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.

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

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!

Thank-You-Someecard-2

Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.

Theater Around The Bay: Looking Back/Looking Forward At ON THE SPOT

Sara Judge, Empress of “On the Spot” and Co-creator/Director of November’s “I Like That” recaps her year with Theater Pub, and weighs in on the violence of theater-making.

It was around this time last year that I found out Theater Pub was preparing to rise from the ashes. I jumped at the opportunity to rejoin this group of friends and artists I had come to know so well in the earlier years of TP at Cafe Royale. In a way, I was in the process of rising from the ashes too—isn’t early motherhood one of Dante’s 9 circles of hell? (Well fuck you then.) I was coming out of those critical early months (17 months to be exact) that were a real struggle for me.

As is his generous way, Stuart met my enthusiasm with the gift of opportunity. He invited me to meet with the newly appointed Artistic Director, Meg Trowbridge to talk about the upcoming season. Meg and I worked together on my very first TP project in 2010. Here we were almost five years later, talking Theater Pub, this time with a history as friends and colleagues and a sense of purpose looking forward. Meg gave me a couple projects to run with!

In July, Stuart called a meeting to talk about Theater Pub 2016. By this time I had been given the title, “Empress of On The Spot,” which in my world, is every girl’s dream—to be crowned an “Empress?” Even if only to a handful of people, and mostly online. The meeting lasted a few hours. The first person I saw there was, Marissa, “Pint Sized Tzarina” wearing a classic t-shirt that said, “I am a Llama.” I’ve always admired Marissa for her smarts, her writing on theater in SF, and for her excellent sense of style. I gave Charles Lewis III a big hug. Stuart was cooking bacon, adorable and welcoming. World famous Meg Cohen sat quietly, waiting for the meeting to start. I said hello to her and secretly wanted to sit next to her, but I sat two seats away. (I try to play it cool around my artistic heroes.) A handsome guy I never met came up to me and told me I had taken his seat. (So I got to sit next to Meg after all.) I also finally got to meet the talented comedienne starlet, Allison Page, in person. I introduced myself to her and she shook my hand kindly and said something like, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” in a lovely disarming way that only she (and maybe a few others) can get away with. I fell in love with Sam Bertken because of his amazing sense of humor, good looks, and very apparent talent. There were a lot of other wonderful smart talented folks I didn’t know. Stuart talked—a lot—and by the end of the meeting I wanted to vote for Stuart, for Mayor, Governor, President, and King.

The thing I admire most about Stuart as a Director, and in this case, Executive Director, is his ability to articulate without an obvious burden of what others might think or who he might offend. He says what others are thinking but are afraid to say. And the truth, however painful, always comes out around Stuart. Not the truth like, “Was this play any good?”—you can bet his answer is “Well, first of all…(insert lots of words and opinions here).” But like, when it comes to social dynamics, working relationships, and what is being unsaid between collaborators. I find it unnerving and comforting at the same time.

Stuart led a great meeting. Theater Pub was back on and cohesive, fully staffed, with a great group of people. I felt full of purpose walking back down the Castro hills and stepping down hidden staircases, into my wild city. I felt part of something pretty damn cool.

In September we started production on “I Like That,” a play I co-created with Gabriel Leif Bellman, one of the greatest writers of our time. And I’m not just saying that because he is the father of my child. Gabriel is a genius. And it’s okay to say that in SF because SF is a city full of geniuses. It’s akin to calling someone “hot” in LA. We wrote “I Like That” in 2009 and he told me to put it onstage. I told him he was crazy and the play was a train wreck. I put it in the drawer. I read it a few times over the years and changed some things around, and thought, “meh.” I read it in 2014 and thought, “This play is incredible and it was ahead of its time in 2009. That’s why I didn’t get it.” We workshopped it, Gabriel gave it several treatments, and then, once Theater Pub agreed to take a chance on us, I slipped back into believing it was a train wreck. I had no idea how we would get this play off the page and at the same time have anyone at all interested in watching it. Lots of experience with doubt helped me keep the faith.

Another miracle for “I Like That”—we pulled together some of the best actors I have ever worked with. Each actor was a total pro and fully committed to the project. After our first table read, I felt assured that yes, this was a special text, and this was going to be a transcendent process. And it was. Everyone involved in “I Like That” gave more than they walked into rehearsal with. We were an ensemble. We were connected. And we felt like we were doing something groundbreaking and sacred. And we were. I am not the same person I was before that production. I know more about myself, and I am full of gratitude for the actors, and the opportunity to put on my play.

And this is one of the reasons I love the kind of theater we do. There’s opportunity in the face of so many limitations—no money, no real stage, pillars blocking sightlines, and we’re in a bar full of people. None of that even matters. The only thing that exists to the audience when things go right, is the work, the actors, the text. Our limitations as theater-makers are where we jump beyond what we ever believed we were capable of.

“To be articulate in the face of limitations is where the violence sets in. This act of necessary violence, which at first seems to limit freedom and close down options, in turn opens up many more options and asks for a deeper sense of freedom from the artist.” -Anne Bogart, theater director and found of SITI Company

Another one of my artistic heroes, Anne Bogart, believes every action in creating theater is an act of violence—making a decision, a gesture, moving a chair a little to the left onstage. Giving actors blocking is violence. And she’s so right. Once you make a choice in theater, all other choices suffer a death. You create limitations when you make decisions. But the beauty is in how limitations contain us, and in that containment we are free to meet them, disturb them, and transcend them.

