Theater Around The Bay: A Matter of Taste

Jeremy Cole returns for a second round of guest editorialship.

How many times have you heard (or said) “Well, there’s no accounting for taste?” A million? A trillion? It’s a cliché that will never die so long as people disagree on plays/books/films/fashion/[insert-pretty-much-anything-that-suits-your-fancy-here]. It’s an easy way to dismiss a point of view that doesn’t jibe with your own.

Peaches

I’ve used the phrase myself. Repeatedly. Redundantly. Ad nauseam. But a couple of recent incidents have made me reconsider this tired old saying, and after some thought (and much searching of my tortured soul) I have decided to retire that phrase from my databanks. I have decided it’s time to take taste into account. Let’s start right now, shall we?

The news is (drum-roll, please…) that everyone has different tastes. (Wuuuuut? I know, right? Shocking! Revolutionary! Who knew?) On the one hand, that statement is so obvious as to be embarrassing, but on the other, that doesn’t stop us from saying “there’s no accounting for taste” with a practiced sneer, by which we really mean “there’s no accounting for HIS/HER taste,” by which in turn we mean: “I am RIGHT and he/she/they are WRONG.” This is a Black and White Zone. No gray areas need apply.

A case in point: The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has been translated into a scad of foreign languages and never fails to pack ‘em in. If there’s one musical that EVERYONE loves, it must be Phantom, right? Wrong. I loathe that show. (Okay, I’ll grant that I kind of like Madame Giry, because she seems to be as underwhelmed by the piece as I am, but other than that…) I would love nothing more than to attend it with a gun so I could use the entire show as a shooting gallery – picking off all those characters I hate one-by-one until only Madame Giry and I are left standing. Then we’d go for a drink and eulogize the dead with much snide laughter.

Phantom is simply not to my taste. But if I mention this to a Lloyd Webber acolyte, he/she/it is instantly disgusted with me. They act as if I must be broken. “WHY?” they ask, “Why don’t you like The. Greatest. Musical. Ever. Written?” And they expect me to delineate my reasons (as if they would even listen to them). But art – whatever its format – isn’t something that can be tested empirically (or we’d all simply follow the formula and produce masterpieces).

It comes down to this: Phantom is based on a 19th century pulp fiction potboiler, and I’m just not a fan of that particular type of melodrama. Things gothic don’t float my particular boat. (A dinghy, if you must know. Because I like saying “dinghy.”) Phantom eludes me. I don’t understand what the mutant guy in the mask sees in that vapid-even-for-an-ingénue-and-that’s-pretty-vapid Christine. I want to swat Meg Giry with a human-sized flyswatter. Raoul is so flat and dull my brain goes into hibernation mode the second he walks on stage. It doesn’t matter that the singing is impeccable, the acting terrific, the orchestra magnificent…if the material doesn’t do it for me, the most amazing production values are not going to change how I feel (though, admittedly, they may make it easier to sit through).

And yet, people seem to take it as an affront – a personal attack on THEM – if I don’t share their taste.

Those hyper-sensitive fools, I say. And yet am I really so different? That would be a big fat “NO.”

I was recently in a production of a play that ran three hours with two intermissions. Some friends came one night and left during one of the intermissions. I was hurt that they didn’t like the show enough to stay to the end. I was hurt that they didn’t text me or even Facebook me some excuse (“So sorry, I came down with Ebola and had to leave right away to sponge the blood from my eyes”). But the truth is: the show was probably not to their taste. Why did I take it personally? I didn’t write the show. I didn’t direct it. I was only a supporting role in it, so I shouldn’t take their exit as a diss of my performance (at least, I don’t THINK I single-handedly destroyed the show…), and if I were to be completely honest, the show is not of a genre I care for myself. So I probably wouldn’t have attended the show AT ALL were I in their shoes. Hmm…maybe I should try taking their tastes into consideration.

Gee… Ya think? (This is what passes for a “Eureka!” moment in my world.)

And then, not even one full week later, I had a reading of a script that I did write. All by myself. So I had a bigger investment in it, you might say. After a lively discussion, one of the actors gave me a ride home and continued to talk about my play. I was pleased by this, because he was the one initiating the discussion – he was interested enough in the play to continue chatting about it. I felt validated. I felt I was on the right track with this piece. Then that proverbial other shoe fell. (Fucking proverbs.) He told me that the play reminded him of a play he saw recently that was just FANTASTIC. It was called Ghost Light, he said. They did it over at Berkeley Rep…had I seen it?

