Theater Around the Bay: Shirley Issel & Jamie Harkin of “Angel of Darkness”

From now through the end of August, we’ll be bringing you interviews with the writers and directors of the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays. First up: writer Shirley Issel and director Jamie Harkin of “Angel of Darkness”!

“Angel of Darkness” is a modern mystery play set in a contemporary bar. Death is the barman, and he informs Everyman that as soon as another patron, Fellowship, finishes his beer, Everyman will die… 

Brett Mermer plays Death, James F. Ross plays Fellowship, and Jamie Harkin pulls double duty by playing Everyman as well as directing the show.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized?

Shirley: I am part of a playwriting class at Stagebridge, taught by Anthony Clarvoe. Anthony gave us your Pint-Sized Play Festival call for submission and rules as a weekly assignment. The rules captured my imagination and I really liked the results, so I submitted.

Jamie: My dear friend Alejandro Torres, who is the deputy producer of Pint-Sized this year, knows me and recommended me.

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

Shirley: Coming up with a good idea.

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

Shirley: It is clear very quickly if you have something good.

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

Jamie: The idea of performing in front of such a huge crowd.

What’s been most troublesome?

Jamie: Finding actors.

Shirley Issel

Shirley Issel, Pint-Sized Playwright.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Shirley: I am in love with Shakespeare, especially the way one character in each play sets the ball rolling and in doing so calls in his own fate. “Angel of Darkness” takes place on Halloween. When the bartender/Death asks Everyman if he wants a “trick or treat,” Everyman asks for a trick, inviting Death to do his thing.

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

Jamie: Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, Benedict Cumberbatch or Alan Rickman (if I could bring him back I totally would). Cause, you know, I love me some Brits.

Shirley: I would cast Matthew McConaughey as the bartender. He’s naughty, playful and smart with a killer smile. I can just hear him with his Southern accent asking his customers, “Alright, Alright, Alright! What’ll you have, trick or treat?”

Jamie Harkin

Jamie Harkin, actor AND director!

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

Jamie: Hmm… I’d have to say James Carpenter. I’ve met him a couple times. He’s really really nice.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Jamie: I’m in the SF Fringe Festival this year as part of Alejandro’s show Projected Voyages, which is being remounted. I was an original cast member back in 2013.

Shirley: I’m sticking with my playwriting class at Stagebridge and I’m curious myself about what will happen next. One thing new I’m eager to pursue is a class on directing.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Shirley: I’m looking forward to seeing Dear Master come back to the Aurora in September. Joy Carlin is directing and she makes sure good material gets a good production.

Jamie: I really wanna see John Leguizamo’s show at Berkeley Rep.

What’s your favorite beer?

Jamie: Milk!

Shirley: Right now, I like Death and Taxes.

See “Angel of Darkness” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!



Follow the Vodka: Everyday Theatricality!

Robert Estes, theater’s super-tailgater.

White Chapel copy

Ah, the dedication of the night columnist! Late on a Monday night, I’m still diligently laboring at the newest gin joint in the city, White Chapel (600 Polk Street). This place is a fantastical recreation of an abandoned tube station in London; well, except that the station in question, White Chapel is actually still operating. Here, though, the imaginary abandoned station has become a lovingly rendered 1890s gin palace.

When I first looked at White Chapel’s extensive drink menu, I fell in love with the two page listing of twenty-two drinks under the heading “The Martini Family.” Who knows if the dates and descriptions given to all the drinks are academically accurate; I’m not interested in fact-checking the menu, only drink-checking it. So, tonight I began my ginventure by having the first drink on the list, the Pink Gin (dated 1840s), composed of Plymouth Gin and angostura bitters.

I love that the early reviews for this place kept mentioning all the “fake” things about the recreation, such as fake water damage. My theater self couldn’t help but say, it’s not fake, it’s distressed, it’s Theater!

Indeed, it’s fascinating to realize how many bars in the city have become insanely popular by creating an immersive theatrical experience for their drinkers, I mean patrons. An entity called Future Bars now owns nine different local bars, all theatrically presented, ranging from the just opened Pagan Idol tiki bar to the old-standby Bourbon and Branch speakeasy.

