The Five: Salon is a Fancy Word For Meeting

Anthony R. Miller checks in with his thoughts on Berkeley Rep’s Writers Salon.

Hey you guys, I attended Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor Writers Salon last night. I’m still not sure the what difference between a “salon” and ann “informational meeting” is, but it was essentially a chance to hear what exactly Berkeley Rep looks for in applications for its new play development program. I have some thoughts, and wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

Toast.
There was a self-serve toast bar. This is a thing. I had no idea.

What They’re Looking For
From what I gathered, what they’re looking for is an interesting person with an interesting idea, who has a really strong sense of what they want from their piece and the experience. So really think about what you’re trying to get out of the program. What questions about your play are you trying to answer? The application asks seven questions, and it was stressed that most important question is “Why this play right now?” Also, there’s an “is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” question. Answer it, take the opportunity to say something about your play you haven’t already.

What’s Not As Important
Don’t get too stressed out about a synopsis. A short description is fine and they expect things to change anyways. Write about the process, not the product. They’re not looking for a sales pitch. Also, first-time writers have been accepted in the past, so don’t be too worried about your resume. Also, don’t be intimidated by your lack of an MFA in writing. In this situation, it’s considered a plus because people with MFAs are considered to already have a network of folks and this program is considered another way to build that network.

Writers Are Weird
One thing I think people were hoping the Salon (still not sure what that means) would be that it wasn’t, was a meet and greet, an opportunity to meet other playwrights in the Bay Area. Now, it only took about 2 minutes to figure out this is OK. Writers are weird, at least most of us. Not all of us are sterling conversationalists. That’s why we have imaginary people talk for us using lines we put a lot of thought into. Admittedly, I’m probably more on the introvert side of the writer spectrum. So maybe not all writers are weird and socially awkward, but I sure am. So I’m not exactly falling over myself to meet other writers to disprove my own theory.

A Show Of Hands
Now if there is one thing from last night that I was critical of, it’s this: at the beginning, the woman in charge of the program asked how many people attended the last Salon. There were three, which was clearly not what they expected. The last salon had 40+ people and so did this one. They clearly didn’t expect such a turnout. Her exact words were “We had no idea there were so many people locally who identified as playwrights,” and my snarky inner voice said “Yeah, we know.” It was if she accidentally confirmed what a lot of independent artists in the Bay Area already feel: that large Bay Area theatre companies have no idea we exist and really weren’t looking anyways. But that’s not entirely true, the whole purpose of these Salons are for local writers to make themselves known. We were told this is part of a larger effort to engage local artists and that there would be other events that would be more about play development and meet and greets. So sure, we would all love it if Berkeley Rep and ACT had talent scouts at every indie theatre show, looking for writers within the massive community that already exists. But this should also be seen as a call to playwrights and all theatre makers to make sure we are doing everything to make ourselves known. There is a level of self-promotion that a writer needs to be successful. We can’t sit around waiting to be found; we have to put ourselves out there, leave calling cards, and let them know we exist. So while it’s great that larger companies are finally creating programs that reach out to the community at large, we need to reach back. Seek out the opportunity as opposed to waiting the opportunity to seek you out.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer; you can keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rob Ready

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rob Ready about PianoFight, Theater Pub, Short Lived, and $5,000 in prize money!

I caught up with Rob Ready, the Artistic Director of PianoFight, this week to talk about ShortLived, the short play festival that includes 36 pieces by “indy artists of all stripes”.

The competition brings a $5,000 cash prize on the line as competitors duke it out over six regular season rounds and then one championship road. Each round lasts a week and has four performances. The short plays are scored by audience members and the highest scoring piece of each round clinches a spot in the championship round. We’re currently in week five of ShortLived with the championship round right around the corner. The winner will receive a full-length production in addition to the $5,000 cash prize.

Rob gave me background on ShortLived, how it compares to other new play development programs out there, and some of his favorite moments.

Barbara: What’s your background in theater?

Rob: Performing since I was a kid, school and community theater growing up, BFA from NYU Tisch and artistic directoring PianoFight ever since. I had gigs at ODC in marketing and Z Space in biz dev and producing random shows. Oh and I play a drunk Llama every year for Theater Pub. And THAT’S IT.

Barbara: How did ShortLived come about?

