Everything Is Already Something Week 51: What Collaboration Does For Me

Allison Page, collaborating.

I used to be a loner. Picture a grouchy old bearded man in a sweater, hunkered down in an armchair, scribbling away on a stack of paper, occasionally shaking his fist at the sky. Possibly at some point he throws half a glass of bourbon in the face of his wife. That was me, but not a man with a beard. You know, but bearded on the INSIDE. Often, I think people have this idea of what a writer is and immediately they think of Ernest Hemingway. And that’s how you’re supposed to be a good writer, isn’t it? All the geniuses and masters toil away in their own well-crafted solitary confinement – crouched down in their pillow forts where all the pillows are barbed wire, and we tell ourselves that’s how you get to be a writer. That’s how you get to be an artist. AN ARTISTE. That suffering makes your art better is a long held idea. I admit to buying into that at some point. I think we all have – especially when young and impressionable. Anyone who caught the bug of wanting to write books or plays or poems (DEFINITELY POEMS) or to act or dance or paint or sculpt or…I don’t know, whatever you guys are doing – puppetry? Anyone who had that impulse at a young age probably started identifying their artistic heroes and began to define what they wanted to be by taking note of what created the artists they connected to most. That was a hell of a sentence.

Misery worked pretty well for Alanis. Teenage girls of the 90s, can ya feel me?

Misery worked pretty well for Alanis. Teenage girls of the 90s, can ya feel me?

Let’s take young, pink-haired, angry Allison for example.

I’ve known I wanted to be an actor since I was probably 5 years old. At that age I was mostly inspired by cartoon characters – let’s be real, cartoons are fucking great. Actually, I remained inspired by cartoons for a while. Actually actually, I still am. I was the only little girl I knew who wanted to be The Genie from Aladdin instead of Jasmine. Animaniacs was a big deal in my life. I mean, it still is. It holds up. (Garfield and Friends does not. Don’t bother.) Once we start getting into the real people I looked up to, though, it doesn’t take long to start finding the darkness. (If we’re being honest The Genie isn’t actually that happy a character, he just deflects his sorrow with jokes. So I guess the darkness crept in even earlier than I thought.)

By the time I was 14, I was already very into old movies. Yes, I was very cool and popular (lies). It was at that age that I first watched a little movie called Der Blaue Engel, or The Blue Angel. It’s a little German tragicomedy about a teacher who falls in love with a cabaret performer. IT DOESN’T GO WELL. It ends with Emil Jannings dying while regretfully clutching the desk from which he used to teach before the succubus Marlene Dietrich ruined his life because he loved her so much that it turned him into a literal sad clown. SO FUN. And that’s the actual movie that made me want to be an actor. Isn’t that wild? Sorry, spoilers in case you haven’t had time to catch this movie since it came out in 1930. But really, it’s beautiful and cruel, you should see it. That was sort of a sidebar because I’m really talking about writers, but I was an actor first so there ya go. When I was 16 I decided I finally had a favorite play. It’s still my favorite play. What is it?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Yikes.

Quite a choice for a teenage mind. But just because something is dark, does that necessarily mean it came from a person who is feeling dark? When you look at comedies, they certainly don’t necessarily come from people who are feeling fun and light. I’m meandering a little on the topic at hand. Let’s get back to it.

Here’s a sampling of some writerly heroes of mine:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dawn Powell
Dorothy Parker
Raymond Chandler
Dashiell Hammett
Clare Booth Luce
Robert Benchley

Go ahead and google how many of them were lonely writers and avid drinkers. Just as a sample group. Get ready to be sad!

Robert Benchley: absolutely hilarious and definitely died slowly of cirrhosis of the liver because he loved sad/alone drinking. YAYYYY.

Robert Benchley: absolutely hilarious and definitely died slowly of cirrhosis of the liver because he loved sad/alone drinking. YAYYYY.

I’m not saying I’m as gloomy as any of those people or that they were alcoholics because they were writers, but I think writing can breed loneliness or at least nudge it along. You so often do it alone. I mean, in the end you have to do it alone, right? You can’t have 20 fingers typing on your keyboard or writing with your pencil. Well, you could, but it would take forever. As much as I am alone when I write, I try to spend an equal amount of time either writing WITH other people – like, actually collaborating on something, or writing NEAR other people. I think if you’re in the business of writing about people, that it’s good to maintain connections to people as opposed to doing the opposite of that.

When I write sketch comedy, I do that in a super fun writers room scenario. There are something like 10 – 15 of us (some writers, some actors) throwing out ideas, talking about possibilities, and laughing really hard. It is AMAZING. It feels like magic should feel. So much so, that when I’m executing all those ideas, it still feels collaborative even when I’m alone. Weird, right?

Clearly that’s kind of specific to sketch. When you’re writing a novel, or a play, or whatever else you’re writing, you’re not always looking for that level of collaboration. But that doesn’t mean you have to stew alone all the time. I like to be alone together. I can sit and work on what I’m working on, and a friend can sit across from me or next to me at the table to my left, and we work in silence sipping coffee as long as we can, then turn to each other when we kind of can’t bear it for a minute. We’ll gossip about something, or talk about the trouble we’re having with a particular section, or even *gasp* read a bit we’re particularly proud of to the other person. Or if we’re really struggling, just talk about the coffee we’re drinking. Sometimes if I’m working on something particularly draining, chatter about coffee might be the most I’m able to think about. It’s been good for me, this process.

