Theater Around The Bay: Don’t Miss Over The Rainbow!

The mere mention of Lisa Frank often conjures daydreams of pencil cases, folders, erasers, notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. Of rainbow unicorns, ballerina bunnies, painting pandas, and glamorous kitties. But this cheerful aesthetic may not be all it seems.

OVER THE RAINBOW, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez, continues performances tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM at PianoFight– DON’T MISS IT!

Can’t get enough? Take this Buzzfeed quiz specially crafted by Tonya to determine which character you’d be in a world run by Lisa Frank!

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Featuring performances by Sam Bertken, Andrew Calabrese, Andrew Chung, Danielle Doyle, Alisha Ehrlich, Caitlin Evenson, Danielle Gray, Danielle Ishihara, and Christine Keating with movement direction by Liz Tenuto.

Playing February 22 and 23, performances are free, with a $10 suggested donation, and seating is first come, first serve.

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Theater Around The Bay: Tonya Narvaez Talks Rainbows

Our next show opens a week from tonight and it’s not secret that people are already a little obsessed with it. We sat down with author/director Tonya Narvaez to talk about just why people love Lisa Frank… and fear her… and why this show is another Theater Pub event that you can’t miss!

Tonya was told to submit a "fun" photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it - Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

Tonya was told to submit a “fun” photo and here it is. Also it has two other cast members in it – Sam Bertken and Andrew Calabrese. Photo by Sam Bertken.

So, what’s this crazy show all about?

A young Lisa Frank finds a portal (in her bathroom) to The Wonderful World, where all her stuffed animals have come to life. She quickly discovers that everything is not as it seems. That the rules are different here. That even the cutest of characters can have a vicious streak.

Okay… and where did you get this idea?

Ashley Cowan and I were going to write a play together for the February show. It would be about love and dating and about how two people can have such different reads on the same experience. While developing the idea, I started talking about Lisa Frank with someone at PianoFight – I believe it was Megan Cohen. Suddenly the idea had morphed into a play about Lisa Frank on Tinder. This idea thrilled me, so I let myself fall into a Lisa Frank rabbit hole. I read everything I could find about her. She’s the most curious person. She’s guarded but outgoing, bubbly with a hint of sadness. Every article I read included quotes from former employees, who had terrible experiences working at the headquarters in Tucson. It seemed like there was a better story there. Better than imagining Lisa Frank on Tinder. So I decided to write a fictional origin story.

What does the cast think about this project? How are rehearsals going?

I am very fortunate to have this cast. Truly, they have been so game and so fantastic to work with thus far. Some amazing work has been done on these characters. They have taken every bit of information I’ve given them about Lisa Frank and about this strange, topsy-turvy world I’ve created and just ran with it.

When casting, did you ask people what their feelings on Lisa Frank are?

Yes! I asked for their “Favorite Lisa Frank image or character and why”. I received such a mixed bag of responses. Some people were genuinely interested in Lisa Frank characters and had childhood anecdotes to tell. Others were never really interested in Lisa Frank but sent their favorite Nihilisa Frank image. (http://nihilisa-frank.tumblr.com/)

What’s your own personal relationship/history with Lisa Frank? Do you have a favorite product?

I really liked some of the Lisa Frank imagery growing up but I thought I was too cool to admit it. I would make fun of it in passing, but secretly wanted a Trapper Keeper with dolphins and hearts and rainbows all over it.

What would you do if she showed up to the show?

I’m not entirely sure. My instinct says I would hide. My intellect says I would be really interested in what she thought of the show and would try to have a conversation with her about it.

When you write a play, what’s your process and how do you go about shaping a script?

I start with a really basic premise, like “Lisa Frank origin story a’la Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland”. Then I do more research than is needed. Then I develop the characters and the world/s. Once I have a really solid cast of characters to begin with, I’m able to write pretty freely. There are times when I get stuck. When I do, I usually realize it’s because I didn’t build a character out enough, or am trying too hard to stick to some sort of “rule”. Or clinging on to something that isn’t as important as I think it is.

You’re also directing this. Is directing your own work something you like to do? How is directing your own play different from directing something someone else wrote?

I do like to direct my own work, but for selfish reasons. I like to be able to change the script to suit the cast. Or if I see something I’ve done is terrible, I can still change it early on in the process. Often times right then and there at rehearsal. I find it much more challenging to direct another person’s work. There isn’t as much liberty to be taken, and there has to be more structure to the development process. I think as I continue to grow as a writer and as a director this answer will change.

Any shout outs to the rest of the community and what else is going on?

