Everything Is Already Something: Writing the TBA Awards or How the Sausage Gets Made

Allison Page, bringing you the sausage.

If you’re a theater person in the Bay Area, you probably know the Theatre Bay Area Awards show was this past Monday. You may or may not know that I wrote the script. As in, the script for the 2+ hours that is the TBA Awards Show. Last year I wrote a recap of the awards show for the TPub blog, and this year, since I’m looking at it from an entirely different angle, I’ll give you some idea of what is was like putting things together.

STEP 1: OH THIS WILL BE FUN
When I was approached to write the script, I accepted because it seemed like such a strange experience. How could I say no to that? What other chance will I have to write the script for an awards show, until Neil Patrick Harris uproots me from my tenderloin apartment and takes me away from all this, of course.

STEP 2: THERE’S A LOT OF THIS, ISN’T THERE?
Just setting up the structure of the script (which I wrote in Final Draft) took many hours.

There are 27 categories, most of them with three tiers of recipients. There are 4 unique awards — three Legacy Awards and one Charles Dean Award. The regular awards do not receive acceptance speeches, but the Legacy and Charles Dean Awards do, so they look a bit different in the script. There were also 4 musical acts and two host monologues. The script skeleton, without ANY dialogue or lyrics, was 38 pages long. All said and done, it was 116 pages. YEAH. Each segment needed stage directions. Where are people entering? Do they cross to the podium? Do they have a body mic or a handheld? Which handheld? What are the finalists doing? Where do the recipients enter? Where do they exit once they’ve received the award? Where is the band? Does the screen come in? Does the screen go out? Is the iris open? Are there sound cues? Light cues? Curtain cues? Chairs? Tableaus? Does the host introduce the presenters? Or does the announcer do it? Because those are two different people. Where does the musical act come in? That was an exhausting list, right? It’s not even everything that needs to be considered.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

STEP 3: NOBODY’S A WINNER
Terminology. Everybody loves to specify their terminology. In particular, they customize it to make people feel cozy. In this case, you’re not a “nominee,” you’re a “finalist” and you’re not a “winner,” you’re a “recipient”. I get it. I definitely get it. But also, the collective brains of most people would never go to those words first, so you’ve got to correct people over and over when they say, “winner” because they’ll get it stuck in their heads and then everyone’s saying the wrong thing — or worse if you’re a writer who is easily bothered by things, which is to say if you’re a writer — inconsistently referring to people as more than one thing. If someone uses all of these words: winner, recipient, nominee, and finalist, now everyone’s wondering if there are different kinds of awards and if only they’d been nominated in that category, they could actually be a real winner.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.21.46 AM

STEP 4: WHAT WILL THEY SAY?
A cool thing about the TBA Awards is that they remind you just how large the Bay Area theater community actually is. Of the 20+ people I had to write things for, I knew…3 of them. And those three I didn’t even know very well. I will say I learned a fair amount about various theater companies and people because of all the necessary Googling and Facebook stalking I had to do. The whole thing made me paranoid to put words in anyone’s mouth that they wouldn’t say. For instance, I had some remark about “Oh I’m going to go home and drink some wine,” or some tame thing like that, and then searched through that person’s Facebook photos to see if I could find photos of them drinking a glass of wine, not to make sure they liked wine, but to make sure they weren’t sober after years of dealing with alcoholism and attending AA meetings because WOULDN’T THAT BE SO TERRIBLE?!? It would. It would be terrible. I did find photos of that person with wine and the horror of making a magnificent faux pas began to fade. Fade, not go away entirely. Strangely, it was stuff I would never have thought anyone could take issue with, that people would want to change. Humans love to tinker. That’s fine. If you’re going to take on a project like this, it’s best to be flexible because otherwise your head’s going to pop. That being said…

STEP 5: JUST SKIMMING IT
Oh boy. The most delightful surprise of this process was that people just do not read very carefully. I GET IT. We all have a lot of stuff to do. Shows to direct, sets to build, lines to memorize, all kinds of stuff. But the majority of things I had to take a second look at because someone had a question or request or complaint, weren’t even valid. It was just that they hadn’t read it properly. So I’m going back over the script with a fine, fine sifter looking for what they’re talking about, over and over again, and then ending up with “It’s already right.” Now 20 minutes of my life have died because they’ve been glancing more than reading. Like I said, I get that. Maybe I would do the same thing. After all, I’m the writer, so it’s my job to look at this damn thing over and over again anyway. They’re just presenting and there’s no reason they should be laboring over the thing like it’s grandma’s antique fine china.

