The Five: The I Didn’t Go to the TBA Awards Round-Up

Anthony R. Miller stayed home from the Prom.

Hey you guys, so if you’re here for an exciting round-up from last night’s Theatre Prom known as the Theatre Bay Area Awards, you have barked up the wrong tree, because I didn’t go. But let’s be clear, I’m happy for those who did, happy for those who won, performed, presented, and whatever else, good for you, way to leave the house and wear nice clothes. These kinds of events just aren’t my thing, they just aren’t, I’ll go next year I promise, or maybe the next. However, it is not to say I did nothing last night, in fact I had quite the evening which had many highlights, and remarkably, there are five.

I Made Tacos
They were pretty good tacos too, breakfast tacos to be exact. What was most remarkable about them is that my girlfriend (also a theatre worker) and I actually sat down at the table and ate them together. We talked about our days and enjoyed each other’s company. It was a theatre-miracle.

I Made a Prop
I’m using “I” here pretty liberally. I bought the materials, and then once my beloved girlfriend was weighted down by breakfast tacos, I managed to get her to actually assemble the prop for me. She can sew better than me; seriously I would have just hot glued the thing together. It looks pretty magnificent. Curious to see the prop? Well then you will just have to come see CHRISTIAN TEEN DOLPHIN-SEX BEACH PARTY at the SF Olympians Festival Wednesday, November 18th at 8PM (also known as tomorrow.) to find out, and you should, because the cast is so darn funny.

I Watched Wrestling
Because it was Monday. Besides, it was the Quarterfinals for the WWE World Heavy Weight Championship Tournament. Priorities people.

I Cleaned My Office
My home office / large closet where the cats poop had gotten pretty bad, it had to be done. But I find sorting through 6 months of crap (figurative) on the floor is a pretty effective “look back” on the theatrical year. I went through programs of all the shows I saw, prior drafts of old scripts, yellow pads full of production notes and receipts, lots of receipts. (Remember kids, if you buy someone a drink, talk about working for them, and then end up working for them, that drink is a tax deduction.)

I Got Into the Morrissey Plays
In January, Theatrepub is presenting a night of plays inspired by and about Morrissey. I am thrilled about this because Morrissey is, in fact, my spirit animal. I mean, c’mon guys, I would have gone out last night, but I didn’t have a stich to wear. Around 7pm, with my slipper-adorned feet resting on my now clean desk, I went through my emails to discover my short play, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” got accepted. I’m pretty excited and Thankful about it and it’s about an awards show, so that kinda brings us full circle right?

In all seriousness, congrats to everyone involved, according to Twitter, it looks like it went well. I’ll go one of these years. Also, on an unrelated note, it doesn’t take much effort to realize the world is a big scary place right now, so even when it seems really hard or maybe even a bad idea, be excellent to each other. The world needs love sweet love.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, he’s not much for fancy parties. Keep up with his doings at www.awesometheatre.org.

Theater Around The Bay: A List of Things That Meg Likes About “I Like That!”

Meg Trowbridge talks about why you should come see our new show, I Like That!

Sara Judge and I first worked together on Theater Pub’s The Theban Chronicles, a four-play series following the Oedipus story. We recognized right away that we were kindred spirits. Her positivity and creativity make her an incredible director, and when she pitched I Like That! to us as a project she’d direct, I immediately offered her our November slot at PianoFight.

Although that meeting seems just like yesterday, here were are in November, and I Like That opens tonight! In honor of opening night, I wanted to provide potential audience members with a list of what I Like about I Like That!

1.) I like the playwright – Gabriel Leif Bellman. Gabriel and Sara conceived this story together, and Gabriel put it to paper. He’s a beautiful writer, and this is the second piece he’s written that I’ve had the pleasure of working on (I also directed his short play “Listen” for Theater Pub’s second Pint Sized Plays).

2.) I like the live musical accompaniment! Sara Breindel and Ryan B. Kelley provide live music and sound to this show, transporting you through space and time along with the story.

3.) I like the cast! We’ve got a group of very handsome performers, many of whom are making their Theater Pub debut! You may recognize Jake Arky as one of the playwrights from On the Spot, or Alejandro Torres as a director from this year’s Pint Sized Plays, but they both make their Theater Pub stage debut this month!