Rob: We were coming to the end of our first year running Studio 250 at Off-Market (our old venue), and were talking to Point Break Live about renting three months. We were stoked because it was our first year and we ran a ton of shows and after nine months we were tired. But then they took a tour of the space, said, “This won’t work.” And they bailed. So we had to come up with something that could fill three months and that we actually wanted to do. So we came up with ShortLived, a show that changed each week, and that audiences had a hand in deciding, and where the prize was legit – a full-length production the following year. It’s definitely a slog, but the experience of putting on new plays every week for three months is one that has shaped me as a performer and producer.

Rob-Ready

Barbara: What is the thing you like most about ShortLived and how have audiences reacted?

Rob: The instant community. You bring together a ton of very different artists, and they compete creatively – basically you don’t get any phoned in performances, because there are only four shows per round and there’s money and resources and bragging rights on the line. Watching your peers work to actively be better every night is a cool thing to see. When everybody else is pushing to be better, you push to be better, and there’s an interesting bond that comes from that.

On the audience side too, the act of scoring elicits real opinions and discussion from audience members who have a natural instinct to compare notes during and after the show. Because folks are directly asked to evaluate pieces critically, the chatter after shows tends to be pretty high level, so strangers who happened to sit next to each other in the show will end up having beers at a table after discussing why they scored one piece higher than another. Again, it’s another cool thing to see.

Barbara: How does it compare to other new play development opportunities/venues? What does it offer that others don’t?

Rob: I’m sure there are other festivals that do similar things to ShortLived, but seems like the main differences are that ShortLived:

– gets all 36 plays off book and on their feet
– provides critical audience feedback for artists
– has no submission fee =)
– is hyper local
– lets audiences decide the winner and which plays advance
– offers a legit grand prize of cash money AND a show

Barbara: Favorite moments – how about three, from ShortLived?

Rob: These are gonna be more personal for me, but here ya go:
– In ShortLived 2 or 3, Duncan Wold, Christy Crowley and I put together a 10-minute musical in one day. It didn’t win, but it did really well – and working that fast was very cool.

– Performing Kirk Shimano’s play Inner Dialogue in ShortLived 4. It took second place in ShortLived 3 in 2011, and because the rules were different, it performed every weekend for 13 weeks. So when we brought back the festival after 144 Taylor St opened, it felt like it was a good call to bring back that piece and enter it into the Wildcard Round. Hadn’t acted on stage with Dan Williams since we’d done the piece originally, so being able to perform with my friend and business partner in our new theater was pretty special.

– Producing Megan Cohen’s first play in ShortLived 1.

Barbara: Anything you’re looking forward to this time around?

Rob: The Finals. They are always amazing. They sell out like crazy, the plays are really strong, the crowds are amped, the performers are jacked too and the whole week is just really fun.

Barbara: Plugs/shout-outs for upcoming performances of friends’ work?

Rob: Adventures in Tech by Stuart Bousel and directed by Allison Page. Also Terro-Rama 2 by Anthony Miller and Claire Rice and directed by Colin Johnson. Maggie’s Riff, written by John Lipsky, adapted by his son Jonah with musical direction by his other son, Adam, directed by Faultline AD Cole Ferraiuolo. And yes – they are all here at PianoFight!

For more on ShortLived at PianoFight, click here!

The Five: Bruuuce

Anthony R. Miller checks in with tales of The Boss.

Hey you guys, It’s been a pretty crazy week or so. We just wrapped up TERROR-RAMA auditions, which went incredibly well. My play, “We Were Acting Like We Owned The Place Before It was Cool” will be in week 4 of ShortLived. Daredevil Season 2 is friggin great. And the basement at PianoFight is actually this really fun intersection of Bay Area theatre where at any given time, there are people rehearsing, auditioning, or running around in pasties. It’s a magical Place. But Last Sunday I got to go with my Dad to see Bruce Springsteen perform at Oracle Arena. I have many feelings, coincidentally, there are five.

Really? “The River?”

The Concert was billed as a full performance of “The River” with some greatest hits. Now, for those that don’t own every Springsteen record ever made, The River is a decidedly Pop record, the themes are bigger and broader. But I would hesitate to put it in the Pantheon of his greatest work. I mean, that’s just me. It’s not his most famous record, he never claimed it to be his favorite, but it does have a few of his bigger hits like “Hungry Heart”, “Prove It All Night” and of course the sad-ass but kinda beautiful in its melancholy story telling, “The River”. Why he decided to tour this record in its entirety, I do not know. Maybe it was just an excuse to tour, which works for me. Bruce Springsteen is one of the greatest live performers in the history of music, so if he’s doing a concert, you should just go.

