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.

Admit_One

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.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: How To Fix Writer’s Block

Claire Rice invites you to read this list out of order. It may either feel like she’s spiraling out of control or into it.

How_To_Fix_Writer's_Block

I am experiencing the most serious writer’s block I’ve ever experienced in my whole life.

There is a large part of me that wants to follow that sentence with a picture of a microphone drop and leave this post just like that. This is because I think that sentence is one of the truest things I’ve written in the last year.

It’s not that I haven’t been actively putting words on pages and forming beginnings, middles and endings. It’s that I’m not sure what I’m writing is true. Or, no, that’s not quite right. I believe that I underneath my writing is a larger hidden truth that is not being said. A confusing and muddled truth that I don’t have the words for yet. Over that truth I’ve written fictions and …

See? I’m doing it again! I’m being purposely vague. Except I’m not, at least I don’t think I am. What is it I’m trying to say? I don’t know. This is the block.

I even started writing “The Enemy’s List” because I wanted to be a truth speaker. I thought to myself “I’m a person who tells it like it is or, at least, I tell it like it is in my mind and I deal with the consequences later.” I imagined “The Enemy’s List” as a truth space. And it is. I don’t think I’ve told lies or said things I didn’t mean or even pandered to anyone. But, still, there is some filter over my writing that feels less than honest. I can feel that there is something underneath the words that is what I should really be saying, but I’m not.

List of Possibilities
In an effort to try and push past this block, I’m going to try and be vulnerable. Honest. Open. Fearless. One of these things might just be the thing I’m trying to say, but I’m not saying.

Enemy’s List
I love it. I love it so much. Also, note, this is not an ongoing list of my enemies. It is an ongoing rant about things that upset me, weird me out, unsettle me, or piss me off. In writing this blog I don’t feel as if I creating my own Nixon style enemies list, but instead adding my own name to other people’s lists. I realize that I might step on toes, upset an apple cart, and may add unwelcome adjectives to my name when I’m spoken about. The thing is, people might say those things about my directing work and my playwriting already. Those things are just as much my truths as the essays I write. I started this because I began to feel as if I was building a reputation as a “shit talker” (well, at the very least rude) or they type of person you go to if you want to bitch about this or that. I’ll lean in and participate. I’ll play devil’s advocate. I’ll nod my head and dig into it with you. I figured I might as well capitalize on it.

I Hate Lists
I love lists. I love Cracked.com and Buzzfeed and AV Club’s Inventory. I hate that it means the only way to write on the internet is through a scan-able, easily digestible, neatly organized list. It makes me feel dumb. It makes me feel like there is no other way to write. It makes me feel like I’m talking down to you. It makes me feel like I’m inviting you to pick and choose from my thoughts like a buffet. That they may be tangentially connected, but that a part could be lifted from them the list will still be intact. Like a mixtape of my thoughts, you can read the first to get the gist and skip to the end to get the most important bit and feel like you’ve taken it all in. I love lists for all the reasons I hate them. I am conflicted as shit about this.

I’m Just Bitter
I look at some of the playwrights and directors who are my age and I see them finding a level of success that seems to be just out of my reach and it galls me. What choices have I made in my life that have lead me to this moment? Who’s fault is it that I am not where I want to be? Could it be the overpriced education failed me? Could it be that I didn’t go to a top tier school? That I didn’t come into this independently wealthy? That I’m a woman? That I’m from San Francisco and not New York? That I’m terrible? That I don’t try hard enough? That I’m not good enough? Maybe success is a green light on the other side of a lake. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I do, what accolades I get. Maybe I’ll never feel like I’ve “arrived” or I’ve “broken through”. Maybe I can’t because I’ve chosen theatre and there is no longer any such thing as success in theatre. Maybe I’m so bitter I’m one of those people that lashes out at everything and I blame everyone else and every “system” that is keeping me down.

Fuck You
Sure. Maybe I’m bitter, but that doesn’t mean the Actor’s Equity website doesn’t suck or that I don’t have a right to my opinions.

I’m Not Bitter
I have no doubt in my mind I would have the opinions I have regardless of how “successful” I was or wasn’t. Also, except for this mental block and the existential crisis about truth or whatever, I feel pretty good about where I am. Sure, not great. But what can you do? I’m conflicted as shit about this.

Ugh, This Sucks
Where is the truth? Am I at it yet? Is this even interesting?

Because I Want to Say It, It is Worth Saying
That is tantamount to: Because I have access to the internet I have the right to act like an asshole on message board because you can’t see me. I also have access to a stage and actors who are willing to participate in saying things for me. There’s a lot of power in all those things. Have I fully realized that power and what it means? Have I take the responsibility for it and honestly weighted the impact of my actions? I don’t know. Worse, I honestly don’t know if you are either. I sat through half a show last night and didn’t know why I was there, why anyone else was there or why the show. Why the show? Why the show? So I left at intermission because I didn’t see any reason anyone should have stayed. I didn’t owe anyone my attention or understanding.

When I Say It, You Need to Listen
It hurts my feelings when people walk out of my shows. I want to call them stupid. I do call them stupid. I blame everyone else. I get angry. I am hurt. I gave these people a gift and if they walk out it is because they didn’t try hard enough. I can’t and shouldn’t spoon feed meaning to every audience member.

