Theater Around The Bay: SHEHEREZADE’S LAST TALES

Bridgette Dutta Portman, celebrating the close of a 15-year tradition.

How does one portray on octopus on stage?

I found myself grappling with this question in late 2010, amidst my joy over learning that the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco had selected one of my scripts for its annual short play festival, Sheherezade. My comedy Paul der Krake (which also required a cricket bat) called for an actor to don an octopus costume. I knew this was not something that a typical actor would have in his or her wardrobe (or was it?) and so to increase my bizarre script’s chances of being selected I had included “playwright will provide” next to the description of the costume. They had called my bluff. Now I had to provide.

I ended up taking a red hooded sweatshirt, sewing shut the arms and forming several extra arms out of the lower portion, then stitching on white shower curtain rings to look like suckers. The result, when worn by Wesley Cayabyab, who portrayed Paul the psychic octopus with the perfect blend of sublimity and torpor, was delightful.

Wesley Cayabyab, Philip Goleman, and Charles Lewis III in Paul der Krake by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Ann Thomas (photo by Colin Hussey).

Wesley Cayabyab, Philip Goleman, and Charles Lewis III in Paul der Krake by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Ann Thomas (photo by Colin Hussey).

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Sheherezade. Now, five years later, I have the privilege of being co-producer for PCSF’s final iteration of Sheherezade, aptly titled Sheherezade’s Last Tales, which opens December 3 at EXIT Stage Left. And I’ve learned that putting together an entire production is kind of like stitching together 6,000 octopus costumes, with live octopuses inside them.

Sheherezade, which has evolved significantly over its fifteen-year history, was not always a full production. It began as a gala event in 2001 featuring thirteen staged readings by PCSF member playwrights, and was so well-received that an annual tradition was born. Beginning in 2004, with Jody Handley as producer, the festival would feature a “year in review” theme, whereby news stories and events from the previous year inspired each selected play. 2007 marked the first off-book production of the show (two nights only at the Exit Theatre). In subsequent years the run was expanded as the festival’s ambition and reputation grew. Wily West Productions came on board as producing partner from 2012 to 2014. Last year, 2014, was a highlight for Sheherezade; the show was critically acclaimed and was nominated for a TBA award for best anthology. This year, PCSF is proud to present eight world premiere short plays in the final installment of Sheherezade before we transition to something a bit different (more on that later).

The “year in review” theme was dropped in 2013, but I find it interesting that several themes have emerged organically to interconnect our plays this year – the most prominent of which is, I think, “deception and revelation.” Each of our plays, in some sense, explores what happens when facades break down and true identities and personalities are revealed. In The Stuff We Keep, for instance, a brother and sister discover a secret their deceased father left behind. By Any Other Name features a lesbian rights activist struggling to accept her partner’s decision to transition from female to male. The protagonist of A Comfortable Life is a woman whose conventional existence is disrupted by a figure from the past she tried to bury. Even our more humorous plays involve people presenting themselves to others in ways that are potentially counter to their true personalities; in Sparse Pubic Hair, for instance, an aging couple on a first date quickly discover that their expectations of each other are woefully mismatched.

Alexaendrai Bond and Louel Señores rehearsing The Stuff We Keep by Rod McFadden, directed by Laylah Muran de Assereto (photo by Colin Hussey).

Alexaendrai Bond and Louel Señores rehearsing The Stuff We Keep by Rod McFadden, directed by Laylah Muran de Assereto (photo by Colin Hussey).

I dove into producing with little expectation of what it would entail. As a playwright who has never acted or directed (unless playing a mouse extra in a fourth-grade production of An American Tail counts), my understanding of the process of production was something along these lines:

1. I write a script, which a theatre agrees to produce.
2. Directors materialize.
3. Actors audition and are hired.
4. There are rehearsals. I try to attend at least one.
5. Something called “Tech Week” happens. This is apparently when the people involved in
the show are most likely to lose their minds. I figure it’s something like Finals Week
in college. Or maybe Shark Week.
6. Divine intervention.
7. The play is produced!

As you might imagine, then, this experience was a bit of a baptism of fire. In the words of my tireless and talented co-producer, Jerome Joseph Gentes, it involved “a learning curve so steep it’s not a curve but a vertical line.” I am deeply grateful for Jerome’s help, as well as the support of our directors: Laylah Muran de Assereto, whose years of experience producing Sheherezade has been a tremendous asset, and Adam Sussman, whose patience, professionalism and skill have been greatly appreciated. We also have our excellent stage manager, Arashi Veronica Cesana, our talented designers, and, of course, our wonderful actors and playwrights. I’m fortunate to be part of this strong team.

Among the innumerable things I’ve learned over the past couple of months have been:

• How to tape a floor for rehearsal. (Tip: remember to bring tape.)
• Why lights have to be “hung” (I thought they were just already there?)
• The actual definition of a wing nut.
• The differences between “wet tech,” “dry tech” and “paper tech.”
• What a “costume parade” is (hint: sadly, it’s not actually a parade).
• How to create a promotional video using iMovie.
• How far I can hurl my laptop when iMovie refuses to cooperate.

If that last one makes me sound at all weary, please know that I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I highly recommend that all playwrights involve themselves, at some point and in some capacity, in other elements of production – it gives one a new and broader perspective on all that goes into bringing a play to life, and a greater appreciation for everyone involved behind the scenes. Plus, using a drill is just plain fun.