I want to be a good writer. I think I’m an okay one. I want to be good, but not at the expense of my grip on reality and connections to other people. I don’t need to be Fitzgerald or Parker or Powell, I just want to be the best writer I can be while not falling into the gloom. If that means I don’t go down in history, I’m okay with that. Since allowing myself the possibility of collaborating or writing alone together, everything seems like a little bit less of a struggle. I mean, geez, writing is already not so easy. If you can find a way to make it a little bit easier, I don’t see how that can be bad. I still have my grouchy-old-man-in-a-cardigan moments, but I have fewer of them. And there’s a nice space of happiness in between: the comfort of knowing that the person next to you is dealing with the same thing you are. Or, if you’re competitive, the knowledge that you may be kicking their ass in the number-of-pages-typed-in-a-day department.

I’m not going to say collaboration will kick your depression. What am I, a doctor? No. I’m not a doctor. Don’t ever let me tell you otherwise. But what I am saying is that while hell may be other people, it is also probably a lack of other people. We need each other a little bit. Maybe even just for an occasional reality check.

There isn’t one way to be a successful/good/happy writer. Just like there isn’t one way to be nearly anything. Don’t try to fit yourself into a dangerous mould. Make your own mould. Hell, BE the mould.

Me? I get by with a little help from my friends.

Not actually Allison's friends, but let's pretend.

Not actually Allison’s friends, but let’s pretend.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian. Her new play HILARITY, about a comedian struggling with alcoholism and jokes, is being produced by DIVAfest and has its world premiere at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Previews start March 5th. Tickets at hilarity.bpt.me

Everything Is Already Something Week 50: Why Isn’t It Just Funny?

Allison Page gets serious. And anxious. And anxious about being serious.

“Wh…what did you think?”, I stammer.
“Why wasn’t it just funny? It should have just been funny.”, says a faceless man, walking away from where I stand, leaving me in front of a grungy set, holding a beer. Then the floor opens up and I drop into a lava pit and am quickly enveloped in a sea of hot melty fire sludge. And then maybe a pterodactyl flies by or something.

This is what my brain makes up when I start thinking about what other people’s reactions to my first full length production as a playwright will be. The fact that I missed writing my last blog – which is the only time that has EVER happened in the last two years – should tell you how deep I am into this show. And let’s be clear about one thing – it is going fantastically well. Rehearsals are these great revelatory experiences, mostly because the director (Claire Rice) is the exact right fit for this play. She asks the right questions and that’s a biggie.

But I have this…thing hanging over me. And I sincerely doubt it’s unique. It’s also sort of narcissistic and I totally recognize that. It’s that thing where people get used to you doing a certain thing or being a certain way and then you deviate from the path in some manner and have no idea if that’s going to be a plus or a minus to people. Yeah, okay, I usually write comedy. I know that. And yes, this play has a title that makes it sound like a comedy. But it is really dark. The assistant director referred to it as “cruel” which it definitely is at times. This is especially true of the main character, who – SPOILER ALERT – is played by me. So yeah, now I’m that guy. I’m in a thing I wrote. Now, I don’t tend to write things for myself. Actually, I’ve never done it before. This is the first time. It’s a unique project and I don’t see writing lots of things for myself in the future. But it certainly is extra pressure on me. Then, naturally, my brain goes “God, what are people going to think of THAT?”

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

I could think about this stuff all day. I mean, I’d go crazy doing it, but I could do it. They’re all self-inflicted issues mostly based on what I would think if I knew someone who wasn’t me who was doing the same thing I’m doing. Ya know, because I’m a judgmental jerk and kind of a lunatic. Taking ownership of this project and saying “If people don’t like it, that’s okay.” is hard. But totally necessary. I’m making it not because I think it’s for everyone and that they’ll love it and lose their minds. I’m making it because I couldn’t let it go. It’s been brewing for 4 years in my brain, and at some point I just figured that I had to find a way to make it happen because otherwise I’ll be forever bitter at myself for not doing it. It just stuck with me like nothing else has, and I have to think that’s because I need to do it.

53%...slightly better, anyway!

53%…slightly better, anyway!

When I try to think about who I think this show is FOR – like what kind of audience is the best kind of audience for this play – I’m not sure I know how to answer that. I have this nagging feeling that any critics who have liked me up to this point are not likely to approve of this show. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Either way it doesn’t really matter, I’m going to do what I’m doing because it feels necessary. And yeah, the narcissistic part is thinking that anyone, anywhere gives a shit if I deviate from a perceived norm. Because that means I think someone is actually paying enough attention to make the assumption that I only work on certain types of material.

*snake eats its own tail AGAIN*

I’m not a sensitive person, but this thing is bringing weird stuff out of me. I’m trying to stay even and calm because that’s my preferred state of mind, but I can’t help but feel I’m taking some kind of risk – which is important, right? Otherwise WHAT ARE WE ALL DOING?!

80% - hey, that's pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

80% – hey, that’s pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

Oh boy. What a mess this blog is. Also, I make no comparisons between me and Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, or Patton Oswalt. Just…so we’re clear. Back to revisions and memorizing. And then trying not to sweat it, and sweating it anyway.

You can catch Allison Page in her DIVAfest-produced HILARITY at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco, opening March 5th.

Everything Is Already Something Week 49: When Women Aren’t Even Writing For Women

This morning I went through the numbers at the company for which I am one of two Creative Directors. Not finances – it’s a major LOL if you think I have anything to do with that. But the breakdown of who we work with. (We’ll come back around to why I was looking at this in a minute.)

