The Real World – Theater Edition: The Sound of Silence

Barbara Jwanouskos, sitting in silence.

That sound in between the end of a play before the clapping begins…

It must be one of the sweetest things. The understanding and collective feeling of that moment in the play — the one we all worked for — actors, playwright, director, technicians, stage manager, designers, all. The moment in between anticipation and satisfaction, between understanding and wondering. It’s the moment of silence where regardless of the quality of anything in or outside the world of production something settles and rests. Sometimes this moment feels more profound than others, but I believe that it’s always there. Or, at least it’s potential is there, and to me, while subtle, it’s still enough to be noticed and appreciated.

To me, this moment of silence isn’t really silent at all — just as I find more and more that there are no true moments of silence. Something is always moving and developing whether heard or not.

I have become enamored with silence and how it is used within theater in the past couple of years. Not just at the end of a play – if I’m lucky, maybe I get that kind of response to something I wrote – but within the work as well. I’ve been looking for moments where seemingly “nothing is happening”. I’m in good company, treading on the heels of Annie Baker and Toshiki Okada, among others, playwrights who understand the underlying tension of people inhabiting a room together, but not speaking. Why? The tension is palpable and felt if you have ears to hear and are able to settle in to the initial discomfort that comes from not knowing what’s happening, who is in power, who will speak next.

The Flick by Annie Baker. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Flick by Annie Baker. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I recognize that this feeling is not for everyone. Some find it boring, but I find it anything but. Remember the controversy over THE FLICK, Baker’s play presented at Playwrights Horizons? The play described as having a “glacial” pace enraged members if the audience who were enraged by what they saw before them. How could a theater company be so daft as to produce a play with nothing happening?? But others pointed to the tremendous emotional turns that were supported by these silent moments, only possible if you’re able to settle in, be patient, and truly tune in to watch what was happening– feel what was happening as the players were drawn into moments of uncomfortable, heartbreakingly silent moments of intimacy.

ZERO COST HOUSE, adapted by Pig Iron Theatre Company from Toshiki Okada’s work, had the similar kind of use of silence. I remember seeing it in Pittsburgh at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, at first confused and annoyed at how long it was taking to get to the next thing. Then, I realized, “oh, it’s intentional!” and it hit me — something else WAS happening in those moments that was much more powerful than anything I’d experienced between robust movement or dialogue exchanges. Moments where the characters were waiting for reactions from one another, for ideas to settle in. Perhaps it was something that could maybe only be felt because of the lack of words, sounds, and volley of ideas. Afterwards, chatting with my friends, most of them sat in camp “what the fuck was that?!” where as I was in camp “what the fuck was that!!” And another realization that subtlety is not for everyone. Maybe can’t be for everyone at least initially. Perhaps has to be trained and cultivated and come in the right moment in one’s life when one can truly stop and listen to the orchestra of the unspoken.

A moment from Pig Iron Theatre Company's production of ZERO COST HOUSE.

A moment from Pig Iron Theatre Company’s production of ZERO COST HOUSE.

And now? I can’t not write a moment of unspoken interaction between characters. I sometimes guide the length by perhaps describing the moment in the stage directions in intimate detail. Sometimes it’s a bit more poetic and left for interpretation. But in the movie in my mind, it’s a long, visceral moment where characters yearn for closeness. Or something. It’s like sitting in a meadow and all the sudden something catches your eye. You realize that an animal has started to emerge from the bushes. And that it knows you’re there. Do you rush over and try and grab it? Or do you wait and watch to see what it will do? We’re all different I suppose, but I’ve always been curious about what this little deer or squirrel or rabbit might point me to. Even if it’s just going to just eat some nuts or something, how often do we get this encounter?

Maybe it does point back to something missing or something we crave in our waking world. Perhaps we wouldn’t have such a powerful reaction when we encounter these moments where “nothing happens”. I’ve started to question if that is truth and so have stepped into the place where I can listen to what is about to happen next. I have this idea that if you tune in and just sort of gently wait it out, that you’ll know what happens next. It’s always expected. So then, if the question stops becoming, “what happens next?” and “how does it happen?”, what are the new questions now? And does it mean that whatever preconceived structure we choose – linear, non-linear, whatever – are they still relevant? I don’t know. Until I find the answers I’m happy to quietly watch and notice the world around me.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who is a part of the Playwrights Foundation’s FlashPlays Festival on Dec. 6 and 7. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Ridiculously Easy, Theatrically Inspired Halloween Costumes

Marissa Skudlarek has some costume tips for Halloween procrastinators.

Without quite being able to articulate why, I’ve always thought there was something a little odd about dressing up for Halloween as a character from a play. Maybe it’s because I feel like the people who are most likely to do that are actors themselves, and as such, dressing up as a theatrical character represents a weird blurring of their personal and professional lives. Like, rather than playing this role in a staged production, they’ve decided to play it for Halloween.

