The Five: One Crazy Busy Summer

Anthony R. Miller Checks in with a million different things to do.

Hey you guys, I don’t know about you, but I’m having one crazy summer and I’m not talking about the 1986 classic starring John Cusack. I’m talk about how crazy busy I have been the last few months. The crazy part is that they have been some of the best in a long time. Best Summer Ever? Perhaps, and perhaps not. But I do a have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you, predictably, there are five.

Everyone Should Be Using “Slack”

TERROR-RAMA 2: Prom Night has opened shop. The first Public Reading / Fundraiser is this October, Pre-Production and Dramaturgy Meetings are happening and I’m pretty excited. One of the big changes were making this time is that all communication for the show runs through one place now, a delightful little app called “Slack”. It’s basically a social network for your project and the people working on it. Instead of long email chains, group messages on Facebook, and back and forth texting, all communication happens through the app. You can share files, do direct messaging and tag certain members for specific messages. It makes communication so much simpler, and in theatre, bad communication can kill a show, seriously try it. I’m a believer.

Oh Wow, This Might Be Kind of Good

The crazy adventure of my Olympians play begins with writing bits and pieces of whatever scene I think of and then go back linking them all together. I never write like this, and now I know why. It’s so friggin inefficient, I mean how can you really be sure how someone is going o talk in scene six when you haven’t written scene 3 yet? I’ve been finding myself re-working previously written scenes so that they all serve one narrative. The fun has been finding the story in all my goofy ideas. Usually, I start with an outline and then build my script from there, I always write chronologically, except for this play. It’s been pretty fun seeing how scenes and characters change as you start shaping scenes and characters. Seeing the story come out kind of organically has been fun thus far, but again super inefficient. The crazy part is what started as a goofy idea is becoming actually kind of good and maybe even actually about something. And by god, it’ll be under 45 minutes.

Sentence by Sentence

I took a new freelance job recently that involves me taking congressional records for the early 1800’s and formatting them into a script. It’s a whole new level of tedious. I’m basically taking one person’s record of what people did and said and having to change the tenses and make it dialog. Because I am such a nerd, this is actually really fun for me. It’s basically dialog boot camp. I’ve had to break up speeches that go on for PAGES (these guys could talk) sentence by sentence. I have never examined a sentence so closely. To have to obsess over every word and intention has been a really fascinating learning experience and also payback for all the English classes I duly ignored.

Disposable Art

Another freelance gig I took this summer was creating content for a nifty new social media app that didn’t last too long. For three months I made all sorts of neat stuff and got paid to basically screw around on my phone. I wrote a ton about music, made web-comics about my cat talking to Taylor Swift, and created different ways to say “Go Fuck Yourself”. Some of it was actually pretty good, and now it’s gone forever. The app has shut down and all this content, or dare I say, art, created by people is just gone. I often joke about “Disposable Art”, which I call art that is enjoyable at the time, but doesn’t stay with you forever, just long enough for the next one. But this was truly and literally disposable art, art that once existed and is now gone, much like all of my poetry from High School. (Which is probably a good thing.)

Whoa Did I Just Direct the School Play?

Over the last few years, I’ve been teaching more and more. I find myself a little shocked at how much I enjoy it and how I seem to be pretty decent at it. This summer gave me my busiest teaching schedule yet. The summer began with the big performance for an after school drama program I had been teaching. Since it was first year working there, I kept expectations low and promised very little. We had spent a few months working on scenes from Alice in Wonderland and I figured it’d be good to have a few kids there, maybe some parents. “Nothing major, maybe just 20 people” I said, but on the day of the performance, the whole school was there, along with parents. Before the show began I took a minute to look out at the crowd and I thought to myself “Whoa, did I just direct the school play?” It seems, however inadvertently, that I had. An odd sense of accomplishment swept over me, and sure all the things that are supposed to happen in a junior high play, happened. One kid was better than everyone, I had to stall in between scenes, and one girl forgot her lines and ran off crying. I also saw the odd phenomenon of my most difficult students who almost never listened to me, be suddenly struck by the reality of 100 people watching them, and become incredibly dependent on me, hanging on my every instruction. The best part was that I handled it, pep talks were given, mothers thanked me and the kids seemed genuinely happy. It was the first time I myself as a legit educator, so that’s something.

So that’s been my summer so far, and it’s been fulfilling as hell. I’ve been working, being creative and doing stuff that I’m happy with. It’s amazing how many way there are to create art for a living. Till next time.

Anthony R. Miller does many things; learn all about them at www.awesometheatre.org.

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Theater Around The Bay: Burlesque, Creating New Art by Reaching Back to Old Traditions

Today’s guest blogger is Red Velvet, a Bay Area Burlesque goddess who will has been performing at the EXIT Theatre for over a year now, and will be tearing it up this May as part of DIVAfest.

“Burlesque?” I am often asked. “Don’t you take your clothes off with that?” How to answer – maybe, sometimes, frequently, only when I want to? So, if burlesque isn’t just about taking off clothing, what is it about?

