Sam Bertken joins our regular blogging team to bring you a monthly VLOG on the SF comedy scene. Enjoy!
Sam Bertken joins our regular blogging team to bring you a monthly VLOG on the SF comedy scene. Enjoy!
Charles Lewis III on the Super Bowl.
“Damn everything but the circus!”
– e e cummings, Him
You may have noticed a change in The City this past weekend. No, I don’t mean Pro Life march that was disrupted by members of FEMEN. No, I don’t mean the rainbows that have been visible all over the Bay Area. I’m referring to the fact the upcoming event that’s being advertised by those garish Verizon banners draping the Embarcadero buildings: the Super Bowl.
Before I go on, I should say that I am most certainly NOT one of those “Ugh! Sportsball…” theatre folks who complain about popular athletics just because it reminds them of the kids who beat them up in school. I find that attitude offensive as a sports fan and counter-productive as a theatre artist. Both crowds are thought to be at odds with one another, when they actually have a lot in common. As we theatre folk endlessly kvetch about dwindling audiences, it wouldn’t hurt to see what works about sporting events getting big crowds. (Theatre folk do seem to love the Olympics; if for no other reason than to live-Tweet about the shamelessly theatrical opening ceremony.)
And yet, the invasion of the so-called “Super Bowl City” does rub me the wrong way. As a sports fan and born-SF native, it makes no sense for San Francisco to host the festivities of an event happening in a city 45 miles south. As a theatre artist, I did lament the fact that an event like this could so easily get all this pomp and circumstance as arts institutions are strapped for cash. Specifically, I thought about a few notable times The City proudly played host to theatrical events along the very same wharf that’s now being turned into a stage for Alicia Keys.
I’m sure that even the more recent SF arrivals will remember back to 2010, when a massive tent was set up for the lavish production of Peter Pan. It was a grand spectacle to be sure, but folks whose tastes were more, say, grown-up would walk a few piers down to the white tents with the shiny red letters in front. I’m speaking, of course, of Teatro ZinZanni.
This Seattle import – a hybrid of PT Barnum-esque acrobatics, Toulouse-Latrec-style burlesque, and overpriced dining – was an SF institution for ten years. Perhaps not as deeply embedded as Beach Blanket Babylon (which started in the mid-‘70s), but I don’t think I ever knew anyone who worked for Beach Blanket Babylon. I knew a helluva lotta folks who passed through Zinzanni, both performers and staff alike. I’ve heard countless tales of administrative headaches and miracles improvised mid-performance. It became a regular talking point for many of my theatrical colleagues because it was more than just another theatre company to them; it was a place that paid their bills, gave them no end of stress, and yet considered home.
That’s why we all felt bad when we learned that the show would be closing after New Years Eve 2011. There are so few places for non-Equity theatre folk to make (anything resembling) a living wage doing what they love, so we all notice when one suddenly vanishes (Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and SF Speakeasy being two off the top of my head). There’s something to be said about how performing artists view mortality, as they’re constantly putting one character/production to rest so that another may thrive, so it isn’t a bad thing to mourn one that played an important role in the lives of so many of them.
When I thought of this entry, I gave it the title that I did because the “Super Bowl City” hoopla has resulted in tents being set up for PR reasons rather than practical or performance reasons. I’m not angry at a sporting event happening 45 miles down the Bay, but there’s something wrong when this is what it takes to initiate the (temporary) improvements The City has needed for years; especially when the event has disrupted the lives of those of us who were already here.
Still, I’ll be watching the game when it airs (most likely at the home of a fellow theatre artist/sports-lover, no less). In the meantime, I’ll see if there’s anything worth observing on this runaway train of garish gold “50” signs that have popped. Because I do love the circus, and I’m always on the lookout for whenever it comes back.
Charles Lewis III isn’t a big fan of either Super Bowl team, but he does have a soft spot for the Broncos. He considers Manning the lesser of two evils against his AFC rival Tom Brady, so there’s that.
Anthony R. Miller checks in to add some new words to your theatrical vocabulary.
Hey you guys, we all know the basics of theatre terminology, up is down, down is up, right is left blah blah blah. But after a few years you tend to create your own Theatre-isms to describe different aspects of putting on a show. Your own insider lingo, so today, here’s a few of my personal favorite to add to your day to day conversations. Remarkably, there are five.
Shitshow– A production that looks fine from the audience perspective, but a whirling storm of chaos and disorganization behind the scenes.
Example: “I have a friend on the crew and she says it’s a total shitshow backstage.”
Turd Rolled in Glitter– A very good production of a very bad script.