Maybe, too, it’s because there are fewer iconic theater costumes than film costumes. Because theater encourages multiple interpretations of classic plays, the iconography associated with what classic characters wear is more diffuse. There’ve been productions of Antigone where she wears a chiton and productions where she wears jeans.

Nevertheless, Halloween is approaching and for anyone who’s still deciding on a costume, I thought I’d offer some suggestions for Ridiculously Easy, Theatrically Inspired Halloween Costumes.

I feel like every dude in S.F. has this outfit. David Tennant as Hamlet (photo by Robbie Jack/Corbis).

I feel like every dude in S.F. has this outfit (sans skull). David Tennant as Hamlet (photo by Robbie Jack/Corbis).

Hamlet. Hamlet may be one of the most challenging roles in theater, but it is seriously the world’s easiest Halloween costume. Here’s how you dress up as Hamlet:

  1. Wear a long-sleeved black shirt and black pants.
  2. Go to a store that sells Halloween decorations and buy a plastic skull.
  3. Carry the skull around and look melancholy.

Is that not the easiest thing in the world? (And if you’re worried about choosing a costume that requires you to look glum and melancholy, remember that Hamlet also “puts an antic disposition on,” which sounds like a good excuse if you want to go crazy on the dance floor.) I will also point out that Hamlet is a unisex costume – women have been playing Hamlet for hundreds of years. And, if you’re used to thinking of Hamlet as a slim fellow and you’re worried you may not have the physique to dress as him, check out this article arguing that Shakespeare may have intended an overweight Hamlet.

The Soothsayer and Caesar (Thomasina Clarke & Raphael Nash Thompson) in the 2006 St. Louis Shakespeare Festival production. Photo by J. David Levy.

The Soothsayer and Caesar (Thomasina Clarke & Raphael Nash Thompson) in the 2006 St. Louis Shakespeare Festival production. Photo by J. David Levy.

Julius Caesar & Soothsayer. You know what’s a ridiculously easy costume? A bedsheet toga. You know how you can jazz up your bedsheet toga so that it doesn’t look like such a lazy cliché? Get a Halloween blood-makeup kit and paint stab wounds on your arms and torso, and you’re Julius Caesar! If you can, go with a friend who accessorizes his/her toga with fortuneteller-style scarves and jewelry, to portray the Soothsayer. This is my idea of a cute couples’ costume, and I’m not sure I want to know what that says about me.

elizabeth-taylors-style-cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-6

Brick’s blue bathrobe is an easy Halloween costume for a lazy dude, too. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Stanley Kowalski / Maggie the Cat. If you want a sexy costume this Halloween, no characters from 20th-century theater are hotter than these two. For Stanley: wear Levis and a torn, sweaty undershirt, and stand in the rain yelling “STELLA!” For Maggie: wear a white ‘50s slip (available at any vintage store); carry a tumbler of whiskey; pose in doorways.

Stanley knows how to party. Marlon Brando in

I realize that suggesting you dress up as Stanley Kowalski is tantamount to suggesting that you dress up as a Sexy Rapist, and yet, I’m doing it anyway. Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The hitch: These costumes are so simple that they really only work if you’re as hot as the young Marlon Brando or Elizabeth Taylor.

Natalie Dessay as Violetta and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo in

The amazing Natalie Dessay as Violetta and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Met.
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

The Lady of the Camellias. Maybe this is cheating, because this character originated in a novel, not a play. But I think the play, sometimes known in the English-speaking world as Camille, has become more famous than the novel, so I’m including it. And lest you say “But in order to be Camille, don’t I have to find a hoop skirt and a corset and do my hair in corkscrew curls? That’s not easy!” I will point out that the French title of the play translates as The Lady with the Camellias. That’s all you need. A lady, and (silk) camellias. (And probably some other clothing too; I don’t want these suggestions to get anyone arrested for public indecency.) Traditional productions of Camille and the opera that’s based on it, La Traviata, do require hoop skirts and corsets, but there’ve been modern productions with updated costumes – in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production, the heroine wears a red cocktail dress with a white camellia tucked at her bosom. If you’ve got a sexy red dress in your own closet, go to the craft store, get some faux camellias, put them in your hair or your cleavage, and voila.

Charles Ludlam: the most famous Camille of the late 20th century.

Charles Ludlam: the most famous Camille of the late 20th century.

This can be a unisex costume, too! Charles Ludlam, founder of the “Theater of the Ridiculous,” became famous for playing Camille in a low-cut dress that revealed his hairy chest.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She won’t be dressing up as a theatrical character this Halloween, but she will be wearing the platinum wig that she originally wore in The Desk Set this summer — does that count? For more: visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: Spooky Tales of Audition Costumes

Ashley’s teamed up with some Bay Area artists to chat about auditions and dressing for the part.

Halloween is just three days away and I’m sure you’ve been keeping busy thinking about costumes and perfecting your sexy Kim Davis outfit, ensuring your wig looks as intolerant as possible. But as October comes to a close so does our month’s design focus theme.

