Everything Is Already Something: Realistic TBA Conference Panel Ideas

Allison Page is clearly looking forward to the TBA conference on Monday.

Berkeley Frappe: Which Theatre Companies Have The Best Snacks

We Hired Only Local Actors for One Year & Our Theater Didn’t Burn to the Ground

The Sarah Rule: How to Produce Plays by Women (But Only if They’re Written by Sarah Ruhl)

How to Take a Selfie Good Enough to Use as a Headshot for Twelve Years

Getting Cast as a Woman Over 40 Without Playing Someone’s Stepmother

Set Designs You Can Repurpose Until They Collapse During a Performance of Man of La Mancha

Faces to Make During Board Meetings When You Want to Perish But Cannot

Audition Waist Trainers: A Roundtable Discussion

Creative Ways to Swear in Front of the Kid Playing Oliver Twist When Nancy Forgets Her Line Again

Pros & Cons: Pretending to be a Man to Get Ahead as an Actor

Fight Choreographers Wrestling Each Other for 90 Minutes

Improvising a Monologue Because You’re Too Lazy to Memorize Even One More Thing, Please God, Please

How to Watch ‘The Bachelor’ During Rehearsal Without the SM Noticing

Do Blondes Really Have More Fun (Playing Girlfriends of the Protagonist)?

Group Nap

Playwright Complaint Circle

Moving From San Francisco to New York to Get Cast in San Francisco

Producing David Mamet Over & Over & Over Again, A Guide

Stage Managing a Show You Hate with People You Hate

How to Perform on a Stage 400 Times Smaller Than This One:

Empty Theater Stage

Empty Theater Stage — Image by © Chase Swift/CORBIS

Showmances: How to End Them…Maybe, But Probably Not

How to Use a Toaster as a Light Board After Yours Gets Stolen for the 9th Time

Payment Negotiation for Actors: Get Two Beers Instead of One for a Three Year Run

Shakespeare for Dummies: Can You Get an Actual Dummy to Replace an Actor in Midsummer Night’s Dream to Save Cash? Yes, You Can.

5 Sexiest Theatre Companies Shut Down This Year Due to Lack of Funding, Hear From the Weeping Artistic Directors Themselves!

Getting Board Members to Stop Asking if You Can Tap Into the Popularity of ‘The Walking Dead’

Can You Get Away With Casting This White Male as Tiger Lily? (THIS IS A TEST)

Stage Manager & Director Speed Dating: Watch 45 Directors Fight Over 3 SMs

Costume Designing on a $6 Budget

Are You Ready to Set Every Show in the Apocalypse?

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director in San Francisco. She’ll be looking for snacks at the TBA Conference and live tweeting it all @allisonlynnpage.

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Everything Is Already Something: Farewell, Sweet Dick Joke

Allison Page, starting the new year with a note of goodbye.

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today to say goodbye to some good sketches. Sketches which were not long for this world. Sketches as clean and sparkling as any others. Game-focused, precise sketches, escalating alongside the best of them, breaking their game at just the right moment. And yet, here we are. Grieving and sobbing for the sketches we have lost because they needed to be cut…for time.

Ah, time, a fickle master to whom we are all servants. There are but 60 minutes in an hour. We may try to stretch it, challenge it, flout it, but the truth remains. Tick tock, fart jokes, tick tock.

Yes, we must say goodbye even to these fart jokes. These gut busting gas passers. These guttural emissions. These children of the night. For they, yes, even they, cannot escape the wrath of the cuckoo clock. Father time has come for our fart jokes, and we must let them fly home on the wind which we have broken, to that great fart joke depository in the sky.

Heh heh, depository.

As we wave a farewell to our monologues about puberty and screwing inanimate objects, let us not forget what they’ve meant to us. We, the ragged, scratched up, bruised adults. The former horny pre-teens who longed for understanding and Jordan Catalano from My So Called Life, who longed to eat Oreos all day and both wanted to grow up and to stay young and weird. We salute you. We salute ourselves.

