Theater Around The Bay: They say that “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal” , but like…don’t actually Steal Stuff, that is Bad

Playwright Peter Hsieh weighs in on content theft and trying to be a good member of the creation community.

I like Jessie Eisenberg. I can’t explain why but I always have. There was an interview he did on a late night show, something like Letterman or maybe Leno, where he talks about his acting debut in a grade school production of Annie/Oliver Twist. He explains that they did half of Annie and half of Oliver Twist in order to avoid paying royalties and goes on about the line changes and random additional characters courtesy of the drama teacher so that all of the kids had parts. The interview was funny, they laughed about it, the audience laughed, I laughed.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I’m sure Jessie Eisenberg’s school didn’t make a killing off ticket sales, his drama teacher isn’t wasn’t lauded as some sort of visionary who changed the landscape of theatre, and the victims, the creators of Annie and Oliver Twist, will probably be okay. So is this right? No. As much as I’d love to see a Sunday in the park/Grease, this isn’t right and it should not be condoned (however small the damages).

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Enter Josh Ostrovsky aka TheFatJewish of Instagram fame who has recently been put on blast for stealing other people’s jokes and passing it off as his own. When I first caught wind of this I didn’t really know who he was and like most people thought ‘what’s the big deal?’ The nature of social media in great part sharing and reposting things, most people do it. So what’s the big deal if somebody gets a few more likes and follows because they’re the Meryl Streep Swag Lord of finding funny stuff on the internet and reposting it? In the case of Ostrovsky ‘a few more likes and follows’ equates to 5.7 million Instagram followers, a book deal, a modeling contract, numerous brand sponsorships , recently a deal with Hollywood mega talent firm, Creative Artists Agency; all this from blatantly ripping off other people’s material and passing it off as his own. His Instagram account is composed almost exclusively of comedic text and memes that he copy, cropped, and pasted from other people’s accounts sans credit or compensation. He is valued at 6000 dollars a post while a majority of the people he steals from don’t get paid for their original material and aren’t represented by CAA.

Original Joke.

Original Joke.

I’m not going to go into detail about what a talentless, unoriginal, piece of filth Ostrovsky is or give examples of his theft because Gawker and Rolling Stone both have really well written articles that do, and you should check it out if you are curious, but what I will say is that there should definitely be repercussions to dissuade others from following suit. According to Splitsider, Comedy Central has canceled a Television deal with Ostrovsky and in my opinion others involved with him should do the same in order to send a message loud and clear that stealing other people’s work is wrong and should not be rewarded.

…and this

…and this

I recently talked with a fellow playwright who mentioned she will never submit her plays to any competition that requires blind submissions, which is the play with the author’s identifying information wiped, because she is afraid someone might steal her play. I’ve been pretty fortuitous as a playwright and sometimes director. I have never had (or at least found of about) my play stolen or performed without my consent and I’ve only had my one of my plays butchered and one production that blew up in my face over the 50+ that I’ve had the pleasure of being part of. Personally, I’m okay with submitting to festivals and competitions that require blind submissions. Most of the submissions I find on the internet through NYCPlaywrights blog and Play Submission Helper and I also make these submissions via the internet. I’ve heard stories from playwrights who have had their plays performed and even published without their consent and of instances where writers, directors, or actors have failed to get credited. It’s tough.

Social Media allows emerging artists a lot of great opportunities, opportunities to share and promote their works to new audiences, to connect and collaborate with other artists; but with great opportunity comes great (or rather vary levels of) peril. The internet is like the Wild West but with a lot more stupid people and pictures of pets and stuff. Even something as trivial as posting funny pictures and jokes has become a topic of controversy. That someone like Ostrovsky is able to parlay his ill-gotten social media fame into a lucrative comedy career while the people he ripped off receive no credit is something to worry about. Concluding my rant, what can we do to be socially responsible artists? I’m going to close with a few of the basics:

1) Be original. Produce awesome, challenging work that you can call your own.
2) Don’t steal other people’s work. Just don’t do it.
3) Don’t be a dick on the internet. It’s not cool.
4) Community. Be part of it. Create it. Having a positive community of artists is invaluable.
5) Give Credit when it’s due. Do it. Just do it.
6) If you run talent firm, don’t represent content thieves.
7) Support your fellow artists. When you see something awesome tell your friends, share via social media, the artist(s) will appreciate it.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

Everything Is Already Something Week 57: How to Be an Artist in 11 Easy Steps (or 1 Really Hard Step)

Allison Page is an artist. OR IS SHE?