The set – mid-construction – for Sheherezade’s Last Tales. (photo by Bridgette Dutta Portman)

The set – mid-construction – for Sheherezade’s Last Tales. (photo by Bridgette Dutta Portman)

Sheherezade is special to me, and to a lot of people, for a number of reasons. As many playwrights can attest, bridging the gulf between staged readings and full productions can be a challenge, and Sheherezade has provided that bridge for PCSF members. Paul der Krake, my octopus play, was among the first plays I ever had produced. Auto-Incorrect, my entry in the 2013 festival, went on to multiple productions in the UK and Wales and was published in an anthology. The connections I’ve made through my involvement with Sheherezade have been lasting. And I’m not alone. A number of participants had similar comments about their experiences with the festival:

“When Sheherezade 14 accepted my play, The Interview, I was elated. It was the play’s first full production, and it was a very steep and exhilarating learning curve for me. … The Interview was subsequently produced at Towne Street Theatre in L.A., and I’ve worked with my Sheherezade 14 ‘team’ in a number of local productions in the year since then.” Madeline Puccioni, playwright

“Red Rover Red Rover, Send Rocky Right Over [2006] was my first Sheherezade play and it was, in part, the basis for Believers, soon to be produced in Istanbul and in Monterey in the spring.” – Patricia Milton, playwright (multiple years)

“In all the years I’ve been involved in Sheherezade, the unifying thing, other than the passion everyone brings to it, has been the opportunities it provides. I’ve seen new directors, producers, designers, playwrights, and actors start with Sheherezade alongside veterans and am proud to see their continued successes. It’s been a profoundly rewarding experience.” — Laylah Muran de Assereto (producer 2009-2014, director 2015)

The format of Sheherezade has likely contributed to its success. The “year in review” theme throughout most of the festival’s history resulted in a number of plays that focused on contemporary politically and socially-relevant issues, both dramatic and satirical. Even in the years since the theme was dropped, most plays have retained this sense of immediacy. “The short play format also usually gives us the highest stakes moment on stage, which can be really engaging for audience and actor alike,” comments Sara Staley, who directed for the show in 2009 and 2010. She recalls,

“Two very timely, often funny plays I directed for Sheherezade that come to mind are Michael Jackson and Farrah Faucet arguing over the last hair appointment in heaven on the day they die … and a play that gave us Bernie Madoff and his wife doing their best, in their own way, to come to terms with the depth and consequences of their wrongdoings.”

Diana Brown, Jaimelee Roberts, and Wes Cayabyab in Head N the Clouds by Brian Tognotti, directed by Sara Staley (photo by Colin Hussey)

Diana Brown, Jaimelee Roberts, and Wes Cayabyab in Head N the Clouds by Brian Tognotti, directed by Sara Staley (photo by Colin Hussey)

Actors, too, have found their experiences with Sheherezade memorable. “One of the greatest acting challenges I’ve had was playing Allen Turing in Rod McFadden’s Of Machines and Men in Sheherezade in 2012,” recalls Edward Kimak. He continues:

“Here was a man who was a gay, brilliant, stuttering Brit with Aspergers syndrome. Balancing all those elements while still being ‘in the moment’ for each scene was very difficult—as was going through the arc of his life in under 20 minutes! Luckily I worked with director Ann Thomas who understood the challenge and helped me get just the right mix.”

While this year’s show is the last Sheherezade, it is by no means the end of PCSF’s short play festivals. In the works for next year is a new program that will culminate in a fully-produced short play festival in the spirit of Sheherezade, but whose plays will be selected in a new and very different way that will allow more of our member playwrights to be involved in the process. We’re excited about this new development and can’t wait to see what our members will come up with next year.

In the meantime, as we head into tech week (note to self: it’s not like Shark Week…but then again, it sort of is), and I see all the elements of our show coming together, and opening night is a few days away, I feel both pride and gratitude. I am grateful to PCSF as an organization, to our prior producing partner Wily West, and to everyone who has been involved in this festival since its birth in 2001.

Please join us for our last Sheherezade, so we can celebrate together all the talent and hard work that our playwrights, actors, directors and designers have brought to this special production for so many years.

SHEHEREZADE’S LAST TALES
Dec. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 at Exit Stage Left
Tickets and information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2462868

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Theater Around The Bay: Another Pint, Please

Christian Simonsen interviews local producer Michael Laird about turning a second Pint Sized Play script into a film.

One of the most enthusiastic audience members of Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays Festival IV was Michael Laird. Luckily for me, he also happened to be an aspiring independent filmmaker who works through the Scary Cow film collective. Michael chose my Pint Sized script, “Multitasking”, as his first short film project as an independent producer. Not one to remain idle, Michael immediately set his sights on another script from the same festival: the clever and poignant “Mark +/-” by Daniel Ng (also recently remounted by original director Adam Sussman at the 2014 Titan Award Directors’ Showcase).

So, who is this Michael Laird guy?

ML: A regular guy from Nor Cal who always had creative thoughts but no outlet. Went to UC Santa Barbara to study physics, but ended up with a history degree – which I still read for fun (history, I mean.)

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

ML: I got tired of thinking great comedy lines and skits but doing nothing about them, or watching movies and thinking they could be more creative. Several years ago I heard about Scary Cow, where people make their own films; last year I finally decided it was time to do something, rather than just wishing that I did.

How does the Scary Cow film collective process work?

ML: Every four months they have a member’s meeting, where people who want to make a movie pitch their idea, to draw others into their group. Usually a movie takes twelve people, including a couple actors, but also someone who owns light equipment, knows how to run a camera, wiling to hold a boom microphone, and the most important – who will bring food?

The producer is the one who owns the film, pitches, recruits volunteers, juggle schedules, and rides the volunteers until there is a finished project. If the length is within 10 minutes, the film is then shown at the Castro Theater, where Scary Cow screens their results every four months.

What have you learned most from working as a crew member on other filmmakers’ productions?

ML: My first lesson – going up to Marin County one Friday evening, spent four hours, all for 20 seconds of finished product showing a scared women walking through an alley where several homeless stand around a fire. The lesson: making films takes a lot of time and patience.

The second lesson – you volunteer, give, help, be a friend, and then people are more willing to help you on your film.

Producers in both film and live theater are stuck with a lot of the unglamorous dirty work needed to bring a production to completion. What qualities do you think are most needed in that role?

ML: Organization and people skills. The producer is the one ultimately responsible for all the details – if a key actor doesn’t show up when everyone else is at the set, it isn’t the cameraman’s responsibility. Which means a lot of leadership skills, to bring out everyone’s best (since no one is getting paid).

