In For a Penny: Life on Mars

Charles Lewis on Bowie.

Yes, he was on Soul Train.

Yes, he was on Soul Train.

“It’s only forever. Not long at all.”
– David Bowie, “Underground”

It was about this time last year that I wrote an entry about how much I don’t like my birthday. It isn’t for the sake of being dour, nor is it a day when I walk around full of self-pity (self-deprecation, maybe), I just don’t see the big deal of causing a fuss over my waking up another day. I’ll gladly celebrate the birthdays of others because I love when my friends are happy, but I never mention to them when mine comes up.

It’s only rarely that I let the day bog me down with thoughts of mortality – not even I am that morbid. But this past weekend, I found myself unable to escape those thoughts. It was this past weekend that someone with whom I share a birthday passed away. No, it wasn’t Sarah Polley, Stephen Hawking, or Elvis Presley (who I’m sure has been dead for quite some time), but the incomparable David Bowie. Even if I didn’t share a birth date with someone I admire – who died days later, no less – the fact that I turned 35 and he 69 caught my eye. I’m literally one year away from being half his age.

But again, rather than dwell on the tragedy of his passing, I became fascinated by the ways he chose to spend his final days. Apparently, he was composing the songs for a theatrical musical… about SpongeBob SquarePants. I didn’t see that coming. But what else should we have expected from a man whose life and career were defined by unabashed theatricality?

Bowie-Tesla-lighting copy

When someone I admire dies, I tend to feel a sense of shame that I didn’t know more about them before reading about it, but I’m glad when they put a lot of things into perspective. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that Bowie’s aforementioned theatricality is a direct result of his training in theatre. He actually began training as a mime under Lindsay Kemp and would later take the title role in a critically-acclaimed performance of The Elephant Man. I say this puts things into perspective, because the man was a capable actor. Usually a musician will take the leap into acting (and vice versa) just as way to expand their public profile. Bowie brought a confidence and self-awareness to the roles he played.

Like most people my age and younger, I was introduced to him as the spandex-wearing Goblin King of Jim Henson’s musical, Labyrinth. Yet, when I think of the role of his that truly left an impression on me as a young man, it was his single scene as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Most portrayals of Pilate that I’d seen – both before and after – often portray him as a moustache-twirling who takes a lot of pleasure in flogging this somehow-special Jew in public. Scorsese and Bowie took a different approach. Their Pilate is calculating and intelligent, but he recognizes that this Christ fellow (Willem Dafoe) is also intelligent, if not calculating. Pilate slowly takes steps towards him in an attempt to unravel the enigma of this man who oddly has the public up in arms. When he sits beside him, it’s a subtle way of showing equality between them, despite their official stations, but the scene ends with Pilate acknowledging that he wouldn’t want to be in Christ’s shoes.

For a man defined by grand flamboyance, it’s a wonderful showcase of nuanced characterization. As a budding teenaged actor who was in the middle of his own spiritual crisis, both the scene and the performance left their mark on me. And as that same teen began to ask more and more questions about his sexuality, there was something comforting about figures like Bowie and Prince who showed me that the well-worn tropes of masculinity and femininity were really just costumes in the theatrical production of life. In Theater Pub’s upcoming Morrissey Plays (opening this Monday at PianoFight), one of my characters – who, by all other indications, is hetero – proudly declares that he’d have sex with the eponymous singer because “Heteronormative gender rules don’t apply.” I learned that by watching Bowie.

As you read this, you’ve probably all come across the news that actor Alan Rickman just passed away. If you have any connection to Bay Area theatre, then you already know that Impact Theatre in Berkeley will be closing its doors later this year. We all know that nothing lasts forever, be it a cherished sanctuary or even life itself. As cliché as it may be, it really does come down to how your living days are spent, rather than constantly dwelling on when the end will come at last.

We might not all be able to be groundbreaking musicians, talented actors, parents of award-winning film-makers, and married to supermodels, but those things wouldn’t be unique if everyone could do them. You don’t have to worry about sharing a birthday with someone more accomplished than you, just celebrate you. A guy named David Jones taught me that.

Charles Lewis III takes solace in the fact that he still shares a birthday with Sarah Polley, an actor and director he’s always admired.

Everything Is Already Something: Farewell, Sweet Dick Joke

Allison Page, starting the new year with a note of goodbye.

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today to say goodbye to some good sketches. Sketches which were not long for this world. Sketches as clean and sparkling as any others. Game-focused, precise sketches, escalating alongside the best of them, breaking their game at just the right moment. And yet, here we are. Grieving and sobbing for the sketches we have lost because they needed to be cut…for time.

Ah, time, a fickle master to whom we are all servants. There are but 60 minutes in an hour. We may try to stretch it, challenge it, flout it, but the truth remains. Tick tock, fart jokes, tick tock.

Yes, we must say goodbye even to these fart jokes. These gut busting gas passers. These guttural emissions. These children of the night. For they, yes, even they, cannot escape the wrath of the cuckoo clock. Father time has come for our fart jokes, and we must let them fly home on the wind which we have broken, to that great fart joke depository in the sky.

Heh heh, depository.

As we wave a farewell to our monologues about puberty and screwing inanimate objects, let us not forget what they’ve meant to us. We, the ragged, scratched up, bruised adults. The former horny pre-teens who longed for understanding and Jordan Catalano from My So Called Life, who longed to eat Oreos all day and both wanted to grow up and to stay young and weird. We salute you. We salute ourselves.

