Cowan Palace: How To Make Actors Definitely (Maybe) Want To Work With You Again

Let’s be honest, actors can be real flakes sometimes. But Ashley Cowan has some thoughts on how you can encourage them to like you and commit to working with you again. Or at least avoid some of the mistakes Allison Page presented in her last blog.

When I read Allison’s last blog, I let out a whole lot of “mmmmhmmmms” and “that’s right, girl”s. Because apparently, I’m a sassy grandma. Werther’s Original, anyone? Anyway, I found myself feeling pretty worked up by her points because each and every one of them struck so close to home. Guys, we are better than this! Allison knows it, I know it, and you know it.

Last week Allison served up some advice. This week Ashley serves up... salad? Oh, and I guess appreciation.

Last week Allison served up some advice. This week Ashley serves up… salad? Oh, and I guess appreciation.

So to try and balance my frustration and not immediately leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in an act of dramatic expression over some of those poor theatrical habits, I thought, why not make a list of theater practices gone right? Because there’s a reason so many of us are willing to wade through the muck. Sometimes there are some truly great producers/directors/general theater makers who deserve more recognition.

1.) I ENJOY IT WHEN YOU FEED ME: Well, we all know I love food. But I’m obviously not the only one. It goes a long way when someone thinks to bring a little snack to a rehearsal or before a performance. Considering most of us aren’t doing shows for the money, these food items are often enough to say, “hey actor, I appreciate you”. And at the end of the day, feeling appreciated can be everything. Next time you’re organizing a reading or rehearsal, remember that a little bite can go a long way. And for me, it’s often made a world of difference.

Here's a treat I once made my cast. No need to nerd out like I did but I like to think those weird little owls helped make our rehearsal a little more memorable!

Here’s a treat I once made my cast. No need to nerd out like I did but I like to think those weird little owls helped make our rehearsal a little more memorable!

2.) REJECT ME LIKE YOU MEAN IT: I get that we can’t all get a personalized rejection each and every time we audition for something when we don’t make the cut. Thankfully we have froyo for that kind of pain. And perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to encourage it but whatever, this is a fairly intimate community. We’ve got a lot going on here and we all have a lot of feelings. Sometimes, after spending hours preparing, traveling, and giving it all you’ve got at an audition, the rejection can be a real bitch. It’s softened my blow, ever so slightly, by the folks who reached out to genuinely acknowledge me as an individual and thank me for my time rather than simply sending out a mass generic email. I’ve appreciated this rather rare occurrence in the past but more than anything, being kind goes a long way and everyone who walks into your audition room will thank you for it.

3.) RESPECT THE SCHEDULE: It’s just the worst when you’re called to a rehearsal for hours on end and not used. Granted, I’ve worked on knitting several scarves in the process but overall, if you don’t need me, I’d rather be binge watching some reality show at home. But when you get a team who can organize a schedule thoroughly and honestly, with respect to everyone’s time, well, that’s just so great! Your actors are more likely to give you focused work that leaves them feeling excited and productive because they won’t feel like their precious trashy TV time is being wasted.

4.) THROW A CAST PARTY: Nothing promotes company spirit like getting your cast and crew together to enjoy spirits… and each other. For me, the biggest successes in this area were the folks who threw an event at the beginning of the rehearsal process and a celebration to conclude it. People like feeling like they’re a part of something. Ariel sang a whole song about it. So a big cheers to those of you for making events like this happen and giving us a moment to party together!

5.) HELP US FEEL PRETTY: Anyone who says they don’t have a moment of insecurity before a show opens is either a liar or an idiot. Most of us have small budgets and tiny crews to help put on large productions. The producers/directors who have remained calm in front of their actors and reassured them that things are fine have certainly earned my approval. We don’t want to hear you bitch, we want to feel confident our show is in good hands. Voice your appreciation for your actors. Give them constructive feedback and acknowledge their successes. If you can do all that along with keeping steady, confident control of every situation, you’ll continue to make our “I want to work with them” list.

