Working Title: The Bottom 7 Reasons Why Furious 7 Is Just like Bay Area Theater

What’s this? Working Title on a Wednesday? Look, we’ve got a lot going on, people… but yeah… here you go. This week Will Leschber plays with NOS and Nostalgia.

I don’t fully understand how it happened. And I know after I say this, I’ll have to turn in my creative, artistic, critical integrity card…but I enjoyed the hell out of seeing Furious 7. I know I’m not the only one, considering the box office returns and the positive critical response. I used to rail against this trash. Street-racing? Duuuuumb. Inflated earnest machismo?! Pass. I’m good on that.

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I felt the first films in the series were flat, flashy, empty and bolstered by style over substance and bad acting to boot. When The Fast and the Furious came out in June of 2001, I had just completed my first year of college studying theater, of course. So I wasn’t really interested in NOS-powered street-racing cars and their criminal counterparts. I couldn’t been seen enjoying this lazy filmmaking. And I didn’t for like 5 films. Then something happened. A NOS switch was flipped and the hollow style of this franchise became a playful aspect that informed the substance. That’s a wordy way to say that as the franchise became aware of itself, it gained depth. It’s something that know what it is and does its job. Just like any professional: Theater or International Super Human, Car-Flying Do-Gooder.

It’s kind of odd how something as originally vapid as The Fast and the Furious can come to be an instrument of such strong NOS-talgia. As the franchise remarks on (and handles beautifully) the passing of Paul Walker, it also remind general audiences how much has passed in the near 14 years since the original. Nothing helps remind like a new chapter in an old book.

Below is the list you never knew you always wanted:

The bottom 7 reasons why Furious 7 is just like Bay Area Theater

#7- It’s not. (But it’s fun to reach for internet lists…COME ON!)

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#6- Both know how to play with genre: Is it drama? Is it action? Is it romance? Is it bromance? Is it melodrama? It’s it self referential parody while somehow ridiculously, hugely entertaining? Has it now matured into all of these things at once? Yeah.

#5- It’s a bro’s club. I’m looking at you, PianoFight. But the good news is the longer the franchise goes on, the better the action scenes get for the awesome female characters. (I’m looking at you, Michelle Rodriguez.)

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#4- Often we think we are saving the world and in reality we are just being self-indulgent and having fun being ridiculous. If you don’t know of any instance where this has happened in your creative life, look to your left, find the first theater person and ask them if their new play is important. I bet it is really really really important.

#3- It’s a drag race.

#2- General audiences agree: these are better when seen in large groups and or intoxicated.

#1- It’s all about family. As ridiculous as it sounds, part of the reason the Fast & the Furious franchise has continued and is more successful than ever, is because we’ve grown to care for the characters. That should go without saying for any long-running franchise. Yes, the action set pieces are well executed. And, sure, we may have shown up for the scantily clad drag-race, but, hey, we stayed because of the personal connections we made along the way.

After we were done living life a quarter-mile at a time, we realized that the connections we make and the bonds we forge are what keep us going when things get hard. My favorite part of being apart of the San Francisco indie theater scene is just that: being a part of a larger community. At times it feels like a dysfunctional family, but at times it reminds us how the small acts of kindness and the large acts of loyalty makes you feel like you are in the arms of family.

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It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Like

Dave Sikula, returning to his regular schedule.

I just got back from a week in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Film Festival. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s three and a half days of (mostly) old movies shown by the good people at Turner Classic Movies. From 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 or 2:00 the next morning, literally tens of thousands of people congregate in movie theatres on Hollywood Boulevard and fill them to see classic films on the big screen. (You wouldn’t believe how exhausting it is to do that, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that in a Facebook group for people who go to the Festival (and is there anything there isn’t a Facebook group for?), someone mentioned that his 82-year-old father couldn’t understand why people came from all over the world to watch movies they could just watch on TV, or if they did it at all, why it wasn’t free, since everything is so old (and, parenthetically, I’ll add that the movies ranged in vintage from 1902 to 1996, so there was really something for everyone).

Why do those thousands turn out and pay an arm and a leg to watch something they could watch for free on their televisions or phones or tablets or computers? It’s not like Cary Grant is suddenly going to do something different in The Philadelphia Story after 75 years. There’s comfort in that. In a sense, it’s like spending time with old friends, even if you know exactly what those friends will say and do every single time. (And this is not to say that every movie is familiar. Of the 18 movies I saw, I’d never seen 10 of them before – and hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.

"You want me to do what?"

“You want me to do what?”

In the Facebook group I mentioned, there was a great deal of complaining when the schedule was announced. “Too many new movies!” was the cry. Not enough “classic” films! (Whatever “classic” means; to most, it can’t include anything that was made or done while you were aware of it.) It seemed like these people didn’t want anything in color – or even with sound.

When you can get more than 900 people to show up for "The Sound of Music," you're doing something right.

When you can get more than 900 people to show up for “The Sound of Music,” you’re doing something right.

Regardless of the reaction to the age of the films, the biggest takeaway for me is that people, under this circumstance, want something comfortable and familiar. We know the rules of movies made under the studio system and prefer not to be surprised. (I think this is the same reason we see so many remakes and franchises in Hollywood. People want to see just what they’ve seen before, just slightly different this time.)
As much as I enjoy old movies in general, and the TCM Festival in particular, I have the opposite reaction to live theatre. It’s understandable, though. Even if you could give the same director the same script, the same actors, and the same set, it would be different, even from night after night. And even if it were somehow possible to offer the exact same experience, why in the world would you want to do it?

Part of the excitement of being in the theatre is not just doing new scripts but also new productions of old scripts with different people. I’ve just started rehearsals for a new show, and have never worked with any of the other actors before. Given the caliber of the talent, I’m going to have to step up my game, though, and that’s as exciting as it is daunting.

Not to make this LA-centric, but, as I mentioned last time, in Los Angeles, Equity members are currently voting on whether to change the current 99-seat waiver plan. (In short, theatres with 99 seats or fewer can get waivers from the union to allow Equity actors to work in them at pay rates that are lower than standard – usually unpaid for rehearsal and anywhere from $7 to $25 per performance. You know; what we get here.) Equity, understandably, wants to get rid of the waiver and ensure that all union actors make at least scale.

