Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Reviewers Suck

Claire Rice bravely talks about one of the Bay Area theater scene’s biggest elephants in the room.

“Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing.” – Joyce Carol Oates

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I’ve written on this blog multiple times that honesty about our opinions on the art around us shouldn’t be condemned, but is itself a necessary element of the act of creation. We do not create in or for a void. I myself go on and on about my wishes, my favorite things and my awkward (and possibly hypocritical) feelings about pretentious theatre. While I believe what I say has merit, it also is done on an utterly volunteer basis. My opinions matter to me, but they will not be part of the historical record of events. Whatever my impact has been as a writer for this blog (whether it has induced eye rolling or link clicking or whatever) I have my doubts about any sort of prolonged impact. Despite the fact that it’s called “Enemy’s List”, it is more or less a victimless blog.

This is not true of reviewers. These are the men and women we reserve seats for, hand press packets to, and have debates back stage about how to interpret their laughter or their sighs. Their opinions do matter. When a person is paid for their review it has a legitimizing effect on both the writer and the show. It means that the opinion was worth paying for and the show was worthy of the time it took to see it and write about it. This is, of course, an over simplification; but then to your average civilian who is looking for either a) something to read about while on the train or b) something to do on a Friday night none of this background matters. They only have what is right in front of them in black and white. This person’s opinion is worthy of print and this show is worthy of being reviewed.

In my day job I’m asked to research news items from “legitimate sources” for evidence in cases to be presented to our government. The government still operates on the premise that if it is in print it is “legitimate”, which is why when you create a business and you have to post your business name it must be in a printed newspaper. These sorts of things may be the only thing keeping the printed word a float: people paying to legitimize themselves. It certainly isn’t the news or people’s opinions of art. So print news sources have had to cut back to the minimum.

Which means critics and reviewers are a dying breed.

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Reviewing used to be one of the avenues for writers to earn an income while writing books, or poetry, or plays or something. Now that there is so much free space on the internet, the phrase “everyone is a critic” is literal. Social networking is dependent on opinionated people dispensing of their opinions for free. Or, a person can start up a blog, sell ads for revenue, and start saying whatever they want about anything. Aggregates like Huffington Post aren’t necessarily curators of these blogs when they re-post them. Sometimes they are, sometimes the relationship is based on algorithms.

Is a person now legitimate because of their click rate? The title of this post is “Reviewers Suck”. This is a little bit of the old bait and switch. I don’t think reviewers suck. But if a lot of people read this, does it mean it is legitimate? Am I the one who decides something like that? Is it you, the reader? Is it a reviewer of blogs? If this blog gets an award does it mean it should be taken more or less seriously?

I would like to reiterate that I don’t think reviewers suck. I do think the relationship between the reviewers and the reviewed is always fraught with emotion.

I didn’t invent being butt-hurt due to an unfavorable review.

“Asking a working writer what he things about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs.” – John Osborne

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What I do wonder is, who are the reviewers I should be listening to? Who are the reviewers that anyone should be listening to?

And when is it ok for me to be critical of them?

Taylor Mac commented on fellow Theater Pub blogger’s Facebook page to call her out for her opinions on his show “Hir”. You can read her post here. Unfortunately, the conversation happened on her page on Facebook, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to link to it. Marissa’s opinion of “Hir” did not illicit a loving and positive response from Taylor Mac and he felt the need to reach out and tell her so. Is it because she isn’t a published reviewer, but her thoughts are published on her personal blog, so he felt she was approachable? Is it because she is a big fan of his and he felt he could change her mind? Is it because he’d gotten several favorable reviews and this one was the one contrary one? Did he get too many unfavorable ones and this one was the straw that broke his back?

Whatever the reason, we’ve all wanted to do it.