6.) DELEGATE LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB (SPOILER ALERT: IT’S YOUR JOB, HOMIE): We all know great shows can be ruined by poor leadership and management. Have a huge tech heavy show? Well, then yes, you probably need a stage manager. Have a dance scene? Well, then get someone in here who knows how to move besides your actress who’s dabbled in Zumba at the local YMCA. The shows I’ve been a part of who succeeded assigned jobs for the entire process of the production and clearly defined those positions to interested applicants before moving forward. Wow, that’s a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to ensure that person is capable and up for the responsibility. It’s amazing what having a strong team can do to helping your show surpass its potential.

7.) MAKE IT ABOUT MORE THAN BUSINESS: One of my favorite parts of being involved in a show is getting the privilege to bond with a new, unique group. The directors who have encouraged their casts to check in with one another before getting to work and reward each other with positive feedback at the end of the rehearsal are truly giving their team a great support system. You’re strengthening trust and building friendships beyond the text of the play. People feel invested in not only the work they are creating but each other. It’s awesome and I thank you for making this positive effort a presence in your rehearsal.

 I'd much rather be rehearsing with you than watching this dummy! Most of the time...

I’d much rather be rehearsing with you than watching this dummy! Most of the time…

Just with anything else, your experiences are what you make of them. And if you can promote a good one, you’re doing something right. Thank you to the producers/directors/general theater makers who welcomed me, made me feel appreciated and valued, and established a space for creativity to thrive. I know it wasn’t easy but I’d trade countless evenings with the TV to work with you again.

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Working Title: Social Gravity

This week Will sets aside his regular juxtaposition of theatre and film to look at his invigorating experience at this years Theatre Bay Area Conference.

There is a key concept of Big Bang Cosmology that states that space is ever expanding and doing so at an accelerating rate. Its called the metric expansion of space. Think of it as the entire scale of the universe growing larger. Every space between the clumps of galaxies getting bigger. As space expands all the celestial gatherings who once were close to each other will grow further and further from one another given enough time. Picture our own Milky Way Galaxy and as the entirety of the space around us increases we drift and settle into compact isolation as the eons roll by. Sometimes I feel that growing further into adulthood has this effect.

It feels like a law of nature or a fact of life and therefore isn’t something that you can get overtly angry about. People grow up, leave home, leave school, leave jobs, start a new life, start a new relationship, start a new family, change communities, change paths, change all the time. Its hard to get mad at a clock for ticking. Yet, it is something that can induce pensive thoughts of times gone by. Or aspects of our lives that we have let drift. Two weeks ago I attended the annual Theatre Bay Area Conference and was struck with an overwhelming sense of how much I miss being more closely entwined with the theatre community in the Bay Area.

For almost a year now, I’ve held a job that regularly works it’s employees 55-70 hours a week. Additionally, only a day to day schedule is provided which all but dashes any kind of plan making. It’s hard to plan a sleeping schedule, let alone plan any theatre involvement. It wears on you. it grinds constantly. On the flip side of that coin, I experienced a rejuvenation by spending mere hours in the company of creative individuals who were passionate and excited about the state of Bay Area theatre today.

The first break out session I attended, Slapping the Monkey: Offensive Theatre, was uniformly funny, challenging, thought-provoking and at times borderline-offensive. The panel was damn fun! It was great to be back in a space where artists of varying kinds (street performers, puppeteers, writers, directors, company artistic directors) flooded the audience with their ideas of creative currency. These discussions filled the time with value. Their myriad opinions of what qualifies as offensive theatre ran the gamut. “Lazy Theatre is offensive” / “Audiences who put up with shitty, sub-standard theatre are offensive. Those audiences offend me as an artist!” / “Street performance by nature is offensive…that’s why I do it.” / “I’ve never been offended by something I thought was good.” This was the kind of discussion that makes you feel glad to be a part of something. Participants and audience members alike were active and engaged with ideas: boundaries of offense, how that relates to good theatre, what goes too far, how much does intent play into offensive, is an artist responsible for the audience reaction, tactics to keep audiences engaged, tactics to offend, the list went on. All in attendance took part in an active discussion of how these things impacted the living organism of Bay Area theatre and us as a community.