Best Bachelorette Party Ever

All sorts of people like Bruce, he’s universal dangit. One of my favorite things to do at concerts is look at other people reacting to the show, observing their experience and connection to the music. On this night a big group of women were sitting in front of us that were obviously part of a bachelorette party. NowI have to assume the Bride to be was a huge fan, I mean why else would someone celebrate their last moments of single-ness at a Springsteen concert. Now the fact that they were at this concert was reason enough for me to assume they were roughly my age (cough cough, mid to late thirties cough cough) Another dead giveaway was at the beginning of the concert they were driknig, dancing and rocking out out. But as the concert progresses, they slowly sat down, danced every now and then, and one of them was actually asleep by the end. But not the Bride people, the Bride was there to get the eff down. She never sat down, not once. She was dressed in a tiara and a black shirt with “Bride” bedazzled on the front.The was not a moment when she wasn’t pressed against the rail with a beer in one hand and the other hand waving in the air. She never every word to every song and for all intents and purposes, there was nobody else there, it was just her and Bruce. I can only speculate what the show meant to her. “The River” has a lot of coming of age songs. So maybe for her that night was saying goodbye to her old life, preparing to move on to a new era. At this point, she is assumedly married, so congrats to her, here’s to hoping the wedding reception featuring lots of dancing to “Tenth Avenue Free-Out”

We Should All Strive To Be This Awesome At Age 65

At Age 65, Springsteen played a three hour set, featuring “The River” and then another hour and fifteen minutes of greatest hits. This guy has unmatched energy, he’s a friggin powerhouse. There is something so joyful and rewarding about watching this guy perform. Maybe it’s because you get to watch someone who is truly doing the thing that makes him happiest. It’s the kind of joy you only get in sharing something that is special to you with thousands of people who feel the same way. But man, at age 65, Bruce puts most 30 year olds to shame. It’s unreal.

The Religious Experience That is “Thunder Road”

Fun Fact, since I was 14 “Thunder Road” has been one of my favorite songs ever. It’s just a perfect friggin song. The lyrics are expressive and descriptive without being super literal. It’s a musical adventure making the most boring and mundane life sound epic. It’s about how any moment of our lives can feel epic and important, fueled by the importance of now, the desire to leave to move on, to be able to accept you won’t be what you thought you’d be, but there is always possibility in this life. So on this night, I finally saw this song performed live. And as those first few notes of piano and harmonica start wafting through the arena, the song feels new, like I’ve never heard it before, but I still know every word. It’s exactly the experience we hope for when we something live. That you are so captivated by what you’re watching, you can’t think of anything else. The only thing that matters is the words you are hearing, and the person saying them. It was like seeing a monument, or going to Paris or something. It’s not until the climaxes in a storm of piano, guitar, and saxophone that I realize this something I always wanted to see. And in a small way, my life is different, because of that experience. The experience that is everything you hoped it would be, this is what I imagined hearing this song live would be. In this moment, I am being rewarded for loving this song.

Growin’ Up

So, as I rocket into middle age, I’ve been contemplating the nature of getting older. It’s not easy for everybody, the world we know changes at a crazy pace in your thirties. Priorities change, people move, get married, have babies. They stop being who you knew them to be. The notion of accepting you are not young anymore can be daunting. But The fact is, as I’m sitting here writing this, looking back on a really great week, thinking about how much fun that concert was and all the things I did right to experience these things, I smile. The fact is, I only miss the energy and sheer determination I had in my mid-twenties, the ability to obsess on one thing. I prefer older me, older me has the insight to appreciate his position in life. I think of sitting with my Dad and how far we’ve come in our ever changing relationship. I think of a 65 year old man on stage who gives the middle finger to old age every night for three hours. I think of things that I’m so happy that I got to see or experience and hope there is time for more. I think of the Bride singing the songs of her past to welcome her future. I think less about the things that are gone, and more about how lucky I am to have things that are still here.