STEP 6: SPEECHES THAT I CAN’T CONTROL
When Legacy and Charles Dean Awards are given out, there are two speeches: a speech by the person giving the award, and a speech by the person or representative of the person receiving the award. Clearly I don’t write those, because that wouldn’t make any sense, but it also means nobody knows how long they’re going to be. I freely admit to being obsessed with timing and shortness (despite the length of this blog). I’m the creative director of a sketch comedy company. I like 20 second sketches. 4 specialty awards were given out. That means 8 speeches. 4 to give them out, 4 to accept them. Let’s say each speech is 3 minutes, that would mean 24 additional minutes are added to the evenings events. And though I was wandering around drinking cocktails during most of the show, I can tell you I saw some longer than that. There was at least one acceptance speech that was very short because the recipient (RECIPIENT, SEE, IT’S IN MY BRAIN NOW) didn’t know she was receiving an award. So it was one of those great, sincere surprise moments of “Oh my gosh, thank you!” that tends to inspire brevity. Naturally, I loved that. It’s also just nice to see someone so thankful and surprised in real time. Then there’s the host monologues. The host flew in the afternoon of the show, so all of his stuff had to come together really quickly. He worked out all his own material for the opening monologue and mid-show monologue. It made the most sense to do that for several reasons. We didn’t know each other, he was flying in day-of, and we have completely different styles of humor. I’m more of a satire guy, and he’s more of a wordplay/pun/clown guy. Both are fine, but imposing one on the other without having the time to work it out together would be foolhardy and would have given him an awful lot of alien material to memorize when he’s already got his own stuff in his brain and there’s just 4 hours from his entering the theater until the show starts.

STEP 7: THE OPENING MUSICAL NUMBER
So, because the entirety of the rest of the script was not enough work, I also wrote and directed the opening musical number, which was performed by Killing My Lobster, the company I’m co-creative director of. It was a parody of Willkommen from Cabaret, referencing various Bay Area theater stuff. It was really fun and complicated to put together. There were 12 performers, and only a few of them are singers and/or dancers. Mostly it was just funny people. Thank goodness the TBA Awards musical director came in to work with us on our vocals for an hour last week. But all said and done we got ONE rehearsal with the band, the afternoon of the show. The sort of psychological reaction of the performers when they walked out onto that big stage in that HUGE theater, was really interesting to me. It was a unique experience for them to be in a space that size. We’re used to performing in a house closer to 100 seats, and in that environment, we can totally dominate. But suddenly being in that grand theatrical arena really freaked them out for a minute. I had the sense that they hadn’t really given themselves permission to do it; that they felt they didn’t deserve it or something. After a rocky run with the band, there was a necessary pep talk in the dressing room, and once they took the stage for the actual performance, they killed. Or that’s how I feel anyway. Clearly I’m biased, but I thought it was awesome. The two most important jokes (to me) I wrote for that evening were in the opening number, and I was really proud that we got to do it.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number...in their underwear.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number…in their underwear.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
My goals taking on the writing of the script were thus: have a unique experience, work really hard at something no one I’ve ever known has done before, do the world’s fastest rewrites, be funny when I can, be real about certain issues within the theater community (again, when I can get away with it), make the show more entertaining and hopefully shorter than the previous year, have a good time, get a lot of drinks, wander around The Geary like I owned the place, recognize more companies/groups/people in writing and in person, and wear a cute dress. I accomplished a lot of those things. I didn’t write every single word that was said, it’s a big show and there are so many perspectives and ideas coming from everywhere that there’s no way anyone could put it together without input/ideas/edits/on stage improvising from other people. The amount of time and effort I put into this project was truly staggering. Day and night, piles of stuff building up in my apartment as I type for so long that my legs hurt from sitting. Not going places, or doing things because I have to write constantly to get it done. I couldn’t even tell you how many hours it took. A LOT. The show itself was still too long. It’s very hard to speed these things up because there are so many moving parts, but I think there are some things that can be done to make it faster the next time around. But, this is only the second annual TBA Awards ceremony and it can certainly continue to get better and smarter over time, like all things should. Like the theater community should. I’m always bored to tears when people want to talk about why they don’t believe in awards shows, or whatever their particular issue is with it. The funny thing about that is those people often have a lot to say about theater, and if they went to the awards, they’d probably notice there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of theater people all in one place on one night, and there is no better way to connect with those people and talk about what it is that we’re all doing, what we love about it, what we hate about it, what we can DO about it, how it can be better, what the future holds, and why we don’t see each other more often when we are, collectively, the present and future of the art form we care about. So, sure, you can sit at home and write an email about it or whatever ya like doing, but it’s got nothing on looking people in the face and connecting with them over your shared loving and loathing of art. Maybe you’ll even work together someday. Or at the very least, have a feeling that maybe some production choice that they made was inspired by something they really felt passionate about, and not something they were doing specifically to piss you off. Wild, I know. Listen, after all is said and done, I will have been a part of nearly 19 productions in 2015, 3 of which are even eligible for these awards, and none of which got any nominations. So that is certainly not why I go. Though someday maybe the stuff I do will count for that. We’ll see. But I go because I’m part of this whole big monster that is theater.

