Theater Around The Bay: Announcing ON THE SPOT 2016!

Announcing our next show!

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SF Theater Pub presents ON THE SPOT 2016, this March! Six playwrights, six directors, and twenty-five actors gather on March 12th to begin the process of creating six original plays, on the spot. Artists are randomly grouped into teams, and given a super secret prompt. This year our prompt is provided by an undercover well-known Bay Area theater artist, to be unmasked only after the plays have been written. Each team receives the same prompt. Teams circle up to discuss, and get to know each other. Ice-breaker questions will be provided to help ignite creative energy. After the meeting, playwrights head out into the late afternoon to write a play using the prompt, and using inspiration from their actors to tailor characters just for them. Plays are handed in the next day, March 13th, by noon. Teams have one week to fully produce their short plays, which open at PianoFight on March 21st at 8PM.

Our six playwrights have been selected. Congratulations Pat Morin, Bill Hyatt, Christine Keating, Charles Lerrigo, Madeline Puccioni, and Gabriel Leif Bellman!

35 artists, one tenacious prompt, 6 diverging plays, 5 rousing rehearsals, 4 glorious performances!

ON THE SPOT plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 21 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 22 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 28 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 29 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to try out their great dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

In For a Penny: Eyes without a Face

Charles Lewis III weighs in on some recent controversy.

Can you spot the Oscar-winner under all that shoe polish?

Can you spot the Oscar-winner under all that shoe polish?

“In 1985, I’m sitting in the casting office of a major studio. The head of casting said, ‘I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have Black people then.’ He literally said that. I told that casting director: ‘You ever heard of Othello? Shakespeare couldn’t just make up Black people. He saw them’.”
– Wendell Pierce, interview with The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2016

I don’t watch the Grammys. I mostly attribute that to growing up as a fan of The Simpsons, where both the ceremony and its namesake statuette were regularly mocked as being the most worthless of all celebrity milestones (the Golden Globes being a close second). I can also attribute it to the fact that as I grew up, the Grammys’ recipients rarely ever reflected my own tastes in music. Like the Billboard charts, the Grammys tell you what’s popular, not necessarily what’s good. Still, since the awards are a major celeb event, I wind up seeing the results on my timeline, even when I don’t seek them out.

One particular blurb caught my eye. Apparently one of the most-talked-about moments of this year’s ceremony involved a performance from the cast of Hamilton (a show which I’ve still neither seen nor heard). The show won an award, but apparently a considerable number of White viewers were put off by the multi-ethnic cast, leading to such condescending questions as “Do they know Alexander Hamilton was White?” In a country – nay, world – in which a whitewashed interpretation of Egyptian mythos is heavily promoted every 30 seconds and considered the norm, the idea of people of color dramatizing important milestones of American history is somehow taboo.

I’ve always been touchy about colorblind casting; as a Black man, I don’t have much choice but to be. One the one hand, I’ve done quite a few roles that were originally played by – if not specifically envisioned for – White actors, and I’m grateful for that. On the other hand, I’m not at all comfortable when I see all-White casts in Biblical stories or as Martin Luther King or… well, just look at that photo above. That sort of casting often relies on a flimsy interpretation of Occam’s Razor to infer that producers are simply casting the best actor available. What they fail to realize is that for people of color, all things in the universe are not equal.

This often leads to questions as to why people of color are allowed to be “forced in” (a term I’ve heard far too often) to traditionally all-White productions, but the reverse is discouraged. Yes, in 2016, people still have a problem interpreting the difference between “inclusion” and “erasure”. When a Shakespeare play – say, anyone that isn’t Othello, Titus, or Merchant (with the Duke of Morocco) – uses a diverse cast, they’re giving opportunities to actors who haven’t had them in plays for which ethnicity is not a factor – inclusion. When an all-White cast does Raisin in the Sun on the pretense that “they just want to tell a good story,” that’s erasure. (An odd middle ground would be an all-White version of The Wiz, something which does happen.)

