The Five: Believing in TheatreFirst

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a recap of TheatreFIRST’s grand unveiling.

Hey you guys, about a week ago I was lucky enough to attend the season kickoff party for TheatreFirst in Berkeley. There were cool people, a giant platter of lunch meat, and some exciting announcements. If you weren’t there or had too much free wine and can’t remember the details, I’m here with some highlights. Predictably, there are five.

The Mandate
While TheatreFIRST is not a new company, they taking a step in a bold new direction: with a new Artistic Director, a season of commissioned plays, and a mandate that most of us in Bay Area theatre have talked about, had endless diversity forums on and said needed to happen. This mandate is to do theatre that reflects the actual world. TheatreFIRST is committing to aggressive diversity. At least half of all board members, admins and artistic staff MUST be women and two-thirds must be people of color. What makes this so exciting is that they aren’t planning to do it by 2025, or calling it a goal to strive for. It’s a mandate; it’s happening. Instead of saying it, they’re doing it.

The Location
The Live Oak Theater is tucked away in one of the fancier parts of Berkley, nestled in a pretty neighborhood and next to a pretty park. Yes, it’s the Berkeley we’re thinking of when we make fun of Berkeley. Make no mistake: this is a community theater that is not only dedicated to serving members of the theatergoing community, but also the theatre-making community. Subscriptions are super affordable and special $60 “Full Circle” Subscriptions are being made available to theatrical artists, which is pretty darn reasonable. Another big nod to the community is that beginning this summer, the Live Oak Theater will be made available FOR FREE during the day to all community theatrical artists. The idea is to have a group working in one corner, another on stage, another having a meeting in the new café. In a time where facilities are a big expense for any group, this is an incredibly generous thing. It is clear that T1’s goal is to make their venue a hub for art and community.

The Season
TheatreFIRST’S new season will consist of 4 brand-new commissioned pieces, all created by local theatrical artists. The first is Bagyo, by Rob Dario, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and giving a startling vision of the culture wars in Southeast Asia. Next up is VS., an exciting new musical written by Cleavon Smith, Stephanie Prentice and Reggie White, telling the story of Colonel Tye, a black man who escaped slavery and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. Beneath the Tall Tree by Adrienne Walters and Jeffrey Lo tells the story of one woman’s quest to literally dig up her grandfather’s history and with it, a connection to her culture. The season ends in May 2017 with Hela by Lauren Gunderson, which explores the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks. Want more info ? Go to www.theatrefirst.com and learn all about it.

The Party
I am not much of a party person, but I must admit, I had a swell time. Maybe it was the super welcoming vibe, the feeling of something very exciting and real happening, maybe it was realizing I have some really cool neighbors, or maybe it was the free wine. But when we left that night, we couldn’t wait to come back.

The Guy
One of the more exciting moments of the night was to see the staff and board of TheatreFIRST standing together on stage with their new Artistic Director, Jon Tracy, at the helm. Jon is one of the most creative, kind, hardworking, community-minded people in the entire Bay Area. I have been a friend and fan of his work for a very long time and not only does he deserve this, but you just know he’s going to foster something special and exciting. So jump on the website, head out to wooded glen of North Berkeley, and get ready to see an exciting new voice in Bay Area theatre. They’re presenting a season of shows that at its core are great stories and committing to the diversity we all want to see on stage.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

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The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with David Molina

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews David Molina, composer and sound designer.

I met David Molina a number of years ago when I’d first moved back to the Bay and had stumbled into doing sound tech after teaching myself how to dj. Yvette Jackson connected me when the production that David was working on needed a substitute tech for rehearsals. It was a paying gig, and I remember being like, “What? You can get money for doing this??” From just stumbling in so haphazardly into sound design, until I met Jackson and Molina, I was unaware of how much work, but how fascinating sound design could truly be. Even as a tech, it was hard not to get drawn into the world because of the sound. Anecdotally, David also had a way of documenting what he needed me to do as a tech with volume, fades, starting/stopping tracks, that was very specific using notation — it was like reading music — and it was extremely helpful in knowing exactly how the sound should be played at the specific moment in the play.