I have to say, the feeling of watching someone whose work you believe in take the stage, and getting to scream and shout “WOOOOOOOOO!” for them, is pretty amazing. Because you’re not saying, “WOOOOOOOOO!” you’re saying “YA’LL SEE THAT PERSON? YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, BUT THAT RIGHT THERE IS SOMEONE YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING. WE LOVE THEM AND YOU SHOULD LOVE THEM TOO. CHECK US OUT. WE’RE OUT HERE WORKING OUR TAILS OFF JUST LIKE YOU ARE.” And that has nothing to do with winning or losing…sorry, receiving or not receiving.

Also someone held up a Black Lives Matter banner on stage and it was pretty great.

As a fun bonus, here is the entirety of the Willkommen TBA Awards opening number. (As performed by Jan Gilbert, Kyna Wise, Elaine Gavin, Ron Chapman, Sam Bertken, Justin Lucas, Griffin Taylor, Katharine Chin, Jeunee Simon, Melanie Marshall, Carlye Pollack, and Shaun Plander, with host Ron Campbell entering at the end. Two Rons, I know, you’ll figure it out.)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
Breadbox, Lamplighters, Mime Troupe
San Jose Stage, It’s all of the rage
Custom Made Theatre
Can you see the stage?

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

JUSTIN. (spoken)
Oh it is so nice to see you! Good evening! Is Broadway By The Bay in the house? Oh good. Sorry about our singing. Except mine!

RON.
We Players is probably doing Hamlet at the Jack in the Box across the street. They’ll be back, they’ll be back!

ELAINE.
It’s okay it’s just a joke.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

RON.
Leave your Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle awards outside!

KYNA. So you didn’t get as many nominations as you did last year City Lights? Hm? Forget it!

JAN. We have no troubles here. Here, life is beautiful! The Geary Theater is beautiful! Even Sean Kana’s band is beautiful!

Band is revealed.

Faultline, you’re brand new, welcome
There’s Old Hats like ACT and Magic
Cal Shakes AKA Hypothermia
Hillbarn did Funny Girl,
(spoken) Everyone did Glengarry Glenn Ross

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
There’s OMG
NCTC
and BRT

RON. So many acronyms!

JUSTIN.
And now presenting some of the nominees.