Let’s start with the definition of burlesque. Burlesque: 1. an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, esp. in a literary or dramatic work; a parody. 2. a variety show, typically including striptease.

Burlesque has a long and varied history, but many people historically attribute the art form we consider “burlesque” to Lydia Thompson and her London Blondes which arrived in New York in the late 1860’s with shows consisting of a variety of music, comedy, social satire, and the shocking sensation of women playing men’s roles while wearing tights. While women in tights seems pedantic today, in the 1860’s female legs were a hot commodity.

Lydia Thompson

Lydia Thompson

Another offering of the same genre, The Black Crook, has been both attributed to a “burlesque” tradition, as well as to the first “musical theatre.” It certainly involved dance, music, and some element of dialogue, but was also considered by many to be demoralizing and outrageous due to the exposure of the female leg.

Regardless of the potentially sinful nature of the female form, these theatrical offerings were exactly that – theatre. Despite shocking some people’s sensibilities of the era, the productions involved more than just prurient diversions, but actual entertainment.

In the early 20th century, burlesque was typically a variety show with singers, comics, and dancers. Risqué comic sketches and bumps and grinds kept away the “family atmosphere” associated with Vaudeville and, burlesque was often considered “low class.” Burlesque has most often appealed to the working-class audiences, many of whom felt overlooked by the offerings (and often expense) of attending the “legitimate” theatre. Burlesque may have been the “lowest branch” of the theatre, according to Ann Corio, burlesque performer and author of This Was Burlesque, but it was also “the limb nearest the people.”

burlesque fan dancer

burlesque fan dancer

With all of its variety acts, stripping in burlesque shows didn’t actually begin until the 1930’s. Stripping at the time often involved taking off clothes off stage and appearing in less on stage. Burlesque shows, with the bawdy bumps and grinds, required performers to be in a minimum of g-strings and pasties, sometimes more, which could include net bras and panties, which would give the appearance of nudity. Meanwhile, “real” theatre, including Ziegfeld and other (comparatively) expensive Broadway shows could have women appearing in nothing, as long as they were considered to be part of the “scenery” or “staging.” At that time, being nude and holding a candelabra while the holder remained as still as a statue was apparently considered a fine art fit to be shown in the legitimate theatre: While burlesque houses of the time were often raided and Mayor Fiorella La Guardia deemed them a “corrupting moral influence,” Ziegfeld never had a show raided or deemed corrupt.

The 1940’s was often considered to be the “beginning of the end” for burlesque, the start of the slow decline which culminated in what many thought was to be the “death” of burlesque in the 1970’s, when nudity was commonplace and sexual gratification was often expected.

However, burlesque is having a resurgence, slowly starting back up in the late 1990’s, with burlesque variety shows, typically featuring “neo-burlesque” stripping acts, but also singing, comedy, dance, aerial, acrobatics, you name it. Modern acts are frequently classical in nature, and may emulate prior burlesque “legends.” However, most acts tend to put emphasis on style and sensuality rather than sexuality. Performer self-expression and self-esteem is often a big focus of acts, and the act itself (even striptease acts) can be used to challenge stereotypes, including sexual objectification, orientation, and other social taboos or pressures. Striptease acts in the neo-burlesque scene are often mini theatrical events in themselves, with a story plot wholly encompassed within the act. As such, neo-burlesque has gone back to the burlesque of the early 1920’s to refine, expand, and create a new art from that which previously existed.

Neo-burlesque star Dirty Martini

Neo-burlesque star Dirty Martini

But, we are going even farther back than that. Last year, DIVAfest produced, as part of its 2013 festival Rebel Without A Bra, which was a combination of burlesque, cabaret, and theatre. With that show, we went back once again, to cull from the burlesque theatrical experience of the 1860’s to combine elements of the stage into a more cohesive program and create a show that was a connected whole, not just a variety show or similarly themed acts. That show traced (albeit in a nonlinear fashion) the history of women in burlesque (a theatrical version of the treatise above, if you will). We combined the theatrical expertise of director Amanda Ortmayer and our key narratrix Sean Owens, with a bevy of burlesquers including co-creators If-N-Whendy and myself, Bunny Von Tail, Josie Starre, Laika Fox, Shimmies Galore, and Dee Os’Mios. We managed to go back to the beginnings of burlesque and once again combine song, dance, dialogue, (and some clothing removal) to lovely, insightful, and hilarious effect.

The theatre and the theatrical environment was a very supportive venue for burlesque – both in the performance aspect as well as the creation aspect. The theatrical process, including very extensive rehearsing; directorial advice, guidance, and input; costuming guidance and creation; stage sets; etc. made the individual neo-burlesque acts stronger as well as providing the crucial cohesion to tie the entire show into a whole. Bringing burlesque back into the theatre provides burlesque performers the opportunity to grow and expand our capabilities and capacities – bringing more to our personas, our caricatures, and broadening the horizons of what is possible on stage, both internally and externally. Burlesque also brings something back to the theatre – aspects which have always been in the theatre, but sometimes are forgotten – musicality, humor (sometimes downright slapstick and juvenile), irreverence, and that ability to take a serious subject and make people address it without lecturing or alienating the audience. For some reason, an act addressing a serious subject such as feminine equality or spousal abuse can relay the message but doesn’t create quite so much angst when clothing removal is involved.