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So I started to think about memorable costumes I’ve had the opportunity to wear in the past and my own attempts to “costume” myself for certain auditions. I gave myself bangs to look younger, I wore fingerless gloves to look edgy, and canceled an audition that sent me a follow up an hour before my time slot asking me to be ready to read my scene topless. Ah, so many stories so little time!

But I reached out to a few pals to see if they had any audition tales and they kindly were willing to share a few gems. It’s nice to know we’re all in this together, right?

Melinda Marks:
I showed up to callbacks for Doubt, and there were only three other women there. They were all wearing habits and rosary beads. Like, chatting merrily. In habits. At first I was mortified because I thought SURELY if these women were in HABITS I must have missed, like, a really important memo from the design team. I later found out they were ALL IN A SHOW TOGETHER and had just done it for funsies. I got that part, by the way.

Jan Gilbert: Right before I moved here, I played Yitzhak in a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, so I was ecstatic to see an audition notice for the production here in the city. In the process of booking an audition, the casting folk used the sentence: ‘If you would like to come dressed in any sort of character appropriate Drag, you are certainly welcome to.’ And yes, the word ‘Drag’ was capitalized.

Now, being an avid ‘always play dress up for auditions’ type of actor, I had already been taken aback by how casual auditions here seemed to be. Before moving here, I would never have DREAMED of wearing jeans to an audition. Or not wearing my hair down. Ever. But, seeing as they were inviting you to dress in character appropriate ‘Drag’…and seeing as I happened to still have the camo cargo pants I wore in the recent production in which I dressed like a man for most of the show, I took a leap, after much back and forth, pulled back my hair, threw on the pants, wrapped up with a trusty ace bandage and went for it.

When I got into the audition room, the director looked at me, held up my headshot and asked ‘this is you?’ It didn’t feel like the best way to start an audition, but oh well.

So I went to an audition in ‘Drag,’ and it was a boundary-pushing experience for me. I did get a callback. They asked me to ‘please wear a dress’ to see my take on the character post-transition. When I showed up dressed in my normal audition gear, they again didn’t recognize me. It was quite an interesting feeling.

While I didn’t end up getting cast (I ended up on their ‘possible cast for extension’ list), I was glad in the end that I just went for it. I guess it’s like they say: ‘dress for the part you want’…or something like that.

Colin Johnson: I was holding auditions and a guy came in looking very Zoolander. Tight black pants, V cut black tee, and leather jacket. He was so bad that I was convinced he was doing a guerilla comedy thing/prank. His ineptitude was so over the top. I ultimately couldn’t stifle my laughter. Turns out he was a model trying to act and taking it very seriously. Luckily he didn’t catch on to me laughing in his face and walked away very self-satisfied. The show was The Oresteia and needless to say, he wasn’t cast.

Xanadu Bruggers: I was auditioning for a commercial and it was to recreate the famous World War II kiss in Times Square. I bought a costume and got my hair done, makeup, etc. Just to walk into a room and be dipped. It turned out everyone had the same idea and there were about 100 people dressed like sailors and nurses in this tiny room. I felt ridiculous. But I still wear the heels I bought.

Tonya Narvaez: Once I was auditioning for a play in which the most interesting character to me was in her late 30s. I was early 20s. So I tried subtle old age makeup but it looked ridiculous so I took that off. I put some really subtle dark circles under my eyes thinking somehow that may help me look less young. It didn’t. But I went with it anyway. Then I got there and all the women auditioning for that part were actually the proper age range. And I felt incredibly ridiculous. My little high pitched, naive voice alongside theirs. Oy. Didn’t book it.

Dave Sikula: I mentally rolled my eyes and rushed into the theatre to warn the producer and the directors, “There’s a guy in a toga in the bathroom.” They visibly rolled their eyes, and I went out to usher this actor into the lion’s den. The producer said, “Ah, I see you’re doing something modern.” The actor muttered some humorous reply, climbed the stairs to the stage, and launched into a very bad version of “Franz, romance, countrymans” (sounding, in memory. like a bad Schwarzenegger impression). He finished and the producer went up on stage, put a friendly arm around his shoulder, and explained to him why his choices may not have been the best. (For more on this story and others check out Dave’s blog: http://heartyhandclasp.blogspot.com/2014/03/audition-horror-stories.html)

So there you go! As we’ve learned, sometimes dressing for the part can yield positive results but for the most part, it may be just to put your actor hat on and act the part you want. Until next time gang, here’s wishing you a fun Halloween!

Working Title: Sex, Shotgun & Rovers

This week Will Leschber discussses Aphra Behn, sexual symbolism and Shotgun Players’ current production of The Rover. It’s time to transport it all to the Carnival!!

When I think of Aphra Behn I think of English Lit in college and my firecracker of a professor who always had a penchant for pointing out the sexual aspects of the various stories we were required to read. What made it funnier was that Professor Firecracker looked like she walked off the set of Golden Girls and into the classroom. Picture Blanche Devereaux teaching you about the underlying sexual nature of Keats.