STEP 1:
BECOME INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO BE AROUND
Your friends, acquaintances and total strangers are sure to notice you’re becoming an artist the moment you start parting your hair really far on one side and talking about yourself all the time. Good talking points are — “No, I wouldn’t know about that. I’m just always writing, you know?” as well as, “Don’t you just love Brecht?”

STEP 2:
DON’T SMILE EVER BECAUSE ART ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
If you’re going to be an artist, you better turn that smile upside down. Art is hard, man. It’s supposed to be a struggle. You think Edgar Allan Poe was having a GOOD TIME? Oh yeah, Van Gogh was just YUCKIN’ IT UP. No. If you’re going to art, and you want to art GOOD…you can’t smile. Everybody knows that.

Vincent Van Gogh: Laugh Riot.

Vincent Van Gogh: Laugh Riot.

STEP 3:
CONVINCE YOURSELF YOU’RE DONE LEARNING
Hey, you know everything there is to know about your art. Don’t ever let anyone convince you there might be more than one idea about something. Someone else makes some art? YOU MUST SEE NO MERIT IN IT. Unless that artist is from the 1800s. Then it’s okay but only because they’ve been dead forever so they can’t be real-time competition to you. #SarahBernhardt4Life

STEP 4:
ONLY MAKE LIKE FOUR THINGS EVER
Listen, who cares about watching your art grow over time through trial and error; success and failure? NOBODY. THAT’S WHO. Spend three decades on one precious thing you think is a goddamn masterpiece. After all, you only want to be popular after you’re dead, anyway. That’s how to REALLY art. Throw everything else in the trash.

STEP 5:
DEVELOP A MYSTERIOUS SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEM
Opium is always a good choice. It’s niche enough to be interesting, without the flamboyant flashiness of coke. If it’s good enough for Sherlock Holmes, it’s probably good enough for you.

STEP 6:
MEN: GROW A BEARD
Hemingway. I rest my case.

WOMEN: PUT YOUR HAIR IN A BUN ON THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD
Topknots keep your face tight and emotionless, like an empty shell and also an artist. If this doesn’t work for you, cut it reeeeaaal short.

Get it, Gertrude!

Get it, Gertrude!

STEP 7:
GET YOURSELF ABANDONED BY A LOVER
It’s okay if you didn’t even like them that much and it was kind of a mutual thing, you can just lie about it. Keep the details foggy. If someone gets too inquisitive, get a far-off look in your eyes, and mumble something about the ocean.

STEP 8:
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, NEVER TAKE FEEDBACK
Treat all feedback the same way: like it’s coming from a talking horse. Whether it’s from the most well-known artist in your field, or from your “friends” and “loved ones”, tell ‘em all to fuck off. Then lock yourself in a room and X their eyes out with a sharpie in all your photos. Resist the urge to change even if you think they might be right and just trying to help you. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK.

STEP 9:
DATE SOMEONE WHO WEARS A TRENCH COAT AND TREATS YOU LIKE DIRT
Insist they’re “unique” and “troubled” and “so talented” but never say what kind of talent it is.

STEP 10:
EMBRACE AN EXTREME AND CONTROVERSIAL POLITICAL VIEW
If you can somehow manage to make it sound like women are werewolves or witches, that should help.

No caption necessary.

No caption necessary.

STEP 11:
JUST BE A DICK, ALREADY
Be mean for the sake of being mean. Ridicule everyone else’s work. Drop a kitten out a window. Befriend a 19 year old so that when you’re dead, that ONE person can talk about how kind you were, but also just hard to understand because you’re so “interesting”. They’ll write a memoir about you and though they’ll get some slight fame out of it, console yourself with the fact that you’ll be much more famous than they will. Of course, you’ll be dead, but that’s how you wanted it anyway, because you’re an artist.

For those who feel like this is not the strategy for them, there is an alternative.

HOW TO BE AN ARTIST IN ONE HARD STEP:
Make art.

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Allison Page is a writer/actor/co-creative director at Killing My Lobster in San Francisco.

Everything Is Already Something Week 39: It’s Okay To Laugh

Allison Page sharing something personal… and also her glamorous new headshot.