Actors:
17 Women, 9 Men

Writers:
19 Women, 11 Men

Some of these people do double duty, so figuring that in we have:
31 Women, 18 Men

We have one director who isn’t from either of those groups:
1 Man

And two stage managers:
1 Man, 1 Woman

For an actual total of:
32 Women, 20 Men

That’s pretty great, if you’re looking at it from a “BUT ARE THERE AS MANY WOMEN AS MEN?!” perspective. Though we weren’t out in search of having a female dominated sketch comedy company. That’s just what happened. Those are just the people who passed through our doors, whom we liked a lot and thought were funny and fun to work with and displayed the varied set of skills which make someone good at this crap. In the five years I’ve been with this crazy group of humans, there have always been really amazingly talented women – both performers and writers. But sadly, that doesn’t always equal the varied types of roles for women that you might think it would. It does SOMETIMES. We’re not that shitty. But it seems as though it gets away from us. I say us because I am just as guilty of immediately writing a role for a man as my cohorts (regardless of their gender).

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Right now, I’m directing our set for SF Sketchfest – admittedly one of my favorite shows of the year, every year. And as I was putting together the sketches to use for that show, a sad-pants theme started to arise: almost all of the crazy, kooky, wacky character parts were for men. I’ve been doing some cross gender casting out of necessity, which is fine. I’m happy to do that. But my real wish is that we would write more over the top characters who are PURPOSELY women – as opposed to having a woman play a part written for a man (regardless of whether they choose to play the part as a woman or as a man). We tend to have six person casts – three men and three women, but sometimes having enough juicy stuff for the women to dig into without cross gender casting can be next to impossible.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

In some sort of strategy to combat something or other – I started writing some characters with no gender at all. Actually, I wrote a whole sketch with only non-gendered characters in it, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever written. I doubt that means anything, but it is interesting. (They ended up being played by 3 men and 3 women, I think.) And the idea of casting someone purely out of their fit for the role, and not due to their male or female identity is a good one, to me. It leaves a bunch of things open for interpretation, and I like that.

Our company is about to have possibly the craziest year we’ve ever had, with a brand new production happening every month. And, as my preamble for the kickoff meeting for our inaugural show in that schedule (actually called SEX BATTLE…so that’s pretty funny) states: This is a year of risk-taking for us. For all of us. Not just in the quantity of our content, but in the quality, style, and variety of our content. I’m challenging myself to be better at these things this year, and I’m going to pose that challenge to the rest of my cohorts as well.

Cookie Fleck knows what's up.

Cookie Fleck knows what’s up.

We have all these magnificently talented, energetic, creative women going to bat for us, and if we don’t give them the material they deserve, it’s no one’s fault but our own. We haven’t been total failures at it, but we’re not where we should be. And thankfully, with all these shows happening, we have 12 chances to try to get it right.

SEX BATTLE actually cannot have this problem – we’re dividing up writers and actors into two teams (chicks and dudes) and each team will create the same amount of sketches on the same topics (Politics, Love, an Impressions Speed Round and many others) so the only way they can fail at parity in my eyes is if somehow the ladies only write sketches where the other ladies have to play men. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

I anticipate at least one Hillary Clinton impression.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/creative director at Killing My Lobster. You can catch the Sketchfest show she’s directing January 27th at the Eureka Theater.

Everything Is Already Something Week 48: I MADE IT!

Allison Page, sliding under the finish line.

You’ve heard it before: “I can’t wait until you’ve made it and I get to say I knew you back when…” Well, I am happy and proud to say that everyone who’s ever said that to me can cash in on that statement because I MADE IT, BABY! That’s right. I have reached the tippy top goal. I have climbed the mountain and am standing at the top with a flag pole and the flag is waving in the wind with my visage printed proudly on it. And what is the goal? What have I accomplished? Am I on Broadway? Or in a Scorsese movie? Or in a Broadway adaptation of a Scorsese movie directed by eight of my personal heroes?

US director Martin Scorsese poses during

No.

I’m working on things I’m passionate about.

OH SHIT THAT’S SO DISAPPOINTING, ISN’T IT? Sorry, cab driver from two years ago who is waiting to brag about my fame – that’s my version of making it. I don’t have those other goals. All I want out of being a theater artist is to be a theater artist. Would a trillion dollars be cool? Yeah, obviously. I’d love to fill a yacht with caramel sauce – who wouldn’t? But I am in no way, shape, or form attempting to make that happen. I want to work on things I care about…and that’s all. I just want to always do that. But nobody wants to hear that. That’s not sparkly and fun. And it’s maybe a little too easy, some might think. I mean – it isn’t – so those people are stupid, but they’ll still think it along with “I wonder what mud tastes like.”

I’ve felt this way for quite a long time. I doubt I’m the only one, either. But it sure seems hard to understand if you ask my grandma. (Other things that are hard for her to understand include “Why won’t you eat my sauerkraut salad?”) Every person working in some sort of artistic field goes home for the holidays and has to answer some questions. Except those few people that come from a family of other artists who totally get it, and even then they’re still your family so there’ll be something somewhere they don’t understand about your life. But the truth is, grandma, I’m doing exactly what I want to do right now.

I heard this great/cheesy thing yesterday: “Don’t wait for someone to discover you. Discover yourself.” UGH, SO CHEESY.

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But I totally agree with it. Everyone’s got their own goals and dreams and hopes, but I’m not trying to climb any ladders. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do that, if that’s what you want to do. And that also isn’t to say that if some giant thing came along I wouldn’t do it. If Scorsese comes knocking, cool. But I’m not waiting for that. How awful would that be? If I spent my whole life waiting for something to happen when in reality I fully have the power to just do shit myself? And that isn’t the sound of me settling either. I can see how someone could say that (GRANDMAAAAA!) I actually am truly fulfilled doing the small and mighty things, because they don’t feel small to me, they feel important.

Oh God, this is too inspirational. I can’t go on much longer. The point is – I MADE IT! Someone play a trumpet for me! Roll out the old bath towel – we can’t afford one of those long red carpets to walk down – and let’s get this party started!