Which brings me to my last topic—As Empress, I’m producing On The Spot 2016, Theater Pub’s version of the 24 hour play festival (but with more rehearsal time and 4 performances)! What I love most about these festivals are the imposed limitations in the theater-making process. Not only do you have to write a short play in a handful of hours, you are randomly paired with a director and a group of actors, and you are given prompts that you haven’t chosen. All of these limitations invite you to explore new territories of your imagination. For OTS 2016 I want to focus on how these limitations can be enhanced. How we can open doors to more freedom in the writer’s mind. I want to work with writers open to using the limitations of the givens (actors, director, and prompts) to propel their creative process. I want to focus on how limitations can enhance the experience of a director who must make choices and let go of other possibilities in a short and condensed rehearsal process. I want actors to revel in the containment of a play written just for them, and commit to finding freedom within that containment. Look for our call for writers, directors and actors next month. Let’s get violent!

Everything Is Already Something: Allison & Anthony See Thunder From Down Under

When last we left our heroes, Allison Page & Anthony Miller, they had swilled down Fireball and countless other ill-advised beverages while watching Hoodslam, a wrestling event in Oakland, California. That was several months ago. (see Part 1, Part 2). They’ve grown so much. Or something.

Special crude illustrations by Peter Townley, based on awful descriptions by Allison, because they didn’t allow photos.

Allison: A little over a week ago I was alerted to the fact that a certain event pertaining to my interests – a show, if you will – a production…THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER was coming to San Francisco. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bunch of Australian male strippers dancing to routines set to music while wearing themed “costumes” that they eventually remove. Naturally, I immediately suggested Anthony come along for a second installment of glorious audience-membering. Anthony, you’re welcome.

Anthony: I had proposed a few different shows over the last few months, but the schedules never worked. After the third time I got grumpy and was “Grumble grumble, I’m tired of suggesting things grumble grumble.” But then I got very sad because maybe Allison secretly hated me. So when she did message me, there was a moment of girlish excitement, “Ooh Allison Page messaged me, I must be a likable person.” This is a real thing. Her message simply said “THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER”, for whatever reason, I knew exactly what she meant. I have no idea why, but I immediately said yes, let’s go see male strippers.”

Excerpt from our pre-show fish ‘n chips convo:
Al: I don’t know how much storytelling we’ll see tonight.
Ant: No. None. But we’ll have to find some way to make it relate to theater.

Al: As you can see, we had our mission. We also had our first drinks. Anthony, a shot of well whiskey and a beer, I think. And I had a Cucumber Pimm’s Cup.
In line at Cobb’s Comedy Club (a fascinating venue choice) we noticed a distinct lack of men. In fact, Anthony’s the only one I saw. I took a photo of him in line in case I ever needed it for…some reason.

Ant: It was strange how comfortable I felt, standing in a line of a hundred people and they were all women. We would randomly start giggling about it because it was so apparent. But this was not a polite line, oh no, these ladies were there to party. People who didn’t regularly smoke cigarettes, were bumming smokes from their friends, they were swigging flasks of whiskey, smoking blunts and vape pens. It was awesome, it was as if the absence of men allowed them to be devoid of bullshit and cut loose. Turns out, I had seen nothing yet.

At one point, a nice old lady was pulled on stage. Not as old as this, but I really enjoy the addition of slippers in this drawing.

At one point, a nice old lady was pulled on stage. Not as old as this, but I really enjoy the addition of slippers in this drawing.

Al: We made our way through the line, into the theater, and were ushered up to the balcony at a small table in the back…with 4 chairs. 2 women sat with us a few moments later and we each tried to pretend the other duo wasn’t there, aware that we would all be looking at the same pecs.

Ant: Our seats were about as far back as possible, which was just fine. Better stay as far from the sweaty Australians and their feverish fans as we can. To me, the audience is part of the show. I will say this about the two ladies at our table, they were drinking kamikazes at a pretty impressive rate.

Al: Once the lights dimmed, the crowd start shrieking. A high squeal like a thousand semi trucks hitting their brakes at once. There’s a video montage. I can’t stop thinking that it was someone’s job to make it. The screen changes to a vision of digital rainfall. AC/DC plays. Nothing’s happening yet, it’s all fluffing, you could say. In fact, I just did.

Ant: I have seen a lot of crowd reactions in my life, I have seen grown men cry at a Paul McCartney concert. But nothing comes close to the the sound of 450 women going batshit. The shriek became lower, guttural, primal even. It was as if the audience immediately established that the men worked for them. I wonder if anyone else made the connection that AC/DC is an Australian band, I wonder if they just chose it because it had “Thunder” in the title.

Al: The opening number begins. We’re giggling with anticipation. I suddenly realize I have no idea what the Australian flag looks like. “Cry Me A River” plays. There are 5 guys, one seems to be the leader. He looks like Christian Slater 20 years ago. The men go out into the audience. So far, they’re still clothed.

Ant: My first thought is I’m a little dissapointed they’re not better dancers. Some of them are better than others, maybe I’m spoiled by musical theatre, but I wanted more precision. Not to take away from their sweaty, rippled bodies, but seriously, you know what’s sexy? Synchronicity.