Oooh boy. Everything’s a nightmare. Each day brings a clutch of dark clouds. The news is a series of alarms and images of innocent people in unthinkable situations. Living legends turn into just legends. You’re reminded of your own mortality. Your own illnesses. Your own downfalls. Your own failures. You feel bad about not feeling bad about the right things. You feel bad about feeling so bad about the wrong things. The job market is terrible. Rent costs are sky high. What would you do with a better apartment, anyway? You don’t even keep the crappy one clean. Some people don’t even have apartments. Or dogs. Or families. Or lunch. You don’t take care of yourself the way you should. You’re low on vitamins and high on espresso. You think about how no one lives forever. Not even that guy. You wonder why some friendships don’t work out. Some relationships. Some jobs. Some sandwiches. Nothing seems easy, everything seems hard. What can you do?

Everything’s a nightmare.

It’s okay to laugh.

Sometimes you think you can’t, but you can. Don’t you hope that in your last moments, you laugh? And this probably isn’t even your last moment, so you should consider it. It’s okay not to, for a little while. But please don’t wait too long. It’s okay to think about how bad and wrong something is, and to try to make it better and less wrong, or to just understand it. That’s good. That’s important. But the cause of You is also important. You’re the only one there is, after all. Maybe you think that sounds stupid. You’re right. You should laugh at that, too, if you want.

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Share a moment with someone that makes you both happy. Now, look what you’ve done. That’s quite a thing to do. If you miss someone, think about why you liked them so much. I bet they made you laugh. Think about how they did that. Now laugh about that, too. It’s okay to feel bittersweet. Sad. Exhausted. Scared. Filled with ennui. To know that all the answers are hard, and that some might not even exist. To say “Well, it’s not as black and white as that.” It’s okay to be in a weird gray area that makes no sense to you. To say “I’m upset. Nothing will make me not upset.” but recognize that something probably will. And it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person if you’re able to see the sun coming up over the horizon.

As theater makers, art makers, comedy makers, anything makers – we sometimes exist to provide escapism that is desperately needed. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t care. It’s really the opposite. Sometimes we’re here to face an issue head on, to take on the burden of trying to explore the source of unrest, messed up power dynamics, injustices, loss, mourning, outrage. But sometimes we just need to lighten a load that can be so heavy no one person can bear it all. Because people need to talk about the bad things, work out the bad things, actively try to solve and understand the bad things – but they also need to remember there is some goodness left. A beam of light to look forward to.

Right now it feels like there are a million contests happening at once and all participants are trying to win the “No, This Is The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened” award and begrudging the pain of others if it doesn’t align with their own pain. Different pain is not mutually exclusive. Don’t worry, all these things can be awful at once. And other things can still be good while those things are being awful. That’s okay too.

Two days ago I wasn’t sure if I thought anything would be funny ever again.

I tried to take a picture of myself smiling yesterday, and this is as close as I could get.

I tried to take a picture of myself smiling yesterday, and this is as close as I could get.

I went to the place where I make comedy, and laid my head down and cried alone for an hour. And then I had to go to a rehearsal, which I considered a nightmare. How was I supposed to be funny? How was anyone? But the strange thing is, within 15 minutes of being there, I was laughing again. I was still sad, don’t get me wrong, but I was laughing. And that did a lot for me. A room full of people all keenly aware that the world just got a little less funny and wonderful – and we were laughing together. That’s a pretty powerful thing. What would I have done if I tried to skip out on rehearsal? I would have gone home and cried some more until I fell asleep, probably. Which is okay, but I think the former was better.

And so tonight I will put some comedy into the world, in front of an audience. I really need that. And I can only imagine that they need it too.

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Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedian in San Francisco. You can catch her tonight in the live sketch comedy show Killing My Lobster Goes Radio Active at Z Below, or catch her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Everything Is Already Something Week 36: The Day The Theatre Died

Allison Page gets serious for a moment. Not really.

It’s hard out there for an artist. It’s even harder out there for a company of artists. If you were a theater company, and standing in a room with a bunch of other theater companies, I would get up on a collapsible stage and say, “Everyone look to your left. Now everyone look to your right. Some of these people will not survive the next few years.” and everyone would either go “Oooooo.” or “Uh oh” or roll their eyes, or laugh awkwardly, knowing it’s true. The theater community has been shaken up even more than usual lately. Intersection For The Arts, San Jose Rep…there are more fatalities and you’ve seen and read about them, I’m not going to go on about who they are, the point is – we’re dropping like fucking flies over here. And I really hate saying this, but the more I think about it, the less surprised I am.

Remember Vaudeville? No? Oh, that’s because it’s been gone since the early 1930s. People didn’t want to consume their entertainment the same way they had been, and with movies easily accessible everywhere, Vaudeville fell out of the interest of the public.