It’s was nice to be reminded that we are all working in this community along side each other and not drifting alone out there. I filled the rest of the day by performing a few readings in the playwright workshop, having lunch with a sizable group of enjoyable friends and seeing the closing ceremonies / Glickman Award presentation. To my astounding pleasure, I also stole 20 minutes to audition for a play being produced this fall. It has been an age since I took the time to audition. Going through the motions of adult living has at times made me feel akin to a narcoleptic zombie, half asleep and dead inside. And one day of TBA events served to remind how good it is to feel active and alive. Regardless of how natural it is to drift away from things into adulthood, the only thing that keeps things bound together and of importance to each other is diligence and constant joyous effort. Instead of forever drifting into isolation, I think it’s time to fight towards social gravity and a community that pulls creativity together.

Theater Around The Bay: Bad Auditions (We’ve All Been There)

Guest blogger Megan Briggs has some tips on how to recover from an audition gone bad.

If you’ve been an actor for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably survived at least one bad audition. The good news is that you are not alone. I’ve spoken to so many of my actor friends on this subject and they ALL have stories about an audition gone terribly wrong.

Auditions_typeface

While a good audition can make you feel like you’re flying for the rest of the day, a bad one can make you curse the world and want to go home and crawl into bed. And that’s OK. Having been there myself, I’ve come up with my own way of dealing with a bad audition in three easy steps:

Step 1 – Hate the world… for a little bit

So you’ve just had a terrible audition/callback. Maybe you didn’t feel great about the way you read the part. Maybe the director kept trying to give you feedback about the scene but his accent was so thick you couldn’t understand him. Maybe your assigned audition scene partner kept interrupting your scene with lines he made up in an attempt to be more “spontaneous.” Maybe you met the pre-cast male lead and he’s 4 inches shorter than you. Yep, these are all things that have happened to me at auditions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

So in the 24 hours after your bad audition, I give you permission to get mad. Call a friend and rant. Yell at inanimate objects (preferably not in public). Write out your frustration in your journal. Go have a few drinks with your friends. Curl up on the couch and watch stupid reality show marathons to feel better about your own life. Do whatever you need to do to express your frustration, anger and sadness over what has occurred.

Step 2 – An honest post mortem

After that 24-hour period is up and you’ve had a chance to get some distance from the situation, it’s time to take a look at what went wrong. Analyze you actions and your reactions to the situations you were given. What would you have done differently? What would you have done exactly the same? Is there some useful information to be gleaned from all of this? It’s good to be really honest with yourself, without beating yourself up too severely. I personally have gained some great knowledge from doing a terrible audition. Maybe you need to work your audition pieces more, take an improve class, or practice cold reading with a group of friends. You can really improve your audition by reviewing what happened and thinking how you can do better next time.

Step 3 – Go get another audition!

You may know the expression “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” Same thing goes for auditions! The best way to get over a bad one is to go out and have a good one! I find that signing up for another one as soon as possible is the best way to get out and feel like I’m being proactive. Just knowing I have another audition lined up (even if it doesn’t happen for a while) makes me feel better.

The waiting game

Finally there is the situation that every actor dreads.  You nailed the audition, the callback was even better, and the director seemed to like you for the part.  You cross your fingers that at any moment you will get the call offering you the role.   Except that call never comes.  In fact, you don’t even receive an email telling you that you haven’t been cast!
 
That waiting process can be agony, and it’s even worse when you hear absolutely nothing.  At some point, you have to take control and put an end to your own waiting game.  I personally give the director exactly 1 week from the date of the last audition/callback to give me notice on whether or not I’ve been cast.  If I don’t hear anything, I’m going to assume that I have not been cast and consider other options (right after I properly mourn the loss of the part – please see steps 1 thru 3).

Hello?  Oh, it’s you Mother.  I thought it was the director calling to offer me a part!

Hello? Oh, it’s you Mother. I thought it was the director calling to offer me a part!

