Theater Around The Bay: Tonya Narvaez Talks Rainbows

Our next show opens a week from tonight and it’s not secret that people are already a little obsessed with it. We sat down with author/director Tonya Narvaez to talk about just why people love Lisa Frank… and fear her… and why this show is another Theater Pub event that you can’t miss!

Tonya was told to submit a "fun" photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it - Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

Tonya was told to submit a “fun” photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it – Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

So, what’s this crazy show all about?

A young Lisa Frank finds a portal (in her bathroom) to The Wonderful World, where all her stuffed animals have come to life. She quickly discovers that everything is not as it seems. That the rules are different here. That even the cutest of characters can have a vicious streak.

Okay… and where did you get this idea?

Ashley Cowan and I were going to write a play together for the February show. It would be about love and dating and about how two people can have such different reads on the same experience. While developing the idea, I started talking about Lisa Frank with someone at PianoFight – I believe it was Megan Cohen. Suddenly the idea had morphed into a play about Lisa Frank on Tinder. This idea thrilled me, so I let myself fall into a Lisa Frank rabbit hole. I read everything I could find about her. She’s the most curious person. She’s guarded but outgoing, bubbly with a hint of sadness. Every article I read included quotes from former employees, who had terrible experiences working at the headquarters in Tucson. It seemed like there was a better story there. Better than imagining Lisa Frank on Tinder. So I decided to write a fictional origin story.

What does the cast think about this project? How are rehearsals going?

I am very fortunate to have this cast. Truly, they have been so game and so fantastic to work with thus far. Some amazing work has been done on these characters. They have taken every bit of information I’ve given them about Lisa Frank and about this strange, topsy-turvy world I’ve created and just ran with it.

When casting, did you ask people what their feelings on Lisa Frank are?

Yes! I asked for their “Favorite Lisa Frank image or character and why”. I received such a mixed bag of responses. Some people were genuinely interested in Lisa Frank characters and had childhood anecdotes to tell. Others were never really interested in Lisa Frank but sent their favorite Nihilisa Frank image. (http://nihilisa-frank.tumblr.com/)

What’s your own personal relationship/history with Lisa Frank? Do you have a favorite product?

I really liked some of the Lisa Frank imagery growing up but I thought I was too cool to admit it. I would make fun of it in passing, but secretly wanted a Trapper Keeper with dolphins and hearts and rainbows all over it.

What would you do if she showed up to the show?

I’m not entirely sure. My instinct says I would hide. My intellect says I would be really interested in what she thought of the show and would try to have a conversation with her about it.

When you write a play, what’s your process and how do you go about shaping a script?

I start with a really basic premise, like “Lisa Frank origin story a’la Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland”. Then I do more research than is needed. Then I develop the characters and the world/s. Once I have a really solid cast of characters to begin with, I’m able to write pretty freely. There are times when I get stuck. When I do, I usually realize it’s because I didn’t build a character out enough, or am trying too hard to stick to some sort of “rule”. Or clinging on to something that isn’t as important as I think it is.

You’re also directing this. Is directing your own work something you like to do? How is directing your own play different from directing something someone else wrote?

I do like to direct my own work, but for selfish reasons. I like to be able to change the script to suit the cast. Or if I see something I’ve done is terrible, I can still change it early on in the process. Often times right then and there at rehearsal. I find it much more challenging to direct another person’s work. There isn’t as much liberty to be taken, and there has to be more structure to the development process. I think as I continue to grow as a writer and as a director this answer will change.

Any shout outs to the rest of the community and what else is going on?

Yes! I want to give shout outs to all the shows I missed because of this show and because of the move I just completed this weekend: Mousetrap at Shotgun Players, Of Serpents and Sea Spray at Custom Made, and Peer Gynt at The EXIT Theatre. And two shows I hope to see soon:

1. Anything from the new Undiscovered Works Series, part of Custom Made’s New Play Development Program. Tomorrow is their second offering at 7pm, “Truest” by Megan Cohen, directed by Ellery Schaar. At the Gallery Cafe – 1200 Mason Street, San Francisco. Free and open to the public, with a $5.00 suggested donation in support of new play development at Custom Made. Food, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase!

2. Killing My Lobster’s most recent offering, Sex Battle written and directed and performed by many people more hilarious than me. Pay What You Can: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-pay-what-you-can-night-tickets-20912564042 or other nights: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-tickets-20912351406

3. Tinderella from Faultline, because February deserves a Tinder play! Book by Rose Oser, Music by Christian B. Schmidt, Lyrics by Weston Scott and Directed by Rose Oser. http://www.faultlinetheater.com/#!tickets/cmt5

Don’t miss OVER THE RAINBOW, opening next Monday, only at Theater Pub!

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