This year, we are again hitting the DIVAfest stage in another new burlesque/theatrical production entitled At The White Rabbit Burlesque… We are again directed by the ever-patient, persevering, and inspirational Amanda Ortmayer, and joined by local theatre maven Mikka Bonel. The burlesque cast this year includes co-creators If-N-Whendy and myself (Red Velvet), Laika Fox, Tornado Supertrouble, and Ophelia Coeur de Noir. The audience will be attending a somewhat surreal burlesque show run by the White Rabbit with the assistance of stage hand and general gopher, Alice. The show features the on-and off-stage antics of the two aforementioned plus the rest of the cast, representing the familiar Alice tropes, including the diva-like Queen of Hearts, the jocular Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the perplexing Duchess, the Hare, the Hatter, and more! We are working to create individual acts as well as develop the characters and interactions which create context and story-line. It is a challenging, but fun, process and we are excited about our upcoming production. While creating a burlesque variety show is certainly applause-worthy, combining burlesque into an overall theatrical experience is a more complex level of creation and, we hope, audience enjoyment.

If this intrigues you and you are interested in joining us for this experience, you can find out more and get tickets at www.DIVAfest.info.

For more information go to www.DIVAfest.info.

For more information go to http://www.DIVAfest.info.

Red Velvet, a life-long dancer, began studying dance at the age of 2. Proficient in tap, ballet, and jazz, Red Velvet continues to study new forms of dance such as samba and flamenco. Ms. Velvet currently performs Isadora Duncan dance, she has performed with the Hot Pink Feathers, Bombshell Betty’s Burlesqueteers, and Alegria Samba Dance Company. She is a co-artistic director of the “DIVA or Die” burlesque show (a production of DIVAfest) at the Exit Theatre, and the co-creator of the burlesque play “Rebel Without a Bra: A Burlesque Cabaret” which was presented as part of DIVAfest 2013. Ms. Velvet has performed solo acts at various burlesque festivals in North America and won an award for “Most Humorous” at the Great Burlesque Expo 2014. Red Velvet currently teaches Can-can, Duncan dance, and burlesque classes.

Katja Rivera: Reigning Orpheus Interpreter Of The Bay Area

We’re doing a double post today because Orpheus is part of a pair and so is our director du jour, Katja Rivera! She’s not only directed tonight’s Theater Pub, but also directed the recently opened EURYDICE at Custom Made Theater Company. We wanted to know what it’s like to have the same story so much on the brain and with a headshot this charming we think you’ll agree there’s always room for quality time with Katja.

Seriously. How can you not live this smile?

Seriously. How can you not love this smile?

So, how did you end up with your hands full of Orpheus and Eurydice?

Ah, synchronicity. Marissa Skudlarek had been working on her translation of Orphee at the same time I was working on Eurydice at Custom Made, so she thought it would be fun to have me do both.

And how did you get involved with this reading?

Lovely Marissa asked me. I had directed a play of hers at last year’s Pint Sized Festival (“Beer Theory”), and she felt I’d be a particularly good match. How could I say no?

What do you consider the major differences between Sarah Ruhl’s version of the story and Cocteau’s?

Ruhl uses the myth to explore the grief she’s experienced since her father’s death, and really, to get a chance to spend some more time with her pops. It’s poetic, visceral. It reminds me of of Alice in Wonderland. Cocteau’s version explores the myth surrealistically, and focuses more on the relationship between Eurydice and Orphee. And it has a happier ending.

Is there anything that stands out to you as a real strength of Coctaeu’s vision?

The element of magic and carnival, which in a full production would be a blast to explore.

What are some of the differences between directing a reading and directing a show?

Oh my goodness. Readings are instant magic. You throw your instincts at the piece and–go! A show you’ve got a longer period to let the collaboration stew and get rich. I’ve loved watching how Jessica Rudholm’s performance in Eurydice has become more and more nuanced.

We noticed you are using some of your custom made cast (Jessica, Jeremy Parkin, Stefin Collins) in this reading- any particular reasons behind that?

They are good, reliable actors who fit the roles. And I loved hearing echoes of lines from Eurydice as we rehearsed Orphee. My own private joke.

What’s next for you? Any more trips to the underworld in your future?

Next, I am directing at Playgrounds Best Of Festival opening on May 11. And the I am going to Washington DC to see my daughter graduate from law school!

When enjoying a dramatic reading at the Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to get from the bar?

Ginger Beer!

Don’t miss Orphee, for one night only, tonight at Cafe Royale at 8 PM! And dont’ miss Eurydice, playing all month at Custom Made Theater Company!