ELAINE. You mean finalists!

JAN. There are East Bay theaters and South Bay Theaters, or is it South Bay theaters and East Bay theaters? You know there’s only one way to tell the difference. Someone not from San Francisco will show you later.

KYNA. Get it, because we never leave the city!

ELAINE. You know one of my favorite things about seeing a show at Impact?

ALL. Pizza!

KYNA. Betcha they didn’t have that at the Globe.

JUSTIN. Suck it Shakespeare!

RON. And, of course, Just Theater’s amazing production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.

RON passes out on stage. JUSTIN fans him, shakes him, and does various other business to get him up and moving again.

JUSTIN. He’s okay! Just keep going!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
(whispered)
Buy a drink, fluff your hair, smile
No win? it’s okay, screw it

ELAINE. Hello, Spreckles!

ALL. (still whispering)
Taste is subjective, we don’t even sing

JUSTIN. Enchante, Central Works!

ALL.
Here for the party
At PianoFight
(We’re cheap!)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
One Man, Two Guvnors,
Pussy

We’re not just vulgar, that title is real
Happy to see you,
Please applaud with zeal

JAN. One more time!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
We’re KML
To T…B…

They are interrupted by Ron Campbell’s entrance.

RON CAMPBELL. KML? You’re Killing My Lobster?

ELAINE. Yeah!

RON CAMPBELL. You’re not even eligible for these awards, are you?

ALL. No/well not exactly/maybe someday/a technicality, etc.

RON CAMPBELL. How did you guys even get in here?

RON. Rob Ready left the door open.

RON CAMPBELL. Go back to BATS or Big City Lights or wherever it is you guys hang out. The Sketch Comedy Festival. I’ll take it from here. Come back when you do legitimate theater.

KML winces at the word legitimate.

JAN. Hey, we premiered Hunter Gatherers! We launched Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

RON CAMPBELL. Yeah, 10 years ago. Go on now, scoot!

KML starts to exit, sadly.

RON CAMPBELL. Where did they leave off? Sean, play me my note.

Band plays very end of song.

RON CAMPBELL. To T…B…

KML turns around, runs/slides toward RON, and they all finish the last note together.

RON & KML. Aaaaaaaa!

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/person who is slowly recovering from the insanity of the last week, with snacks and cleaning her apartment while watching Bob’s Burgers.

Everything Is Already Something Week 65: Artist Nightmares

Allison Page: scaredy-pants.

Halloween is approaching, and apart from the fear of being dismembered by a maniac and blended into a soup, my biggest nightmares are the artistic ones. If you’ve ever auditioned for something or watched auditions for something, you’ve probably either performed or had to watch Christopher Durang’s short play The Actor’s Nightmare. Basically a guy is mistaken for an actor’s understudy and has to go on stage not knowing any of his lines. The play was inspired by a real phenomenon that seems like it happens all the time. I have a recurring one. It’s extremely specific.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.26.16 AM

I’m in a period drama of some kind. I’m dressed in Victorian servant attire. My face is smeared with dirt. Backstage, I meet up with my co-star (somehow for the first time even though it’s opening night) and it’s MERYL STREEP. She shakes my hand and says, “Miss Page — can I call you Allison? — Allison, I am so thrilled to work with you.” and I’m polite and calm, you know, because she should be sooooo thrilled to be working with me. Dream Allison apparently has quite an ego. The play starts. I walk onstage, alone, surrounded by a set that looks like an old brick building. I strike a fairly absurd pose, and then suddenly realize I have no idea what any of my lines are, or even which play this is. I stand silent. In my peripheral vision, I catch Meryl offstage with her arms crossed. She is shaking her head from side to side and frowning. She makes that all-familiar, neck-cutting, you’re-toast gesture. I frantically run offstage. Meryl taps me on the shoulder and shouts “YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!” I fall to my knees and scream “MERYL, NOOOOOOOO!”…and wake up in a cold sweat.

This has been going on for 15 years. It’s less frequent now than it used to be, but it still pops up from time to time. And it’s always Meryl. Always, always Meryl.