The ONLY Theatre In Los Angeles!

The ONLY Theatre In Los Angeles!

In a twist of fate, movies took the same blow they had dealt to Vaudeville when television came into play. People could be entertained in their own homes for free, and movies became a less frequent event in the lives of many. With the improvements made to all-things-internet, many people now don’t even bother with traditional television and watch things directly from their computers, tablets, phones, or have the images grafted directly to their eyeballs for all of eternity, or however the hell a google glass works.

I love theater, and I don’t think it’s dead, but I do think it has moved back into its parents’ basement much to the chagrin of the entire family. I feel frustrated that it can almost never sustain itself without resorting to asking for lunch money which it then uses to buy case after case of Miller High Life.

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I hate that even the most successful theater in the area, a theater with lots and lots of seats, shows and actors imported from New York and wherever else, still has to fundraise huge amounts of money (recently $100,000…a number I can’t even think about) to make things happen. But I guess that’s something that brings up a discussion about whether or not theater is both an art form AND a business (regardless of non-profit-ness). A business which requires yearly (or more frequently than that) gigantic gobs of money in the form of donations, doesn’t sound like a particularly well-run business to me. And I hate the thought of always scrambling, wondering if you’ll be open the next season, and knowing that if you don’t raise X amount of money with your elaborate Kickstarter campaign of relatively meaningless perks and rewards, that things could get very sticky for you and yours.

Maybe that sounds harsh, I don’t know. I feel frustrated with the state of things lately. I hate begging for money. More than that, I hate needing to do it. I hate that this thing that can bring a little happiness and magic to a bunch of lives all at once, doesn’t seem valuable enough to pay for itself. Obviously costs in the bay area aren’t helping anything. When I started a theater company in Minnesota, I did get a grant. A one time grant which was, I believe, around $1,000. I used it to buy a lot of basic things which we used to build a stage, build a set which could be moved around to create a different set, and generally to get things going. That’s the only grant I ever applied for. After that, I used the money earned from each show to put up the next one (supplemented by some of my own cash, for which I would try to reimburse myself later). I did that for five years. A theater company existing for five years having received only one grant? That’s pretty fucking great. But that would be really hard to make happen here. The cost of just renting the space in which to perform for a few days is more than the entirety of the grant I received in 2003.

Perform in our great new Abandoned Asylum - er - Brand New Theater Space for only $7,200 a week! WHAT A STEAL!...Extra $2,000 if you need someone to operate the light board. And you definitely need someone to operate the light board because it's made out of bones.

Perform in our great new Abandoned Asylum – er – Brand New Theater Space for only $7,200 a week! WHAT A STEAL!…Extra $2,000 if you need someone to operate the light board. And you definitely need someone to operate the light board because it’s made out of bones.

When Kickstarter became a thing, artists went bananas. Finally, a great way to crowdsource funds to make your dream happen. It was a revelation. Initially I think it felt like an amazing way to make someone’s biggest, most long-awaited aspiration come to life…and now it’s everyone’s biggest aspiration THIS MONTH. So instead of feeling like we’re supporting a one-time artistic dream project, it feels like everyone wants us all to pay for every single thing that they do. It’s overwhelming. I should mention that I contribute to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns all the time. When I see a project I like, or when a frequent collaborator or friend is working on something, I donate to it. But I’m definitely starting to feel like it’s going to be too much at some point. Particularly when the numbers start ticking up and up and up. I miss the scrappy days of yore. Scrappiness is a trait I really admire in others, and something I try to exercise in my own life. The pilot episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, shot by the guys who thought it up, was made for a famously small amount of money. Depending on who you ask, it was somewhere between $85 and $200. Meanwhile, I know a guy who just tried to crowdsource $60,000 for his independent film. I’m not suggesting he should make it for $200, but I am suggesting that $60,000 might be too much to as your friends to pay for. And as it turns out, I’m right. Because his campaign was unsuccessful and his donations added up to only $5,000 and because it was done on Kickstarter, I’m assuming that means he got a whopping $0. And this was a campaign which included some moderately fancy names.

I don’t know. This feels like a time of change and uncertainty in the performing arts. I’m not sure what the next chapter holds for us. I will continue to support the projects I care about (for example, the SF Olympians Festival, which supports the work of over 100 artists every year: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/san-francisco-olympians-festival-v-monsters-ball ) but I wonder what funding for theatrical projects will look like in even two years. When will people start to feel maxed out? Is there a better way to do this? Are we making things too big, too complicated, too expensive for their own good? For their own sustainability?