And I get the impulse of moving ahead because of a “good story,” I really do. When I began writing and directing in high school, I was given the assignment to dramatize scenes from books being studied by the English classes. One of the scenes I chose was from Richard Wright’s Black Boy. As one of the few Black kids in the drama department – and the only one of those who was male – I had to either cast myself in the scene (which meant that I couldn’t look at it with the objective eye of a director) or cast someone else. I wound up casting a light-skinned, straight-haired Latino actor and got no shortage of mockery for it afterward.

In hindsight, I should have scrapped the scene and chosen one from another book. Ethnicity isn’t something that can simply being “up for interpretation by an actor,” as would a character’s religion or sexual orientation. Ethnicity isn’t just an interchangeable costume. It’s the interpretation of the life and culture of actual human beings. As such, a theatre producer is required to do all in his or her power to have the real kind of person represented in their production, or just scrap the production entirely.

I’ve spoken before about the first time I wrote and directed for the Olympians festival. One of the three lead characters was a half-Black/half-White teen, but limited casting options had me place an Indian actor in the role (as opposed to doing it myself, which, again, wasn’t gonna happen). Still, the idea of his character being an outsider amongst his fellow characters got through to the audience.

During last year’s festival, I cast a half-Latino actor in the title role of my play, with an Italian-American playing his son and a Latina playing his daughter. The latter was less about casting limitations (I hand-picked the title role actor myself) and more about a specific statement I was making about ethnicity in popular culture: the son was played by a White actor because he’d fully assimilated in a way his openly Latina sister had not. Both are their father’s child, but each differently interpreted the idea of “success in America”.

That’s not colorblind casting, that’s casting to prove a point. Kinda like Hamilton (or so I’ve heard).

Just like the Super Bowl, you can bet I’ll be watching the Oscars this coming Sunday. Yeah, yeah, I know: “It’s just a pageant of superficial glad-handing that has nothing to do with the genuine talent hiding within the industry.” I don’t care. I’ll be hanging out with other theatre artists as we cheer, jeer, and snarkily riff on the aforementioned pageantry. I’ll be with a diverse group of performers with whom I’ve shared the stage on many occasions as we drink ourselves silly laughing at the lily-white proceedings.

We’ll sit and enjoy ourselves because we know that this ceremony isn’t the end of the conversation about diverse casting; it isn’t even the middle. It’s the extension of a conversation that’s being going on before any of us were born and will hopefully continue after we’re gone. We’d just like to see a little more action to accompany all the talk.

Same role, no shoe polish.

Same role, no shoe polish.

Charles Lewis III can’t wait to see Chris Rock tear into Hollywood about its own hypocrisy.

Everything Is Already Something: How To Be A Person When You’re In Tech Every 3 Weeks

Allison Page- voice of the moment.

If you’re like me during tech week, you don’t eat right, you don’t wash your dishes, you don’t do your laundry, and you may or may not have time for real actual sleep. Because I am AD at a company which produces a new show every month, I’m in tech every 3 weeks (occasionally because of the way particular months are laid out, it’s actually more like 2 weeks) and I’m getting pretty good at it…uh, most of the time. I’ve had to figure it out. Because if you do the math, I’m in tech three solid months of the year.

Here’s how I prepare for and survive tech week when it’s always just around the corner:

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WEEK 1
Recover From The Last One:
I try to give myself a break. Though “break” doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. Break, for me, means having a slow morning. I go out for pancakes I pay someone else to make down the street. Luxuriate on the couch. Read a book. Refuse to do my hair. And then I inevitably start writing something because I find that to be strangely both relaxing and work. No matter what, I try to pay attention to something completely unrelated to the onslaught of productions that have me booked up until at least April of next year.

Front Load The Home Stuff:
Dishes, laundry, cleaning, organize my apartment, go through my closet and maybe get rid of some stuff…or more accurately set that stuff in a donation pile and then forget about it for six months but hey – it’s in the pile! That’s…something. Anyway, the point is, I take care of that stuff as early on as possible because honestly everything is probably a wreck in my apartment and if I don’t do it right away I won’t get it done. Clearly I’ll just have to do it again before tech week starts, but hopefully it’ll be easier if I do the big cleaning in the first week. THAT’S WHAT I KEEP TELLING MYSELF HAHA OH MAN WHO AM I KIDDING.