Come out to PianoFight to see what all the fuss is about! You have four chances before we close this beautiful show down!

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I Like That! has performances at PianoFight on Nov. 16, 17, 23 & 24 at 8:00pm. $5 suggested donation at the door.

The Real World Theatre Edition: An Interview With Dhaya Lakshminarayanan

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews someone with an even more intimidating last name.

This week, I had the chance to chat with Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, a comedian, storyteller and self-described nerd, who created a one person show influenced by some of her experiences called Nerd Nation. If you haven’t already checked out her website, http://dhayacomedy.com/, it has a lot of great clips that will get you pumped to see Dhaya in action. Here’s a little interview we did where I got to ask Dhaya about her influences, creative process and hopes for the future of theater and comedy.

Photo by Diana LiDhaya Lakshminarayanan. Photo credit: Diana Li.

Photo by Diana LiDhaya Lakshminarayanan. Photo credit: Diana Li.

BJ: Okay, so I’m reading here from your bio that before this you were a venture capitalist and have two degrees from MIT – first of all, what??! How did you make this turn? Or do you lead a double-life?

DL: My solo show, “Nerd Nation” draws on all aspects of my life: the nerdy, the humorous, the socially awkward, the feminine, even the hardcore gangsta (ok well, only in my imagination).  For a long time on stage as a stand-up comedian, I could not talk about being a nerdy smart person. I felt like I was distancing myself and audiences wouldn’t like that. I slowly started to find a way to be more ME.  But I still felt I was hiding.  And this show allows me to be 100% me: laughs, jokes, and even painful to talk about stuff. And you don’t have to be a hardcore physics nerd (like my dad) to love the show.  Anyone who has ever hid who they were to fit in will enjoy it.

BJ: Was there a turning point in your growth as an artist and comedian that compelled you to begin working on a one person show?

DL: What I love about stand-up is I am always learning: from my comics I respect, from audiences, from socio-political trends.  And I am always learning how to be honest and myself on stage.  But stand-up is fundamentally about eliciting laughter.  There were things I wanted to talk about on stage that weren’t “ha ha” so I started becoming involved in storytelling.  I have been on NPR’s Snap Judgment several times.  I host the Moth StorySLAMs in SF (always sold out at Public Works). I have performed storytelling to sold out theater crowds (Nourse Theater, Castro Theater etc.).  Those experiences allowed me to sit with the more serious or painful parts of the human experience.  And “Nerd Nation” brings my wit and sarcasm of my stand up, the emotion of storytelling, and also multimedia elements. Yes because I AM A NERD there is multimedia.

BJ: What was the process of creating it like? Any snafus or interesting challenges along the way?

DL: It took years of asking myself questions that two-year olds might ask of their parents: Why? How come? But why not?. I first started reflecting on why I was hiding being a smart nerd.  Was it social acceptance? Did I feel bullied even as an adult?  Would being smart be a detriment in the entertainment industry?  Then I started asking my nerdy friends, “Have you ever hid who you are, your intelligence, in a social situation or to get something?”  And these fellow nerds didn’t just respond yes.  They could recall vivid moments: purposely getting lower scores to avoid being bullied.  Failing at sports. Getting dates by hiding their college degrees in math. Lying about awards even well into adulthood.  That’s when I knew I had to interview “subjects” and be very faithful to telling their stories word for word on stage.  So there are parts of Nerd Nation which are directly from the mouths of other nerds.  I disguise their identity.  But I am glad they are with me on stage. They help me tell my story.
 
BJ: What are you most excited for people to see in the show?

DL: I’m excited for people to laugh and be lively! A solo show is an evolving process.  I talk about contemporary issues in some parts.  The next time people see the show it will be different again. I want folks to feel like they get to see something weird and new being created that is also entertaining and hopefully moving and informative.
 
BJ: Was there a particular part that you really loved writing? Is it the same as a part you really love performing? (And if different, tell me more!)

