The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rob Ready

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rob Ready about PianoFight, Theater Pub, Short Lived, and $5,000 in prize money!

I caught up with Rob Ready, the Artistic Director of PianoFight, this week to talk about ShortLived, the short play festival that includes 36 pieces by “indy artists of all stripes”.

The competition brings a $5,000 cash prize on the line as competitors duke it out over six regular season rounds and then one championship road. Each round lasts a week and has four performances. The short plays are scored by audience members and the highest scoring piece of each round clinches a spot in the championship round. We’re currently in week five of ShortLived with the championship round right around the corner. The winner will receive a full-length production in addition to the $5,000 cash prize.

Rob gave me background on ShortLived, how it compares to other new play development programs out there, and some of his favorite moments.

Barbara: What’s your background in theater?

Rob: Performing since I was a kid, school and community theater growing up, BFA from NYU Tisch and artistic directoring PianoFight ever since. I had gigs at ODC in marketing and Z Space in biz dev and producing random shows. Oh and I play a drunk Llama every year for Theater Pub. And THAT’S IT.

Barbara: How did ShortLived come about?

Rob: We were coming to the end of our first year running Studio 250 at Off-Market (our old venue), and were talking to Point Break Live about renting three months. We were stoked because it was our first year and we ran a ton of shows and after nine months we were tired. But then they took a tour of the space, said, “This won’t work.” And they bailed. So we had to come up with something that could fill three months and that we actually wanted to do. So we came up with ShortLived, a show that changed each week, and that audiences had a hand in deciding, and where the prize was legit – a full-length production the following year. It’s definitely a slog, but the experience of putting on new plays every week for three months is one that has shaped me as a performer and producer.

Rob-Ready

Barbara: What is the thing you like most about ShortLived and how have audiences reacted?

Rob: The instant community. You bring together a ton of very different artists, and they compete creatively – basically you don’t get any phoned in performances, because there are only four shows per round and there’s money and resources and bragging rights on the line. Watching your peers work to actively be better every night is a cool thing to see. When everybody else is pushing to be better, you push to be better, and there’s an interesting bond that comes from that.

On the audience side too, the act of scoring elicits real opinions and discussion from audience members who have a natural instinct to compare notes during and after the show. Because folks are directly asked to evaluate pieces critically, the chatter after shows tends to be pretty high level, so strangers who happened to sit next to each other in the show will end up having beers at a table after discussing why they scored one piece higher than another. Again, it’s another cool thing to see.

Barbara: How does it compare to other new play development opportunities/venues? What does it offer that others don’t?

Rob: I’m sure there are other festivals that do similar things to ShortLived, but seems like the main differences are that ShortLived:

– gets all 36 plays off book and on their feet
– provides critical audience feedback for artists
– has no submission fee =)
– is hyper local
– lets audiences decide the winner and which plays advance
– offers a legit grand prize of cash money AND a show

Barbara: Favorite moments – how about three, from ShortLived?

Rob: These are gonna be more personal for me, but here ya go:
– In ShortLived 2 or 3, Duncan Wold, Christy Crowley and I put together a 10-minute musical in one day. It didn’t win, but it did really well – and working that fast was very cool.

– Performing Kirk Shimano’s play Inner Dialogue in ShortLived 4. It took second place in ShortLived 3 in 2011, and because the rules were different, it performed every weekend for 13 weeks. So when we brought back the festival after 144 Taylor St opened, it felt like it was a good call to bring back that piece and enter it into the Wildcard Round. Hadn’t acted on stage with Dan Williams since we’d done the piece originally, so being able to perform with my friend and business partner in our new theater was pretty special.

– Producing Megan Cohen’s first play in ShortLived 1.

Barbara: Anything you’re looking forward to this time around?

Rob: The Finals. They are always amazing. They sell out like crazy, the plays are really strong, the crowds are amped, the performers are jacked too and the whole week is just really fun.

Barbara: Plugs/shout-outs for upcoming performances of friends’ work?

Rob: Adventures in Tech by Stuart Bousel and directed by Allison Page. Also Terro-Rama 2 by Anthony Miller and Claire Rice and directed by Colin Johnson. Maggie’s Riff, written by John Lipsky, adapted by his son Jonah with musical direction by his other son, Adam, directed by Faultline AD Cole Ferraiuolo. And yes – they are all here at PianoFight!

For more on ShortLived at PianoFight, click here!

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Theater Around The Bay: Executive Director Stuart Bousel Stepping Down

Spring brings changes; Stuart Bousel announces a big one.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

So, today seems like as good a time as any to make an announcement I’ve been meaning to make. My plan was to piggyback off another announcement that I’ve been waiting for, but that news seems delayed, so I’m going to just forge ahead.