I Am Conflicted As Shit
Where is the truth? Am I at it yet?

The Story I Want To Write
The circumstances surrounding my sister’s upcoming wedding may just be the plotline of an independent movie or a “white people dinner party” play. This is a truth. I want to write it. It will make a good and entertaining story, one that I’ve already told several close friends. It will be important to me. It will be my truth. It is also not mine. My character would be bystander to the events. I don’t have the “right” to this story, because the story belongs to the living people whom I love who are living through it as we speak. It will also no longer be true the moment it hits the page. It will be edited and finessed for entertainment. People without clear objectives will be given higher stakes. Character types will emerge. Clichés, stereotypes, and my one subjective world view will supplant the real people. It will be work shopped and judged and walked out on and critiqued and rejected. I will write a true story about me and the people I love and it will be rejected. It will be categorized and filed away. It will be made an example of and it will be ignored. And it will be true and it will be false and it will kill me to write it. It will also make me feel better. It will hurt the people I love. It will not be left in a drawer to rot because that isn’t why I write. I write to be heard. This isn’t a fun hobby. This isn’t an addiction. This isn’t an ego boost. This isn’t therapy. It won’t make me feel better to have written it because it will be “out”, but because it is true. It is my truth, even dressed in all the false layers of fiction or memoir or style or form. This is my truth and I can’t bear to have it in your hands and I can’t bear the thought of not giving it to you.

All the Stories I Want To Write
It isn’t just that one. It’s all of them. That one is just a good example. A fresh example. But it’s also true. In the past year I’ve written things that I thought were good, fun, entertaining or any number of things. They did what I wanted them to do, but where they true? Where they my truth? Where they a truth I was willing to stand behind and defend? Where they worth having been said even if they were true? What is my metric here? How were they false? Why am I unsure? I used to say that when art scares you, that is when you should do it the most. But…really? You know…really? I mean. Maybe it means I shouldn’t write it.

Is This Even Interesting?
I am conflicted as shit about this. My heart is racing. My head is light. I’m hiding in my home. I’m sleeping too much. I may be having a medical emergency or I may be having the weirdest longest anxiety attach of my life. This is a lie. This is an exaggeration. This is closer to the truth then you know. This is a play-by-play of my life. Do you deserve to have that information? Do you want it? Should I care about what you say? Am I starting a conversation or am I yelling on a soapbox? Do I have to pick one?

What This Isn’t About
Don’t talk to me about writer’s block. This is a truth block. This is a wall of self. A crisis of voice and intent. This is a self-examination of the worthiness of what I’m putting out into the world. All the things that I am: Bitter. Angry. Confused. Unsatisfied. Argumentative. Contrary. Poetic. Subjective. Delightful. Funny. Insightful. Empty. Damning. Distant. Unsettled. Uneducated. Over-education. Stupid. Intelligent. Conflicted as shit. Fucked. Condescending. Complicated. Defensive. Offensive. And trying to find the moment when it just exists. This voice. This person. The one who is no longer defending my right to say want I feel, but just says it with the authority that I have granted myself.

I Don’t Know
I really don’t.

I Am Conflicted As Shit
Fact.

If you are feeling the need to give me advice on getting over “writer’s block” I want you to know that I’ve googled several advertisement laden lists that are both wonderfully insightful and disturbingly stupid.

This one is good: http://thefuturebuzz.com/2008/12/03/how-to-overcome-writers-block/

This one is great: http://io9.com/5844988/the-10-types-of-writers-block-and-how-to-overcome-them

This list is mostly the same as any other, but the last tip is a so unbelievably weird it had to be reprinted here. No judgment here. Whatever gets you through the day. Thank you Brian Moreland, I look forward to being more hydrated if nothing else. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-ways-to-overcome-writers-block

“If nothing else works, I resort to my number one, lethal weapon to cure writer’s block: the Glass-of-Water Technique. Before bed, fill up a glass of water. Hold it up and speak an intention into the water. (Example: My intent is to tap into my creative source and write brilliantly tomorrow. I choose to be in the flow of my best writing. I am resolving my story’s issues as I sleep and dream). Drink half the water and then set the half-full glass on your nightstand. Go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, drink the rest of the water immediately. Then go straight to your computer and write at least an hour without distraction. This may seem a bit out there, but give it a try. It works! Do this technique for three nights straight. It gets me out of my writer’s block every time, often the next morning and definitely within 72 hours.”

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: They Can’t All Be Winners

Claire Rice mines the silver lining of someone else’s black cloud.

Sometimes it feels good to sit and ruminate on the failures of shows we didn’t participate in. This is just a fact. This is partly because it feels good to know that we aren’t the only ones who make mistakes. It is also because rehashing our own bad show stories can turn a conversation from jovial to somber. Importantly, stories like these solidify your ideas of what “good” and “well made” actually mean. Yes, in a community as small as ours it can backfire. Honestly, if you sat around bad mouthing Company X all the time, the likelihood of it getting back to Company X is high. When it does get back to them, they have every right to write you off their list and dismiss you. Of course, maybe they are sitting around talking about your shitty production photos, giggling under their breaths at your stiff poses and feeling a small sense of satisfaction that these aren’t their production photos. You never know.