The Matrix on Melrose. Your basic waiver theatre.

The Matrix on Melrose. Your basic waiver theatre.

As I also mentioned last time, I’m in favor of keeping the basics of the plan; in the thirty years the plan’s been in place, scores of companies have sprung up, doing all kinds of interesting work, with casts that can be huge – which is something that would be financially impossible if everyone were making even minimum wage, unless ticket prices went sky high, and, realistically, no one is going to pay that much. (We all love theatre, but it is can be pretty damn expensive to see it.) Even at the currently reasonable prices, it’s tough for theatres to always draw enough ticket-buyers to stay comfortably afloat.

And yet, the TCM Festival charges crazy amounts of money and turns people away from screenings.

What am I saying here? That theatres should jack up their prices unreasonably in order to become more financially stable and generously compensate actors for their work? That TCM should lower its prices? (Well, yes to that latter, but that’s not my point …)

No, I’m saying that the Festival is able to charge that much because they offer their patrons something different and unique and exciting. Something they can’t get anywhere else. Something that will have people coming from Australia and Sweden to see it. And that’s a lesson I think we all could learn. That while it seems that people want the familiar and the routine and what they’ve seen before, I think what they want is just the opposite: the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and, as I said, every performance is completely different from every other) that is exciting, entertaining, and enlightening. Something that will make them delighted to pay for dinner and a sitter and parking next time.

Take my recently-closed production of The Imaginary Invalid, for example. I’m not saying it was a great show; I’m not saying it was even a good show (though it was both). What I am saying is that my cast knocked themselves out every performance, getting on a freight train and doing whatever it took to make the material work and entertain their audience. Our first few performances were sparsely attended, and nothing kills comedy like small houses. But, somehow, word of mouth spread and we were packed the last few weeks.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something original or a war horse or a revival of something no one but you has ever heard of. If you’re doing it with passion and panache – and if you’re not, what the hell’s the point, really? – if you build it, they’ll come. Good work will find an audience. Even if you’re charging thousands of dollars for a ticket. (As the old joke has it, “I only need to sell one …”)

In For a Penny: The Fine Art of Wasting Time

Charles Lewis III, filling the hours.

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“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Two Sundays ago, I was an extra for a film shoot here in SF. Due to non-disclosure agreements we were all required to sign, I’m actually not yet allowed to say which film it is. And yet I’m willing to bet many Bay Area performers – stage and screen – probably got notices to work on it as well. Maybe some of you have even worked a few days on it. In any case, it’s a project I’m certain everyone has heard about, a subject whose work reached far and wide, and I watched a dramatic interpretation of a major pop culture milestone from my late-teens. It wasn’t such a bad day.

Well, I mean, unless you count the fact that I had to spend the night before at a friend’s house because the call time was 5am – meaning I had to be awake and out the door by about 4am. I don’t think cameras started rolling until maybe 11 or 12-noon. Lunch was a lot later. And, as I see from my payment voucher, I didn’t wind up officially checking out until 8pm. Fifteen hours watching Hollywood “magic” move slower than a snail racing a tortoise. After nearly a decade, you think I’d be used to it by now.

“Hurry up and wait.” It’s a common phrase in film-making. I’ve heard it’s also supposed to apply to theatre, but that’s never really been the case for me. In theatre, when my character isn’t in the scene being rehearsed or performed, I’m usually busy going over my lines, reading a book, checking, my e-mail, or (quietly) chatting up one of my fellow castmembers backstage. All of these things are done with the awareness of whether or not my scene is coming up next. Even working as an opera supernumerary (a topic I plan to cover in a future column) I’m made aware of the breakdown of the production so as to prepare myself for when I’m most useful.

Film is a different beast all together. You’re never expected to do the whole production in a single day, so the whole thing is assembled piecemeal. You’d think that would mean getting the most out of every moment production is in motion. And yet, if you’ve ever studied to be a film-maker (as I have) or taken part in a film production, you’ll know that the unspoken rule of the medium is to “Waste as much time as you want; it’ll all look a lot faster when it’s put together.”

Theatre is a performance medium first, a technological medium… well, not even second. All one needs on a fundamental level is a performance space and something to do; both of which are limited only by the minds of the performers. Film is a technology first and foremost. Storytelling will always be an afterthought compared to the functionality of the equipment. As such, the crewmembers ability to have things in working order trumps most concerns about preparedness on the part of the actors or stunt performers. As such, the performers will build up their energy only to lose it as they wait for lights to be placed and lenses to be cleaned.

But that’s all to be expected, knowing that film is a technology first. Where the time-wasting is most apparent (to me, anyway) is the lack of rehearsal done with the performers ahead of time. In theatre, you rehearse ad nauseum so as to know exactly what the hell you’re doing during a performance. Things may change during the run and a sudden burst of inspiration may make you approach your performance differently, but you’ll always have your rehearsal work on which to fall back. For film, the actors are expected to simply show up with their lines learned, to go through a quick run-through of how the scene could go, and then just perform multiple takes until everyone is satisfied (and then once more after that “just for safety”). You’d think that an industry known for its “time is money” reputation would strive to be more frugal in its use of both. Instead, everyone on set watches the hours draft away as everyone wonders what could happen, rather than knowing what should happen.

And it’s a problem adopted early. Film schools don’t teach aspiring film-makers to make decisions, they teach them to shoot as much as possible and let the editor decide what the final product will look like. “We’ll fix it in post” is the unfortunate motto every would-be Kurosawa learns their first day of class. They aren’t taught how to find the right angle, they’re taught to shoot from every angle – master shot, medium, single, close-up, extreme close-up – just to have options.
They aren’t taught how to be familiar with as many aspects as possible, just to find one area of the job that might work for you and focus only on that. They’re never taught to think of actors as anything more than props with dialogue, so they don’t understand why an actor needs character motivation and an understanding on a human level.