But two days ago I had a new kind of artist’s nightmare…A PLAYWRIGHT NIGHTMARE. It was bloodcurdling.

I invited a lot of people over for a reading of something I had written. All the actors arrived (like 20 of them) and I was in the kitchen making food for them — specifically pizza and fried eggs. All the eggs were over easy so they required real supervision, and the pizza was extremely labor intensive. I had to make the dough fresh for each one, and the toppings were so particular that I had to bake the pizza for only a minute at a time, remove it, add certain toppings, and put it back in over and over again. Hours and hours passed and people were leaving left and right. We didn’t read a single word because I spent all that time in the kitchen. I finally came out with one cold fried egg and a single slice of pizza left for myself, and everyone was gone, except one actor. MERYL STREEP. She shook her head silently, then walked out of the room.

tumblr_inline_nkemuuazws1qgrmxc

I guess, now that I’m having nightmares about it, that I must actually be a writer. I look forward to decades of dreams about not finishing things, or being attacked by words carrying machetes.

And Meryl, today I will finish a script, just so I don’t let you down. Your withering glance is really intense.

Or maybe I’ll just never sleep again.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/dreamer in San Francisco. You can see her murder people in Theater Pub’s DICK 3 Oct. 26th and 27th at PianoFight in SF.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Knowing When to Leave

Dave Sikula, on when to skip out.

My first directing teacher began our first class with his philosophy about the craft: “Directing is nothing more than teaching animals tricks.”

(One of my fellow students took that maxim a bit too literally and would throw M&Ms and other treats at his actors when they performed to his expectations. I have neither sunk – not risen – to that level yet.)

I don’t necessarily subscribe to this theory, though there’s some truth to it in that you’re trying to get people (who are, after all, animals) to do what you want them to.

In actuality, if I see directing as anything other than a collaboration, it’d be raising kids. (And let me hasten to add here that I don’t have kids of my own, so I can only speculate what it’s actually like.) You have a group of humans for whom you have to provide and safe and nurturing environment to ensure they have certain skills before you let them go to prosper or fail on their own.

Part of that process is knowing when to cut the cord and let them go out on their own. In reality, once the show opens, it belongs to the cast and the stage manager. (I used to use my opening night pep talk as an opportunity to verbally turn the show over to the SM. It was a formality, but I liked the ceremony of it.) Everyone has to color inside the lines the director has established, but his or her work is done. At this point, the director is, to quote Chekhov, “an unnecessary luxury … not even a luxury, but more like an unnecessary appendage—a sixth finger.” As an actor, it’s nice to see them, but (to stretch the parenting analogy to the breaking point) it’s like a divorced parent showing up. “Oh, it’s them.” As a director, you’re no longer part of the family, so while you can take part in some of the activities, the company has moved on without you (or in spite of you).

The director after opening night.

The director after opening night.

For some directors, the process is simple. After opening night, they’re gone. You may see them again occasionally during the run or on closing night, but mom or dad has gone out for a pack of cigarettes and isn’t coming back. Others like to see at least part of every performance. (I have to admit, in all honesty, that I’ve fallen asleep at at least a couple of performances of my own shows, but still felt compelled to go). Backstage at my current show tonight (in which I’m acting), one actor mentioned he’d worked with a director who came to every performance, four or five nights a week for four or five weeks. That’s either dedication or desperation or obsession.

If I do go to one of my shows a lot, it’s either because I really like it (it happens) or I’m trying to learn from it (still trying to figure out why something works or doesn’t – though I can’t recall either re-directing something or giving real extensive notes once a show has opened) or I’m trying to figure out how I want to video it.

It took me a long time to get to that point, though. I guess that, having acted so long, I really wanted to stay part of the company even after I’d kicked the kids out of the nest. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I’d miss a performance. Even now, I still feel, if not guilty, then intensely curious as to how things are going. (Even as I admit that the reception will be pretty consistent night after night.)