Blance Meme

Like a beautiful misleading costume, she cloaked herself in the veneer of a sweet older lady, but never failed to make sure everyone student was titillated by the unsavory nature of William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” or Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with us” or Lord Byron’s “When we two parted”. I’m not sure I ever wanted to read between the lines of a symbolic Sick Rose but I can’t unsee the crimson symbolism now. Thanks Blanche!! Along with these old white dudes of the Romantic Era, a pillar of female Restoration writing was plenty discussed as well. English lit! You gotta cover everything! In the end, Professor Blanche was right… linking Aphra Behn to using a lens of sexuality and gender politics isn’t that far off base, considering her work still invites a discussion of gender roles and stereotypes 300 odd years after it was initially written.

That’s all well and good and boring for us not enrolled in ENG 205, you say. I hear ya! But this is where it gets contemporary. Wait for it…

Shotgun Players, which is celebrating it’s all female playwright season, gets into the Halloween spirit through all manner of costume and mask, with Aphra Behn’s Restoration Era classic, The Rover. The play follows three women pushing on masked gender expectations in this comic romp that takes place in Naples during the Carnival masquerade. Boom, I told ya! The play is on and it’s just as funny as it was when it premiered back in 1677. What’s that now? You need some movie recommendations to wet your abridged attention span before going to check out The Rover? Alright…here goes.

Siobhan Marie Doherty as Florinda and Caitlyn Louchard as Hellena, photo by Pak Han

Siobhan Marie Doherty as Florinda and Caitlyn Louchard as Hellena, photo by Pak Han

I had the pleasure of speaking with Siobhan Marie Doherty (Bay Area actor, director, teacher, rapscallion, and voiceover artist) who plays Florinda in Shotgun Player’s The Rover. When asked for the perfect film pairing for their play, Siobhan had this to say…

“A fabulous movie to get primed for gigantic passions and the powerful spirit of Carnival would be Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) from 1959. It is a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in Rio de Janeiro, that has many, many parallels to our play: the use of mask, the threat of death, desperate lovers, scorned lovers, seduction, transgression, etc. I haven’t seen it since high school, but it made a big impression on me. Between the stunning photography and the excellent soundtrack, the movie has been described by many as a sensual feast.”

“…the most sensuous use of color I have ever seen on film…it is not so much dressed in color as created out of color.”
~Paul Beckley, New York Herald Tribune

Black Orpheus won a slew of awards in it’s day, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign film. It’s a classic of world cinema and glorious to behold. If one excellent classic recommendation wasn’t enough, Siobhan threw in something a little bit more contemporary for our sampling as well. She continues…

“Another movie to activate your spirit of transgressive adventure would be Thelma and Louise. It parallels the play in that there are two sisterly women determined to better their lives in a dangerous world. While the men they know well, or encounter on the journey, may sometimes present temptation, they always present a very real threat to their spirits, finances, and/or their bodies. However, even in the face of great danger, the women continue to help each other, and they fight hard. Also, if you haven’t seen it, uh, you’re seriously missing out. If you have seen it, watch it again!”

thelma & Louise pic

There you have it folks; something old, something new, something sexual and something to do. If you aren’t into the scares this Halloween but still want to get into the carnival costumed spirit, check out The Rover at Shotgun Players; It runs now until November 15th. Black Orpheus can be found on Youtube. Watch at your own pleasure. And Thelma & Louise can be found at all video stores circa 1992. Enjoy!

Theater Around The Bay: The Audition and Casting Process (Emilio Rodriguez, Janet Bentley)

Part Two of Peter Hsieh’s interview with some of his favorite directors.

Last Time I interviewed Lana Russell and Stuart Bousel about the casting and audition process in regards to new works; here is part two with Emilio Rodriguez and Janet Bentley. I met Emilio while we were at the University of California, Irvine and the pleasure of working with him a year ago when he directed my play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival. I met Janet when she directed the New York premiere of Interstate at T. Schreiber Studio theater. I had a great time working with both these theatre makers and they continue to be at the helm of new works in their respective art communities.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

My play Interstate as directed by Janet Bentley.

Tell us about your experience with new works. What do you enjoy about them? Why is it important to support that avenue of theatre?

Rodriguez: My love of new works didn’t really happen until I started writing. This is why I agree with Paula Vogel, that we need to encourage more people to write; because it changes the way one goes to the theatre and their investment in it.
Now, I not only write and direct new plays but I also curate several new play festivals. I am always excited when I open a new script. There is a spectrum of reactions I can have based on the writing. My favorite is finding something that makes me feel like the wind got knocked out of me. That moment where time stops for a second as you absorb the ending line or stage direction. The beauty of reading new works is that I do not have a cap on how many times I’ll feel that in my lifetime because there will always be more plays to read.