Now before someone sends me comments with the hashtag #NotAllFilmmakers, believe me, I know. When I work with folks who really have their shit together and the confidence to see it through, it’s a joy to behold. Hell, Will’s column is all about contemplating what separates the masters of the craft from the hacks – in both theatre and film. But it works both ways: if you ever wonder why every single movie, tv show, and web series starts to look the same, it’s because they’re all products of an art form whose educational basis teaches people to never distinguish themselves.

But how do you teach someone to be his/herself? I guess you can’t. I will say that I’ve always been more drawn to those who took the time to try to make something unique rather than just repeating what everyone else is doing. Perhaps they aren’t flamboyant attention-seekers, but someone who knows that there are some techniques that are only useful in the classroom and just waste time in the real world. I find myself thinking about this more and more as this year I’ve found myself directing more than I expected to (and will do more before the year is over). I’d like to think that every moment I spent with my actors was put to the best of use, that they and the technical folks were genuine collaborators in our production, and that I distinguished myself in a way that they’ll speak well of me when it’s all said and done.

Until then, I recommend showing up on film shoots with a fully-charged smartphone set to silent. You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in period costume.

Charles Lewis III’s favorite memory of working as an extra is when he saw a former castmember of a much-beloved Aaron Spelling show have a complete meltdown begin shouting obscenities at the director. Good times.

Everything Is Already Something Week 54: The Most Waiting For Guffman Things That Have Ever Happened To Me

Allison Page is still waiting.

“You’re bastard people. That’s what you are, you’re bastard people!”

Even humans with a passing interest in theatre are probably familiar with the magnificent mockumentary Waiting for Guffman. I saw Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer in conversation with Adam Savage a couple months ago and my brain was squealing with delight the entire time.

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In honor of that, and of general shenanigans and absurdity, here are some of the most Waiting for Guffman-esque things that have ever actually happened to me in real life:

1) An actor didn’t show up to a performance because he was playing softball, so I had to go around and tell the audience to go home…luckily I knew all of them. ALL OF THEM. It was dinner theater so they still got to eat some rolls and an iceberg lettuce salad.

2) Overheard from one of the other actors in a Shakespeare play: “I feel like as long as I get the gist of the line, that’s close enough.”

3) An actor got drunk, put an audience member in a head lock, and then fell through a window. HE FELL THROUGH A WINDOW. An actual window. Glass and everything. We kept going. Also he broke that guy’s glasses.

4) I was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo broke up with me right before opening night and I shouted, in absolute sincerity, “YOU CAN’T BREAK UP WITH ME I’M FUCKING JULIET!” I mean…I was like 19. So. What do you expect?

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

5) An actor couldn’t remember, like, ANY of his lines. And in the middle of the show I had to crawl across the stage and off to look at the script and mouth the lines to him. (I did this maybe a dozen times) And then I crawled back on again, mumbling about my contact lenses.

6) I ate Little Caesar’s Pizza before the show and threw up offstage several times, then got dizzy and sprained my ankle from running back and forth, meaning the other actor in the scene who started the show alone, had to improvise fake phone conversation until I stumbled in.

7) Cast mate chased me with a knife “in character” because I stole her boyfriend. Listen, I know, WE’RE BOTH WRONG HERE.

8) I owed someone a favor and they decided to cash it in by asking me to do lights for Bye, Bye, Birdie. (Birdie couldn’t sing, BTW) Which I did, and then they demanded that I come down FROM THE LIGHT BOOTH at the end of the show so I could bow and wave at the audience. It’s a fairly large theater, so I had to descend a ladder and run from the back of the room onto the stage.

9) The fog machine set off the smoke alarm and a bunch of firemen arrived with axes so we had to evacuate the theater and stand out on the sidewalk for 30 minutes. I was wearing a blue helmet and dystopian future clothes.

10) Nuns wearing eyeliner and lipstick and having nose piercings.

11) Being 150lbs and saying the line “I’m 106lbs!”

12) Actors literally saying “Peas and carrots, peas and carrots” in the background, probably loud enough that people could understand it.

13) My character was being assaulted onstage and my assailants were supposed to be tearing at my clothes. I was wearing a corseted dress with more layers under it so they could rip my costume off. The problem was that one of the two actors who was supposed to be disrobing me was my boyfriend and he was terrified some bit of flesh would pop out, so the other guy would grab a piece of fabric and pull it, and my boyfriend would put it back on.

14) Older men with bad eyes doing their own stage makeup and applying a LOT of eyeliner. And blush. Lots and lots of blush.

15) The costumer REALLY wanted to be on stage. Every time an actor was a couple minutes late to the theater, she’d start asking if she should get ready because she TOTALLY knew the part — she didn’t, but I guess she thought she could make it up.

16) The only Equity actor in the show is the one who doesn’t know their lines. Extra points because this has happened half a dozen times.

17) Lead actress fell down and chipped a tooth mid-show.

18) I saw a production of Little Shop where Seymour was 17 years old and Audrey was 50 years old. And he didn’t know any of the words to the songs. Made ‘em up.

19) An actor casting actual spells backstage on the actors she didn’t like. Ya know, because she’s a witch.

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20) A bunch of the actors hanging out in the men’s dressing room with a bag of coke. The women had no idea what was going on. But it made a lot of sense when we heard about it later.

21) Two actors went out drinking the previous night and got in a fist fight so one of them wore sunglasses through the entire next performance because he had two black eyes.

22) The bed backstage broke in the middle of the show with a giant CRRRAAAACK! so when the bedroom scene happened, it was just a mattress on the floor. I guess the Capulets were on a budget.

23) Oberon WOULD NOT stop smoking stogies in rehearsal. Indoors. He also had two girlfriends and they stood around kissing each other and giggling while we all just waited for them to not be doing that so we could start rehearsal.

24) I was playing an 8 year old but I lost my voice and then sounded like Brian Doyle Murray for the duration of the run.

