Cowan Palace: Yeah, What DO You Say To An Actor Who Just Bombed On Stage?

This week Ashley interviews herself.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune ran an article titled, What do you say to an actor who just bombed on stage?

Oh, juicy topic, right?! What DO you say?! The piece explored the thoughts of a few local artists and while San Francisco may be miles away from Chicago’s scene, many of the opinions of those interviewed are universal and quite relatable. Whether you’re the actor in a show that may be more “bomb” than “da bomb” or whether you’re sitting in the audience as a friend watching an explosion, talking about the experience afterward can be awkward, uncomfortable, and unpleasant.

What are the expectations of those in your creative circle? Are you on the side of, “if you don’t have anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? or are you “Team Nice Guy Even If I Gotta Lie”?

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I decided I’d answer some of the questions in the Chicago Tribune article because I’m sure they would love that. Here are my thoughts:

What’s going through your head when you’re watching a terrible show?

Sometimes I’m thinking, “Yikes. I’m glad I didn’t get cast in this.” or to be even less humble about it, I’m thinking, “Huh. Would I have been this bad?” But most of the time I’m hopeful until the very end. I’m one of those people who can not turn off a bad TV movie until the very last second. Even if I HATE it. And I’ve never left a play until curtain call either because I honestly have hope until it’s really over that there’s still time for it to magically come together. Even though it almost never does.

While I’m a terrible liar, I’m also a known “nice girl” but it’s not usually that hard for me to find something that I enjoyed from a performance. Usually, after I show, I’ll say something like, “wow that was something! I don’t know if it’s the script for me but I liked _______” and then fill in the blank. If I’m there supporting my actor friend, I’ll find a moment of their performance that I liked and focus on that. So if I’m in the middle of a terrible show, I purposely try to seek out those moments of good so that I can use them as discussion points later.

When you’re the one performing in a show.

Yeah, been there, done that, will inevitably do it again. As much as I’d like to have tougher skin, I’m still sensitive and super vulnerable after any performance. And when I know I have friends in the audience, I’m even more aware of it. It does break my heart when I know I have a pal attending the show and then that person conveniently disappears immediately after curtain call and I don’t hear from them. That cold silence sometimes feels quite cruel. While I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or force them to say harsher words for the sake of being honest, sometimes you just want your friends to quietly hug you and simply appreciate your attempt, your work; regardless of how they felt about the show.

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Ever skipped the hellos?

I’m sure I have! Sometimes I have to catch a bus! But if I do leave, I try to reach out to my friend in the show and leave them with some kind thought. This year though, I challenged myself to stay around after a show to say those kind thoughts in person. Considering I don’t get a ton of social nights out anymore, I also relish these hellos because often it’s a chance to talk to a friend I haven’t seen for awhile.

As an actor, I have stayed in the dressing long a little too long after a show because I’ve been scared of facing certain audience members, assuming they hated it and not feeling brave enough to meet their eyes. I’d like to keep working on that.

Do you have a go-to line that you rely on?

I don’t. And I kind of encourage you not to because each performance is a different, unique thing. My advice is this, if you’re in the audience, allow yourself to have an honest opinion but give the show a chance. Try, try, try, to find something good. Even if it’s teeny tiny. I get it, sometimes shows are trash! But as a member of a small creative community, it’s a nice thing to try.

What do you guys think? How do you handle “terrible” shows? Do you think San Francisco fosters a different post-show environment than Chicago? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hit by a Bus Rules: The Write Stuff

Alandra Hileman, after a bit of a hiatus, returns.

Theatre Rule of the Month: Write It Down

I’ve been in a writer’s cave of insanity the last few months, so rather than a cohesive blog, here’s a series of the sorts of “shower thoughts” I’ve had about writing.

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One of the hardest things about stage managing is figuring out what to write down when. The stage manager should write everything down, of course, but sometimes you’re sitting there frantically erasing your blocking notes again as a scene gets restaged for the fourth time in as many days and you start to wonder if there’s a certain point before which you can safely not take notes. The answer is no, because suddenly in tech week that one offhanded comment from the first read will become absurdly relevant and necessary and you’re gonna pray it’s still jotted in the margin of your script somewhere.

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I don’t totally understand the Hemmingway-attributed quote “Write drunk; edit sober,” which people often pitch at me when I ask for block-busting tricks. Not like I don’t understand the principle of it, but…when I’m drunk all I wanna do is watch Futurama and play Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook. Maybe it’s just my brain chemistry.

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I found a Post-It the other day as I was cleaning off my desk that had a very specific sequence of numbers on it, which I finally realized was RGB level adjustments for some set of photos I must have been editing at some point. I assume I wrote it down because I wasn’t doing the whole set at once, but it would have been really helpful if past-me had noted which photo-set it was for. This is why in my notebooks I’ve started writing project abbreviations in the upper corner; so that I can quickly flip through and find all the notes for any given project.

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Speaking of “shower thoughts,” I’m going to go buy some of those kids’ bath crayons so I can take notes in the shower. I’d get so much more done.

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By the same account, I need to start running a tape-recorder in my car, because I solve so many plot problems when I’m blasting down the freeway talking to myself, but usually by the time I reach my destination I can.