Yes! I want to give shout outs to all the shows I missed because of this show and because of the move I just completed this weekend: Mousetrap at Shotgun Players, Of Serpents and Sea Spray at Custom Made, and Peer Gynt at The EXIT Theatre. And two shows I hope to see soon:

1. Anything from the new Undiscovered Works Series, part of Custom Made’s New Play Development Program. Tomorrow is their second offering at 7pm, “Truest” by Megan Cohen, directed by Ellery Schaar. At the Gallery Cafe – 1200 Mason Street, San Francisco. Free and open to the public, with a $5.00 suggested donation in support of new play development at Custom Made. Food, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase!

2. Killing My Lobster’s most recent offering, Sex Battle written and directed and performed by many people more hilarious than me. Pay What You Can: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-pay-what-you-can-night-tickets-20912564042 or other nights: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sex-battle-tickets-20912351406

3. Tinderella from Faultline, because February deserves a Tinder play! Book by Rose Oser, Music by Christian B. Schmidt, Lyrics by Weston Scott and Directed by Rose Oser. http://www.faultlinetheater.com/#!tickets/cmt5

Don’t miss OVER THE RAINBOW, opening next Monday, only at Theater Pub!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing OVER THE RAINBOW!

Our next show is a delight! Be sure to come check it out!

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The mere mention of Lisa Frank often conjures daydreams of pencil cases, folders, erasers, notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. Of rainbow unicorns, ballerina bunnies, painting pandas, and glamorous kitties. But this cheerful aesthetic may not be all it seems.

In OVER THE RAINBOW, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez, a young Lisa Frank discovers a portal to another world, filled with all her stuffed animals come to life. Soon after arriving, Lisa is swept up in a whirlwind of candy, mushrooms, magical paint, murderous monkeys, a limbo battle, and comes face to face with an oppressive frog king. Join Theater Pub through the looking glass, and over the rainbow this February as she meets specious characters in this glittery, sugar-filled, and completely fabricated origin story.

Featuring performances by Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Calabrese, Andrew Chung, Danielle Doyle, Caitlin Evenson, Danielle Gray, Danielle Ishihara, and Christine Keating with movement direction by Liz Tenuto.

Playing February 15, 16, 22 and 23, performances are free, with a $10 suggested donation, and seating is first come, first serve.

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Embracing the Mirror, Part Two: Such Great Heights

Marissa Skudlarek follows up Ashley Cowan’s piece from yesterday with her own tall tales.

September, 2000. I am a 13-year-old high school freshman who dreams of theatrical stardom. My local community theater is holding auditions for Annie, seeking girls between the ages of 7 and 13 to play the orphans, and I beg my parents to let me try out.

“Okay,” they say, “but you realize you haven’t got a chance, right? The orphans in Annie need to be cute kids, but you don’t look like a cute kid anymore – you’re too tall.”

At 13, I am about 5’6”, a few inches below my final adult height of 5’8”. I argue that there are plenty of real-life 13-year-old girls who are 5’6”, and it stood to reason that one of them could’ve been in a Depression-era orphanage. There was nothing wrong with that logic, except that casting has its own shorthand. The orphans in Annie have to be cute kids, and the easiest way to convey that a character is young is to cast someone short.

If I’d been cast as a 5’6” orphan in Annie, my idea was to play the role as surly and truculent and resentful – since I’d be playing the oldest orphan, the one who’d been there the longest. Even as a young girl, I guess I’d absorbed the idea that tall women often play the bitch or the villainess. “I feel like unless I ask to read for a certain role, I am going to be handed sides for the ball-buster/ice queen/bitchy lawyer part,” says local actress Erika Bakse, 5’9”. “I don’t generally mind this because they are pretty fun roles — there’s a reason the majority of quotes in the recent New Yorker article about The Real Thing came from Charlotte, who is in only 3 scenes of the play. But it would be fun to get the opportunity to show other sides of myself. Interestingly, the one time I got to be more of an ingénue was in Stop Kiss, with a shorter Callie opposite me. Bisexuals/lesbians can be any height, I guess.”

(Full disclosure: last year, Katja Rivera and I cast Erika as a ball-busting feminist in my play Pleiades. Erika’s character was also supposed to be the oldest of the eight young women onstage, and her height probably helped her read that way to the audience, too.)