25) There was a trapdoor on an elevated flat in Scrooge’s house, so that the ghosts (I was Christmas Present and Christmas Past) could just “appear” in the middle of the room. But the flat was only raised about a foot off the stage, and the opening was in the center of it, so we had to get down on our bellies and slither like snakes to get there, and then miraculously do a 90 degree backbend in order to go through the opening. Visions of it collapsing in on me attacked my brain as I scraped several layers of skin of my back each night. But at least I didn’t fall through the trapdoor during a blackout. Someone else did that. “AahhhTHUD.”

Now, go home and bite your pillow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian in San Francisco. She’s currently producing a sketch comedy show written by 8 year olds. Learn more and be afraid, at killingmylobster.com

The Five: Following Up On Old Stories

Anthony R. Miller checks in by revisiting old articles.

Hey guys, so this week’s article started as just another 5 random thoughts. But then I realized the five thoughts weren’t random at all, they all were directly related to previous articles I had written. So today we take a look back at the ol’ back catalogue and see how things changed since then. Think of it as one of those episodes of Unsolved Mysteries where they say “hey remember that one mystery we couldn’t solve? We solved it.” So let’s look at a few follow ups to older articles, as usual, I have five.

Sometimes It Just Works

For my most devoted readers (I.e., my parents.) You will recall how excited I was to see Tartuffe at Berkeley Rep. Without writing a review; suffice it to say I loved the ever-loving crap out of it. A major reason for that being it was the opposite of what I expected. When I think of Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp, I immediately think of the modern-day Commedia Del Arte’ style, over the top comedy of A Doctor In Spite Of Himself and last season’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Instead, I got a dark-as-fuck interpretation that walked a line between silly and dark and perverse. I never knew if I was supposed to laugh or be horrified and I loved it. I loved that they made big fat daring choice and took it to the hilt. However, a strange phenomenon has been happening as I describe the show to people, about the time when I talk about the obvious influence that movement based methods such Biomechanics and Viewpoints had on the staging, I realize, I should have hated this show. The choice to take a usually funny, edgy comedy and take it in such an experimental, art school-esqe direction, the high art-ness of it all should have made me pull chairs out of the floor, but it didn’t. On this particular day, it totally rocked my socks. The point being, sometimes, in spite of everything, you just really like something. Sometimes, it just works for you, and hey, good for you for liking things.

A.J. Kirsch is Brilliant

In my first article for T-Pub, I made my love for Hoodslam pretty clear. My favorite thing about Oakland is not the Lake, Or Chicken and Waffles at the Merritt Bakery not even the Grand Lake Theatre (although it’s a real close second.) It’s Hoodslam, Indie Wrestling’s “Accidental Phenomenon” performing at the Oakland Metro Opera house the First Friday of every month. As I said, my love for this show is well documented, but I specifically want to talk about someone, who I think is one of the best, most brilliant performers in the Bay Area. There is one guy who is on stage for three hours straight, acts as host, commentator and wrestler and puts on a consistently masterful, energetic and fun performance every time. That guy, is A.J. Kirsch, also known as “Broseph Joe Brody” , a former contestant on WWE Tough Enough (And most recently Vh1’s Dating Naked). It’s not just the obscene amount of energy and intensity he puts into every aspect of his performance that makes him special. It’s the sheer amount of roles he plays. As host, he holds a capacity crowd in the palm of his hand; he leads them in chants, drives them into a frenzy with announcement of every wrestler, he stands from the turnbuckle, leaning over the crowd as he basks in sea of middle fingers as the audience chants “Fuck you, Bro”. He is their hero and villain all at once. Every wrestler has what is known as a “Gimmick”, it’s the core of your character, your costume, your entrance music, and your move set. Kirsch’s “Broseph” character is an obnoxious meathead who wears muscle tees with tacky phrases and carries a giant can of Axe body spray, in other words; he is everything the audience hates, a dirty douchebag bro. The audience loves to hate him, and hates to love him. Because of his humor, presence and natural charisma, he is the first ironic heel (Bad Guy), which makes him a Babyface (Good guy) for the smart-fan indie wrestling audience. This is a perfect example of Hoodslam’s Meta nature. Everyone is in on the joke. And Kirsch is their Ringleader.

Wrestlemania Was Probably the Coolest Thing to Ever Happen In San Jose

At some point last year, I made a list of theatrical events I was super excited for, Wrestlemania was one of them. At the time, wild horses could not have stopped me. Not only was it freakin’ Wrestlemania, but it was in my Hometown of San Jose (And Santa Clara, but whatever.). But the cruel realities of $250 Tickets, lame responsibilities and just poor planning led to me watching at home, luckily I have a pretty sweet TV. But the part I enjoyed the most was watching all of the events put on by the WWE that weren’t Wrestlemania. As a former resident of Downtown San Jose, it was crazy to see footage of Fan Access at the San Jose McHenry Convention Center, NXT did a show at SJSU Event Center, Some of my favorite wrestlers went to bars I used to hang out in. So many things that I was a huge fan of were all happening in my lame hometown. And it was all happening blocks away from my old apartment. It was the first time in forever I thought “Aw man, finally something super cool is happening in San Jose and I’m not there.” Wrestlemania was a huge success, which isn’t surprising; Downtown San Jose is designed for conventions. The word is San Jose and Santa Clara want the “Showcase of the Immortals” back sooner than later. Events in Downtown San Jose usually involve cars, concerts with very old bands or cover bands that play very old songs, or Christmas in the Park. So this was easily the coolest thing to ever happen in Downtown San Jose, so when it does come back, I won’t miss it this time, probably.

If Some Dude Doing An All-Pug Production of Hamlet is the Only Good Thing to Come From The Potato Salad Kickstarter, Then It Was Totally Worth It.