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I used to never write notes for things. Never in classes, never for stories or plays I was working on, and to be perfectly honest, when I first started stage managing I didn’t write things down nearly as much as I should have. I think that was where I really started to realized that for as good of a memory as I have, things will fall through the cracks, especially when you’re juggling being the cetral hub of information for not only your department, but everyone’s. I’m still really bad about just taking the moment to writing something down, but I’m trying desperately to get better at allowing myself that time, in every aspect of my life. Especially handwriting – there have been, if I recall, scientific studies which have show that handwriting notes helps us not only to remember things better but also to form our thoughts more coherently. I’ve been trying to take time to enjoy the note-taking process, and to apply the tricks I learned in stage managing on how to annotate an existing script to the process of creating one as well. It’s sometimes a weird hang-up transitioning from the world of executing a script vision backstage to creating said script for others to execute, but I feel like I’m starting to find my groove.

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This blog is the most productive procrastination I’ve had all week.

You can find more of Alandra’s “shower thoughts” on Twitter (@LadyBedivere), and find out about larger projects at ajhileman.com.

Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Colin Johnson

In honor of STICKY ICKY, opening May 23rd, we’re interviewing writer/director Colin Johnson about this latest joint.

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Give us your elevator pitch for yourself- WHO IS Colin Johnson?

CJ: It depends on how long I had in the elevator. If we went all the way to the top floor, I feel I’d have enough time to do an interpretative dance displaying my many passions for film, theater, storytelling, writing, directing, performing and editing, and my experience with many notable enterprises, including SF Olympians, SF Playground, SF Fringe, SF Shotz, San Diego and New York Comic-Con, Image Comics and Awesome Theater. The dance would be tasteful but provocative; informative but challenging. If we were only going up one floor, I’d just reach my hand out and say, “come with me if you wanna have a great time making some weird art”

And this isn’t your first time at Theater Pub, is it?

CJ: I have been playing with the good folks at TP for the past three years or so. Or maybe 4. When was the last Pint-Sized at Cafe Royale? That was when I started. I’ve done like 5 or 6 shows in various capacities.

What keeps you coming back?

CJ: The challenge of setting a piece of theater amidst an open, functioning, busy bar. It’s harder than it looks, and a great many types of shows that would flourish in a traditional venue have struggled with the format. It forces you to be blunt, loud, fast and not rely on tech elements or, to a degree, audience engagement. I tend to go into a show as if I’m entering a combat field with my platoon, but like in elementary school, where the imagination was running wild and role-playing was cool (because that’s what we essentially still do, we are the role-playing holdouts from childhood). X factors will be flung at you left and right and you have to duck and dodge to pull it together. Theater Pub harkens back to the days without polite theater etiquette, where performers and crew members need to be on their toes to overcome any and every obstacle that the outside world will throw at them, from passing sirens to drunk idiots at the bar. It keeps them present and focused, but also flexible. They also let me do pretty much anything I want.

Tell us more about Sticky Icky- what can we expect?

CJ: You can expect a loud, fast, funny romp through classical zombie-film tropes and tireless research from my years of being a high-functioning pothead. We got the archetypes, we got the paranoia, the in-fighting, the snacks, the doomsday radio broadcasts, the external menace, and even a couple original songs.

What’s got you most excited about this project?

CJ: The idea of uncoordinated, easily-distracted-yet-dangerous and relentless antagonists was too funny to pass up. It was actually developed as a feature-film several years ago in Eastern Washington State, a place where you either smoked or you HATED THOSE DIRTBAG HIPPIE NO-GOODNICKS. It was originally much more violent and dealt with marijuana legislation and its respective sides. Over the years, it has remained on the back burner, mutating into whatever avenue suited it best. When I was asked to come back to Theater Pub this year, I wanted to make a serious, intense play. But then I remembered my dormant idea for Sticky Icky and giggled the way a selfish blowhard laughs at his own shit.
Needless to say, it’s a play now, and although it doesn’t try to take itself seriously anymore, the overriding themes of both sides of the debate being equally stupid for different reasons is still very much there.

Marijuana has a colorful history as a subject in film and theater- any influences you wanna point to?

CJ: Most of the direct references come from the horror genre — John Carpenter (The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness) and, of course, George A. Romero were major influences, as were numerous smaller, stranger zombie movies (Shaun of the Dead, Pontypool, 28 Days Later, Undead). In our play the weed is used more as a catalyst in the style of Danny Boyle’s genre-busting classic, only instead of blood or saliva transmission, it’s second-hand smoke (invisible of course due to indoor smoking laws). That said, it’s much closer in tone to Reefer Madness or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (I love idiots screaming over each other). The plot is horror, the dialogue and performances are comedy.

Should or should not people show up to this stoned?

CJ: It definitely wouldn’t hurt if folks got a bit blazed. Unfortunately, there won’t be an intermission to “freshen up”. I promise no one will be bored. We want to create the illusion of chaos, so stoned lightweights should maybe sit a bit farther back from the action.

Let’s say they do- what food served at the bar do you most recommend?

CJ: I’m a devoted pulled-pork guy. And the fries are perfect to keep you going when you’re rocking a long day.

And for the non-stoners in the house- what beverage?