Mourning-Woman

Here, too, we mourn the loss of physical sketches which nearly killed us. Back-bending, cheer-leading, freak-dancing, climbing, jumping, cartwheeling sketches crafted for the enjoyment of 10s and 10s of people. Human pyramids and a kid doing the worm alike have been slaughtered. No sketch is ever really safe, is it?

You never think it will be yours, your bouncy baby dick joke. You think you’re immune to the cut of someone else’s jib. You are not. Sometimes you find yourself cutting your own sketches and retreating to a corner of the bar where you can sip your bourbon in silence while cursing the goddamn kids who wrote a better dick joke than you had ever dreamed possible, wiping your dick joke off the figurative map and literal set list.

Not only do we lose our childish, gross jokes, but we must also mourn our attempts at social commentary and blistering satire. Our chance to show the opposing political party that we mean business and are, always, right, sometimes passes away into the recycling bin, or the annals of time and Google Drive, where they wither and age like old digital fruit.

Not only do we say auf wiedersehen to these sketches today, we celebrate them. And we welcome to life those sketches which will make it to the final performance. Those great few. Those strong, hearty few. We hold and coddle them until they are ready to be put forth in front of half-drunk audiences of rabid joke-gobblers. And we hold no ill will for them, the champions. We raise them up and brush the long golden locks of their mullet wigs. We support them with our laughter and know that tomorrow is another day, another joke, another birth of fanciful mirth or jocular rage.

This is not a mourning, but a celebration of life.

*fart sound*

Thank you.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director and Co-Artistic Director of Killing My Lobster. She wrote this as a farewell to the sketches she cut this morning while preparing for KML’s performance at SF Sketchfest Jan 19th at The Eureka Theatre.

The Five: Cult Movie Musicals To Start Your Year

Anthony R. Miller checks in with five Movie Musicals you should drop everything to watch.

Hey you guys, Happy New Year. Like many of you, I had a little extra free time at the end of December and instead of y’know, writing or being a productive member of society, I watched a bunch of movies. And like any good theatre nerd, I watched a bunch of movie musicals, but my tastes are a little, ahem, different. So in order to turn all the time wasting into “research” I’ve compiled a list of weird-ass, off the beaten path movie musicals you need to watch right now to get your 2016 started proper.

Stage Fright (2014)
This Canadian gem features ridiculous songs, bloody death scenes, skewers theatre-kid tropes and stars MeatLoaf. A prestigious theatre camp produces a much maligned musical with a dark past, singing and killing ensues.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)
Another Canadian treasure is this mega low budget, musical kung-fu movie that tells the story of Jesus Christ coming back (with some sweet piercings) to save a bunch of good hearted lesbians from a pack of vampires. What the film lacks in production quality, it makes up for with sheer “Hey guys let’s make a ridiculous movie together” joy.

The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
This Phantom of the Opera meets Faust tale is really one of the great cult musicals. With Music by and starring Paul Williams as Swan the evil record producer, a deep voiced Jessica Harper, and bizarre Brian DePalma weirdness. It’s easy to just call this a “Bad Movie”, but it’s more, it’s much more. It’s quotable, packed with strange musical numbers and drugged out 70’s goodness.

Shock Treatment (1981)
The not quite sequel to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Brad and Janet star in a proto-reality show to save their marriage. This film aspires to be art, and was truly ahead of its time in its criticism of reality television. In many ways it’s a better musical than RHS, it’s more ambitious, subversive, and Richard O’ Brien’s score is legitimately great.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
L.A. is one of my favorite theatre scenes in the world, I’ll never understand it. This film was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman of Saw 2-27 fame and boasts a ridiculous cast of all-stars. Set in the future where body parts can be repossessed, and everyone is addicted to a pain killer that is extracted from dead bodies, this goth-industrial horror musical is one of my favorite things in the world. Starring Anthony Stewart Head, Bill Mosely, Orge Nivek (of Skinny Puppy), Paris Hilton and Sarah Friggin Brightman, the film tells a classic story of a love triangle, betrayal, hidden secrets, and a powerful and corrupt family. It also features a lot of dead bodies, a musical score you’d be more likely to hear at Deathguild than in a theater, and Paris Hilton’s face falls off, which is like the most symbolic thing ever.

Happy viewing!

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, producer and generally weird guy, keep up with him at http://www.awesometheatre.org and see his short play “WE hate is when our friends become successful” as part of Theatre Pub’s “The Morrissey Plays”.

Theater Around The Bay: Writers Talking About Morrissey

With a somewhat heavy heart, we bring you some thoughts from the writers of the upcoming Morrissey Plays.

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” - Morrissey

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” – Morrissey

Who the heck are you, Morrissey Play writer?

I’m Libby Emmons. My plays include I Am Not an Allegory (iamnotanallegoryplay.com, upcoming Under Saint Marks, March 2016, NYC), How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts (Festival of the Offensive, NYC 2014, winner “Most Offensive”), “Soft Little Song Like Doves,” (upcoming Best Short Plays, 2015, Smith & Krause), & many more. Co-founder of the Sticky short play series (stickyseries.live, upcoming Lovecraft Bar, April 2016, NYC), and blogs the story of her life at li88yinc.com. So many thank you’s to Stuart Bousel for including me in the show, & to Morrissey, for seeing me through my teenage years relatively unharmed.

I’m David Robson. I have a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. I was a director, adapter, and actor, in The Twilight Zone series at the Dark Room Theatre (RIP), which also produced my plays The Night and Zola-X. This is actually my Theater Pub debut!

I’m Susan Petrone, author of the novels Throw Like a Woman (2015), A Body at Rest (2009), and the forthcoming The Super Ladies (2016 or 2017 depending on when I get the manuscript to the publisher). My short fiction has been published by Glimmer Train and Featherproof Books, among others. I also blog about my beloved Cleveland Indians at the ESPN-affiliated blog ItsPronouncedLajaway.com.