Schadenfreude

So kids, let’s hit the wayback machine and get ourselves into some trouble. Let’s travel back in time to a place that was full of hope and joy. A time where it when talking about the rent wasn’t a political statement. A time before now, but not too much before.

I had been to this particular established theatre company more than a few times and I’d enjoyed what I saw more often than not. I was excited about this show because it was by a woman and it had a majority female cast. Also, it was a horror play which intrigued me because you don’t see many plays in the “Friday the 13th” vain. It had so much potential. The company was good, the actors were mostly all good, and the script had some interesting moments.

Too bad the set kept falling apart.

The set was supposed to do this neat thing where the main house set split down the middle and moved into the wing space to reveal the second set beneath. It sort of gave you the feeling that under all the sweet suburbia there was a dark underbelly. Or, it would have, if the set didn’t move on and off with any reliability.

At one point, there was a blackout that just seemed to be taking forever. But the intimacy of the theatre revealed it all. One half of the set shakily moved into position. The other half jerked and shook and bumped, but nothing happend. Suddenly the lights snapped up on half a house and half a bloody basement. A stage hand quickly ran off stage. The actress entered and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong, and then the phone rang. But, the phone was on the other side of the house. The side that was now a bloody basement. Calmly she made the only choice she could. She walked over to the phone to pick it up. It was at that point the stagehand re entered and tried to make the moving wall move again. It didn’t. In the middle of the scene the stagehand looked up and, for the briefest of moments, looked right at me. With her eyes she seemed to say “This has all gone terribly wrong. I want to go home now.” But there was no home to be had. No where to go. Suddenly the wall came loose from whatever was stopping it’s progression. It was snapped into place and the house was whole again. The actress on the phone did a wonderful job of just letting all that happen.

Sometimes stuff just doesn’t work. They can’t all be winners.

spider-man-turn-off-dark-12-10

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Your Website Sucks

Claire Rice is here to tell the harsh truth and nothing but the harsh truth.

Marissa’s last column touched on the interesting problem of paying actors. When she talked about paying actors a minimum wage I thought Vocal union member and wonderful actress Valerie Weak helpfully brought up several options the union provides for paying AEA members. Valerie has been vocal in many forums about how she has come to find she needs to be pro-active with producers so that they aren’t intimidated by the union hiring process and understand that there are opportunities for small companies to hire union actors.

This isn’t a column about whether or not the union, or any union for that matter, is a good thing. This is an article about what happened when I thought: “I’ll be helpful to Marissa and I’ll show her where on the website she can get information about the union.” I should point out that Marissa is a much smarter than I am and I’m sure doesn’t actually need my help, but I’m a nosy person who always thinks they can fix a problem even if there isn’t a “problem” per se.

And then I went to the website.

Is it just me, or does this look like two guys butting heads? It's a total kiss or kill moment.

Is it just me, or does this look like two guys butting heads? It’s a total kiss or kill moment.

I’m not going to get petty about the way the AEA website looks. I mean, sure, the website looks like it was built in 2002 by a big fan of Clip Art 1.0, but styles change and sometimes you can keep up and sometimes you can’t. I mean, right now the big thing in website design is the big picture that you have to scroll past to get to the meat of the product like this example: http://californiasunday.com/#hello. So, I totally get it. That doesn’t mean the information the website has is any less valid.

I’m just here to find what contract would be the best option for a first time, small producer in San Francisco.

Wait a minute…who is that dancing lady? Gypsy Robe? What?!?

Hold me closer tiny dancer?

Hold me closer tiny dancer?

Never mind that now. Serious business. Where do I find the contacts? Where…Document Library? That sounds too general, but we’ll start there.

The first link is “About Equity”. Great. I already looked in the other “About Equity” link and that information wasn’t useful. I don’t know anything about hiring an AEA actor. This will be perfect. The document that looks most enlightening also looks like it is just for Equity Members. I can’t figure out if it will be helpful. Maybe I should come back to it. Oooo! A Theatrical Season Report. My research senses are tingling!

“The United States and the international community have faced some difficult events in the past ten years. From challenges to security, to devastating natural disasters, to economic instability the like of which was not seen in decades, the past decade seems

to have permanently changed the world in which we live. Individuals and industries havehad to recalibrate expectations, processes, and even the elements of day-to-day life in the face of this “new normal” which may be taking hold.” Page four of the report shows that less than half of equity members worked in the 2012-2013 season.

So, not helpful and also sad. But hey! I’m an employer! I want to employ! That’s good news, right? So where do I start? Why do I keep having to ask that question? Why is this hard?

It’s not, Claire. Chill out. Go back to the first list of links.

The thing is the document library is really just that, a document library. There are just links with lists of documents. These contracts, codes, rulebooks and what-have-you are not organized by region or company type. Also, what’s the difference between a contract, a code and a rulebook? Is there a document that has a definition of commonly used words in this document library? None of the links have short summaries of who this type of contract would be applicable to. Sure, some are obvious like “Members Project Code”. It’s a project code for members. But the “Cabaret Agreement” isn’t so clear. What’s the difference between a cabaret and a dinner theatre? Should I just inherently know that? Should I Google it? What’s a midsized theatre? But those aren’t really the questions, what I want to know is why it isn’t easier to find those answers on the AEA website. As a prospective employer who wants to read up on what’s available to me, why can’t be given the definition of the terms under which I’ll be evaluated before I’m evaluated?

