Everything Is Already Something: When Playwrights DGAF

 

Allison Page, celebrating the unconstrained imagination. 

Playwrights: always tryin’ to figure out how to get produced. In 2016 that sometimes means staying within the limitations of submission criteria like “Cast of 1 or less” or “One small set” or “Can be performed in a tiny attic” and while I *get* that, because we all have the budgets we have, I always love it when playwrights have absolutely not given a fuck and/or didn’t have those limitations. And so, in honor of not giving a fuck, here are examples of things playwrights have included in their scripts, and still got them produced:

Two swimming pools (a show with one pool is like, I mean, c’mon, do we have no standards?)

Talking parrot

Working piano which comes out for 2 minutes (WHAT LUXURY. SUCH EXCESS.)

Harp strung with barbed wire (ouch)

Elephant

House with a collapsable ceiling (assuming that was written while drunk but ok)

Rain/storm/hurricane (bonus points for more than one per show, and for rainstorms that last more than 30 seconds)

City bus (Yes, a whole bus)

Everything in that Spiderman show

Really big trees (plural)

Gas chamber (for Sherlock, no less)

Dog

Chandeliers (Plural)

Talking meatloaf (okay I wrote that in high school, that was me, it wasn’t produced but I’m still laughing that I wrote a part for a talking meatloaf)

Dead body played by a living person through the entire play (maybe that sounds less crazy, but saying “Yes, hi, I’d like to include in the budget payment for an actor to just lie on the floor” seems insane to me)

Probably everything about 2666

Enormous tentacled alien

Multiple fireplaces

Cast of 25 with no doubling (SOMEONE’S RICH)

A full library

Spaghetti monster (okay, that was a sketch, but the spaghetti monster puppet was AMAZING)

Cow (moo)

The rubble of a giant mansion that’s been destroyed (bonus points for making the actors pull things out of the rubble they’ve been walking on and sitting on, over and over again)

A character who cuts off their own face (and then, if memory serves me, someone picks it up later, so you have to have a face to pick up)

Those really tall old timey unicycles

Giant 1950s computer with flashing lights and lots of beep boop sounds, and which shot paper out of itself — enough paper to go all over the room.

20 person sword fight

Working dictaphone w/ wax cylinder

Giant man-eating plant (must sing)

Car

Cuttin’ the junk off of two characters on stage

Two rats, one diseased

Pirate ship

Working kitchen

Shout out to all the people building really, really weird stuff because someone wrote it down somewhere and now somebody has to build an elephant. This is clearly just a smattering. If you have a favorite impossible piece of theater madness, leave it in the comments!

I’m going to go write something with weird stuff in it.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director in San Francisco.

Everything Is Already Something: Farewell, Sweet Dick Joke

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

Dearly Beloved,

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

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

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

Heh heh, depository.

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

Mourning-Woman

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

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

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

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

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

*fart sound*

Thank you.

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

Theater Around The Bay: The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2015

Stuart Bousel ends the year with 6,000 words. Which you know… is actually less than usual. 

You may not have noticed it, but until my recent interview by Barbara Jwanouskos, I took a year off from writing for the blog.

This was for a number of reasons, including wanting to make more space for others, and having to use some of our space for promoting shows since Theater Pub returned to putting out 12 shows a year, thanks entirely to Rob Ready, Dan Williams, and Kevin Fink at PianoFight for both providing and insisting we take them up on their offer of a new venue, and my incredible support staff who put this year together by the skin of their teeth: Megan Cohen, James Grady, Sara Judge, Cody Rishell, Marissa Skudlarek, and most of all Tonya Narvaez and Meghan Trowbridge. Additionally, I just kind of took a general break from both writing and publicly postulating, partly for my own sanity and mostly because I wanted to do a lot of listening. At the end of last year, as was apparent to many, I was sort of drowning in the overwhelm of too many voices, from adulatory to disparaging, plaintive to dismissive. I made a decision to stand still and listen, in the hopes I’d eventually find my way back to my voice. For the record, it worked, thanks in large part of a few really good friends- but more on that later.