Well, my feet they finally took root in the earth, But I got me a nice little place in the stars.
And I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car”

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer who isn’t always this sappy. Keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78

The Five: Falling Short

Anthony R. Miller checks in with…some stuff…I guess

Hey you guys, for whatever reason, I’ve been struggling to come up with any epic 5-part articles about anything important, or anything. I’m very good at talking myself out such things. Every now and then it’ll occur to me to make some grand statement about the state of theatre or what we can do in the Bay, but then this voice in my head injects. It always says the same thing, “Who the fuck are you?” Sure, I could write some kind of manifesto and use this blog as a soapbox for bomb-throwy articles, but like who am I? I’m just some dude who puts on shows, I’ve never really considered myself an authority on anything. Most days I lack the hubris to criticize anyone with the gumption to produce theatre in this town, If you’re doin’ the damn thing, I support you. So here’s the truth, I got nothin this week, I mean, I have things but not five things. It’s like two things, but they’re quality things. So, yeah, I apologize, I’ve let you all down. I will make a concerted effort these next two weeks to have an opinion on something that I can express without sounding a like a dickhead. Or at least I’ll think of five interesting things to say.

Go See “Over The Rainbow”

Last night I caught the newest Theatrepub show, “Over The Rainbow”, a bizarre sort-of tribute to Lisa Frank. It closes tonight, and you should really see it. Tonya Narvaez has outdone herself as the writer and director of this crazy-ass drug addled fairy tale. Not to mention Andrew Chung’s greatest performance to date as a beleaguered frog king who drips with genuine pathos. (I marvel at how legit that last statement sounds, considering I am talking about a grown man portraying a stuffed frog come to life.) So do yourself a favor, go to Pianofight tonight, order a few beers (it helps) and a basket of fries, kick back and go on a magic carpet ride of weird, it’s an hour well spent.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION
In the last two weeks a whole crapload of information for TERROR-RAMA ii: PROM NIGHT has come out. It’s all on the website and you should check it out immediately. There’s the hilarious video “Stoned Horror”, our completely rad poster and AUDITION SIGN UPS!!! Yes, yes, yes, you can audition to be part of the fun and join our cast of creeps and weirdos. Auditions are March 20 and 21 at Pianofight, so go to www.awesometheatre.org RIGHT NOW and pick an audition time. Or tell someone about it, spread the word.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer and Producer who usually has more to say, follow him on twitter, @armiller78.

The Five: New Theatre-isms

Anthony R. Miller checks in to add some new words to your theatrical vocabulary.

Hey you guys, we all know the basics of theatre terminology, up is down, down is up, right is left blah blah blah. But after a few years you tend to create your own Theatre-isms to describe different aspects of putting on a show. Your own insider lingo, so today, here’s a few of my personal favorite to add to your day to day conversations. Remarkably, there are five.

Shitshow– A production that looks fine from the audience perspective, but a whirling storm of chaos and disorganization behind the scenes.

Example: “I have a friend on the crew and she says it’s a total shitshow backstage.”

Turd Rolled in Glitter– A very good production of a very bad script.

Example: “I was really impressed with the production itself, the actors, the sets, the costumes, but the play itself is SO BAD, they didn’t polish the turd, they straight up rolled it in glitter”

Method-Nerd– An actor that is obsessed with their process. Decides early on what their characters favorite meal is and eats it before each performance, does 2 hours of breathing exercises, has taken every acting class and 3 day Meisner workshop imaginable. Takes character shoes home, so they can walk around in them. Requests to be let into rehearsal hall an hour early to do tai-bo in perfect silence, stands in front of mirror closing their eyes, breathing in and yelling “Awake!”

Example: “The actor who played the baker was amazing.” “Yeah he’s kind of a method nerd, to prepare for the role he went to baking school. On the upside we get fresh cinnamon rolls before every show.”

Running for Mayor– The act of increasing public appearances at other people’s events and shows in order to not look like a dick when you’re promoting the crap out of your own show in 2 months.

Example: “Anthony sure has been around a lot, I usually don’t see him at this many events.” “Oh he has a big fundraiser coming up, he’s totally running for Mayor right now.”

Tom Cruise School of Acting– An actor who gives an emotionally genuine performance but never really creates a character outside of themselves. You believe the character is sad or happy or in pain, but they just play themselves.

Example: “Wow I totally believed she was a jet pilot with a tortured past.” “Sure but it was just her acting as if she was a sad jet pilot, not like another person, total Tom Cruise School of Acting”

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, producer and all around wise-ass, keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and @armiller78 on twitter.

Theater Around The Bay: Writers Talking About Morrissey

With a somewhat heavy heart, we bring you some thoughts from the writers of the upcoming Morrissey Plays.