I do sympathize with him. We’ve all wanted to publicly lambast our detractors. We’ve all wanted to pull apart their critiques piece by piece and present evidence that refutes their beliefs. We’ve all wanted to cross our arms and stop our feet and say “But we sold out! I’ve had many people say they loved it! You are just too (old, white, stupid, irrelevant, apathetic, jaded, sheltered, biased) to get it!”

“Reviewers , with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

A reader can develop a relationship with a critic over time and come to trust their taste and their expertise. A reader can also come to trust that they will disagree with whatever a critic may say. I really only read theatre reviews after I’ve seen a play. In which case, I am either looking for someone to agree with me (because I like that) or someone to vocally disagree with (because I like that too.)

But, in this atmosphere of fly by night bloggers, Gold Star reviewers, social media status updates, aggregators, and dying print media; how do we develop relationships with reviewers? And I do mean develop. The people coming out of college and starting up little theatre companies, who do they email to invite to shows? Who’s opinions to do they take seriously and who’s do they silently tolerate? Who is legitimate?

In the heat of the moment, after reading five hundred or so words on something I’ve worked the better part of a year on, I am willing to dismiss the whole lot. But I know this isn’t fair or correct.

But, here are the things I want for our reviewers and critics in the Bay Area:

I want more of them.

I want them to be younger and hungrier.

I want them to be well informed culture omnivores.

I want them to have cult like followings.

I want them to be better writers then I am.

I want them to be openly critical of each other.

I want them to be openly critical of and write often about the whole Bay Area scene.

I want them to work the whole Bay Area.

I want them to have a sense of history in their reviews.

I want them to be rewarded and awarded for their efforts.

I’m not looking for a reviewer or critic who will be “on my side”. I’m not hoping that with a critical mass of writers there will be one out there who “gets my work”.

“Loyalty in a critic is corruption.” – George Bernard Shaw

“You need a high degree of corruption or a very big heart to love absolutely everything.”
– Gustave Flaubert

But I will say that there are some reviewers and critics who I don’t take seriously, whether it is mine or someone else’s work they are commenting on. I will also say I don’t feel like there is a guiding star to tell me who I should take seriously and who I shouldn’t. I can’t be the only one who feels this way. And since reviewing our reviewers is the only real taboo in theatre, I’ll leave you with that.

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Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: And Now a Note without a Suicide

Claire Rice on the Year of the Rat.

Madam life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

– William Ernest Henley

Rat_Girl

I’ve spent the last year of my life contemplating incomplete suicides and other deaths. I’ve killed a great number of people on stage in a variety of ways. Sometimes I’ve written their deaths and sometimes I’ve directed them. Once or twice I’ve acted them. It often surprises me how flippant in the moment I can be about death, but after all the actor will get up and walk off stage in the dark only moments later. Crudely, it is often just one tool in the great storytelling tool box. Character B must die to show that Character A has lost all humanity. Meanwhile, Director A and Playwright B have spent hours going back and forth on the best method to bring about Character B’s demise. Should we slit the throat? Hang from rafter? Drown in a well? Poison? How fun it is to play at such violent fictions.

But this year has been the year of the Rat. Kristin Hersh’s Rat Girl, that is. In particular, I’ve spent the last year contemplating the climax of act one where she attempts to end her own life. I spent hours contemplating her method of death. Her door out. In the end I choose a violent and painful end. She picks up a discarded and used box cutter from the clutter that surrounds her. The tool yields itself up out of her world as if she’s bidden it to come. The box cutters appear during a discussion of the death of god, perception and responsibility, art and creation.

But it isn’t easy. The idea is there. The tool is there. The will is there. The need is there. Everything except the action.

In literal time it takes about ten minutes to get there.

In stage action time it takes two full songs and a monologue to get there.

In play time it takes a sleepless night, the purgatory of a hallucination, the stalemate between the fractured self and the sane self, and a calm acceptance of deeper desires.

