Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: An Interview with Danielle Gray

Marissa Skudlarek speaks with one of the Bay Area’s most exciting multi-hyphenate performers!

I don’t think I’d ever seen the actor-singer-musician-clown-fashionista Danielle Gray at this time last year, and then all of a sudden they burst upon the indie-theater scene. And, while I spend my days in a cubicle at a day job, Danielle always seems to be learning new circus skills, or singing torch songs in secret cabarets, and looking fabulous doing it. Currently, Danielle is acting in the new play Hunting Love in Oakland, which seemed as good an excuse as any to chat with them about their art and aesthetics.

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Nican Robinson as Narciso, Danielle Gray as Echo, Susan-Jane Harrison as Love.

Marissa: Tell me a little bit about Hunting Love and the character you play in it.

Danielle: Hunting Love is a new play by Susan-Jane Harrison. It’s kind of a reunion collaboration between Susan-Jane and director Erin Merritt, who used to work together at all-female Shakespeare company Woman’s Will. Hunting Love is being produced by a new company called Local Dystopia, which has produced shows here and in London, and is going up at the Flight Deck in downtown Oakland. The piece is fairly ambitious in its incorporation of dance/movement and sound/music. We have this amazingly talented three-person Greek chorus/band (Jed Parsario, Mia Pixley, Bruce Bennett) who play original music, provide atmospheric Foley sounds with their instruments, and act as minor characters. I am so impressed by them all the time.

Hunting Love is a new story, loosely using characters from Greek mythology. I play two characters who are inextricably connected in the story – Echo, a lovesick dryad who has willingly been turned into air so that she may follow Narciso (played by Nican Robinson) forever, and I also play Histrionia, daughter of Love (played by Susan-Jane Harrison). Character inspirations for my Echo include ballerinas, kittens who scratch you even when they’re trying to be affectionate, and baby velociraptors. She’s a bit feral, but in a lovable way. Histrionia is in her early twenties, but has had some emotional development setbacks… so she is a fully-grown woman with the emotional capacity and understanding of intimacy of a teenager. The play is about learning what intimacy and love even are — how do we go about this confusing business of loving one another?

Marissa: You’ve said that your audition for the 2015 San Francisco Olympians Festival (after which you were cast in a major role in the staged reading of Allison Page’s Jasons) is the reason you’ve been so busy with work over the last year.

Danielle: This is true! I auditioned on the advice of a friend who did it several years ago, and quickly found myself surrounded by excellent new friends and collaborators.

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Danielle as a mime in the March Theater Pub show, On the Spot. Photo by Tonya Narvaez.

Marissa: What were some of the artistic highlights of the last year for you?

Danielle: It sounds like I’m pandering, but sincerely, working with Theater Pub has been a major highlight of 2016. [Danielle played the Duke in Theater Pub’s February show Over the Rainbow, had roles in two short plays in our March show On the Spot, and also appeared in our June show Better Than Television –ed.] Theater Pub is the opposite of elitist, and everyone involved is engaged fully in the process of trying new things, both with existing texts and new work. It’s been really refreshing. However, my favorite show I only got because the director and writer saw me at Olympians was The Horse’s Ass & Friends, Megan Cohen’s delicious vaudevillian showcase of short works that played last December. It was a dream cast and crew and experience — everyone involved was a super talented pro and a lovely person, and I still count them all as friends I would recommend to anyone, or work with again in a second.

Marissa: Since so many good things came out of the Olympians Festival for you, it’s appropriate that you’re now acting in another play that is inspired by Greek mythology. What’s your favorite Greek myth or mythological figure?

Danielle: Oh, it is hard to pick. I like Medusa quite a bit, because she’s such an interesting, nuanced character who is often unfairly reduced to a Halloween monster. Her situation is fully unfair and she’s just trying to make the best of things by living up to her bad bitch reputation with no apologies, amirite? I’ve also always been fascinated by Hera, who is clearly the one keeping Mount Olympus running behind the scenes while Zeus is being a swan unconcerned with consent or whatever. I like complicated, imperfect female or non-binary characters in basically any mythology.

Marissa: You are making it as a working artist (sans day job) in the Bay Area, at a time when many people say that that’s no longer possible. What are your tips on how to make this work?