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” - Morrissey

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” – Morrissey

Who the heck are you, Morrissey Play writer?

I’m Libby Emmons. My plays include I Am Not an Allegory (iamnotanallegoryplay.com, upcoming Under Saint Marks, March 2016, NYC), How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts (Festival of the Offensive, NYC 2014, winner “Most Offensive”), “Soft Little Song Like Doves,” (upcoming Best Short Plays, 2015, Smith & Krause), & many more. Co-founder of the Sticky short play series (stickyseries.live, upcoming Lovecraft Bar, April 2016, NYC), and blogs the story of her life at li88yinc.com. So many thank you’s to Stuart Bousel for including me in the show, & to Morrissey, for seeing me through my teenage years relatively unharmed.

I’m David Robson. I have a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. I was a director, adapter, and actor, in The Twilight Zone series at the Dark Room Theatre (RIP), which also produced my plays The Night and Zola-X. This is actually my Theater Pub debut!

I’m Susan Petrone, author of the novels Throw Like a Woman (2015), A Body at Rest (2009), and the forthcoming The Super Ladies (2016 or 2017 depending on when I get the manuscript to the publisher). My short fiction has been published by Glimmer Train and Featherproof Books, among others. I also blog about my beloved Cleveland Indians at the ESPN-affiliated blog ItsPronouncedLajaway.com.

Pete Bratach: I’m a guy who has been around long enough to have experienced the Smiths as an angst-ridden, morose teen, long before that whole Emo schtick sucked in the latest generation of outcasts and the disaffected. But “Girlfriend in a Coma” was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Smiths; I know, I know, it was serious. Oh, I live in SF and write for a living.

Allie Costa: I’m an actress, writer, director, and singer. When I’m not in a theatre, I’m on a film or TV set. I’ve been writing stories and songs for as long as I can remember. My earliest audiences were my mom, my sister, and my cat. That audience has now expanded; it’s mind-blowing to realize my work as both an performer and as a writer has been seen in places I’ve never been, like Scotland and London. My play Femme Noir is currently running in New Jersey, while The Intervention Will Be Televised is having its world premiere production in Los Angeles.

Anthony Miller: I was born and raised in San Jose. I performed in the Rocky Horror Picture Show for several years, and then I ran a poetry slam, now I write weird cult plays. I am a man mired in sub-sub cultures. I currently live in Berkeley with my girlfriend and two cats that cant seem to stop eating.

I’m Alan Olejniczak, a San Francisco playwright, Theater Bay Area ISC Board Member, and a company member of We Players. Last spring, I started the fledgling At Last Theatre, with Rik Lopes, and premiered Present Tense at The ACT Costume Shop. Last autumn, City Lights Theater Company presented my short play if-then(-else) and San Francisco Olympians Festival VI premiered my ten-minute play Hylas. This spring, I’m producing my play Dominion and participating in the next San Francisco Olympian’s Festival VII with Lethe.

I’m Barry Eitel, an Oakland playwright and a recipient of the 2016 TITAN Award for playwrights from TBA. I was the Head Writer for Boxcar Theatre’s The Speakeasy, leading a team of nine to create a breathing novel set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. I was the Fall 2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where I created an interactive play for young audiences. My short plays have been produced across the country and have been published by Smith & Kraus. My play The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident will be produced by FaultLine Theatre at PianoFight in August, 2016. My website is www.BarryEitel.com.

Kylie Murphy: I am a creative writing and filmmaking student from New Jersey. My first short play, World Peace, premiered in New York last summer. I apparently cannot write any play without the phrase “world peace” in the title, and am working closely with a professional to figure out why that is.

How/when did you first discover Morrissey?

Pete: I first discovered Morrissey through the Smiths back in high school when Hatful of Hollow was released.

Libby: In 9th grade no one understood me except the college radio station from the University of Rhode Island which only came in after much fidgeting with the location of the boom box in my room and one day after school they played “Reel Around the Fountain”, and they played “November Spawned a Monster”, and my heart was filled with the most joyous melancholy and I knew I was home.

Alan: I dated a guy briefly in college who introduced me to Meat is Murder. Tragically, my love was unrequited and my life became a glorious Smith’s single. I played the album over and over until my roommate, so worried about my spiraling depression, finally broke the cassette tape. Strangely, one of my fondest memories of Morrissey is seeing the Queen is Dead tour. I worked at the venue and after the sound check, the band casually sat on the edge of the stage. I bravely walked up to Morrissey, but could form no words. I stood there stupidly with my mouth open, until they all started laughing. I walked away, humiliated but delighted I got so close to my idol.