Oh the Potato Salad Kickstarter, remember that? The first Crowd-funding Meme, the joke that became a worldwide phenomenon, the Kickstarter Campaign that destroyed relationships, divided friends, and became either the funniest thing ever or proof the human race was doomed (Depending on your point of view.) But suffice it to say, Shit got real. At the time, there was a glut of theatrical crowdsourcing campaigns in the Bay, so I wrote two articles on it. It seemed every dream project, theater renovation, and fledgling theatre company with an ambitious new season, (Not to mention Reading Friggin Rainbow) needed your money. It got crazy, lots of folks didn’t make goal. People, who always made goal, didn’t make goal. And the fact people were more willing to give a dollar to be part of a ridiculous joke instead of ones theatrical endeavor created some very real tension. But a week later, the Facebook news Cycle had moved on and people were mad/outraged/excited about something else. But a lot of folks took the Potato Salad Kickstarter as a sign. A sign that said, you can do a campaign for any stupid idea you have, and people will reward you for how clever your stupid idea is. Enter Kevin Broccoli, an Actor from Providence, Rhode Island. Kevin saw the Potato Salad Kickstarter and said “Hey, I’ve got a stupid idea too!” and his campaign to stage Hamlet with a cast of Pugs was born. What started as joke became very real as the donations poured in; eventually he hit his goal of $5000 and will now stage the show. Think about that, $5000 for Pugs, on stage, dressed in Shakespearean Costumes. So for all the strife that kooky Potato Salad Kickstarter caused, it also begat a bunch of pugs in funny costumes, like a flower that rose from shit.

OMG A MUSICAL VERSION OF ‘GROUNDHOG DAY’!!!

Quite Recently, I wrote about a few silly ideas for musicals (I kept the gems for myself). But what I did not anticipate was real life Broadway one-upping me. Recently it was announced the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day would be adapted into a Broadway musical. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure, but they better do a huge dance number to “Pennsylvania Polka”. Will the Groundhog have a number? The show is written by Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin who wrote the Musical Adaptation of Matilda. This would mean something if I saw Matilda, but it got nominated for a Tony, that still means something, right? (Right?) One day our entire childhoods will be re-created in musical form, hopefully all the actors will be pugs, pugs dressed as pro wrestlers.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer. His new play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party” will premiere at this years SFF Olympians Festival and his other new play “Sexy Vampire Academy” will get it’s first reading as part of “TERROR-RAMA 2:PROM NIGHT”, this October. Keep up with all of it at www.awesometheatre.org

Theater Around The Bay: STEVEN & MEGAN IN “MEGAN & STEVEN PRESENT A WORLD PREMIERE BY STEVEN & MEGAN

Wondering what’s next up at Theater Pub?

STEVEN & MEGAN IN “MEGAN & STEVEN PRESENT A WORLD PREMIERE BY STEVEN &; MEGAN

As the play gets better, the actors get worse! This free, 40-minute theatrical cocktail pours ambition into a shaker over ice, then adds a splash of fiasco. San Francisco Theater Pub presents the duo of Megan Cohen &; Steven Westdahl, award-winning artists and a real-life couple, who will endeavor to share their new magnum opus with a twist… or a chaser. They’ve got a brand-new five-minute play, and they’ll do it over and over until they get it right. However, as they bring in elements to realize their theatrical vision, adding props, costumes, and even “acting” to their play, the two will also be taking shots and chugging pints, reducing their ability to make it through the performance of their mercilessly challenging script. Will art survive this high-stakes drinking contest? Will the artists? Join them for an evening, and see if you can keep up.

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, April 20 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, April 21 @ 8:00pm
Monday, April 27 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, April 28 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door (and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!) No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early.

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to get a good seat, and try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

ARTIST BIO
Megan Cohen and Steven Westdahl are founding ensemble members of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists, a company called “Best of the Bay” in the 2014 San Francisco Bay Guardian, and voted “Best Theater” in the 2014 SF Weekly Readers’ Poll. Between them, Steven & Megan are a 2014 Theater Bay Area Emerging Artist Honoree, the 2010 Air Sex World Champion, a theremin player, an award-winning puppeteer, a competitive eating champion, and the most produced female playwright in the San Francisco Bay Area. Between them, they have worked with companies including A.C.T., Second City, PianoFight, Impact Theater, Playwrights Foundation, Un-Scripted, NCTC, and Playground, and have performed in SF, New York, Scotland, Russia, and Bali. Together, they are unusual, brunette, and 10′ 11″ tall.
Visit: megancohen.com, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steven-Westdahl/
Tweet: @Swestdahl, @WayBetterThanTV

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview with Cecilia Palmtag and Addie Ulrey

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us to Home.

This week I had to interview two theater artists and playwrights, Cecilia Palmtag and Addie Ulrey who are both Core Artists with Ragged Wing Ensemble. Cecilia and Addie both developed pieces for the evening of short plays, “Destination Home”, now playing at The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland.

Both Cecilia and Addie had very interesting thoughts and perspectives on the craft of writing a new theater piece. Not shirking from the sometimes all-consuming frustration that comes with writing, both give their thoughts on sacrifice and perseverance during the times of creation and development. But, let’s get to it, because with two featured writers, this week, we still have a ways to go!

BJ: What drew you to theater and how would you describe your writing interests or voice?

CP: Utter necessity. The medium has a visceral potency that can’t be found anywhere else and can be deeply satisfying in the way that only direct experience can be. I’m interested in the breadth of a Shakespearean audience appeal, and work that is revitalizing to communal and ritual experience. Intellectual, emotional, and culturally significant themes drive my work and I tend to go for really big ideas.

One of my plays, Now! Now? Now. asked the question, “What are the mechanisms by which we prevent ourselves from experiencing the present moment?” There is a significant amount of humor and levity in my work, which is always helpful as the ideas can sometimes be very chewy and the audience needs breaks. Recently I’ve been writing stage poems (not to be confused with Slam poems). My current piece, Mother’s Fever Dream, is physically expressive, textually sparse and dense with meaning.

Cecilia Palmtag

Cecilia Palmtag

AU: I started as an actor. At some point I took a mandatory playwriting class, and realized I was obviously in some ways a writer. My friend Tadd and I were discovering this about ourselves at the same time, and at first we wrote plays together, or at the very least we were each other’s’ editors and first audience. Our writing styles were exactly opposite, so we were good teachers for each other. Tadd always wanted bigger, weirder, crazier. In his plays, Mariah Carey was being worshipped as a god while humans were devolving into animals while life-sized cans of coca cola were having babies. In my plays, someone opened a box of tea bags one by one and read the advice on the paper tabs. I wanted the poetic to be banal, and for not much to happen.

