Everything Is Already Something: A Meeting of Producers Who Really Want to Capitalize on the Popularity of ‘Hamilton’

Allison Page, feeding you some low-hanging fruit- just like these producers!

MAN 1: Okay, how about something with one of those other politics guys?

MAN 2: Yeah, yeah, yeah I like that.

MAN 3: The guy with the tub! The tub guy!

WOMAN: Taft? What’s the twist? We need a twist.

MAN 3: We cast someone really buff, but not overly muscular, so he’s also kind of svelte. Or a model.


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MAN 3: A splashy musical spectacular in the traditional sense — chorus girls and everything — about HARRIET TUBMAN! Except the woman who plays her, and stay with me here, is a white male! Think of the PRESS!

MAN 1: Mmm, sounds too expensive. Can we do it without the chorus girls?


MAN 2: Okay but what if —guys, this is gonna be great— what if we do a thing about William Henry Harrison?

MAN 3: Who?

WOMAN: The one who died 23 days into his presidency.

MAN 2: YES! The built-in drama! But instead of getting an old guy to do it-

MAN 1: Ewwwwww

MAN 2: Exactly! So instead we get a teen pop star. Is Justin Bieber still relevant?

WOMAN: Oooo, or how old is Rachel’s baby from Friends?


WOMAN: So scratch the musical idea, because I’m thinking a historical epic like Les Mis without the singing, but there’s no set so it’ll be really cheap. The set is all in the audience’s imaginations. It’s an arty thing.

MAN 2: Who’s it about?

WOMAN: JOE BIDEN! A rags to riches story!

MAN 1: Does he actually have a rags to riches story?

WOMAN: Don’t know. Doesn’t matter! That is the power of art, my friends.



MAN 2: But George Washington is already in ‘Hamilton’.

MAN 3: Oh shit – A SEQUEL.

WOMAN: ‘Hamilton 2: George’s Side’

MAN 1: ‘Hamilton II: A Second Serving of Ham’

MAN 2: ‘George VS Alex: There Can Be Only One’

MAN 3: ‘Sunday in the Park with George’


WOMAN: You know what else is really popular on Broadway? ‘Phantom of the Opera’

MAN 1: Oh yeah, can we put them together?

MAN 2: Alexander Hamilton falls into a vat of ooze and when he emerges he’s all scarred up.

WOMAN: I think that’s Two Faces’ origin story.

MAN 3: Okay, when Hamilton was shot he didn’t actually die, he faked his own death! And now he walks the earth, immortal, with a mask on part of his face. And sometimes he sings opera, or maybe just R&B, I don’t think people listen to opera. And there are probably some hot chicks. Does Alessandra Ambrosia act? Doesn’t matter, we can teach her.


MAN 2: Wait, we’re totally missing something. PEOPLE LOVE COMEDY. Take one of the lesser characters from ‘Hamilton’ like, ah…I don’t know, Hercules Mulligan, and show his story, but he’s played by America’s sweetheart: Adam Sandler. We’ll make so much money and then they’ll make a movie out of it and we’ll make so much more money and it doesn’t even have to be good. I mean that’s the nice thing about this idea is it definitely, absolutely, in no way has to be good at all even a little bit. And Hercules Mulligan is a really silly name like Happy Gilmore so it completely makes sense.

WOMAN: Just googled it. Someone’s already doing it.



WOMAN: Kerry Washington.

MAN 1: What about her?

WOMAN: Kerry Washington plays Washington in ‘Washington’.

MAN 2: More Washington?! We’ve already covered this.

WOMAN: Washington on Washington.

MAN 3: I like it.


MAN 1: The story of Obama as told by Jay-Z and Beyonce.

MAN 2: That’s actually a really good idea.

WOMAN: Does that mean we can bring back Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Can’t we just stage that? God, I love that movie. What ever happened to Mekhi Phifer?

MAN 3: You’re right, let’s just do that instead. Can we convince the writer it somehow slipped into the public domain?