DL: Most of my “writing” was done on stage.  I took pieces of the show and would perform them in front of an audience at storytelling shows, solo performance one nighters, even nerdy lecture series.  Marga Gomez in particular gave me stage time at her shows.  So writing was performing. And that comes from my stand up background. Creating was awesome.  It’s editing that is hard!
 
BJ: Any elements of the performance/theater/comedy world you would change for the better? If so, what and how so?

DL: Oh definitely.  I come from a nerdy business background.  My parents are immigrants and they literally came from third world poverty and became middle class because of hard work and pragmatism.  I bring my pragmatism and my business sense to every endeavor. Each workshop version I did of this was sold out.  I made money. That is how art can meet commerce.  I believe artists should be paid better and if we could unionize or have some set rate we would not undercut each other for gigs.  I spent a few years as a management consultant and sometimes I can’t turn off the part of my nerd brain that says “OMG, I could definitely help this person with the business side of things.” In order for American Theater to survive we have to start embracing new ways of monetizing, social media, and bringing in more diverse audiences (age, race, identity). But never ever ever have cell phones on during a performance.  That is my old skool values coming through. A guy’s cell phone went off in one of the workshop versions of the show and I stepped out of character to school him. Nerds need to be taught social skills sometime. And I feel like I have to cred to do it.
 
BJ: Any words of wisdom for those of us who would love to do something similar?

DL: Speaking of business-savvy, I teach and coach.  So hit me up on my website for advice
http://dhayacomedy.com/teaching-coaching.html
 
BJ: Shout-outs for shows around the Bay (or anything else cool) we should check out?

DL: I will be doing a ton of stand up after my run of solo shows is over.  I’m opening for Greg Proops (Whose Line is it Anyway) at the San Francisco Punch Line on New Year’s Eve (and then two shows on January 2nd).  I will also have a show I produce focused on socio political issues.  Check out my website: www.dhayacomedy.com because shows are always added.  

“Nerd Nation at the EXIT Theatre

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Sense and Sensitivity

Marissa Skudlarek, commenting on comments.

There was a piece posted on the theater website Howlround earlier this week that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In it, Erin Butcher, a young woman who runs a theater company called Maiden Phoenix in the Boston area, talks about the harassment her all-female cast experienced when putting on a Shakespeare play in a public park, and vows never to make the same mistake again.

If you’re a young woman, nothing about Butcher’s piece is particularly surprising — not the fact that an all-female group experienced harassment that a mixed-gender group wouldn’t, nor the long and sometimes antagonistic comment thread that sprung up below the article. But as I said, something about this piece has stuck with me. I was even moved to post a comment on it on the Howlround site — which is not something I usually do.

Maybe it’s because I produced a play last year where the writer (me), the stage manager, and eight of the nine actors were women under the age of 30, and I remember taking that into account when choosing a venue for the production. I rejected a theater on Sixth Street in favor of one near Union Square, and one reason was because that neighborhood is safer. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking nine young women to walk down Sixth Street every evening to get to the theater.

It’s because, in a little while, I will leave the café where I am writing and go to the EXIT Theatre for the Olympians Festival, and I know I will need to keep my wits about me and my bitch-face on as I walk down Eddy Street.

It’s because, this summer, when I told a guy that I put my bitch-face on when I walk to the EXIT, he thought I was being kind of funny, and teased me about it in a good-natured way, and only later did he realize that I was entirely serious.

It’s because I resent the idea (inherent in some of the ugly comments on Erin Butcher’s piece) that you have to suck up and deal with whatever unfair shit life throws at you, or else you are a thin-skinned, spoiled Millennial who overreacts to everything.

Certainly, a large part of what is meant by “maturity” is learning how to suck it up and deal with it. A mature person knows how to pick her battles. But that’s not the same thing as saying that mature people never battle or protest. Sometimes the only way to deal with something is to mount a spirited objection to it. The amount of outrage and overreaction in the culture these days can be both fatiguing and depressing — but I don’t think the solution is to suggest that people should stop reacting entirely. Mature people know how to manage their sensitivity, but they do not disown their sensitivity.