So, Awards… do I feel better about them than I did last year? Eh, more or less. I’ve come to accept them for what they are, and I’m thankful we have an awards system, helmed by Theater Bay Area, that is more or less transparent, and based on a peer adjudication pool that is more or less quantifiable (certainly identifiable), tiered into a system that more or less recognizes the need to evaluate artists with their resources and limitations taken into account. I think it’s a tremendous loss that Robert Sokol, who did the bulk of the grunt work to make these Awards a reality, from vetting each ballot last year to making the rounds of every committee to ensure the concerns of TBA members were actually heard, is no longer with the Awards or TBA- and anyone who knows how hard I grilled Robert in meetings last year knows that I am not saying that lightly or affectionately. There are moments I have starred daggers into Robert across a conference table and meant each and every one of them, but at the end of the day, he brought a great deal of integrity to the Awards- as much as any awards system can have- and he was devoted to them and he has not been adequately replaced. Which is not to say the folks running things now are doing a bad job necessarily- but the job changed and nobody has really moved into his place, duties have just been sort of parceled out, and while I don’t feel this has necessarily compromised the integrity of the Awards themselves, yeah, some things and people are falling through the cracks. Like my whole committee, for instance, which was given no chance to have input on the Awards this year. But then, being forgotten is, sadly, sort of par for the course of the Individual Services Committee.

Speaking of… so I have left the ISC and the Board of TBA. It happened weeks ago, right after the last meeting of the year, so I feel like it’s okay to talk about it publicly now. Or if it’s not, well… somebody should have sent me an email about that. Oh well.

Anyway, yes, I stepped down. After three years on the ISC- which I loved- and one year on the Board- which I hated every second of- I decided that TBA and I were not a good fit for one another. This does not mean I think TBA is a bad organization or anything like that- I am still a member, as is San Francisco Theater Pub, and I believe that TBA has the potential to be a great service organization and an ally to the artists of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, and an advocate for the arts in general. In some ways, it already is all of those things. In some ways- it’s got a long ways to go, and to TBA’s credit no one there is unaware of that and there is a lot of energy being expended in trying to improve. In the end, my decision to leave is a combination of many things, like all decisions, but it comes down this: the organization’s priorities are not my own, and while I joined the org in a volunteer capacity to understand it better, I also wanted to help create positive changes in the Bay Area theater scene. And the fact is, I wasn’t really being tapped for that, despite having been invited in. Boards are really all about raising money, when it comes right down to it. And like, I get that. But I’m an artist. A Struggling Artist. I got enough of that headache in my life already, you know?

So, hey, everybody, back to Awards as subject (and yes, don’t worry, the Stueys). Clearly I had some really heavy misgivings about whether or not I was, through well-intentioned silliness, perpetuating this kind of social ill, something I had never really thought about until I started winning awards myself, and experiencing all the highs (random theater companies suddenly being interested in my writing, feeling validated by my peers) and lows (friends telling me all the reasons I didn’t deserve recognition, or just sucked in general) that come with success of any kind. This year I was nominated for two more awards, and a show I directed was nominated for nine total, and I didn’t win any and neither did the show and you know what: I kind of enjoyed it more. Yes, I loved winning last year- I ADMIT IT. But not winning (which is not the same as “losing”, by the way) meant I could get drunk with my friends and dance and kiss people at the party and not worry about what this all meant and was I worthy and was I accidentally doing anything to offend all the people who didn’t win, and was I supposed to react a certain way and what if I did or didn’t? Plus some people I really adore and respect won awards this year and that was lovely because they deserve recognition.

Which by the way is all an award/Award is- some people saying you did a good job. Which only means something if you think it does. And if you think you did a good job.

Cut to me, having drinks with a local writer whose brain is my favorite critical brain in the Bay Area and at some point she says/I paraphrase, “I’m so glad you have made peace with all that. You do so much and you do it well and it is okay to be proud of that- and haters be damned.”