Kylie: I discovered Morrissey while reading the coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was fourteen. After the narrator famously placed “Asleep” by The Smiths twice on a mix tape, I listened to it endlessly and it was perfect. (What is my final cliché count?)

Anthony: I first saw the video for “Tomorrow” on 120 Minutes on MTV, followed by “Panic”, but it wasn’t until “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I get” that I was truly hooked. I promptly shoplifted a copy of “ Vauxhall and I” from my local tower records, thus began the love affair.

Susan: I lived at home during undergrad. My cousin Nora was studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art and lived with us. She (or one of her ultra-cool art school friends) had a homemade tape of Louder Than Bombs, which I “borrowed” and never returned.

Barry: I went through a time in high school obsessing over ’80s college rock, and there he was alongside Echo & The Bunnymen and Husker Du.

What do you love about Morrissey?

Alan: I love the man because he’s quirky, passionate, unafraid, and misunderstood. He’s unapologetic about his music and his views of the music industry, world politics, and religion.

Barry: His plainspoken poetry that would get destroyed at a writers’ workshop but works so terrifically set to music.

Libby: Back pocket daffodils, and the voice, and the emotion that is cold and emotionful at the same time, and the humour, how everthing is a joke on the world, but also on me, and how satisfying it is to be in the fray and be an observant bystander at the same time.

Kylie: I don’t know how to separate what I love from what I hate. Much like separating Morrissey the musician from Morrissey the man from Morrissey the demigod, it’s impossible. I love to hate him and hate to love him. He can be so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, and yet I would like to rip that tongue out every once in a while.

Susan: He embodies the human paradox. We’re all of us wracked with self-doubt about our looks and abilities. At the same time, we’re all secretly convinced we’re smarter and better-looking than anyone we know. Morrissey lays that dichotomy right out in the open. Plus his lyrics are always clever and often hilarious.

Anthony: The overwhelming combo of melody and melancholy, it’s sad, introspective, and insecure but with a great beat you can dance. I find his music comforting under any circumstance. His music embraces aspects of our personalities that we are led to believe are bad or self-indulgent, but he shows us that these feelings are completely necessary.

Pete: He and Johnny Marr made a powerful songwriting team. That hair! That croon! That vow of celibacy!

What do you hate about Morrissey?

Barry: That posers sing Smiths songs at karaoke to get laid.

Alan: There is nothing I hate about the man.

Pete: His solo work pales in comparison to the Smiths. Sometimes his tremulous voice grates on me.

Kylie: When answering what I hate about Morrisey, I felt a little lost, so I turned to the internet. The top Google searches for “Morrisey is” are “a genius”, “vegan”, “dead”, “not vegan”, and “rude”. I think that says it better than anyone can. In the end, I believe that the only person who could be Morrissey is Morrissey, because he can afford it.

Susan: We all know that we shouldn’t invest too much emotional energy in what other people think of us. Morrissey is evidence of the dangers of completely not giving a shit what the rest of the world thinks.

Anthony: He is kind of a pompous old man now, he doesn’t wear self-confidence well.

Libby: I would say that I hated that time I saw him play and he bailed on the last few songs because he was having a drama freak out, or didn’t feel well, or whatever, but he also sang “Angel Angel Down We Go Together”, and I reached my arms out as far as they could go and felt loved for real, so I don’t even hate him for that, or for moving to LA.

Why do you think Morrissey is important?

Kylie: I’m not sure if I think Morrissey is important, because nothing is important. That’s an answer Morrissey would give. Just kidding, Morrissey would say Morrissey is important.

Alan: The Smiths were one of the most influential rock bands of the 80’s. They resisted being pigeonholed in this ever-evolving music scene. Punk rock turned hardcore, disco evolved into new wave, and rock detoured into heavy metal. Morrissey and Johnny Marr resisted all of these music trends with there own unique sound. The Smiths were never mainstream or found commercial success. They’ve always been underground. The Smiths were remarkable for never having a bad album or a bad song. Since the breakup, Morrissey continues to perform with a loyal following, despite uneven solo albums and infrequent tours. While an unremarkable vocalist, Morrissey has an amazing stage presence – both sexy and commanding. Morrissey’s greatest strength and continued legacy is his brilliant lyrics that range from droll and pithy to self-consciously maudlin. Morrissey is important because he is a rock legend, an icon, with a career that spans four decades.

