Theater Around the Bay: Christian Simonsen & Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”

The Pint-Sized Plays have their 4th performance tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the festival’s writers and directors by speaking to writer Christian Simonsen and director Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”! (Alejandro also served as the Deputy Producer of Pint-Sized this year.)

“No Fault” introduces us to Jack and Kate, a divorcing couple with an 8-year-old daughter, who’ve scheduled a quick meeting in a corner bar to sign their divorce papers, make it official, and try to put the past to rest. Colin Hussey and Lisa Darter play the couple.

CS Blue Striped Shirt

Christian Simonsen, a writer returning to Pint-Sized.

What made you get involved with Pint-Sized this year or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Christian: I have been a fan of the Pint-Sized Play Festival since the beginning, and I was honored to have an earlier short play of mine, the comedy “Multitasking,” produced by this festival in 2013. I love immersive, site-specific theater like this, where the actors rub shoulders with the audience. That’s not just an expression… if you come to this show, a drunk llama may literally rub your shoulders!

Alejandro: I love this theater company and all the fresh work they bring to San Francisco (and on a monthly basis too). I’ve directed and performed with them before and have also met some great and talented folks that keep me coming back.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Christian: The challenge to writing a short play is to remember that it’s not a full-length play crammed into a few pages. That may sound obvious, but it’s tempting during the writing process to forget that. It generally can only be about one thing. Every word of dialogue, every prop, every stage direction must earn its keep. A full-length play can survive three or four weak scenes. A short play has trouble recovering from three or four weak lines of dialogue. As a general rule, a short script can’t really handle numerous subplots crisscrossing each other, but it should also avoid being a “mood piece” that just sits there.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play? 

Christian: Its purity. Audience members rarely walk away from a short play with mixed feelings; it either worked or it didn’t. As a writer, I’m most productive when I’m given boundaries and limitations, and the short play format fits the bill perfectly. For example, in “No Fault,” a separated couple are going through the awkward, tense ordeal of signing their divorce papers in a pub that they used to frequent during happier times. The stage directions have both actors sitting at a table for most of the script. But when the woman delivers the most intimate line of dialogue to her now ex-husband, she is standing away from the table while the man remains seated. The ironic contrast of their emotional closeness and their physical distance would be lost (or at least watered down) in a longer play where the actors would be moving around for two hours, willy-nilly.

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

Alejandro: Simply getting it all together as producer and table work as a director.

What’s been most troublesome?

Alejandro: Scheduling!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Christian: For scriptwriting in general (short and long, stage and screen), they would include Richard Matheson, Elaine May, Ernest Lehman, Preston Sturges, John Guare, Tina Fey, Aeschylus, Euripides, Shakespeare, Ben Hecht, Tom Stoppard, Horton Foote, Monty Python.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Christian: That’s tough, because I try and make it a point not to picture celebrities, whether world-famous or local, when I create characters. My goal is always to write a character that is solid and fully-formed on the page, while still leaving enough wiggle room where an actor can put their own spin on him or her. That being said, for this script I could picture actors Mark Ruffalo, Elden Henson, John Hawkes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Amy Poehler, Sandra Oh.

Alejandro: Hmm… Maggie Cheung and Joaquin Phoenix. I they would make for an interesting dynamic.

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Director Alejandro Torres shows off his dramatic side.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Alejandro: This is cheating as I have worked with these two before but have never directed them: Genevieve Perdue and Alan Coyne.

What are you currently working on/what’s next for you?

Christian: I was one of the staff writers on Killing My Lobster’s August sketch comedy show Game of Nerds, which was a lot of fun to work on. My next project is a collaboration with the multi-talented Sean Owens. We are developing a comedy web series called Under the Covers, which will be both hysterical and educational (or at least one of the two).

Alejandro: The SF Fringe Festival this September will be my next project. I will be remounting an original piece called Projected Voyages about dreams, nightmares, and passing thoughts.

What Bay Area theater events or shows are you excited about this summer/fall?