Al: Then the butts come out. If you look at my scribbled notes, they say “HERE COME THE BUTTS” which I don’t think was code for anything. They’re pretty good butts, but they’re flexing them really hard and I don’t know if that’s the best strategy, you know? All tightened up like that? Is that the best display of a butt? Who am I to say. But I say no.

Ant: I made a mental note to renew my gym membership, because dang. I am not a fan of the butt flexing, why would you do all those squats just to make your ass narrow? Perhaps if they made their butt cheeks dance in time with the music.

Al: A host emerges. He proclaims that for all the things we’re about to see, there are two things we WILL NOT see: “YOUR STUPID HUSBANDS AND BOYFRIENDS”. This is a repeated theme throughout the night. This show is SO heavily aimed at women, it’s kind of amazing. It’s like Magic Mike but, ya know, no Channing. Or Joe. They constantly stress that it’s “Laaaadies niiiiight ouuuut!” and that these guys are nothing like your shitty partners/boyfriends/husbands who are very clearly not good enough for you. Ya gotta give it to ‘em in light of that packed house: it’s marketing that seems to work for them! I wonder who’s writing that copy. I am available for that gig, TFDU, if you need me.

Ant: It was profound in a way, to watch these women totally bro-out. They were yelling and screaming, they were slapping asses and high fiving. To me, this was equality. Men were being objectified and everyone was having a good time. I am willing to bet most of these women at some point that day had to take shit from a dude. Now was their chance to vent, to fight the ding dang patriarchy. To stand up and say “STATISTICALLY, I ONLY MAKE 73 CENTS TO YOUR DOLLAR, NOW DANCE, BITCH.” Perhaps i’m reading too much into this.

Al: By now we’ve got our second drink. For me, some Sweet Tea Filled With Liquor situation, and for Anthony a Moscow Mule. And I’ve started keeping track of things that could technically classify this as theater:

There’s an audience
There’s a stage
There’s music
There are costumes
And believe or not, there are kind of stories sort of? More on that later.
Anthony, what am I forgetting here?

Ant: (Puts on glasses) The closest theatrical comparison would be the popular theatre of the early 20th century. Specifically, Vaudeville, Burlesque and the Musical Revue. The dances have themes and costumes and it’s all tied together with a host. It is a theatrical production.

Al: There’s a fair amount of time killing going on. The host does 10 minutes of non-comedy and then ends up with this belter: “Are you ready to see some naked Australian men?” The crowd goes bananas. It’s like a Beatles concert but the fans are 25-50 year old women desiring tall muscular men who dance stiffly to “Welcome to the Jungle” while dressed as Tarzan…and then a man in a gorilla suit comes out. Interesting artistic choice, that. Can’t believe they bought a whole gorilla suit for that one 20 second bit but you do you, Thunder. You do you. I hope it was on sale.

Ant: Maybe I have a warped sense of morals, but it all seemed very harmless. It didn’t strike me as sleazy, but kinda good, clean, fun. I mean am I really supposed to feel threatened by dudes dancing in tacky costumes? It all seemed very silly, but in an entertaining way. It isn’t just sexy dudes dancing, it’s sexy dudes being very silly. They know they look ridiculous, but I assume women also appreciate a man willing to make an ass of himself.

Al: Soon after, the first shirt of the evening is shredded. Ya know, they grab it on both sides of the collar and tear it in two on their own bodies. You know. You’ve seen TV.

Ant: I think being able to do it while doing body rolls is pretty impressive.

Al: Agreed. I said, aloud, “If someone doesn’t do Pony I will burn this place to the ground.” Can’t remember if I meant it.

Ant: I had no doubt they would play “Pony”, if I was a stripper, I would dance to “Pony”. I also believed Allison would burn the place down if they didn’t.

Al: The first audience member of the night is pulled on stage and given a lap dance. I guess I was mesmerized for a moment because my notes stopped. Then picked back up with “He shoves her hand down his pants,” something which happened several times, the point of which I never quite grasped. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Then, as opposed to the brief showing of butts earlier, the pants FINALLY came off. I laughed really hard because I’m 12 years old I guess. The thong is Miami Vice colored, honestly.

Ant: It’s like what you think male stripper would wear in the 80’s, in a movie about this quiet, shy guy who is a sexy dancer by night. I wonder how many hands he’s shoved down his pants.

Al: There’s a “Spartan” bit. It’s a low point for me. Sword work leaves something to be desired. I mean, and they’re obviously plastic. But at least they’ve got capes.

Ant: The capes look heavy, you can’t properly dance in such heavy capes.

Al: This is when I notice that their dancing is more like a series of poses.

Ant: Totally! It was here I became a little disappointed. I mean I’ve heard of The Thunder From Down Under, they have a regular show in Vegas. I guess I expected something slightly more legit. Or at least really good dancers, clearly Magic Mike has misled me. It was if they were relying on the fact they were very attractive men. I should also note that if anyone else noticed this, they didn’t care. It was raining men god dammit.

Al: Another woman is brought onstage. I admit to probably woo-hooing during this bit. Wasn’t bad. There was a lot of carrying her around and tossing her over here or over there. Quite exciting. Ends with a guy pretending to perform oral sex on her while she’s still wearing pants? Sure, whatever.