Mourning-Woman

Here, too, we mourn the loss of physical sketches which nearly killed us. Back-bending, cheer-leading, freak-dancing, climbing, jumping, cartwheeling sketches crafted for the enjoyment of 10s and 10s of people. Human pyramids and a kid doing the worm alike have been slaughtered. No sketch is ever really safe, is it?

You never think it will be yours, your bouncy baby dick joke. You think you’re immune to the cut of someone else’s jib. You are not. Sometimes you find yourself cutting your own sketches and retreating to a corner of the bar where you can sip your bourbon in silence while cursing the goddamn kids who wrote a better dick joke than you had ever dreamed possible, wiping your dick joke off the figurative map and literal set list.

Not only do we lose our childish, gross jokes, but we must also mourn our attempts at social commentary and blistering satire. Our chance to show the opposing political party that we mean business and are, always, right, sometimes passes away into the recycling bin, or the annals of time and Google Drive, where they wither and age like old digital fruit.

Not only do we say auf wiedersehen to these sketches today, we celebrate them. And we welcome to life those sketches which will make it to the final performance. Those great few. Those strong, hearty few. We hold and coddle them until they are ready to be put forth in front of half-drunk audiences of rabid joke-gobblers. And we hold no ill will for them, the champions. We raise them up and brush the long golden locks of their mullet wigs. We support them with our laughter and know that tomorrow is another day, another joke, another birth of fanciful mirth or jocular rage.

This is not a mourning, but a celebration of life.

*fart sound*

Thank you.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director and Co-Artistic Director of Killing My Lobster. She wrote this as a farewell to the sketches she cut this morning while preparing for KML’s performance at SF Sketchfest Jan 19th at The Eureka Theatre.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: When Is a Play Not a Play?

In which Dave Sikula wonders what the hell is up with David Mamet?

In our last meeting, I discussed the shows I had seen on my recent trip to New York – save one, David Mamet’s China Doll.

Little did I calculate then how timely this chapter would be now, since the show has officially opened and the reviews are pretty much what I expected; in short, “What the hell were they thinking?”

There’s an old story (it might be apocryphal, since a quick Google search turned up nothing) that, sometime in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart did one of the their collaborations, but reviews were not felicitous and one read “Kaufman and Hart didn’t have an idea for a play this year, but wrote one anyway.”
My reaction to China Doll was that David Mamet didn’t have an idea for a play, so he didn’t bother to write one.

Pam MacKinnon on her way out of town.

Pam MacKinnon on her way out of town.

One could say that Mr. Mamet is controversial. When he burst in on the scene in the ‘70s, he was exhilarating. Between the swearing and the poetry of his language, he was really like no one we’d ever seen before. From 1973 to 1985, there really wasn’t anyone quite as interesting (Sam Shepard was too sloppy and the really big names like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had shot their wads.)

In 1985, Glengarry Glen Ross came along, won the Pulitzer – and it was over. His next three plays, Boston Marriage, Bobby Gould in Hell, and Oleanna, were obscure at best, and it’s been downhill from there. (Though I suppose November and Race may have their defenders … )

Mr. Mamet’s books on acting are not without interest, but one of the stupider things he’s said (and I admit that takes in a lot of territory) is that there are no characters in a script. There are words on a page; if the actor just says those words, he’ll guarantee the results. And while, strictly speaking, he’s right, there’s more alchemy involved than that.

In The New York Times recently, there was a feature on how designer Vinny Sainato created the production’s poster. It was an interesting precis in the creative process and how a piece of art like that needs to evolve based on given circumstances. It’s a shame Mr. Mamet didn’t do the same with his own drafts.

Mamet may be the only American playwright who nowadays who can get a straight play produced on Broadway right out of the box – no regional productions, no workshopping, no previous incarnations. (Mr. Shepard might be another, but he seems not to have pursued that avenue – and seems to have, more or less, abandoned writing plays.)