I tend to have a strong autobiographical streak in my writing, which I used to see as an amateur phase, but am now beginning to see as something I’m interested in in a deeper way. I still like the banal, but Tadd taught me to be less afraid of including things I can only imagine, to not be afraid of inventing and possibly getting it wrong. I’m interested in the place of the artist in the world today, and the romanticized idea of the artist. I’m interested in learning to make plays the way you might make a painting: starting with image, starting with materials.

Addie Ulrey

Addie Ulrey

BJ: What is your play about?

CP: A child alone in a car and a mother who in her attempt to heal others sickens herself. The reward of containment. The price of containment. Inheriting our parents’ gifts and burdens. Frogs. The central question which inspired Mother’s Fever Dream is, “How are we going to deal with climate change on a story-making basis?” What stories will we tell ourselves, what is the new myth for this unprecedented era that we can return to as things go from whack to… whack-er.

AU: My play is about quitting and failing. Well, it’s about “homing” obviously, so I guess it’s about where those concepts meet: quitting, failing, and homing. Is home the destination? Is home the place you must leave in order to reach the destination? Clearly home is both. The play follows two pioneers on the road to California from the Midwest during the 1800s, and they– well, am I supposed to spoil it? — they turn home. They go back.

BJ: How did you get involved in “Destination Home”? Had you written in this matter before?

CP: I’ve been writing one acts with Ragged Wing since 2012, and have been a core member since 2011. Proposals were being put forth last year and I submitted the concept of my solo piece early on. The development process is becoming more codified, and more closely resembling a typical drafting, reading and rehearsing process. In the past we called them “Fierce Plays” because we had ten days from first rehearsal to opening night. This time we had nearly three weeks! Pressure creates a lovely necessity, and the Fierce Play process primed me to be open to significant changes right up until opening.

AU: Ragged Wing chooses a season theme every year that in some way speaks to the phase that the company itself is in in that moment – a ten-year-old company that has been growing and changing especially fast in the last few years. I’ve been part of the company at Ragged Wing for four years now, so I’ve written on many of these themes: It’s About Time, Just Ripe, and now, Homing. Right now, I’m also in the process of co-writing a play with the youth ensemble of high school students on the same theme. Which is a totally different process because you’re trying to take their ideas and characters relating to home and help structure them into a story that holds acting opportunities for all the students. It’s more technical and less free-form. It’s a good exercise.

BJ: What was your initial idea and what did it morph into?

CP: It started with Ibsen’s Brand, a woman at the center of the earth sounding a huge drum, and a doctor who seemed to be the only one trying to cope with a mysterious epidemic. Approaching this project I knew I had about 15 minutes of stage time, and about two months to develop it. So after sifting through about 80-100 pages of raw material, Amy Sass’s Awesome Dramaturgy helped me focus on the salient, urgent, and totally relatable crisis of a child trapped in a car. The boxes were a powerful image that became central to the vocabulary, and doctor stuck as well. She encouraged me to follow where the script felt alive.

Cecilia Palmtag in her piece, "Mother's Fever Dream"

Cecilia Palmtag in her piece, “Mother’s Fever Dream”

AU: So I was initially writing a totally different play. Like for about a month. And we got all the way to the point of our second draft reading, which was about a week out from the start of rehearsals and one month out from the opening of the show, and it became clear that the piece I was working on wasn’t going to happen for this show. It was getting too big in scope to fit well into this evening of shorts, and it required fairly specific casting which wasn’t coming together, a lot of things. So we made the decision to table that piece for a future date when a longer development period is possible. Which was kind of a relief, and seemed right. Except that meant I had one week to come up with something altogether new in time for rehearsals to start. So I spent a few days throwing a fit and saying, “no I can’t I won’t”, which morphed into, “okay I will write a play but it’s going to be all about quitting and failing”. The pioneers already existed from the previous piece, so they ended up getting carried over and used as the container for this new idea.

Addie Ulrey's "Making It"

Addie Ulrey’s “Making It”

We do a lot of fast processes at Ragged Wing, which has taught me a lot and made me more fearless I think as an artist. It produces a lot of stress though, and I was feeling so stressed out about the prospect of making a new piece from scratch that I basically decided I would try to make it my task to enjoy the process, even if sometimes that meant closing the computer and going bed, and even if that ultimately meant the piece itself would fail. Or that I would fail to complete it. That I would try not to let it become my sanity versus the piece. So I guess that’s how the piece evolved.

BJ: Was there anything about the process of creating a piece for “Destination Home” that pushed you as an artist or gave you additional insight into the creative process?

CP: The new element was creating and performing a solo show. In the later part of drafting and early part of rehearsing there was a blurred line between the two. I improvised scenes in my writing time and later developed them in the script. When the script felt stuck I improvised, when I had enough material I distilled it into something concise. The structure was Queen in this piece, and it took me almost two months to nail it. When I had the right props the imagery and language unfolded and intertwined in really satisfying ways.

AU: I’m looking at that paragraph I just wrote for the last question, and the phrase, “enjoy the process”. Which is a funny one. Because you don’t enjoy it like you enjoy lemonade, you know. Well at certain times you do. But what it really means is learn to enjoy the tumultuousness, because it needs to be tumultuous; that’s what you sign up for. It’s somewhere between meditative and volcanic. It’s not like knitting a sweater.

So that’s hard.

One thing I’m finally learning is to not be resentful of the massive amount of space a play takes up in my life. Every time I make a play, there is a long list of things I have to ignore in order to make it happen. I don’t exercise, I don’t see my friends. I don’t get to go to the movies and I don’t get to make dinner and I don’t get to say yes to invitations. And if I do make the mistake of saying yes, I probably will have to cancel at the last minute. And it tends to feel really unfair, and I start to hate the play. Especially because it just doesn’t seem like the product is going to be WORTH all this flaking out on people and skipping work and almost losing my job. But I’m starting to learn to see it as seasonal, as an ebb and flow: when the play is over, there is lots of empty space, and these things can flood back into my life again. And when a new project begins, I have to actively make space for it. Because it’s not like knitting a sweater– you can’t just fit it in around everything else. It needs a lot of space. That’s just how making is. It’s not efficient. Art is not efficient!