CJ: I’m a pretty no-frills drinker. I like beer and whiskey. My little brother turned me onto whiskey-gingers, those are good. If I’m working I’ll drink the Kolsch or Tecate (the classy stuff). If my wits are not needed as much, I’ll usually go for an IPA.

Any shout-outs for stuff going on in the Bay Area?

CJ: Be sure to check out the SF Shotz shows, performed (usually) the second Wednesday of each month at Pianofight. Six new five minute plays, fully produced. Good rowdy fun. Also Loud and Unladylike has a great lineup this year! As does Olympians! And Best of Playground! Also Saturday Write Fever is always a good bit of creative cardio! The Circus Center is doing crazy cool stuff in their Cabaret Series and various showcases. Jaw-dropping. So much good stuff. All the freakin’ time. Very alive and well. (insert uplifting San Francisco song. Maybe the Foxygen one)

And what’s next for you?

CJ: I got a full slate coming up. I wrote a new show for Longshotz (the one-act offshoot of Shotz) that’s opening in early June. I will also be guest-producing the regular Shotz performance on June 8th. I have a few original short plays being published in August. In October I’ll be directing Terror-Rama 2: Prom Night for Awesome Theater at Pianofight. And I’m lobbying for a big directing gig in December that would expose me to a whole new style of performance. Fingers crossed. I’m also currently producing a web series in collaboration with the new Clown Conservatory. My partner in that endeavor and Director of the Conservatory, the immensely talented Sara Moore, is featured in Sticky Icky as the salty barfly Donelda.

Don’t miss STICKY ICKY- opening at Theater Pub on Monday May 23rd!

The Five: Tony Award Snarkdown

Anthony R. Miller checks in (on a different day) with smart ass comments about this year’s Tony Award nominations.

Hey you guys, looks like I didn’t get nominated for a Tony again, although my long-term plan for a regional Tony is still rock solid. In case you didn’t hear (due to the lack of Wi-Fi in the cave you live in) the nominations for the Tony Awards came out on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen ‘em yet, go to www.tonyawards.com and get with it. It’s cool, I’ll wait…

All caught up? Great, now we can dive in to a few of my own observations. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

So Apparently Hamilton is Pretty Good

With a record 16 nominations, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton might as well just sit onstage all night. I mean, that’s why we’re all watching right? It’s been about 20 years since a Broadway musical has been such a cultural phenomenon, which is depressing. But I guess we’ll take what we can get. Sure, it might not be fun to be one of the other nominated musicals who will probably not have as triumphant a night, but the fact that a whole crapload of people who would have never watched the Tony Awards are gonna watch is something to celebrate.

I Can’t Hear You

It’s hard for me to be witty when I’m genuinely mad about something. But the fact that there is no longer an award for Sound Design is total garbage. You would think they would bring it back this year just for the sake of giving Hamilton another award. Seriously though, sound designers are artists, and in many cases, friggin’ miracle workers. The art of sound design evolved beyond sound effects and intermission music a long time ago. Maybe I’m spoiled because the Bay Area boasts some brilliant sound designers. So hug a sound designer today, they make your show sound good.

Every Day I’m Shufflin’

Let’s give credit to Shuffle Along. In a Best New Musical category populated by musicals about historical events (Hamilton and Bright Star) and musicals based on movies (Waitress and School of Rock),  Shuffle Along is a musical based on a musical. So there’s that.

Good for You, Arthur Miller

The Best Revival of a Play I Had To Read In College Category features Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Noises Off, Blackbird, and two, count ’em, two Arthur Miller plays (The Crucible and A View from the Bridge). So keep your eye out for that up-and-comer Arthur Miller, he’s going places.

We Love It When Our Casual Acquaintances Become Successful

So if local hero Daveed Diggs wins for Best Performance By An Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical, I will boast not one, BUT TWO Tony award winners on my Facebook friends list. In 1998, I was an ASM for a production of Children of Eden at American Musical Theatre of San Jose. This particular production featured a young fella named James Monroe Inglehart, we became dear, dear friends, OK, not really. But a few years later I served him shitty Chinese food and he totally recognized me. Then he went on to be the Genie in the Broadway production of Aladdin and took home the Tony. Now we have an actor whom I saw once in a production of Six Degrees of Separation, everybody in the Bay Area has been in a play with, someone whom I exchanged 3-4 actual emails with a few years ago about producing a one-man show that never happened. Daveed Diggs is a swell dude (based on our in-depth email correspondence) and it’s always great to see local actors go on to success right after they leave the Bay Area. So here’s to hoping the list of successful people I kinda know just gets bigger. Unless of course they’re a goddamned sound designer.

Don’t forget to watch on June 12th!!!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Producer and Theatre Nerd, keep with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78

In For a Penny: Of the People, By the People, For the People

Charles Lewis III, giving us another look at Paul Flores.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down Brothas on the Instant Replay”
– Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not be Televised

On-site theatre is a risky proposition, both for the performers as well as the audience. One the one hand, you’ve freed yourself from the rigid constraints of a typical performance space; on the other hand, you’re subject to the elements and limited as to what you can openly display in public. I’ve done Shakespeare in the woods, Sarah Kane’s Blasted in an actual hotel room, and – as the name of this website may have told you – pub-set plays in actual pubs. I can’t recall any one of those being preceded by the advisory that the show could be “shut down by the police at any moment.”