David has had his described as hauntingly beautiful, which I feel is a great description of what it’s like to hear his music, soundscapes, and creations. They are multi-layered, dense environments that draw from a wide variety of instruments, techniques, and collaborators, so that experiencing it feels very immersive.

I’ve kept up with David’s work and have been inspired by the multiple hats he wears and also how creatively productive he keeps himself. Definitely something I also aspire to strive for with my own craft. David has a couple performances coming up at the San Francisco International Arts Festival and I reached out to see if he’d be interested in an interview. I was lucky enough to catch him as he geared up for these next events. Here is the interview for your enjoyment.

David Molina

David Molina

Barbara: Tell me about your background as an artist. What’s your trajectory been like? And how did you get into creating sound and music? What’s your style?

David: I am a composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound artist/designer, recording engineer, music producer, and instrument inventor. I have created music and sound design for the performing arts, film, radio, video, and multimedia installations and productions for 20 years. I have played music since I was a child, and was a classical guitarist since age 12 through my mid to late 20’s. I have always loved music soundtracks and sound design in film. As a kid I dreamed of scoring a feature sci-fi film. While studying music at Sonoma State University I got into experimental music, music of the world, and studio production. In 1996 I ended up working in theater as a complete accident when I met director Roberto Gutierrez Varea. He was teaching theater at SSU. He needed a composer for a production, but didn’t want a student composer. He wanted a pro, but there was no budget. Someone passed off a tape of the music I was making at the time and he loved it. I figured theater would be a great way to learn scoring to a story, and I could transfer my skills to film scoring. Twenty years later I have been Roberto’s main composer and designer for almost every production he directs.

Barbara: I’m curious about the many hats you wear as a composer, performer, collaborator with theater, dance and performance art. How do you approach these various roles?

David: Every gig I do is a learning experience and a chance to do something new. If I really like a project, I am down for anything as long as my schedule allows, or if the compensation is equal to the workload. So yes, time and money is a factor in how many hats I can wear in a production. I think a lot of people, even in theater do not realize how much time and work goes into even making one minute of music, or sound design from scratch. This is particularly relevant with today’s download/instant gratification culture. I have to admit I hate the term, “Sound Design” in theater, and prefer the titles, “Composer” or “Sound Artist”, because often in theater, people think a sound designer is just collecting and editing found music and sound effects. I, and many other composers I know, make everything from scratch. So it’s always a dragged when an audience or especially a cast member says “Cool sound design, whose music did you use?” All hats I wear in production get equal weight. I like my sound design to also have a music quality, or character spirit to them. If I am performing live it is a lot more work, because I have to be a rehearsals a lot more. But I can also change things on the fly and improvise more during a show. Happy accidents happen that can be reused again on another show. In film, dance, performance art, I feel there is a lot more equal value for music, and more room for experimentation. In theater, or at least in traditional text based theater, music ends up in the background and has a lower priority amongst all the theatrical elements. This also depends on the director though. I enjoy working with the ones who like to take risks, and trust in my skills and craft.

Barbara: What are you thinking about when you collaborate with other artists? For instance, performance. How are you thinking of music and sound in this context and what is that you do to make it an active element of the experience?

David: When working with people who know and trust my work, or have a history with me, it is often a free flow of ideas back and forth. With these long time collaborators it feels like we can read each other minds. Working with new directors or artists can be a little nerve wracking, because we don’t know how each other works, what we both like, or don’t like. It’s kind of like going on a blind date, but you’re stuck with them for a month or more. Trust has to be established first. I prefer to work with people who have good music tastes or vocabulary. It helps communicate ideas before going into production. I hear music and sound as the invisible character of a play, or production. It is the heartbeat, emotional/psychological landscape, and the inner spirit of the production.

Barbara: You have a couple shows coming up and I’m hoping you can talk a little about them. What are you looking forward to?

David: I produced two shows for the 100th anniversary of the DADA movement, featured at this year’s SF International Arts Festival, in Gallery 308.