Go on; criticize me. I dare you.

Go on; criticize me. I dare you.

I’ll admit that, in spite of my antipathy to Mr. Mamet’s recent work, I was excited by the prospect of seeing the show – and of seeing Al Pacino in what promised to be a meaty role.

We bought our tickets well in advance – and then the early reports started drifting in: The play was incoherent. Mr. Pacino was having line trouble. Mr. Mamet had skipped town. Audience members were leaving in droves at intermission.

We regretted buying the tickets, but what could we do?

When we arrived at the theatre, one of the first things I saw was director Pam MacKinnon. That she was directing at all was a surprise to me. Mr. Mamet is, if nothing else, a wee bit phallocentric, so the idea of a woman directing one of his shows – and a new script at that – was interesting. As I saw her, though, the look on her face said it all: it was a combination of confusion, frustration, and resignation.

I honestly didn’t know what her job with the production was. The prevailing rumor – which persists even now that the show has opened – was that Mr. Pacino was having line trouble. It’s understandable. He’s 75, and I’d say that 85% of the script is him having cryptic telephone conversations – of which we hear only one side. He talks and talks and talks and talks and talks – all sound and fury signifying nothing. In my experience, anyway, there’s little one can do with an actor who is still struggling to get off-book (like I’m one to talk) in terms of characterization (and if Mr. Mamet is to be believed, he hasn’t written a character, anyway), and as far as staging goes, the blocking seemed to consist of Mr. Pacino walking or sitting anywhere he pleased at any time he wanted. He has enough training that the movement was appropriate, but an audience can watch an actor yammering away on a Bluetooth for only so long.

That Bluetooth is one of the more notorious things about the production. Because of it, the rumor mill was sure that he was being fed his lines through the earpiece. Given the choppy nature of the text and his delivery, though, who the hell knows? (As well as the earpiece, there are two Macs set prominently on the stage, the screens of which are both facing upstage, no doubt so that the scrolling script can’t be seen by the audience.)

But, after all this, what’s the play about? I have no idea. As I said, Mr. Pacino spends the vast majority of the evening (to quote Ben Brantley’s review in The Times) “talking to, variously, [his] lovely young fiancée; a Swedish plane manufacturer; a lawyer, and someone he calls Ruby, a former crony who is close to the Governor of the state, whose father (a former Governor) was [his character’s] mentor.” It has something to do with a plane he bought and will or will not pay taxes on, officials he may or may not have bribed, and arrests that may or may not be made. That’s it. There’s an old (again probably apocryphal) quip about the plot of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: “Nothing happens. Twice.” China Doll’s plot is that nothing happens. At all.
Mr. Brantley’s review begins – begins, mind you – like this:

No matter what his salary is, it seems safe to say that Christopher Denham is the most underpaid actor on Broadway. Mr. Denham – a young man with, I sincerely hope, a very resilient nervous system – is one of a cast of two in China Doll, the saggy new play by David Mamet that was finally opened to critics on Wednesday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, and he is onstage for almost the entire show.

So is – pause for ominous silence – Al Pacino. Now please cue sound effects of chalk scratching on countless blackboards and the ping, ping, ping of an endlessly dripping faucet, and you have some idea of what Mr. Denham must be going through night after night after night.

My wife’s takeaway was that it was almost as though Mr. Mamet were giving one of his famous “fuck yous” to the idea of conventional dramaturgy and deliberately set out to write a script that violated every “rule.” Nothing happens. Most of the play is a man spouting one-sided exposition that never really amounts to anything. There is no character development (though if there are no characters, how can they develop?). There is no real acting to speak of. It all amounts to Mr. Pacino putting himself on display as though he were in a zoo, speaking meaningless lines slowly and haltingly in a desperate attempt to make them mean something.