You need to bring many different people with diverse talents together for a common goal. How would you describe your “management style”?

ML: I have to be a good listener and accept a lot of direction from those who have more skills. I don’t know as much about key lighting or camera angles as those who bought their own equipment and worked it for years. It would be different if I studied film in college and worked on a dozen films.

Most short films are based on original screenplays. What inspired you choose playwrights’ scripts from the local live theater community?

ML: In live theater you get an idea how the finished product looks and sounds-though film is different, since you get close ups and softer voices.

What drew you to Daniel Ng’s script, “Mark +/-“?

ML: I saw it live and almost fell off the chair laughing. But that wasn’t all – I immediately “boxed” the view, meaning I could see how to film it. Two actors around a table, one scene, no complicated locations or scenery. An easy shoot, compared to some that takes five days and renting three apartments for an extended story.

The script presented unique technical challenges, since the main character interacts with both past and future versions of himself. How did you overcome them?

ML: There were two possibilities. I first imagined “green screening” the main actor. You film him in front of a green screen, and then in editing you use a computer to paste his image over a café scene. That way you paste his image three times.

But on the day of the shoot, the cinematographer and director though it best to shoot him three times, with same unchanging background, then paste the images together in editing. That was easier for lighting and cinematographer, since not filming over an imagined background, but proved immensely more difficult for the actor – he had to repeat his words, hand movements, and timing exactly for all three shots of him sitting around the table.

So overall, was producing your second film easier or harder?

ML: The only harder part of a second film is I got over confident. My first film went so easy, I forgot that most films actually take longer to shoot and have more fires that need to be put out. We almost didn’t get the second film shooting finished, because it took longer than I expected.

What do you look for when you are hunting for a potential new “Michael Laird Production”?

ML: I still love the funny skit, Saturday Night Live style. I love funny dialogue rather than beautiful costumes or scenery. And something that isn’t a rehash of a dozen TV shows you already seen.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

ML: Editing my last film is taking longer than my first film. I am working on that, and also helping others on their films – which will come in handy when looking for volunteers for my Next Great Comedy.

The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2013

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2013 list. 

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to start my own Bay Area Theater Awards, because my opinions are just as legitimate as anyone else’s, the awards I give out are as valuable as any other critical awards, (recipients of the SEBATA, or the Stuey, if you prefer, get nothing but my admiration and some free publicity), and also because there’s a fairly good chance that I’ve seen a lot of theater the usual award givers haven’t seen. The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with. No one person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff.

Also, there are some people who think I don’t like anything, and I feel a need to not only prove them wrong, but to do so by expressing how much of the local color I do love and admire, as opposed to just pointing out that the reason they think I don’t like anything is because I generally don’t like *their* work (oh… I guess I did just point that out, didn’t I?). Normally I post these “awards” on my Facebook page, but this year I decided to bring them to the blog because the mission statement of the SEBATA is pretty in-line with the mission statement of Theater Pub, and having come to the close of an amazing year of growth for the blog, it now has a much farther reach than my Facebook page could ever hope to have. Congratulations SF Theater Pub Blog- you just won a Stuey.

Anyway, because I am a product of the generation that grew up with the MTV Movie Awards- and, because I’m the only person on the voting committee and thus can do what I like- I have decided that my categories are purely arbitrary and can be stretched to allow me to write about anyone I feel like. The two limits are 1) I can’t give myself an award (though I can have been involved in the show on a limited level) and 2) I won’t go over thirteen (though there may be ties for some awards). Because seriously, how (more) self indulgent would this be without either of those rules? Oh, 3) I won’t give out awards for how bad something was. I’m here to be positive. And chances are those people were punished enough.

To all my friends and frenemies in the Bay Area Theater Scene… it’s been a great year. Let’s you and me do it again sometime. Well… most of you.

And now, presenting the Fourth Annual Stuey Awards…

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
“Pint Sized IV” (San Francisco Theater Pub)
Pint Sized Plays gets better each year, and it’s honestly one of two things I actually miss about working at the Cafe Royale (the other is the uniqueness of doing Shakespeare there, which for some reason works in a completely magical way I wish it worked more often on traditional stages). This year the festival was put together by Neil Higgins, who did an amazing job, and I think we had some of the best material yet. The evening as a whole felt incredibly cohesive, with a theme of forgiveness and letting go, archly reflective of our decision to leave the Cafe Royale, and I think incredibly relevant to a lot of our audience. We knew Pint Sized could be very funny, and very socially pointed, but I’m not sure we had ever conceived of it as moving and this year it was, thanks in no small part to our writers (Megan Cohen, Peter Hsieh, Sang S. Kim, Carl Lucania, Daniel Ng, Kirk Shimano and Christian Simonsen), directors (Jonathan Carpenter, Colin Johnson, Tracy Held Potter, Neil Higgins, Charles Lewis III, Meghan O’Connor, Adam L. Sussman) and actors (Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Melissa Keith, Charles Lewis III, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, Jessica Rudholm). The evening would start off with a magical performance by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers, whose combination of skill and spectacle got our audiences excited for what was to come. As we moved through the pieces, each by turns funny and poignant, each in some way or another about finding something, losing it, letting it go, and then coming back stronger, you could feel the audience grow warmer and closer each night. By the time Rob Ready gave the closing monologue, fixing each audience member in turn with a smile, you could feel everyone really listening and you could hear a pin drop in the room, and that’s saying something for the noisy by nature Cafe Royale. I think a lot of love went into the festival this year, and not just because it might be the last, and the product of that love was real magic and like the best theater- you had to be there. And if you weren’t, you really missed out.