And then she is reborn. At the top of act II she’s faced her own death at her own hands and now has to move forward and deal with consequences of that battle: the pain on the faces of her loved ones who feel betrayed and scared, the condescension of professionals who’ve seen it all before and the dismissal of those who expect nothing less of an artist. She’s died, but she hasn’t yet decided to live. As the evidence of the value and worth of her life piles up around her, she still cannot be sure. How can she be? How can we demand of her to hurry up and start living when she knows just how close death is and how easily it can be willed closer? At any moment the door out can be manifested before us and we can choose to walk through it or stand before it still.

When she finally chooses life she does so with her own voice.

How long does it take for her to find that voice?

In literal time it takes two hours and thirty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission.

In stage action time it takes about 38 short scenes split between two acts, several songs, a few monologues and two car scenes.

In play time it takes a crisis of identity, a swim in the ocean, a loss of a friend, a terrible accident, multiple discussions about art, the value of art (and thus the value of the self), a lonely suicide, a fractured survival, a move, a pregnancy, a validation, disillusionment, an escape and a return (all in all about a year and change).

Maybe in future productions it won’t take that much literal time, or that many songs or that many car scenes. Maybe in future productions it will take longer. But it will never be easy and it will never be separated from the discussion of art. How could it be? How could the life of an artist, who lives to created, not be filled with discussions on the value of that creation? The perceived value of that creation? The act of creation? Its place in the world? Its place among other art? The difference between art and product?

Of all the deaths on stage, it is this near death that has been the most difficult for me and the most rewarding to contemplate and put out into the world. It isn’t mine. It’s so many other people’s before it is mine, but it is so close to me.

I refuse to allow this death to be easy, or the life that follows it. I refuse to make it simple or direct, because it isn’t.

I’ve taken death on stage for granted, but I refuse to take the choice to live on stage for granted any more. And I’m not going to let you take it for granted either.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Gone Fishing

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List will return in two weeks.

In the mean time, go see Kristin Hersh’s RAT GIRL adapted for the stage by Stuart Bousel at DIVAfest. Get your tickets at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/577015

You can support current and future DIVAfest projects here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/divafest-2014

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Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Revolutions Don’t Start in Gilded Halls

Claire Rice can hear the people sing.

El Teatro de la Esperansa occupied a small corner of the Red Stone Building on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission. The Redstone is full of non-profit organizations that fall around every end of the spectrum; from social change organizations to arts organizations to support groups to animal welfare. There is also a wonderful empanada place on the ground level. The Red Stone also housed Theatre Rhinoceros and Luna Sea Theatre, both of which lay follow now.

I spent more than six years working in El Teatro de la Esperansa.

It was moldy. It was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It’s walls were too thin, the music from the art gallery below was too loud, and it’s equipment was old and grumpy. The booth was like a tree house that had to be climbed into through a small hole. Everything smelled weird. The risers were so worn they groaned in pain. There were never enough lights. The speakers were blown. The doorways were too short for tall people and too narrow for wheel chairs. The building owner’s son would throw illegal midnight raves in the space next door. Squatters complained that the rehearsals were too loud. The landlord was never available. And the bathrooms were definitely haunted.

I had some of the best times of my life in that building.

The little black box got its name from the company that built it. El Teatro de la Esperansa was founded in part by Roderigo Duarte Clark in LA and then moved up to San Francisco. Roderigo was a leader in Chicano theatre. El Teatro de la Esperansa produced bilingual touring shows and fostered playwrights like Josefina Lopez, Roy Conboy and Guillermo Reyes. You can read more about Roderigo here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977239022 and here: http://articles.latimes.com/1993-10-12/entertainment/ca-45067_1_el-teatro-campesino

Roy Conboy, a faculty member in the SF State Creative Writing Program, brought Greenhouse to that little theatre in the Mission. Greenhouse gives graduate students at SF State an opportunity to work with professional directors and actors to present new plays in reading. It was through this program I saw the first readings of plays by Karen Macklin, Chris Chen, Elizabeth Gjelten, Peter Sinn Natchtrieb, and Elizabeth Creely (among many others). I worked with Roy Conboy to produce several of his plays there. After I graduated, Gabrielle Gomez and I rented the theatre and produced three plays (by Gabrielle Gomez, Megan O’Patry and myself) as well as a reading series. I saw plays evolve there and find their feet. I saw writers fail, struggle and get back up and work again. I saw writers find their voices.