In my first post for this blog (on “Creative Vilification”), I mentioned this play. And let’s just say…it’s not to my taste. (Okay, that’s disingenuous: that play is its own circle of hell in my eyes. As I sat watching it, I thought “Wow, this must be what waterboarding feels like,” and “Gee, Gloucester in King Lear had it EASY.”) So imagine the heights of ecstasy I felt at having my own work compared – favorably – to Ghost Light. My heart pulled a reverse-Grinch maneuver and shrunk two sizes. My stomach twisted into a perfect Gordian knot. I found myself caught in a tangle of hyperbole. Not unlike this essay. How could I account for taste in this instance? A moment before, I had been happy with the work I was doing on my play and the input I had received on it. Then there I was, listening to someone compare my work to a piece I hated so much that my bile rises all over again at the mention of its name…

Can one share the same taste with another regarding genre (in this case, docu-drama), yet differ that greatly from him vis-à-vis content? I suppose so… I HOPE so. What a sly, conniving little vixen is this thing we call “taste.” I have always been one who is up for a fight (sorry, I mean, “lively discussion on differences in opinion”), but I have too often tossed aside others’ viewpoints with that catch-all phrase I discussed earlier in this piece. Maybe I’m mellowing in the second half of my own personal century, but I think I’m ready to give up that convenience. I’m actually interested in accounting for taste. I’m ready to ask the big questions. For instance, I want to know what people see in Phantom that I do not. What was it about Ghost Light that worked for those who –gulp- liked it? And why, oh, why do people keep producing Glengarry Glen Ross? (Which I like to refer to as “G-G-G-Ross.”) And speaking of taste…what is the deal with kale? Is that even a food?

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: The Shows I Didn’t Walk Out On — But Should Have (Part I)

Dave Sikula, full of regrets.

There have been three shows (among the hundred I’ve seen) that I nearly walked out on. There are probably dozens of others that could have made this list, but three were three that drove me close to the brink.

It’s at this point that I mention something I’ve mentioned previously; a show I liked a lot, but probably shouldn’t have: the production of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” in Berkeley. It was done by the Berliner Ensemble – Brecht’s own company – in what was then its farewell tour (they’ve since reconstituted). The chance to see one of my favorite Brecht plays performed by his own company was irresistible, so we went.
The play, for those who don’t know it, is an allegory about Hitler’s rise to power, seen through the filter of the Chicago mob: Hitler as Al Capone. The play was written in 1941 (when Hitler was still a threat), and according to our friends at Wikipedia (in an entry I have to rewrite because it’s so badly done – the annoying use of “whilst” for “while” leads me to believe it’s a Brit) – and, as always with Wikipedia, consider the source – it was written in Helsinki while Brecht was waiting for his American visa. It wasn’t produced at all until 1958 and not in English until 1961, even though Brecht intended it to be produced in America.

Yeah, it's a wee but obvious, but it's Brecht, after all.

Yeah, it’s a wee but obvious, but it’s Brecht, after all.

The production, while good overall, had its … unique moments, such the opening, which had the actor playing Ui on all fours, acting like a dog (including barking and growling) while the song “The Night Chicago Died” played for about three minutes. That could strain any audience’s patience, but it was a good prologue for what followed; if you could tolerate that, you could tolerate anything else they were going to do.

Some time after intermission, then, it came as a surprise to us when another patron, who’d obviously had enough, rose noisily from his seat, loudly slammed the lobby doors open, and yelled “This is a nightmare!” While I don’t blame the guy for not liking the production – it was not to everyone’s tastes – but I’ll never understand why he stayed until after intermission to express his distress. If you find it that bad, just leave when there’s a break.

Imagine three minutes of this.

Imagine three minutes of this.

But I’ve digressed yet again.

Let me deal with the three plays that came closest to driving me to a similar scene.