Such was the case yesterday at 2pm outside the SFPD Mission station. I’d seen on Twitter that Theater MadCap would be staging a special performance of You’re Gonna Cry for the so-called “Frisco 5”, so I decided to check it out. For those who don’t know, the Frisco 5 are five SF activists and politicians (Edwin Lindo is running for District 9 Supervisor) who are staging a hunger strike in front of the Mission station in protest of police-related killings by the SFPD. They plan to continue their strike until Police Chief Greg Suhr resigns from his post. Despite the word “Frisco” rubbing me the wrong way, I sympathized with their cause and am always interested in the intersection of art and social justice. The very idea that art can be used for genuine social change is one that still gets my blood pumping.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

The “early bird” audience consisted of the strikers themselves, reporters from various news outlets and websites (one cameraman from KTVU was captured everything), twenty-or-so students from Mission High who took the day off to witness protest first-hand. Given that Flores’ one-man show begins in 1995, I was struck by the fact that none of these kids were even alive when this all took place.

I remember clearly what San Francisco was like that year (I was 14) just as I remember that dot-com bubble that followed. I also remember that it as being the first time I took a theatre class and the first time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I wanted to perform, I wanted to get in touch with my Blackness, I wanted to fully embrace every part of this great, big world that had now been opened up to me. All of those memories came flooding back as Flores put on many hats – literally and figuratively – and I scribbled down notes as traffic occasionally drowned him out.

Most of it was the business-as-usual collection of garbage trucks and mail carriers, but there were also the occasional pointed honks of solidarity from motorists who held their raised fists out their windows. Several folks stood across the street to take photos and get a better look, though they couldn’t hear what was said. Since the performance was in the street’s bike lane, quite a few Schwinn-enabled hipsters swerved around the crowd with bewildered looks on their faces. About 15 or 20min. into the performance, another motorist drove by to show neither curiosity or support. A White man over 40, he began using his horn as a punching bag and angrily shouting “Go home! Go HOME!!!” to all gathered. Since he drove by during a green light, he was as gone as quick as he’d appeared.

Through all of this, Flores never missed a beat. Sliding from one persona to the next, it makes sense that a play about the colorful characters who used to inhabit the Mission be staged amongst and for the colorful character who inhabit the Mission now. Jumping from Spanish to English and back again, the high schoolers in attendance seemed most receptive of all. As much as it pisses me off when people call to “kill off Shakespeare” – claiming that he’s obsolete in contemporary theatre and curricula – I get equally pissed by people who say that youngsters couldn’t possibly take an interest in theatre, given their supposedly short attention spans. The teens gathered yesterday contradicted that theory.

We were told that the SFPD could shut down the performance at any minute. This gave the show an air of uncertainty and unease when uniformed officers gathered at the corner of 17th &Valencia. Flores made it a good 50-or-so minutes through his performance without fail before he finally had to stop. To our surprise, it wasn’t the SFPD that stopped him.

Through a chorus of drum beats and chants heard from a block away, the 20-some-odd Mission High students were joined by a massive crowd of students from Everett Junior High School. Flores kindly relinquished his “stage” to these young supporters as they took turns extolling words of encouragement to the strikers.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

It was then that I had another one of those moments. You know the ones. I’ve occasionally mentioned them during my column posts this year. It’s a moment that happens in spite of people saying “No one goes to theatre”. It happens in spite of my being told that my generation “is fucked and the next generation is double-fucked.” It happens in spite of everyone telling me “SF is so over”.

It’s the moment when I know they’re all wrong and I remember why I do what I do. I watched an effective peaceful protest in my hometown, punctuated by a moving performance, interrupted by a show of support from active youth. That’s almost everything I could want out of theatre.

On the BART ride home I just happened to see Barbara’s interview with Paul Flores get posted as I was already planning to write this very piece. I had no idea she’d interviewed him, so don’t mistake this for a two-part advertisement for his show. Still, I find it appropriate that both pieces run so close together, as they both present two important parts of the artistic process. The interview represented the artist’s intentions, this piece sees it in practice. Whether or not they’ve succeeded is up to you (this isn’t a review of the show), but I’m glad I got to observe it with the usual restrictions removed.

Charles Lewis III is in a show this weekend, but will definitely see You’re Gonna Cry during its run, which begins tomorrow and runs until May 28th. The “Frisco 5” protest has no end date in sight.

The Real World- Theater Edition: Interview with Paul S. Flores

Barbara Jwanouskos (on a different day) chats with Paul S. Flores about You’re Gonna Cry.

This week, I was lucky enough to coordinate with Eric Reid and Paul S. Flores to talk about You’re Gonna Cry, the new show that will be opening soon at Theater Madcap. Paul developed a play that sounds incredible and is in response to the gentrification of the Mission, which has lead to the displacement of communities of color. He is an artist that uses his gifts to direct and open conversations about events that have had devastating effects on the communities he cares about.