Pete Bratach: I’m a guy who has been around long enough to have experienced the Smiths as an angst-ridden, morose teen, long before that whole Emo schtick sucked in the latest generation of outcasts and the disaffected. But “Girlfriend in a Coma” was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Smiths; I know, I know, it was serious. Oh, I live in SF and write for a living.

Allie Costa: I’m an actress, writer, director, and singer. When I’m not in a theatre, I’m on a film or TV set. I’ve been writing stories and songs for as long as I can remember. My earliest audiences were my mom, my sister, and my cat. That audience has now expanded; it’s mind-blowing to realize my work as both an performer and as a writer has been seen in places I’ve never been, like Scotland and London. My play Femme Noir is currently running in New Jersey, while The Intervention Will Be Televised is having its world premiere production in Los Angeles.

Anthony Miller: I was born and raised in San Jose. I performed in the Rocky Horror Picture Show for several years, and then I ran a poetry slam, now I write weird cult plays. I am a man mired in sub-sub cultures. I currently live in Berkeley with my girlfriend and two cats that cant seem to stop eating.

I’m Alan Olejniczak, a San Francisco playwright, Theater Bay Area ISC Board Member, and a company member of We Players. Last spring, I started the fledgling At Last Theatre, with Rik Lopes, and premiered Present Tense at The ACT Costume Shop. Last autumn, City Lights Theater Company presented my short play if-then(-else) and San Francisco Olympians Festival VI premiered my ten-minute play Hylas. This spring, I’m producing my play Dominion and participating in the next San Francisco Olympian’s Festival VII with Lethe.

I’m Barry Eitel, an Oakland playwright and a recipient of the 2016 TITAN Award for playwrights from TBA. I was the Head Writer for Boxcar Theatre’s The Speakeasy, leading a team of nine to create a breathing novel set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. I was the Fall 2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where I created an interactive play for young audiences. My short plays have been produced across the country and have been published by Smith & Kraus. My play The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident will be produced by FaultLine Theatre at PianoFight in August, 2016. My website is www.BarryEitel.com.

Kylie Murphy: I am a creative writing and filmmaking student from New Jersey. My first short play, World Peace, premiered in New York last summer. I apparently cannot write any play without the phrase “world peace” in the title, and am working closely with a professional to figure out why that is.

How/when did you first discover Morrissey?

Pete: I first discovered Morrissey through the Smiths back in high school when Hatful of Hollow was released.

Libby: In 9th grade no one understood me except the college radio station from the University of Rhode Island which only came in after much fidgeting with the location of the boom box in my room and one day after school they played “Reel Around the Fountain”, and they played “November Spawned a Monster”, and my heart was filled with the most joyous melancholy and I knew I was home.

Alan: I dated a guy briefly in college who introduced me to Meat is Murder. Tragically, my love was unrequited and my life became a glorious Smith’s single. I played the album over and over until my roommate, so worried about my spiraling depression, finally broke the cassette tape. Strangely, one of my fondest memories of Morrissey is seeing the Queen is Dead tour. I worked at the venue and after the sound check, the band casually sat on the edge of the stage. I bravely walked up to Morrissey, but could form no words. I stood there stupidly with my mouth open, until they all started laughing. I walked away, humiliated but delighted I got so close to my idol.

Kylie: I discovered Morrissey while reading the coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was fourteen. After the narrator famously placed “Asleep” by The Smiths twice on a mix tape, I listened to it endlessly and it was perfect. (What is my final cliché count?)

Anthony: I first saw the video for “Tomorrow” on 120 Minutes on MTV, followed by “Panic”, but it wasn’t until “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I get” that I was truly hooked. I promptly shoplifted a copy of “ Vauxhall and I” from my local tower records, thus began the love affair.

Susan: I lived at home during undergrad. My cousin Nora was studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art and lived with us. She (or one of her ultra-cool art school friends) had a homemade tape of Louder Than Bombs, which I “borrowed” and never returned.

Barry: I went through a time in high school obsessing over ’80s college rock, and there he was alongside Echo & The Bunnymen and Husker Du.

What do you love about Morrissey?

Alan: I love the man because he’s quirky, passionate, unafraid, and misunderstood. He’s unapologetic about his music and his views of the music industry, world politics, and religion.

Barry: His plainspoken poetry that would get destroyed at a writers’ workshop but works so terrifically set to music.

Libby: Back pocket daffodils, and the voice, and the emotion that is cold and emotionful at the same time, and the humour, how everthing is a joke on the world, but also on me, and how satisfying it is to be in the fray and be an observant bystander at the same time.

Kylie: I don’t know how to separate what I love from what I hate. Much like separating Morrissey the musician from Morrissey the man from Morrissey the demigod, it’s impossible. I love to hate him and hate to love him. He can be so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, and yet I would like to rip that tongue out every once in a while.

Susan: He embodies the human paradox. We’re all of us wracked with self-doubt about our looks and abilities. At the same time, we’re all secretly convinced we’re smarter and better-looking than anyone we know. Morrissey lays that dichotomy right out in the open. Plus his lyrics are always clever and often hilarious.

Anthony: The overwhelming combo of melody and melancholy, it’s sad, introspective, and insecure but with a great beat you can dance. I find his music comforting under any circumstance. His music embraces aspects of our personalities that we are led to believe are bad or self-indulgent, but he shows us that these feelings are completely necessary.

Pete: He and Johnny Marr made a powerful songwriting team. That hair! That croon! That vow of celibacy!