I wish that all theatre companies let us know the status of their casting decisions, but as Allison Page pointed out in her recent public service announcement, many companies and directors will never get back to you after an audition.  It’s frustrating, but it seems to be the way things sometimes work in the San Francisco theatre scene.   The one good thing I can tell you is that you are not alone.  It happens to all of us.  

The best advice I can give you is to not let a bad audition get you down for long. The truth is that this is an industry full of rejection and it’s probably always going to be that way. The good news is that actors are awesome people, and we are willing to share war stories with one another in an effort to create a sense of community. If you’re feeling down about an audition, one of the best things you can do is talk about it with another actor.  Chances are they’ve been there and can provide a sympathetic ear and help you feel better.

So get out there and audition with all you’ve got! That reality show marathon wasn’t all that interesting anyway.

Megan Briggs is an actor with a sympathetic ear and few war stories of her own. Starting May 16, you can see her perform (along with her awesome castmates) in The Crucible at Custom Made Theatre Company in SF. You can also check out her non-theatre related blog MacGIRLver: Tips and tricks from a gal who’s been there.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Revolutions Don’t Start in Gilded Halls

Claire Rice can hear the people sing.

El Teatro de la Esperansa occupied a small corner of the Red Stone Building on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission. The Redstone is full of non-profit organizations that fall around every end of the spectrum; from social change organizations to arts organizations to support groups to animal welfare. There is also a wonderful empanada place on the ground level. The Red Stone also housed Theatre Rhinoceros and Luna Sea Theatre, both of which lay follow now.

I spent more than six years working in El Teatro de la Esperansa.

It was moldy. It was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It’s walls were too thin, the music from the art gallery below was too loud, and it’s equipment was old and grumpy. The booth was like a tree house that had to be climbed into through a small hole. Everything smelled weird. The risers were so worn they groaned in pain. There were never enough lights. The speakers were blown. The doorways were too short for tall people and too narrow for wheel chairs. The building owner’s son would throw illegal midnight raves in the space next door. Squatters complained that the rehearsals were too loud. The landlord was never available. And the bathrooms were definitely haunted.

I had some of the best times of my life in that building.

The little black box got its name from the company that built it. El Teatro de la Esperansa was founded in part by Roderigo Duarte Clark in LA and then moved up to San Francisco. Roderigo was a leader in Chicano theatre. El Teatro de la Esperansa produced bilingual touring shows and fostered playwrights like Josefina Lopez, Roy Conboy and Guillermo Reyes. You can read more about Roderigo here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977239022 and here: http://articles.latimes.com/1993-10-12/entertainment/ca-45067_1_el-teatro-campesino

Roy Conboy, a faculty member in the SF State Creative Writing Program, brought Greenhouse to that little theatre in the Mission. Greenhouse gives graduate students at SF State an opportunity to work with professional directors and actors to present new plays in reading. It was through this program I saw the first readings of plays by Karen Macklin, Chris Chen, Elizabeth Gjelten, Peter Sinn Natchtrieb, and Elizabeth Creely (among many others). I worked with Roy Conboy to produce several of his plays there. After I graduated, Gabrielle Gomez and I rented the theatre and produced three plays (by Gabrielle Gomez, Megan O’Patry and myself) as well as a reading series. I saw plays evolve there and find their feet. I saw writers fail, struggle and get back up and work again. I saw writers find their voices.

It’s in places like this where it all begins. Ugly, dangerous places. These dark corners of the world are romantic in the rear view, even if they feel frustratingly small and ignored at the time. But there is so much freedom in places where the rent is cheap and no one is really watching what you are doing. In these dark corners you are beholden to no one but yourself. Any audience you get is a gift, because they had to work so hard to get to your out of the way and mean little home. You do things that are crazy because there isn’t anyone to tell you that you can’t or you shouldn’t. And it doesn’t always work. So often it fails. And it fails like a supernova because you learn by doing. Slowly. Painfully. Beautifully.

These dark corners of the world incubate.