Anthony: Hs songs create unity through alienation. As fans, we are able to be alone, together.

Susan: His lyrical and vocal style have influenced a wide range of bands and songwriters from Colin Meloy to Noel Gallagher to Sam Smith (who even ripped off the quiff). The meek shall inherit the earth. The misfits and weirdos get Morrissey.

Pete: He gave a voice to the legions of depressed and disaffected youth of the world.

Barry: He made sadness a fine thing to sing about–not “cool” sad, not “look at me I’m sad” sad, not “this world is so crazy” sad, but “I’m afraid I’m totally lame and no one actually likes me” sad.

Libby: I think he’s important as a discovery; for a person who needs to hear what he’s crooning, who feels all those things and has need to have those feelings in surround sound, simply to prevent exploding, Morrissey is essential.

Kylie: I think he is important so that each of us can identify with him at some point in our loneliness, and then find out he is just a guy who has said some bad things and move on with our lives.

David: I can really only talk about Morrissey with a timeline so…

1980s. Morrissey and The Smiths could be seen at school on t-shirts worn by all of the very, very serious kids who’d aligned themselves with alternative culture. I recognized that “How Soon is Now?” was held together by some terrific riffs, but there was something off-putting about the frontman’s…affectedness? Gloominess? The music from nearby Washington, DC’s punk scene seemed a more practical response to the problems faced by my generation, and the industrial/darkwave music out of Chicago was more fun to dance and fuck to. No Smiths or Morrissey for me, then.

1990s. The college’s weekly lively arts publication highlights the spectacularly insane contents of a press release announcing the coming of KILL UNCLE, Morrissey’s second solo album. Among the highlights: “Morrissey is clearly out to shock you with his new album. Just look at the title: KILL UNCLE. See? You’re shocked!” A few years later Morrissey’s VAUXHALL & I marks a pleasing new plateau for Morrissey, and meets with great critical and commercial success. The single “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” turns into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy as it’s played at least once an hour on every goddamn radio station I listen to.

2000s. A noticeably-older Morrissey holds a tommy gun so gracefully on the cover of YOU ARE THE QUARRY that he seems to have pirouetted off the set of a John Woo film. I don’t buy the album (though a friend assures me that “First of the Gang To Die” is one for the ages) but the cover sends me. There’s something tremendously reassuring about Morrissey brandishing a machine gun, especially halfway through the second Bush administration. I’m pleased he’s still around, though damned if I understand why.

2010s. SF Theatre Pub puts a call out for submissions to The Morrissey Plays. I get cranky that they’ve picked an artist with whom I have so little affinity, but simply shrug and say ah well. A week later ask myself where I would start, and call up a YouTube recording of “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” And all the doors between Moz and me just disappear. I can see that crappy seaside town, I exult in the greyness overhead, I feel like I’ve lived there, and yet I can see it so clearly thru the eyes of Morrissey’s narrator; his ennui sounds overblown thanks to a downright Wall-of-Sound production, but the sensuality that informs it is the real deal, and THAT is where Moz and I finally connect. And over a couple of short sessions I find a play set against that grey landscape, populated with Morrissey’s characters and mine, pursuing what I find in the song to what feels to me like a natural conclusion. I can’t pretend that I know Morrissey better than anyone, or even particularly well, but I’m glad, after all of these years, to have finally had such a thrilling introduction.

Allie: I was inspired to write How Soon is Now? after hearing a friend gush about Morrissey the day after she attended his concert with two of her friends, dear friends she’s known since high school. As she told me about her experience at the concert, she positively lit up, smiling so broadly, and I could easily see her as a teenager, moved by the music and bonding with these girls who would become her lifelong friends. I wrote the piece that evening and I shared it with her the next day. When this piece was selected for The Morrissey Plays, she was the first person I told.

Okay. Five MUST HAVE SONGS on the Ultimate Morrissey Mix.

Kylie:
1. “Asleep” Obviously.
2. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” I used this song in a school project where I created a musical companion to Crime and Punishment— you’d be surprised just how well Morrissey and Raskolnikov fit together.
3. “How Soon Is Now?” For the longest time, I thought that he was singing “I am human and I need to belong”. But who was I kidding, Morrissey doesn’t need to belong anywhere.
4. “Half A Person” Of course he says the YWCA and not the YMCA. Of course.
5. “Asleep” Twice, in honor of the book that brought Morrissey into my life.