The next link is Agency, and that doesn’t look helpful. Oooo! Agreements. Bay Area Theatre is right at the top. There isn’t a great deal of organization here, but hooray for alphabetizing. And though there are several bays in this country, we’re probably the only “Bay Area” so it’s a good bet this is where I need to be.

Apparently this agreement expires this year. Is that important? Should I be worried about that? Anyway, it also says there is no San Francisco office so I’ll have to call Hollywood if I have questions. Further investigation also leads me to find out that the Hollywood office handles the whole Western Region which includes 14 states so…they might be busy.

So, the agreement itself. After the table of contents you will get to page 7 which lets you know that this contract is for Aurora, 42nd Street and Moon, Magic Theatre, San Jose Stage Company, SF Playhouse, The Jewish Theatre San Francisco and The Z Space Studio. So…not me. All 98 pages are interesting (truly) and so many of the rules are worth aspiring to. Regardless, not applicable to me. Back to the links!

Oh! Here’s the MBAT (Modified Bay Area Theatre) and it’s only 4 pages. It’s also set to expire this year. This is for companies with an average weekly box office of $3000. Well, if I sell out my 50 seat house all three nights at $20 a ticket (I only perform Thursday, Friday and Saturday), then I will…oh. And an annual budget of $100,000. Nope. Not me. There is another tier in the MBAT but that one is for companies with even larger budgets…so, also not for me.

So it’s on to Codes. Codes might be where it’s at. And indeed it is. There is the Bay Area Project Policy (BAPP)! This may just be it!

Some Equity Codes are too big, some are too small, some are just right!

Some Equity Codes are too big, some are too small, some are just right!

After reading it through, it looks like this code is for companies just like mine. Companies with low budgets ($20,000), low audience attendance expectations (99 seats or less), equal low pay across the board (the equity members must be paid the same amount as the highest paid artistic member of the production), and the company must have never have had a previous equity contract (obviously that is totally me). Lastly, it looks like the company can use this code up to three times in a single calendar year or up to three years as long as the company is only maybe one production a year during that time. After reading it looks like if this contract works out for me I’ll be encouraged to move on to an MBAT because this contract doesn’t look repeatable. Fine. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, I just want to get my show up on it’s feet.

Is there more information I should know? Back to the links! Producer Material! I bet that has a document called “So You Want To Put on A Show!” Oh, no. These are documents for producers with contracts…agreements…codes…or something in hand. Cool. Fine.

Ok, so I feel more enlightened and it’s only…two in the morning. And that’s fine, right? I mean, when considering employing a person it shouldn’t be done willy nilly. As an employer I should be responsible to make sure the people in my employment are treated fairly and that in itself is hard. It’s hard coming up with an equitable agreement that benefits both parties and ensures profits so the business can continue. It should take effort to…

Browse a website? No way.

If you go back to About Equity in the documents and pull up that beautiful 25 page brochure, that is absolutely intended for new and prospective equity members, you’ll find it is actually a super helpful document. It explains all about codes and agreements. It groups information on different region agreements by region with clear and concise information about each type of agreement and code. It’s is friendly, clear and exactly what I was looking for.

And super hidden. And not written for me.

It would also be possible to use this document as a way to reconstruct the whole website to be utterly readable and, most importantly, non intimidating. Maybe equity doesn’t want me, the first time producer, to have easy access to this information. Maybe it’s easier if their members way out here in San Francisco feel like they have to do all the work of advocating for themselves against the people who are withholding paying jobs.

Honesty time: I’m a person who is connected enough to the community that I could reach out to a few fellow producers who’ve interacted with the union to get advice. I know equity actors who could tell me what my options may be. I’m also not afraid to write an email to equity itself and find out more information. All I’m saying is, that some of what I need to know shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes of easy browsing to find. I should feel welcome to have the information. Hiring an Equity actor should feel as much of an accomplishment as when an Equity actor get’s their card in the mail. Or, it should feel necessary and all part of the process. It shouldn’t feel frustrating and intimidating before I even email Equity themselves.

I should also point out that San Francisco Bay Area does have a Liaison, but again, I think this part of the organization is for members, not producers. [INSERT HYPERLINK http://www.actorsequity.org/arealiaisons/arealiaison.asp?liaisonCode=50

There are approximately fifty equity companies in the 9 counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, but you have to be a member to know what they are. There are two news stories. One about a meeting in October, and the other from 2011. While it looks like a nice website that someone has to volunteer to update and no one has cared to update it in a while, it isn’t helpful either. I can’t imagine it’s actually helpful to members.

OH! I almost forgot, the dancing lady. Well, click on her and you’ll get a really good history (well, a long weird narrative and then a good history) about a sweet way that Equity gives recognition to some of the actors in it’s organization who don’t often get a lot of recognition. I really do think it’s sweet. I also think it’s weird that it was easier for me to find the Rule of the Ritual of the passing of a “Gypsy Robe” then it was for me to find the definition of the word “Code”.