Example: “I was really impressed with the production itself, the actors, the sets, the costumes, but the play itself is SO BAD, they didn’t polish the turd, they straight up rolled it in glitter”
Method-Nerd– An actor that is obsessed with their process. Decides early on what their characters favorite meal is and eats it before each performance, does 2 hours of breathing exercises, has taken every acting class and 3 day Meisner workshop imaginable. Takes character shoes home, so they can walk around in them. Requests to be let into rehearsal hall an hour early to do tai-bo in perfect silence, stands in front of mirror closing their eyes, breathing in and yelling “Awake!”
Example: “The actor who played the baker was amazing.” “Yeah he’s kind of a method nerd, to prepare for the role he went to baking school. On the upside we get fresh cinnamon rolls before every show.”
Running for Mayor– The act of increasing public appearances at other people’s events and shows in order to not look like a dick when you’re promoting the crap out of your own show in 2 months.
Example: “Anthony sure has been around a lot, I usually don’t see him at this many events.” “Oh he has a big fundraiser coming up, he’s totally running for Mayor right now.”
Tom Cruise School of Acting– An actor who gives an emotionally genuine performance but never really creates a character outside of themselves. You believe the character is sad or happy or in pain, but they just play themselves.
Example: “Wow I totally believed she was a jet pilot with a tortured past.” “Sure but it was just her acting as if she was a sad jet pilot, not like another person, total Tom Cruise School of Acting”
Anthony R. Miller is a writer, producer and all around wise-ass, keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and @armiller78 on twitter.
Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Libby Emmons.
Kicking off the first interview of 2016 is Libby Emmons who starts us off right by talking about indie theater and the importance of creating your own opportunities. Libby is a playwright as well as a producer and has a similar theater in pubs type of play series going with others in NYC.
We talked a bit about the current state of theater and what are some things people could do that would make a significant difference in changing it for the better. And we talked about Morrissey. Because Morrissey.
So, here it is! The interview for you to enjoy!
Barbara: Could you tell me about your background– what kind of position(s) do you inhabit in the theater world?
Libby: I make theatre because whenever I try to switch and do something else I find myself writing a new play or planning a new show, and I think “alright, let’s give this thing another go.” I studied playwriting and producing in undergrad (Sarah Lawrence) and grad (Columbia), and that’s mostly what I do now, write and produce.
Barbara: How did you get your theater company started? Was there an opportunity you saw?
Libby: I started a theatre company (Blue Box World) not because I saw an opportunity but because I saw a lack of them. I got a lot of rejections from existing theatre production companies and organizations, so I was like “fuck it, I’ll just do it myself.”
Barbara: Do you have a website for your theater company? Would love to check it out!
Barbara: What was the first show you produced through them?
Libby: Our first show was two one acts of mine on one bill, Firetop and Overnight, and we produced them at Second Stage at The Adrienne on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. As luck would have it, I also had a short piece going up at InterAct Theater Co. on the mainstage in the same theater building, running at the same time, so that was fun.
During this process we met loads of great artists, and wanted to keep working with them. But we’d blown all our cash on that big show. Our next show was Sticky, 10-minute plays set in Bar Noir, where we were regulars anyway. Sticky has been our main show now for years, even though we do other stuff here and there.
Barbara: How do you get people to come out for shows?
Libby: Every time we do a show I think “how the hell are we gonna get people to come out for this thing?” Our first show was before everyone had communicators in their hands at all times, so what we did was actually call everyone we know on the actual telephone and ask them to come, in addition to postcards, flyers, etc. I think the best approach is personal, but honestly marketing and how to keeps me up at night. Audiences always come, but I don’t know where they come from or why.
Barbara: Do you do theater around the country or mainly in NYC? I was curious if you thought there were differences in the way theater is engaged in within the different regions/places, if so.
Libby: We worked in Philly when we lived there, but have been in NYC since 2002. I always want to do theatre around the country, but short of getting an RV and winning the lotto, that plan has not been manifest. If I were to tour a show, my top choice would be How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts, which is a two-hander that I wrote for my friend Ali and I, where we play office workers who plan to sell the intern’s gang rape baby at a steep profit, and when that plan goes awry, come up with even crazier ideas. It runs 40 minutes; big laughs.
Barbara: What is one thing you’d like to change about theater currently?
Libby: I would like to change the funding and producing models for theatre. What we’ve got going now are these models:
I hate all of these, and the kind of theatre they create is the kind of theatre where the audience is in their chairs and the lights go down and the actors step onto the stage and it’s this ‘sacred’ experience. I prefer the profane. I want the audience onstage with me; I want them to sit on my lap while I whisper my stories in their ears. I want them to support the show by buying a cheap ticket to that show. I want us all to experience these moments together, and not in our own separate spaces. I want them to let me love them.