Pete:
1. “Hand In Glove” Because the sun shines out of our behinds!
2. “How Soon Is Now?” Despite its relative ubiquity, Johnny Marr’s guitar on this song is amazing, and the lyrics were so fitting for an angsty, misfit teenager.
3. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” Again, Johnny Marr’s guitarwork, plus lyrics so over the top they’re funny.
4. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” Another anthem for an angsty drunken teenager in college.
5. “What Difference Does It Make?” Songs that are questions are cool.

Allie:
1. “How Soon is Now?” is my favorite song by The Smiths/Morrissey, probably because it was the first I heard, but also because of its surround-sound effect and fantastic groove.
2. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” Always reminds me of my friend Holly Cupala, whose novel used it as the working title. The book was later published under the title Tell Me a Secret.
3. “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” Always reminds me of Dream Academy’s instrumental cover as featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
4. “Reel Around the Fountain” Check out the acoustic cover version by Duncan Sheik, too.
5. “Girlfriend in a Coma” The juxtaposition of a poppy music line + creepy lyrics.

Alan:
1. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” This song reminds me of the freewheeling melancholia of my youth – when the smallest problems loomed large and feeling sorry for your self was a badge worn with honor.
2. “Billy Budd” For me, this driving song is the painful remembrance of being young, closeted, and desperately in love.
3. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” What twenty old doesn’t occasionally wallow in anguish and regret, yet desperately clinging to the hope of eternal love?
4. “Headmaster Ritual” In the golden age of Manchester schools, not unlike a good parochial education, helped students build strong character through fear, violence and humiliation.
5. “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” This song is hilarious – besides who has not loved the wrong kind of guy?

Susan:
1. “Ask” I used to sing this to my daughter when I was giving her a bath because it’s just ridiculously catchy.
2. “All You Need Is Me” Because I love to sing along with the line “I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I ever dreamed about.”
3. “Throwing My Arms Around Paris” In the song “Lush Life” Billy Strayhorn wrote “A week in Paris would ease the bite of it,” and so it would.
4. “Sing Your Life” This is one of three songs I want played at my funeral (no joke).
5. “Now My Heart Is Full” Simply because it’s lovely.

Barry:
1. “Panic” How come people don’t still say “Hang the DJ”?
2. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” You aren’t too cool to appreciate the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
3. “Shoplifters of the World Unite” A song from the viewpoint of the most pathetic security guard ever.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” There may have never been a truer thing ever said.
5. “This Charming Man” I wrote my play about this one so….

Libby:
1. “These Things Take Time” Because it’s the song we sang that one summer when we watched old movies in my bedroom, shunned the glorious singing bird sunshine, drank red wine, and lay the whole day in bed.
2. “Sheila Take a Bow” Because I saw the video for this on my local cable access channel when I was growing up, and some kids did a video show, and they played this and Morrissey does that bend forward thing and I knew I wasn’t alone.
3. “Driving Your Girlfriend Home” Because I’ve been the girlfriend.
4. “Last Night on Maudlin Street” Because it makes me feel like I’m leaving my child hood home forever all over again, and how life hurts, but is beautiful, and how even hurting is beautiful, and love is real, and really possible, even if it’s not always realized, and being alive itself is enough reason to stay that way.
5. “How Soon is Now” Because it’s the classic, and DJ Bobby Startup used to play it at Revival when I was a kid in Philly, and then when I got to know him years later and he dj’d Bar Noir where we did our first Sticky show he would play it just for us, even though otherwise he’d do the dance tunes, and we’d get up on the tables and sing at the top of our lungs and feel like the world was ours.

Anthony:
1. “This Charming Man” So many good memories associated with this song.
2. “November Spawned a Monster” I can sing this at the top of my lungs and just feel better, even if I didn’t feel that bad beforehand.
3. “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get” This is the song that hooked me.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” Because it’s the story of my life. And that’s Ok.
5. “Still Ill (John Peel/Hatful of Hollow Version)” It’s very much a portrait of how I feel at this point in my life, I am not who I used to be and the world has changed, and it’s equal parts good and bad.

Don’t miss The Morrissey Plays, opening on Monday!

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.