Ant: I admit I clutched my proverbial pearls a few times, between the aggressive air humping, the assisted crotch grabbing, and the simulated oral sex. I feel like it would be horrifying to be this woman, having australian junk aggressively waved in my face. Again, it all seemed so silly. It was becoming clear that on the male stripper naughtiness spectrum, these fellas were on the tamer side. I have seen strippers two other times in my life, but those were lady strippers, the difference here is that I didn’t feel skeezy being there.

Al: The host comes out again while the dancers are presumably getting dressed for the next number so they have a new outfit to take off. The women start shouting for him to take his clothes off, like they want to eat the threads of his clothing to steal his soul or something. A woman in front of us starts pounding on her table and when he says “No, no ladies, I won’t be taking my clothes off, my mother might find out,” she suddenly shouts “I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!” Yeah, that absolutely made me laugh, won’t pretend otherwise.

"I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!" lady shouts as Allison & Anthony look on.

“I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!” lady shouts as Allison & Anthony look on.

Ant: To be fair, no one is there the hear his jokes. No one is advertising sexy naked Australian men AND witty repartee with the host. As I said before, I really appreciate watching women behave loud and boorish. I had no idea that I did, until tonight.

Al: “Uptown Funk” plays. The men wear bright silk jackets. They dance a bit and exit. The host then brings three women up for a fake orgasm contest. Again: KILLING TIME. He asks one of them, “Are you single?” her response…”I have cats.”

Ant: Those were some pretty crappy fake orgasms. I’ll say this about the “Uptown Funk” number, the pants and shirts removing cues were very well timed. The part of the show that never gets old is when the dancers go into the audience. The ladies go batshit every time.

Al: One of them climbs up the host. She wins. Next comes, and I need to stress that I’m not making this up, a SWAT team number. Yes, they all enter with fake guns and in SWAT team gear. It was pretty weird. I maybe cowered a bit. Then I got distracted thinking “Do they called it a SWAT team in Australia?” Then there’s a high concept lap dance Anthony appreciates.

Ant: This makes me re-think my feeling on “sexy” versions of costumes. Every Halloween we cringe at the bajillion costumes for women that are a sexy version of everything. Sexy jelly bean, sexy Dorothy, sexy United States Senator. This show brings a certain balance to it, they really do run the gamut. There were sexy firemen (A staple I assume,) Sexy jungle men and yes, sexy Swat Team. There was just something so right about the reversal of roles. Men were there and objectified for the specific entertainment of women. It was kind of glorious.

Al: Next, there are firemen and fire hose sound effects. I express disappointment that the bottom half of the firemen outfits look suspiciously like khakis. At some point we receive our third set of drinks, identical to the second. “Come Together” plays. An interesting musical choice, though soon we are blessed with “It’s Getting Hot In Here”, to which Anthony claps along. Finally, after waiting and hoping for this moment all evening, I hear the dulcet tones of Ginuwine’s “Pony”. It’s a dream come true. Except it isn’t. He kind of phones it in. Listen, I don’t know much, but I know that if you are stripping to “Pony” you need to 1) BRING IT and 2) HUMP THE FLOOR. If you don’t hump the floor during “Pony”, GTFO.

We end our evening with predictable cowboys “dancing” to “Sweet Home Alabama” in chaps, obviously.

I admit to having had a pretty great time. There were drinks, and we were far enough away that we didn’t get too close to any dangly parts. I couldn’t help but feel, as the host professed “THEY’RE ALL SINGLE, LADIES, AND YES, WE’RE REALLY AUSTRALIAN!” that they must get tired of all this pandering sometimes. And all that waxing. They were pretty stiff (HAR HAR) in the dancing department. And the routines weren’t anything that any guy I’ve ever met could accomplish just as, if not more, effectively. I think Anthony had a good point when he said “You know, I think it’s just about the confidence. They just have the confidence to be up there, and not be fully clothed, and that’s what the women are reacting to.”

I have to agree with this. They clearly DGAF about being nearly nude. And good for them. No one’s paying to see my clenched butt cheeks…that I’m aware of. Based on the audience reaction, and the fact that there’s no way these guys are ALWAYS in the mood to do this, I have to say it’s theater. They’re putting on a show. Sure, it ain’t Hamlet, but nothing is. Even Hamlet, sometimes.

Also, my favorite part of the whole evening was the “sexy” illusion completely being broken by the stage manager, Nicole, who had to run onstage at least a half dozen times to move a chair to a different position on stage, DURING A LAP DANCE. I laughed so hard every time she ran on in her all black backstage-y clothes, to assist in a sexy-time dance. That was the best theater of all.

Nicole, angelic stage manager, always ready to assist.

Nicole, angelic stage manager, always ready to assist.

Allison Page & Anthony Miller are both writers and theater-makers who saw nearly nude men together. Just Google them, it’s easier.

Everything Is Already Something: Non-Profit Arts Organizations On Giving Tuesday In 10 Feels

Allison Page, giving back on Wednesday.

Yesterday was Giving Tuesday and every non-profit you’ve heard of and haven’t heard of was out there hustlin’. Here’s the experience of working at a non-profit arts organization on Giving Tuesday in 10 feels.