I reply/paraphrase, “Thank you. I am a deeply insecure human being in an industry that battens on insecurity. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say, with assurity, that I deserve anything, let alone an Award. But I am glad that play won one, because all said and done- I am really proud of that play.”

The Bay Area Theater Scene, friends/haters. So much insecurity. So much to be proud of.

The 2015 Stuart Excellence in Bay Area Theatre Awards

1. The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness- Dale Albright

True story: a couple of weeks ago I was a few egg nogs in and chatting with a co-worker while net surfing and lazily, without thinking, reposted Peter O’Toole’s death notice on Facebook, as if it was news. How embarrassing! Especially as I created this award the year Peter died (the first time) with the idea that it would be all about recognizing the people we often fail to recognize because they are so consistently awesome. Way to prove my own point, huh? Well, regardless, I couldn’t be more earnest this year when I give the award to Dale Albright, who may be the Bay Area Theater scene’s most unsung, unsung hero (he is the Program Director for TBA, if you didn’t know). Seriously, this man is earning his keep and then some and I would not have spent three years giving up my time if it wasn’t for Dale’s passion and commitment to TBA and everything it is and could be. And sure, he’s also a damn fine actor and director, but whatever: he a phenomenal human. He really and truly cares, he works himself to the bone on our behalf, and he does it all with a kind of insane but sincere modesty. No one I have ever spoken to about Dale has anything but incredible admiration for him and I’m not talking about a handful of people- I’m talking about hundreds of them. I know a lot of people.

2. Best Short Play- “Sparse Pubic Hair” by Lorraine Midanik, directed by Laylah Muran de Assereto, produced by the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco, starring Rick Homan and Miyoko Sakatani with Louel Senores and Amber Glasgow, choreography by Wesley Cayabyab.

It’s always kind of funny what really makes a short play work and stand out. It’s usually this nearly impossible combination of big idea, simple but impactful execution, and charm. This piece, the capper of the last-ever Sheherezade Festival (PCSF’s annual short play collection) took the complex idea of aging and becoming obsolete and all the insecurity and fear attached to that, and reduced it to the very concrete but relatable fear of losing one’s sex appeal before one has lost the appetite for sex, without falling into the traps of being preachy, cutesy, smarmy, or vulgar. The result: an actually romantic, totally poignant tale of two grown ups having to learn how to be grown ups long after they thought they were done learning to be grown ups, complete with facing fears, getting over themselves, and forgiving one another’s human fallings- sparse pubic hair and all.

3. Best Show- “The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane”, adapted by Dwayne Hartford from the book by Kate DiCamillo, directed by Doyle Ott, produced by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, starring Terry Bamberger, Darek Burkowski, James Grady, Carlye Pollack

Okay, if you didn’t know it, some of the best theater being made in the Bay Area is consistently being made by Bay Area Children’s Theatre. Yes, it’s intended for kids and yes you will be looked at by amused/hyper-protective parents if you don’t show up without your own children, but the fact is, there’s some really excellent stuff happening here, high-quality entertainment being made and you’re probably missing it. Because it’s made for kids it’s also, in addition to being well done, often edifying and thought-provoking without hitting you over the head about it the way a great deal of theater for adults feels it needs to. The stories are also just unapologetically magical, because kids both believe in magic, and unlike most adults, feel no shame in admitting that or owning their need for it. No show, for me, better optimized this this year than “Edward Tulane”. Beautifully acted from top to bottom, gorgeously staged and directed as a kind of caravan theater meets medieval panto mash-up with songs, the tale of a toy that passes through many owners, becoming something uniquely valued by each, was FUCKING TEARING MY HEART OUT EVERY SECOND I WAS WATCHING IT. I barely held it together, my boyfriend cried continuously from twenty minutes in till the end, and we walked out wanting to make the world a kinder place. The restorative powers of forgiveness and the transformative aspect of service being subtley but unapologetically presented as the inevitable solutions to anger and vanity were so well nuanced that it was impossible to remain unmoved by a piece that comforted even as it kicked you in the face. And yeah, not all theater has to make you do that- but your chances of getting a Stuey are way higher if your theater does.

