In honor of our first Saturday Write Fever of 2014, fast approaching this Saturday, January 11, and our switch to every second Saturday of the month going forward, we asked frequent SWF attendee and honorary assistant Charles Lewis III to do a re-cap of last year. Enjoy, and see you on Saturday night!
“I love deadlines. I love the ‘whooshing’ noise they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Allison Page has done lots of cool things in her life. She acts, she writes, she does stand-up, she’s travelled the world, she founded her own theatre company, she’s a black belt martial artist, she started a comedy duo, she moved from the snow-covered-and-cold-as-a-witch’s-teat tundra of Minnesota to the snow-free-but-cold-as-a-witch’s-teat hills of San Francisco. Plus, for shits ‘n giggles, she has her own regular TheaterPub column called “Everything is Already Something”. She’ll probably accomplish a lot more before she’s shuffled off this mortal coil. And yet… if the task of writing her obituary were charged to anyone who sat in The EXIT Theatre café last year, there are three words that would be guaranteed to appear: “BLACK. TAR. HEROIN.”
That, dear reader, is the result of unpredictable creative exercise known as Saturday Write Fever.
The collaborative brainchild of TheaterPub co-founder Stuart Bousel and frequent ‘Pub collaborator Megan Cohen, SWF – as it’s known to cool kids, gang members, and fans of pro wrestling – is the first regular ‘Pub spin-off.
It can sometimes seem like the erratic Mr. Hyde to the ‘Pub’s Dr. Jekyll: both inhabit the same skin, but couldn’t represent a greater dichotomy. Whereas a typical ‘Pub show is staged during the traditional “dark nights” of theatre (usually Mon. – Wed.), Fever is put on during one of the most competitive performance nights of the week (especially for The EXIT, which is often running two or three other shows at the same time). Though a ‘Pub show is the end result of days or weeks of rehearsing after who-knows-how-long-it-took to write, SWF is entirely written, practiced, and read, all in the same night. ‘Pub shows occasionally have cast members hiding amongst the audience; Fever’s participants are whomever volunteers from that evening’s audience. A ‘Pub show is (hopefully) memorized back-and-forth; a Fever gives you a Post-It, a pen, paper, and lets you go to town.
There is a sense of order to the implied chaos. From the very first night (23rd March 2013) the plan for the evening was simple: 8:30 is considered the official opening of the “mixer”. During this time prospective writers and actors add their names to Stuart and Megan’s list. At about 9pm each writer is called to the stage to pick a prompt out of the bucket. From there the writers are sent to the EXIT’s green room with the writing materials of their choice – pencil, paper, laptop – and given 30 minutes to knock out a page-long monologue. At the end of the half-hour, the writers go back to the stage to pick actor names from a different bucket (buckets play a vital role in the whole process). After five or ten minutes of reading over the pages and discussing them with the writers, the actors take to the stage to read material that didn’t exist one hour earlier.
As simple as that sounds, it can be maddening for the writer. You might know this about us – what with all the drinking and neuroses associated with writers – but the idea of filling a blank page terrifies us. It’s no easier when you’re stuck in a room full of both complete strangers AND familiar colleagues. Of the 30 minutes allotted, I’d say I often spend 20 of those looking around the room, the next five writing the first two paragraphs, and the final five rewriting the entire piece from scratch. Oh, and I have to work in the phrase “It’s a good thing I brought my own”, as that was my prompt opening night. How it translated into a piece about the prophylactic use of dental dams, I still don’t know?
And that’s the thing with those prompts: as innocuous as they are, they serve as an amazing Rorschach test into minds of the writers. Whether or not Stuart and Megan theme the prompts for the evening (4/20, Xmas, etc.), they seem fully aware that making the words on those Post-Its as broad as possible will lead to the most unexpected results. Still, one has to wonder how Sunil Patel could take a phrase like “Okay, but I want to go first this time” and write a heartbreaking piece about reincarnated lovers whose respective deaths never get any easier for each other? What inspired Marissa Skudlarek, Claire Rice, and Rachel Bublitz to write pieces about introverted office workers, cat-sitters, and regretful young brides, respectively? And, for the love of God, who drew the mental road map that lead Allison Page from the phrase “let’s spend some money” to “Black. Tar. Heroin.”?!
But that’s the beauty of it all. One of the greatest feelings is when we pick actors, take them out into the hall, hand them the pages, and watch as they glance up at us from the page, unable to believe what they’ve just read. It’s reassuring to a writer that they have the ability to surprise someone. With the actors chosen at random, it never ceases to amaze us how well the words still work, even when the writer is the opposite of what was envisioned. Women read for men, young people read old characters, everyone eventually reads as an animal.
No one knows EXACTLY what to expect. From the very beginning TheaterPub has prided itself on, amongst other things, creating new work and smudging the audience/performer barrier. Now the flagship of its “second era” is spending the second Saturday of every month. So now you – yes, you – can spend your Saturday nights mingling with creative new people AND taking part in the madness that is the creative process.
It’s true, I tells ya! Cure your writer’s block and stage fright in 30 simple minutes! It’s fun! It’s free! No experience? No problem! All ya gotta do is come catch the fever! Just look at these satisfied customers: tragedy, comedy, and pure Insanity! This and more can be yours!
The first Saturday Write Fever of 2014 will take place on Saturday – Jan. 11 at The EXIT Theatre on 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. No reservations needed. Admission is free. Participation is voluntary and subject to number of prompts.
Charles Lewis III is prone to spontaneous one-man karaoke sessions in the middle of BART stations.