Barbara: Do you see any low-hanging fruit opportunities that would make a difference?
Libby: Yes. The shows I make create budgets entirely from projected ticket sales. Then we try to surpass that, in order to pay artists more than the initial offer. I believe fully that the only low-hanging fruit opportunities are the ones we make for ourselves. There’s no waiting around to ask permission, there’s just making art.
Barbara: What advice would you give to people who want to do what you do?
Libby: Do it. There’s no trick but to get your friends together and ask them to make brand new art with you. The ones who feel as much ownership over the work as you do will stick around, and it will be awesome. I’ve had a day job this whole time, and I’ve been producing my own work, and I stay up real late and wake up too early. I once got the advice from Suzan-Lori Parks that I should quit my day job and focus on making work full time. I was too freaked by finances to do that, and still am. Maybe it was advice I should have taken, or maybe it wasn’t, but it’s the advice I wish I’d tried out.
Barbara: And I hear you are in the Morrissey play fest! How cool is that? Want to give any hint about what to expect from your play or what your inspiration was?
Libby: Interestingly I was asked by Stuart Bousel to write a Morrissey monologue for a man. The initial submission guidelines talked about extra points for plays that could justify any song on Kill Uncle, and I love that album! So I went with “Sing Your Life,” which is what my man does, without singing.
Barbara: Anything to say about Morrissey and a play festival inspired by him?
Libby: I was so turned on by this idea. First off: bar plays, which come on, I’ve been making and loving the bar play for over a decade. And Morrissey, please. The man got me through my teenage years as unscathed as possible, although still with enough sublime contusions for me to have a true understanding of the word. When I listen to Morrissey it’s like the air outside my body suddenly matches the emotions and whimsies on the inside. It’s like listening to Morrissey makes me feel big enough to inhabit the air that I breathe.
Barbara: Plugs for shows in (or out of) the area or other art we should take a look at?
Libby: First off: The Morrissey Plays. If I were anywhere near I would be there every night.
After that I have two projects coming up that I am jumping out of my chair about I’m so excited. I Am Not an Allegory (these are people i know) is a full length coming up at Under Saint Marks in NYC, running from March 10-26.
The Sticky series is coming to Lovecraft Bar in NYC from with 4 new shows from April 7-May 26, www.stickyseries.live, and our Normal, IL offshoot, under impresario J. Michael Grey, runs at the Firehouse Brew Pub.
Barbara: And a Morrissey song to leave us with?
Libby: Sing Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6BOZ8gcT6c
You can catch Libby Emmons’ short play in The Morrissey Plays on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 25-26. And as always, tweet @bjwany or email us for interview suggestions!
Marissa Skudlarek, la-la-la!
Since Theater Pub’s January show consists of short plays inspired by indie-rock artist Morrissey’s songs, I thought I’d flip that idea around and share some indie-rock songs inspired by theater.
“I Was Meant for the Stage” by the Decemberists
A lovely and tender ballad about feeling like you’ve found your home in the theater, though not without some wry touches. “Mother, please be proud / Father, be forgiving / Even though you told me, ‘Son / You’ll never make a living,’” Colin Meloy begs, and the joke is all the funnier because you can hear it coming. The chorus also acknowledges the darker side of finding your calling as an actor: you might start to feel like you’re superior to the hoi polloi. “You will resume your callow ways / But I was meant for the stage!” Meloy sings – and, responding to his pretentiousness, the band finishes off the track with some parodically self-indulgent noodling.
“Promises of Eternity” by the Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt, frontman and songwriter of the Magnetic Fields, is known for his odd lyrical conceits, but even by his standards, “Promises of Eternity” is pretty kooky. The premise of the song is that if he and his lover broke up, it would be as awful as if “no show ever happened again,” as if there were never any more theater in the world! Perhaps to match the drama-themed subject matter, Merritt sings this song in a much more melodramatic style than his typical deadpan vocals. My favorite line, both in terms of the wordplay and his vocal delivery: “What if the clowns couldn’t be clooowns / And all those painted smiles gave in to plaintive frowns?” (And is this possibly an allusion to Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns?”)
“Actor Out of Work” by St. Vincent
The people on Genius.com posit this as a song about a woman who’s learned to see through her boyfriend’s lies, but you can also read it as just what the title says: the internal monologue of an out-of-work actor. There’s plenty of self-loathing – “You’re an actor out of work / You’re a liar and that’s the truth / You’re an extra lost in the scene” – mixed with the kinds of mantras you might say to psych yourself up before an audition: “You’re a boxer in the ring / With brass knuckles underneath.” The music is appropriately anxious and jittery, though when the soaring backing vocals come in, sounding like something from an old Broadway musical, it lends a nice theatrical touch.
“Benediction” by the Weakerthans
Songwriters continue to exploit “all the world’s a stage,” theater-as-a-metaphor-for-life imagery hundreds of years after Shakespeare did it. The lovely middle verse of this song begins “All the actors broke their legs” and goes on to describe a failing stage production, but it isn’t meant to be taken literally — as a whole, the song seems to be about either a breakup or a death. So it’s a song about theater, but you don’t have to be a theater person to relate to it. That slide-guitar, alt-country sound is so early-2000s-indie that it kind of hurts, and “Let the rain be your applause” is a line that Morrissey himself would be proud to have written.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer with a terrible weakness for any pop music that is described as “wry” or “literate.” Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.
This week Ashley chats with Morrissey Play actors, Andrew, Caitlin, and Kitty!
It was about a year ago I asked four wonderfully willing and eager actors to perform in my short, THIS IS WHY WE BROKE UP, which premiered at PianoFight’s ShortLived Competition and was directed by Charles Lewis III. So I was delighted to see that three out of four of them (hope to see you next time, Dylan Pembleton!) were lending their talents to Theater Pub’s current production, THE MORRISSEY PLAYS, which opened on Monday evening.
So I felt like I had no choice but to ask yet another favor of Andrew Chung, Caitlin Evenson, and Kitty Torres because they’re delightful people on and off stage and I wanted the excuse to talk to them. Here they are to tell us a little bit more about their current roles. This one’s for you, Morrissey!
Tell us who you’re playing and a little about the play(s) you’re in!
ANDREW: I’m in 3 of the Morrissey plays, playing three very different characters: Remember those goth kids in high school who were unsettlingly obsessed with the creepy and the occult? In David Robson’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, my character was once one of those high school outcasts. Since graduating from high school, he’s married his high school creepheart and opened a bar in their sleepy little hometown. He and his wife have invited an old classmate over for drinks, but booze isn’t the only thing on the menu…
In “World Peace is None of Your Business” by Kylie Murphy, I am one of those Morrissey fanboys. You know, the kind who just won’t shut up about how awesome and innovative and infallible he is and oh man the world would just be so much better if we all listened to him and by the way have I mentioned how Morrissey is God on Earth?!?! My compatriot and I have cornered some unfortunate soul who apparently has not heard the Gospel According to Moz, and are dead-set on giving this poor sap some education.
Finally, in a fun little script by Alan Olejniczak titled “Unhappy Birthday”, I play a boisterous frat bro trying to console his friend who just went through a breakup. And in his mind, the best way to get over someone is to go and GET SOME, SON! *insert unsubtle pelvic thrusts*
CAITLIN: Cecily in “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” by Jessica Chisum. I’m a new mom of three months meeting my best friend whom I haven’t seen since having the baby. Over the course of the play, which is split into three parts over the course of the evening, we touch on the significance of love, lost youth, and Zooey Deschanel (spoiler: she stole my life!)
KITTY: I am really fortunate to portray a few characters in THE MORRISSEY PLAYS. I play Angela in “How Soon Is Now?” by Allie Costa. As she recounts how this song brought her and her best friends together for the first time. It’s such a wonderful and adorable teenage story about how we all have those songs that define who we are as well as moments in our lives. I also play Emily in “World Peace Is None of Your Business” as a loyal and tad eccentric Morrissey fan who is dealt a hard dose of reality from someone who’s been in my shoes before. I lastly play opposite Brian Martin in a quick passage based on Morrissey’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, by Peter Bratach. We begin the play with him as “you” and myself as “me”, then switching sides to end the play. Performing the script in two different contexts, we portray the struggle arguments everyone deals with when they get into passionate and yet somewhat sedentary arguments with that friend who maintains polar opposite views.
What was your relationship with Morrissey before getting cast in this show and how would you describe it now?
ANDREW: I vaguely knew who Morrissey was before being cast, but I hadn’t heard much of his music and didn’t have much of an opinion of the man. And to be completely honest, that hasn’t really changed. Morrissey and his music just aren’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure he’s fine with that.