And it is so wonderful.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. Every company in that theatre will have a weird name. They’ll fuck and fight and die out. They’ll sing and celebrate and move out. They’ll laugh and cringe and dance out. They’ll grind and shake and rock out. They’ll come and go as they age and change and improve.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. A small, poorly funded, off the beaten track theatre. Places where you can be the first to see something. That “something” is the next thing. The thing that will in ten, twenty or thirty years be at Berkeley Rep, Steppenwolf, or The Public. The thing that will change the world. I don’t know what it will be. It’s an adventure. It’s a failure. It’s a triumph. It is mediocre. It is sloppy. It is lazy. It is powerful. It is life affirming. It is a good night out. It is a bad date night. It is unsterilized, it still has all its sexual organs, it might have a splash zone, it will be full of naked men and it will monologue too much. It will have an out of tune piano that will play the most beautiful song you’ll never hear again. It will have a puppet that offends you so much you tell your grandchildren about it. It will have Shakespeare, Shaw, Shepard and every other “S” playwright. It will have no name, no name, no name and you’ll still love it. You’ll be the only person in the house and you’ll be standing in the back for three hours and loving it. You’ll be afraid to use the bathroom and you’re bike will get stolen. You’ll fall in love with the lead actress and you’ll party with the stage manager. You’ll grin like a mad man and cry like a motherless child. It’ll be your classroom and your torture chamber. It is a story you’ll tell your friends. It’s the thing you always wanted to do and now you’re doing it. You found it. It’s yours. It’s your special place.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this.

Mojo Theatre currently resides in this space. You can check them out on their website at http://www.mojotheatre.com/.

If you know a theatre like this, where ever it may be, please let us all know in the comments below.

Everything is Already Something Week 31: How to Make Actors Never Want to Work With You Again

Allison Page has some sage advice for producers, directors, and pretty much everyone else out there making theater. Of course, I may have to write one now called, “Actors: Why You Should Never Be Cast Again.”

ATTENTION: This is a public service announcement. If you do any of the following things, it may inspire actors not to work with your theatre company again in the future. Seriously. Actors may be meat puppets, but the USDA has standards, and so do we.

1) NOT CONTACTING THE ACTORS WHO WEREN’T CAST: Oh, come on. It’s 2014. Take the 5 minutes and email the actors who gave time to your project before the project even started, and tell the miserable bastards that you’re not using them. This coming from someone who usually forgets about whatever the project was until she hears about it again. Recently, that was not the case. There were very few people at the callback and I had the distinct impression that I was seriously being considered for more than one role. Naturally, I waited around to find out about it. *Crickets* *Crickets* and then they announced the cast online without ever telling the actors who weren’t cast about it. NO. DO NOT DO THIS. This isn’t your high school drama department. You aren’t pinning a list up on the wall so Susie Shithead can see if she got the coveted role of Chorus 2. Remember that actors are trying to plan their schedules just like you are – they want to know if they should take something else that comes along or be in your awesome show.

2) NOT CLEANING THE COSTUMES: Ew, stop it. It’s not the job of the actors to clean their costumes. It just isn’t. Especially if you have a costumer. If the costumer says “Um, I don’t clean costumes.” Then you need to take care of that by either A) Being sure that the costumer knows that IS part of their job, if it is or B) Making other arrangements or C) Being up front with the actors and saying that they will have to take care of their own costumes from the beginning. I don’t love this for several reasons (the actors might not know how to properly care for their particular costume and/or the fabrics it’s made of, they might be idiots and forget a costume item at home, etc.) but if no one else is going to be cleaning them, everyone should know that in the beginning, not after weeks of having a filthy costume and asking “WHYYYYY?” to everyone and getting no answer because you don’t feel like addressing it.

3) LETTING THE TECH SIDE GET AWAY WITH MURDER: You can appear to be a great producer, but if your stage manager or lighting or sound tech or costume person is a total douchebag – it’s going to reflect poorly on you. And what’s going to be waaaaayyyyy worse is if you don’t do a damn thing about it. If you hear about someone either being bad at their job or treating other people – the people who are trying to make your damn show come together – like shit, you need to intervene. Lighting tech who passes out in the booth in the middle of the show so the lights don’t come up? HI, SAY SOMETHING.