To me, new plays are just as exciting as new music. It’s counterintuitive to me that people will break the internet to buy Beyonce’s newest CD and stand outside in the pouring rain to wait for Best Buy to release Taylor Swift’s newest CD, but when a new play is produced, there is this skepticism; it’s as if everyone is waiting for the new work to have approval of the Pulitzer or a Tony. We need new work. We need new voices. Society is constantly evolving, so our stories need to change with us, just as our music does.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Emilio Rodriguez. Doesn’t want to hear Viola’s Ring monologue anymore.

Bentley: I started my work in theatre, like most people, in acting. I was raised by an acting teacher who taught me everything I needed to know about The Method and I remember desperately loving text analysis for the actor when I was in my undergrad. Writing character biographies felt like a collaboration with my deepest self and the playwright and that always excited me. When I was accepted into the Iowa Playwright’s Workshop, I was introduced to the exciting process of working alongside living writers of various backgrounds and I was even more charged by the process because I could work together with these writers using active empathy in action – a most satisfying step beyond the silent investigation of works codified by a published final draft and/or the long since deceased and absent writer whose voice had been interpreted many times.

While many theatres often select the “tried and true” classic and/or contemporary well-known play or musical because they are financially looking for a “safe bet”, I am dedicated to the pursuit of new voices, new stories, and new perspectives to support and fulfill into new works because I feel that this is the only way to progress as a species.

What are some of the challenges of casting new works, especially for a festival or evening of multiple plays?

Bentley: Since festivals of new works are often bravely put up by organizations that may or may not have funding to pay the actors, the first challenge is to casting good actors willing to work for free/practically nothing. Of course, I have been working on building a network of smart, collaborative actors who are willing to donate their time to the promotion of new work. I often look for new play development-specific entries on actors’ resumes when casting because this does help me with my decisions. (On that note, I always advocate for some kind of stipend for actors whenever possible because everyone’s work should receive some kind of gesture of thanks).

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Janet Bentley. Don’t ‘Sharon Stone’ her at auditions.

Rodriguez: I try to do auditions for most of the festivals I manage, but this inevitably leads to a few stand out actors who all of the directors want to cast. Because of time constraints, our actors can only commit to so many shows which means that directors often have to compromise on casting. This changes the chemistry between the actors and sometimes the ideal actor that a director fought for doesn’t give the same performance when cast opposite another actor. This is why I sometimes think it’s better to not do auditions for festivals. If all of the directors are comfortable casting on their own, as was the case with the Detroit Fringe festival this year, then I skip the audition process.

There are a lot of people for and against pre-casting. There are a lot of practical reasons it is done (i.e. Writer/ Director had a specific actor in mind), but a lot of people bring up the arguments against it as well. What are your thoughts on pre-casting, and as producer/directors what would you say to Directors and actors in regards to this?

Rodriguez: When I was primarily an actor, I was adamantly against pre-casting. I felt it was unfair to never be given a shot. I just wanted to be seen and have an unbiased opportunity to share my craft. Now that I work more as a playwright and director, I have changed my mind. To me the most important thing is that the best person is cast, whether I find them or they find me. I think it is important that people have the chance to be seen, but also, in order to best honor the playwright, I believe that seeking out talent in advance is sometimes necessary. I try not to precast but I do need to make sure I can cast properly. I usually hold an audition, but I also ask actors who I’m strongly considering for the parts to audition so that I have options if I don’t find the appropriate new talent at the audition. I hope that’s a fair compromise because I do see the validity in both sides of the argument.

Bentley: I think that having people in mind is a natural, inevitable part of the process, but officially pre-casting is a “safe-guard” that can seriously stifle my favorite part of directing: being surprised and inspired by actors. There have been two instances when pre-casting proved to be unwise: once I had someone in mind for the role of Baal, I precast him, and then he moved to Chicago before the show so I held auditions. I saw an actor that I never thought would work and he surprised me – the role brought something out of him that was dying to get out and I was relieved that the other actor had actually left town. The other time, an actress was precast in a short play by the artistic director and though she delivered a decent performance in the end, I was haunted by the audition of another actress who just nailed it. (Yes, they actually made me hold auditions for the role in order to “keep up appearances” – something I would implore other artistic directors never to enforce on their directors).

On the flip side of this: when playwrights write something for a specific actor, this is a different sort of animal. I have a number of actors whose unique qualities are so inspiring that I am entertaining a couple of playwrights with the idea of writing something for these actors (also, I sympathize greatly with the predicament of some actors who are often passed over because they are so unique and specific a type that there are either no roles for them or no directors creative enough to embrace an unconventional interpretation of the production).

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

Pre-casting. This is the girl.

What are some things actors do that make you want to cast them, conversely what are some of the things they do that make you not want to cast them?

Rodriguez: I love working with actors who will try anything and make it work. The skeptical actors, the ones who say “I feel like my character wouldn’t do that” are the ones I tend not to work with again. That’s actually my least favorite phrase and usually a red flag for me in the rehearsal process. I think it’s great that they have a sense of their character, but when they negate choices too early it makes their characters one dimensional. In my opinion, whether it’s a new work or a published script, every character needs to do something unexpected or “out of character” at least once in the play. If an actor truly feels like my direction or my dialogue is detrimental to the performance, we can settle that after they give me a good, fully-committed stab at it.