The first one is Dada Explodes: A Cluster of Sound, Light, and the Absurd, on May 28 at 8:30pm. It features:

-my experimental rock band Impuritan and filmmaker Anna Geyer with sonic and visual journey through life, death, love, hate, matter, space, evolution and extinction. Impuritan’s epic compositions blend psychedelic, ambient, punk, noise, shoegaze, and surf/post/space rock. Geyer creates kaleidoscopes of color and surreal landscapes with hand-processed 16mm film loops, mixed on three projectors.

-Sound artist Loach Fillet and video artist Flower Pattern emanate a wall of throbbing sound and visuals.

-Actor/Comedian, Edna Mira Raia, hosts the evening as Hillary’s Radio Show. Audience is encouraged to wear Dada Attire or costumes.

The second show is: Duets in The Key Of DADA, on June 2, at 8pm. It is an evening of improvised duets in the spirit of DADA. Opening will be composer, electronic musician, and trumpet player, Yvette Janine Jackson, with me on electric guitar and effects pedals. Second set features me on Rusting Souls, a modified, electromagnetic hammered dulcimer while Jackson loops and sonically manipulates my performance. Closing will be the Ackamoor/Molina Duo, featuring avant-spiritual jazz saxophonist Idris Ackamoor, founder of the legendary Pyramids. The duo performs ritualistic cleansing ceremonies in the form of music and play multitude of traditional and invented instruments, which are processed with electronics.

I look forward to both shows being mind bending, trance inducing, spiritual experiences. Each in their own unique way.

Barbara: What is it like to work with Idris Ackamoor and Yvette Janine Jackson? As musicians what are you looking for in the collaboration? And then does the performance aspect figure into what develops?

David: Working with Idris is always a deep experience. I am truly humbled to be working with him musically over the past two to three years. We both come from different music backgrounds and histories, but our sets intersect in experimental, ambient, free-jazz, blues, and global ethnic and indigenous music. Audience members say our live sets are “an intense, spiritual, meditative, ritualistic, trance-inducing musical journey”. We both play a multitude of traditional and invented instruments. I loop and process our instruments using the software Abelton Live to create sparse to dense layers, which range from hauntingly beautiful and meditative, to dark and unnerving soundscapes. Ackamoor uses his array of instruments anchored by his signature alto and tenor saxophones emphasizing extended range, explosive multi-phonics, lyrical beauty, and intense “outside” playing. The combination of our vast collection of instruments and technology makes us sound like four piece band, than just a duo. Because we mostly improvise, every show we do is different. Even when we plan a skeletal map, the spontaneity takes us into unknown territory. That’s when the magic happens.

The same is true with Yvette, though we both use more electronics. I have known and performed with her since the late 1990’s. We have played all kinds of music together, especially experimental and electronic music. She has been tearing it up in the music world (see second to the last question).

I am excited, and nervous, about our collaboration as we will literally have only one day to meet before the concert. It will be very Dada improvised, but beautiful as always.

Barbara: Tell me about being an artist in the Bay Area. What makes it unique?

David: It’s tough with this entitled rich techy environment. I find myself working twice as hard now to make ends meet. SF has turned into the playland of the young and rich. It has killed our arts music scene. We have lost many venues, and a lot of great artists I know have been evicted. Fortunately Oakland has it going on, but I hear that gentrification is happening there too.

Fortunately I also do work in other cities in the U.S.

Barbara: Is there any direction that you would like to scene grow into?

David: I would like Bay Area theater to take more risks and not be so word based. Theater is a multi-dimensional beast with many moving parts and creative elements that make a script live and breathe. If one only cares about the words then you snuff out all possibilities. You might as well produce novels if the words only matter to you. I also want to see young folks and people of color in the theater. This may be due to our lack of arts in the public school systems. But theater companies need to reach out and make productions that connect with youth and P.O.C. otherwise. The scene will die with the elderly audience.

Barbara: How about you – what interests you creatively as potential next projects or influences?

David: The majority of my work addresses social justice issues: ranging from racial profiling, police brutality, migration and immigrant rights, border crossing, the U.S. prison complex, the environment, and imperialism. I also love sound as music, music which breaks genres, and stuff that is psychedelic, hits an emotional nerve, or has spiritual element. I love working on productions that blur the line of theater, dance, and film. Immersive multimedia pieces that include video, or are audience interactive are right up my alley. Finally if time and funding allows, I am always thinking of new instruments to invent.

