The AD interview you’ve all been waiting for: Tonya Narvaez and Meg Trowbridge ask the tough questions.
MT Are you as uncomfortable using the title Artistic Director as I am? Do you say it in a funny voice like I do?
TN I’ve totally been able to say it! But I think that’s because I started the year blissfully unaware of what it meant. I definitely do try to say it as quickly as possible, because if I take my time announcing my title it feels like it’s going to make me seem self-important and bore the other person to actual death.
MT Like, for real, I can’t say it in a straight voice. My go-to voice is pretty muppet-ish. Hopefully after a few more productions it will roll off my tongue with a little more grace and authority.
TN How are Theater Pub shows of today different than in years past?
MT Well, to start, PianoFight’s space is a completely different beast than Royale. This year’s shows have only scratched the surface for ways we can utilize the bar space. Also, all of our shows having four performances is radically different. Theater Pub used to be a pop-up event and now we have 12 mini-productions. I feel like the last four shows we produced were where we started taking more risks and hitting our stride.
TN I completely agree. We’ve had a bigger focus on new work as well! We still include classical work in the year, which is always relevant to the here and now. But overall, our work has been coming straight from the community.
MT What has been your best moment this year?
TN Honestly, there have been great moments throughout, but I have to say my best moment this year was the last performance of February’s H/D: A Symphonic Romance in Space. It was the first show I put on as AD, as well as the first Theater Pub show I’d ever written or directed. I was constantly worried that I’d forgotten some major component. I also changed the staging before almost every show because I was still learning how to work in the space. In the end, a lot of friendly faces showed up to the last night and it felt like all the pieces really came together. It had a tiny spark of that Theater Pub magic.
MT I loved each show I worked on (I allowed myself to sing U2 in a show – it’s been a good year), but I loved seeing the bond between the cast of I Like That. Sara Judge did her magic and brought this cast together to perform a very ambitious script. The play was wonderful, but I enjoyed watching the cast interact, hang out after the shows, and message each other funny inside jokes on Facebook even more. I had very little to do with this, BT-dubs.
TN Any surprises about how the year played out?
MT I think we both felt, at times, that this year was a bit “seat-of-our-pants.” So, I was surprised to look back and see a pretty well balanced year of programming. We had comedy, drama, one-acts, experimentation on stage, and a ton of new work. I think it set a tone for our 2016 season to be ambitious and varied – and we shall see how that unfolds! How about you?
TN Yes, I feel like every show was full of new surprises! The biggest surprise of all was that we did it and it was good. *High five* But more seriously, we began the year doing 3 performances a month at two venues. One was brunch at The Hall on Market Street. After a couple of shows there, we realized it just wasn’t a good fit for either of us. PianoFight gave us the space to expand our offerings to 4 nights, and thus our current schedule was born. It was a great surprise, because we now have a singular home with roots in the community.
MT What’s one thing you have learned after putting on four shows?
TN I’ve learned how to be an AD. Seriously, I learned so many lessons via trial and error this year. It was growing pains. During one show, I took more of a backseat and just let the show happen, asking whether anything was needed along the way. For some shows, that can work. My AD senses weren’t honed enough yet to realize this wasn’t one of those shows. Obviously the show still went on, but it definitely could have gone a lot smoother for all involved if I had a tighter grip on the reins from the start.
MT: For me, I learned it never gets easier to ask people to donate their time and energy for a stipend that solely depends on the generosity of the audience. Even if we do well, by SFTP standards, it never feels like enough. THANK YOU to all the actors, writers, and directors who put on wonderful shows for love more than anything.
TN What has been the hardest part of this year? Stuart already said it’s been a bumpy year so we can be honest here. What sucked?
MT Well, the first is always the hardest. Putting up On the Spot definitely gave me some grey hairs. There were a lot of moving pieces, and we hadn’t rebuilt our community enough to get the numbers that I wanted. That being said, it went pretty well – sodomizing a youth with a banana and all!
TN Hah! For me, the hardest part was also one of the most exciting parts. I produced A Wake by Rory Strahan-Mauk, which was unlike anything Theater Pub had ever done before. It was very exciting, but there were some moments where it was unpredictable and it went a bit off the rails! The show happened almost all at the same time and throughout the entire space (the stage, bar, bathroom, and even outside in the Tenderloin). There were so many moving pieces, and so many opportunities for failure, and (as we discovered) so many opportunities for passerby to be confused and think they were witnessing real life instead of a play. We made it through the other side, and the audience was into it overall, but I think the show was definitely ahead of its time for us.
MT After a year on the job, what’s your dream show for Theater Pub?
TN This is such a hard question. It’s set up for you to name a play that already exists, and to outline your plan for that play. But I kind of feel like I’m living my best life right now, as far as the plays I want to put on. For February I’m writing a fictional Lisa Frank origin story, Over the Rainbow. In May we have Colin Johnson’s Sticky Icky, a story about slackers holed up in a bar during a societal collapse caused by an infectious strain of marijuana. In September we have Savannah Reich’s amazing comedy Stupid Ghost, which features a ghost dance number. I truly don’t know what else I could want out of 2016.
MT I know this is my question, but I have no idea. I guess my dream play is a new play for a small cast (2-4 actors, maybe) and maybe it could be in the round? We could put some audience up on stage? I dunno. I think I need to read more books about being an Artistic Director.
TN What else have you spent your precious time on this year?
MT Oh man, what was I thinking this year?! I jumped head-first into KML’s madness, and had the pleasure of directing two shows, head-writing two shows, and writing for several. It’s such a fun group of people and I’ve had a blast pulling my hair out balancing that with SFTP. I also wrote a full-length for the Olympians Festival this year and had to balance being a member of the Monday Night Playground pool while Theater Pub was first kicking off. Yeah, 2015 was IN-SANE. Oh, and my improv team Chinese Ballroom are my home away from home. Check out our monthly shows at PianoFight, kicking back up in February!
TN This year I was Production Manager for DivaFest’s Loud & Unladylike. I’m writing about Christine Jorgensen in this year’s Loud & Unladylike, which will be read at Pianofight in mid-July! I also wrote and directed the opening party play for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. This year I am writing a one-act about Osiris, Cyrus, which will be read at the Exit Theatre on October 21. I also started seeing a therapist again, which I seriously recommend to anyone in the arts.
MT What are you most excited about for 2016?
TN I am so excited about our entire year! I look at the lineup and it brings me so much pride and joy. I’m also super stoked to check out Saturday Write Fever, and can’t wait to see what the bloggers have up their sleeves.
MT I am stoked about all the musicals booked for next season! What has gotten into us?! I’m a musical-geek, so this is basically becoming my dream job. ❤
[…] My year with San Francisco Theater Pub was an educational and rewarding one. I look forward to diving in this year with a little more savvy and confidence. You can read the interview between myself and other Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez here. […]