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No, but really, I have to go figure out how to raise a few thousand dollars for this show next year otherwise the set will be made out of cardboard. Heyyy, cardboard set. Not a bad idea.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/person who exists in real life as well as on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Everything Is Already Something Week 46: I Don’t Feel Bad About Saying I’m Busy

Allison Page, taking time out of her busy schedule.

There’s this hot new trend the internets is on a kick about, which is that people who say they are busy – people who ARE really busy – are doing something wrong – which I completely disagree with. Initially I thought, “Yeah, I mean, a lot of us do a lot. A lot of us do too much. I try to keep it in check, but here we are. Maybe you’re right.” and then, as things always do, it sort of escalated and now I’ve read an article containing this:

“I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch.”

OH, DO YOU? Have you ever asked someone how they were doing and wanted that response?

A: “How are you doing?”
B: “My heart craves a human touch.”
A: …*silently sips coffee*

Here’s what’s going on in this, for me: I’m not busy doing shit I hate. I’m busy making things I’m passionate about. That’s true for most of the people I associate with. When I say “How are you doing?” or “What are you up to?” or “What’s new?” essentially what I’m saying is “So what are you working on?!” and I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. Actually, it’s less that I say that I’m busy and more that other people say “It seems like you’re really busy!” – thanks, Facebook. (Clearly not Facebook’s fault, clearly my fault for talking about what I’m doing ON Facebook, but let’s not quibble over the details, shall we?) I love hearing about other people’s projects. I know that my friends are busy – I don’t know – MAKING ART. And I understand that it’s time-consuming and soul-consuming and consuming-consuming and that’s not always easy. In fact, it rarely is. But I have to believe we’re doing it for a reason, and the reason is that we want the things we’re making to exist in the world and we won’t be satisfied until they do. Maybe that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who doesn’t believe that they’re making something vital or at the very least something which will effect someone in some way that they consider important. God, does this sound pretentious? I really don’t know. It’s fine if it does. Yes, I am busy doing things I care about – but I also take time (in the fleeting moments I find) to have leisurely coffee and/or brunch dates with friends and talk for hours about anything and everything (but seriously though, it’s often still about the stuff we’re making) before I head back into a crazy sprint of producing/directing/acting/writing something. I love doing that, and I do think it’s important.

If there’s one person whose work ethic I admire the most, it would be Mae West. Clearly she’s not getting a lot done now because she’s extremely dead but when she was alive and kicking she did more than most would think possible. And she was proud of that. By day, glamorous and showy and appearing potentially frivolous – by night, writing, writing, writing, rehearsing, revising, painstakingly perfecting her material and her persona. Her unprecedented success wasn’t an accident. She worked for it every day since childhood and cared about it so much that she was willing to go through truckloads of trouble to see that her work existed, including being arrested – more than once.

The only woman you can make out on the left? That's her. This is from the trial concerning her play The Pleasure Man which was accused of being "immoral" and "indecent". The cast of 56 were arrested and carted away from the theater at which they were performing.

The only woman you can make out on the left? That’s her. This is from the trial concerning her play The Pleasure Man which was accused of being “immoral” and “indecent”. The cast of 56 were arrested and carted away from the theater at which they were performing.

So yes, she was pretty busy. Clearly I’m not Mae West, but I do care passionately about doing exactly what I want.

Or maybe I’m just not a person who can sit around and talk about her heart. Maybe I’ve got too much of my dad’s genes and want to sip a beer and say that yoga, chiropractors, and therapy are “Just bullshit run by shysters.” (I don’t really think that, but he sure does. Okay, except for yoga. I hate yoga.) In spite of popular belief, yeah, I do have feelings. I tap into them the most in my work. Oh, did that sound bad? I’m having trouble with my own tone today. Maybe I sound like a heartless douche.

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Yeah, I’m tired sometimes. I will freely admit that the last two months have been a bit much, as everyone close to me knows. But I also don’t regret any of it, because I really cared about what I was doing.

Maybe this whole thing is about needing to stop and smell the roses sometimes, and I just feel like what I’m busy with…IS the roses.

Yeah, no, that was definitely kind of pretentious. But that’s just how my heart is feeling, you know?

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director/busy person in San Francisco who is booked for an entire year but will still make time to consume both caffeine and alcohol with the people she cares about at odd times of the day when she happens to be free.

Theater Around The Bay: On The TBA Awards

Will Leschber is on his honeymoon, so we’re bringing you a special report on last night’s TBA Awards, by none other than Allison Page.

I’m kind of hungover. But the okay kind, where you get to just think “Oh, that was a pretty good time. Ha!” without danger of throwing up all over yourself when you get to the “Ha!” Last night was the very first Theatre Bay Area Awards ceremony. Much discussion has rippled throughout the community about these awards. From “OH, we need that!” to “Theater isn’t a competition, you can’t compare this to that!” to “Yeah, but are there drinks?” (That last one may or may not have been me, I refuse to confirm or deny it.) Such was the discussion of these awards that I felt they warranted an immediate reaction. From me. For some reason. Let’s go topic by topic.