It makes me think that so often in theater we wonder how to attract an audience, yet somehow people outside of us, use our rough magic to create very popular events. Even real estate agents know in their bones how important it is to the sale price of a property for it to be properly “staged” at the open house.

On a much greater scale, the mass popularity of sports rests on a ham-handed strict adherence to the principle of dramatic conflict. The “classic matchup” between this team and that one or this player and that one sells all! And franchises encourage theatricality on the part of their fans. One of the joys of going to a sporting event in person is to experience the unconscious theatricality of everyday people as they come to cheer on their team.

I always laugh to myself when I happen to be on a Sunday morning BART train on the day of a Oakland Raiders home game. Raiders fans are legendary for their elaborate costumes, intricate makeup, and outlandish accessories! I would love to compliment them on their detailed and beautiful theatricality, but I also wish to retain my front teeth, so I just smile to myself. But if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend surreptitiously checking out the character-specific costuming choices of the rebel/pirate/Star Wars/Hells’s Angel’s Raider Nation.

And on a smaller, humbler, yet just as faithful way, please notice the down-scale yet touching outfits of the long-suffering A’s fan. They still wear player jerseys from the 1970s. Being the team of my single-digit -year days (oh the love of an 8 -and-a-half-year-old for his team), I still am, on the inside, a fan wearing my Dad’s San Francisco Giants cap inside-out in shame in the bleachers in 1969, when that area was known as Reggie’s Regiment. It was a cold night and my dad would not let me go bare-headed.

Just the other day, after spending the last ten months indoors in rehearsal and performance for five consecutive shows, I happily returned to the Coliseum for a day game. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel the connection in so many ways between baseball and theater. Both are places of memories. There are ghosts on the playing field just as on the playing stage. Looking out at the infield where the shortstop plays, I see Campy Campaneris, Rob Picciolo, Alfredo Griffin, Walt Weiss, just as when I look at various Bay Area stages, I see Tony Amedola, Lorri Holt, John Bellucci, Michelle Morain, Sarah Moser.

I still remember the first that I saw James Carpenter. He was a young man in Otherwise Engaged at the Berkeley Rep in 1984. Like most theatergoers, I’ve seen him so many times since then, all the way from his nervous comic performance in Paint it Red at the Rep to a slithery Stanley in The Birthday Party at the Aurora. It was kind of a shock when he started playing the older, patriarchal “ravenous Earls” in Shakespeare. (Maybe we’ve both gotten older!) Still, it’s been fun to follow his career. Just like it’s been fun to follow my favorite baseball players as a fan.

kind of wish that theater had more of the “true fans” just like baseball. The true fan attends the game even if their team isn’t doing very well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a devoted group of people who rooted for us! Let’s go, PianoFight! Three-peat! Well, maybe PF does have those fans! Seriously, though, as my previous night column touched on, it would be great if we could support theater without it always having to be (allegedly) amazing.

Yet we’re kind of lucky in theater when compared to athletes, because everything we do is subjective. Pity the poor baseball player who’s having a bad year! Could you see your worst review being highlighted every day by the theater company where you perform? In baseball, every team shows the player’s statistics before every at-bat. “Now standing at the plate to deliver To Be or Not to Be, the actor with the .198 batting average for the season!” Shudder.

Perhaps perversely, I admit that I actually enjoy going to baseball games when my team isn’t doing as well. It’s almost like going to an audition as the marginal players engage in a Darwinian struggle to remain alive in the show (major leagues). I remember one actor saying that he thought certain audience members deliberately chose to attend the first preview of every show because they wanted to see a trainwreck. Of course, life-long humiliation is one of darker sides to sports…who will ever forget the name of the Boston Red Sox’s first baseman who let the ground ball go through his legs in a World Series game thirty years ago?

In the make-believe of theater, where every corpse arises for a joyful linking of hands for the curtain call, we all live for another day, I hope without humiliation. Still, it takes bravery for actors to be absolutely vulnerable in front of so many people. The nerves of the athlete under pressure must surely be like the nerves of the actor. And for the fans, it is their personal nerves in watching that bind them to the emotional event of the game or the play.

