In for a Penny: Introduction – Moment of Claire-ity

Charles Lewis steps up to become our semi-monthly columnist on Thursdays.

“I had an inheritance from my father,
It was the moon and the sun.
And though I roam all over the world,
The spending of it’s never done.”
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Claire Rice scares me. Let me explain…

I’ve been considered for a regular Theater Pub column for some time now. As interested as I always was, I often declined as I constantly ran into a few obstacles. For instance, what would be my regular topic of discussion? How do I make sure my write-ups don’t retread well-worn territory? How would I distinguish myself from the unique personalities of the regular writers (the erudite, refined Marissa; the jocular, relatable Allison; the unapologetically acerbic Dave; and… Stuart)? Most importantly: who the hell cares what I have to say about a given topic?

I’m always surprised to find anyone actually paying attention to what I say. Just as another ‘Pub columnist once wrote, I’m acutely aware that I’m the least-educated person in the room – no grad school; no BA; no AA. I don’t have any dorm room memories, I was never assigned a term paper on Proust, and I’m not $200,000 in debt. As such, I’m aware of when my opinions on a topic are dismissed as nothing more than lowbrow attempts at sounding worldly. Frankly I think it’s afforded me a lot of freedom: since no one seems to care what I have to say, I tend to say things that will raise a lot of curious eyebrows or meet a lot of condescending nods.

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That’s why I’m always taken aback when someone not only shows they were listening to what I said, but they have a serious reaction to it. Last year I made a joke to a local playwright, only to find out the next day that said playwright didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Twice this year, my negative comments about Cracked articles have spawned unexpected responses from the writers of said articles. Why just earlier this month I voiced my opinion on a frequently-shared article by a well-known playwright, and once again the author decided to respond to me directly. (To his credit, said playwright was much more even-tempered and cordial than the cry-babies from Cracked. We both responded respectfully and he even offered me tickets to his show. I couldn’t go because I was in PASTORELLA – which I’m still in and which you should all see, ‘cause it’s our closing weekend and everyone loves it.)

And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Now I stand by each and every word I said in the aforementioned exchanges, but when you Twitter is unexpectedly responded to by writers of one of the most popular sites on the internet and a guy who’s been regularly written up in The New York Times, then it’s a refreshing lessons that what one writes on the internet does not exist in a vacuum. I’m not a troll – never have been, never will be. I don’t say things just to get a reaction, I don’t get off on people squirming at my opinions, and I don’t butt in to other people’s conversations thinking my words are the only ones that matter. I’ve been on the receiving end of that shit plenty of times in my life: people who feel the need to give me their unsolicited opinions on race, on politics, on the economics of theatre, on why my particular opinion of a certain film/play/book/sandwich makes me ignorant, on how my making a slip of the tongue (which I am wont to do) must mean I never knew what I was talking about in the first place.

Hey, if you want to engage me in about a topic I’ve posted or spoken about in public, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr, or even here – I’m all for it. Those are the appropriate venues for those types of discussions and I wouldn’t have voiced my opinions if I hadn’t expected some sort of response. As I take on this position at this rapidly-growing-in-prominence website, I do so with the understanding that, whether I like it or not, I’m making myself a target. It’s something I’m not used to, nor would I intentionally seek it out, but I know it comes with the job.

Which leads us back to Claire Rice…

She’s twice the artist I’ll ever be.

She’s twice the artist I’ll ever be.

Like most, if not all, ‘Pub-related things, I met Claire in 2010. I can’t quite remember which ‘Pub event it was, but I remember her easy-going demeanor and the way it seemed as if she was instinctually aware what was happening in the room at all times. It didn’t take long for me to grasp that she was one of the people I should get to know – great writer, ever-present actor, on-point producer, and hands-down one of the best indie directors in the Bay Area. In the time since first being introduced to her, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her several times over and she never ceases to impress me.