First is the 1985 production of Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” at the Los
Angeles Theatre Center. LATC was a failed early experiment to revive downtown Los Angeles. Even though it’s active in a new incarnation, it was originally an offshoot of LA Actors’ Theatre, a group which was founded by a number of TV and movie actors who wanted to do challenging theatrical fare. (I particularly remember a very good “Waiting for Godot” with Donald Moffat, Dana Elcar, Ralph Waite, and Bruce French.) LAAT worked in a very small space in Hollywood off Santa Monica, but their success there, and the city fathers’ wishes to revitalize downtown, led to them establishing an outpost in downtown LA.

We're waiting, we're waiting ...

We’re waiting, we’re waiting …

A small digression here (really, from me?) Even though it was hard to believe in those days of the mid-80s, downtown LA used to be chock-a-block with people. The movie palace district – the only one in the country, I believe – is a marvel of architecture and gives one a sense of what the movie-going experience used to be like. Nowadays, it’s filled again with restaurants and clubs.

The lobby of the Theatre Center.

The lobby of the Theatre Center.

Anyway, LAAT was given a former bank building downtown to turn into a theatre space. In those days, there were three theatres in the complex. I saw a number of shows there, some good (“The Petrified Forest” with Philip Baker Hall in the Bogart role and Rene Auberjonois in the Leslie Howard part; a few things by Spalding Grey) and some, like “The Three Sisters,” were so staggeringly bad as to make one wonder if it was intentional. The director was Stein Winge, a Norwegian who apparently had little command of either English or Chekhov. (I saw an early preview and got a glance at his notes, which were in Norwegian and seemed to be obsessed with the clock in the set’s drawing room.)

t was an interesting cast. Some appropriate actors – Stephen Tobolowsky as Baron Tuzenbach, Cliff DeYoung as Vershinin, Caitlin O’Heaney as Natasha, and Gerald Hiken as Dr. Chebutykin – and some wildly inappropriate actors – Meg Foster as Olga, Ann Hearn as Irina, and (the most bizarre of all) Kim Cattrall as Masha.

Regardless of the casting, a good and sensitive director could have made it all work. But Winge was anything but good or sensitive. Dan Sullivan (the fine then-critic for the LA Times) noted in his review that the evening began with Olga’s “first speech about its being a year since Father died (being) delivered from the floor, she having taken a spill.” It was all downhill from there, with self-indulgent performances and lame attempts at slapstick and physical comedy (that didn’t even qualify as garbage) prevailing. I particularly remember, 30 years later, Cattrall’s reaction to Vershinin leaving. She bawled her head off, sounding like an air-raid siren, and grabbed DeYoung around the neck, then slowly worked her way down his body, ending up clutching one leg as he tried to limp his way off-stage. It went from WTF? to “really?” to funny to embarrassing over the course of what seemed like two minutes. (Doesn’t seem that long? Count it off.)

There was every reason to leave, but it was hypnotic, like a slow-motion car crash. At every occasion where an interpretive choice could be made, they’d make the wrong one, and it was fascinating to wonder and watch just how they’d go wrong next.

It remains of my great evenings of theatre-going, but for all the wrong reasons.

Sullivan notes in his review that it ran 3 and a ½ hours, but I know better than that. As I said, I saw an early preview and, even though I couldn’t bear to go back, I knew one of the actresses (who will go unnamed). I was driving home from Hollywood one Saturday night, and, seeing that it was nearly 11:30, thought I’d stop in and say hello to her; maybe go for a drink. I drove to the theatre, parked, and went to the lobby – only to find out that the show was still performing. Over the course of the run – and this was only about three weeks later – they’d been so over-indulgent that they’d added 20 minutes to the running time. I love Chekhov, but not that much.

As it turned out, LAAT soon went bust (even though, as I mentioned, someone else has since taken over the building), mainly because the neighborhood was so dicey. There was one night when, after the shows let out, the audiences had to be held in the lobby because some kind of gang war had broken out in the nearby streets.

Either that, or they were theatre-lovers who’d just had enough.

Coming next time: The World’s Worst King Lear.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: One is the Loneliest Number

Claire Rice continues her meditation on the black box box office blues.

When all is said and done, even if we sell out all 588 seats to Rat Girl, there’s a chance that more people will have read this post then will have seen that play. And yet, that’s not a sad thing. A performance, even in a limited run, can still have an impact and be far reaching.

But we can’t measure the future. We can only count seats and hope. 588 is a lot of hope.