WOMAN: Probably. Writers are idiots.

EVERYONE: hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha I KNOW, RIGHT?


MAN 1: What if we make one of the characters from Glengarry Glen Ross a congressman and add a little soft shoe in the middle?

MAN 3: I like everything about that except the congressman and the soft shoe.

MAN 2: Great, another round of GGR it is!

WOMAN: What if there’s a woman in it?


WOMAN: I was just kidding. Hahahaha…ha…ha.


MAN 1: OH! Why don’t we just produce another run of ‘1776’?

EVERYONE: Oooooh yeah. Okay. Forgot about that. Let’s do it. Haha we’re so silly.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/artistic director of sketch comedy company Killing My Lobster in San Francisco.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: It’s Not Locavore Theater if the Recipe’s From New York

Marissa Skudlarek undergoes a rite of passage for any Bay Area theater blogger: writing a “What’s the Matter with ACT” column.

Last Saturday (which also happened to be my birthday), we Theater Pub writers met at Café Flore for our semi-annual Blogger Conclave. We drank mimosas, patted ourselves on the back for having completed another successful half-year of blogging, and expressed gratitude to our readers for being interested in what we have to say.

We also decided that, from now to the end of 2014, the blog will tackle a new theme or subject each month. For July, we were inspired by the Independence Day holiday to think about the organizations and institutions that “govern” the local and national theater scene. Claire‘s and Ashley‘s posts on Theatre Bay Area started us off… you may also see posts about institutions like Actors’ Equity or the Dramatists’ Guild later this month.

American Conservatory Theater (ACT), San Francisco’s wealthy flagship regional theater, may not be a “governing” institution like the aforementioned, but it’s big and it’s powerful and it exerts a disproportionate influence. And like Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the colonists*, I’ve got some grievances about this Big Powerful Thing to get off my chest.

(I should note that ACT began its 2013-14 season with a production of 1776 that proved controversial once people realized that the season contained just one female writer (Marie-Hélène Estienne, co-adaptor of The Suit) and that 1776 is a disproportionately male-heavy musical: ACT’s production featured 24 male and 2 female actors.)

So, at the blogger brunch, as inevitably happens when a bunch of smart and disgruntled indie-theater folks gather over drinks, we got to complaining about ACT. How it feels so inaccessible and cut off from the wider currents of Bay Area theater-making. How it doesn’t seem to acknowledge the depth of acting, writing, and directing talent based here in the Bay. And I realized that I couldn’t even remember the last time ACT produced a play by a local playwright. I posed the question to my friends at brunch, but we were all stumped.

So I went to ACT’s website and reviewed their production history, whereupon I made the astonishing discovery:

The only local playwright that ACT has produced on their mainstage** in the last seven seasons is their artistic director, Carey Perloff, herself.

ACT produced Perloff’s drama, Higher, in 2012. Prior to that, its most recent production by a Bay Area playwright was After the War, by Philip Kan Gotanda, in spring 2007. It has no Bay Area playwrights in its upcoming season; and by my count, only 2 of the 10 artists it has under commission (Gotanda and Sean San José) are Bay Area residents.

To put this in perspective, I have lived in San Francisco for six theater seasons, and, in all this time, my city’s most well-funded theater, the one most known to and attended by people who don’t consider themselves “theater people,” has not produced a single play by a Bay Area resident. Aside from their own Artistic Director, of course.

To be fair, ACT has produced some Bay Area-themed plays in the last six seasons. It premiered an ambitious musical-comedy adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books – but the writers and many of the stars of that show came from New York. It presented the autobiographical one-man show Humor Abuse, in which Lorenzo Pisoni reminisces about growing up in S.F.’s Pickle Family Circus – but Pisoni is now a New York-based actor, and ACT basically imported his show wholesale from NYC. Perloff and local choreographer Val Caniparoli worked together to create The Tosca Project, a dance-theater piece about the history of the Tosca Café in North Beach – but that wasn’t a play in the traditional sense, and besides, it still makes Perloff the only local writer to get her plays produced on ACT’s mainstage. I should also note, in the interests of fairness, that ACT has commissioned local writers like Peter Sinn Nachtrieb to write plays for its MFA acting students.