All of this isn’t to say there’s no role for the director after opening. In open-end runs (as in Broadway), many directors go back every so often to make sure that, despite the best efforts of their stage managers, the shows are what they intended them to be. Even though when my wife and I go to New York, we generally fly non-stop, for some reason one year, our return flight went through Las Vegas. When we got to the terminal at JFK for the trip home, I noticed an old guy (even older than I) typing away furiously at his Blackberry (that’s how long ago this was). I kept watching him and watching him, and finally turned to my wife (who hadn’t noticed him; she’s not as much of a people-watcher as I am) and said, “That guy looks like Hal Prince.” I paused and suddenly realized it was Hal Prince, whom I was now determined to meet.

Between him checking his phone and asking the ground crew about the flight’s status, he was constantly occupied and I didn’t want to interrupt him. He finally took a break and I rushed up and introduced myself and thanked him for his work and told him how it had influenced me. He told me that was a nice way to start the day (it was, like, 8:00 am), we talked a little shop, and then parted. He, being in first class, was seated on the plane before we were, and as we filed past him, he and I exchanged pleasantries. I kept trying to figure out why he was going to Vegas when it hit me that he was probably going to check up on the production of Phantom of the Opera that was running there then. That’s dedication. (Of course, if I were making Phantom-director money, I’d be dedicated, too …)

My buddy, Hal Prince

My buddy, Hal Prince

I mentioned in a previous post that I think a director’s main job is to get out of the way of the writer, but his or her second job is to get out of the way of the actors and realize that, once those lights come up on opening night, it’s time to realize that the kids have grown up and we need to start a new family. The old one will still be there, but they’re busy raising kids of their own.

Everything Is Already Something Week 63: Helpful Steps To Be More Professional And Less Awful

Allison Page, America’s Less Awful Version Of Most Things.

Step 1: Get a fucking calendar. That’s how you keep track of your stuff.

Step 2: Use that fucking calendar. Ya see, then you’ll maybe show up to the stuff.

Step 3: Did you fuck up your calendar? Take care of that shit. Communicate with people when you need to change timing of a meeting or audition or ice cream. Don’t wait for them to ask you where the fuck you are.

post-7497-0-67367400-1374276030

Step 4: Apologize for fucking up. That was on you, say you’re sorry and suggest solutions.

Step 5: Learn from your fucking mistakes. Don’t keep making the same ones, especially with the same people. Nobody’s perfect, but don’t be awful.

Step 6: See Step 1.

Step 7: You did fucking get that calendar, right? Because…I was totally not kidding about that.

Step 8: Laptops generally come with calendars on them. If I see you with a MacBook pro and you can’t figure out your schedule, I’m going to flip a table. There’s also this thing called a smartphone.

Just one of the many fantastic calendar options of 2010

Just one of the many fantastic calendar options of 2010

Step 9: Communicate your conflicts in a timely manner. No, no, you didn’t suddenly end up in Spain. That’s not something that happens. You had to buy tickets to Spain, so maybe that would have been a good time to tell the director you’re going off to find yourself and eat paella.

Step 10: Don’t over-promise. Listen, I have fucking done this before, and it’s terrible. Your volunteering isn’t going to make you look charitable if you cancel it 6 minutes before it’s supposed to happen. I say this from experience on both sides of that shitstick.

Step 11: Don’t underestimate someone’s ability to remember that you fucked up. Oh, they remember. BOY HOWDY. If you’ve fucked up and been a no-show more than once with the same person/company, you should probably call that out and say that you know about it and don’t plan to do it again because YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED A PATTERN, MY FRIEND. People notice patterns. Like fucking houndstooth.

Step 12: Your resume doesn’t matter as much as you do. If your resume is nice and you act like a shithead, it’s the shithead I’m going to remember, not the resume.

Step 13: Don’t be a shithead.

Step 14: If you don’t like the rules, don’t do the fucking thing. It saves you from doing something you don’t really agree with, and it saves every other person involved from listening to your bullshit. Know the expectations of the project/show/whatever and if they aren’t to your liking, walk away. It’s probably just better suited to someone else and you’re probably better suited to a different project that you actually like.