WEEK 2
Hang Out With Friends:

It can be really hard to see my non-theater friends just in general, but definitely when I’m in tech this much. The second week is a good time for non-show shenanigans. Even then it can be tough, because a part of me just wants to take a thousand naps, but when I do force myself out of my apartment it feeds my brain parts and I feel better. Though I also can’t overstate how awesome it is to be affixed to my couch. Basically no matter what I want to take a nap. But yay! Friends! Oh, and call your family. Because they will inevitably try to talk to you during tech when you have no patience and they want to pass the phone around to 9 different people at your aunt’s birthday party.

Eat a Salad:
Listen, I eat like a trash can all the time anyway, but it’s worse during tech week. So when it’s not tech week, I eat real actual food. I buy actual vegetables. I make an actual salad. Maybe I’ll take a vitamin…probably not, but maybe. I also enjoy cooking, so I get some relaxing kitchen time in while I can before the anvil of tech week is tied to my ankle.

WEEK 3
Plan, Plan, Plan:

Guess what, tech is next week! GET READY. No, really, this is when I get ready. I like surprises but only when the surprises are edible. I don’t like production surprises. So, checking in with the team multiple times to make sure every possible thing is taken care of before everyone piles into the theater, sweaty and tired, is a big ‘YES, PLEASE’ for me. Stuff’s still going to come up, but I would love it if that stuff isn’t a giant obstacle that will take me multiple days to sort out.

Crockpot, How I Love Thee:
I make things in my crockpot and throw it in the fridge a day before tech week starts, so when I get home at the end of the night I can stuff my face with reheated chili. It’s also great to not have to think about what lunch is going to be when I’m dragging my carcass out of bed. Cold chicken fajita filling? GREAT. GIMME. I have a production meeting and I don’t want to be so hungry that I snap at someone for forgetting that they need a giant prop they forgot to mention the last three weeks.

Yeah, a lot of these are about food. Food is important. And Clif Bars can only get you so far.

Okay, now I’m hungry and I’m going to eat a bagel from this cafe. Nobody’s perfect.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/Artistic Director at Killing My Lobster.

The Five: Falling Short

Anthony R. Miller checks in with…some stuff…I guess

Hey you guys, for whatever reason, I’ve been struggling to come up with any epic 5-part articles about anything important, or anything. I’m very good at talking myself out such things. Every now and then it’ll occur to me to make some grand statement about the state of theatre or what we can do in the Bay, but then this voice in my head injects. It always says the same thing, “Who the fuck are you?” Sure, I could write some kind of manifesto and use this blog as a soapbox for bomb-throwy articles, but like who am I? I’m just some dude who puts on shows, I’ve never really considered myself an authority on anything. Most days I lack the hubris to criticize anyone with the gumption to produce theatre in this town, If you’re doin’ the damn thing, I support you. So here’s the truth, I got nothin this week, I mean, I have things but not five things. It’s like two things, but they’re quality things. So, yeah, I apologize, I’ve let you all down. I will make a concerted effort these next two weeks to have an opinion on something that I can express without sounding a like a dickhead. Or at least I’ll think of five interesting things to say.

Go See “Over The Rainbow”

Last night I caught the newest Theatrepub show, “Over The Rainbow”, a bizarre sort-of tribute to Lisa Frank. It closes tonight, and you should really see it. Tonya Narvaez has outdone herself as the writer and director of this crazy-ass drug addled fairy tale. Not to mention Andrew Chung’s greatest performance to date as a beleaguered frog king who drips with genuine pathos. (I marvel at how legit that last statement sounds, considering I am talking about a grown man portraying a stuffed frog come to life.) So do yourself a favor, go to Pianofight tonight, order a few beers (it helps) and a basket of fries, kick back and go on a magic carpet ride of weird, it’s an hour well spent.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION
In the last two weeks a whole crapload of information for TERROR-RAMA ii: PROM NIGHT has come out. It’s all on the website and you should check it out immediately. There’s the hilarious video “Stoned Horror”, our completely rad poster and AUDITION SIGN UPS!!! Yes, yes, yes, you can audition to be part of the fun and join our cast of creeps and weirdos. Auditions are March 20 and 21 at Pianofight, so go to www.awesometheatre.org RIGHT NOW and pick an audition time. Or tell someone about it, spread the word.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer and Producer who usually has more to say, follow him on twitter, @armiller78.