Danielle: So this is a popular rumor, and it’s only sometimes true, but I have been known to pull it off for months at a time. My situation changes frequently. I have anywhere from two to four part-time day jobs going at any given time. Nearly all are at least a little art-related, a rule I made for myself this year.  Right now I am teaching at an outdoor preschool for the summer, and I work at the front desk of a dance studio so I can get class credit, which is like… medium artistic, more about supplementing process expenses and doing research. Other arts work is contract-based and somewhat unpredictable, like cabaret or walk-around character acting for parties.

Tip #1: FOUR JOBS IS TOO MANY, don’t do this, I do this so you can see how crazy it can make a person.

Tip #2: Most artists I know have at least two things they love. My advice, for people who are willing to hustle like they will die tomorrow, is to do both of them. Don’t buy the advice that you have to pick. I love working with kids, so I keep my side job options open in five-and-under education, and luckily I live in the Bay Area, where when parents find out I also do cabaret they just think I am cool. They recognize that adults contain multitudes and are capable of being responsible, caring human beings AND doing weird circus sideshows for cash.

Tip #3: Accept help from trusted sources. It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that as an artist in a city with skyrocketing prices, I never hit a surprise financial wall and let my mom (a former costumer and lifelong artist/arts supporter herself) boost me with grocery money. I figure I’ll pay her back when she’s old and I’m successful by being Dorothy to her Sophia and making sure she gets to go on a vacation whenever she effing wants, just like she does for her mother.

Tip #4: This one is honestly the most important. Don’t work jobs that make you miserable. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Hold out if you can for a day job that has a team you love, or perks that are actually worth it (like training you in skills that will benefit your arts career), or a job that just makes you happy. Do not languish in industries you hate because you are afraid you won’t find something better in time to rescue yourself from late rent. You will manage. Believe in your own resourcefulness. Ask your network for help.

Marissa: You’ve also been getting into the cabaret scene as a singer, ukulele player, and clown. I am an amateur ukulele player myself so I have to ask: what are your favorite songs to play on the uke?

Danielle: I have been clowning and doing circus sideshow for a couple of years now, started teaching myself ukulele about four years ago but only started playing publicly last year, and I’ve been singing since I could open my mouth. But now I get paid to do it all in dark cabarets and variety shows, fulfilling my destiny of being Sally Bowles with (slightly) more sense in my head, and hopefully fewer Nazis. Lately I’ve been playing the following to relax: “I Wish I Was the Moon,” by Neko Case, “The Chain,” by Ingrid Michaelson, and “That Was Us,” by Julia Nunes. And I’m learning a duet with my dear friend Adam Magill which we will finish eventually: “To Die For Your Ideas,” Pierre de Gaillande’s English translation of a Georges Brassens song. I play so many broody songs on the ukulele I created a clown character centered around it just to lighten the mood. Triste is a sad, pretty clown, who sings pretty, sad songs.

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Danielle as Gilda the Fortune-Teller. Photo by Ralph Boethling.

Marissa: What are your biggest influences or contributors to your aesthetic sensibility?

Danielle: I read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe as a kid, starting just about as soon as I could read a novel. That probably had a lot to do with what is happening here. I read Grimm’s fairy tales and the Anne of Green Gables series like a hundred times. My favorite book in high school was Lolita, because I am obsessed with Nabokov’s love letters to the English language, and the concept of playing with and manipulating audience sympathies. Lydia from Beetlejuice was a strong influence, though I only started wearing black in my late twenties: I didn’t have a “goth phase,” at least not where wardrobe is concerned, because I grew up in the desert. I also grew up in a very theatrical and musical household, so we watched a lot of TCM as a family and on our own. Old Hollywood films, musicals in particular, have had a huge impact on my aesthetic: Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton. Also the fashion of forgotten gems of 1990s cinema. Not the enduringly popular films, but the weird ones like With Honors, or Michael, or Truly, Madly, Deeply. Dad-jeans time capsules. I am enduringly obsessed with vaudeville aesthetics, magic, etc.

Marissa: What’s coming up next for you, and what shows are you most excited to see this summer/fall?

Danielle: So we just opened Hunting Love this past weekend, and it will run through August 21. Click here for tickets. We’ve also begun rehearsals for KML: The Musical, opening in September, which is SO EXCITING because it’s not just my first time working with Killing My Lobster, it’s my first foray into any sketch comedy since my high school cohort’s tragic but heartfelt attempt to form a troupe. I’m thrilled about the team for this show.

I haven’t booked anything at Panic & Give Up (a secret speakeasy cabaret I love) in the near future, but I am always haunting that joint and I’m sure I will turn up on their stage again eventually. It’s a good place to look for me. You can keep in the loop by using the form at www.daniellegray.com/booking, and requesting to be added to my email list. Or follow me on Facebook — I always do a public post when I have a show coming up.