The Venue
I can’t even pretend to snark about The Geary Theatre. It’s crazy beautiful. And it made us all feel very classy and elegant, which is maybe not something my crew feels all the time. We’re the black box elite, right? We live in small, dark spaces and create as much as possible with as little as we can. Sure, we like to crack open the champagne whenever possible, but we got that “champagne” for eight bucks and it has a picture of an animal on the front and came with a bag of Fritos. The venue gets 5 Stars for glamour, even though we were totally in the nosebleed seats. There was also a nice little photo place outside the theater, with a TBA background you could pose in front of. But it was literally on the sidewalk so people kept walking through everyone else’s photos as they arrived. Maybe a designated place in the lobby would make sense? It was a cool detail, definitely, but I’m sure I’m in at least six photos I’m not supposed to be. (And Carey Perloff is apparently in Paris, so it kinda felt like San Francisco theater was sort of Airbnb-ing the mansion of an eccentric millionaire who was off on vacation in Ibiza. I think she’s actually working on a show but, ya know, a feeling’s a feeling.)

"Errebody walking through our glamour shots."

“Errebody walking through our glamour shots.”

Refreshments
There was a bar. The bartender was really nice, kept the line moving, and the drinks jumped in size at some point which I definitely appreciated. My whiskey gingers were $9, which isn’t the worst thing ever. Did I long for an open bar at this fancy event? I mean, YES. But I always do. It would have been pretty amazing if our tickets all entitled us to one complimentary drink. Wouldn’t that be a nice touch? It would be a sweet compromise between open bar, and totally not open bar. And actually, after people have one drink, I would think they’d shell out the cash for the next one, but that’s just me. I’m sure the organization has a financial reason to not do that because obviously booze costs money, but I think receiving something apart from a program and a nosebleed seat would be cool. Oh and I bought some peanut M&Ms. The foodstuffs were nothing to go bananas about – mostly granola bars and candy – but I don’t think anyone was coming there to eat, so it seems like a non-issue.

Let’s get into the show itself, shall we?

The Hosts
Hosting anything is a terribly thankless job and almost always people are jerks about the hosts. It’s a tough balance to strike: you have to be funny, but you can’t be too mean. You have to be relevant to the event and audience, but you can’t pander too much. You have to keep things moving, but you can’t rush through what you’re doing. Will Durst and Marga Gomez were this year’s stalwart hosts. I like them both a lot as comics, but opening with “Who loves theater?!?” was maybe a not-so-strong choice. I thought they were fine and had a tough job. These awards have never happened before so the vibe of them is sort of undefined. There were points at which it felt like things were sinking a little, but maybe that could have been helped with…

Lighting
I can take no credit for this thought. The Honorable Costume Design Nominee From Tier III For Custom Made’s Production Of THE CRUCIBLE, Brooke Jennings, said it last night: Perhaps it would be easier to keep the audience’s attention if the lighting was demanding that we look in a particular place.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

It was lights up on the entire stage, the entire time. It was easy to get distracted. “Is that a guy at a piano back there? Nice suit, piano guy. Hey, why does the set look like shards of glass? The girl in front of me has a great dress. My new shoes are shockingly comfortable. I wonder what I’m gonna do for breakfast tomorrow…where am I?” Though I appreciated that there was enough light in the house for us to be able to move around, use our phones, and keep the drink-spilling to a minimum. Actually, it was important to have some light in the house way up in the balcony, because otherwise moving around up there would be kind of terrifying. I was initially worried about tripping and quickly tumbling out of the sky and into Betty Buckley’s waiting arms.

The Presenters
I enjoyed that the presenters for the evening were varied peoples from varied tiers and represented lots of different kinds of theater. I was particularly happy Rob and Ray from Piano Fight were presenting, even though Marga mispronounced their podcast Born Ready as Born Reafy. It happens. I thought the presenters overall did a fine job. I was, however, worried that the audience clapping after every nominee was read would add two hours to the event. (It didn’t, it turned out to be fine. There were points at which it felt long, but we got out of there at a reasonable time considering the number of awards given out.)

The Nominees
There are a few things to address here. Let’s start with how the nominees are brought out. They’re in a huge line, sometimes stretching all the way across the stage in a jumble which can be extra tough if some of them are from PEARLS OVER SHANGHAI and keep their absolutely gigantic costumes on for the duration of the evening and then try to squish between two people who probably get glitter and feathers jabbed into their corneas. It was fun to watch that happen, though, because I was really far away and didn’t get glitter or feathers in my corneas. Then comes the time to list all the nominees. Is it crazy for me to think they should stand in order of how they’re being announced? I couldn’t always figure out who was what while that was going on, because as it turns out everyone has their own way of identifying themselves when their name is called: some demurely bow, some just clap and look at everybody else, some stand still and smile which is also what people do when their name ISN’T being called. I realize that would require people to get their shit together enough to stand in a line, in order, but these are actors. Lots of them have probably danced in a single file line before, I think they can handle it. Mostly I’d just feel bad for the SM trying to organize them but selfishly, as an audience member I would like to watch it make sense. Then again, that would require that the nominees actually attend. Which brings me to my next point:

TIER I, WHERE YOU AT? Now, I know there were some Tier I people there, and I certainly didn’t count them or anything, but it seemed there were more of the other two tiers. I’d like to know why that is. Are they uninterested? Do they not want to mix with the riffraff that are the lower tiers? Are they just sooooo busy that they can’t come? This is a community wide event. That’s part of its importance, right? We’re supposed to be crossin’ streams over here. When we get down to nominees for Outstanding World Premiere Play and Stuart Bousel is the only playwright on stage and he’s standing next to the only people representing an Outstanding World Premiere Musical nomination (The Bengsons, for HUNDRED DAYS), then I start to wonder what all those other people are doing. And thank goodness Stuart and The Bengsons are the people who won, because it would have been sad if they were the only people who showed up in that category and they LOST. Along similar lines, I heard that backstage things were sort of disjointed among the nominees, in that it seemed like Tier I people talked to Tier I people, and Tiers II and III were talking to each other – because all of life is essentially a middle school cafeteria scene. I was’t back there, so I can’t say first hand, that’s just what I heard.