As I stated on Facebook few weeks back, I’ve been going to therapy again. This is the result of a combination of things, easily summed up as “Life was getting stressful, had been for quite some time, and I opted not to repeat my mental breakdown of 2007-2008, by preemptively doing something about it instead of waiting to lose my mind first.” As often happens in therapy, organizing one’s thoughts and desires quickly makes apparent that action is sometimes required on multiple fronts if one wants to have a decent shot at thriving over merely surviving, and so it was with me, and is part of what led to this decision, the nutshell of which is: I’m stepping down from Theater Pub.

Now, this won’t happen tomorrow (sorry, would-be successors, be patient). It will happen after the New Year, starting January 1, 2017. I know that seems like a really long time, but due to some I-can’t-yet-say-what circumstances, I’m effectively booked from August through December with other projects, so my artistic involvement with Theater Pub this year was most likely ending with August’s Pint-Sized Plays anyway, though I’m sure I’ll be involved with the musical too, if in a very cameo capacity. Part of the reason why I am stepping down is because I have just hit the maximum amount of hours I can squeeze from a day and blood I can extract from my stone heart. And at the risk of bragging, things don’t look to be slowing down, but rather the opposite, meaning I’ve finally hit a point of having to make some tough decisions and withdraw from various things I love, so I can keep doing other things I love, but also growing and evolving as an artist and as a person.

While we’re on it, I won’t be working the Fringe Festival this year (though I plan to be back next year) and I will be involved in the SF Olympians Festival in a very reduced capacity (though I plan to be back in full force next year). All this is not because I’m taking a vacation, but because other opportunities presented themselves, and after years of saying no to similar opportunities in the name of being a good leader/founder and looking after my various responsibilities, I decided it was time to say yes. And like… see what happens. I love the Fringe, I love SF Olympians, and I love Theater Pub… but it’s important that love be a choice, and not an obligation, lest it grow into resentment. Which sometimes, lately, it has.

We (being myself, Tonya Narvaez, Meg Trowbridge, and Rob Ready) still haven’t actually decided if Theater Pub will continue to exist after January 1st. I sincerely hope it does. I love having helped found and for a long time direct an organization that embodies the best aspects of the Bay Area theater scene, its pluck and creativity and innovation and scrappiness, not to mentioning actually putting the Inclusive back into ‪#‎buzzwordinclusivity‬ ‪#‎tbacon16‬. Hundreds of different artists have passed through Theater Pub in the last seven years, we have debuted a ton of new work, and for many people (writers, actors, directors, etc.) we have been their first venue in the Bay Area, or the place they returned to doing theater after a long hiatus, or the place they finally got to try on a new hat, or try on a theater hat at all. Since our fourth show we have paid everybody who has worked with us, and we have started a handful of Bay Area traditions that have ensured we are a formidable source of experimentation and opportunity. We survived a venue change, a regime change, a restructuring, and in the last year and a half have rebuilt what a lot of people didn’t think could be rebuilt. We are just now starting to hit what I predict will be a new stride, a new golden era for the company, and I do not want that to go away, but it’s a lot of work, occasionally quite thanklessly so, and I’m not going to force it upon someone simply because I no longer feel it’s the right thing for me. If Tonya and Meg decide to keep it going, there are no better people I can imagine to do the job. If they do not, then this year will be a long kiss goodnight. Either way, I’ll be here through December in an administrative and advisory capacity, either to help transition or to help shut everything down.

Marissa Skudlarek will be taking over the blog at the end of the year, so that won’t be going away, though it will probably change, and knowing Marissa, drastically improve. Rest assured, the Stuey Awards will continue, and will be my annual contribution. I’m not leaving the world, just leaving Theater Pub. If the production side of Theater Pub continues I am planning to snag an annual “Legacy Show” for myself to direct once a year, but again, we’ll see on that front. Saturday Write Fever will also continue under my and Megan Cohen’s guidance, though it may become an exclusively EXIT Theatre event, depending on what happens with the rest of Theater Pub. That said, we’re in the process of selecting and training more hosts, so that Jeunée Simon, Andrew Chung, Sam Bertken, and ourselves have a little bit more scheduling flexibility. I’m not the only one with a life, and I know that. And there comes a time in every career where you want to move on, or at least just be able to take a sabbatical.

Anyway, I think that sums it up. Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who has made Theater Pub special over the years. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.

Except when it hasn’t been. (smiley face)

And just to be clear… this is a totally real announcement.