It’s pretty galling that ACT ignores local playwrights to such an extent. But most galling of all is the way that the company thinks it is connected to the local theater scene, despite such evidence to the contrary. In 2011, after Tales of the City premiered, Perloff wrote an essay for the Huffington Post describing how this production was an example of what she calls “locavore theater,” “creatively embracing that which is grown and nourished in our own backyards.” She made a lot of high-minded, earnest-sounding points — audiences want to see stories that they feel connected to; a theater can succeed only if it is deeply rooted in its community — while importing the show’s writers and stars from across the country.

Perloff concludes her essay by writing, “Perhaps audiences can be encouraged to revel in vigorous and delicious work that is nurtured closer to home. It might be an experiment worth taking.” Yes, Carey, perhaps they could. In fact, many theater companies in the Bay Area meet with success by doing just that. But will you, and your organization, be brave enough to rise to your own challenge?

*Freudian slip: I initially typed “columnists” instead of “colonists.” True story.

**N.B.: Higher is listed on ACT’s website as a mainstage show, but it was not actually included in subscription packages and was performed in the smaller Theater at the Children’s Creativity Museum, not in ACT’s flagship proscenium space. Which either heightens or obscures my point.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her play Pleiades, featuring nine local actors and a local director, opens at the Phoenix Theater this August. For more, visit pleiadessf.wordpress.com.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Cool Cool Considerate Men

Claire Rice is a firebrand.... and thinks you should be one too.

Not long ago, a small and angry movement among women theatre artists in the San Francisco Theatre community burst into a buzz of activity when American Conservatory Theatre announced part of its 2013-2014 season. The movement, made up partially of members of the group “Yeah, I said Feminist” and some unassociated individuals, wanted to use A.C.T. as an example of a bad producer that had not taken gender equity into account when doing season planning. One of the biggest sore thumbs was 1776, a musical with a whopping thirteen male speaking parts and only two women. As the rest of the season was released it became apparent that no other show presented in the season would balance out the musical historical sausage fest with an equally heavy female cast. Some called for a boycott (well, girl-cott to be precise). Other less confrontational advocates wanted to use the controversy as an opportunity to open a dialogue with ACT and other institutions.

While the long term reaction to the efforts of such groups as “Yeah, I said Feminist” by A.C.T. and other theatrical producing companies can’t be seen yet, the short term reaction felt, to this author anyway, tepid and unconcerned. Most reactions this author was present for were along the lines of: 1) A great deal more goes into season planning then you know. 2) It is important to look at more than one theatrical season. 3) Calling for a boycott will only make companies retreat away from open dialogue, not actively seek it out. It is more than fair to say that all three are true to a degree, though the air of condescending dismissiveness does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

“What we do we do rationally
We never ever go off half-cocked, not we
Why begin till we know that we can win
And if we cannot win why bother to begin?”

– sung by a Cool Cool Considerate Man

Being a few months out from the initial reaction to the season announcement and having gotten little back from most organizations than the above three points, the righteous anger has cooled considerably. 1776 opened with no picket lines, no angry blog posts, and no noisy reaction from a roused rabble. This member of said rabble got a ticket and decided to see what the fuss what all about.

Even from way up in the nosebleed section it was easy to see that 1776 was beautifully dressed and well performed, but it could not overcome the silliness of its nature to ascend to satirical social commentary. For every beautiful moment in “Mamma, Look Sharpe” or “Molasses and Rum” there were stupefying turns like “He Plays the Violin” and “The Egg”. The two women characters were laughably unnecessary. All of their scenes could have been cut with no harm done.

The Declaration of Independence didn’t make an appearance until the second act, but most of that act was like a breath of fresh air. After all the slow moving dialogue and needless subplots, the audience was pleasantly surprised to find out that the creation of the actual document had very high stakes and was thus entirely interesting and entertaining.