Barbara: I’m really interested in what you said about creating work that addresses social justice issues. Out of curiosity, or maybe just speaking logistically, what are you doing with the music to reflect these issues? I’m really curious about this especially since you are not using words and I’m maybe more familiar with how one could do this with that tool.

David: In the social justice aspect, I mean the productions I work on, or collaborators I work with, address these topics. Sometimes I interview and record people who are experiencing or have experienced some kind of social oppression, and then remix them into the music. I take the interview and edit them down into sound bites, or key statements. These are then triggered on the fly in a live performance on ABLETON LIVE, or used in a sound design with pre-recorded music in QLAB.

Barbara: You also alluded to instruments you’ve created – this is so cool. Can you describe one as an example?

David: Yes, I make instruments that are made all from salvaged and found material. I go to junk yards all around the bay area, and create massive instruments that live in Gallery settings; here is snippet from my bio:

“In 2010 he began inventing instruments from salvaged and discarded materials. These became interactive, multimedia pieces displayed at SF bay area galleries and festivals, including Mcloughlin Gallery (2015); a solo exhibit, Transience: The Work of David Molina; Asterisk Gallery SF (2013); and SOMArts (2012).”

Rusting Souls II  at Gallery 308

Rusting Souls II at Gallery 308

Here are links with photos and video, and descriptions of two of my instruments:
Memory Web: http://drmsound.com/memory-web

The latest is Rusting Sould II, on display at Gallery 308, Fort Mason, right now through June 5th.

Barbara: Any advice you would give to people who want to do what you do?

David: Sadly musicians can’t make a living the way we used to. Everybody wants it for free, and tech companies like Pandora and Spotify are literally stealing any royalties musicians and composers used to see. The only way to make a living is to tour, sell limited unique merch, and license your music to film or TV. I ended up doing live sound engineering, studio production, and sound design as a way to fund my artistic music endeavors. I also teach at Brava and private clients.

You got to hustle to survive in this expensive city. Don’t let anyone keep you down, or say you’re crazy. Most 9 to 5rs don’t get what it is like to be a full time artist. They think it is easy and not real work. They couldn’t handle two weeks of my busy schedule. But you got to be a little crazy to follow your passion, and make a lot of sacrifices. When it comes to theater (unless you are working with a cool director or tech staff) expect music and sound to be low on the totem pole. Any Sound Designer will tell you the same. Most people don’t realize how much work it takes to just produce one minute of music our sound.

Barbara: Any plugs for friends’ work or your own that’s coming up?

David: My band Impuritan is doing its first east coast tour from June 7 to the 18th! More info at www.impuritan.net.

Some of Yvette’s Jackson’s recent projects include: a residency at Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion (EMS); the premiere of This is Radio Opera at Audiorama Stockholm; Soldier, a 5-day immersive cinematic installation for the Recombinant Media Lab at Qualcomm Institute’s Calit2; and Invisible People (A Radio Opera). She was selected by the American Composers Orchestra to participate in the third Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute and awarded a reading of her composition Atlantic Crossing by the Naples Philharmonic.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, (with whom I also perform with) have just received worldwide rave reviews for their latest album “We Be All Africans”. I also contributed to the album. Some reviews are in Spin, Rolling Stone Monocle, UnCut, BBC radio, NPR, MTV, The Wire, etc.!

I also co-produced “Cuba Ra” with Idris, for Gilles Peterson’s “Rumba” remix album!

Barbara: Is there a piece or music or sound you’ve created that you’ve created that we could listen to?

David: You can listen or see my work at http://www.drmsound.com. I been so busy that I haven’t had time to update new material. The stuff on my site is about two to three years old.

David is performing this weekend at the San Francisco International Arts Festival and has other projects in the works. For more information, see his website, here.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Live Nude Feminism

Marissa Skudlarek, walking the talk.