As we were leaving the theatre, I saw Ms MacKinnon again, a notepad in her hand. I wanted to go up to her and say, “I know what you’re feeling. We’ve all been there.” But no matter how challenged any of us have been with our own productions, I can only imagine the pressures of dealing with a Pulitzer Prize-winner writer and an Oscar-winning actor in a multimillion-dollar production of a play that’s not working. Whatever she was paid wasn’t enough.

The director in happier days.

The director in happier days.

I’ve seen theatrical disasters before (remind me to tell you about the legendary first preview of Bring Back Birdie), but this wasn’t even a trainwreck; it was more in the “Well, there’s two hours of my life I won’t get back” category.

Derek McLane’s set is nice, though.

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.

Cowan Palace: Audition Tips With Ashley

Ashley’s gonna make you a star, kid!

After nearly a year and a half away from auditioning, I found myself at a real life actual audition on Saturday afternoon. As you may remember my feelings regarding having to prepare a monologue from my past blog I was delighted to be in the company of printed sides and fellow cold readers.

Honestly, sometimes just getting out of the house without forgetting my keys is a victory, so I was pretty jazzed to simply get out and go play. But I thought I’d try to also use the experience and write some tips for the next audition.

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

You should definitely listen to this girl! She clearly knows what she’s talking about!

Here are a few of my pearls of wisdom:

1.) Dress to impress… or press your dress… or try not to be a mess.

So you’re an actor. You probably know how to make yourself look pretty, good for you. But if you can, put a little effort into what you’re wearing and consider how you want people to see you. On Saturday, I picked a dress to wear and ironed it and did my best to remove all the rogue, single pet hairs that had found a home and formed a community on it. I had a pretty lengthy mental debate about whether or not to fish out some Spanx because truthfully, I’m not quite back into my old audition body thanks to nursing. Little did I know I wouldn’t really have to worry about that because I ended up popping a button off the bust of the dress on my walk out the door. It was unfortunate. So my advice? Along with ironing your pretty clothes, perhaps try them on the night before to make sure you feel comfortable and confident. Also, have a backup.

2.) You can be warm and welcoming. Or cool and collected. Just don’t be an asshole.

On my second audition in the Bay Area, I was scolded by another actress in the waiting area for being too friendly with the stage manager and other people waiting for their audition slot. She told me it wouldn’t get me into the show. I did get into that show and that show pretty much depended on the actors being friendly with strangers (holla, Tony ‘n Tina’s crew!). But I realized that people handle their audition nerves in different ways; some are overly talkative, some are silent and thoughtful. I usually lean on the chatty side; it helps me feel better to talk to those in my boat. What I’ve found auditioning for stuff in the Bay Area is that often, you’ll come to know a majority of the actors in the waiting room with you. And while you want to get in a show, you’re also really rooting for many of them to get in, too. That’s cool! So I suggest either embracing the opportunity to hang out with other actors and enjoy the conversations or politely give yourself some space. But you don’t need to embrace the people looking for space. So be aware and stuff. And keep in mind, being an asshole in the waiting room isn’t going to secure your chance to be cast, either.

3.) Give yourself a dress rehearsal

Once you get a side, it’s in your best interest to read that sucker out loud. Even if it’s just once. On Saturday, I got the chance to read with a few different people who were luckily interested in taking a moment to read the lines aloud together. Each time I read a side out loud for the first time, I flubbed some word or sentence. But then when I got into the space, I was way less likely to mess it up again. So lesson learned, mentally reading lines over in your head is good but if you can find a place to voice them before the director hears it, do it!

4.) Don’t be boring or too quiet

You never know what’s going on in the minds of the folks in charge of casting but most likely, they’re tired and they’re swimming in similar dialogue read to them over and over again by countless eager actors. Do them a favor and try to go in there confidently and prepared to give them some energy. Be loud. Sometimes making the conscious choice to up that volume can encourage bigger choices to be made. You’re there to make an impression and when you get the chance to be the focus, fill that room however you can.