Of course, 1776 isn’t so much a picture of the year the declaration was signed, but the year in which the play was created. In the show, powerful white men stand around complaining that it’s too hot and there are too many flies while young men elsewhere die in a war that is not yet a war. These men make jokes about their own ineffectiveness as a governing body even while some outright refuse to participate. In 1969 Nixon was elected, protesters where being put down by the National Guard, and the long war that was raging in Vietnam had not yet reached it’s apex. It isn’t a far stretch to relate those times to our current ones and find the direct line between where we are as a country and why A.C.T. decided to remount a show like 1776.

I say “a show like 1776″ because 1776 was terrible. What greater signpost to the institution’s oddly backwards looking artistic aesthetic could be better than a remounting of the dusty, shamanistic, odd ball little theatrical that is 1776? It is out of date, filled with pointless little absurdities that simultaneously prevent the show from functioning as social commentary and light entertainment.

I’m going to throw out there that A.C.T. will probably never be able to figure out how to fix its ongoing and odd actor/playwright gender imbalance issues because it can’t buy enough Pledge to make their season selections shine as it is. Unfortunately, girl-cotting one of the biggest non-profit rep theaters this side of the Mississippi isn’t going to do anything. In fact, I propose we do the opposite.

Buy tickets to A.C.T. Get your snarky-ass, bitchy friends to buy tickets to A.C.T. Subscribe to the season. See their shows. Then talk. Talk out loud and a lot about what you see. We must save the regular theatre going audience from the next 1776. We need to open our mouths and start talking. Why aren’t we already? Because we are worried if we say something critical we’ll a) have to defend ourselves and/or b) possibly not get hired by A.C.T  and/or c) be seen as a hot head with nothing but ugly opinions.

A) This is always true. If you put something out there you have to defend why you did it. A.C.T. should have to defend itself too, and not just to granting organizations.

B) Do you want to get hired by A.C.T.? You, who have sat in rooms with me and derided their shows, complained about when you did work there as an usher and were treated terribly, or how when you tried to apply you never even got a “thank you for applying” email. You who STILL can’t stop talking about how much you hated War Music. You who can’t wait for the yearly touring show A.C.T. brings in because it is almost always better then anything else you’ve seen there. You who still fondly remember Black Rider and get chills down your spine when you think about that gun going off the final time, and then you remember…that was a touring show. Do You really WANT to get hired by A.C.T.?

C) Critical writing isn’t about being mean or nice. Art is a conversation. Criticism is the other side of it. Being mean or nice is the flair you attach to your honesty. Keep in mind that it isn’t nice to pander and isn’t mean to ask for something better.

This isn’t a case where someone can say “If you don’t like it, don’t go.” We are leaving it up to tourists and people trying to impress their dates to leave the most lasting impression of A.C.T. with their glowing Gold Star reviews. Why? Do they have over-priced degrees in theatre? Do they have years of theatre going and practical experience? They have no choice but to blindly follow each other about. The papers are shutting down and de-funding their theatrical review sections. Major on-line news sources don’t follow current theatre news (no, that one article on how to recognize a drama kid when you see one on BuzzFeed doesn’t count.) We need to start talking.

Start writing. Start critiquing in that beautiful poetic prose that you are known for. Stop waiting for someone else to say it. When A.C.T. announced they were doing 1776, we should have bought tickets as if it was our duty. We should have all gone with hope in our hearts that we were all wrong. And when we weren’t, we should have publicly criticized A.C.T. And then we should have bought tickets to the next show.

If I learned anything from 1776 it is that you and I need to be like John Adams. We can’t sit back with cool reasoned heads and let the people with the most money dictate to the masses what “art” is. What “good” is.

Cooler heads can twiddle their thumbs while the status-quo monopolizes the theatre going audience with their cool cool considerate theatre. Let’s you and me be hot heads. It’ll be more fun.