It’s in places like this where it all begins. Ugly, dangerous places. These dark corners of the world are romantic in the rear view, even if they feel frustratingly small and ignored at the time. But there is so much freedom in places where the rent is cheap and no one is really watching what you are doing. In these dark corners you are beholden to no one but yourself. Any audience you get is a gift, because they had to work so hard to get to your out of the way and mean little home. You do things that are crazy because there isn’t anyone to tell you that you can’t or you shouldn’t. And it doesn’t always work. So often it fails. And it fails like a supernova because you learn by doing. Slowly. Painfully. Beautifully.

These dark corners of the world incubate.

And it is so wonderful.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. Every company in that theatre will have a weird name. They’ll fuck and fight and die out. They’ll sing and celebrate and move out. They’ll laugh and cringe and dance out. They’ll grind and shake and rock out. They’ll come and go as they age and change and improve.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. A small, poorly funded, off the beaten track theatre. Places where you can be the first to see something. That “something” is the next thing. The thing that will in ten, twenty or thirty years be at Berkeley Rep, Steppenwolf, or The Public. The thing that will change the world. I don’t know what it will be. It’s an adventure. It’s a failure. It’s a triumph. It is mediocre. It is sloppy. It is lazy. It is powerful. It is life affirming. It is a good night out. It is a bad date night. It is unsterilized, it still has all its sexual organs, it might have a splash zone, it will be full of naked men and it will monologue too much. It will have an out of tune piano that will play the most beautiful song you’ll never hear again. It will have a puppet that offends you so much you tell your grandchildren about it. It will have Shakespeare, Shaw, Shepard and every other “S” playwright. It will have no name, no name, no name and you’ll still love it. You’ll be the only person in the house and you’ll be standing in the back for three hours and loving it. You’ll be afraid to use the bathroom and you’re bike will get stolen. You’ll fall in love with the lead actress and you’ll party with the stage manager. You’ll grin like a mad man and cry like a motherless child. It’ll be your classroom and your torture chamber. It is a story you’ll tell your friends. It’s the thing you always wanted to do and now you’re doing it. You found it. It’s yours. It’s your special place.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this.

Mojo Theatre currently resides in this space. You can check them out on their website at http://www.mojotheatre.com/.

If you know a theatre like this, where ever it may be, please let us all know in the comments below.

Claire’s Enemy’s List: I Have No Fucking Clue What I’m Doing

Claire Rice, ensuring I have to spend at least an hour downloading, uploading, and formatting all her photos.

My camera broke.

I think it’s an easy fix and I’m going to look into getting it repaired. It probably broke from a combination of neglect, abuse and age: but I can’t say for sure. When it comes to that thing, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

I just sort of aim, fire and hope.

I know fuck all about that particular piece of equipment. I love it. I love taking pictures and I feel like I’ve gotten lucky and I’ve taken some really good ones. But, unlike my life in theatre where I know why a thing is good, I can’t write an essay on photography. I can’t tell you why one photo is better than another. It just feels right. Oh, I could bullshit about it for a long time if you want to. I can use the knowledge I have of theatrical framing and…blah blah blah… I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I’m not going to bullshit further or wax poetic or pretend I know anything about what I’m doing. But I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t mind. Getting lucky is fun. It isn’t artful and there’s no craft in it.

But, because my camera broke and I’m feeling nostalgic about it, I want to show off some of my favorite photos.

Don’t worry. I have a super angry post that feels very Enemy’s List cooking in the background here.