BJ: Any challenges or considerations that came up? How did you handle them?

CP: My big challenge was doing everything. Years ago I told myself I’d never self-direct again. It’s good advice. Being totally embroiled in all aspects is costly. It was a struggle to approach the material with fresh eyes. Hear the script like an audience member. Watch the performance like a director. Perform the play like an actor. In all stages, but especially now, I’ve had to consciously step away from the piece as a playwright in order to fully commit as an actor. One job at a time is much simpler than everything at once.

AU: What to do with actors in rehearsal when you don’t have any new scenes written for them, and the ones you do have need fixing.

Experiment with string. Figure out how many ways one can walk on an endless expanse and not make any progress. Cry a lot. Crying generally helps move rehearsal forward.

BJ: Any thoughts or advice for others who want to create and develop a play?

CP: Follow the heat of your story, which to me means the personally relevant pay dirt. Have really high standards for where you’re going, and surround yourself with people you trust to be kind and to tell the truth. Then let it go. Cut whatever you have to- pages, scenes, characters. Write more. And then more. Bow to the structure, or the action, or the character, or whatever is the Queen of your play’s kingdom.

AU: Well… it’s a map. I find it so relieving to not think of a play as primarily words, but as primarily occurrences. It takes the pressure of crafting dialogue that is clever without being obvious, is deep without being after-school special. It allows dialogue to be a tool among several, and be used when it’s needed. There’s also poetry, there’s movement, there’s silence, there are objects… and so on. You map what you want to occur. I also find it helpful to constantly go back to embracing the primitive-ness of theater (in this age). What can the primitive do well that the technological cannot?

BJ: Shout-outs or plugs for upcoming theater events, shows or performances?

CP/AU: Ragged Wing’s Destination Home! ☺ April 3 & 4th at 8pm at The Flight Deck (1540 Broadway in downtown Oakland).

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Russell Blackwood’s Parisian Thrills

Marissa Skudlarek, our resident Francophile, reports on a new Paris-themed musical revue. And no, she isn’t moving to Fridays, our Editor in Chief just started rehearsals for his next show this week, and so everything’s a little behind right now.

The Thrillpeddlers have been peddling thrills – in the form of outrageous, only-in-San-Francisco theater – for over 20 years. They love the tattered, tawdry glamour of the stage, and have made a name for themselves by reviving older performance styles like Grand Guignol and Theatre of the Ridiculous. That attitude shines through in their new show, Jewels of Paris, as well. It’s a musical revue that celebrates the City of Light and its legacy of beauty, art, and revolution. Under the direction of Russell Blackwood (who is also Thrillpeddlers’ Producing Artistic Director), the cast sings Scrumbly Koldewyn’s catchy songs, sports gaudy barely-there costumes, celebrates freaks and innovators, and does their best to épater les bourgeois.

One sketch in Jewels of Paris features Jean Cocteau saying (as he did in real life), “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture,” but fortunately for us, Russell Blackwood doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. After seeing Jewels of Paris on Friday night, I got to interview him about how he brought bygone Paris to life onstage in 2015.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: Thrillpeddlers have met with great success reviving other Scrumbly Koldewyn musicals in recent years, but I believe this is the first new show of his that you’ve produced. Who had the original idea to create a Paris-themed musical revue and what was Thrillpeddlers’ role in the development process?

Russell: During the past seven years, Thrillpeddlers have worked with Scrumbly to revive and reinvent his musicals from the repertoire of the fabulous Cockettes, the queer counterculture theatre troupe from early 1970s San Francisco. The Cockettes created two Parisian-themed musical revues back in the day. They were comprised largely of published music that is not in the public domain, but included a few original numbers by Scrumbly and lyricist Martin Worman. Our title song “The Jewels of Paris” is among these. When Scrumbly began working with Cockette “Sweet Pam” Tent on a new show for Thrillpeddlers last year, the idea of a Parisian-themed musical revue excited the whole company into a flurry of group creation. Not unlike Shocktoberfest, Thrillpeddlers’ annual Grand Guignol horror theatre festival, I wanted our revue to have several playwrights contribute to the bill and use Parisian-born revolutions as our raw material.

Marissa: Revues and vaudeville shows often have acts written to showcase specific performers, and I know the Thrillpeddlers are a tight-knit troupe. Were any of the songs or sketches in Jewels of Paris created with a specific actor in mind?

Russell: Oh yes, about half the material was written after the production was cast. Then, once we were in rehearsal, group discussions led to more musical numbers like the “Quasihomo & Lesmerelda” duet for J Iness and Bruna Palmeiro. The song “Chic and Tragic” was definitely penned for the show’s Pierrot, Birdie-Bob Watt, well in advance; whereas the ballad “At the Sideshow” was written overnight for Roxanne RedMeat to sing as a precursor to a one-act sex farce about a bearded lady and her lover.

Marissa: You’re known for your impeccable research into historical theater and performance styles. For instance, just from a choreographic standpoint, Jewels of Paris features avant-garde ballet, a flirty cancan, a pugnacious Apache dance, and Josephine Baker’s Charleston Sauvage. As a director, what is your approach to bringing older performance traditions to 21st-century actors and audiences, who may not be so familiar with them?

Russell: Our long-time choreographer Noah Haydon did a fabulous job fulfilling Scrumbly’s and my desire to include French dance forms. YouTube, of course, came into play. Scrumbly and Roxanne RedMeat took their inspiration for our avant-garde ballet Façade from a video recreation of the 1916 choreography of the Ballets Russes’ Parade. Alex Kinney became our dramaturg and took on creating a 13-minute homage to neoclassical drama, Molière comedy and Jean de La Fontaine’s classic folk hero Renard the Fox, all in three short acts. We’re not slavishly recreating any of these performance genres. It’s more that we’re saying “What might that have been like?” and then spinning those elements that turn us on the most. We’ve got gusto and the best of our abilities going for us. We’ve also got a missionary’s zeal to save performance forms ending up forgotten footnotes.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: If I was describing Jewels of Paris to a friend, I’d call it a bawdy burlesque romp. But the show also has several torchy ballads and confronts some more serious issues: French racism and imperialism in the Josephine Baker sequence; gentrification and the passing of time in “Oh What a World.” What was your approach to handling this material so that these serious themes were given their due, yet would not overshadow the fundamentally upbeat nature of the show?