You're cute and everything, but could you take a sec to get out of bed and bring the lights up? I've been giving my monologue in total darkness and I tripped on the fake guillotine center stage. Thx.

You’re cute and everything, but could you take a sec to get out of bed and bring the lights up? I’ve been giving my monologue in total darkness and I tripped on the fake guillotine center stage. Thx.

Costumer groping the actors? STOP IT. More than anything – just pay attention. And if someone comes to you with a real problem (not a “my M&Ms are all supposed to be blue” problem) – listen and act if necessary. Don’t avoid the problem, it won’t go away. And don’t punish the people who’ve raised the issue in the first place. That’s completely ridiculous. If you show that you don’t care enough to do anything about the issues with your staff, that’s not going to look good to anybody. And actors talk.

4) DISAPPEARING: No cast is an island. Say your show is up and running – good for you! Now say it’s even been extended – WOW, THAT’S SO GOOD! Now say that because it’s been extended, it’s been running for weeks and weeks and weeks and no representative of your company has checked in with the cast, stage manager, or anybody. If we’re out there breaking our butts X amount of times per week, and not making much money to do it, it would be nice if someone checked to see if we’re still alive. Or if we had to tape our costumes back together backstage. Or if there’s something in the show that stopped working.

Okay, so this cast in on an island, but even they weren't alone because the smoke monster was hanging out, too.

Okay, so this cast in on an island, but even they weren’t alone because the smoke monster was hanging out, too.

These things happen all the time and a company’s total absence from their show after opening allows standards to fall rapidly in all kinds of areas. Maybe on Broadway this isn’t such an issue, but when you’re gettin’ $150 for several weeks of performances…well, you know. Stuff can happen. Just check in, that’s all. We’re doing this show at your company, maybe remind us of that by existing occasionally after the second week’s run. Doesn’t have to be every night (and probably shouldn’t) but some feeling that we’re not floating out to sea, abandoned, would be nice. Being able to call you like you’re a hotline isn’t as good as you just showing up once in a while.

5) FIGHTING IN FRONT OF THE CAST: Um, we’re right here. We can hear you. And see you. Because we’re in the room. Take it outside, or wait until after rehearsal. This also applies to aggressively second-guessing the director’s direction. It’s really uncomfortable if the producer/artistic director/whatever comes in, watches a scene, and turns to the director – in full view of everyone – and says “Why are you making them do that? That is stupid. This is all wrong.” over and over again while the director looks like a sad puppy and the producer proceeds to re-block and change every scene while the director watches, helplessly. If you’re choosing a director, hopefully it’s someone you trust. Hopefully it’s someone you actually want to direct your show. If changes need to be made because you don’t think something is working, talk to the director about it before shoe-horning the show they’ve been working on by sauntering in and pointing your finger for three hours only to disappear for two weeks, come back and do the same thing. Embarrassing the actors’ leader in front of them isn’t exactly going to solidify their confidence in him/her/zir is it? Working together to fix issues – YES. Parading your authority around – NO.

Actually, this looks intriguing. Go ahead and fight like this. I'll watch.

Actually, this looks intriguing. Go ahead and fight like this. I’ll watch.

6) SAYING WEIRD STUFF ABOUT ACTORS’ BODIES: “You’re too flat-chested! This bigger-chested person is totally going to upstage you because you can’t fill out your costume the same way! HAHAHA!” – (an actual thing I’ve heard said) NOOOO WE DON’T SAY THIS. Just say you want a different costume. Say that one’s not working. That’s cool, costumes don’t work all the time. Don’t make it weird. You don’t know how many times that person has heard something like that before. Just say things you would say to a fellow human being. Shouldn’t be too hard. The actor didn’t do anything wrong by putting the costume on. Just tell the costumer to get a different one and explain what you want out of it.