Step 15: See Step 1.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/creative director of Killing My Lobster.

Everything Is Already Something Week 61: The Sequel

Allison Page- this time, it’s personal.

There are an awful lot of sequels in the world. So many movie trilogies and remakes of movie trilogies and prequels and spinoffs. As I embark on a quest to re-ignite the glorious flames of a character I played three years ago, I can’t help but think about what people will take away from the experience of seeing him in a new light.

For some context, I’m talking about a dancing bear. I played an alcoholic dancing bear at Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Play Festival in 2012. The Beer Bear.

The original Beer Bear, with his beer

The original Beer Bear, with his beer

It was a truly fantastic experience, and to be honest, it was the thing that brought me back to performing in straight theater — which may sound funny because I was performing in a bar as a drunk bear in a 10 minute solo piece. But it somehow became this great thing that people still talk to me about 3 years later, and led to forming several important artistic partnerships in my life. (I wrote about The Bear at the time in a blog titled Somethin’ Like a Bearnomenon, which was before I was a Theater Pub columnist and was just guesting like a civilian.)

Now that Theater Pub is back to producing live shows, it was only natural to bring back The Bear and The Llama…in new pieces. The Llama has been through this before, he’s had multiple sequels. But The Bear took three years off after his big debut, and so much time has passed. Who is he now?!? Yes, I’m saying “he”. He’s a male bear even though I’m not.

As it turns out, he’s been through a lot in the last three years since last we saw his furry face. And he’s a blonde now. Because I’m a blonde now, so playwright Megan Cohen just worked that into the script — this is part of the joy of knowing the playwright and being the only person to play the part (so far).

In many ways, Bear has lived through a lot of what America—and specifically, San Francisco, has been through. Longing for the glory of certain parts of the past, while knowing that past was just as flawed as the present, but in different ways. Musings on the future of the city and the future of Theater Pub abound. The age old lament that “Everybody wants the hits, nobody wants the new stuff.” in a time when playwrights and theater makers are constantly trying to convince theaters and audience members that it’s necessary to take a chance on something new and exciting, to drive us into the future and not get stuck in the past, no matter how glorious it may have been, is all up in here.

Much talk about the California flag appears in BEEEAAR 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, because there's a bear on it! BEARS BEARS BEARS.

Much talk about the California flag appears in BEEEAAR 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, because there’s a bear on it! BEARS BEARS BEARS.

So while we don’t yet know what people will think of this new version of The Bear (I love it, for the record) it is necessary to move forward. Onward and upward toward the future of theater and the future of being a Bear, or something.

And what of the lost love of Bear and Llama? Did Bear really spurn Llama the way he claimed 2 years ago? We may never know. Some mysteries of the heart are meant to stay that way. But one thing’s for sure: you can’t bury a Bear when he’s got more to growl about. And believe me, there’s plenty.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/BEER BEAR. You can see her don the fez, ears, and tutu at Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays Festival August 17, 18, 24 and 25 at PianoFight in San Francisco at 144 Taylor St.

Cowan Palace: The Show Must Go On (And One Woman’s Quest To Have It All)

Ashley’s back to balancing.

I’ve never really considered myself to be a triple threat. But I’ve always wanted to claim that title. I’m an actor. Who can sing. Who likes to dance (but who maybe should think twice before doing it in public… let alone an audience). But despite my lack of threatening skills I’ve always had big dreams that somehow, someway, I get myself to Broadway. Or Bollywood.

For now, I’m here in The Bay Area and redefining my idea of a “triple threat”. I’m a new mom. Who has just gone back to work. Who is returning to performing in her first show in almost two years.

And I got to tell you, it hasn’t been easy. Honestly, it’s all felt quite heavy and at times, endlessly difficult. But, yet, I still still want to be a triple threat. I still want to have it all!