Feel 1: How are my marking materials? HOW ARE EVERYONE ELSE’S MARKETING MATERIALS? Is this other place doing it better than me?! *Cut to obsessively scrolling through everybody else’s posts to see their strategies*

Feel 2: Posting your first ask of the day, realizing a link didn’t work and frantically fixing it, hoping you didn’t lose any possible donors in that 5 minutes.

Feel 3: Other artists you work with start spreading the word and saying nice things about the company. TEARS. TEARS.

Halfway through the day, you start losing your mind and taking selfies with lifejackets and plastic fish, or at least that's what Allison did.

Halfway through the day, you start losing your mind and taking selfies with lifejackets and plastic fish, or at least that’s what Allison did.

Feel 4: DID WE MAKE ANY MONEY YET, DID WE MAKE ANY MONEY YET, DID WE MAKE ANY MONEY YET

Feel 5: Texting the only person who can see the numbers every five minutes asking for an update and shouting “COME ON!” at your phone if they don’t respond in the first 30 seconds.

Feel 6: Looking at all the other posts from non-profits and agreeing that they are very worthy of donations as well.

Feel 7: Retweet, retweet, retweet, like, comment, share, retweet, retweet, answer questions, like, share, comment retweet, post.

Feel 8: How much longer can I do this before I have to get some food? I hope I don’t pass out from using the internet for too long. That would be embarrassing…but maybe we’d get more donations.

Feel 9: People outside the company start saying nice things and telling you they donated. TEARS. TEARS. TEARS.

Feel 10: It’s over. You can’t believe you made it through the day. Emotional rollercoaster. And then you remember why you were doing this in the first place, and it’s because you love what you do, where you work, and the people you work with. To work in a non-profit you have to believe in what you’re doing. The mission is important. And when you get a bunch of people together who agree to believe in something, it’s a really powerful thing. It’s so satisfying and joy-giving. Everyone’s out there fighting for their particular interests, and somehow raise funds even when we’re all doing it at the same time. Pretty amazing, really.

I’m exhausted. This was my first Giving Tuesday and I want to sleep for a week. But I can’t. Because I’m the Artistic Director of a non-profit performance company and we have a show in 10 days. BACK TO IT.

*exit pursuing an espresso*

Allison Page is a writer/actor/artistic director at Killing My Lobster, who managed to drum up $9,644 yesterday in their Giving Tuesday efforts.

Everything Is Already Something: Writing the TBA Awards or How the Sausage Gets Made

Allison Page, bringing you the sausage.

If you’re a theater person in the Bay Area, you probably know the Theatre Bay Area Awards show was this past Monday. You may or may not know that I wrote the script. As in, the script for the 2+ hours that is the TBA Awards Show. Last year I wrote a recap of the awards show for the TPub blog, and this year, since I’m looking at it from an entirely different angle, I’ll give you some idea of what is was like putting things together.

STEP 1: OH THIS WILL BE FUN
When I was approached to write the script, I accepted because it seemed like such a strange experience. How could I say no to that? What other chance will I have to write the script for an awards show, until Neil Patrick Harris uproots me from my tenderloin apartment and takes me away from all this, of course.

STEP 2: THERE’S A LOT OF THIS, ISN’T THERE?
Just setting up the structure of the script (which I wrote in Final Draft) took many hours.

There are 27 categories, most of them with three tiers of recipients. There are 4 unique awards — three Legacy Awards and one Charles Dean Award. The regular awards do not receive acceptance speeches, but the Legacy and Charles Dean Awards do, so they look a bit different in the script. There were also 4 musical acts and two host monologues. The script skeleton, without ANY dialogue or lyrics, was 38 pages long. All said and done, it was 116 pages. YEAH. Each segment needed stage directions. Where are people entering? Do they cross to the podium? Do they have a body mic or a handheld? Which handheld? What are the finalists doing? Where do the recipients enter? Where do they exit once they’ve received the award? Where is the band? Does the screen come in? Does the screen go out? Is the iris open? Are there sound cues? Light cues? Curtain cues? Chairs? Tableaus? Does the host introduce the presenters? Or does the announcer do it? Because those are two different people. Where does the musical act come in? That was an exhausting list, right? It’s not even everything that needs to be considered.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

STEP 3: NOBODY’S A WINNER
Terminology. Everybody loves to specify their terminology. In particular, they customize it to make people feel cozy. In this case, you’re not a “nominee,” you’re a “finalist” and you’re not a “winner,” you’re a “recipient”. I get it. I definitely get it. But also, the collective brains of most people would never go to those words first, so you’ve got to correct people over and over when they say, “winner” because they’ll get it stuck in their heads and then everyone’s saying the wrong thing — or worse if you’re a writer who is easily bothered by things, which is to say if you’re a writer — inconsistently referring to people as more than one thing. If someone uses all of these words: winner, recipient, nominee, and finalist, now everyone’s wondering if there are different kinds of awards and if only they’d been nominated in that category, they could actually be a real winner.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.21.46 AM