The next show I’m going to see is The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made, and I’m pretty stoked about the space station they’re building over at PianoFight for Faultline Theater’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident.

Marissa: My column is called “Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” and you are a notably glamorous person, so I also have to ask: do you have any pointers (either practical or philosophical) for achieving glamor?

Danielle: Oh goodness, Marissa. Blush. I get asked about fashion advice a lot because I am not subtle about my evolving love affair with my wardrobe, and the best advice I have for anybody is to wear what you actually like. It is that simple. Honestly. If you want to wear a ball gown every day, just do it. I’m not at all exaggerating. If you like to wear yoga clothes, buy the ones you really like and rock them. The only thing stopping you from looking exactly the way you want is your hesitation – find photos that inspire you and replicate the items, scour thrift stores and department stores alike, be real about the colors you enjoy, don’t be snobby about brands (high end or low end). I think of every outfit as a costume, with a particular inspiration. Once a friend told me my outfit was “a pair of fishnets away from Bob Fosse Captain Hook,” which remains one of my most treasured compliments. Some days I’m “Andro Duckie.” Often, I get “80s New Wave/Boy George.” You know what makes you feel good, you know whose style you admire. There’s no reason you can’t do what they do. People like to see other people being unabashedly themselves.

Keep up with Danielle’s adventures at www.daniellegray.com.

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The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with Christine Keating

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us an inside look at this year’s Olympians Festival. 

This week, since the San Francisco Olympians Festival Indiegogo is at 8 days left, I thought I’d focus on one of the writers in this year’s festival, Harvest of Mysteries. The festival brings together a myriad of different people to create new work – this year, it’s inspired by the Greek and Egyptian gods of the dead. One of the best parts of the festival, from my perspective, is that you don’t need to have an extensive background or know someone in order for your proposal(s) to be seriously considered. All you need is a great idea. From there, the festival builds in small but manageable check-ins with writers, where you share what you’ve been working on and get feedback and encouragement from other writers in the room.

Operating on a very small budget yet still managing to acknowledge that everyone should be paid SOMETHING for their artistic work, this festival builds in a raffle whose proceeds are shared by the poster artists on the night of readings. By doing this, they give artists exposure and recognize that hard work goes into creating art.

As a writer for the festival this year, I’ve had the opportunity to hear short bursts of what Christine Keating is working on and I’m always excited to hear what she’s developed next. So, I thought I’d chat with her a bit more about her creative process and what she’s been up to.

 

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Colorful Christine

 

Barbara: What attracted you to theater? How did you get your start?

Christine: I’ve always been attracted to theatre because I am fascinated by the idea that a group of people can all be made to feel a feeling because of how words are put together by someone else.

I started by writing my own plays when I was about 7 years old, and they were all re-enactments of various horrible tortures people put other people through throughout history. I performed them for my horrified but supportive parents in my living room with my best friends. I acted in high school at the all-boys school in my town because I figured it was a great way to meet boys, and then I realized I actually like the theatre part better. I then realized I was a much better writer and director once I got to college, and have since then been attracted to the new-works scene because I love watching and being a part of the births of creative projects.

Barbara: This is a question borrowed from Mac Wellman – what is the first performance you remember seeing?

Christine: The first show I remember going to was Beauty and the Beast on Broadway – but I remember zero percent about the show, I only remember getting a cool sparkle wand afterwards. The first play I really remember seeing was Measure for Measure in London with my grandparents when I was about 7.

Barbara: How did you get involved in SF Olympians? What do you like?

Christine: I got involved when I wrote for The Sirens (The Sisters Sirene) with my friend Amelia Bethel two years ago. I was attracted to a Greek mythology festival, being someone who likes gore and torture and gossip. But I also was excited by the Olympians because it is a commission-based festival that really commits to nurturing its writers and their ideas.

Barbara: Tell me about how the festival nurtures writers. How is its model helpful for creating new work?

Christine: The writers’ meetings are a built-in community for people to make new connections and build on existing friendships. They’re so supportive of wherever you are in the process, and it’s nice to feel like we’re all struggling for the same thing. The whole festival also connects writers and directors and actors in this huge swirl of “wow this is my community, these are my people” which is such an invigorating experience for artists.

Barbara: Who’s your character and what’s your play about?