So, AEA, your website sucks.

Special notes and further reading:

What’s Happening Right Now?

Up on the homepage right now there is an important letter from President Nick Wyman that relates to recent controversies about touring company contracts. If you didn’t hear about this controversy you might want to catch yourself up on the particulars. Reading President Nick Wyman’s letter about the tier contracts and the touring controversies is a bleak portrait of a bleak economy with a bleak forecast for the future. “The plane truth is that there currently aren’t enough jobs – – let alone good paying jobs – – for all 50,000 of us.” His Touring 102 post about the economics of touring is just as sad. “ Now, because of the recession, the not-for-profit Random City Arts Foundation has lots half of its subscribers, most of its donors, and absolutly all its local government funding. So, when Peripatetic Production asks for $400K, RCAF says, “No. We’ll give you $280K.” So, yes, the union is advocating for the touring producers. The whole of the message seems to be: It’s better to be paid some than none. It is an open admission that the union isn’t strong enough to ensure that it’s members can be employed. If they don’t lower the rates actors are paid on the contracts then the touring companies won’t hire union actors. Concessions have to be made. Why might you not have heard of this? Because of your proximity to New York. Mr. Wyman says that right at the top. You aren’t anywhere near New York so you probably don’t have any idea what’s going on in the organization that ensures you are treated fairly. Good luck with that San Francisco actors. Sometimes I wonder if New York is the center of the acting universe in part because New York just doesn’t recognize that there is more to the universe than just itself.

SUPER LASTLY: I do want to say when I worked at Theatre Bay Area I had the opportunity to speak with representatives from Equity on a number of occasions and I found them lovely, informative and hard working. If you are interested in working with Equity Actors, you should email or call Equity. Don’t be intimidated. They don’t bite. And if you just produce theatre all the time with out talking to them they really won’t have an understanding of your needs and how best to serve their membership while still supporting the art of theatre.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: What Theatre Needs

Claire Rice gives us a list of wishes…

You don’t have to tell me that if wishes were fishes we’d all be very good at making our own sushi. Still, there are things I wish existed that I really think would be awesome. And I know that some of these things are in my grasp. Like a bike, for example. I could make that happen. Black Widow getting her own Avenger’s movie, on the other hand, is not exactly in my control. I mean, I can write the screenplay and I can film it and I can hire the lawyers to protect me from Disney and Marvel…but it just wouldn’t be as satisfying as if Mark Boal wrote it and Catherine Bigelow directed it. Sometimes I think it’s OK to just send things out into the universe and wish.

But none of these wishes are going to be for more money. All of the wishes I have below can be gotten for more money, but “more money” as an answer is boring. You will always want there to be more money. You will always want things to be more equal. You will always want things to be more fair or to work in your favor.

This isn’t that kind of list.

So, I wish…

1 – Ashland Everywhere
This past Monday I was sitting in the lobby of Berkeley Rep listening to a pre-show discussion with a few of the playwrights featured in this week’s Monday Night Playground. When, as part of a general discussion about the arts and funding, Jonathan Luskin asked “Why can’t every state have an Ashland?”. I’m sure I’m among the many who, after returning from their first trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, felt a deep longing for the utter immersive theatrical environment that is OSF. The dream of spending nine months living and breathing live theatre. It’s hard not to romanticize it. But, before OSF alumni comment on the thrills of seclusion in Ashland and the joys of months upon months of self important tourists, let me say that I know that it can’t be perfect. But, I also agree with Jonathan, why can’t every state have it’s version of Ashland? I don’t mean the paint-by-numbers three month runs of Oklahoma!, or the unscrupulous and shady touring productions (like a certain production of Peter Pan that blew through a few years ago.) No, I mean forward thinking, risk taking, creative, invested caretakers of the American theatrical ambition. A place where the artists and craftsmen are treated as both employees and artists. A place to be introduced to theatre for the first time, a place to live theatre for a week, a place to relive favorites, and a place to discover new voices. And, yes, employers. Great behemoth employers where the young train, the up and coming to hone their craft, and the established relax into 401k plans.

2 – Nerdy Trade Magazines
Oddly specific and full of the best and most up to date information on trends, topics and news. How many theatre companies prefer to use Meisner Technique in their rehearsal rooms? Meisner Today knows (or it would if it existed.) I know, I know. Print media is dead!!! We’re playing a wishing game here. I want to open my mail box and have piles of glossy news items fall out. Yes, I get American Theatre Magazine and Theatre Bay Area and both are great. I don’t know about you, it get’s exhausting looking at all the ads for graduate schools in American Theatre Magazine, surely there is someone else willing to advertise in there that will make reading it feel more adult. There will never be a day when Howl Round or 2amT will come monthly and glossy, and I don’t think it should…oh but I kind of wish it did. I’m not going to lie. I want a theatre version of Rollingstone. I want it to be that stupid, that gossipy, that hero worshipping, that controversial and that entertaining in itself.