Christian: I want to see Barry Eitel’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident. I’ve always admired Barry as an actor, and I’m anxious to see what he does as a playwright. It also stars two of my favorite local actors, Becky Hirschfeld and Paul Rodrigues. And producer Stuart Bousel’s San Francisco Olympians Festival in October is always an exciting event that features new plays by Bay Area writers.

Alejandro: Killing My Lobster’s August show Game of Nerds. [ed: this closed last weekend! Apologies for not posting this interview sooner!]

What’s your favorite beer?

Christian: Stella Artois, but I will happily endorse another brewery if they give me their product or money or both.

Alejandro: IPAs that pair well with whiskey.

“No Fault” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 2 performances remaining: August 23 and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight! 

 

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Introducing The Writers Of Pint Sized Plays IV! (Part Two)

With Pint Sized plays just around the corner, we’re continuing our series of profiles of this year’s writers. This time we have one Theater Pub first-timer, Daniel Ng, one writer who has developed his piece with Theater Pub, Christian Simonsen, and a returning collaborator, Kirk Shimano, who authored last year’s world premiere production of Love In A Time Of Zombies, but makes his Pint Sized Plays debut this year. 

So how did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Kirk Shimano: I’ve been fortunate to work with Theater Pub in the past and have seen previous iterations of the Pint-Sized Play Festival, so it’s something that’s been on my radar for awhile. I happened upon an NPR story about a robot that vomits…for science! (his name is “Vomiting Larry”, in case you’re curious) and suddenly I had the perfect beer drinking robot play idea to submit.

Christian Simonsen: My short script “Last Man Sitting” was part of “Occupy Theater Pub!” back in 2012, and that was an awesome experience. So I always have wanted to work with this group again.

Daniel Ng: I was introduced to Theater Pub by friends Karen Offereins and Brian Markley and have enjoyed many Pint-Sized and other Theater Pub performances. Pint-Sized is the perfect venue for newcomers like me, so I’ve wanted to submit something for a while.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Kirk Shimano: It’s a challenge to get the audience up to speed and ready to start the story in as short a time as possible. If you’ve spent a page in exposition you’ve already wasted too much of your audience’s time.

Daniel Ng: I mainly write short fiction and memoir, so everything about playwriting is a new challenge. The hardest part is envisioning the physical interactions of the actors and then giving the director and actors enough information to make it work, while allowing them freedom to bring it to life in their own way.

Christian Simonsen: The tangible limitations. The script’s length, obviously, and most short play festivals also limit the number the actors, props, etc. You are forced to get to the point, both intellectually and dramatically, as quickly as possible. The monologue you write in the first draft will often be replaced by one well-chosen word or gesture. Sometimes I pass the medium’s limitations on to my characters: If my script can only be five minutes long, It helps to make it clear right away to my protagonist that the Sea Monster or Jealous Boyfriend is ON HIS WAY!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Christian Simonsen: The best thing is also the hardest thing… the limitations! They keep me focused, and force me to decide what my script is really, truly about. Also, modern audiences tend to respond well to short plays. Perhaps they reflect our fast-paced society; Drama-On-The-Run.

Daniel Ng: The short length forces you to get to the point and stick to it–there’s no room for fat or fluff.

Daniel Ng: More Matter, Less Art

Daniel Ng: More Matter, Less Art

Kirk Shimano: I think that you really just need one strong idea to sustain a short play. It makes for a very immediate writing experience, where I just need to find one exciting concept and then run with it.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Daniel Ng: My major influences are from sci-fi and speculative fiction–J. G. Ballard and Borges for their abstract, metaphorical psychodrama. Also Samuel Delaney for combining poetic narration and earthy dialogue.

Kirk Shimano: I have a much thumbed through copy of David Ives’s “Time Flies and Other Short Plays” that taught me a lot about how imaginative you can be in a very short time. I always find myself thinking about Stephen Sondheim songs as well, because a lot of his best songs are as deep as any short play I could hope to write.