7) REEEAAAALLY LONG AUDITIONS: Dude. Just split it up into two days. There are 147 of us in the lobby. That’s too many. We’ve been here for 3 hours and haven’t read anything. You’re only stressing yourself out by constantly feeling rushed and staring out at a sea of bored/expectant faces. Split it up and ensure that you’ll have the time to consider everyone you’re seeing, and that the actors can concentrate on trying to show you what they’ve got, instead of worrying that someone stole their purse in the lobby or feeling like they have no reason to be there. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, yo.

Listen, I know a lot of these sound like “Oh, God, OBVIOUSLY.” – actually, I hope they all sound that way. They shouldn’t be surprising. But, as always, I wouldn’t have to bring it up if it hadn’t happened. A LOT. These are all very real things. I love working in independent theatre. I really do. But because we’re small/mighty instead of big/mighty we have to work a little harder, with a smaller staff to make things happen. This shouldn’t mean that you cut corners on being a human. Again – PAY ATTENTION. I mean, feel free to not take any of these things seriously. What do I care? But just know that actors talk to each other all the time. We know if your company is a shitshow of disorganization and misplaced priorities and though you may think actors are a dime a dozen, there might be one dime you want who doesn’t want to work with you when you want them.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/person in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Theater Around The Bay: Another Pint, Please

Christian Simonsen interviews local producer Michael Laird about turning a second Pint Sized Play script into a film.

One of the most enthusiastic audience members of Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays Festival IV was Michael Laird. Luckily for me, he also happened to be an aspiring independent filmmaker who works through the Scary Cow film collective. Michael chose my Pint Sized script, “Multitasking”, as his first short film project as an independent producer. Not one to remain idle, Michael immediately set his sights on another script from the same festival: the clever and poignant “Mark +/-” by Daniel Ng (also recently remounted by original director Adam Sussman at the 2014 Titan Award Directors’ Showcase).

So, who is this Michael Laird guy?

ML: A regular guy from Nor Cal who always had creative thoughts but no outlet. Went to UC Santa Barbara to study physics, but ended up with a history degree – which I still read for fun (history, I mean.)

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

ML: I got tired of thinking great comedy lines and skits but doing nothing about them, or watching movies and thinking they could be more creative. Several years ago I heard about Scary Cow, where people make their own films; last year I finally decided it was time to do something, rather than just wishing that I did.

How does the Scary Cow film collective process work?

ML: Every four months they have a member’s meeting, where people who want to make a movie pitch their idea, to draw others into their group. Usually a movie takes twelve people, including a couple actors, but also someone who owns light equipment, knows how to run a camera, wiling to hold a boom microphone, and the most important – who will bring food?

The producer is the one who owns the film, pitches, recruits volunteers, juggle schedules, and rides the volunteers until there is a finished project. If the length is within 10 minutes, the film is then shown at the Castro Theater, where Scary Cow screens their results every four months.

What have you learned most from working as a crew member on other filmmakers’ productions?

ML: My first lesson – going up to Marin County one Friday evening, spent four hours, all for 20 seconds of finished product showing a scared women walking through an alley where several homeless stand around a fire. The lesson: making films takes a lot of time and patience.

The second lesson – you volunteer, give, help, be a friend, and then people are more willing to help you on your film.

Producers in both film and live theater are stuck with a lot of the unglamorous dirty work needed to bring a production to completion. What qualities do you think are most needed in that role?

ML: Organization and people skills. The producer is the one ultimately responsible for all the details – if a key actor doesn’t show up when everyone else is at the set, it isn’t the cameraman’s responsibility. Which means a lot of leadership skills, to bring out everyone’s best (since no one is getting paid).

You need to bring many different people with diverse talents together for a common goal. How would you describe your “management style”?

ML: I have to be a good listener and accept a lot of direction from those who have more skills. I don’t know as much about key lighting or camera angles as those who bought their own equipment and worked it for years. It would be different if I studied film in college and worked on a dozen films.

Most short films are based on original screenplays. What inspired you choose playwrights’ scripts from the local live theater community?