BEST SHOW
“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” (San Francisco Playhouse)
I saw a lot of decent, solid, well done theater this year but I had a hard time connecting to a lot of it, which was rarely a flaw with the show and probably had more to do with where I was/am as a person (lots of change this year). Then again, something about really good theater is that it can get you out of your own head and into some other world, for a while. Towards the end of the year, I saw three shows I really really liked: “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake” at Bigger Than A Bread Box Theater Company, “Peter/Wendy” at Custom Made Theater Company, and “First” at Stage Werx, produced by Altair Productions/The Aluminous Collective and Playground. Still, San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, directed by Bill English, was probably my favorite show of the year. Who knows why it has an edge on the others? Maybe because as someone who spent most of their childhood weekends in New York it seemed oddly familiar, or maybe it was the deft handling by the universally excellent cast (Carl Lumbly, Gabriel Marin, Rudy Guerrero, Margo Hall, Isabelle Ortega) of the complex relationships and dialogue that Guirgis does so well, or maybe it was just refreshing to see such a simple, honest play in what, for me, was a year characterized by a lot of stylistically interesting but emotionally cold theater. There is something very passionate, scathing, bombastic and yet also humble and forgiving about Guirgis’ work that I think makes him such an important voice in modern American drama and English’s production brought all that out with an easy grace. The show really worked, and got me out of my head, and when I went back to my life I felt much better for the journey. What more can you ask of a theater experience?

BEST READING
“Paris/Hector” (San Francisco Olympians Festival)
I attend a lot of readings every year, and run a reading festival myself, so I’ve come to greatly value a really well done reading. This year, the award goes to director Katja Rivera and writers Kirk Shimano and Bridgette Dutta Portman, whose pair of one acts about the pair of Trojan princes Paris and Hector made for one of the best nights of this past year’s San Francisco Olympians Festival. Part of what I loved about it was that in one evening we saw the amazing variety the festival can offer: Kirk’s play was a comedy with a poignant moment or two, while Bridgette’s was a faux-classical drama- written in verse no less. Though the writers are the center of attention at the festival, credit really has to be given to Katja Rivera, who as the director of both pieces, made many simple but effective choices to highlight the best elements of both works and utilize the talents of her excellent cast: Yael Aranoff, Molly Benson, Jeremy Cole, Mackenszie Drae, Allison Fenner, Dana Goldberg, John Lennon Harrison, Michelle Talgarow, Alaric Toy. With the combined excellent story-telling of the performers (including beautiful and surprising singing from Yael, Molly and Dana), the thoughtfulness of the scripts, and the cohesiveness of the whole, this night of the festival stood out best in what was a consistently strong year at the Olympians.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“My Year” by Megan Cohen (Bay One Acts Festival)
Megan Cohen’s “My Year” is the kind of thing I wish more short plays would be: dynamic, personal, and complete. In a sea of short plays that are really fragments, or meet-cute plays, it’s always lovely to see something with a beginning, a middle, and end, and full-formed characters having actual interactions and not just feeling like Girl A and Guy B, thrown together by the whimsy of the playwright to make a point (though of course, the right playwright can pull that off- which is why so many people try to ape it). A friend of mine described “My Year” as “A fun little 90s indie film on stage” and my reaction when watching it was “Oh, Dear God, convince Meg to let me write a companion piece to this!” because let’s face it: at least a third of what I write is a 90s film on stage. My own vanity aside, what I loved about this play (directed by Siobhan Doherty, starring Emma Rose Shelton, Theresa Miller, Nkechi Live, Allene Hebert, Jaime Lee Currier, and Luna Malbroux) was that it felt constantly on the move, while still being mostly composed of intimate moments between a group of women at a birthday party. Like a lot of the theater that I really loved this year, it also just struck a personal chord, watching this young woman (Emma Rose Shelton) trying to enjoy the party her friends have thrown for her (though she doesn’t like surprise parties) despite there being no food and a random stranger (Theresa Miller) who worms her way in only to turn out to be the troublemaker she’s originally pegged for. Megan’s writing had its usual combination of smart and sentimental, but whereas a lot of her other work heads into absurdity and/or extreme quirkiness (not that this is bad), “My Year” stayed very grounded and found its meaning in that effort to stay grounded, making what might be a quiet little play in anyone else’s oeuvre, a nice change of pace in Cohen’s. The final moment, where the characters howl at the moon because what else are you going to do after a shitty birthday, felt like a communal sigh even the audience was in on, probably because we could all relate to Shelton’s character, and while having always loved and admired Meg’s work, this is probably the first time I related to it so wholeheartedly.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Linda Huang (Stage Manager, Tech, Box Office, Everything)
You know how the Oscars and Tonys give out Lifetime Achievement Awards for people whose contribution is so massive that it would kind of be criminal to pick one work or contribution so instead they just get an award for basically being themselves? You know, like how Peter O’Toole got that award because at some point somebody realized that he was pervasively brilliant and always in fashion and therefore easily forgotten because things like “Oh, well, he’ll win next year” often times factors in to who we recognize, meaning things like reliability and consistency do not? Well, for the first time ever in the history of the SEBATAs, I’m creating The Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness and giving it to Linda Huang, without whom, in all seriousness, I believe that small theater in San Francisco would probably grind to a halt. Earlier this year, I got recognized by the Weekly as a “Ringmaster” of the theater scene, but frankly I (and people like me) could not do what we do without having Linda (and people like her) constantly coming to our aid despite being paid a fraction of what they’re worth and half the time being forgotten because what they do isn’t in the immediate eye of the audience. Linda is a total gem of the theater scene. She wears many hats, though she’s probably best known for running light boards, and one of my favorite things when attending the theater is running into her, usually working in some capacity I previously was unaware she was qualified to do (note: Linda is qualified to do everything). What I love best about Linda (aside from her cutting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor) is her incredible generosity: she does so much for local theater and rarely gets paid, and even when she does get paid she often says, “Pay me last.” A true team player, and one we don’t thank enough, especially as she’s the only person who seems to know how to get the air conditioning in the Exit Theatre to work.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Atticus Rex, Open Mic Night In Support of the Lemonade Fund (SF Theater Pub/Theater Bay Area Individual Services Committee)
