serious ambitions) and Dan Brown (a writer of airport thrillers who finds himself in a place of undeserved cultural prominence) both say the same thing about their art? How can they both claim that a negative review is the greatest proof of the value of their writing?

I’m also tired of the related idea that art that wallows in nihilistic or degrading sentiments — what is traditionally meant by the term “shock value” — is more valuable than art that expresses something more positive or uplifting. (Perhaps Allison Page and I are on the same wavelength here.) To that end, I was fascinated and intrigued to learn that the most controversial play in New York this past season was The Flick, by Annie Baker. From what I gather,The Flick is a quiet, slow-paced, three-hour drama about three disappointed people who work at a small-town movie theater. Sounds innocuous enough, but evidently droves of people walked out of the play, wrote angry letters to Playwrights Horizons (the producer), and threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Playwrights Horizons eventually published an open letter defending their decision to produce The Flick and explaining why they supported Baker’s artistic vision.

So The Flick was controversial, but not for the usual reasons of sex or violence or political content or other forms of shock value. It made people uncomfortable because it was too quiet, too subtle, dare I say, too feminine. I hope that Annie Baker took a perverse pride in the controversy she raised. While I haven’t seen or read The Flick, I have to feel that Baker is doing something right.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you wish to give her bad reviews (or good ones) you can see more of her writing at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Everything Is Already Something Week 7: On The Importance of Happy Theater

Allison Page wants you to get happy.

When asked, “What’s the best role you’ve ever played?” my impulse is to respond with whichever was the most grueling. The most grueling is easy enough to ascertain – it’s Lavinia in TITUS ANDRONICUS. Grueling to the max. She’s raped by a couple of guys and disfigured. Her hands are cut off, her tongue cut out, and then – just because, ya know, not enough has happened to her yet – her dad kills her. The particular production I was in was just completely exhausting. I wore a bloody straight jacket and scream-cried through a gag for what seemed like an eternity. The gag was soaked with fake blood, which I basically ingested every night and would cough-up or sneeze-out for weeks. It was really difficult and actually physically painful sometimes but I got a lot out of it, and because it was a horrifying thing to watch, naturally I was praised for it. Because it’s one of those things that sort of makes you feel sick. You leave the theater and it’s hard to sleep because FUCK, that was horrifying, right? That show really made me feel like the world is a pit of darkness filled with angry snakes and bees. Yay! We love tragedy!

Anthony Hopkins is having a GREAT TIME.

Anthony Hopkins is having a GREAT TIME.

Look at the Academy Awards some time. How often are nominated films deep, dark, sad pits? LES MISERABLES was nominated the last time around and it literally has ‘miserable’ in the title, in case that happened to slip by you.

It seems people tend to think (particularly creative people inside the various facets of the entertainment world) that the more grueling story is the more valuable. The more horrific, raw, heart-crushing, hope-squashing, wallowing in sadness stories are the most worth telling. Show us the lowest forms of humanity! Show us those huddled masses you’re always talking about! This seems to me accentuated even more so in the bay area. The more creative we think we are, the more creatively involved we are in the world, the more prone we are to want something to be wrenching in order to consider it real art. (Whatever ‘real art’ means.) Suck my soul out and spit it into a toilet full of other cast-off souls! That’s the only way to make me feel alive! Punch my heart out with the darkness of humanity! OMG let’s make Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS into a stage play!

I fall into that category all too often. If I’m doing sketch comedy or improvising or doing a stand up set – sure, let’s have a great time! But if I’m doing theater? Ohhhh it better be making you feel fucked up beyond measure or it’s not worth it! So you can imagine my surprise when, last night – opening night – of PRELUDE TO A KISS, I found myself feeling just…amazing. Happy to be alive. Happy to be doing this show. Happy to be HAPPY. Happy to be making other people happy. Stop the theater train, I want to get off! Where’s my required misery? Where are my MISERABLES? Why isn’t Julie Taymor cutting my hands off and shoving sticks into my arms? This isn’t art, this is…what is this?

In case you don’t know anything about it, PRELUDE is sort of a romcomdram, but one with real heart. You meet these two characters: Rita (that’s me, ya’ll) and Peter (played by the magnificent and dreadfully handsome Nick Trengove). They fall in love really quickly in spite of Rita’s fear of the world and all the bad things in it, the uncertainty of it all. They get married, and at the wedding reception an old man (Richard Wenzel) asks to kiss the bride. He does, and as the kiss happens, they switch souls. (Word is still out on whether it happened on a Friday and whether or not that Friday was freaky.) Peter then has to spend his honeymoon with someone who looks like the woman he loves, but he can feel that something is terribly wrong. SO WACKY, RIGHT GUYS? All of that is good fun, but shit really hits your heart-fan when Peter finds the old man containing the soul of the love of his life. Important questions are raised about life, love, perceptions, fear, illness and death. They still love each other, but she’s in an old man’s frail body. What does that mean for them? What does it mean for us? What does it mean for you?

Make no mistake, PRELUDE is here to make you feel good. I mean…REALLY good. Heart-swellingly happy and contented. Life is worth living, people are worth loving and though you will not always be alive, you are alive right now (if you’re not, let me know, I’d love to meet a ghost.) and you must not waste this. Do not waste this. It’s all you’ve got.

It was pointed out by the director during rehearsals that one really interesting thing about this play is that there aren’t any bad people in it. None of the characters are out to hurt each other. No one is evil, malicious, or war-mongering. They’re honestly all good people. How often do you see that? You might think that’s a red flag that the story won’t be interesting or engrossing but it absolutely is. It just also happens to have the side effect of making you feel really good about being alive.

sign

Maybe some of the big blockbusters are full of war, blood, pain, sorrow, murder, tragedy and constant strife, and there is definitely a place for that but maybe we need something else, too. Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re not here only to suffer through things and never see the light at the end of the god-forsaken tunnel, but that we’re also here to experience happiness, bliss, powerful love, complicated connections to other human beings, great sex, passionate embraces, a smile given and a smile received, a knowing glance, a hand to hold, and the knowledge that it cannot last forever, and so we must enjoy it now, because there’s no better time. It’s the type of story I think people really need. It’s a story that feels like coming home after a long journey. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

Catch Allison in PRELUDE TO A KISS at The Custom Made Theatre Co. Thursday – Sundays and/or follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage