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)!
Alandra Hileman honors a very special day.
Theatre Rule of the Month: Measure Twice, Cut Once
Today, January 19th, would be Edgar Allan Poe’s 207th birthday. His happens to be one of the few famous birthdays I remember without prompting, thanks to two years in high school I spent working on a massive research project (which, as a matter of fact, I was never actually required to finish and turn in). I also probably have more poems and passages from Poe’s work rattling around in my memory than any other single writer, not that I would trust myself to do a proper recitation anytime soon. Delightfully, I’m finally getting the opportunity to put all this info to use in one of the far-to-many plays I’m currently in the process of drafting up, which means Poe has been on my mind a lot of late.
Interesting fact about Poe: he was a fairly obsessive reviser. Many of his poems and stories exist in multiple versions, with revisions running the gamut from simple spelling corrections or a change of title all the way to entirely new stanzas or endings. His output of fiction, poetry, and essays was fairly prolific, so when you begin to comb through the various publications to look for the revisions and variations, it adds up to quite a lot of text to compare.
Yes, publications. There aren’t many original drafts belonging to Poe that survived his turbulent and impoverished life, so most of the revisions we know about come from fair copies that were in the possession of magazine editors to whom they had been submitted, or the actual published texts, of which there were often several variations. Which brings me around to this month’s rule.
One of the first things you learn (or should learn) in both carpentry and sewing is the rule of “measure twice, cut once.” This rule gets brought up often in the theatrical world because, honestly, there’s usually not enough money in the budget to do something over if it doesn’t measure up the first time. So if you’re building a set, first you measure everything: the doors, the floors, the 2x4s. Then you draw your sketch to scale, measure your space and materials again, (for extra credit measure your scale drawing again), and then, and only then, do you start cutting and screwing. Apply the same to sewing, but with bodies and fabric.
It’s a solid rule. And it’s totally the opposite of what many writers seem to be taught. I’ve done readings for plays where I see draft after draft after draft presented, each one different, often each presented exactly as flowed from the writer’s pen (or laptop). Outlines are perfectly respectable, but not required. And sometimes, you keep making changes and revisions even after you’ve, I don’t know, won a Pulitzer prize for your play and had it produced and published all over the world. (coughBuriedChildcough) But then, words are a lot cheaper than lumber, so you can usually afford to screw up or change your mind more easily.
This isn’t intended as any sort of perfect metaphor, and all rules are probably made to be broken. But it is interesting to look at these two sides of how things are made. One is a very precise, planned system meant to deliver exact results the first time it comes together. The other may be a perpetual work-in-progress, or an experiment in throwing something half-baked in front of people and then adjusting after you see what it is. And since re-researching Poe brought it to my attention, I’m curious to pay more attention to where these two methods come to the fore as I plug away on measuring and (eventually) cutting my own writing about Poe.
So, happy birthday to the inventor of the modern detective story, formative contributor to the science fiction genre, first American writier to try to live on writing alone, and all-around wow-you-make-me-feel-better-about-my-life-choices guy, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. Thanks for the work.
If you’re more interested in Poe’s alcoholism and weird relationship with his 13-year old cousin than his revision habits, you can come see Alandra Hileman’s upcoming play Cyprus, Sin, and Care this Spring in the BoxCutters readings series at The Breadbox. Quoth the Raven, “See You There!”
Jessica Chisum’s contribution to the Morrissey Plays is a little unusual in that we broke her piece into three installments to give a narrative arc to the evening. In light of that, we thought we’d have her do a special, extended interview about the singer she loves and the theater company she’s returning to- all the way from Seattle!
So, despite no longer being local, you’ve been involved with Theater Pub in the past, yes? Did having that insider knowledge help you create your piece for this show?
Jessica: My first foray into the land of SF Theater Pub was as an actor. I was cast in Pint-Sized Plays IV after auditioning for another play directed by Jonathan Carpenter. It’s always nice to get a call from a director: “We can’t use you in the play you auditioned for, but there’s this other play IN A BAR!” I was in “Multitasking” by Christian Simonsen with Andrew Chung and Lara Gold, which was tons of fun. When I was writing “There Is A Light…” I was definitely channeling the mischief of Pint-Sized Plays, imagining myself back in that atmosphere- the sensation of eavesdropping on fellow bar patrons, and doing the things you always wanted to do in a bar but were afraid to do because you didn’t want to get kicked out.
Speaking of inspiration and guides, you also had a baby relatively recently… correct? Anything you’re trying to tell us with this play?
Jessica: Yes, I had a baby last summer and as an artist my refrain during pregnancy was “This IS my creative project!” After my daughter was born I was surprised by all the brain chemistry manipulations and honestly wondered if I could still write. (For those of you without tiny infants, your thought patterns completely change upon giving birth… so that you can be a good parent? I’m sure there is a technical term for it.) By writing this play while my three month-old napped I was trying to say “Hey guys! Moms can make art too!” Also Moms Love Morrissey.
How did you first discover Morrissey?
Jessica: I found Morrissey after hearing “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” on the radio my senior year of high school. I was listening to Parker Thompson’s show on KSUA, the college radio station at the University of Alaska. The song sent shivers down my spine and I stared at my clock radio wishing I could play it again and again. I ran down to Hoitt’s Music, the only music store in Fairbanks, and implored the staff to help me find it. “It’s about a double-decker bus,” I blurted breathlessly, an image in my mind of the funny red rectangles on wheels I had glimpsed as a very young child living in the UK. The song was found on The Smiths album “Best…II,” only one cassette left in the shop. I felt weird about buying “Best…II” without “Best…I,” but unfortunately “Best…I” was sold out. Thus began the summer of “Best…II.” As luck would have it, I was already a big Johnny Marr fan, having memorized his jangly guitar riffs from The The’s album “Mindbomb,” so the transition to Smiths’ Superfan was a smooth one.
What do you love about Morrissey?
Jessica: The man is ridiculously attractive, even now, in his fifties. But to be fair I never knew what Morrissey looked like until I saw him on the “120 Minutes” show on MTV. The man on the cover of The Smiths “Best…II” album was an actor from East of Eden, also ridiculously attractive, and I’m sure I knew then that this charming coverboy was not the singer I was getting blissed out on. Interesting that Morrissey would choose a gorgeous man for his cover with more than a passing resemblance to his own visage. As Narcissus gazes into the lake, and all that. But really I first fell in love with Morrissey’s lyrics, his poetry, and not his gorgeous eyebrows. Can we all agree that Morrissey is quite possibly Oscar Wilde reincarnate? Or at least has been given the power to summon the wit and humor of the floppy-haired Irishman? “If it’s not love, than it’s the bomb that will bring us together…” That’s up there with some of Wilde’s best aphorisms.
What do you hate about Morrissey?
Jessica: I can’t say I hate anything about Morrissey because even his smug pomposity is just an act put on by an insecure teenaged poet, about which I might know a few things. You’re so cute when you’re angry, Moz. Really I am just mad that he and Johnny Marr won’t kiss and make up and do one last reunion tour for like 50 billion dollars or however much producers have offered him. Seems so silly to hang on to a grudge for your whole life. Think of all the mediocre solo albums he could produce with that kind of cash! And maybe he would finally hire someone to come in and dust his grungy old mansion in the Hollywood Hills. At one point they will both be old enough and poor enough to let bygones be bygones and make an album together again. And it’s gonna be good! OK, OK, maybe not as good as The Smiths, but close. And the lyrics will be weird and brilliant and the guitar riffs will be crazy and sensual and transcendent and then I’ll be that weird mom at the concert embarrassing her kids by throwing her bra onstage.
Why is Morrissey important?
Jessica: I feel like he basically invented indie rock. Of course, back then we called it “alternative,” which is problematic because what happens when alternative music becomes mainstream? Personally, he is a huge influence on all of the newer music I like today. Which fortunately keeps me somewhat relevant and not just an old broad listening to The Smiths and going on and on about the 90s and how cool they were and how attractive we all used to be. But really, we were gorgeous! Weren’t we? I find myself telling some story about being a “waver”* in the 90s and my poor millenial husband’s eyes just kind of gloss over and… oh never mind. *New Wave listener/style appropriater/opposite of poser
How is this play SO MORRISSEY?
Jessica: The characters in my play have strong feelings about Morrissey as a man and an artist and their relationship to each other is shaped by their shared experience of Morrissey. Together they speak the language of Morrissey. That’s like, SO MORRISSEY.
You didn’t envision the play as being split into three parts, and you’ve decided to wait and see where the divisions happen, when you’re watching the play. Any thoughts on this? Do you think it changes your script a lot? Some writers would definitely be worried about that. Why did you approve the idea?
Jessica: Stuart Bousel split my play into three little playlets and I have no idea what that’s going to be like in performance! I’m honored, excited and scared, mostly excited. There are a lot of beat changes, so I am dying with curiosity to know how that dramatic tension is going to play out. Will we still care about the characters when we see them again? Will we remember what in tarnation they were talking about? It definitely makes those beats a lot longer, which does change the energy of the play. DAMMIT I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE IT. Mostly I’m just thrilled that Stuart Bousel wants to mess around and do things with my play.
Total spoiler question here, but… what DID happen with Robert?
Jessica: Ah yes, the elusive Robert, the unseen third character in my play (besides Morrissey)… To know more about him, I refer you to “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” the full-length play. Or webisode series! Only fitting that The Morrissey Plays would spawn a monster, yes?
Final question: What is your ultimate Morrissey Mixtape?
Jessica’s Ultimate Morrissey Mixtape!
Now for this mix I have to exclude “There Is A Light…” because…well that song just exists in a whole class by itself and deserves it’s own mixtape of itself over and over. Also don’t get mad because these are all The Smiths songs. I have supported Morrissey through all of his solo albums, I bought those CDs, I downloaded “World Peace Is None Of Your Business,” I did the hard, dark, introspective work of deciding that Morrissey + Johnny Marr = true genius so you don’t have to. So here it goes, sample lyrics included as “justifications for choice.”
5. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”
What she asked of me at the end of the day
Caligula would have blushed
“You’ve been in the house too long” she said
And I naturally fled
4. “Bigmouth Strikes Again”
And now I know how Joan of Arc felt
now I know how Joan of Arc felt
as the flames rose to her roman nose
and her Discman started to melt
Because if it’s not love
Then it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb
That will bring us together
2. “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before”
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love
1. “How Soon Is Now”
There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die
Jessica Chisum is an actor, playwright and the literary manager of Live Girls! Theater in Seattle. Live Girls has produced her plays DROWNED, SUPERGIRL, YELLOWED, INSERT QUARTER HERE, and MELEKELIKIMAKA COMRADE; SUPERGIRL was published by Rain City Projects. Jessica wrote HEAD FOR YOU TAIL FOR ME for Live Girls’ production of FEVER, plays inspired by the music of Peggy Lee. In San Francisco, she wrote PROMENADE produced by Three Wise Monkeys and PHOEBE PHOENIX SAVES THE WORLD, both of which were selected to be performed at the Last Frontier Theatre Festival in Valdez, Alaska. She was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska.
You can see her play, and the rest of the Morrissey Plays, starting tonight at 8 PM, only at PianoFight!
In which the author (Dave Sikula) bids his constant readers farewell.
Let’s cut to the chase. I’m outta here. This is my last blog post around these parts for the foreseeable future. While I’m neither retiring from blogging nor the theatre (nor anything else, really), I am taking a break. Whether it’s a long one or a short one, I have no idea.
First of all, my thanks to the proprietor. Without his encouragement and support – and deadlines – I wouldn’t have resumed my long-form online writing. Everyone here at the Pub is wonderful and offers unique perspectives on what’s happening in the theatre in San Francisco – and beyond – and deserves your continued custom and patronage.
But now, moving on. Even though we’ve passed the traditional navel-gazing that accompanies the end of a year, it’s close enough that I feel like I can indulge myself.
There have been any number of topics I’d have liked to talk about over the past couple of weeks and years, but have restrained myself both for propriety’s sake – and out of common sense. I’ve talked (at length) about how there are certain things I just can’t/am not allowed to say.
It’s like how, on Facebook, there are a number of people I keep in my news feed for the sole purpose of having them annoy me. “This again?” I mutter as I hit the “Hide” button or roll my eyes at their obtuseness or forced witticisms. (And please be sure; I am under no illusions that there aren’t simply legions of my erstwhile friends who have hidden me or have a similar reaction when they see I’ve posted – or blogged – or done anything – yet again.)
(Ironically, I started writing something on this topic and found myself starting to say something I wanted to, but couldn’t, due to the possibility of being misinterpreted, in spite of it ultimately being self-deprecating.)
Regardless, this break couldn’t come at a better time. I suddenly find myself chockablock with theatre projects that will be eating up my life for the next few weeks. I’m about to go into rehearsal for Sam and Dede (or, My Dinner with Andre the Giant) at Custom Made Theatre Company (tickets here). It’s the story of the unlikely (and true!) friendship between Samuel Beckett (whom I play, despite my lack of cheekbones and general lack of grizzled aspect) and Andre the Giant.
It’s a great script, but it’s a monster; about 140 pages of (basically) two- or three-word exchanges (which should take only about 90 minutes, but still … ). Because we have a limited rehearsal period, I’ve been working on my lines for a good three months now, and actually know many of them, Fortunately, Robert Shepard, who plays Andre, and I have been meeting to run lines and get a head start. Once we start rehearsing, it’ll be down and dirty and having to get a lot accomplished in a very short period of time. Once the show opens though, I think it’ll be a fun and interesting and entertaining evening.
I find myself of two minds about it, though. Brian Katz, Custom Made’s Artistic Director, was doing radio interviews last week and was plugging Sam and Dede (along with the rest of the season), and as he described the show, I suddenly realized that, other than Robert and I, no one knows what we’re doing with a very good script. While I’m more than anxious to share it with an audience (I think – knock wood – it’s going to go over very well), at the same time I like the idea that it belongs to Robert and me and no one else, though. It’s not dissimilar to the feelings I’ve had at final dresses of shows I’ve directed; that feeling that it no longer belongs to me.
Rehearsals will be so involved, though, that I’ll have to miss a good many (if not all) of the rehearsals for the production of my translation of Uncle Vanya at the Pear Avenue Theatre way down in Mountain View (tickets here). One of my goals with this production is that I want to tailor the language to the cast (which is a very good one), but I’ll be so involved with Sam and Dede that my contributions and consultations will mostly be limited to email.
Somewhere in there, as well, I have to cobble together an audition for the TBA Generals.
So, all in all, I have a very jam-packed rest-of-winter, but, after that? Zilch. Nada. Nix. Zero Nothing. Hopefully, that will change, but right now? Nothin’. On the bright side, that means I’ll have plenty of time to work on my latest Chekhov translation (The Cherry Orchard, available – along with my translations of the other major plays – to producers who are interested) and another project (potentially a cash cow) that I’ve had in mind for a while. Not to mention a couple of other projects I’ve been wanting to pursue. (With lots of roles for actresses; be warned.) Unfortunately, that means I’ll have no excuse to not work on any or all of them.
So that’s it. I gotta run lines and tidy the place up for my replacement. I encourage you all to see Sam and Dede (it’s a really good script, even with me in it) and Uncle Vanya. All that’s left is for me to leave you with words to live by, my favorite curtain line; words that I’ve found are suitable to any occasion:
“Son of a bitch stole my watch.”
I’m outta here, ya low-ridin’ punks!