I never expected to include a note about someone who performed at an open mic/variety show, but I wanted to shout out to Atticus Rex, a young performer who literally made his performance debut at the San Francisco Theater Pub/ISC fundraiser for the Lemonade Fund this year. A last minute replacement, Atticus and a friend performed some original hip-hop for our audience of mostly performance professionals and their friends, and despite the formidable crowd and the first time nerves, he basically killed it. Even when he made a mistake it worked: he’d call himself out, apologize, and start again, somehow without ever missing a beat. His lyrics are very tight and poetic, and the contrast between the power in his words and his humbleness at approaching and leaving the stage works so well you’d almost think it was an act- except he later confessed he’d never performed live before, and it couldn’t have been more sincere. With genuine hope he never loses his sincerity, while also continuing to grow his confidence and experience, I wanted to take a moment to say congratulations once again, and thank you for reminding us all what it looks like to really take a risk onstage.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola (Genie and Audrey’s Dream Show, SF Fringe Festival)
What’s potentially cuter than “Clyde the Cyclops?” Very little, but these two ladies and their breathless, funny, and surreal little clown show come dangerously close to giving Clyde a run for his money, and it’s the only show I saw at the Fringe this year that I wished my boyfriend had also seen. Bravely straddling the bridge between performance artists and acrobats, this collage of monologues, poems, jokes, mime, clowning, puppetry, stunts, music, and children’s games, is like watching two hyper-articulate kids on pixie sticks go nuts in a club house, but only if those kids had an incredible sense of timing and arch senses of humor (not to mention very flexible bodies). I’ve never been a huge fan of circus stuff (I like it as an accent, sometimes, but as entertainment on its own it doesn’t tend to hold my interest long), but I think I’d be a fan of anything that had these two women in it. Their ability to play off each other is the key to making their show work, and when you watch it you have that sense of being let into the private make-believe world of people who have found kindred spirits in one another. It’s an utterly magic combination and from what I know of other people who saw it, it basically charmed the pants off everyone. Or at least, everyone who has a soul.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Ben Calabrese (Apartment in “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”)
I saw a lot of great performances by men this year (Sam Bertken in “Peter/Wendy”, Tim Green and Gregory Knotts in “First”, Paul Rodrigues “Pint Sized Plays IV”, Will Hand “Dark Play”, Casey Robbins “Oh Best Beloved!”), but this one really took my breath away (though since Sam Bertken actually got me to sincerely clap for fairies in Peter/Wendy, he gets a second shout out). Ben’s role, which is to literally embody the voice of a neglected apartment, is the kind of role that could either be the best thing about the show, or the worst. Luckily for Bigger Than A Breadbox’s production of “Crumble, or Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake (written by Sheila Callaghan), Ben rocked it. Bouncing around the stage, dive bombing the furniture, all the while spouting, eloquently, Callaghan’s beautiful and complex monologues, Ben was so utterly watchable it was impossible not to buy the conceit of the role, and so moments when he has an orgasm from having the radiator turned on, or turns his fingers into loose electrical wires, don’t seem ridiculous, but made immediate and total sense. It’s usually not a compliment to tell an actor they did a tremendous job being an inanimate object, but what Ben did so well was illustrate that a home, while not “alive”, does indeed have a life to it. And if that life occasionally fixes the audience with Ben’s particular brand of “scary actor stare” why… all the better.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Brandice Marie Thompson (Georgia Potts in “First”)
Oh, this was a tough one. As usual, the actresses of the Bay Area are kicking ass and taking names no matter what their role, and my decision to pick Brandice above the rest is because I think she best exemplified that thing which so many actresses have to do, which is take a relatively underwritten role in a play about men and turn it into a rich, believable character who somehow manages to steal the show. Evelyn Jean Pine, who wrote “First”, is a fantastic writer and she writes women and men equitably well, and due credit must go to her for the creation and inclusion of this character in a story mostly about male egos, but in a lesser capable actresses hands, this role could have been annoying, or forgettable, or purely comical, and Brandice avoided all of these traps while making the character utterly charming at the same time. The truth is, her arc became much more interesting to me than that of the main character, and I think a strong argument could be made that “First” was just as much about Georgia as it was about Bill Gates. Director Michael French no doubt had a hand in this too, but in the end it’s a performer who makes or breaks a role and Brandice’s ability to combine mousy with spunky with unexpected and yet thoroughly authentic character turns was deeply satisfying to watch. Georgia kicked ass and took names, because Brandice does. Runners up: Melissa Carter (“Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”, Bigger Than A Breadbox), Allison Jean White (“Abigail’s Party”, SF Playhouse), Sam Jackson (“Oh Best Beloved!”, SF Fringe Festival), Courtney Merril (“Into the Woods”, Ray of Light), Elissa Beth Stebbins (“Peter/Wendy”, Custom Made Theatre Company).