Personally, baseball has influenced my work in theater. Last summer, I directed an adapted version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 called Falstaff! in which the great rogue was played by six different women. The women would also play other roles and the men changed roles as well, so Prince Hal could be Poins and vice versa. The first performance or two was kind of confusing as we worked out the switches, but as the production moved forward, I was pleased that the show developed a great feeling of generosity as everyone had an equal part in carrying the whole play. By the end it was actually like a baseball game where everyone gets their turn at the plate. And for the audience, it was exciting because they weren’t quite sure who they would see playing what role next.

I’ve often thought that the advantage of sports over theater is that we don’t know what will happen in sports. Why couldn’t we, just one time, with no announcement, alter the ending to one of Shakespeare’s plays? Wouldn’t it be great if Emilia said, “Hey, wait a minute, I gave that handkerchief to my husband”? Could you imagine the gasps from the audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival if they did that? There could be riots!

Perhaps the appeal of the Shotgun Players’ current Hamlet (running for the next year!), where everyone in the cast learned the entire show and each actor is assigned their part for a particular performance only 5 minutes before show time, comes from each show being part theater and part sports. You really don’t know what will happen each night. And, being honest, there’s a higher chance of a trainwreck on stage each night, which again, is part of the appeal of sports. I wonder if each show seems to the actors like an athletic game, where nightly success or failure is a more open question than in a conventional production.

But then in baseball, we see success and failure in every game. We also see practice. Yes, go the park two hours before game time and you can see batting practice. I wonder if it would be possible to open our theater houses early and let our fans (oh again, how I would love to have fans) see the vocal warm-ups or fight call. For the true fans that would really make attending theater like attending a baseball game!

Well, how much of all of this found synchronicity between baseball and theater is just fine Plymouth gin speaking? This 1840s-era drink is fiery and it’s numbing my tongue! Now as the bar closes and my rambling thoughts on the connections between baseball and theater grow ever more tenuous, I’ll just say Play Theater!

Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Katharine Sherman

t. gondii presents the lovesickness circus opens tonight! If you’re not excited yet, we hope this interview with playwright Katharine Sherman does the trick!


Who are you, in a 100 words or less?

KS: I am a writer dazzled by the musicality of language; I like my theater to make a mess. My work is blurry when it comes to genre, I write in verse but not one that makes sense, I’m interested in structure as story and art that calls into question the nature of reality. Right now I’m working on a first draft of a young adult novel and a play based on Ovid that may or may not have dancing. I’m part of a new company making multi-disciplinary performance work in the Twin Cities, check us out –

Any influences or inspiration you find particularly impactful, in regards to your work as a whole and this piece specifically?

KS: I’m an avid reader of mythology, and I’m always interested in adaptation and reimagining – in new spins on old stories where the interpretation and the original are kind of sitting side by side at the same time – even though they’re not – as if, by adapting, you’re creating the tension between the adaptation and the original. This piece specifically was inspired by a natural phenomenon in the animal kingdom.

So… what is this play about? And what’s the meaning behind the intriguing title?

KS: The play is about a cat, a rat, and a parasite. But it’s also about connection and depression and drunkenness and despair. It’s tricky to describe! Go see it!

How did you and Rem Myers, the director, get connected, and how’d he convince you Theater Pub was a good place for this piece?

KS: I met Rem in 2014 at the Cutting Ball Theater! We’ve worked together on two readings for Risk is this…, a new play reading series at Cutting Ball, and one of those plays, ONDINE, was just there in January. We’ve got a good shorthand! And I thought Theater Pub sounded like a great venue! I feel like this play is actually perfect for a different kind of venue.

Is having a show done in a bar exciting for you? Terrifying? Mixed? Why?

KS: It’s exciting! I think being in a bar raises the stakes of the performance in a way but also gives it a sense of freedom, paradoxically? Honestly I have no idea! I’ve done shows in bars before though and it always seems like it’s a blast!

Did you have to do any revisions or retooling of the piece to fit these unusual circumstances?

KS: I didn’t, actually! But I feel like it can definitely work – it’s a casual, flippant weirdo of a show with a bunch of direct address and finger puppets.

How involved do you tend to be once a show goes into rehearsal? How involved do you plan to be in this process?

KS: I’m in Minneapolis, so my contributions so far have been changing a few words and getting texts of awesome actors in animal ears from Rem!