On this blog, we often talk about the difficulties facing female actors: too many aspirants and not enough roles. In such an environment, anything that makes a woman “difficult” to cast can turn into a permanent handicap. I therefore wonder how many tall women get dissuaded from acting, if prejudices along the lines of “The leading man always needs to be taller than the leading lady” mean that they’re not cast as frequently as their shorter sisters. By the time I got to college I was pretty sure that the odds were against my making it big as an actress, and I felt like part of that had to do with my height.

At the same time, college was when I came to terms with my height, and started to take pride in it. Instrumental in this was seeing Cate Blanchett play Hedda Gabler, in a production that began with a dumb-show in which Blanchett stalked around the stage for a minute or two. The stage was dimly lit and I was seated in the back row of the balcony, but Blanchett’s stage presence astounded me: her elegance, her dignity, her power, her height. Like me, she is 5’8″. I draw on my memory of her performance whenever I need a jolt of self-confidence about being a tall lady.

Me and the Desk Set ladies on audition night. Even slouching, I'm still taller than everyone.

Me and the Desk Set ladies on audition night. Even slouching, I’m still taller than everyone.

This year, when I played Elsa in the comedy The Desk Set, my four-inch heels and bouffant blonde wig made me the tallest person onstage. And there were several moments where my height became part of the joke: in my stage kiss with Alan Coyne (who commented that the wig and heels made me very intimidating); when I stared down my romantic rival, played by the petite brunette Kitty Torres; when I danced the tango with Andrew Calabrese, my breasts at the level of his eyes. It was fun to use my physicality in this way, though if I think about it too hard, I can start to have qualms: does this mean there’s something inherently ludicrous about tall women? And it seems less likely that I’d be asked to kiss a shorter actor in a scene that was meant to be earnest rather than comical.

Some roles are specifically earmarked for tall actresses. I get annoyed when women of average height play Rosalind in As You Like It, because the reason Rosalind gives for dressing up as a boy is “I am more than common tall.” And the catfight between Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a short-girl vs. tall-girl classic. (After our scene in The Desk Set, Kitty Torres and I are now hoping that someone will cast us as Hermia and Helena. Producers, call us!) Overall, though, in classical theater, there seems to be an unspoken rule that young actresses play ingénues and middle-aged actresses play queens. The difficulty is that we tend to think of ingénues as petite and queens as statuesque.

Local actress Valerie “Three-Time Helena” Weak, who is 5’10”, has these stories and tips:

I don’t think I’ve ever played opposite someone in a romantic onstage relationship who was shorter than me. I’ve definitely dealt with callbacks where we were paired according to height (like when none of the taller Noras got to read with the shorter Torvald) – and that happens even more often when they’re putting together ‘families’ or ‘couples’ for a callback at a commercial.

I’ve learned to make sure I wear flat shoes when I audition for shorter male directors – I’ve definitely had audition situations where a shorter male director is put off by my height in general. I also know to ask costume designers for rehearsal shoes ASAP if I’m going to be wearing a heel in the show – not so much for me to practice walking in them, but for the men who will be working with me to get ready for how much vertical stage space I’m going to take up, rather than that being one more thing for them to adjust to in tech week.

Let’s go back to 13-year-old Marissa. In the middle of writing this article, I procrastinated by rereading some old emails I sent to my high-school acting teacher, and happened upon this amazingly pertinent quote:

I was complaining to my mom about this and she said I should ask you. I read in Vanity Fair that this hot new talent, an 18-year-old actress called Anne Hathaway, had wanted to do Broadway but wasn’t cast because she was too tall. Her height? 5 foot 8. What I wanted to know is if, in your experience with various shapes and sizes of actors, height is a hindrance to actresses if they want to get cast. Because it would absolutely suck if that were the case. So superficial.

Even as a teen, it seems, I was worried about the plight of being a tall actress. My teacher responded with these words of wisdom:

The theater world runs the gamut from directors and agencies that cast specifically for looks, to directors and agencies that cast based on talent, and everywhere in between. Is your cousin dating the casting director? Did you schmooze with the right people? Has so-and-so told what’s-their-name about whozit who mentioned your work to the director? Did you perform remarkably? Was your audition scheduled after the director had a fight with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend? So many factors figure into casting that it is best to just do your best. Let the rejections roll off your back, and the acceptances be wonderful surprises. Height, weight, skin color, gender… there are a few things with which you are born… worry about the elements under your control. Are you well-rehearsed? Have you worked on making your instrument the best it can be? Did you sleep enough last night? Do you have good relations with your family and friends?

Which seems like good advice for anyone, be they old or young, male or female, short or tall.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and sometime actress, who enjoys playing the “Am I The Tallest Person In This Elevator” game whenever she’s at her day job. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.