Erin Butcher’s essay is certainly a reaction to what happened to her theater company in the park, but (apart from the click-baity headline) I don’t believe it’s an overreaction. She’s not demanding that the men who harassed her be jailed or even punished; her proposed solution is that she will change her behavior and never again produce an all-female outdoor show. She implies that the alternatives proposed in the comments — namely, to hire security, or to suck it up and deal with it — would cost her too much, either in money or in emotional distress.

Above all, the comments implying that women who object to being leered at and harassed by men just need to grow a thicker skin, piss me off because I believe that a world full of thick-skinned, emotionally hardened people is a world without artists. It’s also a world where problems fester and the pace of progress is slow.

Certainly, we do need a skin. Our skin is the boundary between us and the world, and we need boundaries. But if you have strong boundaries, you also have a strong sense of right and wrong; of what you will tolerate, and what you will find intolerable. And I don’t think we should tolerate the idea that every complaint is a sign of hypersensitivity — nor should we tolerate it when women are required to pay extra in order to exist in the world and make art.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She’s involved in two Olympians Festival shows at the EXIT Theatre next week: she’s playing an intense French lady in Delphin, or Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party on Wednesday the 18th, and she wrote & directed Tethys, or You’ll Not Feel the Drowning on Friday the 20th.

Cowan Palace: Olympian Doughnuts With Sam Bertken

This week Ashley chats with Sam Bertken about tonight’s reading with the San Francisco Olympians Festival.

It’s night five of the San Francisco Olympians Festival! Can you feel the magic? Well, I certainly can because tonight’s the night my short will be taking its first breath in front of an audience. This evening’s performance, THE CREW, features eight shorts by Steven Westdahl, Megan Cohen, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, Alandra Hileman, Seanan Palmero, Alan Olejniczak, and me! Wearing an additional hat, the pieces are being directed by Steven Westdahl who has assembled a fearless group of eight actors including, Sam Bertken, Matt Gunnison, Layne Austin, Heather Kellogg, Wayne Wong, Tom Cokenias, Katharine Otis, and Kim Saunders.

To give me a little additional insight into the acting process, Sam agreed to help answer a few questions. So wahoo! Here we go:

Ashley: First, tell us who you are playing in this evening’s performance.

Sam: I am playing such a fun breadth of different characters! One half of a foul-mouthed duo on a segway tour of Atlanta, an actor who reads stage directions, one half of a Canadian air rescue team, one half of a Marina bro pair celebrating the holidays at their wives’ OBGYN clinic, and the hammiest narrator I’ve ever had the honor of portraying.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

Ashley: If you took one of those online “Which Greek God Are You”? quizzes, who do you think you would get?

Sam: Ideally, it would be someone ultra-cool and talented like Hephaestus, who is my personal favorite out of the entire pantheon, but it’s more likely I’d get someone spry like Hermes or something more confusing like Hestia.

Ashley: What’s your favorite line you get to say in tonight’s show?

Sam: It’s a tough choice, but simply because it is so close to my personal interests, “Bring on the fucking doughnuts!” definitely ranks up there with the best of ’em.

Ashley: What’s the most challenging thing about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: As someone who has written for the festival previously, I think it’s actually remarkably easy to be an actor in the Olympians Festival. Just show up to the right rehearsals, and go with the flow. Be ready to go with the flow.

Ashley: What’s the best part about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: The auditions! And probably the performance night, but I can’t be 100% sure yet. 🙂

Ashley: If you could only use emoticons to describe tonight’s show, which ones would you use?

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

Ashley: Where can we see you next? Are you acting in any upcoming productions?

Sam: Well, I’m going to the TBA Awards! And then I’m going to be part of the comedy maelstrom that will be KMLZ, Killing My Lobster’s end-of-year show, which you should totally come see!

Awesome, Sam! Well, gang, you can see Sam, me, and the rest of “the crew” tonight at The Exit. We hope you’ll be there with doughnuts.

The 2015 festival will play 12 nights, November 4-21, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show, or in advance for $12 at Brown Paper Tickets. All shows begin at 8 PM. Audience members who attend more than four nights get the fifth free!

Hit by a Bus Rules: Uncharacteristically Thankful

Alandra Hileman is probably gonna lose her “Crotchety Curmudgeon” merit badge for this.