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State
Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State
Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State  Elaine Gavin

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State
Elaine Gavin

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster Allison Page

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster
Allison Page

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre
Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest
Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men
James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub Neil Higgins

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub
Neil Higgins

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: One is the Loneliest Number

Claire Rice continues her meditation on the black box box office blues.

When all is said and done, even if we sell out all 588 seats to Rat Girl, there’s a chance that more people will have read this post then will have seen that play. And yet, that’s not a sad thing. A performance, even in a limited run, can still have an impact and be far reaching.

But we can’t measure the future. We can only count seats and hope. 588 is a lot of hope.

But that’s not the number I’m thinking about. That top number is rarely the number any of us think about.

We think about the One.

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The One Ticket Sold

You think to yourself, as you print out the Brown Paper Ticket list, that there isn’t a need to print it out. There’s only one name. You could have written it down. Maybe you’re friends who said they were coming will surprise you and come tonight. Those fuckers always wait until the last minute to buy their tickets.

You wait behind your gray cash box that you bought at Office Max all those months ago. It has a lock on it, but you don’t bother to use it and the keys are inside under the cash tray next to that ball point pen that doesn’t work and you keep meaning to throw away. You wait, looking across the hall at the other show that seems sold out. It has a stupid name and the people running their box office seem much too peppy. They smile at you politely, the way people do when they feel sorry for you. Your list sits next to your cash box.

“Ok,” you say to the actor who you’ve been working with one on one for months to get this show onto it’s feet. “So there is one sketchy looking dude out there and that’s it. We’ve already been holding for ten minutes, I don’t think anyone else is coming. Give it all you’ve got and I’ll see you after the show.” Like a coward you run out of the dressing room. You are also the stage manager so you have to bring the lights down and the music up. The guy looks sleepy. You silently curse your friends while musing that the music seems very loud now that there is no one in the house.

She comes out to begin the show. You remember telling her that if there were any time there were less people in the house then there were on stage then the show wouldn’t happen. But, you remind yourself, you said that when it was a two women show. Now it’s just her. Less than One is None and the show must go on.

The One Who Didn’t Come

After awhile, loved ones begin to realize that you are never going to give up this acting thing. They still love you and believe in you and want you to accomplish all of your dreams, but they have also grown weary of seeing everything you do. The terrible thing about landing your dream job is that it becomes a job. Your parents are proud of you, but no longer take special trips to see you do…your job. Your boyfriend has become your partner and, though he loves you, he’s decided he only wants to see the shows that are “really good.” Of course, after that Shaw festival he no longer trusts you on what you think “really good” is. And as open minded as he is, he can’t help feel uncomfortable watching you kiss other people in public like it’s no big deal. He mostly stays home.

You peek through the curtains at the audience. Strangers. All strangers. The director and the producer are excited. “We don’t know anyone out there!” they keep saying. The marketing campaigns have all paid off. No one in the audience had to be comped, bribed, begged or threatened to see the play. Yet, it feels like no one is out there at all. Just people. Nice people, hopefully, but just people. People you will never see again.

The One Who Did

You can’t help it. You stare at the back of his head and try to imagine what he’s thinking. Why did he look down then? Why did he look up? What is he looking at? You try and watch the show, but keep turning back and looking at that head. Why is his hand like that? What’s he doing with his leg? Does that mean he’s bored? Is he going to leave early? Is he going to leave before intermission? If he does, will he still write a review? Is that fair?

You try and calm down. It’s opening night. Everything is fucked. The costume designer ran in late with the costumes, crying that her car broke down on the way to the laundry matt and that they had closed early and she had to call the landlord to get the costumes out. Two of the lamps burnt out moments before house opened. The props person forgot to bring more cookies, so the actors have to eat the leftovers form last night. The lead has a cold and is demanding hot water with lemon to be brought back at every scene break. The house was over sold due to an error in the the ticketing software. Everything is fucked.