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
“Nightingale” (Davis Shakespeare Ensemble/SF Fringe Festival)
This little gem at this year’s fringe festival was adapted from the myth of Philomel by Gia Battista, with music by Richard Chowenhill, directed by Rob Sals (with Battista), and staring Gabby Battista, April Fritz and Tracy Hazas as three remarkably similar looking women who each take a turn playing the heroine of a bizarre fairy tale (all the other characters in the story are played by them as well). Dance, pantomime, narration, song and traditional theater techniques all came together in a way that was astonishingly clean and charming in its simplicity. The black and white aesthetic used to unify the look of the show and performers gave the whole thing a quality both modern and timeless, and in its gentle, dreamy tone the sharp elements of social commentary and satire often seemed more brutal and impactful. Of everything I saw at the Fringe this past year, which included a number of excellent works, this piece has stayed with me the longest.

BEST SOLO SHOW
“Steve Seabrook: Better Than You” by Kurt Bodden (The Marsh)
I saw a lot more solo performance than usual this year (including works by Annette Roman, Laura Austin Wiley, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Jenny Newbry Waters, Rene Pena), and realizing how good it can be is, in and of itself, kind of a miracle because I used to say things like, “Theater begins with two people” and “If Aeschylus had wanted to write sermons he wouldn’t have added Electra”. Kurt’s show was not created this past year, it has a long history, but I only saw it in its most recent Marsh incarnation and I’m hoping he’s been able to find ways to keep it going (his Facebook feeds indicate this is so). A satire of motivational speakers and the cult of self-improvement, “Steve Seabrook” manages to be so much more by combining satirical fiction with moments of the kind of personal monologue (still fiction) that permeates solo shows. The result is a sense of development, of a story (Steve’s) unfolding in real time while another story, (Steve’s Seminar) plays itself out over the course of a weekend. Playing off the convention of a backstage comedy (we see the seminar, then we see Steve when he’s not “on”), Kurt’s brilliance as a performer is evident in the seamless transition from one to the other, again and again, carrying a throughline that shows us not only why Steve buys into his mantras, but why any of us buy into anything we’ve come up with (or adopted from someone else) to keep us moving through life’s ups and downs. At once very funny and cutting, while also moving and real (and yes, fuck it, kind of inspirational), Kurt’s show also gets a nod for its fantastic takeaway schwag: a keychain light with Steve’s name on it, with which every audience member is encouraged to shine their light in a dark world.

BEST DIRECTOR
Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, “Oh Best Beloved” (SF Fringe Festival)
“Oh Best Beloved” got a lot of attention and deservedly so- well acted, well designed, it was a genuinely fun piece of theater. Perhaps most deserving of being singled out in the project, however, are director Rebecca Longworth and partner Joan Howard, who share credit for conceptualizing the show (in which Joan also played a part and had, in my opinion, the single best moment in the show), and who lead the rest of the company in adapting the material from Ruyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Anyone who saw the show could easily see that it had about a million moving parts, and Longworth and Howard’s ability to keep all those plates spinning on a small budget and under the strict conditions of the San Francisco Fringe Festival (they literally put up and pulled down a full set with each performance) is worthy of award in and of itself, but the level of commitment and craft they were able to pull from their design team and performers was equally as impressive. Everything about the show, even the parts that didn’t work as well as others, felt thought through and done with panache, making this ambitious and unique experience a delightful jewel in the SF Fringe Festival’s crown.

BEST DESIGNER
Bill English, “Abigail’s Party” (SF Playhouse)
Scenery in general doesn’t do much for me. I enjoy good scenery, but the best scenery should kind of vanish into the background, in my opinion, and be something you barely pay attention to. As a result, I’m often just as happy with a blank stage, or really well thought out minimal set, as I am with a full one, so long as the play I’m watching is good. That said, every now and then I will see a set I just adore, and this year it was Bill English’s set for SF Playhouse’s “Abigail’s Party”, by Mike Leigh, directed by Amy Glazer. Basically a living room/dining room/kitchenet combo, this fully realized “home” was very well crafted as a place, but more importantly, it really worked as a place where people lived. The 70s style was at once present without being overwhelming, evoking the time period without looking like it was a homage to the time period, or a museum dedicated to 70s kitch. I mean, it honestly reminded me of numerous homes I’d played in as a child (I was born in 1978) and all the wallpaper looked like wallpaper in my parents’ home before my mother completely re-did the house in 1990 because “we can admit this is ugly… now”. The amazing thing about English’s set is that it didn’t seem ugly, in spite of being made up entirely of patterns and colors we now find appalling. He made it all work together, the way people once did, and the final result was simultaneously comfortable and dazzling. I remember thinking, waiting for the play to begin, “I could live here.”

And last, but not least, every year I pick…

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE EXPERIENCE TO WORK ON
“The Age of Beauty” (No Nude Men Productions/The Exit Theatre)
I had taken a break from directing my own work, but with this nine performance workshop I allowed myself to re-discover that, as much as I like directing plays by others, there is nothing quite as satisfying as feeling like I’m telling a very personal story of my own and having the final say on how that happens. Of course, such experiences are only rewarding when you get to work with great actors, and I was lucky to have four amazing women (Megan Briggs, Emma Rose Shelton, Allison Page, Sylvia Hathaway) who were willing to go on this adventure with me, always keeping stride as I made cuts and changed lines, memorizing a mountain of material in Emma and Sylvia’s case, and crafting subtle characters who had to be both different from each other and relatively interchangeable at the same time. When I had a hard time articulating what I was going for, they would nod and smile and then show me what I meant by doing it better than I could describe it. When the show opened by the skin of its teeth it had one of those minor miracle opening nights, where even though you’re just a tiny bit unprepared (all my fault, I kept changing the script), it somehow all comes together and really works. Over the course of the show, as their performances grew and refined (our final two nights were simply perfect), I was able to see what flaws still remained in the script (two pages, middle of scene of scene two were cut the day after we closed), and any writer of new work will tell you that’s the best experience you can hope for on a first production. Shout outs to my awesome design team Cody Rishell, Jim Lively and Wil Turner IV! “The Age of Beauty” helped restore some of my lagging faith in the theater process, and made me commit to doing more of my own work in the coming year.

Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Opening Tonight!

Pint Sized Plays returns for a fourth fabulous engagement this July!

Produced by the one and only Neil Higgins, this year’s line up of beer-themed short plays features the return of some of our favorite long-time collaborators (some of whom will be wearing new hats for the first time) as well as some fresh faces! In no particular order, the plays are:

Multitasking by Christian Simonsen, directed by Jonathan Carpenter

The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin by Sang Kim, directed by Charles Lewis III

200-Proof Robot by Kirk Shimano, directed by Neil Higgins

Tree by Peter Hsieh, directed by Colin Johnson

All Our Fathers by Carl Lucania, directed by Meghan O’Connor

The Last Beer in the World by Megan Cohen, directed by Tracy Held Potter

Mark +/- by Dan Ng, directed by Adam Sussman

Llama IV by Stuart Bousel, directed by Colin Johnson

Starring the acting talents of Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Charles Lewis III, Melissa Keith, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, and Jessica Rudholm.