4. Best Ambitious Failure- “We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known As Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrkia, Between the Years 1884-1915” by Jackie Sibblies-Drury, directed by Molly Aaronson-Gelb, produced by Shotgun Players in association with Just Theater, starring Rotimi Agbabiaka, Lucas Hatton, Kehinde Keyoejo, Patrick Kelly Jones, David Moore, and Megan Trout.

Okay, before anyone gets offended please understand: I love Ambitious Failures, and no it’s not a backhanded compliment. In many respects, while I love a perfect gem of a show and it’ll make me love the world and theater, an ambitious failure gets me excited and makes me think in a way that gems big or little often fail to do. Also, it’ll stick with me for a long time to come, resulting in multiple conversations, extra mileage in the idea mill, good debates, etc. “Well then,” you say, “is it really a failure?” I mean, I guess not- but yes, no, it didn’t work, at least for me. And like, this show totally didn’t work for me, I walked out feeling I had seen something that couldn’t actually decide what it was trying to do or say and collapsed in on itself like a whirlpool that was more interesting than engaging, but oh how much I admired the fearlessness and commitment of the script, the actors, the director, whoever it was who had to make that title work on a poster. I knew I had seen something important and real, even if I had failed to get much out of it beyond what I felt was obvious and a result of statement, not storytelling, but the parts that sang, sang so well that I could not be dismissive either. In many ways, I felt the play was epitomizing its own impossible conversation, that its hot messiness was a statement about how no one in the world seems to be qualified or articulate enough to truly communicate with anyone else in the world AND THAT’S WHY WE’LL NEVER HAVE NICE THINGS… but then that reading doesn’t satisfy me either and the play didn’t corroborate it and I was back at square one feeling like I was asking aesthetic questions instead of struggling with the plethora of social ones the play was ostensibly about. It’s frustrating… but intriguing, and it has kept me intrigued. This is the one show from this year I would see again, if I could, no caveats. And that deserves a Stuey.

5. Best SF Olympians Reading- “Tethys/Oceanus” by Marissa Skudlarek/Daniel Hirsch and Siyu Song, directed by Marissak Skudlarek/Sara Staley, starring Diana Brown, Alan Coyne, Theresa Miller, Jacinta Sutphin, Aaron Tworek, Kendra Webb, Steven Westdahl, Janice Wright

So, usually I do a “Best Reading” award but every year I’ve chosen something from Olympians (because it’s where readings go to ascend) so let’s just call a spade a spade and admit I’m really going to just pick the best Olympians reading from the past year. This year was a strong year for the festival, and there was a lot of good material, but one night shone above the rest in terms of great material + perfect performances + random magic, and that was a pair of one acts, “Tethys” by Marissa Skudlarek, who also directed, and “Oceanus” by Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song, directed by Sara Staley. Between the two pieces the evening was the perfect blend of somber intellect (Marissa’s) and giddy theatricality (Dan and Siyu’s). Marissa’s quiet and subtle piece about defining and obtaining security in a perilous world was beautifully echoed in Dan and Siyu’s mini-epic about what happens in the handful of moments during an global internet outage when all of our distractions vanish and we’re forced to listen to the sound of our own lives again. Both had a wicked humor tempered with compassion for the stories being told and the characters portrayed were done so by an excellent group of actors clearly relishing their roles. Like all “best nights” of the Olympians, I walked out of that one going, “This is what this festival can do- this is the kind of stuff that happens here!” which makes for such an easier time at the bar afterwards. And while the object of the festival is not to create a final product but to instead be the start of a journey, both these plays felt like they could be lifted and fully produced as was- which only makes me more excited to see where they will go.