3 – Legitimate coverage
I don’t want to wait for Vanity Fair to cover Tracy Letts because Meryl Streep is in an adaptation of his play. I want every entertainment magazine, newspaper and entertainment broadcast to devote a little space to theatre. Not just major catastrophes like Spiderman, but the fact that cool stuff and terrible stuff is happening all over the country all the time. I want Vanity Fair to talk about theatre so much that around the time of the Tony’s they have a big Annie Leibovitz theatre spread where they name everyone and give little descriptions (I love those!) I want AV Club and Jezebel to roll their eyes at Vanity Fair and write article after article about “real” theatre stars, accomplishments and pitfalls.

4 – Conventions and Trade Shows
We never called it cosplay – we called it costuming. And,no, it isn’t fun to dress up as the family from Death of a Salesman, but you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a million Rent heads there all to see the panel with the original cast. Vender booths, sneak previews of Broadway hits before they open, tech fairs with the latest in lighting and sound and projection equipment, costume parades from our favorite designers (LIKE FASHION WEEK!), season announcements from big regional theatres and…oh goodness. It would be terrrible and wonderful and fun.

5 – Comfortable Seats
The older I get the more I dread going to see theatre at certain venues. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good the show is. If my ass has fallen asleep, my spine has started to tingle from bad lumbar support, and my hips (my lovely wide American hips) have finally had enough of being squished beneath the arm rests I may just walk out.

6 – More Broadway in Las Vegas
This is like the Ashland wish, only this theatre is way more commercial. Yup. Hoaky, touristy, loud show offy and commercial commercial commercial. I want more of it. I want a Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre on the strip doing shows in rep. I want brilliant musical directors, singers, actors, set designers and crew to cut their teeth and earn retirement fund there. I want the type of people who wrote Urinetown to have an edgy big theatre there too that does crazy new works with big budgets. I want a sketch comedy troupe with multi-media know-how to do their thing there.

7 – More Poaching from the Lower Ranks
I want the big regional companies to look below them and think about moving whole shows up from the small independent companies. When I see a cool show at Crowded Fire, I want to get excited when I see that the next season it’s at Marin Theatre Company.

8 – Less Excitement about Seeing it First, More Excitement about Seeing it Next
I want a new play to premiere at Kitchen Dog Theatre and I want to know for sure that in the next few months I’ll get the opportunity to see it too. I want there to be a ripple of excitement spreading across the country. The New Play Network and it’s rolling premiers are doing a good job and I want more! I want little black box theatre franchises all over that will open a show all in the same season. I want a big broadway show to open on Broadway AND in Los Angeles. I want previews for shows just like movies. I want them all in a single place so I can watch them all. I want to share them on Facebook and I want to say: “Man, I can’t go to Dallas right now but I hear that Playhouse will do the show in June!”

9 – Away with Curtain Call
I just don’t think they are necessary. It’s a false kind of pageantry that isn’t necessary. It’s hoaky. It breaks the mood. It wastes time. It’s a form of begging. I want the audience to feel like it’s a special treat to see the actors without the makeup or the character. The curtain call has become pro forma. It’s lost it’s magic. I don’t need it any more.

10 – A Powerful Politician and The Owner of a Media Outlet
I want friends in high places for theatre. Loud ones.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Money Talks and Bullshit Walks

Claire Rice, here to slap your new year in the face with some hard-hitting journalism. 

I won second place in a bullshit contest in middle school. I don’t mean the contest was bullshit, I mean that I was the second best bullshitter among thirteen year olds in New Mexico and I was given a medal to prove it. I didn’t win another award until college. It was an award for my performance in one of the main stage plays. I received the certificate during an assembly where scholarship awards were also being given. When I went up to shake the department chair’s hand and collect my piece of paper he pulled me close and whispered in my ear: “You should have gone for the money.”

These were my first lessons in how important awards really are.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

There is big money to be had out there. More important than the Critic’s Circle or BroadwayWorld.com, the best major grants are awards that recognize past achievements and the potential of future achievements. This year the Andrew Mellon Foundation gave $3.7 million dollars for playwriting residencies all across the country.  Awards went locally to ZSpace to hire Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and to Cutting Ball to hire Andrew Saito.  I haven’t talked to the Mellon Foundation myself, but I can’t help but feel this award was given in large part because of the book “Outrageous Fortune” and the national conversation about the state of new play development in the United States.  If so, it was given in an effort to effect change on a national level.  Mellon was using its money to talk.

The Mellon Foundation is privately funded and isn’t accountable to the general public for its actions.  The National Endowment for the Arts, on the other hand, was founded by Congress.  Wikipedia said, at the time this article was written, that the NEA is the largest grant-maker to arts organizations in the nation.  That fact needed a citation so, it’s hard for this piss poor journalist to say.  What I can say is that someone had the balls to type that into Wikipedia in 2012 and no one had refuted it at the time of this writing.  So, we’ll say it’s true enough.

So, what is NEA money saying?

Image_Two

The total budget for the NEA was $158 million dollars, which is about half of what the Washington Post says the Affordable Care Act’s website cost. The NEA keeps a wonderful search tool on all the grants it has given out since 2000 here: http://apps.nea.gov/GrantSearch/SearchMain.aspx. Since 2000 the NEA has given over 300 grants totaling over $6 million to just about 70 Bay Area theatre companies and supporting organizations. The smallest grant was in 2003 to American Conservatory Theatre for about $2000 for pre-production support for the world premiere of “Malaya” by Chay Yew, a play A.C.T. has yet to actually premier. The largest grant was made in 2013 to Berkeley Repertory for $75,000 to support Marcus Gardley’s play “The House Will Not Stand” which opens January 31.