The show plays five times: July 15th, 16th, 22nd, 29th, 30th, always at 8 PM, but get there early, because we will be packed to the gills every night! As usual, the show is free with a $5.00 suggested donation at the door.

Announcing Pint Sized IV!

Pint Sized plays returns for a fourth fabulous engagement this July!

Produced by the one and only Neil Higgins, this year’s line up of beer-themed short plays features the return of some of our favorite long-time collaborators (some of whom will be wearing new hats for the first time) as well as some fresh faces! In no particular order, the plays are:

Multitasking by Christian Simonsen, directed by Jonathan Carpenter

The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin by Sang Kim, directed by TBA

200-Proof Robot by Kirk Shimano, directed by Neil Higgins

Tree by Peter Hsieh, directed by Colin Johnson

All Our Fathers by Carl Lucania, directed by Meghan O’Connor

The Last Beer in the World by Megan Cohen, directed by Tracy Held Potter

Mark +/- by Dan Ng, directed by Adam Sussman

Llama IV by Stuart Bousel, directed by Colin Johnson

The show plays five times: July 15th, 16th, 22nd, 29th, 30th, always at 8 PM, but get there early, because we will be packed to the gills every night! As usual, the show is free with a $5.00 suggested donation at the door.

Tuesdays With Annie: An Interview With Amy Sass

For her last article, Annie Paladino brings you an interview with Amy Sass, the writer/director of Time Sensitive. It’s meaty, and well worth the read.

Going into our final weekend of performances for Time Sensitive, I’m nursing a growing twinge of panic about leaving this particular group of artists, as well as the larger Bay Area theater community (I pack everything into a U-Haul and drive up to Seattle on May 31st). And so I’m cherishing this interview as a sort of good-bye, a personal dissertation that I can hang on to in a few months when I find myself in an entirely new artistic community (in my soon-to-be-purchased 100 pairs of rainboots, I assume). I wish I could do this for every artist I’ve worked with and been inspired by since I moved to San Francisco nearly 4 years ago.

Shh, Annie. Enough aimless ramblings about feelings I don’t quite understand. Get to the interview.

Okay, Annie. But one last shamelss plug: Time Sensitive has 3 more performances. This Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00pm. Read the interview and come. These performances WILL sell out though, so get your tickets NOW.

Interview commencing in 3…2…1…

When did Time Sensitive first begin?

Amy Sass: The ideas for the script have been percolating for a few years, now, initially inspired by my own struggles with Insomnia, fertility and work load. But then branching out to look at the pace of life that surrounds me from a larger perspective, the melting of the ice caps, and all the toys and gadgets and fast food etc. that increase productivity but create an addiction to access and instantaneousness.

How long was the rehearsal process? What are some advantages to this method of play making?

Amy Sass: About 4 months. It was wonderful. Originally I wanted to have the script finished by the first rehearsal, but that didn’t happen. What did happen then was that I had the opportunity to include my actors in my process. It was a much more rough and raw way of working then I had imagined but it was super fun to bring in hot-off-the-press versions of scenes and put them immediately on their feet. Which led to lots of discussions about theme and character and plot that inspired me as I furiously wrote the next batch. Also a long rehearsal period…if you consider 4 months long…which some people don’t…allows the ensemble to become super strong. Each individual’s skills grow, the connection grows and soon you’ve got this powerhouse of a group on stage making impossible things happen. The collaborative potential sky rockets.

From the writers perspective, when you walked in to first creative development, what did you know? What did you not know? Did you know you would be writing 4 separate story lines?

Amy Sass: I knew I needed to write something that would offer a certain amount of roles. I try to create enough challenges and opportunities to showcase both the individuals and the ensemble work as a whole- physically and vocally. I knew there would be a Clockwork Kid. I knew there would be a Clockmaker. The image of the Ouroborus became important as a concept. I knew there would be Ice. I knew there would be Monks. But beyond that…not much else. Then one day Bill started writing himself. This lone guy at the top of the tallest tower. And so the geography of the city started to become clear…we were dealing with Up and Down. We were dealing with status and verticality. We were also dealing with a city with no perimeter, a landscape of endless urbanization…so once I had Bill, the geography and the value system fell into place. I had the guy at the top. So naturally I had to figure out who lived at the bottom. Hence Roach and Penny.

What were some of the challenges facing you at the start of the process? How did you resolve them?

Amy Sass: This script had to be written very fast. It took me 2 months to write it but it was a writing marathon. Good thing I live with an actor so we can read things immediately after they are written and I know right away what lands and what doesn’t. One thing that helped was that my Dramaturge, Adam Sussman, recommended the book “A Sideways Look At Time” by Jay Griffiths. This book was a tremendous Ah Ha for me. The lexicon of the play was derived from this book. Also we did not have a space for this performance. It took all through December to secure Sanctuary for the Arts. That was a big challenge for me in that I’d prefer to write specifically for a venue. And this venue ended up being very very different from what I had imagined for the script. However, I was blessed with excellent designers and so Erik LaDue (set designer) did an enormous job transforming the space and creating a set that pierced the womblike room so that we could do some very dynamic staging. And clever Linda Baumgardner created lighting magic with very few resources.

Talk a little about the role of the ensemble in creating the story. How much of the final product was script and direction, and how much came from the ensemble?