Bentley: Things that get you cast: being prepared, making choices, being in the moment, punctuality, flexibility, helpfulness, openness, hunger for the process, and courtesy. Conversely, if the actor hasn’t worked on the material and at least googled for definitions and pronunciations, if s/he doesn’t take an adjustment, if s/he is late, or if any of these examples of disregard for the process, I am not interested in casting such an actor.

The minute you walk into the building, you’re “onstage”. If you come to a studio and there is a production SM/audition monitor receiving you and handing you paperwork, which is the beginning of your audition. If you are rude to her/him, the casting directors, etc, will know about it. If you are courteous, organized, and awesome, we will know. If you are to audition with a reader and the scene calls for touching, don’t just touch the reader. Smile, introduce yourself, and politely ask if it is okay to touch their hand or shoulder and accept their answer.

If you are performing a monologue, most audition books warn against using the casting directors and say to find an eye-line above their heads. However, if the text suggests a direct address to the audience, ask the casting directors what their preference is.
What you wear: Example: if you are auditioning for Doubt, don’t buy a nun or priest’s costume and wear it to the audition. Wear something that suggests the tone of the characters like black and white. If you do feel compelled to put on a veil, check what kind of nun you’re going out for before depicting the wrong order (Sisters of Charity wore bonnets and a certain kind of dress similar to their founder in the 19th century so do the research before making the assumption that Sister Aloysis looks like she’s about to sing “Climb Every Mountain”). If you’re going out for the perfect housewife, don’t dress like a 1970s punk. If you’re going out for a slick lawyer, don’t dress like a plumber. Why am I saying this? These things have happened! Neutral and professional is best: darker colors on the feet and pants or skirt / lighter on top. You don’t want the casting directors staring at your feet.

Oh and please do not Sharon Stone the readers and casting directors. Remember Basic Instinct? Don’t do it.

Head Shot: if you don’t look like your head shot, get new ones.
Resume: Please keep it on one page and make sure it is formatted in a professional way (Google templates for entertainment/actor resumes).

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Remember Basic Instinct? Newman does.

Monologue you’d be okay never hearing again.

Bentley: Bridal Registry from A…My Name Is Alice, The Tuna monologue from Laughing Wild, Anything from Steel Magnolias, Crimes of the Heart, and Star-Spangled Girl.

Rodriguez: Viola’s ring monologue. I hear it every time I direct a Shakespeare show. For contemporary monologues, there is one about a woman eating her ex-husband’s divorce papers and dipping them in Ketchup. It’s a great monologue, but I’ve heard it done by a phenomenal actress so now every time other people do it, I automatically remember how great the first actress was and I tune out as I reminisce.

Some higher power has made you Supreme Overlord of Theatre. Cast your favorite play with any cast you want.

Rodriguez: This is such a fun question! I really want to direct a new play called The Living Life of the Daughter Mira by Matthew Paul Olmos. My dream cast would be Tony Revolori as Lazaro, Aimee Carrero as Luna/Mira, Gina Rodriguez as Maya, Rosie Perez as Lupe, and Raul Esparza as Efren.

Bentley: A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee with John Noble (Fringe TV Show) as Tobias, Helen Mirren as Agnes, Kristine Sutherland as Edna, Anthony Stewart Head as Harry, and Parker Posey as Julia.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Kristine Sutherland and Anthony Stewart Head. Probably familiar if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Emilio Rodriguez is a theatre artist nomad currently residing in Detroit. His most recent play “Swimming While Drowning” was part of the Activate Midwest Festival and the Latino Theatre Commons Carnaval of New Work. It also earned him a residency with UMS, Djerassi, and the Mitten Lab. As a producer, he has worked on the Detroit Fringe Festival, The Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova and The Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses Theatre. Women’s Play Fest at Two Muses; Detroit Free Press on Detroit Fringe.

Janet Bentley is a freelance theatre director, actor, writer, dramaturg, literary manager, composer, sound designer, singer, amateur photographer, and company member for the New York-based Nylon Fusion Theatre Company. Janet holds an MFA in dramaturgy from the University of Iowa and a BA in theatre from the University of South Florida (Tampa). She currently lives in New York, NY. Now Playing: http://www.nylonfusion.org/#!comes-a-faery/c1q11 (Sound and original music)
Updates: https://janeturgy.wordpress.com/theatre/.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, California. Recent credits include his play Interstate at the Detroit Fringe Festival and T. Schreiber Studio, Argus at the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and Maybe at Brooklyn College as part of GI60 2015. Additionally, his works have been produced and developed by Hollywood Fringe Festival, Piney Fork Press, Douglas Morrisson Theatre, NYU Performing Arts Club, Nylon Fusion Collective, Actor’s Company, Brooklyn College, North Park Playwright’s Festival, Viaduct Theatre, SPROUT, San Francisco Theatre Pub, World Premiere Weekend, City Light’s Theater Company, GI60, San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab, West Valley College, and Fringe of Marin. Peter is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Let’s Talk About Shakespeare, Shall We?