Like all dyed-in-the-wool theatre folks who have decided they want to try to make some sort of career in this crazy field, I also spend a disproportionate amount of time bitching about all the things I hate about theatre. This week alone has included half a dozen rants with and about other theatre folks, some of which have become so ubiquitous in the circles I travel that even one of my professors greeted me with “So, I hear you’re having a hard time with that thing.” Additionally, a combination of my messed-up brain chemistry, some crappy life-events, and my ongoing attempt to win “Introvert of the Year” has made all the things I hate about theatre and people and theatre people feel a million times more terrible than any of them actually are, so I’ve been staying pretty far off the grid lately.

However, were it not for a large number of folks within my theatre circles closing ranks to help me out, I probably wouldn’t even be functional to write an article for today. So, in a pretense at the spirit of the season, this article is actually NOT going to be a bitch-fest. (Sorry, I know y’all were excited.) Today, I’m gonna write about why I do still love theatre and the people in it, even when I kinda wanna strangle them and myself.

The Inappropriate Conversations. I am a creepy, morbid, foul-mouthed individual who knows a lot of random facts about generally disturbing things. Thankfully, in theatre I have found people who not only will not judge me for having in-depth strange ways to murder people, the mechanics of an orgy, the Victorian cult of mourning, or alternate uses for MaxiPads (kneepads! wound dressing! cleaning up any spilled liquid!), but will gladly participate, usually with their own crazy dramaturgical insights. Some days, nothing brings be more joy than knowing I have an entire Facebook full of people who will respond to questions like “Which serial killer’s life would make the best theoretical musical?” with thoughtful, clever answers. (Feel free to toss in your bid in the comments.)

The Magical Kits. Every theatre person I know has a Mary Poppins bag/box/car trunk full of random stuff that we will always share to help each other out. I have had to make requests for anything from the mundane (ibuprofen, lighter, band-aids) to the specialized (razor, Leatherman tool) to stuff you normally don’t just carry with you (rubber gloves, wood glue) and had someone seemingly materialize it out of nowhere, no questions asked. More than one I have seen people take off the black socks they were wearing and hand them to an actor or technician who needed them in a pinch, which is kinda gross, but also a testament to how cool the theatre community can be about helping each other out.

The Underground Network. I like to joke that every stage manager in the SF Bay Area knows all the others, but that’s not too far from the truth. If/when I get asked to work a gig that I’m unavailable for, I have a list of close to a dozen names I can recommend, unless of course one of those folks is already the one who recommended me. I know finding SMs and PAs is one of the most important but also hardest parts of any production, so I love that all of us who work in those fields try to keep each other employed and the companies we know staffed by sharing contacts.

The Empowerment. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am insanely insecure about basically everything I do in my life. I have always had a really hard time saying that’s I’m good at anything with two exceptions: reading (seriously, I’m baller at both speed and comprehension), and organizing for theatre. I still want business cards with the tagline “I will organize the shit out of your show,” except that’s not really professional to say, although given the above comments about inappropriate conversation I could probably get away with it in certain circles. But really, theatre is one of the few areas where I, and many other young women I know, have not only felt like we are good at what we do, but also that we’re allowed to be the best. I’m still learning how to say it out loud, but the support is there.

The Solidarity. Look, I’ll be vulnerable for a second here: The real reason I didn’t get my article up last month was because I was in the middle of such a bad depressive down-swing that I was barely making to classes or the show I was stage managing, and I definitely wasn’t getting anything extra-curricular done, and then my fur-baby very suddenly got sick and died. So, I panicked and sent emails to every “boss” I work under at the various small theatres I’m involved with and basically said I was going off the grid. And every single one of them wrote back immediately with reassurance that it wasn’t just me and to do what I needed to do and let them know if they could help. And, unlike most other communities I’ve been around in my life, I knew they meant it. I’ve finally started getting back into the swing of things, having meetings and writing again, and generally getting back to my normal mode of operations. But I couldn’t have done that without the community of equally depressed, messed-up, weirdos who were there when I needed them.

So that’s my sappy thank you to the all the theatre folks out there. Now get off the lawn; it’s part of the set.