Compare that to New York, who’s theatre companies received almost 900 grants totaling over $25 million. TCG received the largest grants consistently since 2000 with the largest sum of money being $380,000 in 2000, 2003 and 2004. The Lincoln Center received $100,000 to produce “War Horse.” The smallest sum was $5000 to support Amas Musical Theatre’s production of “Four Guys Named Jose”. Chicago, on the other hand, has only received about 195 grants totaling just over $4 million. It’s smallest grant was to the American Theatre Company for a reading of a new translation. The largest grants were for $100,000 each for Steppenwolf and the Goodman Theatre, both were to support world premier productions. Minneapolis has been awarded just over 140 grants totaling almost over $3 million dollars. The smallest was $5,000 to Pangea World Theatre to support new works. The largest was $100,000 to Mixed Blood Theatre company to support two new works.

Of course, cities all over the United States received funding, this is just a very small sampling. Also, I’ve only looked at projects that were listed under Theatre. This does not include any of the other multiple categories that theatre companies might apply under for funding (including dance and music).

No one reading this will be surprised that New York also receives the lion’s share of the NEA pot. What this spot check shows is that the majority of NEA funding is indeed going to new works and organizations that support new works. It isn’t all world premiers either, there are rolling and regional premier. Apparently “Ragtime” didn’t make its way to Austin, Texas until 2012 so it counted as a regional premier according to the NEA grant. So, this writer feels that the NEA has been saying since 2000 that it supports new works and the creators of new works. If you look over the lists and lists and lists of grantees you’ll find all of the usual suspects, but the projects being funded are incredibly diverse. The NEA grants tell us that, yes, New York is still the center of American theatre. What they also tell us is that the NEA is so full of hope. The NEA isn’t thinking about risk. So often new works are associated with risk and trouble. “Will we fill seats? No one has heard of this playwright or this play.” But the NEA is saying it believes in new works and the artists and organizations creating them.

I encourage everyone to go and download these reports and create wonderful diagrams on gender equity, ethnic diversity, zip code funding disparity and anything else and everything else. It’s all right there for your to create beautiful charts and graphs to measure all kinds of things.

And while the numbers may tell you that the NEA has hope for the future, they won’t tell you the actual future.

Rocco Landesman stepped down as chairman in November of 2012. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa is filling his role until a new Chairman can be appointed. President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for Landesman. Also, Ralph Remington, the NEA Theatre/Musical Theatre Director, left in November. His seat is also still empty. The senate will vote to confirm Janet Yellen to the Federal Reserve on January 6. I’m sure finding someone to fill the empty seats at the NEA is totally on the to do list. Probably.

There is more to worry about than just a slow bureaucracy having a hard time catching up. After the government shutdown and a continuing power struggle, politicians on both side of the isle are considering what should be considered “necessary” funding. Writers like Rick Smith, who asks if America still needs the NEA since we now have Kickstarter, aren’t helping. The Washington Post found arts administrators across the board are feeling edgy about the vacancies “Without a leader who can champion its initiatives — or defend its mere existence — the NEA flails and tends to lose funding, experts say.” You can read the full article here.

The NEA is a common and easy target for Republicans, Social Conservatives, and budget cutters. And since theatre organizations are generally hinging their budgets on $10,000 NEA grants, it’s doubtful that there is a lobbying voice that will be able stand up for the NEA in Washington with any real power. And looking at the top lobbying clients, I don’t think any of them will stand up for us either. $158 million dollars isn’t a large piece of the pie when thinking about the national budget, and it’s possible that the smallness of the number is what makes it seem so unnecessary. Too little funds are spread too thin to too many places. American Conservatory Theatre received $30,000 for the production of “The Orphan of Zhao” from the NEA. It received $326,000 from San Francisco Grants for the Arts to support the entire season.

Go ahead and plan your Oscar Awards party and scoff at the ridiculousness of it all. I also look forward to sitting with you at a bar and complain about how BroadwayWorld.com awards are strange and meaningless. As Theatre Bay Area gears up for its first year of excellence awards, I look forward to the debates about how much weight a piece of paper or a plaque should be given. Only time will tell if new local accolades will mean increased funding opportunities. Where does legitimacy come from? What comes first: the accolades or the funding? Is there a funding source that carries more legitimacy than another?

Lastly, if the NEA isn’t seen as a legitimate way to spend government funding, how do we change that?

Should we give them an award?

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Why Are You Hitting Yourself?

Is Claire Rice her own worst enemy?

When I started this column it was with the directive that it could not be a place where I berated myself for not being “the wisest of us all.” Now, I am very good at berating myself. I’ve done it for years. One of my favorite things to say is “Alright, I’m the asshole here.” This is both a line from a movie I watched over and over and over again in high school and a funny way for me to take the blame foreverything that’s gone wrong. Everything.