In Which the Author (ever-ready Dave Sikula) Saves His Outrage for More Important Matters.

Okay, even though I said in our last meeting that I wasn’t going to talk about this whole “Let’s Update Shakespeare” thing, I guess the time has come to do so.
In what may strike some of my constant readers as surprising, this plan doesn’t bother me in the least.

I do think that, in its current form, it’s incredibly stupid and yet another step down to the road a complete illiterate society – particularly in regard to cultural literacy – but it’s hardly worth getting outraged over.

(Sidenote: In 2006, I was in Los Angeles for … something … and spent a pleasant evening at the Arclight Cinemas. On the program? Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. I’m sure many – if not most – of you have seen it by now, so I won’t bother to recap the plot. Suffice it to say, it was that rare movie that, when I came out of it, had altered my perceptions of the world in which I live. From that day to this, everywhere I look, I see evidence of its predictions coming true.)

But I digress …

Part of this dumbing down (if I may call it that) is the way media companies insist on repackaging, rebooting, and remaking old properties, movies, TV shows, comics – whatever. Inevitably, when one of these projects is announced, folks all around the Internet get their proverbial knickers in a proverbial twist and bitch about how something they loved in their childhood is about to be irretrievably ruined. While it usually is (has any remake ever worked?), I don’t understand why people get themselves upset by it.

I’ll admit I used to get upset about this stuff myself until I had the epiphany that, while the new version was inevitably going to suck, the original was still around and unlikely to go away, so the inferior version could be happily ignored. (Just today, I saw some outrage over remakes of both Mary Poppins and The Wild Bunch. Reasonable minds can disagree over whether these were done correctly the first time (hint: one was, one is not so good), but why get upset over the idea at all?

Interestingly, I think the theatre is the only place where “reboots” are not only encouraged, but the norm. While we all want to do new work, more often than not, we’re working on a script that someone else has done somewhere else. With very, very rare exceptions, multiple movies or television shows are not shot from the same scripts; nor are books or comics redone from the same texts; they’re just reprinted. But how often do we do productions from an existing script? And how many times does that script get done in the same area over and over? I think there must have been about 20 Addams Familys, Chicagos, August: Osage Countys, and Glengarry Glen Rosses over the past year – each of them presenting the same characters speaking the same words. If something like that happened on multiple television networks or at the movies, people would be astounded, but when it comes to plays, we don’t even blink.

Let's see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

Let’s see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

This is particularly true for poor old Shakespeare. The canon is relatively small (36? 37 plays?), so you’re going to see the same plays over and over (and in some cases, over and over and over and over; nothing against the folks who want to do them, but I really don’t need to see Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet or a couple of others again; I’ve seen them, I got them, I’m done with them).

Because of the limited tunestack and the multiple productions of them, it’s only logical that directors are going to screw around with them in terms of setting, “concept,” textual cuts, and even scene order. As much Shakespeare as I’ve seen (and it’s a lot), I can count on the fingers of one hand the ones that didn’t cut the text. (I’d offer a link to that tired Onion article about “Director does Shakespeare production in setting author intended;” but you’ve all seen it … ). Why do we do it? Two reasons. One, they can be pretty damn long (even when done well), and there’s stuff that just doesn’t translate from 17th century England. (Especially the clowns. My gosh; is there anything less funny than a Shakespearean clown?)

Even with that, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any production of any Shakespeare play that I didn’t zone out of at least once. It happens. But that – and one other reason I’ll deal with in a minute – has never been a barrier. To say the most obvious thing ever, as long as the actors know the intentions of what they’re saying are, you don’t need to understand every word. Sit back and they’ll get you through it.

So it’s not just that the language doesn’t need translating, though, it’s that, in many cases, the people who’ve been hired to do it shouldn’t be allowed to write a grocery list, let alone rewrite Shakespeare. (I’m not going to mention names, but suffice it to say when I saw some of the names either writing or dramaturging, I rolled these tired old eyes at the usual suspects.)

Will gets the news.

Will gets the news.

Lemme give you a for instance. NPR covered the story and cited this translation by Kenneth Cavender from Timon of Athens.

The original:

Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’ the instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast; rather
Than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal;
Large handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law.

Cavender’s improvement:

Servants

And clowns, kick the grizzled old senators
Out of their offices and legislate in their place …
Innocent virgins, turn sluttish now – why wait? –
And do it while your parents watch … Bankrupt?
Keep your money, and if your creditors demand
Payment, pick up a knife and cut their throats.
Workers, steal – your bosses are crooks

In fine suits, bandits raking in their loot,
Legalized pirates.