Theater Around The Bay: Don’t Miss Over The Rainbow!

The mere mention of Lisa Frank often conjures daydreams of pencil cases, folders, erasers, notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. Of rainbow unicorns, ballerina bunnies, painting pandas, and glamorous kitties. But this cheerful aesthetic may not be all it seems.

OVER THE RAINBOW, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez, continues performances tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM at PianoFight– DON’T MISS IT!

Can’t get enough? Take this Buzzfeed quiz specially crafted by Tonya to determine which character you’d be in a world run by Lisa Frank!

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Featuring performances by Sam Bertken, Andrew Calabrese, Andrew Chung, Danielle Doyle, Alisha Ehrlich, Caitlin Evenson, Danielle Gray, Danielle Ishihara, and Christine Keating with movement direction by Liz Tenuto.

Playing February 22 and 23, performances are free, with a $10 suggested donation, and seating is first come, first serve.

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

The Real World – Theater Edition: Britney Frazier

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Britney Frazier.

I heard about Britney Frazier before I ever met her, when taking acting classes at Laney College under Michael Anthony Torres’ direction. I knew that she was an amazing actor — and then I got to see her in a play. Wow, blown away. As an actor, Britney brings so much depth of feeling to her work and the same can be said of her writing.

Her one minute plays packed a lot of punch both in 2015 and 2014 at the Playwright’s Foundation benefit and were smong my favorites of the evening. When I learned that she was having a reading and I had to talk with her. The subject matter couldn’t be more timely.

From the media blurb:
There is a myth that persists that “black folks don’t get depressed, we get the blues,” and as a result, too often, the opportunities to talk about mental illness and suicide in African diasporic communities are missed as our loved ones continue to take their own lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide claims one African American every 4.5 hours. The top three factors that contribute to suicide in communities of African descent which go unaddressed are: untreated mental illness, homophobic bullying and religion.

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Dysphoria: An Apache Dance is the confabulation of two drunks in a “dive bar” under the waves contemplating gender roles and the trials, tribulations, bonds and breaks of a mother, daughter narrative, and an inquiry into whether genetically inherited predispositions lead to depression, PTSD and suicide, or if ancestral memories passed from the “hanging rope” to the umbilical cord are the culprit.

What follows is an interview with Britney Frazier about her creative process and Dysphoria: An Apache Dance.

Barbara: Tell me about your background. What got you interested in writing and theater?

Britney: I started my career in the arts as an actor and acting is extremely unpredictable. In order to preserve my sanity in the uncertainty, I decided to take a month long writing workshop with Marcus Gardley at the Playwright’s Foundation. Gardley did this cool exercise where we, as a group, brainstormed play concepts and types of main characters and then put our ideas in a hat to then randomly pick. The concept I picked was, love is blind and my character type was female protagonist, and I hit the ground running. In a month’s time, with the guidance of Mr. Gardley, I came up with my first play, Obeah, about a two-headed seer falling in love with Shango, Orisha of male virility and fire. Shortly after that workshop, I got my first directing gig, Assistant Directing for Ellen Sebastian Chang.

Barbara: How does acting influence how you write a play?

Britney: As an actor and playwright, I really love plays where the characters are emotionally bold and stories themselves are taboo or obscure. I feel like because I’m an actor who also directs, I write with the whole story in mind, considering the design and transitions along with the plot and characters.

Barbara: Where did you find inspiration for Dysphoria: An Apache Dance?