But you can’t take your eyes off the back of the reviewer’s head. What the hell is he thinking? Does he see all the flaws? As you stare at him, his shoulders move as if in a shrug. Is he reading your thoughts or itching his back on the chair? You look up at the stage to distract yourself. Someone jumps a cue and suddenly no one knows what to do. It’s that horrible moment in theatre where a mistake happens and everyone has forgotten how to be human. The stillness is unbearable. When it finally ends you see him writing something down. Oh god, this whole this is an unmitigated disaster. Everything is fucked.

The One Who Mattered

The words tumble out of their mouths and it seems inconceivable that they were ever in your head at all. It’s an out of body experience that isn’t entirely without pleasure, but mostly is full of discomfort. Every now and again they trip on them and you wince. Sometimes it’s your fault, to many words starting with the letter “s” all in a row. It’ll have to be cut in the next draft. Sometimes it’s their fault and you curse the actors for their laziness and the director for her stupidity. Then that part happens, with the flowers and the water, and it’s all magic again. You love everyone. They are more talented then you will ever be and you are humble and honored. Then you remember it all began with you and you feel big and bold and proud. You did this.

Then you see her.

A few rows in front of you and to the side enough that you can see most of her face. You never told her, but you wrote this play for her. This play is about her. This play has her as a main character. Sure, you invited her to come but you never thought she’d show up. Her husband sits next to her, holding her hand. They watch the play. The lights from the stage reflected on their faces. Suddenly you feel like a hack. You feel false. The words feel like daggers and everything is wrong.

You wrote about her fear of death and now an actress who is a younger version of her is monologuing about it at her. You want to die. You imagine running out of the theatre and throwing up in the waste bin outside or maybe going to the bar and ordering a triple shot of something terrible and numbing and then throwing up.

She’s crying.

She brings her hand up to her mouth. Her husband holds her to him. She watches a younger version of herself die poetically onstage. Everything goes dark.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: 588 if We’re Lucky

Claire Rice has luck on her side.. hopefully.

For whatever sins I have committed, I consider a recent show I sat through punishment enough. The slate is clean and I can start all over again. It feels good.

And, though it may seem contrary, it has made me remember why I love theatre.

In this day and age we are fatted on entertainment all day every day everywhere we go. We have games to while away the hour before the bus comes. We have libraries of books are at our beck and call. Every movie ever made and all the television shows can be watched and shared and commented on. Magazines and news sources are at every click of the mouse. And is it any wonder that we argue so strongly about the stupidest points when we have entertainment news programs yelling at each other 24 hours a day and when every website thrives on user comments as a kind of content. I swear I only read SFGate for the stupid fucking things its ugly minded commenters say. We can stalk our friends and loved ones for fun without the need to tell them we love them and wish them well. Porn can always always always be had. Entertainment is everywhere all the time. No experience dies entirely, it can all be recalled and dulled down to a nub of a memory until it becomes so inconsequential it might as well have not even happened and we must search again for the next entertainment.

But a theatrical performance is a finite and unique experience that can only exist in its form in single moment. It takes effort to participate in. The experience can be relocated, but never truly copied. The seventh viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life will change only because of all the outside forces around it, but that movie will be the same. The seventh viewing of Romeo and Juliet will never be the same as the first even if it is the same production. If you watch a recorded version of that performance, it will no longer be theatre. Not really. And I love that. Nothing can beat that.

I am directing a production of RAT GIRL that will go up in May. If we sell every seat every night, about 588 people will see it. And then it will be over. Gone. That is less than 0.07 of the population of San Francisco. That is an terribly small percentage of humanity. The chances of this show being almost a puff of nothing in the history of the art, of the world, is so high that when asked why I do what I do I am forced to stay that it must be I do it only for myself. And yet, I remember moments (big and small) that have utterly changed who I am as a person and an artist. These seemingly insignificant moments of theatre sent shockwaves through my mind and have brought me here to this moment. It isn’t that I would be happy or lucky if one among 588 feels the impact that I felt. It is that I hope to create a thing that each of those 588 people carry with them as they move out into the world and into their lives and into everything else they do.