And I guess I’ve always had that mindset. Back when I was a kid, my mom struggled with the decision to return to work after having my brother, her third and final baby. As the stubborn oldest child that I am, I told her she had to go back to work. Because she was good at her job and it was what made her my mom.

When I cried to my mom asking if she thought my own daughter would resent me for going back to work she reminded me of how insistent I had been when she was trying to figure things out. And how much child Ashley needed to believe that women really could manage a family and a professional life and a personal life. That “having it all” was completely doable.

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Ashley Cowan, seriously contemplating if her dance skills will ever get better than “can sort of complete a Zumba class

Yikes. What a boring, weird kid. Thank goodness I’ve grown into such an interesting, normal adult, right?

Though, I do want to “have it all”. Even though I don’t know what that even means.

I returned to work in part because I didn’t really have a choice. You know how expensive San Francisco is. In order to continue living here, Mama had to get back to earning some bucks. I also really like my job. I love my coworkers, I love using my brain in different non diaper related ways, I love having adult conversations, and so on. But, oh dear God, leaving my kiddo to return back may have been the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

And we’ve got a pretty good setup! Scarlett is with an amazing nanny that watches her alongside another sweet baby three days a week while Will watches her Thursdays and Fridays and I cover the weekends while he works. No, we don’t all get a full day off to enjoy together. And yes, I had to excuse myself to cry a little in the work bathroom when I learned Scarlett had rolled over for the first time and I wasn’t there to witness it. But for now, we’re making it work. And our latest theatrical adventure is a play Will and I are both in and our cast has kindly agreed to have rehearsal at our apartment so we don’t have to find a babysitter. Honestly, in my quest to have it all, I definitely lucked out with some of this stuff.

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

Our first rehearsal as a family! Watch us try and make this work!

And yet, the pursuit of trying to be a triple threat is hard. It’s so fucking hard, guys. I’m tired, I’m emotional, I’m everything all at once and fighting to be more. But the show goes on. It has to keep going.

Plus, I still want to do all the things! I want to be the best mom! I want to do well at my job! I want to keep performing! I want to keep getting better at dancing! I want to use a lot of exclamations in my blog!

Striving to be a triple threat is okay, I guess. But learning to forgive myself for not always being the best at it all seems like the real lesson. Sometimes it’s okay to just be a single threat with a thrift store Mary Poppins’ bag of tricks.

Ugh, I don’t know, guys. Stuff is so hard all the time, you know?

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Did that Mom just come from a dance class? She looks like she’s working pretty hard.” “Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s just drinking.

Day by day. Breath by breath. That’s kind of how I’m living at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll still keep taking Zumba classes at the gym and waiting for my big Bollywood break.

Everything Is Already Something Week 59: Haiku for Auditions

Allison Page brings poetry to the audition process.

Monologues are dumb
Wait you want me to cold read
I miss monologues

Oh please don’t make me
Reading with him is torture
Give me the tall one

Sixty five actors
Hot stuffy hallway of sweat
Rabid dogs who read

To be or not to—
Oh god I forgot the rest
To be or not to—

Don’t make me watch them
I’ll just sign people in k
I can’t take it man

I wore extensions
I totally look 13
Cast me now I’m teen

Don’t let them see fear
Show your teeth for aggression
I hope it’s working

Oh no not this guy
Summer of ’13 he saw
I tripped into poop

To be or not to—
I think I got it this time
Or not to pee — damn

Did not dress to move
Swing dancing in pencil skirt
Fetch me a seamstress

It’s Spanish oh boy
Uh no habla espanol
Si si si si si

Scene calls for kissing
Who kisses at auditions
He wouldn’t—mmmfffff

To be or not to—
Oh god am I wearing pants
—That is the pants—shit

Oh great she’s here blech
Might as well give it to her
Shiny hair kill me

To be or not to be—
Nailing it so hard right now
THAT IS THE QUESTION

They’re releasing me
They must know they’re casting me
Or the opposite

Allison Page is an actor/writer/person. You can catch her as Bunny Watson in THE DESK SET at the EXIT Theater now through July 25th!