Britney: I started the path to creating Dysphoria as a writing challenge to myself. I decided to look through the current events in the media at that time and write a play. I ended up finding this article about two women in Salinas California who were lovers and helped one another play out one of the worst child abuse cases in Salinas. The children were emaciated, locked in rooms and chained to the floor for days. As I read the story , horrified, I began to wonder what would compel two women to these extremes. In society, women are “supposed to” be nurturing caregivers, but “supposed to ” is a difficult phrase…I wondered what happened to these women before this incident, that lead them to commit this crime. At first, I decided to write the twisted love story of these two women leading up to the crime, and that was cool, but still felt very surface. Also I love Apache dances, which are violent Parisian dance of the underworld, because they are emotional, sensual, spiritual are rarely used in plays that include dance.

Barbara: What has been the most challenging aspect of writing the play and what got you through it?

Britney: I think the hardest part for me writing Dysphoria was the decision to scrap the facts in the article and write the story from the heart. Originally, I was trying to stay true to the events and facts but the moment I decided to claim the story creatively, as my own, was the moment my own personal connections to the theme became clear and ideas for how to weave in folklore came flooding in. The story opened up when I did.

Barbara: Any interesting discoveries or trajectories you went down that you didn’t expect?

Britney: After a few rewrites and staged readings, I decided to explore mother daughter relationships, alongside romantic relationships because the way one is raised, the experiences/relationships one has as a child influence and affect one’s experience, relationships and perception of the world as an adult. The whole play changed drastically after that.

Barbara: Tell me about the current state of theater — what do you see happening?

Britney: Well, I hear a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion and sometimes I see some of it on stage. It’s a new and trendy thing to add women, people of color and color-blind casting to a season….really? Don’t get me wrong, I support the venues where the work is being done, I just think it’s sad that in 2016 we are still figuring out the how’s of diversity and inclusion in Bay Area theatre.

Barbara: What aspect would you change and do you see any ripe opportunities that we could take now to move us forward?

Britney: I think great theater should be for everyone, not just the people who can pay. I’d like to see a theatre structure where the experience is affordable, reflects the diversity of the communities they serve, creates opportunities for social commentary and healing, makes a real effort to support local artists and includes stories for, about and by women and people of color in every season.

Barbara: What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Britney: Lol. This is the advice I give myself: Keep the faith. Believe in you. People say sh*t, good and bad people say sh*t. Don’t let it make or break your spirit. Please yourself first and no matter what, keep writing. Pay attention to what feelings come up when you are writing. When you as the writer are feeling sensitive about something in your piece, explore it, it’s gold.

Barbara: And also, any bad advice that might be good? or simply something to avoid/ignore.

Britney: See above.

LA Vouge

For more on the reading–visit the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) located at 685 Mission Street at 3rd St. in San Francisco, www.MoADSF.org. The reading is tomorrow, February 20th from 2-5 PM.

LHT’s staged reading is FREE with full day General Admission to MoAD – $10 Adults/$5 Seniors & Students. MoAD admission is FREE for LHT Subscribers and MoAD members with an RSVP to (415) 318-7140 or egessel@moadsf.org.

For more on Britney Frazier, check out Britfrazier.tumblr.com.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Emotional Karaoke

Marissa Skudlarek, putting her heart into it.

Two schools of thought as to why people do karaoke even if they have mediocre singing ability. The first is that Americans are obsessed with fame and the idea of becoming a “singing sensation”; mediocre people think they have more talent than they actually do (the Dunning-Kruger effect); they crave attention and glory out of a narcissistic need. This theory is rather cynical for my tastes, though, and doesn’t seem to account for many of the types of people you’ll see at karaoke. I prefer the alternative explanation: as a society, we have only a few acceptable places in which to enact big, possibly overwhelming emotions in public, and one of them is singing karaoke. For hundreds of years, church served as the outlet for most Americans’ singing-in-public needs, but as fewer and fewer of us are religious regulars, we need somewhere else to go.