6. Best Director- Ariel Craft, “The Pillowman”, The Breadbox

“Really? Ariel again?” you ask me. Um, well, what can I say- I’ll stop saying Ariel’s the best director in the Bay Area when she stops being the best director in the Bay Area. Or at least when she wins a TBA Award. No, but seriously, Ariel continues to win my admiration for a combination of reasons: she is not only exceptionally skilled and incredibly hard working, but she consistently chooses incredibly challenging work and sometimes does exceedingly risky things with it and sometimes those things fail but it never seems to stop her from trying again- and usually shooting even higher. Pillowman was not a failure but was, in fact, the best production of this play I could possibly imagine. Each individual part and performance was spot on- but the sum of the whole was brilliant and that is Ariel’s great strength. Her vision has a signature that is unmistakably hers, making her unquestionably an artist, and as she continues to grow it’s becoming more and more exciting to see her hallmarks across a variety of works. Best part: I don’t even really like this play all that much. But I loved this production of it.

7. Best Actor – Jason Wong (Creon, “Antigone”, at Cutting Ball)

Jason Wong has always been an interesting and very watchable actor, and having known him and worked with him before, I also know he’s a pretty nice guy, hard-working, risk-taking, and smart. Very smart. It sort of killed me when he didn’t try out for my production of M. Butterfly (though I would never trade the brilliance of Sean Fenton in that show FOR THE WORLD), but he’s forgiven now for having been the jewel in the crown of Cutting Ball’s production of Antigone. Though the heroine of the story is the center of the piece, Creon is the meat of the drama, his arc the one we follow, his lesson the one that must be learned, his soul the one that must be broken and, if you’re Creon is well-played, redeemed. Jason walked on stage chewing the scenery like a madman, spilling Creon’s pompous but phony self-love all over the place and then slowly, systematically, cracking the façade one doubt and disaster at a time until he was just bones and then just a pile of bones. Ending the play as a forlorn echo of himself that you wanted to protect in spite of everything, you realize that Antigone has triumphed and the tragedy has and always was Creon. Jason, with his remarkable ability to play wounded and outraged at the same time, took me from sinister to pathetic so forcibly but fluidly that like the proverbial frog in a cauldron, I almost didn’t feel the burn until I was suddenly, fataly, scalded.

8. Best Actress- Michelle Drexler (Kathy, “Company”, SF Playhouse)

One of the advantages of seeing a play many times (and I have seen Company many many times) is that you can see a variety of actors tackle a role and approach its pros and cons differently, with different levels of success. Most people who see Company will walk away having an opinion on the Robert, the Joanne, the Amy, maybe the Marta and April, and that’s usually kind of it. Part of the fun (and point) of the show is that most of the characters are kind of fun but flat stereotypes, 2-D impressions of people that Robert is ultimately sort of short-changing because it helps him feel like it’s okay to lack what they have (and he actually wants), but in can be tough for the actor handed the role of Larry or Susan or Paul to both honor the restraints of the piece and make an impression. Of all the parts in Company (except maybe Paul), I think Kathy is the most thankless, “the nice girl” archetype who epitomizes the “one that got away” but who we kind of let get away because, nice as she was… we weren’t really all that into her. The whole point of Kathy is that she wasn’t really all that interesting to Robert until THE SECOND before she walked out of his life… and then even then, he let her do it, because she wasn’t all that interesting. The problem with Kathy is that she is often played as if Robert’s view of her is who she actually is. The brilliance of Michelle Drexler’s performance as Kathy in the SF Playhouse production of Company and why she’s getting this year’s Best Actress Stuey, in a year of amazing performances by women, for a five minute scene? I’m not sure, to be honest, exactly what it was. A fierceness, perhaps? A depth of performance that conveyed her Kathy was MUCH MORE than Robert ever knew her to be, and that Kathy not only knew she was much more but knew Robert would never see it- and loved him anyway? An implication that she wasn’t a wall-flower going back home to settle for less but maybe even a Robert herself, maybe someone who had been mistaking waiting for living and was finally making a choice knowing that breaking your own heart is an awful but certain way to remember you have one? I don’t know. We’ll never know. The whole point of Kathy is that she’s a mystery we feel sort of sad about never solving. And it was nice to see someone finally play her that way.