Don’t ever say that I can’t both talk the talk and walk the walk. I spent Saturday evening posting on Twitter and Facebook about casual sexism in local theater, and Sunday evening attending a fundraiser for the feminist theater organization DIVAfest. Saturday was about getting irritated over the persistence of inequality; Sunday was about reminding myself that there are plenty of people trying to find solutions to this problem.

The sexism that I see around typically isn’t outrageous misogyny – it’s subtler than that. It is a worldview that devalues women’s contributions and stories, that refuses to consider their perspectives worth presenting or their money worth having. I’m thinking of things like a glowing review of Maggie’s Riff, at FaultLine Theatre, that initially neglected to mention or credit Nicole Odell, who plays the title role. (Editor’s note: as of midafternoon on 5/26/16, a few hours after our piece went up, the review has been updated to mention Odell.) And also of the latest marketing copy for the Speakeasy, as it seeks a final round of funding before it re-opens in North Beach in August. The Speakeasy producers are very pleased to tout the “one-way mirror into the chorus girls’ dressing room” as one of the major highlights of the show, yet they make no equivalent promise of voyeuristic eye candy for those of us who prefer handsome fellas to lovely ladies.

Let’s be clear: I’m not against sexy fun, or scantily clad women. In fact, DIVAfest, the organization I supported on Sunday night, has a strong sideline in naked ladies. It produces a monthly burlesque variety show, Diva or Die, and a larger theater-burlesque fusion show once a year. Indeed, it was DIVAfest’s Hotel Burlesque show this year that finally convinced me of the truth of something I’d often heard said: that neo-burlesque can be a feminist and empowering genre, rather than a misogynistic male-gazey one. In Hotel Burlesque, the cast featured six lovely ladies and one female impersonator, so just about every moment of the plot passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors. It transported me into a sparkly, glamorous, female-led world and showed me that striptease can be about more than just titillation. A female thief reveled in her crimes as she stripped off all her (stolen) clothing. Nudity was used to represent the anguish and vulnerability that an alcoholic feels when faced with the temptation to drink, or a battered woman feels when recalling her abuser.

At the DIVAfest fundraiser party, Amanda Ortmayer introduced a performance by Red Velvet and reminded us that burlesque artists appreciate vocal approval: applause, whooping, cheering, were all encouraged (and plentiful). And, as Red Velvet tap-danced, shimmied, and stripped down to her thong and pasties, the lights in the main room remained on. I liked that; it kept things honest. It eliminated some of the creepy power dynamics that can arise when a woman takes her clothes off for the entertainment of others, because, as we watched Red Velvet, she could also watch us. She could see our faces and discern whether or not we were having a good time, and also hear our joyous and vocal appreciation. And I can’t help, again, contrasting this with the way the Speakeasy is presenting female nudity: spying on “hot chorus girls” from behind the anonymity of a one-way mirror.

A lot has been written lately about the masculinity and “bro” attitudes of start-up culture in the Bay Area. In many ways, the Speakeasy seems to be positioning itself as a theater start-up. It’s thinking big: it wants to disrupt live entertainment in San Francisco and then spread out across the country. It is soliciting money according to a new model called “equity crowdfunding” (I’m a little confused as to how this differs from traditional for-profit, Broadway-style funding, but no matter) and, with a minimum investment of $2000, it’s clearly aiming for high-roller donors rather than the $25-$100 donations that make up the bulk of a typical Indiegogo or Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. In 2014, the Speakeasy’s expensive tickets and lack of discounts meant that the show was very popular with the tech crowd while remaining inaccessible to the kinds of people who are getting priced out of this city. And, yes, the Speakeasy seems very, very male. The three founders are all male. The website copy has a persistently male point of view, and not just in its references to the chorus girls and the one-way mirror. For instance, when giving examples of some of the costumed characters that audience members can pay to play, both of the examples they give are male.

Meanwhile, DIVAfest hosted a traditional nonprofit-theater fundraiser last weekend: finger food, raffle tickets, and performances, in a board member’s fancy house that was donated for the occasion. I hope it was successful, and it was certainly quite glamorous to watch the sunset from a North Beach rooftop deck, eating delicious food among nicely dressed people. But it cannot change the fact that DIVAfest is a small, indie, shoestring operation, run out of a Tenderloin theater that has miraculously weathered all the changes to San Francisco in the last thirty years.