Russell: That is the very nature of revue. Music, dance, spectacle and satire play off one another to their mutual benefit. It makes the funny stuff funnier and the poignant stuff more poignant. Both of the ballads you mention, “But Underneath” and “Oh What a World” directly follow comic sketches written by Rob Keefe on related subjects. Pierrot’s tortured tune “Chic and Tragic” is witnessed by two Americans, in a sketch by Andy Wenger that tries to define what’s so funny about a sad clown. Answer: “He’s sad and you’re not.” These are examples of Scrumbly writing songs to be paired with playwrights’ companion pieces.

Marissa: Fantasy dinner party time: if you could have dinner with any 3 Paris-related historical figures, who would you choose and why?

Russell: Oscar Wilde for wit, Sarah Bernhardt for melodrama, and Jean Genet for filth.

Marissa: The finale of Jewels of Paris invokes San Francisco as the “Paris of the West” and exhorts the audience to express their creativity and individuality. In recent years, there have been countless articles fretting that all the artists are fleeing San Francisco and that we are becoming a stale, conformist city. Having led a niche-y theater company in San Francisco for over 20 years, do you agree with this characterization of S.F.? Do you have any advice for younger artists who want to keep San Francisco weird?

Russell: While some aspects of life here have become more difficult, we have new outrages to respond to and flames to keep burning. Thrillpeddlers is a multi-generational freak theatre. Man, that makes me proud! On our stage now are some of the hottest acts I’ve seen in a quarter century in this town. If you want to see what makes San Francisco theatre exciting – come see this show!

Jewels of Paris performs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St in San Francisco, through May 2. Tickets here.

Theater Around The Bay: Tonya + Theater Pub 4-Evar

Ashley Cowan is out on maternity leave, so in the meantime, Theater Pub’s new Co-Artistic Director, Tonya Narvaez, shares her thoughts on the first three months of her tenure.

Hello, there. I’m Tonya Narvaez. I’m Co-Artistic Director of San Francisco Theater Pub.

I put off writing this post until the last minute for a number of reasons. Mostly because I’m sick and have therefore lost all multi-tasking abilities. So please bear with me here. Also because I just didn’t know what to say.

It’s so interesting and exciting that Theater Pub, this unifying, community-oriented, local-artists-supporting, FUN theater company, is back! But…I found myself asking: why is it interesting or exciting that I’m Co-Artistic Director? Should I just write about upcoming events and why Theater Pub is awesome? Should I try to make it special or witty somehow?

Then “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads came on Pandora.

“And you may ask yourself-Hey! How did I get here?”

Ah-ha! I should write about how I got here. An extended bio, if you will. Because it’s definitely not been a straight line for me.

I was born an Army brat in Corpus Christi, TX.

Yes, we’re starting at the beginning.

Yes, we’re starting at the beginning.

I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to have a mansion where every room was a different color, a husband who took care of the kids, to go to outer space, to have an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, a thriving dental practice, and to win the gold medal in gymnastics and figure skating. #RealisticLifeGoals

At the age of seven, I struck out to complete one of these goals. I auditioned for Marta in the local high school’s production of The Sound of Music. I memorized the song and my dad helped me come up with some sweet dance moves. I didn’t get it. I didn’t sing loud enough.

That’s right, little T. That’s what rejection feels like.

That’s right, little T. That’s what rejection feels like.

I kept at it, and eventually got into Production Drama in high school. I kept studying theater in college. My first year, I began to question whether or not I should go for it. So I went to my acting teacher for help. He basically told me to quit acting unless I had to do it. That if there was anything else in the world that I could do, to do it instead.

I thought he was a real asshole at the time.

Later, I decided to take a few acting classes in San Francisco. I fell in love with the city. For this reason, and for many other reasons too complicated to go into now, I decided to move here permanently.

Two years later I realized I’d let myself quit acting for no good reason. (“no good reason”=because of a terrible relationship) I started auditioning and booked two musicals in Fremont. I auditioned for Sleepwalkers Theatre twice in a year. ONLY that theater. Why? That particular theater just spoke to me, and I didn’t have a lot of ‘in’s in the community yet. So I dipped a toe. And it felt good. I wanted more.

My good friend Chris told me about the San Francisco Olympians Festival auditions. She pushed me to sign up. It was the most fun I’d ever had at an audition, and I booked a show from it! I immediately made about fifty friends, all from the theater community. It was like I had tapped into this vast well of talent and life.

From there, I was introduced to San Francisco Theater Pub, which was like Olympians but all year long. Pretty soon, I was in show after show, sometimes overlapping. I was making art all the time! It was thrilling. In the middle of all that, something devastating happened. And I ended up packing up and moving back to Southern California for a little while.

In February of 2014, I was ready to come back. I worked at writing and directing. I became Production Manager for a new festival. Acting started taking a backseat.

I finally realized that my college acting teacher wasn’t completely full of shit. What he said was a bit simplistic and extreme. But if I have-to act, then I should act. If I have-to direct, then I should direct. If I have-to write, then I should write. If I have-to be a part of the San Francisco Theater Pub reboot, then I should go for it.

I hope I’m not the only one who’s seen Rookie of the Year recently.

I hope I’m not the only one who’s seen Rookie of the Year recently.

So I went for it!

Yes, this is broad and sweeping, but there have been lessons learned along the way too. The biggest of which is that you can’t always do EVERYTHING that you have-to do. I’m feeling pretty damn happy about the have-to’s I’ve chosen right now, though. And even more happy that Theater Pub, this crazy well of talent and art, is a have-to that I can share with all of you.

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