Paul works with, is influenced by, and grew as a theater artist with some of my mentors and heroes in the theater scene — people I consider to be extremely talented in their way to access parts of the soul and provide such depth and complexity to their art. Paul and I talk about You’re Gonna Cry, creative process, and Paul’s thoughts on theater and the Bay Area.

I hope you will enjoy the interview below and then, of course, experience the show he created that is coming up…

Paul S. Flores. Photo credit: Ramsey El Qare

Paul S. Flores. Photo credit: Ramsey El Qare

Barbara: How did you get interested in theater and especially in creating new work?

Paul: I came out of the Spoken Word scene of the 1990’s in San Francisco’s Mission District. My first group or performance ensemble was Los Delicados, a Latino hybrid of spoken word, song and dance, and AfroCuban drumming—kind of like the Latino version of The Last Poets meets Perez-Prado. I evolved from performance poetry into Hip-Hop Theater in 2001 collaborating with Marc Bamuthi Joseph on the first Hybrid Project at Intersection for the Arts. Then I got my first commissioned play in 2004 from Su Teatro (in Denver) and the National Performance Network; it was called Fear of a Brown Planet. We toured that all over the nation, mostly to Latino theaters. I have written four plays since that have all toured. I have only been interested in creating new original works. Voice is most important to me. I am a writer by training. So I only do original work.

Barbara: What’s your approach? Any particular stylistic tools/techniques you like using in your work? Why?

Paul: I have apprenticed as a theater artist with theater makers and directors like Sean San Jose, Guillermo Gomez Peña, Elia Arce, Danny Hoch, Kamilah Forbes, Michael John Garcés, Brian Freeman. I did not study theater in any institution. I’m a theater outsider. And I’m not loyal to any genre—I use them all. I am committed to experience and healing my community through whatever artistic and organizing methods I can channel. But I love theater for its live ritual. My approach is what I called social practice theater. I focus first to social issues—gang violence, immigrant struggles, racial profiling, male gender stereotypes—and apply interview research methods to development. I partner with social service organizations to base stories on experiences from their constituency. Language authenticity is number one. I’m not an actor in the sense of training. I’m an actor whose purpose is to realize the message in my writing as an immediate visceral experience—what I see and endure so does the audience. I’m not spoon feeding anyone a list of recommendations for social ills. I’m presenting people as they are, how I see them. And creating an opportunity for audiences to recognize the systemic problems around them. And I hope to offer a path to healing through the work I create.

Barbara: Tell me about You’re Gonna Cry. How did it come about? Anything you were responding to?

Paul: Initially I was responding to a call for creating work that addressed the connection of new technology and changing demographics. John Kilacky from the SF Foundation commissioned a short, initial iteration of You’re Gonna Cry in 2009. I lived in the Mission during the 1990s and saw the introduction of the dot-com tech industry tear apart my neighborhood with greed: greedy investors/venture capitalists created greedy landlords which created greedy new residents which altered the culture and community of The Mission District. I attended so many evictions parties then. My friends were forced out of the neighborhood. A vibrant community of collaboration and justice minded artist collectives and ensembles were disintegrated. Many who stuck around turned all our energy to telling the story of systemic oppression expressed in gentrification (begun with Willie Brown’s statement in 1998 “you need to make $80,000 a year to live in San Francisco” to Mayor Lee’s tax breaks for tech companies like Twitter and Zynga). We had to become political artists to survive. We had to tell the story as a record and as a means to organize. Gentrification is violence. Displacement is violence. Poverty is violence. Erasure of cultural memory is violence. Being priced out of your arts practice is violence. Homelessness is violence. Police bring violence. We see the effects of gentrification in the deaths of Alex Nieto and Luis Gongora. So when you think about the effect of gentrification, behind the façade improvements, the increased appearance of cafes and high priced boutiques, the “Urban Safari” truck painted like a zebra driving past Galeria de La Raza on 24th Street, stopping to take pictures of me while I rehearse in the studio, it’s a crying shame, a cause for rage. Painful.

Barbara: How did you and Eric Reid come to work together and what are your future plans?

Paul: Eric reached out to me a couple years ago to participate in a theater activity at his theater Inner Mission that was targeting theater makers and playwrights of color. Eric was recruiting playwrights on Facebook. I went to an event and was inspired by his vision to create space for Bay Area theater artists of color.

Then last year 2015 I had an opportunity to hire a manager, and I needed production support for the tour of my play PLACAS (www.placas.org) starring Ric Salinas of Culture Clash. I hired Eric to be my manager, and to help me produce the California tour of PLACAS. Working together we realized we both wanted SF Theater to represent the community that we are inspired by: the Mission and the Fillmore—both gentrified. In November I performed a one-off of You’re Gonna Cry at the White Privilege Conference at St. Ignatius High School. Eric also did production on that show. He thought bringing the show back for a new version would tie perfectly into the current activism to stop police violence and evictions. We are on the same wavelength. We want theater to advance the causes we believe in.

Barbara: How do you like being an artist in the Bay Area? What are the unique characteristics of living, working, developing art here?

Paul: The Bay Area, especially San Francisco and Oakland, inspires critical thinking, civic engagement and prolific creativity in modes of communication. Liberation not innovation is the primary theme here. I will not waiver on that. I don’t believe tech innovation defines us, not now and definitely not then.