STEP 4: WHAT WILL THEY SAY?
A cool thing about the TBA Awards is that they remind you just how large the Bay Area theater community actually is. Of the 20+ people I had to write things for, I knew…3 of them. And those three I didn’t even know very well. I will say I learned a fair amount about various theater companies and people because of all the necessary Googling and Facebook stalking I had to do. The whole thing made me paranoid to put words in anyone’s mouth that they wouldn’t say. For instance, I had some remark about “Oh I’m going to go home and drink some wine,” or some tame thing like that, and then searched through that person’s Facebook photos to see if I could find photos of them drinking a glass of wine, not to make sure they liked wine, but to make sure they weren’t sober after years of dealing with alcoholism and attending AA meetings because WOULDN’T THAT BE SO TERRIBLE?!? It would. It would be terrible. I did find photos of that person with wine and the horror of making a magnificent faux pas began to fade. Fade, not go away entirely. Strangely, it was stuff I would never have thought anyone could take issue with, that people would want to change. Humans love to tinker. That’s fine. If you’re going to take on a project like this, it’s best to be flexible because otherwise your head’s going to pop. That being said…

STEP 5: JUST SKIMMING IT
Oh boy. The most delightful surprise of this process was that people just do not read very carefully. I GET IT. We all have a lot of stuff to do. Shows to direct, sets to build, lines to memorize, all kinds of stuff. But the majority of things I had to take a second look at because someone had a question or request or complaint, weren’t even valid. It was just that they hadn’t read it properly. So I’m going back over the script with a fine, fine sifter looking for what they’re talking about, over and over again, and then ending up with “It’s already right.” Now 20 minutes of my life have died because they’ve been glancing more than reading. Like I said, I get that. Maybe I would do the same thing. After all, I’m the writer, so it’s my job to look at this damn thing over and over again anyway. They’re just presenting and there’s no reason they should be laboring over the thing like it’s grandma’s antique fine china.

STEP 6: SPEECHES THAT I CAN’T CONTROL
When Legacy and Charles Dean Awards are given out, there are two speeches: a speech by the person giving the award, and a speech by the person or representative of the person receiving the award. Clearly I don’t write those, because that wouldn’t make any sense, but it also means nobody knows how long they’re going to be. I freely admit to being obsessed with timing and shortness (despite the length of this blog). I’m the creative director of a sketch comedy company. I like 20 second sketches. 4 specialty awards were given out. That means 8 speeches. 4 to give them out, 4 to accept them. Let’s say each speech is 3 minutes, that would mean 24 additional minutes are added to the evenings events. And though I was wandering around drinking cocktails during most of the show, I can tell you I saw some longer than that. There was at least one acceptance speech that was very short because the recipient (RECIPIENT, SEE, IT’S IN MY BRAIN NOW) didn’t know she was receiving an award. So it was one of those great, sincere surprise moments of “Oh my gosh, thank you!” that tends to inspire brevity. Naturally, I loved that. It’s also just nice to see someone so thankful and surprised in real time. Then there’s the host monologues. The host flew in the afternoon of the show, so all of his stuff had to come together really quickly. He worked out all his own material for the opening monologue and mid-show monologue. It made the most sense to do that for several reasons. We didn’t know each other, he was flying in day-of, and we have completely different styles of humor. I’m more of a satire guy, and he’s more of a wordplay/pun/clown guy. Both are fine, but imposing one on the other without having the time to work it out together would be foolhardy and would have given him an awful lot of alien material to memorize when he’s already got his own stuff in his brain and there’s just 4 hours from his entering the theater until the show starts.

STEP 7: THE OPENING MUSICAL NUMBER
So, because the entirety of the rest of the script was not enough work, I also wrote and directed the opening musical number, which was performed by Killing My Lobster, the company I’m co-creative director of. It was a parody of Willkommen from Cabaret, referencing various Bay Area theater stuff. It was really fun and complicated to put together. There were 12 performers, and only a few of them are singers and/or dancers. Mostly it was just funny people. Thank goodness the TBA Awards musical director came in to work with us on our vocals for an hour last week. But all said and done we got ONE rehearsal with the band, the afternoon of the show. The sort of psychological reaction of the performers when they walked out onto that big stage in that HUGE theater, was really interesting to me. It was a unique experience for them to be in a space that size. We’re used to performing in a house closer to 100 seats, and in that environment, we can totally dominate. But suddenly being in that grand theatrical arena really freaked them out for a minute. I had the sense that they hadn’t really given themselves permission to do it; that they felt they didn’t deserve it or something. After a rocky run with the band, there was a necessary pep talk in the dressing room, and once they took the stage for the actual performance, they killed. Or that’s how I feel anyway. Clearly I’m biased, but I thought it was awesome. The two most important jokes (to me) I wrote for that evening were in the opening number, and I was really proud that we got to do it.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number...in their underwear.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number…in their underwear.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
My goals taking on the writing of the script were thus: have a unique experience, work really hard at something no one I’ve ever known has done before, do the world’s fastest rewrites, be funny when I can, be real about certain issues within the theater community (again, when I can get away with it), make the show more entertaining and hopefully shorter than the previous year, have a good time, get a lot of drinks, wander around The Geary like I owned the place, recognize more companies/groups/people in writing and in person, and wear a cute dress. I accomplished a lot of those things. I didn’t write every single word that was said, it’s a big show and there are so many perspectives and ideas coming from everywhere that there’s no way anyone could put it together without input/ideas/edits/on stage improvising from other people. The amount of time and effort I put into this project was truly staggering. Day and night, piles of stuff building up in my apartment as I type for so long that my legs hurt from sitting. Not going places, or doing things because I have to write constantly to get it done. I couldn’t even tell you how many hours it took. A LOT. The show itself was still too long. It’s very hard to speed these things up because there are so many moving parts, but I think there are some things that can be done to make it faster the next time around. But, this is only the second annual TBA Awards ceremony and it can certainly continue to get better and smarter over time, like all things should. Like the theater community should. I’m always bored to tears when people want to talk about why they don’t believe in awards shows, or whatever their particular issue is with it. The funny thing about that is those people often have a lot to say about theater, and if they went to the awards, they’d probably notice there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of theater people all in one place on one night, and there is no better way to connect with those people and talk about what it is that we’re all doing, what we love about it, what we hate about it, what we can DO about it, how it can be better, what the future holds, and why we don’t see each other more often when we are, collectively, the present and future of the art form we care about. So, sure, you can sit at home and write an email about it or whatever ya like doing, but it’s got nothing on looking people in the face and connecting with them over your shared loving and loathing of art. Maybe you’ll even work together someday. Or at the very least, have a feeling that maybe some production choice that they made was inspired by something they really felt passionate about, and not something they were doing specifically to piss you off. Wild, I know. Listen, after all is said and done, I will have been a part of nearly 19 productions in 2015, 3 of which are even eligible for these awards, and none of which got any nominations. So that is certainly not why I go. Though someday maybe the stuff I do will count for that. We’ll see. But I go because I’m part of this whole big monster that is theater.