KWOCK! is the sound my self-deprecation makes

KWOCK! is the sound my self-deprecation makes

Recently my therapist told me that was unhealthy. And by therapist I mean the internet. And by internet I mean Buzzfeed. And by Buzzfeed I mean I zoned out in front of cat gifs and now I feel like Buzzfeed is the new opiate of the masses and controlled by the devil. So, can anything really be my fault entirely?

Nope.

I feel like maybe in the future I’ll be able to not call myself an asshole every time something in my vicinity goes awry. Still, there are a few things about this past year that are irking me. Things I’ve said or done that I’m not proud or I’m still kicking myself for.

So I’ve gone back in time to January 1, 2013 and I’m having a good talk with myself over a healthy salad at a reasonably priced restaurant about what to do when those things happen.

When You Find Yourself Working With Someone Who Doesn’t Like You
He doesn’t like the show. He doesn’t like you. He has other priorities. He just wants this to be over. You can’t avoid it or change it and you shouldn’t try. You can’t go back and make a better first impression, you can’t impress him with your prowess in theatre because he already thinks you are full of shit, and you can’t pretend to be his friend. It just isn’t going to happen. It’s fine. Stop worrying. You won’t always get to work with people who hang on every word you say. Sometimes people will disagree with you for more than just aesthetic reasons. Sometimes it will be personal. Stand your ground, but don’t kick the beehive. Don’t apologize if you don’t mean it, it will only feed his theory that you are a fake person. Don’t hate yourself because you can’t make him like you even though you don’t like him. On opening night he will sit in the back row and talk through the show, he’ll laugh at your work, he’ll make fun of the actors, and he’ll annoy the audience. You’ll feel stupid for trying to get him on your team and you’ll feel vindicated because you never liked him in the first place. Here’s the thing: there’s nothing that says if someone doesn’t like you it means they are bad or you are bad or anyone is bad. The work comes first. If you aren’t both on the side of the work, then there is trouble. Recognize when that happens and be strong. It’s great when we all get along and are friends, but don’t work harder on making that happen than putting up a good show.

When the Playwright Doesn’t Like Your Concept
Communication. Communication. Communication. Communicate often, clearly and early. You can’t compromise or even create better art if you don’t understand each other. Honest and open communication might prevent a late night talk where you end up changing something you aren’t really prepared to change. I mean, maybe you should change it, but you need to do so with a clear head. Your visions of the play might also be utterly different. You are so enamored with her and her work you would do just about anything to make her happy. When you find yourself at a late night meeting with her over whiskey you will be willing to do just about anything for her because you haven’t eaten anything all day, you just got through three days of stressful tech while working a full time job, you’ve been worrying about ticket sales, and you are worrying about how long it’s been since you spent meaningful time with your husband; so you have no real brain. If you had communicated better earlier the conversation would have been different, but it would always have been stressful. Go home. Sleep. Sleep well. Take the next day off from the day job to have lunch with her. Use this as an opportunity for meaningful creation through collaboration. She’ll feel better. You’ll feel better. They play will be better. Everything will be better.

When You Say Something Stupid On The Internet in a Networking Group
By the end of the year you’ll be the only one who cares any more. Everyone you talk to about will just nod politely and wait until the topic changes. Seriously, you’ll really be the only one who cares. Get over it as fast as you can.

When You Refuse to Answer Your Emails Because You Are Overwhelmed With Anxiety
I’m not going to lecture you about how you shouldn’t procrastinate. I’m not going to coddle you and lie and tell you that procrastination is a sign of an artist. I’m not going to tell you to get over it. You just need to figure out how to work better, smarter, and with less anxiety. My instinct is to remind you that when you don’t get back to people in a timely fashion they think you are an unreliable jerk, but I’ve come to understand that berating you only leads to more anxiety, more stress, and more procrastination. Let me just say this: there are bigger, better and more fun problems that are worth stressing about. Hit reply. Say thank you. Put it on your calendar. Move on.

When It Feels Like You Aren’t Making Enough Time to Write
It’s because you aren’t. Sit down and write. The more you beat yourself up about it, the worse it’s going to be. And every time you get jealous of other writers who are always writing and you say “Ugh, I hate you” you are really saying “Ugh, I hate myself.” Stop it. Sit down and write. Or don’t. Whatever. Just stop hating yourself for it. It isn’t productive, it isn’t fun, and it doesn’t make the writing any better. And when you don’t like what you wrote, just write more. You aren’t going to be a better writer by watching shitty reality TV and hating yourself because you should be writing but feel like everyone else in the world is so much better than you are. Pick up your laptop, take out that composition notebook, scribble on a napkin; whatever. Just write.

When You Throw-Up in a Cab
Don’t. You are thirty two, happily married, have a good job, you are proud of your directing work, and often you are very proud of your writing. Hooray! That will all suddenly, and ridiculously, feel utterly unimportant when you can’t keep your food down. You will feel cold and sober and shocked at your own stupidity. Congratulations. You aren’t perfect and it was trying to be perfect that made it worse than it should have been. Sit down on the sidewalk in the rain like a good girl. Throw it all up right in the street then walk to the muni station. You’ll still be embarrassed, but it’ll be cheaper. Oh, and maybe eat before you drink. And maybe don’t drink as much. That night.