Christian Simonsen: Sadly, one of the writers who influenced me the most died recently: Richard Matheson. He was a crowd-pleaser, so academics ignored him. But his fiction exposed my own fears of mortality, alienation and loneliness far better than many so-called High Brow authors ever could.

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why? 

Daniel Ng: Simon Pegg, no question. He does nerdy, manic, and exasperated so well and he has perfect comedic timing.

Christian Simonsen: Amy Poehler; there’s a darkness underneath her comic energy that’s often unsettling. In a previous era, I would have gone with Madeline Kahn.

Christian Simonsen, carrying the torch for Mad.

Christian Simonsen, carrying the torch for Mad.

Kirk Shimano: This is going to be a bit of here-and-now bandwagon jumping, but I’m going to say Melissa McCarthy because she just makes anything she’s in ten times better to watch.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Kirk Shimano: For a few years, I’ve been working on a full length play that uses Japanese fairy tales as a way of exploring online dating, Japanese-American history, and a bunch of other topics that I’m not yet sure are connected, but that I think might work together. I’ve been letting it marinate for a few months and I’m eager to return to that world soon.

Christian Simonsen: I’m finishing up another short stage play, and I’m co-writing a multi-media project. Then I plan on writing my second feature length screenplay, which will be in my favorite genre, Horror.

Daniel Ng: A short story, but *stage whisper* it’s top secret. The idea is so original that I am worried someone from Hollywood might steal it from me. It’s about zombies. Okay, not so original there. But seriously, it’s a zombie story, but with a twist that I don’t think has been done before.

What’s next for you?

Kirk Shimano: I have a short play in “Lawfully Wedded” by Wily West Productions. Morgan Ludlow has interwoven work by Alina Trowbridge and me with his own stories about the state of marriage equality. It runs from July 25 to August 17, in repertory with “Gorgeous Hussy.”

Kirk Shimano, just gorgeous.

Kirk Shimano, just gorgeous.

Christian Simonsen: I’ll be acting in “The Twilight Zone Live: Season X” at The Darkroom in San Francisco on July 12th and 13th.

Daniel Ng: I’m planning some pieces for my friend Martin Azevedo’s next Musical Emergency in September. He puts on these brilliant musical theater events that are a combination of open-mic and collaborative musical potlatch. They are wildly creative and just a ton of fun.

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Christian Simonsen: Many, including The SF Olympians Festival, and All Terrain Theater’s “Babies: The Ultimate Birth Control”.

Kirk Shimano: I’m always excited about the San Francisco Olympians festival – and not just because I have a play about drag queens to present this year. It’s always great to see how much of the community supports it and I can’t wait to see the final versions of the bits and pieces that I’ve already gotten to hear.

Daniel Ng: It’s a little ways off, but I’m really looking forward to Custom Made Theatre’s production of “The Pain and the Itch” opening January 2014. The Gough Street Playhouse is such a wonderful space.

What’s your favorite beer?

Daniel Ng: Guinness–at some bars it’s the only thing to eat.

Krik Shimano: I wasn’t really a beer drinker until I spent a semester studying overseas in Japan, so I always enjoy sipping a Sapporo and thinking of that time.

Christian Simonsen: Corona, but don’t tell my British friends.

You may have heard it’s our last show at Cafe Royale. What do you look forward to for the future of Theater Pub? 

Christian Simonsen: I will miss Café Royale; it has been a near perfect setting for a large variety of productions. But I’m sure there are a lot of odd nooks and crannies in the city that can be transformed into live theater!

Daniel Ng: I hope that a new venue or even multiple venues will attract new people to join Theater Pub’s loyal fans. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of different kinds of spaces that will allow Theater Pub to evolve and expand in unpredictable ways, not unlike a slime mold or exotic parasite.

Kirk Shimano: I’ve always enjoyed the freedom and innovation of Theater Pub, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the change of venue opens up the possibility of even more new opportunities.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!