9. Best Surprise- Teri Whipple (“Harbour”, NCTC, “Dead Dog’s Bone”, Faultline)

So, I’ve known Teri Whipple for a few years, she being a company member of Custom Made and a frequent actor in the SF Olympians, but this year I caught her in two very different shows at two very different companies playing… well, a kind of hippy-dippy mom in both plays, truth be told- but she did it really differently each time!- and perhaps more importantly, incredibly convincingly, displaying a versatility and charisma that elevated her performances past cliché and to something quite startling and previously unseen in her (at least by me). Teri has always been someone I’ve enjoyed watching, but I find myself excited when I find out I’m seeing something she’s in because I feel like I’m watching a performer really come into their own. I totally get that the “Mom” roles are rarely something a woman is excited about having cornered the market on, but if you keep playing interesting moms in unexpected ways- I can think of worse fates. Do I hope to see Teri in non-Mom roles? Absolutely. Which means, directors and writers- get to work.

10. Best Laugh- “It Wasn’t Meat!” by Carolyn Racine, choreography Liz Tenuto, directed by Paul Charney, produced by Killing My Lobster, starring Ron Chapman and Sam Bertken

Due to Killing My Lobster drastically upping their game in the last year (yeah, I said it- it’s like Night and Day, truth be told), I’ve actually made it to more of their shows than usual. I’m not huge into sketch, but when it’s well done, it’s a good time and since I saw so much I enjoyed this year I figured it was about time the Stueys included a sketch award of some kind. This year it goes to a little nugget of gold that landed in the happy Christmas Stocking that was this year’s holiday KML show at Z Space: “It Wasn’t Meat”, a parody of “It Wasn’t Me”, written by Carolyn Racine, directed by Paul Charney, choreographed by Liz Tenuto, and featuring Ron Chapman and Sam Bertken in the most hilarious send up of relationship enforced vegetarianism I’ve ever seen. To me, the best comedy is fun because it’s true, and if it’s painfully true that’s often even better. In the Bay Area, in particular, I think laughing at ourselves may be the only cure for our chronic case of smugness and what’s more true (and Bay Area) than taking a song about sexual infidelity (which so many people here, myself included, would go to great lengths to downplay as unimportant in today’s sexually progressive relationships) and revamping it as struggling to remain true to your partner’s tyrannical diet restrictions (which so many people here, not including me, would go to great lengths to tell you is far more important and not at all tyrannical… even though you are literally requiring someone to eat the way you do like they are your child). The perfect balance of delivery volleying between Ron Chapman’s cool confidence in denial and Sam Bertken’s anxious self-flaggelation for having “wrapped bacon around more bacon” turned a fun idea into a little bit of biting social commentary that got quite literal at the end when meat-starved Sam started biting his own mentor. Truly funny, truly arch, truly a reason to see even more KML in the coming year.

11. Best Designer- Brooke Jennings, Everything

Okay, so you may have noticed as I’m listing Best Play and such I’m failing to list all the designers and crew. Designers and crew- PLEASE FORGIVE ME! I’m trying to keep to a word limit I am already so way over, and the fact is, unless your show is all about the design, the mark of good design (in my opinion) is that it kind of fades into the background and becomes THE WORLD OF THE PLAY- outstanding in its seamlessness, natural, un-intrusive, and therefore… easy to fail to appreciate. Right now, the local designer who epitomizes this the most for me is costumer Brooke Jennings, who I have been lucky enough to work with several times, and whose work has been seen on a vast variety of Bay Area stages this past year. Often times, when looking at a show, I will be struck by how quietly, subtly, and yet perfectly everything on the actors is working together, creating a color and texture palate that tells a story without being the story, adhering to the world of the play while creating the world of the play, helping define everything from the time period to the climate, with stops on the personality and motives of the character along the way. Often I will then think, “Huh. Did Brooke design this show too?” And then I’ll look in the program and she did. What else is there to say?

12. Best Musical- “Heathers: The Musical” by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, directed by Erik Scanlon, musical direction by Ben Prince, choreography by Alex Rodriguez, produced by Ray of Light Theatre, starring Laura Arthur, Teresa Attridge, Jordon Bridges, Melinda Campero, Samantha Rose Cardenas, Jessica Fisher, Paul Hovannes, James Mayagoitia, Zachariah Mohammed, Lizzie Moss, Abby Peterson, Jocelyn Pickett, Jessica Quarles, Nick Quintell, Andy Rotchadl, Mishca Stephens, Jon Toussaint.