Special Acts
Am I the only grouch who thinks that if there are going to be a bunch of songs from musicals, there should be scenes from straight plays? The freakin’ Tonys do it. Yeah, they’d need some mics, but I’m pretty sure that can happen. That would be a good opportunity to see excerpts from the Outstanding World Premiere Play nominees that people maybe didn’t have the chance to see.

The Thing That Pissed Me Off
There was one point when I got pretty irritated. A woman (apparently a really generous donor who’s done a lot for various theaters) took to the stage to give a short speech. In it, she said something like: “If everyone in here invited someone to see theater, we would become something that people talk about.” And I kinda wanted to flip a table. My actual reaction, courtesy of my Facebook post 20 seconds after that happened, was “GIRL YOU ARE TALKING TO A ROOM FULL OF THEATER MAKERS, WE INVITE EVERYBODY TO EVERYTHING. WE INVITE *DEAD* PEOPLE TO THE THEATER. TALK TO THE OTHER RICH PEOPLE. YOU’RE PREACHIN’ TO THE POOR CHOIR.” I don’t know that I need to elaborate on that. I’m glad she’s such a supporter of theater, but the problem isn’t that the broke-ass actors in the audience aren’t inviting people. We’re inviting everyone we’ve ever known. Are you?

Overall Closing Thoughts
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought, “Awards? I don’t know if we need that. Do we need that?” but I was thrilled to 1) Dress up 2) Hang out with my friends 3) Get drinks and 4) Think about the thing we have all chosen to do with our lives. And to me, that last one is the real takeaway. I don’t think an award legitimizes someone’s art, and I don’t think the lack of an award means something wasn’t effective or important. But I do think a large gathering of the people who give a shit about theater in the Bay Area is a good thing, because it shows that we are invested in each other, even if that’s sort of bullshit sometimes. Being aware of all the people outside of my immediate circle who exist and do the things we do gives me a view of how large we really are. Sometimes it feels like there are about 25 theater makers in the general vicinity, but there are so many more than that. If we want to be relevant to the public, we should probably start by being relevant to each other. This is a step in that direction, I think. We’re not quite one big happy family but, shit, at least I know we EXIST.

PS. Ruby Skye for the after party at an additional cost? Yeah, we went to the White Horse and drank beer in a tiny room with a hotel ice machine in it and had a fabulous time eating free popcorn.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

What did you think of the awards? Feel free to voice your opinion, as always, in the comments.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director in the bay area, and her hair looked stellar last night. Congratulations to all the winners/nominees/balcony-sitters/people who pour their lives into theater each day without recognition or proper funding.

Everything Is Already Something Week 45: Haiku For Tech Week

Allison Page shares with us the sound and the fury of tech week, summed up in haiku form.

Lights Up:
Spot light on stage right,
Actors on stage left somehow,
Look how avante garde

Wardrobe Malfunctions:
Oh you ripped your pants,
Oh you ripped them again, huh
Are you new to pants

Mush Mouth:
Did you just say “Glarp”
I have checked the script for “Glarp”,
I have found nothing

Sounds In The Wings:
A construction site,
Or an armoire factory,
Is much quieter

What Do I Do With My Hands:
Stop grabbing your shirt,
Stop messing with your hat please,
No no don’t hold hands

Big Dramatic Death Scene:
You’re dying so well,
But way way too far downstage,
You’ve died in their laps

Everybody Bleed Now:
Fight scenes are scary,
Please keep all your body parts,
It’s only Tuesday

Intermission:
Don’t eat in costume,
I’ll have to poison the food,
You’ll have it coming

Caught In A Bad Showmance:
Oh look they’re in love,
That’s sure to fall apart soon,
Don’t cry on costume

The Royal Ball:
Ev’rybody dance,
Yes that’s right with no rhythm,
I need a drink now

Object Lesson:
You’re miming a cup,
Cups are so hard to come by,
They’re just ev’rywhere

Curtain Call:
Yes please take your time,
They’ve just been here three hours,
Maybe crawl onstage

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/wrangler of 65 teenagers for THREE MUSKETEERS opening this weekend in San Francisco.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Actus Interruptus

Dave Sikula, typing from the trenches.

I write this in a sort of gobsmacked state. As I type these words, I’m painfully aware that, under usual circumstances, I’m doing it at the same moment I would normally be finishing up a performance of “Slaughterhouse Five” at Custom Made Theatre Co. (we close on Sunday the 26th, so there are still tickets). Something happened tonight that’s never happened to me in 42 years of doing theatre: we had to cancel a performance in the middle of the show.

Now, I’ve had performances cancelled – even whole productions. (And don’t get me started on that incident …) I’ve had an actor die (quite literally) in the middle of a run. I’ve worked with actors who were drunk or deathly ill. I’ve performed while being deathly ill myself or even lacking a voice, but the show, as the cliché has it, has always gone on.

Until tonight.

Now, I’m not going to go into the exact circumstances. Not only do I not know exactly what happened, but it’s not my place to violate the medical privacy of the actor in question.

What I will say that, whatever happened occurred during a scene change and I was getting ready to come on, so all I saw was the aftermath and another cast member, Sam Tillis, who was the hero of the evening, taking charge in an extremely admirable way, calling for the show to be stopped and doing all he could to get a cell phone and call the paramedics – who arrived within a matter of minutes and really took charge.

Sam Tillis rocks.

Sam Tillis rocks.

The stage manager came down from the booth, assessed the situation and made the announcement that, basically, there was nothing we could do and we were going to have to cancel the rest of the performance.