This theory explains why many people at karaoke sing songs that aren’t particularly famous or even particularly catchy, but obviously have great personal meaning for the singer. (If people were just trying to get applause and attention from doing karaoke, you’d think they’d stick to singing fun ‘greatest hits’ material.) It explains why, especially when you go to karaoke in the off-hours (when the Mint opens at four in the afternoon, say), you can get the feeling of being among people whose emotions run a little closer to the surface of the skin than most people’s do. There can be a desperation to these singers, but it doesn’t seem like a desperate yearning after fame and fortune; more the desperation of heartbreak or disappointment. And, while I’m by no means a karaoke regular, I’ve been known to use it in this fashion, as an emotional outlet; there was a period of time when, as soon as I had an exciting new romantic prospect in my life, I absolutely had to go to karaoke and belt out “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.

(I’ve also often thought that, if I were a Stephen Sondheim-level songwriting genius, I would write a musical about the regulars at a karaoke bar, with all the songs being pastiches of music from the ’70s through today. Just as Follies tells a story of heartbreak and disappointment through a series of brilliant pastiches of Tin Pan Alley songs, this would do the same for the music of the Top 40 radio era.)

Karaoke lets you take another performer’s words and music and use it to process your own emotions, in a more powerful way than just listening to the song would allow. In the same way, reading a play aloud in a group setting can allow you to have a more powerful emotional reaction to it than you would if you read the script silently, or even attended a performance of it. Taking a playwright’s words into your own mouth — even if you are not a professional actor — can sometimes be more moving than watching even the most talented actor perform them.

On this blog, we’ve probably written some pieces praising the value of holding a living-room reading of a play if you’re a playwright who’s seeking to revise a script (hearing the current draft version of your script read aloud is a great way to discern what works and what doesn’t). But today I also want to emphasize the value of a less frequently mentioned kind of living-room reading: the kind where you gather people together to read a polished, published script, a classic of world literature or an overlooked gem.

Like our new columnist, Robert Estes, I find great comfort in the writings of Anton Chekhov, whose empathy for our funny little human lives is still bracing over one hundred years later. Several years ago, I got together with some friends in a living room to read Chekhov’s Three Sisters. As the youngest woman there, I was asked to play the youngest sister, Irina. Things were going along well — we were sitting on comfortable sofas and drinking wine — until I got to Irina’s Act Three monologue of despair. This is what I read aloud (from the Paul Schmidt translation):

Where is it? Where did it all go? Oh my God, my God! I’ve forgotten everything; my head is all mixed up… I can’t remember the Italian word for window, or ceiling… I keep forgetting things; every day I forget more and more, and life goes by and it won’t ever come back and we’re never going to Moscow, never, never. I can see it all now–we’re never going to get there… Oh, I’m so unhappy… I can’t work anymore, I won’t work anymore, I’m sick of it, I’ve had enough! I worked at the telegraph office, and now I work at the municipal building, and I despise it, I hate everything I have to do there… I’m almost twenty-four, I’ve been working all this time, and my brain has shriveled up; I’ve lost my looks, I’ve gotten old, and nothing, nothing! There’s no satisfaction in any of it, and the time passes and you realize you’ll never have the beautiful life you dreamed of; you just keep digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole… I’m in despair, I am really in despair! And I don’t understand why I am still alive. I should have killed myself long ago.

At the time, I myself was about to turn twenty-four, I too was feeling bored and burnt-out at work, I too was learning to deal with the disappointment that comes from being a few years out of college and having to lower your expectations as you make your way as an adult in the real world. Reading Irina’s monologue aloud cracked something in me open; I felt an obscure comfort in knowing that a fictional character written over 100 years ago felt the same way that I did. The powerful emotions that I felt when speaking Irina’s words gave me permission to acknowledge that yes, I was unhappy, and I shouldn’t try to just smother or forget my unhappiness.

I therefore highly recommend the practice of getting together with friends to read plays aloud. In a culture that often frowns on the overt expression of negative emotions, the chance to explore different facets of the human condition, through the words of great playwrights and in the supportive company of friends, is a much-needed way to release emotional tension. (This could also work with appropriately dramatic works of fiction; think of the satisfaction that people in the Victorian era used to get by reading Dickens’ serialized novels aloud around the fire with friends and family.) Plays were meant to be spoken and heard. You were meant to feel and process and play out your emotions.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.