I have to say, the feeling of watching someone whose work you believe in take the stage, and getting to scream and shout “WOOOOOOOOO!” for them, is pretty amazing. Because you’re not saying, “WOOOOOOOOO!” you’re saying “YA’LL SEE THAT PERSON? YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, BUT THAT RIGHT THERE IS SOMEONE YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING. WE LOVE THEM AND YOU SHOULD LOVE THEM TOO. CHECK US OUT. WE’RE OUT HERE WORKING OUR TAILS OFF JUST LIKE YOU ARE.” And that has nothing to do with winning or losing…sorry, receiving or not receiving.

Also someone held up a Black Lives Matter banner on stage and it was pretty great.

As a fun bonus, here is the entirety of the Willkommen TBA Awards opening number. (As performed by Jan Gilbert, Kyna Wise, Elaine Gavin, Ron Chapman, Sam Bertken, Justin Lucas, Griffin Taylor, Katharine Chin, Jeunee Simon, Melanie Marshall, Carlye Pollack, and Shaun Plander, with host Ron Campbell entering at the end. Two Rons, I know, you’ll figure it out.)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
Breadbox, Lamplighters, Mime Troupe
San Jose Stage, It’s all of the rage
Custom Made Theatre
Can you see the stage?

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

JUSTIN. (spoken)
Oh it is so nice to see you! Good evening! Is Broadway By The Bay in the house? Oh good. Sorry about our singing. Except mine!

RON.
We Players is probably doing Hamlet at the Jack in the Box across the street. They’ll be back, they’ll be back!

ELAINE.
It’s okay it’s just a joke.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

RON.
Leave your Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle awards outside!

KYNA. So you didn’t get as many nominations as you did last year City Lights? Hm? Forget it!

JAN. We have no troubles here. Here, life is beautiful! The Geary Theater is beautiful! Even Sean Kana’s band is beautiful!

Band is revealed.

Faultline, you’re brand new, welcome
There’s Old Hats like ACT and Magic
Cal Shakes AKA Hypothermia
Hillbarn did Funny Girl,
(spoken) Everyone did Glengarry Glenn Ross

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
There’s OMG
NCTC
and BRT

RON. So many acronyms!

JUSTIN.
And now presenting some of the nominees.

ELAINE. You mean finalists!

JAN. There are East Bay theaters and South Bay Theaters, or is it South Bay theaters and East Bay theaters? You know there’s only one way to tell the difference. Someone not from San Francisco will show you later.

KYNA. Get it, because we never leave the city!

ELAINE. You know one of my favorite things about seeing a show at Impact?

ALL. Pizza!

KYNA. Betcha they didn’t have that at the Globe.

JUSTIN. Suck it Shakespeare!

RON. And, of course, Just Theater’s amazing production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.

RON passes out on stage. JUSTIN fans him, shakes him, and does various other business to get him up and moving again.

JUSTIN. He’s okay! Just keep going!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
(whispered)
Buy a drink, fluff your hair, smile
No win? it’s okay, screw it

ELAINE. Hello, Spreckles!

ALL. (still whispering)
Taste is subjective, we don’t even sing

JUSTIN. Enchante, Central Works!

ALL.
Here for the party
At PianoFight
(We’re cheap!)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
One Man, Two Guvnors,
Pussy

We’re not just vulgar, that title is real
Happy to see you,
Please applaud with zeal

JAN. One more time!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
We’re KML
To T…B…

They are interrupted by Ron Campbell’s entrance.

RON CAMPBELL. KML? You’re Killing My Lobster?

ELAINE. Yeah!

RON CAMPBELL. You’re not even eligible for these awards, are you?

ALL. No/well not exactly/maybe someday/a technicality, etc.

RON CAMPBELL. How did you guys even get in here?

RON. Rob Ready left the door open.