Becca Kinskey Brown Bag Theatre

I spent about six years at San Francisco State University as a graduate student and then as an administrator and lecturer. (Yeah, they let me tech people and my mother fucking Oedipus lecture was both a joy to give and totally mother fucking interesting.) And over the years there I’ve seen many things that were both remarkable and beautiful. The Brown Bag Theatre had many of those moments. Brown Bag Theatre is a small black box semester long repertory company that produces hour long shows from 12-1 for free almost all semester. The shows are entirely student produced and range from work-in-progress to ready to tour. But, there was no more foundational moment for me than watching Becca Kinskey in a cameo performance.

Memory is a tricky thing. I’m going to put this up here and someone is going to tell me I got it all wrong and none of it even happened. I don’t remember the show. I don’t remember anything else that happened. But I remember Becca Kinskey. I don’t think she was even a student at the time, but I think she was acting technical director. She was a favorite among the students for her calm and friendly demeanor, her whip smart mind, and her youth. She herself may have only just graduated from the program. How she got talked into do the show I don’t know.

Her performance was a comedy set. Her character was a first time nervous comedian. I don’t remember Becca telling a single joke, but I do remember that she became that character. The comedian was so nervous she began to tell sad and horrible truths about her own life. She cried, wept, as she lived out the nightmare scenario of being up onstage with nothing to say and an audience having all the wrong reactions. But, the odd thing was that we laughed. There were none of the normal cues for laughter, but the audience was played like a harp by the director and by Becca. We were unwitting participants in the sad fragmented story of the woman on stage. We laughed at every motion. Every tear. It was ridiculous. It was horrific. And through it all, Becca was not Becca. She was that frail and broken woman sighing behind the microphone. It was so good.

Frank Wood as Lucky in Waiting for Godot at American Conservatory Theatre

I am a vocal critic of American Conservatory Theatre and I expect I will only get louder. But I do what to put it on record that my heart hasn’t turned absolutely black against A.C.T. There are more than a few memorable moments that I’ve had there that could easily end up on this list.

But Frank Wood as Lucky beats them all by a long shot.

Frank Wood (downstage) as  Lucky, and Steven Anthony Jones as Pozzo.

Frank Wood (downstage) as Lucky, and Steven Anthony Jones as Pozzo.

I love Waiting for Godot. It is a piece of theatre that was integral to my development as an artist. The production at A.C.T. was fine. I remember little about Didi and Gogo. Gregory Wallace was in his usual form, putting his strange voice through a sort of auditory acrobatics that is beautiful in its singular nature, but I can never be sure if I like his acting or find his voice so unique that I think I enjoy his acting. At any rate, I had been waiting to hear Lucky’s monologue. I didn’t think they would cut any of it, but I couldn’t be sure. It is a rambling, stream of consciousness word purge that lasts five or more minutes. It is a plague of nothing and it is a poetry of the working mind; it is a parody of critique and acting and class and anything and everything. It is the thing that comes out of a slave’s mouth when he is demanded to “think” for no other purpose then as a sport. Sports of all kinds. Namely concurrently.

Frank Wood’s performance was naked and dangerous and drooling and violent in the pain he lived on stage. He was a man who is full of things to say, but can only say them when ordered to. He stared directly out into the audience and into nothing as his body shook itself so hard I thought his bones would come loose and he would puddle onto the floor. If I had seen him on the street I would have called an ambulance. I believed him to be in pain because I could see he was in pain. He was delirious and with every word further and further out of control. When I see this performance in my mind, he towers above me and I look up into his red-rimmed eyes and I am overwhelmed.

Next Time on Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List…

“588 if We’re Lucky Part II – One Is The Loneliest Number”

An ode to every production that has had to go on for a single audience member.