I can only speak for myself here, but I find the original perfectly comprehensible. Granted, I had to read it more than once and have read and acted in a lot of Shakespeare on my own, but I understand what it’s saying – as would any actor who’s playing the role and who should be able to convey the meaning. The “translation” is easier for a modern American audience to understand, but loses everything in terms of poetry and flow of language. Basically, it sucks.

In spite of my antipathy toward the project, I totally understand the motivation behind it. The variety of voices, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds of the writers is only to be welcomed in terms of telling the stories, but where I think Ashland went wrong was in not going far enough. The writers are limited to keeping the originals as intact as possible while clearing up only occasional moments of potential confusion. If there’s anything we know about Shakespeare, though (and we know quite a lot – and more than enough to tell the Oxfordians to shut the hell up because Shakespeare wrote the damn plays), is that he did nothing so much as steal plots and characters from other writers and (mostly) improve them.

Given the choice of seeing someone ruin Timon of Athens by making it more “accessible” or seeing someone take the plot and ideas and make something new out of it – I know which option I’d take. The original is always going to be there, so why not take a damn chance?

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – My Twitter-fied Script

Silverstein - The Missing Piece

“Right side and with intensity, okay?”
“Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that.”
– Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation

There’s no way I’ll be able to top yesterday’s anecdote about Meryl Streep dreams, but I empathize with the plight of my fellow ‘Pub columnist. As you read these words, I’m mere hours away from the first rehearsal for my Poseidon-based script, The Adventures of Neptune: In Color! It’s one of the few things I’ve written for which I’ve felt genuine optimism once it was done. And I think that’s earned, considering I spent several marathon sessions over the past five days trying to edit the damn thing.

My play was selected to be a one-act, which I’ve written for the festival before and had every confidence I could do so again. Then I started researching. A lot. I never stopped researching, but once I began putting words into these characters’ mouths, I couldn’t make them shut up. To further complicate matters, the post-audition casting process resulted in me getting a truly kick-ass roster of Bay Area actors. So naturally I wanted to write material specifically for each of them.

The result could easily be the length of Once Upon a Time in America, but all I need is a “GoodFeathers” sketch. Realizing that my way-too-long story would require a bit of pruning, I found inspiration in a rather unlikely source: Twitter.

I remember years back when the late Roger Ebert joined Twitter. In fact, I remember years before when he specifically said he would NEVER join Twitter. He already had his regular long-form blog and implied that Twitter’s truncated form made real discourse all but impossible. He wasn’t entirely wrong: at its worst, Twitter is the medium for the sort of oversimplified opinions and patronizing platitudes formerly reserved for bumper stickers, fortune cookies, and novelty t-shirts.

When he finally joined in 2009, he would say months later, “Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners.” That stuck with me. I forget what year I joined Twitter, but there was a period of months – maybe even a full year – where I just forgot about it and didn’t use it. (It’s this non-desire to “keep up with the Joneses” that has kept me from joining Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, etc.) But since I was a teenager, I’ve always held an appreciation for the democratic way the internet gives everyone a voice, even those with which I do not agree. If I was going to be on Twitter, I’d try to follow Ebert’s example and try to put some thought into what I typed. Short thoughts, but thoughts nonetheless.

This has proven an invaluable practice when editing scripts. Not every line needs to be “The Aristocrats,” some can just be dirty limericks on bathroom walls. Still, my biggest fear is that when the edited version is read aloud it makes no sense, but I can always say I planned it like that.

Nottingham babbling

It takes me longer than others to finish a script because I usually write on a typewriter. I bought on a whim in college in 2000 and have gotten great mileage out of it since. Obviously it has a few disadvantages – no SpellCheck, errors have to be corrected manually, people in other rooms complain of the noise – but I feel those pale in comparison to the advantages I’ve gained from it – I’ve become a better speller, I predict and stop grammatical errors, and when I don’t hear the noise, then I know I’m not writing when I should be. I also can’t just take out a single line or page at my whim, because typed pages don’t self-edit. If I want to change something, you’ll likely have to change the entire script.

I’m reminded of a quote by John Milius, a writer I’ve always admired. In a 2003 interview, when asked about writing new drafts, he said that he “look[s] at a script like a gunstock [..] it has to be shaped right, and the finish has to be right, and you have to bring out all the qualities that are in the wood.” I agree with that. When I rewrite, I don’t think of it as replacing one LEGO piece with another, I think of it as playing Jenga or moving one ace without bringing down the entire house of cards.

I won’t know until this evening whether or not I’ve succeeded, and I’ll still have one more rehearsal and an actual reading left. For now, I’ll just finish hole-punching these 280 FedEx-copied pages whilst all you good people do the right thing and blow up the hashtag #SFOlympians6.

Charles Lewis III - Poseidon - typewriter

Charles Lewis III deprived himself of food and sleep to edit his script, so you should all come see it on Saturday – Nov. 7. To pre-order tickets and find out more info, please visit www.SFOlympians.com