Amy Sass: I’m a director and a writer and a visual artist. I think in choreography and images. So stage picture is a huge way that I convey story. The writing on the page is based on what I see in my head choreographically. So for me it is all linked. The actors also bring their own skills, which influences the evolution of the piece. The chant of Da Pachem would not be in the show at all if it wasn’t for DiLecia Childress, whose grandfather used to sing it to her as a child. And Liz Wand just happens to have the musical skills to arrange it and teach it. The Ice Monks would not be chanting the history of the eons if it wasn’t for the science minds in the group like actors: Phil Wharten, Soren Santos and Ice Designer, Carter Brooks who helped me figure out which eons and epochs to use. And the audience seating would not be arranged the way it was if it wasn’t for actor, Tony Agresti, who had a vision and the vision worked. Also I should say that any artist (actor, designer, dramaturge etc) working with Ragged Wing finds that everyone is asked to have a directorial eye at some point. In rehearsals I’m going to be asking whoever is sitting around: What does this staging say to you? Which is more effective: up on the plat or down on the floor? Come look at this. What do you see? Why is this not working? If you’ve got a particular skill in our group, you will most likely find yourself becoming a coach of some sort in the process whether its with choreography, singing, contact acrobatics…etc. If you’re a writer, I’m going to say- Take a look at this section. So I bear the responsibility for the script and the direction and the rehearsal culture. But each show is so specific to those that participated in creating it. And when I use the word Ensemble, I also include myself in that word too. We are deeply collaborative and part of that means fostering strong leaders across the board.

You wear many hats in the production. How do you negotiate your writer brain with your directors brain with your artists visual brain? i.e. How do you manage your hats?

Amy Sass: There are lots of hats. The more I do it, the more the hats start to look like one hat. Meaning that I’m getting better at weaving my different brains together. The most challenging part is moving from one mode to the next since it takes me a while to get in the flow for each thing. For instance, even before the script is really done, the poster image has to be in progress. Or the script was finished yesterday and I’m already meeting with designers before I’ve gotten a chance to even really think like a director and prepare. Or I’m casting while I’m still writing. So I wish I had a little bit more time/space in between finishing one thing before moving onto the next. Even so, I do feel like the way things overlap has forced me to trust my gut and make bold decisions based on instinct. Which is scary but in some ways is best.

The stage/audience set-up is unusual — kind of a combo thrust/lane-style seating arrangement. What was the hardest thing about directing for this set-up? What was the most unexpected benefit?

Amy Sass: The most challenging aspect was sight lines. Most things that are tried and true on a proscenium stage or even on a thrust, just didn’t work in terms of sight lines. For instance, two people standing next to each other having a conversation was not possible. Diagonals were not possible. The interesting thing was that things that do not work in a traditional configuration, worked great with this one. For instance one person standing directly behind another person worked really well for 99% of the seats in the house. Because of this configuration, scenes that usually take 20 minutes to block ended up taking a full 2 hours or more. This was difficult in terms of time management. However, the results are really worth it. The set just pierces through the audience creating gorgeously sculptural scenes. The thing became a whole landscape (city street and glacier) and the performers, when positioned properly, gain so much power just by the force of dynamic spatial relationship.

As we’ve mentioned, this was (by most standards) a somewhat extended rehearsal process. Did you learn anything new or surprising about your own script throughout the rehearsal process?

Amy Sass: Oh yes. I’m accustomed to starting official rehearsals with a completed script, so only having it 1/3 complete was a source of stress. However, the way the process rolled forward with the company deeply involved and playing with the writing…this fluidity created character trajectories that I just did not see coming. That playfulness and interaction allowed me to be more brave as a writer. Once the script was a final working draft, it was very interesting to try to figure out how each plot point informed the next one. And the purpose of the choral sections, the clocks, the ice monks became much more clear once we started putting it on its feet. The most challenging part of the work was creating the order of scenes which took 3 full days.

A LOT of this script is extremely musical and rhythmic. Dnd the way you directed us in the text was essentially a process of learning a musical score. Personally I’ve worked this way before, but it’s not very common, I feel. A really big/vague question: why do you write/direct this way? Have you worked other ways and rejected them?

Amy Sass: As a young artist, I grew up as a part of a very intense theater ensemble, working with professional theater artists who valued rhythm, music and the power of the greek chorus. A lot of my early training was steeped in action as rhythm and words as music. We also trained in naturalism and did our fair share of ‘straight plays’… but it was the avant garde work that was especially chilling to me and much of that had strong rhythmic storytelling components and visual design elements. It’s funny, because I’m not a musician, but there is a music to how I write and direct.  I’m very particular about the rhythmic timing of action and visuals on stage. So a certain musicality is inherent in my taste and artistic value system.

Something you said in rehearsal really stood out to me at the time, and I wrote it down. “Theater isn’t about being authentic, theater is about being repeatable.” Can you explain this a little bit, especially in the context of the process for Time Sensitive?

Amy Sass: Our primary goal as theater artists is to communicate. This means knowing your craft inside and out. Know where you are standing and why. Know when you are breathing and why that adds to the delivery of the moment. Know who is behind you on stage and what that sensory connection is. Authenticity is important, sure, but the practice really comes in being able to find it each time and to hit your marks so the delivery is solid, a known factor and not in and out based on your personal emotions that night. For me, it’s about scene partner reliability. Just like in acrobatics, no one wants to do a double flip with a partner who can’t base you dependably, who changes things night to night based on how they feel. Acting is the same. Some people think that if they are ‘feeling it’, then the audience is too. Not always the case. Sometimes, when an actor is feeling it, then he/she does all the work and there’s nothing left for the audience to do. What I’m saying is that the audience is primary. It has to be what works for them and what communicates, since that’s our job. Sometimes that will mean the audience and actor will get to feel it at the same moment, but not always. And truly, it’s easy to change from night to night. It’s more of a challenge to hold the paradox of hitting those marks while still keeping it fresh and connecting to the present moment. That creates dynamic tension and effort which is very compelling. For TS, the work is so musical, so dependent on the large group operating as one mind. Lots of moving parts. You need to have a sense of everyone all the time. Precision is a big element of virtuosity. And lastly, I will say that the most important thing to feel is connection. To your partners, to the audience, to the air and your feet on the ground, to your own body and to the physical sensations in the space. Everything else will flow from that.

Your favorite line in the play?

Amy Sass: Steak. Steak. Heat it up. Steak!

Special thanks to David Stein for several of the first interview questions here.

Annie Paladino is a Bay Area (soon to be Seattle-based!) actor, director, producer, and stage manager. You can find her on Twitter @anniepaladino. She loves you all and has started what seems like an endless string of tearful goodbyes. Be warned, you’re next.