I know there is a place for people like me at DIVAfest, but, as a feminist woman, I have a hard time imagining that there’s really a place for me at the Speakeasy. And, while I’m grateful that organizations like DIVAfest exist, I’m also bothered that they feel like such small, precarious members of the arts ecosystem. The Speakeasy caters to the male gaze and raises $3 million in venture capital funding and becomes the subject of glowing media profiles; DIVAfest provides a counter-narrative and a place for women, and is relegated to the fringes. I said before that sexism in the 2010s tends to be subtle and insidious. Well, here’s another example of it: is it fair that the men get the big dreams and the big bucks and the naked ladies, and we women get to play out our stories on a much smaller stage?

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

Cowan Palace: Find Your Biggest Fan

Ashley encourages you to find your biggest fan and hug them until they force you to stop it.

Katelyn and Ashley... while Ashley’s in a show playing The Maid Of Honor! Weird!

Katelyn and Ashley… while Ashley’s in a show playing The Maid Of Honor! Weird!

My sister is getting married on Saturday so my mind has been running in an endless list and I’ve been staying up late pretending to work on my Matron of Honor speech. There’s just so many things I want to say and know that I can’t possibly articulate about the whole thing so I end up writing a word and then distracting myself with House Hunters reruns. That scripted dialogue about buying a home is oddly soothing sometimes.

But I got to thinking about an old joke my sister and I have; I honestly can’t remember who first titled her as my “biggest fan” but she’s been lovingly teasing me with that title whenever it seems like a funny time. In her college dorm ten years ago, she hung up the new fancy New York City headshot I used all my savings to take and then print, and put on a star on it, declaring herself Ashley Cowan’s biggest fan. It was awesome. I felt like I had made it.

My sister Katelyn has been the best biggest fan. She’s seen me in more shows than anyone else, even ones I may have been less proud of… She’s seen me play all of the female characters in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (which, come on, that’s a lot of interactive performance to willingly endure). She’s honest when I need the feedback but terribly kind with it because she knows I’m sensitive. She’s the one who I ask to bounce things off of when I’m encountering a writer’s block and often she makes me go around the block by suggesting a brilliant new path. I’ve even sent her several Theater Pub blog entries before I send them off to Stuart just so I can get an extra pair of eyes on my latest words.

Katelyn’s also the one I text before I buy almost anything just so she can tell me if it’s cool or not. My knowledge of makeup and fashion trends is almost 100% based upon those text exchanges punctuated by various emoticons. But for me, I need my biggest fan to keep up my star identity.

So Katelyn, even though we joke about the term, I thank you for the pushes to keep doing the things that I love; to have the courage to audition, to actually write the ideas that seem silly or stupid in my head; to keep reaching for my place in the stars. I’ll never be able to express enough gratitude for it.

And to everyone else, I say, go find your biggest fan! Thank that person who believes in you, loves you, and makes you better than you are. Give them a hug or like, a winning scratch ticket, they’ve earned it. Sure, we should all strive to be our own fans but finding your very own biggest fan? Well, there’s nothing quite like it. Now excuse me while I pause House Hunters and attempt to write some more words for my sister, my friend, my fan.

Working Title: Loquacious Lucania, How Many Degrees Is He Away From You?

This week Will Leschber speaks to Carl Lucania about all Six Degrees of Separation

As you all know, dear readers, usually we crack this blog open with a fun diatribe about a current event or some personal goings-on, then loosely shoestring-link it to a current SF play and top that sucker off with a perfect film pairing to whet your insatiable appetites. Who doesn’t like structure! It’s fun, right?! Well, blog fans, let’s just forget the formalities this week and jump neck-deep into Custom Made Theatre’s production of Six Degrees of Separation, directed by Stuart Bousel.