CAITLIN: I had no idea who he was when we began the rehearsal process. We were sent a documentary to watch as research and some songs and I realized that I had indeed been exposed to Morrissey before but had somehow missed the major cultural phenomenon that was the Smiths (outside of having seen (500) Days of Summer…). I’ve since gained an understanding of how much his music has meant to people, who his fans are — a lot of interesting dramaturgical stuff. I think I’m still wrapping my head around the “feel” of Morrissey so don’t ask me to articulate that just yet, but I’m getting close.
KITTY: Growing up, I was lucky to learn about Morrissey through The Smiths from my childhood friend, Caitlin Carlson. She was and is a musical genius who told me simply to just listen to them and make my own understanding of them but to maintain that they were her favorite band ever. I was constantly surrounded by people who liked the work of both The Smiths and Morrissey and while I wasn’t a die hard fan, I got into them and appreciated their work. The music was dangerous and insane and made people uncomfortable. It made me feel uncomfortable and I started to like it and everything in life that made me feel so shaken up. Now that I’ve had some major crash course time to be all about this music again, I feel like my relationship has changed for the better with his music. I definitely roll my eyes at some of the shit he says but I respect him even more. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and to display his own conflicts within himself. That takes so much courage and love. Though he probably wouldn’t describe it like that, haha.
If you had to describe the evening in 160 characters or less and using mainly emoticons, what would you say?
ANDREW: 😀 D: 🙂 :O ;_; XD 😡 (> ‘ . ‘ )> <( ‘ . ‘ <)
CAITLIN: No emojis on my laptop so: “pint glass” “dreary day” “lonely” “acerbic” “revelations” “twist” “flawed humans” “love” Now imagine emojis. Ta-da!
KITTY: Oh man, well you know how you’ve always had that fantasy to throw on your old prom dress 💃and go to a dive bar with some close friends to drink cheap martinis 🍸and eat peanuts🍩 and talk about how fucked up everything’s become?🙋🏽🙋🏽🙋🏽 Whether it be young romance being ripped to shreds👨❤️👨 losing three jobs in a year, 🏆🏆🏆dealing with sudden deaths of your loved ones, 😣😣dealing with slow deaths of others😖😖 and wondering what the universe is trying to say? And then you stay up to watch the sunrise just to make sure you’re still alive.🎉🎉🎉🎉 That’s what this evening is, haha.
What’s been the biggest surprise working on a show inspired by Morrissey?
ANDREW: Finding out just how many people in the show are big fans of his.
CAITLIN: I had no idea he had such a large and passionate fan-base! The biggest surprise is how I managed to not know about him for so long!
KITTY: The biggest surprise has been to realize how much I’ve changed from when I was a teenager listening to this music and yet Morrissey still resonates with me. Still reminds me to be myself despite how much it pisses people off.
What’s your favorite Morrissey lyric and why?
ANDREW: From “There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends”: All that we hope is that when we go, our skin and our blood and our bones don’t get in your way, making you ill the way they did when we lived.
It’s such a wonderful way to say “fuck you,” isn’t it?
CAITLIN: Well…I only know the lyrics that are in my play…but I do think that “to die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die” is pretty darn romantic.
KITTY: While I definitely didn’t like this lyric before the show, the lyrics to “A Light That Never Goes Out” has become my favorite. It reminds me of a good friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I genuinely miss him, haha.
If Morrissey could be any drink, what would he be?
ANDREW: Fernet Branca. It’s not to everyone’s taste (many say it’s very in-your-face and off-putting), but man oh man does it have a large, utterly devoted cult following.
CAITLIN: I feel woefully under qualified to answer this. Like a poser. But I suppose my part in this play has given me some credibility. So I’ll say tea. Tea with no sugar because the lump of sugar is crushed on the floor next to the table the tea cup is sitting on.
KITTY: Probably crude oil with some rose petals as garnish. Haha, alcoholic drink, I’d say he would have to be a pina colada. It’s really pretty, cute looking from the outside, delicious to drink but ultimately kicks you in the ass by the end of the night and leaves you with a stomach ache the next day.
Where can we see you next?! Tell us about your next project!
ANDREW: Catch me in February’s Theater Pub show, OVER THE RAINBOW: The totally obviously true story of how Lisa Frank wandered into a magical rainbow realm, setting her on the path to becoming the ironfisted CEO of Lisa Frank, Inc. I’m also co-hosting the next installment of Saturday Write Fever on Feburary 13th at the Exit Cafe!
CAITLIN: Stay tuned!
KITTY: I don’t admittedly have anything going on acting wise, I am continuing to assist the wonderful Brooke Jennings in costuming for Custom Made Theatre and hope to dive back into auditions as soon as possible.
You have two more chances to see the show so mark those calendars! Monday and Tuesday at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco, California 94102)!