But that’s not the number I’m thinking about. That top number is rarely the number any of us think about.

We think about the One.

Admit_One

The One Ticket Sold

You think to yourself, as you print out the Brown Paper Ticket list, that there isn’t a need to print it out. There’s only one name. You could have written it down. Maybe you’re friends who said they were coming will surprise you and come tonight. Those fuckers always wait until the last minute to buy their tickets.

You wait behind your gray cash box that you bought at Office Max all those months ago. It has a lock on it, but you don’t bother to use it and the keys are inside under the cash tray next to that ball point pen that doesn’t work and you keep meaning to throw away. You wait, looking across the hall at the other show that seems sold out. It has a stupid name and the people running their box office seem much too peppy. They smile at you politely, the way people do when they feel sorry for you. Your list sits next to your cash box.

“Ok,” you say to the actor who you’ve been working with one on one for months to get this show onto it’s feet. “So there is one sketchy looking dude out there and that’s it. We’ve already been holding for ten minutes, I don’t think anyone else is coming. Give it all you’ve got and I’ll see you after the show.” Like a coward you run out of the dressing room. You are also the stage manager so you have to bring the lights down and the music up. The guy looks sleepy. You silently curse your friends while musing that the music seems very loud now that there is no one in the house.

She comes out to begin the show. You remember telling her that if there were any time there were less people in the house then there were on stage then the show wouldn’t happen. But, you remind yourself, you said that when it was a two women show. Now it’s just her. Less than One is None and the show must go on.

The One Who Didn’t Come

After awhile, loved ones begin to realize that you are never going to give up this acting thing. They still love you and believe in you and want you to accomplish all of your dreams, but they have also grown weary of seeing everything you do. The terrible thing about landing your dream job is that it becomes a job. Your parents are proud of you, but no longer take special trips to see you do…your job. Your boyfriend has become your partner and, though he loves you, he’s decided he only wants to see the shows that are “really good.” Of course, after that Shaw festival he no longer trusts you on what you think “really good” is. And as open minded as he is, he can’t help feel uncomfortable watching you kiss other people in public like it’s no big deal. He mostly stays home.

You peek through the curtains at the audience. Strangers. All strangers. The director and the producer are excited. “We don’t know anyone out there!” they keep saying. The marketing campaigns have all paid off. No one in the audience had to be comped, bribed, begged or threatened to see the play. Yet, it feels like no one is out there at all. Just people. Nice people, hopefully, but just people. People you will never see again.

The One Who Did

You can’t help it. You stare at the back of his head and try to imagine what he’s thinking. Why did he look down then? Why did he look up? What is he looking at? You try and watch the show, but keep turning back and looking at that head. Why is his hand like that? What’s he doing with his leg? Does that mean he’s bored? Is he going to leave early? Is he going to leave before intermission? If he does, will he still write a review? Is that fair?

You try and calm down. It’s opening night. Everything is fucked. The costume designer ran in late with the costumes, crying that her car broke down on the way to the laundry matt and that they had closed early and she had to call the landlord to get the costumes out. Two of the lamps burnt out moments before house opened. The props person forgot to bring more cookies, so the actors have to eat the leftovers form last night. The lead has a cold and is demanding hot water with lemon to be brought back at every scene break. The house was over sold due to an error in the the ticketing software. Everything is fucked.

But you can’t take your eyes off the back of the reviewer’s head. What the hell is he thinking? Does he see all the flaws? As you stare at him, his shoulders move as if in a shrug. Is he reading your thoughts or itching his back on the chair? You look up at the stage to distract yourself. Someone jumps a cue and suddenly no one knows what to do. It’s that horrible moment in theatre where a mistake happens and everyone has forgotten how to be human. The stillness is unbearable. When it finally ends you see him writing something down. Oh god, this whole this is an unmitigated disaster. Everything is fucked.

The One Who Mattered

The words tumble out of their mouths and it seems inconceivable that they were ever in your head at all. It’s an out of body experience that isn’t entirely without pleasure, but mostly is full of discomfort. Every now and again they trip on them and you wince. Sometimes it’s your fault, to many words starting with the letter “s” all in a row. It’ll have to be cut in the next draft. Sometimes it’s their fault and you curse the actors for their laziness and the director for her stupidity. Then that part happens, with the flowers and the water, and it’s all magic again. You love everyone. They are more talented then you will ever be and you are humble and honored. Then you remember it all began with you and you feel big and bold and proud. You did this.