Christine: My play is about The River Styx, and while I’m still figuring out my play, I know it’s about being stuck and needing to cross something terrifying and not knowing how, or being afraid of it. It’s got a character who is forced to face all the things she’s messed up in her life, as well as all the things she’ll never get to do.

Barbara: What interesting challenges and/or opportunities have come up in the writing process?

Christine: I have never had writer’s block like I’ve had with this play. I’m normally one of those people who can shut myself up in a room and come out five hours later with the script I was supposed to write, plus 35 pages of another play I wrote by accident. Figuring out what Styx is about has taken me into doing a lot of really fascinating research, and immersing myself in the ideas I want to talk about in a way I haven’t done with other scripts.

Barbara: What stage is your script in currently and what are you excited to hear on the night of the reading?

Christine: It’s in the “I’ve had 15 versions of my first 15 pages” stage right now. I’m really excited to see what comes out of this struggle, and the audience reaction – the best part of theatre is being with other people when it happens!

Barbara: What writing/development do you anticipate having to do between now and the reading?

Christine: I love living-room readings, but I live in under 200 square feet, so I can really only have one if my cast is under 3 people and they’re willing to get cozy, or if someone else has a living room to donate…

Barbara: I’d love to hear your take on Bay Area theater. Why do it here and not in NY or someplace else? What do we have going for us? What could we stand to learn/put into practice?

Christine: Well, first off, I don’t like NYC because within ten seconds of getting into it, I become a huge jerk to everyone. It’s something in the air. I think what San Francisco has is many small groups of people who find that they need to work together and support each other in order to have a thriving arts scene, which means we come up with a lot of different kinds of performance, and new people are always discovering it. We’re also a community that recognises when someone is talented and then nurtures and encourages them to grow in a way I don’t hear my friends in New York talking about.

Barbara: What words of wisdom do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Christine: I think the best words of wisdom I ever received were just someone looking me in the eye and saying “You can do this. This is a hat, among many, that you can wear.”

Barbara: Any plugs for your work or friends’ work happening soon?

Christine: Of course! You should check out the Bay Area Playwrights Festival this weekend – my friend Logan Ellis directed Non-Player Character by Walt McGough. Also, Portal: The Musical is playing next week at Theater Pub, written by Kirk Shimano, whose play for Olympians I will be directing this year! I saw it this week and I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt the overwhelming urge to dedicate the next month of my life to re-playing Portals 1 and 2. And finally, my boyfriend Adam Magill will be in The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made Theatre coming up next month, and having read the script a few years ago, I am really excited to see what the excellent creative team does with it.

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For more about Christine Keating, check out her website. Her play, STYX, commissioned by the San Francisco Olympians Festival, will be read on Wednesday, October 12 at EXIT Theatre in San Francisco.

Working Title: The Move, The Packing, The Thrush and The Woodpecker

This week Will Leschber barely makes it out of his moving truck to speak to Custom Made Theatre about The Thrush & The Woodpecker.

Hello there dear readers! You all are a dedicated bunch. I gotta give you props. Not only are you here now reading away, but we even tried to trick you all by saying that the last Working Title blog entry was a goodbye blog! Well, as you may know, it was a farewell Bay Area blog but it is not the last Working Title blog, no siree bob blog… we can’t trick you! Tricks are for kids. Let’s keep this party going from across the country!

So I can’t tear myself away. Even after the 3500-mile journey from San Francisco to Phoenix to Austin then Kansas and on to Connecticut in a 26’ box truck towing a car, even after unloading a ridiculous amount of moving boxes, even after getting my bearings and loosing sleep and battling landlords and praising new daycare workers and thanking in-laws and parents…even after all that, I can’t tear myself away from San Francisco indie theater. You guys deserve the best. So I have a few more suggestions to help wet your whistles and prep your brains as you dive into the new offerings from Bay Area theater.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Katz, Artistic Director at Custom Made Theater about The Thrush & the Woodpecker, a new play by Steve Yockey that has its rolling world premiere beginning in a few short weeks. If you think that driving cross-country with a dog and a dad sounds dramatic and surprising, that has nothing on this revenge play. Starring local legend Stacy Ross, Shotgun Players Company Member Fontana Butterfield, and hot up-and-coming actor Adam Magill (Berkeley Rep’s Macbeth, SF Playhouse’s Stupid Fucking Bird), The Thrush and the Woodpecker tells the engaging story of a mysterious stranger who arrives to turn the world upside down for Brenda Hendricks and her son Noah, who’s recently returned from college unexpectedly. What avian secrets lie in wait?! We’ll see…

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I asked Brian Katz the best film to pair with the new and unusual Thrush/Woodpecker and like a good Artistic Director, he offered up the question to his wonderful production team to get a myriad of opinions. Here’s a sampling of recommendations:

Kitty Torres (costumer) suggests: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Since the play and the film definitely share the same levels of obsession and deceit.