I am a California loyalist. I chose San Francisco instead of New York to ground my art and represent California culture nationally, globally. I am San Francisco. The Bay Area has nurtured me since 1995. We created Los Delicados in The Mission. Around the same time we also created Youth Speaks in the Mission, and I used to teach writing workshops for teenagers at Southern Exposure Gallery when it was part of Project Artaud. My fundamental voice as a writer/performer is informed by the Mission District—culturally rooted, community based performance that connects indigenous, Latino and African diasporic arts traditions. This urban indigenous ecosystem is the foundation of the Mission arts venues that cultivated my work: Galeria de La Raza, Mission Cultural Center, CellSpace, Intersection for The Arts, Youth Speaks, Red Poppy, Brava, Project Artaud…so many. Even when I am integrating technology into my shows it’s always from the perspective of “How does the Latino community relate to it?” I almost always collaborate with Mission-based musicians and visual artists in my work—Marcus Shelby, Rio Yañez, Culture Clash, Greg Landau, Norman Zelaya, Dj Sake-1, Eric Norberg. I also have a lot of love for Oakland, which is grounded in roots culture, community organizing, polyculturalism, and immigrant co-existence. Bamuthi and I both lived together and created plays for a couple years in Oakland. My first docu-theater project was called “Fruitvale Project” directed by Elia Arce, and produced by La Peña. I shadowed a Cambodian immigrant refugee named Kong, who escaped the Khmer Rouge, while he documented damage after the “Raider Riots,” in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. I performed as Kong. At the same time Bamuthi was working on Word Becomes Flesh, and Scourge about Black and Haitian identity through the lense of hip-hop theater. We informed each other in the early years of our growth. So to be an artist in the Bay Area is to be immersed in culture, conflict, tradition and prolific social and political interaction.

Barbara: I want to ask you about gentrification and the Mission — your thoughts and how it’s reflected in the show — what you are exploring?

Paul: You’re Gonna Cry specifically tears the façade off the Mission of the 1990s and lets the audience see inside the homes and lives of Mission natives, immigrants, techies and artists. The piece contextualizes the concept of gentrification—economically motivated culture shift of a neighborhood—by highlighting what is powerful about the culture of the neighborhood. Which also reveals how such a place like the Mission can be vulnerable to gentrification and evictions. We see how violent gentrification really is as new residents from a different economic class use real estate to impose their will on the neighborhood’s already existing social relations which creates massive conflict. When the dot-com industry of the 1990s was introduced, newly monied tech industry workers and venture capitalists from Wisconsin and Michigan fell in love with the physical beauty and vibrant action of the Mission District, but they didn’t try to get to the know the lives of its native population: people who were born and raised in The Mission. Instead internet business people wanted to appropriate what was already thriving, and then change it to fit their needs. It’s like this real estate trend of maintaining original classic external of a building but gutting the inside to make it modern. Gentrification is American post-colonialism. It is late 20th century capitalist culture. In the name of new experiences for the wealthy (lofts, bars, restaurants, doggy hotels, indoor mini-golf), it leaves immigrants and poorer people behind without a care for their well-being.

I play about 12 characters from different generations, genders, races, interests on the block of 24th and York St. The characters reveal the neighborhood. I don’t spell anything out for you. I use music, spoken word, dance, monologue, puppets, video. This is an impressionistic portrait. Nothing is obvious. You must listen and feel what each character says to understand all the connections between them and their stake in the neighborhood.

Barbara: Can you tell me your creative influences, heroes, and things you would love to do but haven’t (yet!)?

Paul: My heroes are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amy Winehouse, Miguel Piñero, Miles Davis, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Oliver Mayer, Leon Ichaso. My influences are my colleagues and friends Norman Zelaya, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Danny Hoch, Culture Clash, Mayda del Valle, Elia Arce, Saul Williams, Tanya Saracho.

I want to work with Rosalba Rolon from Pregones Theater and musician Yosvanny Terry on a musical theater piece about Cuban emigres of the 1990s. I want to write a story of folks who came to the US during Cuba’s Special Period, after the fall of the Soviet Union, when financial sponsorship of Cuba was halted. I want to write about their story in the US. I am a big fan of Cuban music and of Pregones.

I want to write TV. I want to create a show like The Wire but about the Oakland school district from state take-over to the current push to turn all the schools into charters. Oakland Unified is the American public school system. It is ripe with drama and characters, and I want to write the TV. Make the heroes teachers on TV instead of fucking cops.

Barbara: What are your thoughts on the Bay Area theater scene and anything you would change?