What do you hate about Morrissey?

Barry: That posers sing Smiths songs at karaoke to get laid.

Alan: There is nothing I hate about the man.

Pete: His solo work pales in comparison to the Smiths. Sometimes his tremulous voice grates on me.

Kylie: When answering what I hate about Morrisey, I felt a little lost, so I turned to the internet. The top Google searches for “Morrisey is” are “a genius”, “vegan”, “dead”, “not vegan”, and “rude”. I think that says it better than anyone can. In the end, I believe that the only person who could be Morrissey is Morrissey, because he can afford it.

Susan: We all know that we shouldn’t invest too much emotional energy in what other people think of us. Morrissey is evidence of the dangers of completely not giving a shit what the rest of the world thinks.

Anthony: He is kind of a pompous old man now, he doesn’t wear self-confidence well.

Libby: I would say that I hated that time I saw him play and he bailed on the last few songs because he was having a drama freak out, or didn’t feel well, or whatever, but he also sang “Angel Angel Down We Go Together”, and I reached my arms out as far as they could go and felt loved for real, so I don’t even hate him for that, or for moving to LA.

Why do you think Morrissey is important?

Kylie: I’m not sure if I think Morrissey is important, because nothing is important. That’s an answer Morrissey would give. Just kidding, Morrissey would say Morrissey is important.

Alan: The Smiths were one of the most influential rock bands of the 80’s. They resisted being pigeonholed in this ever-evolving music scene. Punk rock turned hardcore, disco evolved into new wave, and rock detoured into heavy metal. Morrissey and Johnny Marr resisted all of these music trends with there own unique sound. The Smiths were never mainstream or found commercial success. They’ve always been underground. The Smiths were remarkable for never having a bad album or a bad song. Since the breakup, Morrissey continues to perform with a loyal following, despite uneven solo albums and infrequent tours. While an unremarkable vocalist, Morrissey has an amazing stage presence – both sexy and commanding. Morrissey’s greatest strength and continued legacy is his brilliant lyrics that range from droll and pithy to self-consciously maudlin. Morrissey is important because he is a rock legend, an icon, with a career that spans four decades.

Anthony: Hs songs create unity through alienation. As fans, we are able to be alone, together.

Susan: His lyrical and vocal style have influenced a wide range of bands and songwriters from Colin Meloy to Noel Gallagher to Sam Smith (who even ripped off the quiff). The meek shall inherit the earth. The misfits and weirdos get Morrissey.

Pete: He gave a voice to the legions of depressed and disaffected youth of the world.

Barry: He made sadness a fine thing to sing about–not “cool” sad, not “look at me I’m sad” sad, not “this world is so crazy” sad, but “I’m afraid I’m totally lame and no one actually likes me” sad.

Libby: I think he’s important as a discovery; for a person who needs to hear what he’s crooning, who feels all those things and has need to have those feelings in surround sound, simply to prevent exploding, Morrissey is essential.

Kylie: I think he is important so that each of us can identify with him at some point in our loneliness, and then find out he is just a guy who has said some bad things and move on with our lives.

David: I can really only talk about Morrissey with a timeline so…

1980s. Morrissey and The Smiths could be seen at school on t-shirts worn by all of the very, very serious kids who’d aligned themselves with alternative culture. I recognized that “How Soon is Now?” was held together by some terrific riffs, but there was something off-putting about the frontman’s…affectedness? Gloominess? The music from nearby Washington, DC’s punk scene seemed a more practical response to the problems faced by my generation, and the industrial/darkwave music out of Chicago was more fun to dance and fuck to. No Smiths or Morrissey for me, then.

1990s. The college’s weekly lively arts publication highlights the spectacularly insane contents of a press release announcing the coming of KILL UNCLE, Morrissey’s second solo album. Among the highlights: “Morrissey is clearly out to shock you with his new album. Just look at the title: KILL UNCLE. See? You’re shocked!” A few years later Morrissey’s VAUXHALL & I marks a pleasing new plateau for Morrissey, and meets with great critical and commercial success. The single “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” turns into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy as it’s played at least once an hour on every goddamn radio station I listen to.

2000s. A noticeably-older Morrissey holds a tommy gun so gracefully on the cover of YOU ARE THE QUARRY that he seems to have pirouetted off the set of a John Woo film. I don’t buy the album (though a friend assures me that “First of the Gang To Die” is one for the ages) but the cover sends me. There’s something tremendously reassuring about Morrissey brandishing a machine gun, especially halfway through the second Bush administration. I’m pleased he’s still around, though damned if I understand why.

2010s. SF Theatre Pub puts a call out for submissions to The Morrissey Plays. I get cranky that they’ve picked an artist with whom I have so little affinity, but simply shrug and say ah well. A week later ask myself where I would start, and call up a YouTube recording of “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” And all the doors between Moz and me just disappear. I can see that crappy seaside town, I exult in the greyness overhead, I feel like I’ve lived there, and yet I can see it so clearly thru the eyes of Morrissey’s narrator; his ennui sounds overblown thanks to a downright Wall-of-Sound production, but the sensuality that informs it is the real deal, and THAT is where Moz and I finally connect. And over a couple of short sessions I find a play set against that grey landscape, populated with Morrissey’s characters and mine, pursuing what I find in the song to what feels to me like a natural conclusion. I can’t pretend that I know Morrissey better than anyone, or even particularly well, but I’m glad, after all of these years, to have finally had such a thrilling introduction.