5.) Care

If you’re attending an audition, put some time and thought into it. Or at least, fake it. Read the script you’re trying to get a part in, familiarize yourself with the playwright or the play’s production history. Consider how cool it would be to do the show. Whatever. That passion reads and people want to be around others who are passionate about something so don’t be afraid to care about the project.

6.) Try not to care so much

Don’t get so stuck in researching the play that you’re unable to come in and take new direction and approach the text with fresh eyes. Don’t beat yourself up if your delivery didn’t nail the punchline and get a laugh. And don’t get caught up in whether things are running late or getting a last minute side to read after you studied and prepared another one. Auditions can be fun! Let yourself enjoy them a little if you can. It’s the chance to perform! So get out of your head and just play in the moment.

7.) Pack comfortable shoes for the walk home

Picking audition shoes are always a battle for me as I truly believe a change in footwear can change your portrayal of a character in a big way. Sometimes I’ll bring two pairs in or ask if I can just go barefoot and sometimes I just want the shoes to look pretty and cute so I look like I kind of have my act together. On Saturday I made the rookie mistake of not packing an extra pair of comfortable shoes to put on after my final read. Dummy! My pretty, vintage red shoes had served their purpose but my feet decided to wage a rebellion so I ended up walking home from the theater barefoot. Luckily, it was only eight blocks but I did look like I was attempting a quick walk of shame. In any case, you want to be comfortable! Even if it’s after the audition. So keep footwear in mind.

The biggest tip I have though is to go to the audition. Do not talk yourself out of it or make stupid excuses. I’m the queen of second guessing myself and coming dangerously close to canceling my audition thinking, “I don’t have a chance in getting in so why bother.” Gah, don’t do that! Just go try! You don’t have anything to lose! I almost didn’t audition for Twelfth Night years ago and I can’t imagine my life without having had that show. Plus, I’ve also auditioned for things that I didn’t get into only to have the director call me years later and offer me something totally different. You never know. But, please, if you want to act and be in shows then put yourself out there and do it over and over again! And if you need me to push you or hold you accountable, fine. Cowan Palace in the house! Hopefully I’ll schedule a new audition again soon and in the meantime, I’ll keep taking tips. So if you have an audition tip, please feel free to share. Until next time, pals!

Cowan Palace: Please Don’t Make Me Prepare A Monologue

Ashley Cowan just really doesn’t want to prepare a monologue.

It’s possible I’ve become one of those actors that gives other actors a bad name. Sorry (/#sorrynotsorry, #IStillLoveHashtags). Then again, I haven’t really lived up to my “actor” title over the past year so maybe I’m just stupidly giving myself a bad name and pushing myself further away from the casting pool. The Greek tragedy of my acting career.

However, I’ll be reclaiming my actor status later this year with the San Francisco Fringe Festival. As a result, I’ve slowly started to dip a curious toe into the audition notice waters and I realized this week that as soon as I see something regarding a prepared monologue I abandon my interest.

That’s terrible! And maybe you’re thinking, anyone who doesn’t have a few monologues ready/isn’t willing to workshop some doesn’t deserve an audition spot. And that’s cool, I guess. But we’re in Cowan Palace today so I’m keeping my handmade crown (consisting of double chocolate chip cookie dough and dreams) and maintaining my reign! In my opinion, monologues suck! I just hate them! They’re the absolute worst!

This is the headshot I’ll be bringing to all future auditions asking me for a monologue.

This is the headshot I’ll be bringing to all future auditions asking me for a monologue.

Sure, I could be a lazy brat with this mindset. Honestly, these days, I really don’t want to spend my free time memorizing new material that I can cut into two minutes, 90 seconds, or 60 seconds depending on the need. I’m still trying to balance a full plate. Also, I believe pretty strongly that it’s not going to prove to you whether I deserve the part or not.