Liz Ryder (sound) concisely recommends: The Birds!

Leah Abrams (Custom Made Theater Company’s Executive Director) offers up: The 2006 thriller Notes on a Scandal because its two female characters strike me in a similar way, a mix of perfectly normal/really off-kilter in their own way. AND Hitchcock’s The Birds. I think it’s the film that terrifies me most – there’s the obvious havoc wreaked by said birds, and also just that sense of the supernatural invading seemingly normal people in the real world.

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With the uncanny, supernatural, deceitful, unnerving recommendations Thrush/Woodpecker sounds to be quite an intriguing experience. The play opens August 4th and runs until August 20th. More info can be found at www.custommade.org.

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part III

Our final round of recaps from our core blogging team brings you top five lists from Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek. Enjoy! And join us for our last blog of the year with The Stueys tomorrow.

Five Underwhelming Behind-the-Scenes Job that Deserve Awards for Surviving 2015 by Alandra Hileman

As someone who regularly gets paid to be as invisible as possible in theatre, I wanted to shine a little light on a few of the unsung heroes of 2015 theatre, both local and global.

1) The Ushers
Look, being an usher is such a massively underrated job that, below a certain operating budget, most places either use community volunteers or ask technicians/theatre staff to double-up on their other duties to do it. And true, usually it’s an incredibly boring task of helping patrons remember the alphabet. But sometimes you get weird situations like the infamous incident at Broadway’s Hand to God in July where a patron climbed on stage to attempt to charge a cell phone in the fake scenic outlet. And that is when the ushers, like true theatre-ninjas, swoop in en masse to preserve the sanctity of the show. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I salute you, ushers!

2) The Prompters
I think very few of my fellow stage managers will disagree when I say being on book for actors in that weird nebulous time between “first day with no script in hand” and “opening night” is one of the worst parts of the job. Line notes are tediously painful. But, it’s a necessary part of the process…or at least it was until this year, when apparently everyone just gave up trying and just wore earpieces so they could be prompted when they went up. Guys, what happened? I get that this happens sometimes in previews; I’ve been on book during previews of local shows, but the entire run, folks? Well, regardless on me feelings about the overall practice, my hat is off to the invisible voices on the other end of the earpiece who are, apparently, just as responsible for keeping the show going as the big-name star who graces the marquee.

3) The Managers
Has Rob Ready slept this year? When was the last time Natalie Ashodian saw her house? How long has Stuart Bousel been working his way through Great Expectations? There are hundreds more folks in the SF Bay Area, and all over the country, who I could shout out for taking on the very unsexy titles of administrator, coordinator, production manager, program director, and other boring-sounding things that have to do with Excel spreadsheets and web design and mountains of paperwork, and all so that beautiful, fascinating, innovative art can blossom in spite of everything working against theatre right now, and in so doing have paved the way for the upward swing

4) The Techblr Community
Did you know that there’s a huge community of stage managers, designers, and technicians on Tumblr? While it’s not a “job” per se, one of the things that is the most amazing about the folks who use this tag is how willing they are to dive in and help each other out. Possibly the coolest coming together of the tech theater community I’ve ever seen have been instances where a frantic high school student makes a post begging for help with how to rig a prop, or run a certain kind of light board, and dozens of professional theatre worked have joined forces to offer help and advice.

5) The Bloggers
My 5th award was always going to be to “the guy who films so many of the #Ham4Ham shows,” because those tiny snippets of silliness are full of joy and talent and delight, and the fact that somebody is filming them and putting them on YouTube fills my West Coast grounded heart with warm fuzzies. But then, as I was scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I happened to discover that one of the primary sources of these delightful Broadway nuggets is actually none other than Howard Sherman, currently director of the new Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama, Senior Strategy Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts in New York, and one of the most influential theatre advocates in the country, who is very well known for his blog. And I realized that the theatre bloggers of the world do deserve a shout-out, because most of us will never be as famous as Mr. Sherman, but we do it anyway, just so we can share out thoughts, insights, advice, opinions and love of this crazy world of the stage. Sometimes only one person may read a post…but sometimes our post is the only review a show gets, or serves as a reminder to that one read why they love theatre. And I think that’s pretty cool.