After a few minutes, the audience pretty much cleared out, even the friends and family who were there – and for whom I felt especially bad, if only because I know them. We got out of costume, and the cast kind of stood and sat around, trying not only to sort out our feelings, but also what we should do. There was, of course, nothing. The paramedics were taking excellent care of our friend (who has, in the meantime, Facebooked from the ER about how the morphine was working well, so that’s a relief), so there was nothing we could do in that regard. There was nothing to be done in regard to the show or the audience, and we were all sort of dealing with – well, not shock (because that’s far too strong a word), but the sudden unexpectedness of it all. As with anything unexpected, we were all left to deal with whatever the hell had just happened and why we weren’t doing the show we were supposed to be in the middle of.

My approximate reaction to the whole situation.

My approximate reaction to the whole situation.

Even now, two hours later, and at a time when I’d normally be home, I’m still sort of gobsmacked. To tell the truth, I felt a little off at the beginning of the performance. We’d had our usual few days off, so I’m sure that was the reason. It was little things; nothing major, and probably stuff no one else would ever notice, but then one’s perception of one’s own performance is always different from everyone else’s, isn’t it?

Anyway, we’re probably due for some changes in the show Friday. I can’t imagine it’ll be business as usual, but it’ll doubtless be interesting.

“The Magic of Live Theatre,” indeed.

“Let’s go on with the show!”

“Let’s go on with the show!”

Editor’s Note: The following is a statement from Custom Made Artistic Director Brian Katz:

Brian Katz here, Artistic Director of Custom Made. To add to the weirdness of the night, I was over 3,000 miles away when it happened. Texts started coming in flurries at 11:40pm Eastern time, and kept buzzing until 2:30am when everything seemed stable. I want to take a second to shout out to my wonderful staff and actors for handling the emergency as well as I knew they would. We are blessed to have so many wonderful professionals that work with us, and whose support of each other knows no limits.

To update the situation, the performer in question is resting and is feeling better. She plans to go on tonight in a limited capacity. For those of you who have seen Slaughterhouse, you know it is a complex show where everyone is involved in the 50 transitions that occur over 100 minutes, but I know my amazing artists will figure out a solution. Also, we are reaching out to everyone who was in the audience last night, asking if they wish to attend one of our final performances (until Sun.) If they cannot, we will offer tickets to any of the shows left in Custom Made’s 2014/15 season.

A final adage: my mentor in college once told me the only reason people go to the theatre is because someone can die on stage. I truly believe that. This is the difference between our art form and many others; these are real live people up there, and because we are all this mess of atoms and organs and cartilage, anything can happen at any time. It is dangerous; therefore, it is thrilling. What is even more wonderful is that when the unexpected happens we always pull together, and make sure the show does, in fact, go on.

Everything Is Already Something Week 43: Kander And Flubb or Don’t Make Me Sing

Allison Page, mistress of horror. And singing. 

Gather ‘round the campfire, young’uns— for here comes the tale of the most foolish of ideas which have so far come to pass on this great earth. YES, this is the tale of Allison singing “Cabaret” with piano accompaniment.

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The year is 2006. I had just finished my first paid acting gig, as Myrtle Mae in a summer stock production of HARVEY several months before. I got that part by way of auditioning with the least age-appropriate monologue for a 21 year old – Martha from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and when they asked me to sing my song as part of the general audition, I said proudly, “No. I will not be singing a song for you today, for I do not wish to waste your time or mine. I am an actor, but I am not a singer.” I thought perhaps that would mean they wouldn’t even consider me for something, being that I was a weirdo and didn’t do everything they asked. So when I got a part, I was beyond thrilled and surprised and delighted and all that shit. Being paid to act was some super cool bragging rights for me, particularly because I’m not sure I had ever known anyone who’d gotten paid to act before. (This is a good time to remind you that I’m from a tiny town which might as well be on the moon.)

So much was my confidence boosted, that when I scheduled my audition for the same company’s next season, I decided I would sing. It would be magnificent. I chose the song “Cabaret” because…I like that movie, Liza Minnelli made it look so easy, and it didn’t seem as crazy high and complicated as some songs that I had heard in my life.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

I took a voice lesson. That’s right, a voice lesson. We worked on the song for an afternoon. I was what I like to call Diet Confident. It’s sort of like being cautiously optimistic but pretending not to be cautious even though you are.

On the day of the audition, I drove the 90 minutes to the theater. Sure, there was some wringing of hands, some clenching of teeth, but I considered myself ready to go. I went in and said hello to the person working the door, waited until I was called, went into the theater and greeted the people I had worked with last season. So far, so good. I handed my music to the pianist.

I was probably sweating. I had to be. I don’t like singing. And obviously I don’t like it because I’m not good at it and it makes me nervous. But today would be the day! Today I would crush my own feelings down – pack them in hard like potato chips that have settled to the very bottom of the bag after riding in a truck. I showed the pianist where I wanted to start in the song. I had a specific place I wanted to go from because there was a note I was avoiding. An awful, awful note that I just knew I couldn’t hit. I was avoiding “What good is sitting” because it just felt too low and I didn’t want to start on it for fear of falling apart when it inevitably went awry. All was planned for. All was right.

“Uh, I’m Allison, obviously, you guys know that…and I’m gonna sing Cabaret, from…well, from Cabaret. Heh.”

I look to the pianist, the pianist looks back at me, smiling. I do a big old inhale so I don’t run out of breath. Aaaaaaaand…

“Put down the knitting, the book and…the…UHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

The pianist is not playing the same thing as I’m singing. I can’t be sure where the pianist was in relation to where I was but it wasn’t the same place, I can tell you that. It fell apart so quickly. All that practice and thought and the whole things collapsed. At some point it just petered out and we didn’t address it. I just paused and then went into my monologue, which – SHOCKER – didn’t go very well because I was freakin’ panicking like the last Tickle Me Elmo was snatched out from under my nose on Christmas Eve 1996 and Tiny Tim was waiting back at home for the last gift he’d ever receive which would now have to be a tube of toothpaste and a necktie. It was a disaster. I piled myself into my ’87 Dodge 600 and drove the 90 minutes back home, crying all the way.