Allie: I was inspired to write How Soon is Now? after hearing a friend gush about Morrissey the day after she attended his concert with two of her friends, dear friends she’s known since high school. As she told me about her experience at the concert, she positively lit up, smiling so broadly, and I could easily see her as a teenager, moved by the music and bonding with these girls who would become her lifelong friends. I wrote the piece that evening and I shared it with her the next day. When this piece was selected for The Morrissey Plays, she was the first person I told.

Okay. Five MUST HAVE SONGS on the Ultimate Morrissey Mix.

Kylie:
1. “Asleep” Obviously.
2. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” I used this song in a school project where I created a musical companion to Crime and Punishment— you’d be surprised just how well Morrissey and Raskolnikov fit together.
3. “How Soon Is Now?” For the longest time, I thought that he was singing “I am human and I need to belong”. But who was I kidding, Morrissey doesn’t need to belong anywhere.
4. “Half A Person” Of course he says the YWCA and not the YMCA. Of course.
5. “Asleep” Twice, in honor of the book that brought Morrissey into my life.

Pete:
1. “Hand In Glove” Because the sun shines out of our behinds!
2. “How Soon Is Now?” Despite its relative ubiquity, Johnny Marr’s guitar on this song is amazing, and the lyrics were so fitting for an angsty, misfit teenager.
3. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” Again, Johnny Marr’s guitarwork, plus lyrics so over the top they’re funny.
4. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” Another anthem for an angsty drunken teenager in college.
5. “What Difference Does It Make?” Songs that are questions are cool.

Allie:
1. “How Soon is Now?” is my favorite song by The Smiths/Morrissey, probably because it was the first I heard, but also because of its surround-sound effect and fantastic groove.
2. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” Always reminds me of my friend Holly Cupala, whose novel used it as the working title. The book was later published under the title Tell Me a Secret.
3. “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” Always reminds me of Dream Academy’s instrumental cover as featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
4. “Reel Around the Fountain” Check out the acoustic cover version by Duncan Sheik, too.
5. “Girlfriend in a Coma” The juxtaposition of a poppy music line + creepy lyrics.

Alan:
1. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” This song reminds me of the freewheeling melancholia of my youth – when the smallest problems loomed large and feeling sorry for your self was a badge worn with honor.
2. “Billy Budd” For me, this driving song is the painful remembrance of being young, closeted, and desperately in love.
3. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” What twenty old doesn’t occasionally wallow in anguish and regret, yet desperately clinging to the hope of eternal love?
4. “Headmaster Ritual” In the golden age of Manchester schools, not unlike a good parochial education, helped students build strong character through fear, violence and humiliation.
5. “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” This song is hilarious – besides who has not loved the wrong kind of guy?

Susan:
1. “Ask” I used to sing this to my daughter when I was giving her a bath because it’s just ridiculously catchy.
2. “All You Need Is Me” Because I love to sing along with the line “I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I ever dreamed about.”
3. “Throwing My Arms Around Paris” In the song “Lush Life” Billy Strayhorn wrote “A week in Paris would ease the bite of it,” and so it would.
4. “Sing Your Life” This is one of three songs I want played at my funeral (no joke).
5. “Now My Heart Is Full” Simply because it’s lovely.

Barry:
1. “Panic” How come people don’t still say “Hang the DJ”?
2. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” You aren’t too cool to appreciate the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
3. “Shoplifters of the World Unite” A song from the viewpoint of the most pathetic security guard ever.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” There may have never been a truer thing ever said.
5. “This Charming Man” I wrote my play about this one so….

Libby:
1. “These Things Take Time” Because it’s the song we sang that one summer when we watched old movies in my bedroom, shunned the glorious singing bird sunshine, drank red wine, and lay the whole day in bed.
2. “Sheila Take a Bow” Because I saw the video for this on my local cable access channel when I was growing up, and some kids did a video show, and they played this and Morrissey does that bend forward thing and I knew I wasn’t alone.
3. “Driving Your Girlfriend Home” Because I’ve been the girlfriend.
4. “Last Night on Maudlin Street” Because it makes me feel like I’m leaving my child hood home forever all over again, and how life hurts, but is beautiful, and how even hurting is beautiful, and love is real, and really possible, even if it’s not always realized, and being alive itself is enough reason to stay that way.
5. “How Soon is Now” Because it’s the classic, and DJ Bobby Startup used to play it at Revival when I was a kid in Philly, and then when I got to know him years later and he dj’d Bar Noir where we did our first Sticky show he would play it just for us, even though otherwise he’d do the dance tunes, and we’d get up on the tables and sing at the top of our lungs and feel like the world was ours.

Anthony:
1. “This Charming Man” So many good memories associated with this song.
2. “November Spawned a Monster” I can sing this at the top of my lungs and just feel better, even if I didn’t feel that bad beforehand.
3. “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get” This is the song that hooked me.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” Because it’s the story of my life. And that’s Ok.
5. “Still Ill (John Peel/Hatful of Hollow Version)” It’s very much a portrait of how I feel at this point in my life, I am not who I used to be and the world has changed, and it’s equal parts good and bad.

Don’t miss The Morrissey Plays, opening on Monday!

The Real World – Theater Edition: Putting It Out There

Barbara Jwanouskos need your help to make 2016 the best year yet!

This past year and some change, I shifted “The Real World –Theater Edition” to be mainly interview based. The idea was to focus on the creative process by interviewing mainly playwrights, but also theater and performance creators of all kinds, to get their informal thoughts on something they’d been working on. I asked questions about moments of inspiration and obstacles that came up and listened to their words of wisdom for like-minded artists. I probed into what their thoughts on theater were – the current state, what they would change if they could, and where they see opportunities for growth.