If you need visual proof-of-life, Alandra Hileman will be at Olympians on Wednesday night to see her play and rest of the glorious Crew finally assembled; get tickets and info at www.SFOlympians.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Theatre of the Nerd

Sam Tillis announces a new addition to the Bay Area theater community.

By any objective measure, the Bay Area is positively overrun with theatre companies. Theatre Bay Area’s website lists 310 separate member groups, and while some of those may be defunct, there are undoubtably many other troupes in the area which have chosen not to list on that site. On Friday night, when I was watching The Rover at Shotgun, I could have been seeing Berkeley Rep’s Pirates of Penzance, Aurora’s The Monster-Builder– and those two were within walking distance from where I was– one of three possible shows at the EXIT Theatre, probably two or three options at PianoFight, and countless other live performances I couldn’t begin to catalogue. Given all this, starting a new theatre company, in this place and at this time, would seem to be indicative of pure insanity.

So why am I doing just that?

The idea first came to me, about a year ago, when I started wondering why there didn’t seem to be any plays about time travel. I was acting in a theatrical adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five at the time, and while that play has time travel as an element, it struck me that I had never seen nor heard of a play rooted firmly in the conventions of the classic time travel story, even though those conventions (branching timelines, paradoxes, and so on) have served as the basis for countless films, TV episodes, novels, and stories. A time travel story should be eminently stageable, since jumps in time would presumably be more important than jumps in locale, and could be quite appealing in terms of plot and theme. And yet, there existed this absence.

The thought branched out. Where were the plays set on space ships? Where was the urban fantasy, the Lovecraftian horror? The interplanetary romance, the post-apocalyptic survival story, the steampunk adventure, the quasi-medieval quest? Where, in short, was the nerdy stuff?

There isn’t a complete absence of nerd theatre, of course. The Bay Area theatre scene is robust and diverse, with offerings catered to a variety of tastes, including those that slant towards the Star Wars end of the spectrum. Just this week, I can watch In Love and Warcraft at Custom Made Theatre or the one-woman Nerd Nation at the EXIT. Wily West Productions did extraterrestrial colonization and psychological horror in rep this past summer and a superhero festival the summer before. And I’m sure there are others that I haven’t even heard of.

That being said, I want there to be a space that focuses specifically on the sorts of stories that can be told within the geekier genres. And, as the motivational posters on my highschool teachers’ classroom walls encouraged, I have decided to be the change I want to see in the world.

So: I’m pleased to announce Quantum Dragon Theatre, the Bay Area’s first and foremost science-fiction/fantasy theatre company.

I use the phrase ‘science-fiction/fantasy theatre company’ inclusively; rather than excluding edge cases from consideration, I hope to incorporate all of what makes up what we might call nerd culture. By focusing on these genres, we can ask the same question that all plays ask– what does it mean to be human?– in exciting new ways. And we can bring in new audiences, people who may feel that most live theatre is not relevant to their interests and lives. Those are the people I want to reach, along with the steadfast Bay Area audiences who may just discover the budding nerd within.

It’s possible you’ve heard of Quantum Dragon Theatre (QDT, among friends) already. Likely, even, if we’re Facebook friends or if you’ve had the misfortune of being somewhere within earshot of me within the last eight months– I talk about it a lot. The reason I’m (re)announcing it now is that the pedal has hit the metal. We have a season of three phenomenal plays– the first one, a courtroom drama set entirely within a virtual reality in a dystopian future, is nearly cast and will be going up this March. We have a program in the works designed to foster the creation new sci-fi/fantasy plays. And, right now, we have a fundraising campaign live on Indiegogo.

Yes, I know, you’ve heard this part before. You know that theatre cannot live on ticket sales alone, that it needs contributions from passionate supporters like yourself. You know that even small contributions can make a big difference. You know that we would be massively grateful for your involvement.

But, even if the Indiegogo fatigue is strong in you, I ask you to check out our campaign. We’ve got a fun video, some outside-of-the-box rewards, and, most importantly, an opportunity to help the Bay Area get its nerd on.

igg.me/at/quantumdragon