Any history around this play? Past productions or development?

KS: Nope, this is the first!

What are you top three pieces of advice to other playwrights looking to get work done in the Bay Area?

KS: Be nice, be yourself, have fun. Go see your friends’ shows. Be in awe of your collaborators and want to make your work better for them. Take walks.

Any shout-outs to other theater/performance stuff going on in the Bay Area?

KS: A Dreamplay opens at Cutting Ball on May 20th – directed by Rob Melrose, in a new translation by Paul Walsh. Don’t miss that one, it’s going to be amazing! Also, go see my friend Kenny in The Heir Apparent at the Aurora! And this is a posthumous plug but Rem and Andrew Saito just finished Stegosaurus (or) Three Cheers for Climate Change with the Faultline Theater, and I wanted to shout out that I love that show (so I hope you got to see it)!

Don’t miss Katharine Sherman’s t. gondii presents the lovesickness circus, opening tonight at Theater Pub!

Cowan Palace: I Like Totally Did That Show In College

Ashley returns to an old love from her younger days.

It was our first night out without Scarlett and Will and I decided to see Talley’s Folly at The Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. Ah, Talley’s Folly. Just thinking of the title makes my heart cartwheel a bit. As someone who has a very difficult time picking a favorite anything, this play may indeed be my number one.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and loop around the Cowan cul-de-sac, shall we?

My freshman year of college started with a role in Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch. At 17, I got cast as this 40-something year old woman who was kind of abusive to her mom and who shot a real gun on stage. It was awesome.

Being the Hermione Granger that I am sometimes, I took my winter break to read as many Lanford Wilson plays as I could to try and keep up my theatrical education. I fell in love with Talley’s Folly on my first reading. I then reread the play over and over again and would read Sally’s lines out loud to noone. Practicing the part for no real reason other than just needing to play it if only for myself. I would wait until everyone else in my family was asleep and then I would whisper the words alone in my room. I also later attempted to learn how to smoke a cigarette convincingly because the script mentioned that the two characters briefly smoke together… which went about as poorly as you’d imagine.

I hear you all yelling, “nerd alert”. And I respect that. It’s pretty nerdy. But needless to say when my friend, Jill, decided to do the show for her senior directing project during my junior year, it’s safe to say I would have done almost anything to finally do the role in an actual production with a real audience.

We were a small cast and crew with a limited budget and we only had two shows but we were all so devoted and in love with the whole process that for us, it was the world.

I played one of my dream roles at 20 and it reinforced one of the reasons why I love theatre. You can live an entire lifetime full of high stakes and big gestures in an evening and at the time, I was a nerdy college kid in Rhode Island who dreamed of worldly adventure and intrigue.


I held that show on a blurry pedestal afforded to any of us who have done high school or college theatre. That magically hazy place where no one is really playing age appropriate roles and yet you can’t possibly imagine doing the play with anyone else. For the most part, everyone working on the show is doing it because they genuinely want to do it. They may grow up to do very different serious adult things but those youthful productions can sometimes be these beautiful, short-lived acts of love that can’t exist anywhere else.


Since closing our production of Talley’s Folly, I’ve continued to seek out audition opportunities to play the role I loved so much again. I assumed that doing it in a more professional setting would only increase my love for the show.

When I saw that Aurora had put it in their season I made a game plan to pimp myself out like never before! I was going to campaign to audition with the fire to fuel 10,000 suns! Two days later I found out I was pregnant so I just ate pizza everyday for a week instead.

After spending two full months with our own little production, our daughter, taking our first date night was a pretty big deal. And introducing my favorite show to my favorite guy seemed like a great evening. As we sat in the dark theater listening to the love story of Sally Talley and Matt Friedman unfold I couldn’t help but get emotional. Here I am, the actual age of Sally, still holding that college production on its pedestal. While I’m not saying I’ll never go for the part if given the chance now, I’m more grateful than ever to have had the show with my Roger Williams University cast and crew. I was young, doing a play I loved with my best friends. How could anything ever compare?

It can’t. And that’s another reason theatre can be so powerfully heartbreaking and heart lifting all at the same time. It’s both fleeting and fulfilling.