Then you see her.

A few rows in front of you and to the side enough that you can see most of her face. You never told her, but you wrote this play for her. This play is about her. This play has her as a main character. Sure, you invited her to come but you never thought she’d show up. Her husband sits next to her, holding her hand. They watch the play. The lights from the stage reflected on their faces. Suddenly you feel like a hack. You feel false. The words feel like daggers and everything is wrong.

You wrote about her fear of death and now an actress who is a younger version of her is monologuing about it at her. You want to die. You imagine running out of the theatre and throwing up in the waste bin outside or maybe going to the bar and ordering a triple shot of something terrible and numbing and then throwing up.

She’s crying.

She brings her hand up to her mouth. Her husband holds her to him. She watches a younger version of herself die poetically onstage. Everything goes dark.

Everything is Already Something Week 29: Haiku for Playwrights

Allison Page, better late than never.

And now, a bunch of Haiku about the ups and downs of playwriting which are totally plaguing me right now:

ACT 1
I guess I should start,
Inciting incident right?
Nah I’ll watch TV

get-attachment.aspx

HEAD COUNT
40 characters,
Who would produce this monster?
Not my problem…art.

CONDITIONS PERFECTO
I can’t write it’s cold,
I need a pony to write,
I can’t write it’s hot

DIVERSITY
Too many white men,
Must change world with this play,
No pressure yeah right

ACT 2
Disappearing guy,
Character gone since scene four,
I guess he’s dead now

PUT UP A FIGHT
Characters argue,
Who says “poppycock” for real?
Talk like humans talk

TEARS OF A CLOWN
I hope no one laughs,
When that guy starts crying hard,
Please get good actor

FLESH WOUNDS
But how much stage blood,
Is too much stage blood, you guys,
Is five buckets cool?

ACT 3
Uh oh story fades,
Can’t sustain three acts no way,
Better make it two

STAR POWER
I need Cate Blanchett,
Otherwise this play is shit,
Guess this play is shit

Silently judging you

Silently judging you

TAKING A BREAK
I’ll stop for a sec,
Just for a cup of coffee,
Oops been 9 hours

GRAND FINALE
Endings are so bad,
But how do I make it stop,
Ev’rybody dies

REVISIONS
I hate the whole thing,
Let’s make it Greek tragedy,
Keep only first page

Allison is toiling over two scripts at the moment. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Theatre Around The Bay: Our Story Was Epic

Our guest blogger series continues with a piece by Sunil Patel, a Bay Area writer and actor, who recounts a recent night of inspiration.

Veronica Mars changed my life. I don’t mean that as hyperbole: I can trace my recent commitment to becoming a published writer to Veronica Mars. While that decision was directly inspired by attending the World Science Fiction Convention, I only became aware of that convention because of a friend I met through Veronica Mars fandom. Everything awesome that has ever happened to me at Comic-Con can also be attributed to Veronica Mars, including the opportunity to tell Joss Whedon that Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life—which was partly because it was a precursor to Veronica Mars.

I love the show. I have written thousands of words about why I love the show. It’s a fantastic neo-noir teen drama with a compelling protagonist and supporting characters, a strong father-daughter relationship, and, yes, a smoldering romance. I love the story, but it wasn’t the story alone that changed my life. It was the community that formed around that story.

Television fandom is a curious but beautiful thing: thousands of people absorbed in a story, collectively experiencing joy and heartbreak from week to week. And this story leads them to generate their own stories, claiming characters and imagining new narratives for them. I helped orchestrate HelpMeVeronica.com, a mini-ARG, which taught me a lot about storytelling and managing audience expectations. As a writer, I had to balance what I wanted to create with what our audience needed. A subcommunity had formed around our story-within-a-story. But the larger community plays a role in the metanarrative of the show.

The tale of Veronica Mars is this: on May 22, 2007, the story ended. The community, however, remained. And on March 13, 2013, by the power of Kickstarter, that community enabled the creation of more story. We hungered for more, and we made it happen. Stories matter because they connect people and through the power of fictional narrative influence the real-world narrative. Stories have power, and we bestow it upon them.