…And that is why I don’t sing, kids. Now eat your s’mores and go make out in your tents, Miss Page has to watch puppy videos on her phone to forget the torment of the past.

What good’s permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

SLEEP TIGHT!

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director/comedy person. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Cowan Palace: Ashley The Actress Gets Knocked Up

This week Ashley talks about acting, pregnancy, apples, and oranges.

Maybe you’ve heard the news, gang. This gal has a bun in the oven (or a “pun in the oven” if you’ve seen our announcement video). And it’s awesome! It’s wonderful! But truth be told, it’s also hard. And complicated.

Before I say much more, it should be stated that being a mom has always been something I wanted to become. Since I learned to talk, I told anyone who would listen that I planned to grow up and be an actress and a mother. In fact, since I was always on the taller side, I spent a lot of my time in middle school, high school, and college getting cast as “the mother role”. Though, playing Mother in Roger Williams University’s production of Blood Wedding was still one of my proudest parts to date and landed me the nickname of “Mama” to all my college classmates.

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

Here I am at 19, crying about my kid in Blood Wedding! Look at that old age makeup!

That said though, I always imagined my journey into motherhood would be calculated and planned. To say the news of this pregnancy caught us off guard is the understatement of the year. (Then again, my family moved when my 5th grade class was taking Sex Ed so clearly, I don’t understand how babies are made.)

After spending eight months of planning our wedding and trading in rehearsals for workouts, Will and I were so thrilled by the idea of returning back to our life and just relaxing into our new relationship as a married couple. We were going to do more writing, push each other to audition for plays, and slowly save money for an eventual move. After a long talk, we also agreed that Will’s job wasn’t an ideal match and he decided to give his two weeks notice. A day later, we discovered we were pregnant and the world turned upside down.

As I bawled my eyes out into Will’s chest in the doctor’s office, a group of nurses kept whispering, “are they happy right now?” And yes, I was very happy but also totally terrified. We didn’t exactly feel “ready”. We had only been married a month! We live with roommates! Will just quit his job! But here was a new life inside of me! It was both amazing and overwhelming. Everything at once.

And no one mentioned how physically demanding it would be! Throughout my first trimester, I was too tired to do anything but go to work and stumble home. I was also so nauseated all the time that my good ole friend, food, became an enemy. Which has honestly been one of the most difficult elements for me.

We also couldn’t talk openly about it. Very few people knew. But one of the things we realized early on was that I wouldn’t be able to act in the late October show I had been cast in as by that time, I’d be about five months pregnant. Thankfully, my very understanding director, Colin, let me weep on the phone while promising to keep the secret. I had never dropped an acting role before and I started to realize that me and my acting love are going to have to take a bit of a break for awhile.

Earlier this week, that understanding hit me like a ton of bricks. While watching the Olympians Audition, I sat in the audience trying to curb my never ending nausea with snacks and small talk. I asked about how Terrorama (the show I had to drop) had been doing and I was greeted with enthusiastic replies. They were doing great! Which is fantastic! But I couldn’t help but feel a little sad knowing I was originally supposed to be included in this horror themed party and now couldn’t be a part of the terrifying fun. Once the actual auditions began, the weight sank in a bit more as I thought about how my body was getting bigger and I was watching an array of beautiful, young, slender actresses parade across the stage and impress everyone. It started to feel like I was being asked to leave a party I so desperately wanted to attend; that the exit was getting closer and everything was changing.

As you could have guessed, the feelings once again brought me to a tearful goodbye as I escaped the Exit Theater with two streams of water rolling down my face. Guys, I’m an emotional gal battling her way through some new hormones, you get it, right?

I worry you’re reading this and thinking I’m an ungrateful, selfish bitch. There are families out there trying to have a baby and here I am complaining and crying all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly grateful But no one tells you how grueling and taxing the process can be. Most of what I know about it all has been through movies and 90’s sitcoms. They all said it would be wondrous and they promised I’d glow! They don’t tell you that it’s also sometimes the worst. Also, I worry more about my unborn child seeing this one day and thinking for a moment that they were unwanted for even a second. Because I assure you, that’s truly not it.

It’s just me processing life. And trying to be honest in the process. I have a lot of emotions. I feel all the feelings. I’m still an actress after all and it’s just something I do.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This is what I look like as a kind of trashy pregnant gal. I’ve been practicing this role for years.

This week the baby is the size of a navel orange. Or an apple, if you read other sources. And as I contemplated the well known idiom and my feelings on my sabbatical from acting, I thought about trying to compare things that can’t really be compared. Life isn’t easy. And being an adult has proven to be harder than I imagined. You have to make grown up choices sometimes that you don’t feel ready to make. Some days, you need the apple and some days you need the orange; you don’t always get both. But when you’re ready to strike a delicious balance, maybe life will grant you a fruit salad. That’s what I’m aiming for anyway.

Comparing acting to my new motherhood is impossible and pointless. I’m delighted to take on my new real life mother role and I’ll also be excited to return to the stage sometime (hopefully soon) to continue to follow my passion. Goodness knows, I’ll be in the company of other amazing parents who are navigating a similar course. So until then, I thank you all for letting me be open and truthful about the adventure so far… and for following me on yet another journey of harmonizing theater with life.