I left Berkeley hand in hand with my husband after texting my director and cast mate that even after seeing a lovely telling of my favorite show that I was more in love with our own production than ever before. Not because it was “better” but because it gave me the chance to recall one of the happiest times in my life and find a peace in allowing that memory to just exist without the need to relive it. Plus, I still have the character of that nerdy college kid and that’s what I’d like to hold onto. So I dried up my thoughtful tears and sweetly demanded we conclude our big date night with a burger in honor of that memory and everything that came after.


Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: When Your Politics and Your Artistic Tastes Collide

Marissa Skudlarek continues the Marissa Skudlarek Chronicles.

The current Broadway revival of The Heidi Chronicles will be closing this weekend after 80 performances. After the show announced its plans to close, The New York Times published an article analyzing why it might have flopped so badly. Much of the article discusses whether this play about a Baby Boomer woman speaks to women of younger generations, particularly those in “the lively world of online feminism.” (The fact that younger women just plain don’t pay attention to Broadway plays as much as older ones do only merits a parenthetical. Look, I’m doing it again!) Overall, the article implies that whether or not you like The Heidi Chronicles is a matter of whether or not you agree with its feminist politics – though with the added twist that, in the 21st century, many self-proclaimed feminists have trouble with the play’s message.

Well, I could have told you as much. In college, I did a research paper on people’s reactions to The Heidi Chronicles, and made that same argument. My professor had asked everyone to pick a 20th-century play, find as many reviews of different productions as we could, and then write a paper discussing how the performance tradition and/or the critical reception of that play had changed over time. I elected to do my project on The Heidi Chronicles. It was early in 2006, Wendy Wasserstein had just died, and I wanted to write about her play as a way of honoring her. My research showed that, while the play was pretty universally praised in its first Broadway production in 1988 (it also won the Best Play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize), more recent productions had had more mixed reviews, and the reviewers’ political beliefs always seemed to color their reactions to the play.

I’ll come out and say it: I’ve never seen a production of The Heidi Chronicles, but I’ve read it several times, and I do like it. Even though I know I supposedly “shouldn’t” like it because of the way it represents a very second-wave, elitist, white, bourgeois liberal feminism that it is my generation’s duty to move beyond. (Besides, like Heidi, I am a bourgeois white liberal woman who went to Vassar. To completely abjure those parts of me would be self-loathing.) At the same time, though, I totally get it when, say, a queer black working-class feminist says “You’re telling me I should like The Heidi Chronicles because it’s one of the most acclaimed and successful feminist plays in the canon, but I’m sorry, it doesn’t speak to me.”

And that’s what I really want to talk about in this column: what happens when you feel like you’re “supposed” to like a play for political reasons, but you actually don’t like it? And the inverse: what happens when you really enjoy a play that nonetheless has some elements that you know are politically iffy?

I consider myself a feminist, but that doesn’t mean that I love every show that promotes a feminist message. I get offended when people suggest that I “should” love a certain show because I generally agree with its politics. Politics is not and has never been why I go to the theater. On the occasions when I do like a show for feminist reasons, it’s typically because the show features complex and fascinating and intelligently written female characters, not because it strives to make an Important Political Statement About the Female Condition.

Let me give you two examples of plays I saw in 2014 where my opinion of the play’s politics did not match my opinion of its artistry. First, The House That Will Not Stand at Berkeley Rep. I really thought I was going to like this play: it had a majority-female cast and explored a fascinating but little-known piece of American history. In telling the story of free women of color in New Orleans, it showed the plight of women in a patriarchal society and their attempts to find freedom, power, and dignity. But I hated the play. I thought it was silly and melodramatic and overheated, and while set in the early 1800s, some of the characters behaved in unbelievably 21st-century ways. The leading actress gave such a mannered performance, and the writing was so overwrought, that, halfway through the show, I decided that I would much prefer to see it performed by drag queens. And then I felt like a terrible feminist.