So, I’m not a die-hard fan of Heathers: The Musical. I’m a die hard fan of the movie. The musical’s got some great songs and some fun moments, but I think it suffers from not deciding if it’s trying to be for the fans, or a work of art unto itself, and the truth is, it soft-pedals the darker, edgier aspects of the film, while loosing a great deal of the humor, and also coming off… vaguely homophobic and comparatively sexist? Yeah, no, I mean that, but I’m surprised by it because it’s a pretty entertaining and even profound show as long as you don’t really think about any of those things, and more pertinent to now, Ray of Light’s production was fantastic, probably the best thing I’ve seen them do yet, from the costumes (by Katie Dowse, shamelessly and amazingly recreating many of the looks from the film), to the tight direction, to the spot on impressions of the film cast and the startling moments of canonical departure intelligently woven between the bones throne to the audience- who clearly loved it. The humor and bite of the show was undeniably carried by Samantha Rose Cardenas, Lizzie Moss, and Jocelyn Pickett in the title roles, but the heart was provided by Jessica Quarles as Veronica and Laura Arthur as Martha Dunnstock, with Jordon Bridges bringing some much needed darkness as Jason Dean. The best song of the show, “Seventeen”, a kind of high school reject version of “Suddenly Seymour” (listen to it… hear it?), was stuck in my head for days afterward, infinitely more poignant when I watched Bridges and Quarles belt it at the Victoria than when I downloaded it on iTunes, as if they were channeling everything about the movie that made it my personal Bible in high school. The production as a whole deserved every single one of the 11 nominations it received at this year’s TBA Awards and seems to have been an all around hit with most audiences, doing what I think Ray of Light does best- making musicals not just accessible and entertaining, but an event that reminds people they’re also still a very relevant and multi-faceted art form.

13. Best Ensemble- “The Horses’ Ass and Friends” by Megan Cohen, directed by Ellery Schaar, produced by Repurposed Theatre, starring Danielle Gray, Ryan Hayes, Evan Johnson, Katharine Otis, Becky Raeta, Paul Rodrigues, Indiia Wilmott, Marlene Yarosh

Megan Cohen’s shows are always worth seeing- from the interesting failures, to the perfect little gems- but this particular show- directed by Ellery Scharr at the EXIT Theatre- was blessed by a truly excellent ensemble of players who managed to take an evening of individual experiments and weave them into a performative whole, the connective tissue of which was their own enthusiasm for the work and each other. Maybe it’s starting the show with a group dance party that bonds people, or just being a part of something you all believe in, but you can tell a good ensemble when you see them and it was obvious from the moment you walked in that the friends of the title were in the house and ready to show you what they had with everything they had. Watchable, charming, creative, smart, brave- Danielle, Ryan, Evan, Katharine, Becky, Paul, Indiia, and Marlene (okay, maybe a little extra gold star for Marlene)- are all excellent storytellers and were all tasked with the sometimes intimidating feat of telling a story written by the inimitable Meg Cohen. Each one rose to the occasion, each one succeeded in their own right, but best and brightest when together, as a troupe.

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

One last bit. More than anything else that I’m aware of right now, it’s this: last year around this time I was dreading the new year. I was afraid it would be more of the same, and the truth is… it kind of was. But something happened over the course of the year, slowly at first, and then with gaining momentum: essentially, I found my way back to me. I started reading again. I started writing again. I made new connections and I let go of the ones that were turning sour and poisoning my self-esteem, or just taking up a lot of my time and not giving anything back in return. I had a lot of amazing conversations and I made some fantastic art. I broke a pattern of getting sick during my own production process, which had been going on for 2+ years. I got hit in the head… and I got back up and moved on. I stopped taking responsibility for things which aren’t mine to take responsibility for and started taking responsibility for something I rarely make room for: my own happiness. I remembered that even if I am a Sad King… I’m still a King. Surrounded by Kings. And Queens. Or whatever title you want to give yourself. You just be you, okay, whatever that is. I might not always like it, but we’ll probably figure out a way to get along in the long run. Meantime…