Now it’s time to expand the circuit out and hear from artists of all kinds, but still with a focus on mainly new work.

I’m interested in interviewing the people who run companies – new and long-established. The people who develop local playwrights – I want to know why this is important to you and hear about your passion. The directors that work with living playwrights – how do you work together? How do you see your role? Actors involved in the development process – is this an interesting part of the creative process? Local theater makers – are there ways we can collaborate? Bring even more enthusiasm back to going to theater? And playwrights. Playwrights. Playwrights!

So, please send us (or comment below!) your thoughts. Whether they be points to particular artists or companies or questions you’d love to hear from artists interviewed about the creative process. Looming curiosities and things you’ve always wondered. Now’s the chance to look forward and learn more about our local theater community. Feel free to tweet @bjwany too! I’m listening.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: How to Be a Good-Girl Artist

Marissa Skudlarek seeks new role models for a new year.

Last year I wrote about how theater has gone from being a disreputable profession to a fairly respectable one. (There is still some residual suspicion of anyone who has decided to devote their life to art instead of commerce, but now it is no longer assumed that all theater people are immoral rogues.) But that can lead to new problems. Because while I generally think the professionalization and respectability of theater is a good thing, artists still need some spark of wildness and daring if they are to make great art. Nowadays, when a “nice kid” who was raised to be an obedient people-pleaser decides to become an artist, it can take a great deal of time, effort, and struggle for her to shake off her dutiful habits and become confident and self-actualized.

I thought Gillian Jacobs’ essay published in Lenny Letter yesterday captured something about this very well, and this theme is also treated at length in one of the best books I read last year, the memoir How To Be a Heroine, or What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much by British playwright Samantha Ellis. I should note that Samantha is a friend of mine; we discovered one another’s blogs several years ago, we correspond occasionally, and I met her in person when I visited London in 2012. I bought her memoir as soon as it came out in the U.S. last year, and took it with me on my February 2015 trip to a literary-themed hotel on the Oregon coast, where I pretended my main goal was to write, but really it was to get my head on straight after a very difficult 2014. I didn’t write anything on that trip except for journaling, but I devoured Samantha’s memoir, and it helped me a lot: to know there are bookish, funny, thoughtful female playwrights out there who’ve gone through some of the same stuff I’ve had to deal with.

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Samantha and some of her inspirations. Photo by Charlie Surbey for The Observer.

How To Be a Heroine is Samantha’s life story through the lens of books, specifically the female characters that she identified with or rebelled against. As the daughter of Iraqi Jewish immigrants to London, growing up in a fairly traditional and conservative community, she had to fight to make her own way in the world, rather than bowing to her parents’ expectations that she marry a “nice Jewish boy.” Literary heroines inspire her as she deals with growing up, health problems, love, work, and art. She also takes a second look at some of her favorite stories, realizing that she may have drawn the wrong lessons from certain books or chosen false idols. (The whole idea for this book came about when she realized she’d have been better off if her favorite Brontë heroine was Jane Eyre, not Cathy Earnshaw.)

I didn’t write a Theater Pub column about How to Be a Heroine at the time, maybe because I was still processing too many things about it and my life, maybe because I didn’t think it was theater-related enough. (Samantha’s focus is heroines of prose fiction, not of theater.) Nonetheless, the story is peppered with anecdotes of her early career as a playwright, and how the heroines of her plays often mirrored what she was going through at the time. I also feel like I’m a semi-autobiographical playwright – again, it was nice to know that I’m not alone!

Although I grew up in a much less conservative environment than Samantha did, I still related to her struggle to find her voice as an artist, to take charge of her writing career and reject some of the deferential good-girl traits that had stuck with her since childhood. In fact, one of the things that cemented Samantha’s and my friendship was when she liked a blog post I wrote about how male playwrights tend to be bad boys and female playwrights tend to be dutiful daughters. (I realize that I think about this problem in gendered terms, but young boys can be obedient people-pleasers too and if so, they must also undergo this kind of struggle. They just seem not to write memoirs about it as often as women do — we are at an odd moment where women are very much encouraged to tell their own stories and take charge of their own narratives, but it still feels odd or shameful for a man to publicly admit to having vulnerabilities and insecurities.)

This theme comes to the fore in Samantha’s chapter about her life in London in her twenties, after she graduated from Cambridge. She describes her early temp jobs and her transition into journalism, which she enjoyed at the time, but now regrets that “I did job after job that took me further away from [play]writing.” She quotes Pauline Kael’s chilling pronouncement that “a good-girl artist is a contradiction in terms.” Eventually, Samantha says, she found inspiration not in fiction but in a real-life heroine: Shelagh Delaney, who wrote the play A Taste of Honey while she was still in her teens. “[Delaney]’s rage and sense of purpose suddenly made me feel like I was doing everything all wrong… I was delving into archives instead of breaking new ground, writing about theater instead of making it.”

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Shelagh Delaney is also one of Morrissey’s favorite artists. Come see Theater Pub’s production of The Morrissey Plays on January 18, 19, 25, and 26.

I felt indicted when I read those words last February. Reading them again, I still feel indicted.

I want to be bolder in 2016, and to continue to struggle against my good-girl, precocious-kid affectations. It won’t be easy, but I know I’m not the first person to have done this. There are heroines — real and fictional — to serve as guides along the way.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: How To Be A Better Theatre Person In 10 Simple Steps

Ashley invites you to join in her 2016 theatrical resolutions. Happy New Year!

It’s 2016! I hope by now your hangovers have subsided and you’re still feeling optimistic that this new year will be the one you finally overcome your sugar addiction while training for a marathon. You can do it!