5 Things I Can See From My Couch That Remind Me Of This Year In Theater by Allison Page

It’s the end of the year, and most theaters wrapped something up around Christmas, and will start something new up in January. It’s a time to sit on your couch and think about the past year. And if you’re me, and who says you aren’t, you might be parked in your apartment, looking around at the things you haven’t taken care of. In honor of the theatrical downtime at the end of 2015, here are 5 things I can see from my couch that remind me of my year in theater:

1) A BOTTLE OF SRIRACHA MY BOYFRIEND LEFT ON THE COFFEE TABLE
Sriracha is a hot sauce many people are pretty dedicated to. It goes well on/with a number of things: tacos, pad thai, soup, dips, sandwiches, or if you’re my boyfriend, just slathered on some bread. What does this errant bottle of Sriracha remind me of? Easy. Megan Cohen’s THE HORSE’S ASS & FRIENDS, which I saw just a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it might even remind me of Megan’s work in general: always a good idea, no matter the vehicle.

2) A DIRTY PLATE WHICH USED TO INCLUDE FRENCH TOAST
2015 was, by far, the craziest, busiest year of my theatrical life. I counted myself as a produced playwright for the first time, in March. By the end of the year, I was involved in some way or another with 19 different productions, as producer, director, actor, writer, artistic director, or some combination of those titles. So there have literally been a lot of dirty plates in my apartment, because I didn’t have time to clean them. Worth it.

3) THREE BOTTLES OF CONTACT SOLUTION ON MY TV STAND
I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. A LOT of stuff. Having been an adjudicator for the TBA awards allowed/forced me to see stuff I would never have seen otherwise. I went to a kids’ show. I went to some theatres for the first time EVER. I saw comedies, dramas, shows with expensive sets, shows without any sets, period pieces, modern tales, and it was an eye opening experience because it reminded me of the variety the Bay Area actually has. I think we forget that sometimes. It was a good reminder.

4) A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS TREE
Simple. Humble. Has a button you can push to play Charlie Brown Christmas music. Not big and showy. Not overcomplicated. Flashy though, in its way. Gloriously brilliant when the timing is just right. Gets to the point: HERE IS A SMALL TREE. YOU WILL LOVE THIS SMALL TREE. It does what it does and it does it well. That’s how I feel about the parts of the theater community that sometimes aren’t considered theater, ya know, by idiots. The Bay Area has a steadily growing community of improv and sketch performers and companies. We (yeah, I’m saying we) perform in traditional and non-traditional spaces alike. Great, big, beautiful theaters and teeny tiny stages meant for one person with a guitar. From Endgames to The Mess to BATS to Killing My Lobster (had to) to every small group of people who took one class together and then created their own thing in a basement, there has been significant growth in the last several years, and with the opening of PianoFight, there are more stages to occupy than ever. Here’s to the scrappy people with stick-on mustaches and open hearts, sometimes performing well after everyone’s gone to bed. Keep pushing that button.

5) A STACK OF BIOGRAPHIES ABOUT FAMOUS WOMEN
Ingrid Bergman. Lillian Hellman. Sophie Tucker. Gloria Swanson. Pola Negri. Carole Lombard. Elizabeth Taylor. (Okay, yes, I have a lot of old timey lady biographies) There were a lot of bright moments for women in theater this year. An obvious one is the outcry of theater artists everywhere that we just need MORE WOMEN IN THEATER. It can be hard, sometimes, to not just focus on that problem, instead of taking a minute for game to recognize game and point out people, places, companies, organizations that are doin’ it right. Here are some moments from 2015 that had me pumpin’ my fists in joy for women in theater, some of them shamelessly to do with my own stuff, some more broad: Mina Morita became Artistic Director of Crowded Fire, I saw Phillipa Soo in Hamilton and cried REAL HARD, Marissa Skudlarek produced SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays to PACKED, PACKED, PACKED houses, all the women in SF Playhouse’s Stage Kiss killed it: Carrie Paff, Millie DeBenedet, Taylor Jones (it’s still playing, you can see it!) Lauren Yee’s Hookman at Z Space, Heather Orth’s portrayal of Little Edie in Custom Made’s Grey Gardens: The Musical, Jessica Roux was the best stage manager in the entire world for multiple Killing My Lobster shows, Geneva Carr and Sarah Stiles being absolutely fearless in Hand to God on Broadway, Kaeli Quick became Artistic Director of Endgames Improv, Linda Huang once again stage managed the SF Olympians Festival at the EXIT dealing with just a HUGE quanitity of people and needs, Beth Cockrell’s beautiful lighting of gross things for Hilarity, Shanice Williams in The Wiz Live…I could go on and on but I’ll go way over the character limit.