Six Degrees of Separation cover copy

I reached out to Bay Area actor and all-around stellar human being Carl Lucania about a film suggestion, as I’m wont to do. Instead of sending a single, well-crafted sentence and being done with it, Carl had the grace and good humor to send over a comprehensive five paragraphs and eloquently over-achieve. Carl, you are my hero! Since he can turn a phrase better than this little blogger, let’s just let him do the heavy lifting. The loquacious, learned Lucania not only provides a perfect intro to John Guare’s play, but also throws in film pairings AND a few cross-disciplinary recommendations spanning literature to fine art. Whew! Sit down and listen up; class is session! …You best just read on, folks.

Take it away Carl!!!

Happy to help…

Six Degrees of Separation covers a lot of ground. At the face of it, it’s a story of a middle-aged, upper-middle class white couple in early 1990s Manhattan whose world gets turned around when a young black man, pretending to be Sidney Poitier’s son, insinuates himself into their lives. Within that framework there’s a a lot of commentary on class, race, art, and both personal and world politics. And it manages to do all of this in a very succinct, smart, and entertaining 90 minutes.

six-degrees color chart copy

One of the main themes we talked about when we started working on it was duality: how a story is perceived is entirely up to the person perceiving it — so there isn’t just one reality or story. As Americans, we’re told that we can be anything we want if we’re smart and work hard. And this story turns that ideal on its head. The central character is very smart and works very hard. But is he just a con man? Or is he living the American dream of bettering himself? And it’s the same duality with art: is Duchamp’s Fountain a brilliant work? Or is it just a porcelain urinal in a museum?

Duchamp with fountain copy

One movie that comes to mind is Mike Nichols’ 1988 comedy, Working Girl. For one, it puts you in Manhattan right around the same time period and it also explores a similar theme of someone very clever attempting to jump class by pretending to be something she’s not. And they manage to work quite a bit of social commentary about being a woman in a man’s world into a fairly standard rom-com with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver. Plus it has Joan Cusack in one of my favorite portrayals of a big-haired, big-mouthed girl from Queens.

Joan Cusack smirk copy

If you want to get cross-disciplinary in your preparation: go stare at a Kandinsky or Hockney at SF MOMA, listen to a recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats or read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. They are all referenced quite a bit in the play. And if you haven’t seen Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner then you’re missing out, because it’s amazing.

My plug: come see the show. I got on board because I love working with Stuart Bousel and I knew this was his favorite play and I wanted to be a part of that. Our three leads (Genevieve Perdue, Khary L. Moye, Matt Weimer) carry a big load and make it look easy. There’s a large supporting cast, thirteen of us in all, and not a slacker in the bunch. It’s been wonderful to watch this crew get up to speed so quickly and expertly deliver the goods. I think this one will stick with you for a while.

xo, Carl

Carl Lucania Six Degrees Production pic copy

Six Degrees of Separation runs May 19 – June 18 Wed 7:30pm; Thurs-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm. Additional information and tickets can be found here: http://www.custommade.org/sixdegrees.

Theater Around The Bay: STICKY ICKY Character Guide (Part Two)

Excited for Sticky Icky, Theater Pub’s show opening tonight at PianoFight? Well here’s the second part of our character guide to get you acquainted with the heroes and heroines of our story.

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Picking up where we left off last week…

THE BLONDE copy

The Blonde is beautiful, scatter-brained, and typically uninterested in intellectual pursuits. Sheila would fit in perfectly with the popular clique from Never Been Kissed.

The Blonde clique copy

THE DRUG DEALER copy

The Drug Dealer archetype can truly run the gamet. From kingpins like Pablo Escobar all the way down to dim-witted dealers selling to high schoolers. Rod lies somewhere between Lance from Pulp Fiction and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

THE DRUG DEALER jesse copy

The Glaucoma Feral and The Dweeb Feral defy archetypal definition. You’ll have to come see the show to find out what they’re all about!

THE GLAUCOMA FERAL copy

THE DWEEB FERAL copy

Sticky Icky opens Monday, May 23 at 8:00pm at PianoFight (144 Taylor St). It runs 5/23, 5/24, 5/30, and 5/31.

In For A Penny: Vices I Admire

Charles Lewis III, on why vice can be nice.

Yes, I own this shirt.

Yes, I own this shirt.