At a recent Borderlands event, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson said that writing the book was only 80% of the job of creating the story. The reader supplied the final 20% by imagining it in their heads. He used this analogy as a way to distinguish books from television and movies, which show you the images and sounds, but the concept extends to all forms of storytelling. The audience is an essential part of the story, and 20% of the experience is how they respond to it. A hundred people can see a production of play and come away with a hundred different interpretations, a hundred different emotional responses. The story fractures into a hundred versions of itself and finds new life in the lives it touches. The audience carries their own personal version of it with them always.

Stories have always needed an audience to come alive, but now an audience’s need for stories matters a significant amount. We live in a world where a passionate audience can show their appreciation for the types of stories they want to see by willing them into existence. San Francisco Theater Pub’s The Odes of March ended with “Ode to the Audience,” acknowledging their importance, but I see untapped potential.

Everything I’ve described above regarding the passion for stories and sense of community that I experienced in television fandom applies to my experience in theater as well, but as a creator. The Bay Area theater community is incredibly supportive of new work, and many times I have seen people put up a play on sheer pluck and gumption alone. Several times, I’ve seen them turn to crowdfunding as well. Maybe it’s because I mainly associate with people in theater, but I have not personally encountered theater fandom to the same degree. Theater is as collaborative a medium as television or film, and I think it has the ability to foster a similar, vibrant community centered on stories. The audience is physically present, already together, when they see a play. The San Francisco Olympians Festival does a wonderful job bridging the gap between creators and audience members, encouraging the intermingling of the two and discussion of the works. Talking about stories is an essential part of the storytelling process. It’s that 20% that truly cements their place in the collective consciousness.

I look at the success of the Veronica Mars movie and realize that a story is far more than what’s contained within it. It’s a message, a force of nature, a reality-warping behemoth of narrative power. As a writer, you cannot forget that. You must understand that it’s bigger than you.

Because you never know when what you write will change someone’s life.

Sunil Patel is a Bay Area writer and actor. See his work at http://ghostwritingcow.com or follow him on Twitter @ghostwritingcow.

Higher Education: A Sense of Finality

Barbara Jwanouskos is approaching the end.

Thursday at 11:59 PM marked the submission of our screenplays to the Sloan Foundation competition. It’s the culmination of about eight hardcore months of training, polishing, and crafting scripts that take on a science or technology component and explore it dramatically. And while I am so glad to be able to put this aside for now (even though I’m still at my computer, still writing…) I can’t but help feeling a bit nostalgic and sad that this part of my time here is coming to an end.

Earlier in the week, the three other second year dramatic writers in my program (Laci Corridor, Jonah Eisenstock and Josh Ginsburg) and I all went to get our caps and gowns for the commencement ceremony in May. We met with the design and production team for our thesis plays, which begin rehearsal next week. More and more it feels like we’re checking things off the list and counting down til… DUN DUN DUN!

We actually have to leave school.

Gasp!

Don’t get me wrong. One of the reasons I chose this program was because it promised that you’d be out in two years. I said, “well that’s for me! I need to be back in the real world!” I was looking forward to working hard in school, honing my craft, and then getting back to the Bay Area to keep on working on new plays already! At the time, it sounded easy to do, but now, with everything coming to an end, I’m finding it difficult to not get swept with emotion over Every. Little. Thing.

Just like everything in life, we have to come to terms with the fact that, yes, things do end. We move on. People move on. The world changes, shifts, grows and deteriorates. It can be hard not to treat everything as precious when you see that end point in sight. That’s what I’m trying not to do right now, but it is hard.

Maybe it comes back to managing your expectations about a particular outcome. As if suddenly, once I’m done with this program this magical spark will be endowed upon me and I will be A WRITER. Like all caps, even. I think it’s helpful to look back and see how far you’ve come, but the end hasn’t ended yet, so there’s still more pushing to do before it’s over. That’s where some really key growth can happen.

I was doing all this google-fu the other day as per usual because I had to make a decision about whether to push myself to write more even though I was tired or if I should just recuperate and start fresh the next day. And somewhere in hopping from page to page in trying to find the answer I wanted (go to bed), I read an interesting perspective. That sometimes when you give up or stop when it gets really hard and you don’t think you can go on, you’re missing out on some a breakthroughs that can develop.