Top 5 Surprising Performances of 2015 by Marissa Skudlarek
2015 marked my return to the stage after a long absence, in a role that I never expected to play (dizzy blonde secretary), so I’ve been thinking a lot about typecasting versus, shall we say, counter-intuitive casting. Moreover, I’m not always comfortable opining on what’s the absolute “best” acting I saw in a given year, but I do like writing about performances I admire. So here are five skillful performances that each involved something a bit out-of-the-ordinary. They are in chronological order according to when I saw each play.

1) Madeline H.D. Brown as the Stage Manager in Our Town at Shotgun Players

It was a bit of a surprise to hear that Shotgun Players had cast a woman in her 30s as a character that’s typically played by a middle-aged or elderly man, but it’s not at all surprising that Madeline triumphed in the role. She is deeply attuned to the spiritual cycles and undercurrents that run beneath our daily existence (check out her new tarot-reading business, You Are Magick) and she brought this intuition to her role of Our Town‘s narrator and guide. This was the Stage Manager not as folksy patriarch, but as androgynous angel of death: infinitely full of wisdom, with an unearthly tenderness that tempered the harsh truths she revealed to Emily, and to us.

2) Adam Magill as Con in Stupid Fucking Bird at San Francisco Playhouse

I’d hung out with Adam several times at Theater Pub and other events before I ever saw him onstage, which is always a little weird: what would I do if I liked him as a person but didn’t like his acting? Fortunately, I liked him a lot in the role of Con, the Constantine analogue in this postmodern riff on The Seagull. And in the surprising moment where Con breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience what he can do to get Nina to love him again, Adam employed his natural charisma and humor to make friends with the whole audience. The night I saw it, some wiseacre in the balcony shouted “Why don’t you kill a bird and lay it at her feet?” Without missing a beat, Adam retorted, “You know, some people here haven’t seen The Seagull, and you had to go and ruin it for them.” I was amazed at Adam’s ability to think on his feet, creating a moment that can only exist in live performance.

3) Heather Orth as Big Edie and Little Edie in Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre Co.

Heather Orth has made a career of playing musical-theater leading ladies who are several decades older than she actually is. The complex and emotionally demanding role of Big Edie/Little Edie in Grey Gardens is written for a woman of about fifty: in Act One, she plays a demanding socialite mother whose world is shattered; in Act Two, an eccentric daughter still dealing with the fallout from that shatter. Both women are indomitable yet fragile; they must register as separate individuals and also as mirror images. I was a bit surprised that someone as young as Heather would be cast in this role (and the fifty-year-old musical-theater actresses of the Bay Area must be gnashing their teeth that the role went to her) but as she hit every note with her clarion voice, paraded around in Brooke Jennings’ increasingly outlandish costumes, and embodied the two halves of this toxic mother–daughter dyad that has entered into American mythology, her calendar age became totally irrelevant.

4) Thomas Gorrebeeck as Posthumus and Cloten in Cymbeline at Marin Shakespeare

I was intrigued by Marin Shakespeare’s decision to stage the rarely-seen Cymbeline and further intrigued by their choice to have Thomas Gorrebeeck double as noble hero Posthumus and his silly rival Cloten. It didn’t seem to be for economic reasons – they had a big cast with plenty of extras. Instead, the doubling highlights how these characters are foils to one another – and also provides an opportunity for an acting tour de force. (Later, I learned that this is a rather common practice when staging Cymbeline: this year’s Central Park production had Hamish Linklater double as Posthumus and Cloten, and Tom Hiddleston won an Olivier for playing this dual role in London in 2007.) As Posthumus, Gorrebeeck was sincere and anguished; he also made the smart choice to play Posthumus as extremely drunk when he agrees to a wager on his wife’s fidelity — perhaps the only way that a modern audience will accept that plot point. As Cloten, he was a sublimely ridiculous, strutting, preening fool in a silly blond wig. It’s a cliché to praise an actor in a dual role by saying “the audience didn’t realize it was the same guy.” But in this case it would also be true.