See, I almost never feel like I’ve found the perfect piece to showcase my goods. And then on the rare occurrence that I have a monologue that I feel great about, I have to trade it in when I’m auditioning for someone who has already seen it. Plus, even if I have great material ready, how in the world is it going to be the best piece for every part I’m going for? That’d be like writing one generic cover letter and expecting to land your dream job without really ever catering to the company.

C’mon, Tina. Hear me out.

C’mon, Tina. Hear me out.

I can feel you rolling your eyes. Go for it. How is this lazy brat even blogging, right?! Well, I still hate having to prepare a monologue. I get that part of the process is the chance to showcase your own personality and give the casting director a little taste of your skill set. Fine, fine, fine. But why not just jump right into some material from the actual play? Or ask me to cold read something with a certain direction (holla, San Francisco Olympians Festival!) to test my instincts. Make me read with other people. Make me move around the space in a certain way, heck – in several ways! Make me do anything but recite some memorized material from a play we’re not doing that I’m already regretting as a the wrong selection.

I know there are plenty of actors who can rock a monologue enough to show that they’re capable of more. I’ve seen it while on the other side of the table. But for the majority of us who are working non-actor jobs so we can support our dreams, finding the time to prepare for an audition isn’t always easy. At least that’s how I feel. I want to spend that time getting to know the play I’m auditioning for or memorizing lines for your show!

Maybe what it comes down to for me is that I don’t think I’m great at many things but acting has always been an area that I feel slightly more confident about; perhaps because I’m very passionate about it. But I also know that it’s hard for me to leave an audition room feeling confident in my monologue and if I do a less than awesome job with it, I’d hate that to get in the way of whether I’m right or wrong for the role.

Serious headshot picture from almost ten (!) years ago. This gal could handle some monologues.

Serious headshot picture from almost ten (!) years ago. This gal could handle some monologues.

I’d love to get some additional thoughts on this idea. What’s the best way to cast a play? Am I sabotaging myself? And if you’re a casting director, what kind of monologues tend to have the best success and what’s the stuff that usually fails? Granted there are like a bazillion actors out there that may be more talented and deserving than I am (they’re probably working on a new monologue right now!) but I’d still love to open the discussion and find a way to be a part of that theatre magic!

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Shoulda Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque

Dave Sikula outlines his own job description.

I'd like to see Bugs's Falstaff.

I’d like to see Bugs’s Falstaff.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice on these pages, I’m a director. In that role, I feel like I have two jobs. The first is to watch the actors, see what they’re doing, and tailor the action to their strengths (within the context of the script, of course). I’ve long found that if I try to get an actor to do something that isn’t organic to them, whatever it is isn’t going to work. If I can match the action to the actor, though, I find they can do anything.

My other job is to get the hell out of the writer’s way. When I read a script, I have to figure out both what it’s about (both on the surface and underneath) and the best way to get that message/story/metaphor/whatever across. Sometimes it’s by being big and bold, sometimes it’s getting tiny and intimate.

Now, this is not to say that there’s only one way to do any play. My Hamlet or Odd Couple or Sweeney Todd is going to be different from any other director’s, since we see different things in those plays that we’ll want to bring out. Even if I do something a second time, I’m going to do it differently from the way I did it the first time; different actors will bring out different values and moments and I’m an older and different person. The Long Day’s Journey I’d do now would be different from the one I did in 1997. (Though it would still be uncut.)

Even saying that, there may certainly be times where I’d want to deconstruct something or deliberately go against what’s on the page in order to make a statement about its values needing to be questioned or criticized. I have ideas about Chekhov that go against the way his plays are usually performed (though, ironically for this example, completely in line with what I think he intended), and in grad school, I devised a Brechtian deconstruction of You Can’t Take It with You (a play I really like) that highlighted and commented on its theatricality, artificiality, and place in the development of situation comedy.