RON CAMPBELL. Go back to BATS or Big City Lights or wherever it is you guys hang out. The Sketch Comedy Festival. I’ll take it from here. Come back when you do legitimate theater.

KML winces at the word legitimate.

JAN. Hey, we premiered Hunter Gatherers! We launched Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

RON CAMPBELL. Yeah, 10 years ago. Go on now, scoot!

KML starts to exit, sadly.

RON CAMPBELL. Where did they leave off? Sean, play me my note.

Band plays very end of song.

RON CAMPBELL. To T…B…

KML turns around, runs/slides toward RON, and they all finish the last note together.

RON & KML. Aaaaaaaa!

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/person who is slowly recovering from the insanity of the last week, with snacks and cleaning her apartment while watching Bob’s Burgers.

Everything Is Already Something Week 65: Artist Nightmares

Allison Page: scaredy-pants.

Halloween is approaching, and apart from the fear of being dismembered by a maniac and blended into a soup, my biggest nightmares are the artistic ones. If you’ve ever auditioned for something or watched auditions for something, you’ve probably either performed or had to watch Christopher Durang’s short play The Actor’s Nightmare. Basically a guy is mistaken for an actor’s understudy and has to go on stage not knowing any of his lines. The play was inspired by a real phenomenon that seems like it happens all the time. I have a recurring one. It’s extremely specific.

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I’m in a period drama of some kind. I’m dressed in Victorian servant attire. My face is smeared with dirt. Backstage, I meet up with my co-star (somehow for the first time even though it’s opening night) and it’s MERYL STREEP. She shakes my hand and says, “Miss Page — can I call you Allison? — Allison, I am so thrilled to work with you.” and I’m polite and calm, you know, because she should be sooooo thrilled to be working with me. Dream Allison apparently has quite an ego. The play starts. I walk onstage, alone, surrounded by a set that looks like an old brick building. I strike a fairly absurd pose, and then suddenly realize I have no idea what any of my lines are, or even which play this is. I stand silent. In my peripheral vision, I catch Meryl offstage with her arms crossed. She is shaking her head from side to side and frowning. She makes that all-familiar, neck-cutting, you’re-toast gesture. I frantically run offstage. Meryl taps me on the shoulder and shouts “YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!” I fall to my knees and scream “MERYL, NOOOOOOOO!”…and wake up in a cold sweat.

This has been going on for 15 years. It’s less frequent now than it used to be, but it still pops up from time to time. And it’s always Meryl. Always, always Meryl.

But two days ago I had a new kind of artist’s nightmare…A PLAYWRIGHT NIGHTMARE. It was bloodcurdling.

I invited a lot of people over for a reading of something I had written. All the actors arrived (like 20 of them) and I was in the kitchen making food for them — specifically pizza and fried eggs. All the eggs were over easy so they required real supervision, and the pizza was extremely labor intensive. I had to make the dough fresh for each one, and the toppings were so particular that I had to bake the pizza for only a minute at a time, remove it, add certain toppings, and put it back in over and over again. Hours and hours passed and people were leaving left and right. We didn’t read a single word because I spent all that time in the kitchen. I finally came out with one cold fried egg and a single slice of pizza left for myself, and everyone was gone, except one actor. MERYL STREEP. She shook her head silently, then walked out of the room.

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I guess, now that I’m having nightmares about it, that I must actually be a writer. I look forward to decades of dreams about not finishing things, or being attacked by words carrying machetes.

And Meryl, today I will finish a script, just so I don’t let you down. Your withering glance is really intense.

Or maybe I’ll just never sleep again.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/dreamer in San Francisco. You can see her murder people in Theater Pub’s DICK 3 Oct. 26th and 27th at PianoFight in SF.

Theater Around The Bay: DICK 3 OPENS TONIGHT!

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It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former King Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco) and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Everything Is Already Something Week 64: Haiku For Rehearsals In October

Allison Page, ever the poet. 

Dracula is drunk
“Children of the night” means beer
Interpretation

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.02.40 AM

Let’s reinvent this
Rocky Horror meets Mad Men
Meatloaf in a suit

Where is the blood bag
We’ve lost the machete yikes
You’re sitting on it

Pumpkin spice break time
The cast is all in sweaters
Lookin’ like Gap ads

No you die first you
He pulls my head off ‘member
After the guts thing

Careful for the corpse
Exit over the corpse dude
Great there goes his leg

Okay hear me out
Frankenstein is a dancer
That’s why he moves weird

putting_on_the_ritz

These are all pumpkins
No I said Jack O Lanterns
Not the same thing Todd

We talked about this
We can’t really kill someone
Put down the fake sword

What do you mean Todd
We can’t be out of fake blood
Did you drink it Todd

You are the Wolf Man
You look like a Cat Man bro
No one’s scared of that

Look there’s a full moon
I’m a monster haha not
Let’s make out after

The witches’ brew Todd
You made it an IPA
Witches fell asleep

Trick or Treat haha
Just kidding I’m 43
I can’t have candy

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Allison Page is a writer/actor/monster in San Francisco. You can catch her in Theater Pub’s production of DICK 3 this month at PianoFight, as the evil henchman Ham.

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing DICK 3!

Announcing this year’s Halloween show at Theater Pub!

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It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former king Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!