And yet there’s an aspect of Claire that’s always seemed mysterious to me; probably because I’ve never gotten to know her on the same personal level as I have other theatre colleagues. Oh, I’ve chatted her up at parties and what-have-you. I’ve even heard some of her best anecdotes (I first heard the Princess Leia story after opening night of Why Torture is Wrong (And the People Who Love Them), which she directed), but there’s always been something elusive about her. When Stuart first announced that she and I would be competing against one another in Year 3 of the Olympians Festival, I remember him throwing back his head and cackling like The Joker when he said “She is gonna kick your ass!” Which she did.

And you know what? I was glad to lose to her. I admire Claire. She’s done more in – and for – theatre than I have. I could easily list off how her achievements considerably dwarf mine (I’m the Homer Simpson to her Thomas Edison), but then that would take away time better spent using her as an inspiration as I move further into directing and producing.

For the month of October, Theater Pub is encouraging its writers to share things that scare them. When I say “Claire Rice scares me”, I mean that in the most admirable way possible. She scares me because she isn’t afraid of voicing an opinion that isn’t popular. She scares me because as she has the talent to back up her artistic vision. She scares me because she’s willing to make her art personal if it means it will have greater resonance, yet it will still be entertaining (look no further than her superhero parody “Occupy Man!” for the Jan. 2012 Theater Pub). She scares me because she’s gone off on many prominent people – writers, artistic directors, etc. – the very sort of people who love to say “I will ruin you!”, but they haven’t ruined her. So aware was she of her power that she made it the central theme of her column. It was called “Enemy’s List”, as she later explained on FB, because she knew that she was on someone else’s shit list.

Claire Rice scares me because if I didn’t know better I’d say she’s absolutely fearless. When I did go against Claire in Olympians, I was also required to give her an intro/bio. I will say now what I said then “When people ask me what’s best about Bay Area theatre, I always find a way to work in ‘Let me tell you about Claire Rice…’.”

She’s the kinda gal that brings a spoon to a gunfight.

She’s the kinda gal that brings a spoon to a gunfight.

But what about me, you ask? What the hell can one expect from my regular ramblings in my newly-alotted ‘Pub space? Quite a lot actually. I’ve decided to follow the example of my new ‘Pub colleagues and use my particular perspective (Black American theatre artist in his early-30s moving through the rapidly changing scene of San Francisco, of which he is a native) as a jump-off point. I’ll occasionally rant about things outside of theatre, so long as I can connect them somehow (Why did everyone crowdfund Le Video, but almost none of those people helped Marcus Books – and what does that mean for closing theatres?). I’ll ruminate on the way my opinion of theatre has changed as I’ve been exposed to more of it firsthand (as one playwright wrote: “People in the theatre are cray, but people in the opera are super-cray!”). And I’ll keep you all as up-to-date as possible as I slowly climb up the theatre ladder and find myself in a position to exert greater influence. I might even do a few more interviews and the like.

Most of all, I will practice that most rudimentary of on-stage rules: I will be present. This is the place where I will voice my unapologetic opinion. This is the place where you will respond. I won’t start on a topic I have no interest in engaging, even when it’s commenting on the posts of my fellow ‘Pub columnists. One needn’t make cryptic comments toward me on Twitter; you can comment below and tell me where I’m wrong in front of the entire Bay Area (and more) theatre community. I’m not promising anything groundbreaking, but I’m as curious as you are to see what actually comes of this.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Charles really does think you should use your pennies to buy a super-cheap ticket to the closing weekend of Pastorella. Said tickets can be purchased here.

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2 comments on “In for a Penny: Introduction – Moment of Claire-ity

  1. Reblogged this on The Thinking Man's Idiot and commented:
    Starting today, I’m a regular columnist for the website San Francisco Theater Pub.

    Here’s the first entry of my column, “In For a Penny”.

  2. […] Charles Lewis, our newest columnist (welcome to the blog, Chuck!) interviewed me over the summer about my play Pleiades, he concluded […]

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