ML: In live theater you get an idea how the finished product looks and sounds-though film is different, since you get close ups and softer voices.

What drew you to Daniel Ng’s script, “Mark +/-“?

ML: I saw it live and almost fell off the chair laughing. But that wasn’t all – I immediately “boxed” the view, meaning I could see how to film it. Two actors around a table, one scene, no complicated locations or scenery. An easy shoot, compared to some that takes five days and renting three apartments for an extended story.

The script presented unique technical challenges, since the main character interacts with both past and future versions of himself. How did you overcome them?

ML: There were two possibilities. I first imagined “green screening” the main actor. You film him in front of a green screen, and then in editing you use a computer to paste his image over a café scene. That way you paste his image three times.

But on the day of the shoot, the cinematographer and director though it best to shoot him three times, with same unchanging background, then paste the images together in editing. That was easier for lighting and cinematographer, since not filming over an imagined background, but proved immensely more difficult for the actor – he had to repeat his words, hand movements, and timing exactly for all three shots of him sitting around the table.

So overall, was producing your second film easier or harder?

ML: The only harder part of a second film is I got over confident. My first film went so easy, I forgot that most films actually take longer to shoot and have more fires that need to be put out. We almost didn’t get the second film shooting finished, because it took longer than I expected.

What do you look for when you are hunting for a potential new “Michael Laird Production”?

ML: I still love the funny skit, Saturday Night Live style. I love funny dialogue rather than beautiful costumes or scenery. And something that isn’t a rehash of a dozen TV shows you already seen.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

ML: Editing my last film is taking longer than my first film. I am working on that, and also helping others on their films – which will come in handy when looking for volunteers for my Next Great Comedy.

Theater Around The Bay: It’s All In The Name

Guest blogger Fontana Butterfield shares how her improv troupe found the perfect name.

We were finishing our rehearsal and had 10 minutes to figure out a name for our improv troupe. Postcards needed to be made, our first show was already sold out. The clock was ticking. Many names had been thrown into the soup. Everything else but finding a name was going like gangbusters.

The three of us met at a rehearsal for an Armando Company show produced by the improv company Leela. Soon after our Armando show, Mariah sent an email to Claire and me saying she had this crazy fantasy where the three of us would quickly form a trio for the sole purpose of submitting to the all women comedy festival “All Jane, No Dick”. The name of the festival was so perfectly fucked up, we had to do it. We had four days to book space, rehearse together, gather an audience and tape a “show”. It was ballsy. Luckily we are also teaching artists with built in studio stages, random directing students with really good cameras and an audience of improv students.

It happened. We filmed a “show” and came up with a very trippy name on the spot based on audience suggestions. “Father’s Day Remix”. Yeah. It was one of those funny-when-we-said-it and then just plain weird on the tongue. We did not book “All Jane, No Dick” but we did create something that excited us to the core. I feel like I manifested this troupe in my little lady heart. Yes, I actually wrote it in my precious thoughts journal. I want a new troupe that’s small and mighty and is made up of members that are, I’m gonna say it, even better at this than me.

So there we were, in our rehearsal space, sitting in a tiny circle, throwing out names. The past week I had been consumed with names like “Lady Parts”, “3 Chicks Squared”. We even laughed our faces off for far too long and almost went with something like “Sister, Woman, Sister” (homage to The Kathy and Mo Show). And then Claire said it out loud. “Why does it have to have gender in the title?” Boom.

Why does it have to have gender in the title? We are three improvisers. Check. Then we broke it down. Why do we do this? What’s it all about? This is one of those moments in life where you remember everything with all your senses. The room, the sounds, the light, the position of Claire’s face, the posture of Mariah’s back all expectantly listening to Claire say what it is that turns her on most about this magical work. “It’s about being in this moment, it’s about the right now.” The Right Now. This is how we do it.

Find out more about The Right Now Improv Trio by checking out their website at http://therightnowimprovtrio.blogspot.com/. They are performing next at FemProv Fest ’14, headlining the opening show: http://www.femprovfest.com/