So while there are obvious exceptions, most scripts intended for the commercial theatre—especially from a certain period—are pretty obvious as to what they’re about, and any attempts to screw around with them are foolhardy, pigheaded, and probably doomed to failure.

My own most notable experience here is when I directed The Fantasticks. I originally wanted to shake some of the rust and dust off of it; to lose some of its fussiness and make it more “relevant” to a modern audience. There was, I thought, a stodginess to it that needed to be lost. Anyone who’s directed the show knows that the licensor includes what is virtually an instruction manual the size of a phone book* on how to (more or less) recreate Word Baker’s 1960 production, right down to where to hang prop and costume pieces in the trunk.

Jerry Orbach is not included in the instructions. Dammit.

Jerry Orbach is not included in the instructions. Dammit.

(*Note to younger readers: a “phone book**” was a thick volume that contained addresses and phone numbers for every person and business in a designated are.)

(**Note to even younger readers: a “book” was a bound collection of paper upon which was printed a made-up story or accounting of factual events.)

When I got this manual, my first reaction was to sniff “Well, I’m not going to do it that way! My production will be my own!” But the more I looked at the script in conjunction with the manual, the more I realized that to make massive changes just for the sake of making changes was an exercise in hubris. There’s a reason the show has played so well for more than half a century. There probably really is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and I opted for the “right” way. It told the story in the way the authors intended. (This isn’t to say we didn’t tweak things or fit it to the actors; but we didn’t stray far from what was on the page.) The results were one of my proudest productions and fondest theatrical memories. It was a beautiful and touching production (if I say so myself), and I never regretted not having deconstructed it just because I could.

What brings this up? Well, we recently saw a production at one of the major houses in town of a show that could be considered a modern classic of sorts. (The production shall go nameless to protect the innocent.) From the moment it started, though, I knew we were in trouble. In the apparent name of shaking things up, the director (with a number of impressive credits nationally) had decided to put his or her stamp on it, despite anything intended by the creators. The changes weren’t done in the name of deconstruction or postmodernism or commenting on the text; they seemed done just because this director either knew better how to tell the story than the people who created it or was just tired of the “old” ways of doing it.

Let me hasten to add here (in case I haven’t made it clear) that I don’t expect directors, designers, or actors to do exactly what was done in the original production of something (if it’s, as in this case, a revival). Each company and production should be unique and bring a flavor or their own to the mix, while (as I mentioned last time) “coloring inside the lines.”

But this production was just a series of wrong-headed moves that kept denying or contradicting the script and its plot points, both major and minor; not for the purpose of commenting on them, but seemingly just for the hell of it. That the poor thinking extended to a good portion of the casting, as well, will go mostly uncommented on. (And, of course, that almost the entire cast was imported from out of town was inexcusable. There are literally dozens of local actors who could have played any of the roles with equal, if not greater, dexterity.)

One actor reminded me of no one so much as Jerry Colonna (seen in the video below). (To again offer clarification to younger readers, Colonna was a comedian in the 1940s known mainly for his big eyes and bigger moustache. Subtlety was not his calling card.) This isn’t necessarily a problem. I’m a fan of Colonna and his brand of overplaying, but for this role, it was like casting Elmer Fudd as Cyrano. It was almost as though the director, when faced with a choice of what to do in any moment, opted for the wrong one, just to see what would happen, then didn’t explore the alternative.

Certain of my friends will no doubt comment that “Well, you don’t like anything.” I’ll (as always) deny that, but some of the very friends who would say that shared these opinions of the production, so it wasn’t just me.

But, of course, at the end of the evening, the audience leapt to its feet to provide a seemingly sincere and hearty standing ovation, so what do I know? Ya pays yer money, and ya takes her cherce. Although in cases like this, I’m reminded of the late humorist Robert Benchley’s assessment of the utterly inexplicable popularity of the execrable Abie’s Irish Rose in the ‘20s: “This is why democracy can never be a success.”