Five Collaborations With Old Friends But In Amazing New Ways

1) Marissa Skudlarek- Marissa Skudlarek has been the most consistent editorial force behind both Olympians and Theater Pub for years now, often acting as a second pair of eyes and a second opinion on everything from grammar to content and tone standards, but this year we did something we never thought we’d do before: sing harmony on a rock song together. Yup, our cameos as the Specialist and his Assistant in Guess Who? might not go down in rock history, but it’s definitely going down as a benchmark in our personal history. And Who Knows? (get it?) You might not have heard the last of us.

2) Megan Briggs and Allison Page- Megan Briggs is my muse and Allison Page has frequently been my leading lady, but this year they were also my co-producers on The Desk Set and let me tell you: you could not ask for a better team. Between Megan’s organizational skills and Allison’s marketing savvy, Desk Set was one of the best promoted, most tightly run ships I’ve worked on in a really long time, and the show’s tremendous success in spite of a myriad of hiccups (from the world’s biggest set to ever go into the EXIT Stage Left, to the longest props list of my directing career), not to mention the casts’ continued devotion to our Facebook chat thread, are a testimony to just what this dynamic duo can do. Let’s do it again (but better)!

3) Morgan Ludlow- Morgan has been an incredible advocate for my work over the years, producing four plays of mine, and letting me direct two of his. A few years ago he moved to Seattle, but he still returns to SF a few times a year to assist with local productions and this past autumn I had the honor of him stepping into directing shoes to bring the Seattle production of my play, Everybody Here Says Hello! to life. A truly excellent rendering, Morgan confessed (after I’d seen and liked the show) that he actually hadn’t directed in years and had only taken the risk because it was me.

4) Rob Ready– Rob has been in a number of things I’ve written, most notably playing the Llama in the Llamalogues for several years now, but this year Rob became our venue manager when TheaterPub resumed performances at his space starting in January. For all intents and purposes, this has made Rob our Executive Producer, and it’s been a truly rewarding experience. There are few people in the theater scene whose vision and love for the art exceed Rob’s, and it’s been a real honor having him as our patron saint and champion, even when we took some serious mis-steps this past year. Rob never stopped telling us we were doing a good job and because of that- we did.

5) Kim Saunders and David Brown– my choreographer and music director, respectively, on Grey Gardens: the Musical at Custom Made Theater. Never before had I shared the helm with two co-pilots, and while I consider myself a collaborative director, it’s one thing to be a gracious guy in charge, and another to be one of the three. It wasn’t always easy, but it was ultimately incredibly redwarding, and I learned a lot from my intrepid co-creators and would work with either, or both, again, in a heartbeat because damn our show was fantastic and it would not have been the same without each of us being the incredibly talented, passionate, invested and only occasionally egotistical maniacs we are… I mean… were.

Finally, finally, one last shout out- to a non-Bay Area person who took a huge risk by producing my not-quite finished, totally bizarre vampire melodrama, Gone Dark, in a sinking 19th century church in Chicago this past Halloween: Otherworld Theatre Company’s artistic director Tiffany Keane. She’s not local, so I can’t give her a Stuey, but I wish she was local so I could- and believe me, you also wish she was local. A gifted visionary, I was lucky enough to see my show rendered in a world so real you could sink your teeth into it… but my favorite moment will remain her innovative staging of a direct address monologue written entirely in French. Designed to scare off all but the most intrepid directors, Tiffany indulged me and made it work and watching her (and the remarkable actress in the role, Mary-Kate Arnold) spin that moment into gold, was the most breath-taking moment of a most breath-taking year.

All the best, everyone. And thank you.

Note: In an effort to get this posted before the end of the year, it was decided to post the draft version. Spelling, grammar, and minor aspects of content thus may be edited over the course of the next few days.

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.