Certainly I have experienced that. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t pushed hard in many ways. It comes up a lot for me in a visceral sense when practicing martial arts. There’s this whole idea I’ve been working with lately of not being afraid to get punched hard and not being afraid to punch hard. What’s interesting is that it’s actually currently harder for me to dish it out than to take it. At least from a psychological fear perspective. But in this type of training, even just stepping an inch beyond your comfort zone is a dramatic shift because it moves your fear barrier out one inch. Slowly it grows and grows.

I’m almost on the other side of the bridge and I have a moment now to look back at where I’ve came and to look at the surroundings. I don’t exactly know what the end point is or what that looks like and what my life will be like once I reach it. For now, I’m just taking stock in the passing scenery and trying to value it for what it’s worth. Then, it’s on to keep pushing.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Be Regular and Orderly in Your Inbox

Marissa Skudlarek: quoting Flaubert because she can.

What attributes make a person a successful theatrical producer? Do you need to have a keen eye for new talent? The ability to raise buckets of money from wealthy investors? The larger-than-life showbiz flair of a Florenz Ziegfeld or a David Merrick?

All of those things may indeed be useful to an aspiring producer, but I propose that the real answer is far more humble. What you really need, if you’re going to produce a play in the 21st century, is a compulsion to read and respond to your emails as quickly as possible. Oh, and a fanatical love for Excel spreadsheets doesn’t hurt, either.

Auditions for my play Pleiades are happening next Monday and Tuesday, and already I’m fielding six or seven Pleiades-related emails a day, a number that I can only expect to increase as the production process goes on. I’m having actors email me to schedule an audition slot, and I vowed to myself that I’d do my best to respond to all of their emails within 24 hours of receipt. The people that I will potentially be working with deserve my respect and my prompt response — they don’t deserve to be left hanging. But I also instituted this 24-hour rule as a way of ensuring my own sanity. Because you know what’s the only thing worse than having seven un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a day? Having fifty un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a week.

I derive satisfaction from my obsessive email-management habits: responding promptly and professionally, categorizing and then archiving every email I send. Still, while I say that I do these things in order to reduce my stress level, I sometimes wonder if instead, it’s only causing me more stress. When I’m working on a big, email-heavy project like this, I become preoccupied and easily distracted. My thoughts race and I always have a vague, nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something important and will suffer the consequences. I also become irrationally annoyed with people who are more lackadaisical when it comes to email and online communications. If you’re no longer using a certain email address, shut it down entirely. If you’re an actor and you have a Facebook account, check your messages regularly, and don’t forget that elusive “Other” inbox, because someone could be using Facebook to offer you a part or to gauge your interest in a project. If you need a few days to think about something, a brief “I got your message; let me respond more fully in a few days” email is never unwelcome or amiss.

Sometimes I feel like my relationship with email is healthier than it’s ever been before, because I’m always getting better at managing my inbox and quickly responding to messages. And sometimes I wonder if I’m developing some kind of disordered, addictive relationship to my inbox. Just as an anorexic feels that no matter how skinny she gets, she’s never thin enough; so I feel that no matter how promptly I send and respond to emails, it can never be quick enough.

In thinking about my email management habits, I feel most keenly the divide between me-as-playwright and me-as-producer. The way I write when I compose plays is so different from the way I write and respond to emails, it’s like they’re coming from two different people. Playwright-Marissa takes her time, lets her mind wander, sets aside lengthy chunks of time to work on a specific scene or problem. Producer-Marissa is all business, a machine almost, copying and pasting and categorizing and making entries on spreadsheets and trying not to let the effort get to me.

Maybe that’s the right way to handle things. Maybe it’s good to create a divide between the dreamy, messy artist part of me and the methodical, efficient producer part of me. (I am a Cancer with Capricorn rising: outwardly businesslike, inwardly sensitive.) Other artists have done the same; as Flaubert put it, “Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos oeuvres” — that is, “Be regular and ordinary in your life like a bourgeois, in order to be violent and original in your work.”

That aphorism comes from a letter Flaubert wrote to Gertrude Tennant. If only my emails were that wise and elegant.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and compulsive emailer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or follow @MarissaSkud on Twitter.