For me, 2015 was a year of great heights and low valleys; a real rainbow of emotions. And I’ll be totally honest, guys, I spent way too many months feeling like I was standing in the center of a middle school cafeteria wondering where to sit. Crying because I felt like I had lost my place in my community, questioning my involvement in the local theatre scene.

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I was naive to think that things would stay the same after having a baby. But I didn’t know how difficult it would be to navigate the space between my old self and my new found role. Now, I promise I’m not here to blab about the highs and lows of my introduction to motherhood. Instead, I want to share my list of things I think I can actively do to be a better theatre person. Because I know I can do better. So! Here are 10 resolutions I’m going to be working on this year:

1.) Reach out to someone you worked with (preferably someone who is out of state and who you may not have spoken to in a little while) and say hi.

If you’ve ever done a show with someone and made one of those magical new friendships that quickly solidifies itself over a stressful tech week or a shared love for rehearsal snacks consisting of cake, it’s easy to think you’ll always stay bonded. The truth is, you both get involved in other projects and distance pushes its way between you. So think about someone like that and reach out to them. See what they’re up to and what’s new in their world. Ask if they’re working on anything now then request they keep you updated on it. If they are close enough to see, meet them for cake. If they’re far away, send them some cake. While this won’t help your sugar addiction, it’ll probably be delicious.

2.) For every negative thing you say, say two positives.

You may not know this about me but, wowza, I’m really great at complaining and bitching about stuff. I’m also pretty good at looking on the bright side and trying to see the best in people. I lost my patience easily in 2015 when I felt like I lost my place in my theatre community. Which made me sad. And mad. And other feelings that a first grader can spell. So I’m trying something new. Sure, I can bitch and complain to my heart’s content! But lately, I’ve been trying to then come up with two “nice things” to say to balance it out. It’s a work in progress but a worthy effort, I think.

3.) Don’t Always Talk To Theatre People About Theatre

Talk about literally anything else. Seriously. Try having a conversation with someone in the theatre community and don’t use it as a way to plug a show you’re working on or gossip about a crappy production you heard about or whatever. I’m guilty of small talking people I haven’t seen in awhile and immediately asking them what show or project they’re working on these days. Boring! You can do better, Cowan! At least I’m going to give it a shot. And if anyone out there wants to talk about dessert, I’m so obviously your girl.

4.) Give A Compliment To Someone You Haven’t Met Yet

Did you see a show and love someone’s performance but since you didn’t know the actor personally, you never told them? I do this too often. Not anymore, 2016! Next time I like something, I’m going out of my way to give that praise to the rightful recipient.

5.) Promote A Show You Had Nothing To Do With

Create a simple social media post that advertises some kind of theatrical event that you aren’t involved in. Keep the artistic conversation going and help give a show some press. It’s easy and free so just do it.

6.) Ask Someone How They’re Doing

Like, in a genuine, “I actually care”, active listening kind of way. They could be a theatre person or not. Make an effort to really connect with someone. You’ll be surprised how much it may mean to them. And relating to a fellow human does wonders for your artistic soul, right?

7.) Try Not To Take It Personally

I know I’m waaaaaay too sensitive for my own good. And most likely, 2016 Ashley is going to continue that habit. I so quickly assume no one likes me or wants my company if I haven’t heard from them in awhile. Usually, the other person is just busy and going through their own series of personal roller coasters. Send them a friendly text and then calm the F down. Take that sensitive energy and use it for something productive, like catching up on The Bachelor.

8.) Try A Non Theatre Related Activity And A New Theatre Related Activity

To help keep yourself balanced and entertained, why not try a hobby that has nothing to do with theatre? Want to be a better cook? Look up some recipes online and play in the kitchen. Want to learn to knit? Cool, go pick up some yarn. When you’re done with that, consider a theatrical field you’ve had an interest in but have never pursued. Love costumes? Ask if you can help the next Theater Pub show get on that. Want to write? Check out Saturday Write Fever. Step out of your comfort zone a bit and see where it takes you.

9.) Give Someone New A Chance To Be Involved

Or simply introduce two people who you think may benefit from just knowing each other. If you get the chance to help cast a show or if someone asks you for a recommendation, don’t just go to your usual small list of friends; try to think outside your immediate bubble to those, perhaps, shyer folks who want to be involved but don’t know how to do it.

10.) Be Both Critical And Kind To Your Efforts

Could you be a better theatre person? Yeah, probably. It’s almost always worth trying. And if you can think of something that may make you better or how you can make someone else’s day, give it a whirl. Then give yourself a high five and some credit for being a part of a community and doing what you can to strengthen it. You’re awesome.

That’s what I’ll be working on, anyway. Maybe you’ll consider joining me in a quest to make 2016 our bitch? I mean, our friend? Whatever! Until next time, gang. I hope you’re all off to a wonderful 2016.

Working Title: Serpents, Sea Spray and Seeing Another Year

This week Will Leschber speaks to Rachel Bublitz about her new world premiere play.

Here we are: another year, another day, another play. Welcome 2016. What will you bring in with the tide of time? What’s that now? You’ll bring in El Nino? Oh, cool. I guess we could use the rain. Oh, there’s more? You’ll bring waves of unspeakable sadness and unparalleled joy? Wow. Does one always come with the other? Can I just get a side of “it’s all good” and a garnish of resolution? Would that work? I guess, we’ll see.