Paul: Bay Area theater is small, exciting and functioning at a certain level. There is good work out here: Michael Torres directed MAS at Laney College, Sean San Jose recently directed Chavez Ravine at UC Berkeley, the Magic did Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. Ubuntu Theater is very interesting. I am sad we lost Octavio Solis to Oregon Shakes. I’m not happy Campo Santo doesn’t have a home theater. I was excited to see Between Riverside and Crazy at ACT. But I wonder why they didn’t do Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Hudes. Maybe one day Berkeley Rep will invest in new Latino playwrights from the Bay Area… I just came out of a 10 year partnership with the San Francisco International Arts Festival who commissioned two of my plays (PLACAS, and Representa!). It was very fruitful, and I am thankful to Andrew Wood’s support. And I am entering into theater commissions with Loco Bloco and Youth Speaks on two plays about police violence and gentrification—which I just received the Gerbode Playwriting Commission for, and for which Sean San Jose will direct my play Arresting Life. I’ve also been in the Tenderloin rehearsing more, and I wonder what theaters like the Exit, PianoFight and Cutting Ball will do to develop artists from that neighborhood. I don’t think the current state of Equity makes anything any better when no one can afford to own a building. National theater networks are growing. A lot of talk about White Privilege. A lot of talk about making theater more diverse. I don’t really see it though. A lot of smart talk. Very little smart action on the part of regional theaters. They are worried about legacy and job hoarding. I was recently at South Coast Rep. I met the entire “Artistic” creative wing of their massive theater. All of them white. Nice people. But not a single black or brown leader in the artistic division. That is typical to me. So I keep working with non-traditional theaters, or non-traditional partners, making work that matters to the empowerment of our people. I will not beg regional theaters to include me, nor will I conform to their cultural standards of what they think good theater is. Not while theater critics keep describing Latinos as “spicy” or “hot.” I do love the conflict though. It helps create meaning. You find purpose, and can be inspired to be a mentor to other artists. The imbalance of resources in theater forces us to address history. I will work with individuals whose work I admire. Wherever they are.

Barbara: Thoughts/words of wisdom for others out there who want to do what you do?

Paul: Work your networks. Cultivate community. Believe in your friends. Donate time and money to your friends’ work. When the work is hard, you are doing the thing you were meant to be doing. Nothing happens overnight. Take time when creating theater. Do not rush it. Nothing worthwhile should come easy. Take risks: reach out to people you don’t know that well but who you are interested in. Practice compassion. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Find love in all the interactions you have. Try to identify with people who are in pain. Ask them who their family is. Ask: Tell me who loves you? Lead with healing.

Barbara: Plugs for friends’ things or anything else we should check out?

Paul: Check out On The Hill, my next production about the death of Alex Nieto at the hands of the San Francisco Police. I am collaborating with Loco Bloco and Eric Reid. Coming to Brava Theater in October 2016.

"You're Gonna Cry" by Paul S. Flores

You’re Gonna Cry by Paul S. Flores

You’re Gonna Cry by Paul S. Flores and produced by Theater MadCap, is playing May 6-28th at the Phoenix Theater. For more information, go here.

Follow the Vodka: Everyday Theatricality!

Robert Estes, theater’s super-tailgater.

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Ah, the dedication of the night columnist! Late on a Monday night, I’m still diligently laboring at the newest gin joint in the city, White Chapel (600 Polk Street). This place is a fantastical recreation of an abandoned tube station in London; well, except that the station in question, White Chapel is actually still operating. Here, though, the imaginary abandoned station has become a lovingly rendered 1890s gin palace.

When I first looked at White Chapel’s extensive drink menu, I fell in love with the two page listing of twenty-two drinks under the heading “The Martini Family.” Who knows if the dates and descriptions given to all the drinks are academically accurate; I’m not interested in fact-checking the menu, only drink-checking it. So, tonight I began my ginventure by having the first drink on the list, the Pink Gin (dated 1840s), composed of Plymouth Gin and angostura bitters.

I love that the early reviews for this place kept mentioning all the “fake” things about the recreation, such as fake water damage. My theater self couldn’t help but say, it’s not fake, it’s distressed, it’s Theater!

Indeed, it’s fascinating to realize how many bars in the city have become insanely popular by creating an immersive theatrical experience for their drinkers, I mean patrons. An entity called Future Bars now owns nine different local bars, all theatrically presented, ranging from the just opened Pagan Idol tiki bar to the old-standby Bourbon and Branch speakeasy.

It makes me think that so often in theater we wonder how to attract an audience, yet somehow people outside of us, use our rough magic to create very popular events. Even real estate agents know in their bones how important it is to the sale price of a property for it to be properly “staged” at the open house.

On a much greater scale, the mass popularity of sports rests on a ham-handed strict adherence to the principle of dramatic conflict. The “classic matchup” between this team and that one or this player and that one sells all! And franchises encourage theatricality on the part of their fans. One of the joys of going to a sporting event in person is to experience the unconscious theatricality of everyday people as they come to cheer on their team.

I always laugh to myself when I happen to be on a Sunday morning BART train on the day of a Oakland Raiders home game. Raiders fans are legendary for their elaborate costumes, intricate makeup, and outlandish accessories! I would love to compliment them on their detailed and beautiful theatricality, but I also wish to retain my front teeth, so I just smile to myself. But if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend surreptitiously checking out the character-specific costuming choices of the rebel/pirate/Star Wars/Hells’s Angel’s Raider Nation.

And on a smaller, humbler, yet just as faithful way, please notice the down-scale yet touching outfits of the long-suffering A’s fan. They still wear player jerseys from the 1970s. Being the team of my single-digit -year days (oh the love of an 8 -and-a-half-year-old for his team), I still am, on the inside, a fan wearing my Dad’s San Francisco Giants cap inside-out in shame in the bleachers in 1969, when that area was known as Reggie’s Regiment. It was a cold night and my dad would not let me go bare-headed.