I don’t have the answers, but I am working on them in relation to my own projects in the next year. I’m spending lots of time and energy trying to find a way to not spend every available dime, and to be a nimble creator of nimble things. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t have any other choice. Money doesn’t grow on fake trees even if you spend $10,000 to build them.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director, and Co-Creative Director of Killing My Lobster. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage. 

Cowan Palace: My San Francisco vs. Their Never-Never Land

Ashley feels like Wendy Moira Angela Darling. And she needs your help.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about San Francisco. Duh, right? I live here. But I came across an article that got me thinking a bit more about the city and its evolving relationship with its residents.

Since I made the move to the Bay Area I’ve lived in the Outer Sunset, the South Bay, the Inner Richmond, Berkeley, the Mission, the Haight, the Outer Richmond, and then I made my way to Lower Pac Heights where I lived for over five years. Recently, I moved into Treasure Island. Along with sounding magical, it’s still considered a part of San Francisco. Even though sometimes, I feel like I’m outside it, watching the city lights from my bedroom window calling to me from across the bay.

Ashley's view from Treasure Island. She's judging you. Yes, you.

Ashley’s view from Treasure Island. She’s judging you. Yes, you.

Thanks to The Huffington Post, this article struck me at an interesting time. Its entitled, Goodbye San Francisco, You’re a Passionate Lover. In it, Eric Barry bids a farewell to our city by the bay and expresses his feelings covering his last six and a half years here. Wait a minute. That’s the same length of time that I’ve been in San Francisco! I read on.

And Barry states, “You need to know that this is no longer a city for artists, or writers or musicians. This is no longer a city for teachers. This is no longer a city for the person who just served you that 3:00a.m. burrito. This is a city for the wealthy, and money changes everything.”

Hold the phone, Eric! This is why I moved here! To be an artist, a writer, a musician. A teacher. A burrito enthusiast! I so desperately wanted to ignore that idea. But considering I found this article days after my own move, I couldn’t help but invite some of these ideas in while I sorted through boxes of memories my own past six years.

What broke my heart most was his acceptance in leaving. He writes, “Despite all the phenomenal memories I have for San Francisco and it’s people, I’ve stopped growing here. The city has come to feel like Never-Never Land, which is great until you decide that you would actually like to grow up a little.”

Damn it. Is that true? San Francisco presents a changing landscape without the presence of time masked by seasons. Buildings sprout as frequently as the housing costs do and it’s hard to avoid the growing pains. And as much as I hate to admit it, this place has changed from the one I picked as a home.

For starters, the Bay Area struggles with a displaced residents’ plea for help that’s getting harder to try and silence. Homelessness is up an alarming 20% since 2011 and food stamp usage and eviction rates are at a record high. And the divide becomes more apparent when you consider the 14,000 people who are bussed out to sunny Silicon Valley from our city streets to enjoy complimentary company snacks.

Wait. I sound bitter. My apologies. I think I’m just frustrated. A perhaps a little sad.

Those 14,000 people picked to live in this city like I did. Maybe they were drawn to the imaginative, open-minded, community based artists who kindly welcomed me. The ones who accepted me and helped me to survive on limited means because we nourished each other in different ways. Important ways. Or maybe they’re here because money can be a siren with song impossible to tune out. And, honestly, how can we blame them for seeking competitive wages for their modern abilities? I guess what hurts me is the reality that so many of us were magnetized to this area for the creative culture. The folks who offer their talents by lending a voice to a reading series, illustrating an original project, or producing a new piece without the hope of any financial reward. The ones who do it because they truly love it and wouldn’t be the same people without it.

For me, the tech world seems to have drifted in like the fog; pretty from a distance but dangerous when you find you’re surrounded in it, unsure where the treasured things you’re familiar with are hiding. I worry the heart I’ll inevitably leave in San Francisco will just be replaced by a savvy emoticon.

I’m grateful to have a home and food on my plate. But I’m someone who needs growth and development. And importantly, hope that my home can provide me with that. I want to live in San Francisco. But I’ve outgrown Never-Never Land. And I’m not interested in taking care of any more lost boys in the process.

So I come to you, my friends, with a challenge. Because that’s what we do, right? We have to push each other to believe in our art and each other. What can we do to honor the place that may have called out to us for different reasons but urged us to stay together? How can we grow alongside the tall tech trees? I’m willing to fight if you are.