This is a time of year for new beginnings, and nothing says a new beginning like a world premiere play. Of Serpents and Sea Spray is a new play by award winning playwright, Rachel Bublitz and it opens January 7th at Custom Made Theater. Serpents tells the story of a young girl who in the wake of tragedy must journey out in search of the ancient winged horse Pegasus and along the way somehow make sense of the hardships she’s endured. The play is described as a fantastical adventure of self-discovery and I can think of no better way to commence a new year, a new day, and a new play than indulging in a little journey of self discovery.

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Rachel Bublitz is a Bay Area playwright, founder of both the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project, and the Loud & Unladylike reading festival, plus member of PlayGround’s Writers Pool. To wet your whistle, and prep for the play via 80’s pop culture, Rachel suggested an excellent film pairing, a tonal story companion, and way to blend the link between stage a screen. Here’s what she had to say:

“There is a movie that I think would go well, it’s one of my favorites so it may be leaps and bounds above my play, but I think it captures magic and fantasy and the gray areas in between reality and fantasy in a beautiful way. The movie I’d recommend is: “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”

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“I saw it with my dad when I was younger, and as a kid who was constantly making up stories and pretending the world was however I wished it to be, it was this beacon telling me that I never had to stop doing that. I also really loved all the layers that I thought I totally understood as a child, but now, when I watch it with my kids, I realize I had no clue about really. And it’s gorgeous; the severed heads are gorgeous, the moon is gorgeous, even Baron Munchausen’s wrinkles are gorgeous.”

Terry Gilliam’s film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a trip…like most Gilliam. There’s so much whimsy and exuberance, it’s hard to resist. So do yourself a favor seek out this 1988 gem, and then seek out Of Serpents and Sea Spray. Both will be an adventure to begin an magical new year upon.

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Of Serpents and Sea Spray runs Jan 7th-30. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen can be found for rent on the usual platforms (Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, etc). More info about Rachel can be found on her website: www.rachelbublitz.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2016 everyone! What better way to start the year than with our 2016 calendar, showing you all the exciting projects coming up this year at Theater Pub!

Unless otherwise noted, all SATURDAY WRITE FEVER events take place at the EXIT Cafe (156 Eddy Street in San Francisco) at 8:30 PM and are FREE!

Unless otherwise noted, all performances take place PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street) at 8 PM and are FREE with a $5.00 suggested donation.

SWF: January 9

January
“THE MORRISSEY PLAYS” by Stuart Bousel, Pete Bratach, Jessica Chisum, Allie Costa, Barry Eitel, Libby Emmons, Anthony Miller, Kylie Murphy, Alan Olejniczak, Susan Petrone, David Robson, directed by Stuart Bousel
Short plays based on songs by the most unimpressed man on earth: Morrissey.
Peformances: 1/18, 1/19, 1/25, 1/26

SWF: February 13

February
“OVER THE RAINBOW” by Tonya Narvaez
Follow Lisa Frank through the looking glass, and over the rainbow as she meets specious characters in this glittery, sugar-filled, and completely fabricated origin story.
Performances: 2/15, 2/16, 2/22, 2/23

SWF: March 12

March
“ON THE SPOT!” produced by Sara Judge
Once again we bring you the fastest play-making event in the West! OPEN SUBMISSIONS TBA!
Performances: 3/21, 3/22, 3/28, 3/29

SWF: April 9

April
“YOU TELL US!” produced by Meg Trowbridge
Meg Trowbridge is opening up this month for submissions. 40-70 minute plays (or collection of plays), with director attached, will be considered for a fully produced production in April. OPEN SUBMISSIONS TO BE ANNOUNCED!
Performances: 4/18, 4/19, 4/25, 4/26

SWF: May 14

May
“STICKY ICKY” by Colin Johnson
A beleaguered group of slacker survivors hole up in an abandoned bar during a violent societal collapse caused by an infectious and dangerous strain of marijuana.
Performances: 5/23, 5/24, 5/30, 5/31

SWF: June 11

June
“BETTER THAN TELEVISION: EPISODES THAT BREATH AND FART” by Megan Cohen
Brought to you from the mad mind of Megan Cohen, Episodes that Breathe and Fart is a performance channel programmed with a dynamic variety of live serials running for four nights at SF Theater Pub.
Performances: 6/20, 6/21, 6/27, 6/28

SWF: July 9

July
“PORTAL: THE MUSICAL” by Kirk Shimano, featuring the music of Jonathan Coulton, directed by Sang Kim
The world of the beloved video game Portal is brought to life on stage, with music, and PORTALS!
Performances: 7/18, 7/19, 7/25, 7/26

SWF: August 13

August
“PINT SIZED PLAYS VI” produced by Marissa Skudlarek
Another round of boozy theater, another tale of llamas and bears! OPEN SUBMISSIONS TBA!
Performances: 8/22, 8/23, 8/29, 8/30

SWF: No SWF In September!

September
“STUPID GHOST” by Savannah Reich, directed by Tonya Narvaez
A comedy about wanting something so badly that you end up breaking your own rules, ruining the lives of the people you love, and having an awesome time.
Performances: 9/19, 9/20, 9/26, 9/27

SWF: October 8

October
“GRAVEDIGGER THE MUSICAL” Book by Dylan Waite, Music by Casey Robbins, directed by Casey Robbins
A farcical adventure following a lowly body burier who falls madly in love with a beautiful corpse.
Performances: 10/17, 10/18, 10/24, 10/25

SWF: November 12

November
“November Classic”
Something old. But super short and super fast, while still being as awesome as ever.
Performances: 11/22, 11/23, 11/28, 11/29

SWF: December 10

December
“THE ANNUAL MUSICAL SING ALONG SPECTACULAR” produced by James Grady
A mystery, a miracle, a musical for everyone to sing along with!
Performance: 12/19

We look forward to seeing you in the audience this year!