Just the other day, after spending the last ten months indoors in rehearsal and performance for five consecutive shows, I happily returned to the Coliseum for a day game. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel the connection in so many ways between baseball and theater. Both are places of memories. There are ghosts on the playing field just as on the playing stage. Looking out at the infield where the shortstop plays, I see Campy Campaneris, Rob Picciolo, Alfredo Griffin, Walt Weiss, just as when I look at various Bay Area stages, I see Tony Amedola, Lorri Holt, John Bellucci, Michelle Morain, Sarah Moser.

I still remember the first that I saw James Carpenter. He was a young man in Otherwise Engaged at the Berkeley Rep in 1984. Like most theatergoers, I’ve seen him so many times since then, all the way from his nervous comic performance in Paint it Red at the Rep to a slithery Stanley in The Birthday Party at the Aurora. It was kind of a shock when he started playing the older, patriarchal “ravenous Earls” in Shakespeare. (Maybe we’ve both gotten older!) Still, it’s been fun to follow his career. Just like it’s been fun to follow my favorite baseball players as a fan.

kind of wish that theater had more of the “true fans” just like baseball. The true fan attends the game even if their team isn’t doing very well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a devoted group of people who rooted for us! Let’s go, PianoFight! Three-peat! Well, maybe PF does have those fans! Seriously, though, as my previous night column touched on, it would be great if we could support theater without it always having to be (allegedly) amazing.

Yet we’re kind of lucky in theater when compared to athletes, because everything we do is subjective. Pity the poor baseball player who’s having a bad year! Could you see your worst review being highlighted every day by the theater company where you perform? In baseball, every team shows the player’s statistics before every at-bat. “Now standing at the plate to deliver To Be or Not to Be, the actor with the .198 batting average for the season!” Shudder.

Perhaps perversely, I admit that I actually enjoy going to baseball games when my team isn’t doing as well. It’s almost like going to an audition as the marginal players engage in a Darwinian struggle to remain alive in the show (major leagues). I remember one actor saying that he thought certain audience members deliberately chose to attend the first preview of every show because they wanted to see a trainwreck. Of course, life-long humiliation is one of darker sides to sports…who will ever forget the name of the Boston Red Sox’s first baseman who let the ground ball go through his legs in a World Series game thirty years ago?

In the make-believe of theater, where every corpse arises for a joyful linking of hands for the curtain call, we all live for another day, I hope without humiliation. Still, it takes bravery for actors to be absolutely vulnerable in front of so many people. The nerves of the athlete under pressure must surely be like the nerves of the actor. And for the fans, it is their personal nerves in watching that bind them to the emotional event of the game or the play.

Personally, baseball has influenced my work in theater. Last summer, I directed an adapted version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 called Falstaff! in which the great rogue was played by six different women. The women would also play other roles and the men changed roles as well, so Prince Hal could be Poins and vice versa. The first performance or two was kind of confusing as we worked out the switches, but as the production moved forward, I was pleased that the show developed a great feeling of generosity as everyone had an equal part in carrying the whole play. By the end it was actually like a baseball game where everyone gets their turn at the plate. And for the audience, it was exciting because they weren’t quite sure who they would see playing what role next.

I’ve often thought that the advantage of sports over theater is that we don’t know what will happen in sports. Why couldn’t we, just one time, with no announcement, alter the ending to one of Shakespeare’s plays? Wouldn’t it be great if Emilia said, “Hey, wait a minute, I gave that handkerchief to my husband”? Could you imagine the gasps from the audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival if they did that? There could be riots!

Perhaps the appeal of the Shotgun Players’ current Hamlet (running for the next year!), where everyone in the cast learned the entire show and each actor is assigned their part for a particular performance only 5 minutes before show time, comes from each show being part theater and part sports. You really don’t know what will happen each night. And, being honest, there’s a higher chance of a trainwreck on stage each night, which again, is part of the appeal of sports. I wonder if each show seems to the actors like an athletic game, where nightly success or failure is a more open question than in a conventional production.

But then in baseball, we see success and failure in every game. We also see practice. Yes, go the park two hours before game time and you can see batting practice. I wonder if it would be possible to open our theater houses early and let our fans (oh again, how I would love to have fans) see the vocal warm-ups or fight call. For the true fans that would really make attending theater like attending a baseball game!

Well, how much of all of this found synchronicity between baseball and theater is just fine Plymouth gin speaking? This 1840s-era drink is fiery and it’s numbing my tongue! Now as the bar closes and my rambling thoughts on the connections between baseball and theater grow ever more tenuous, I’ll just say Play Theater!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing Sticky Icky!

Announcing our next show!

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Urban Dictionary describes “sticky icky icky” as a phrase “used by Snoop Dogg to mean highly potent, sticky green buds.”

Sticky Icky, written and directed by Colin Johnson, is a new, highly potent stoner zom-com-pocalypse play making its world premiere! 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. Join Theater Pub in this fast-paced and smoke-filled journey which begs the question, “Are you feeling it?”

Sticky Icky plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, May 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, May 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, May 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, May 31 @ 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!

See you at the Pub!

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