As an aside, if any young men out there are interested in playing one of these roles in 2016, I hear Theater of Others is quite desperate for a Posthumus for their upcoming Cymbeline production. Write to sffct@yahoo.com for more info.

5) Siobhan Doherty as Florinda in The Rover at Shotgun Players

Florinda is a tricky role because, especially for modern audiences, she can come across as too nicey-nice and boring when compared with the other female leads of The Rover. Hellena is bold, witty, and sexually forward; Angellica Bianca is an elegant and passionate courtesan; but Florinda is a virginal young lady who wants to marry her true love. With a generic ingénue in the role of Florinda, she’d be a forgettable or even an annoying character, but Siobhan is a quirky ingénue. She played Florinda without overdoing the sweetness and sighs, concentrating on the truth of her situation and the actions she takes to get the man she loves. She was brave and spunky and a heroine in her own right.

Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek are San Francisco Theater Pub bloggers who each wear many many other hats and look good in all of them.

Working Title: Stupid F**cking Plautus or With a Little Help From My Friends

This week Will Leschber gets his homework done…by someone else.

I’m writing this entry single handed this week…meaning that I’m literally only typing with my right hand. My hands have been especially full as of late with the arrival of my first child. And at the moment my left hand is providing a little, loving nest for my baby bird.

GAH... who threw up this blog on my shirt?!

GAH… who threw up this blog on my shirt?!

I know what you are saying…that’s cute and all, Will, but isn’t this supposed to be about theater and film and other dumb things you think about. I need my fix! Get to the goods! I’m trying, dear reader. Geez. Listen in the last week between hospitals, and in-laws, and hee hee hooo breathing, and car seats, and sleeping at 3 hour intervals when we’re lucky, time (and my hairline) is running thin. I watched most of The Lego Movie, half of Hugo, some short Broad City episodes (totally child appropriate 😉 ) and a two and a half YouTube clips. Point is, I don’t get out much. HOWEVER, don’t you worry your pretty little reader heads. I got you.

Since I’ve been cooped up all with the best bundle of joy since the Lord of the Rings Blu-ray box set, I solicited the help of some dear friends. I hit up two wild and crazy guys, Kai Morrison & Adam Magill, who are currently head-lining some hilarious, newly-opened plays. I asked them to proved a perfect cinematic pairing for their respective plays and they delightfully did my homework for me. Thanks guys. I owe you high fives and high balls.

Let’s start with Kai! Kai is one of the starring players in The Braggart Soldier, or Major Blowhard at Custom Made Theatre. Braggart is a World Premiere of director Evren Odcikin’s fast and furious mash-up adaptation of Plautus which proves that Roman comedies never get old, they just get funnier! Boom Bam Baby! The perfect film pairing for Braggart according to Kai would be Mel Brooks’ iconic 1981 comedy The History of the World, Part 1. “”Both pieces are bawdy, irreverent, and shameless, never afraid to set a high bar for lowbrow comedy. The plot of Braggart is timeless – give the jerks their due. Plautus, the Roman originator of Braggart, has a clear influence in much of today’s comedy, Mel Brooks included.” So wet your slapstick whistle with some Mel Brooks, then get to Custom Made and laugh your ass off.

juicy+loins+Braggart+pic

Now Mr. Magill! Adam Magill is one of the key players of San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stupid F**cking Bird. Bird is kind of adapted from Chekov’s The Seagull which sounds like a perfect recipe for intertwined hilarity and pathos. Adam chose to pair this year’s Best Picture winner Birdman with his Stupid F**cking play and had this to say, “Here’s the thing: Birdman and Stupid Fucking Bird are perfect for each other because they are both reiterations of the same questions Hamlet struggled with 400 years ago: What is art? What does it do to us? Does it make us better human beings? If not, then what’s the point?” Do you have existential quandaries that need answering? Are you in need of some deep guffaws? Go see Stupid F**cking Bird at SF Playhouse and watch Birdman if you haven’t.

Con (Adam Magill) contemplates life on the swing." as description.

Con (Adam Magill) contemplates life on the swing.” as description.

That’s all folks, Until next fortnight, I’ll be changing diapers and thinking about artsy fartsy stuff.

Sources:

Palopoli, Jessica. Stupid F**cking Bird Promotional Photo. Digital image. Http://sfplayhouse.org/. 1 Mar. 2015. Web.

Yamada, Jay. Juicy Loins, The Braggart Soldier or Major Blowhard Promotional Picture. Digital image. Http://www.custommade.org/. 1 Mar. 2015. Web.