“The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights — I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.”
– Carl Sagan, Mr. X (1969)

I never smoked weed until I did theatre. For that matter, I never ate sushi until I did theatre. Yes, I was one of those boring teens who never drank, smoked, or went to parties. (Well, I did try smoking cigarettes several times, but it never caught on.) Part of that was due to just being an awkward teen who never hung with The Cool Kids, but another part was by choice. I studied religion as a kid and took the concept of “pure body, pure mind, pure soul” to heart. And to be honest, I was pretty damn content with myself.

It wasn’t until I was 27 – an age at which I’d put the “pure body, et. al” bullshit behind me – that I’d decided to see what weed was all about. I’d just finished a show with a local theatre company and we were having our closing night celebration. Turns out these folks had a closing night tradition of rechristening the dressing room as “The Green Room” for reasons that should be obvious. After awkwardly making my way in and patiently waiting for the bowl to come around to me, I took my first toke.

Nothing happened, really. It’d be a later incident at 4/20 in Golden Gate Park before I finally actually got high. Still, it worked in as much as being a socially-inclusive gateway to fellow theatre-folk. And even when I was a clean-living teen/upcoming artist, I was always fascinated by the idea of an intoxicating substance enhancing the creative process.

“Write drunk, edit sober” is a phrase we’ve all heard thrown around willy-nilly. (It’s often misattributed to Hemingway when it’s more likely from Peter de Vries.) Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda were notorious for it. Mary Shelley got smashed on absinthe with her husband and Lord Byron, then wrote her masterpiece Frankenstein. Hell, scientists believe even Shakespeare may have smoked weed between writing sonnets. It all contributes to the idea that when inspiration is out of reach, it can be found within your poison of choice.

I personally wouldn’t know. I rarely drink outside of social gatherings (I’ve been drunk exactly five times my entire life) and do so as a method of decompression rather than inspiration. The only times I smoke weed are when I’m around someone who prefers not to smoke alone, and it’s never made want to start writing. I’ve never had the chance to do mushrooms, though I’m not opposed to the idea. And despite knowing many people who love it, I will never do cocaine. (Before we found out how terrible he was, Bill Cosby had stand-up routine that sums up my thoughts perfectly: “I said to a guy, ‘Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful,’ and he said, ‘Because it intensifies your personality.’ I said, ‘Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?’”) I’m not on any moral high horse – I like weed, beer, and the friends who share in them with me – but they’ve never worked for me in terms of electrifying my creativity.

But that’s just me. In addition to the aforementioned authors above, I can cite countless works of art created under the influence which I hold dear: the weed-inspired illustrations Salvador Dalí or Mœbius; the coke-fueled ‘70s films of Martin Scorsese; hell, damn-near anything from the Harlem Renaissance. Without those substances, those great works might never have been possible and I might not have been inspired by them to become an artist.

The real problem is when an artist sees a mind-altering substance as their ONLY form of inspiration; when the supply gets low or empty, working with someone having withdrawal can be annoying, if not dangerous. I don’t even drink coffee, so I can’t really imagine what someone’s head must feel like when they’ve suddenly decided to teetotal.

The reason I bring all this up is because this month’s ‘Pub show, of which I’m a part, is an hilariously over-the-top satire about “the dangers of the demon weed”. Each character is based on a classic horror film trope, but with enough humanity to make them relatable. Incidentally, my character is a collegiate weed dealer, someone who uses the substance as the means to an end in order to do the art he truly loves. Yeah.

Before anyone asks: No, we don’t perform the show high. I’m sure that’d be hilarious (I’ve done Beer Theatre before and it was a fuckin’ blast), but I assure you that Colin’s script is plenty funny without the actors being baked. Plus, there’s probably some kinda law or somethin’ ‘bout smokin’ weed indoors with the public, right? I dunno…

But as I sit here with my script by my side and my soon-to-be-used typewriter in the corner, I tried to think of what it is that fuels me to write, act, direct, and explore other avenues of creativity. I’m still not really sure, but I hope I don’t run out of it anytime soon.

Charles Lewis III plays the world’s most lovable weed dealer in Colin Johnson’s “Sticky Icky”, starting this coming Monday at PianoFight. Admission is FREE, donations of $10 or more appreciated.