Then, a few months after that, I saw Wittenberg at the Aurora Theatre. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test: it is written for three men and one woman. The woman (unlike the men) has to play multiple small parts, and all of her roles feel like afterthoughts. Her character was billed in the playbill as “The Eternal Feminine,” which I thought was just plain icky — putting women on a pedestal can be a form of misogyny, you know. And yet, despite all those caveats, I really liked the show. The writing was clever and entertaining. It dealt with some philosophical and ethical matters (the main conflict in the play is between Martin Luther and Dr. Faustus, professors at Wittenberg University) but it was not explicitly political in the 21st-century sense of “political theater.” And again, I felt like a terrible feminist. What was I doing, preferring this elitist, smarty-pants, Stoppard-lite comedy about three dead white men, to a politically conscious, highly emotional drama about women of color?

But I think I’m just going to have to go on being a terrible (read: complex, and not doctrinaire) feminist. Reducing a play to its political message means that you ignore the thousands of hours of craft and artistry that it took to create the play, in favor of promoting a one-sentence slogan or moral or tagline. I don’t want anyone to treat my plays that way, so the least I can do is accord that same respect to the plays of others.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She feels like most of the feminists she knows often worry that they are terrible feminists. Find her online at or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Theater Around The Bay: Year-End Round-Up Act 1

Well, we’ve made it- the end of 2014! It’s been a tremendous year of learning and change, tragedy and triumph, and our eight staff bloggers are here to share with you some of their own highlights from a year of working, writing and watching in the Bay Area Theater scene (and beyond)! Enjoy! We’ll have more highlights from 2014 tomorrow and Wednesday! 

Ashley Cowan’s Top 5 Actors I Met This Year (in random order!)

1) Heather Kellogg: I had seen Heather at auditions in the past but she always intimidated me with her talent, pretty looks, and bangin’ bangs. Luckily for me, I had the chance to meet her at a reading early in the year and I immediately started my campaign to be friends. She also just amazed me in Rat Girl.

2) Justin Gillman: I feel like I saw Justin in more roles than any other actor in 2014 but I was completely blown away by his performance in Pastorella. What I appreciated so much about his time on stage was that underneath an incredible, honest portrayal was an energy that simply longed to be; there’s something so beautiful about watching someone do what they love to do and do it so well.

3) Kitty Torres: I absolutely loved The Crucible at Custom Made and while so many of the actors deserve recognition for their work, I really wanted to commend Kitty for her part in an awesome show. She had to walk the fine line of being captivating, but still and silent, while also not taking attention away from the action and dialogue happening around her in the play’s opening scene. And she nailed it. I met her in person weeks later in person and my goodness, she’s also just delightful.

4) Vince Faso: I knew of Vince but we officially met at a party in February of this year. I enjoyed getting to know him both in person and on stage but it was his roles in Terror-Rama that made me realize that Vince is like a firework; while the sky may be beautiful on its own, when he walks on stage, he naturally lights it up in a new way.

5) Terry Bamberger: I met Terry at an audition and she’s the opposite of someone you’d expect to meet in such an environment. She was incredibly kind, supportive, and while you’re hoping you get into the play, you start to equally root for her to be in it too. And after seeing Terry in Three Tall Women, it’s clear that she’s also someone who deserves to be cast from her range and skills alone.

Barbara Jwanouskos’s Top 5 Moments in Bay Area Theater Where I Admired the Writer

This year has been one of momentous changes. I spent the first five months completing the last semester of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and receiving my MFA. I moved back to Bay Area and since then, have tried to become enmeshed in the theater scene once again. I haven’t had the resources to see all the performances I would have liked, but this list puts together the top five moments since being back that I’ve not only enjoyed the performance, but I found myself stuck with an element of the show that made me appreciate what the playwright had put together. In no particular order…

1) The Late Wedding by Christopher Chen at Crowded Fire Theater: Chris is known for his meta-theatrical style and elements – often with great effect. I have admired the intricacy of Chris’s plays and how he is able to weave together a satisfying experience using untraditional narrative structures. While watching The Late Wedding, I found myself at first chuckling at the lines (I’m paraphrasing, but…), “You think to yourself, is this really how the whole play is going to be?” and then finding a deeper meaning beyond what was being said that revolved around the constructs we build around relationships and how we arbitrarily abdicate power to these structures. Then, of course, I noticed that thought and noted, “Man, that was some good writing…”

2) Superheroes by Sean San José at Cutting Ball Theater with Campo Santo: I was talking with another playwright friend once who said, “Sean can take anything and make it good – he’s a phenomenal editor,” and in the back of my head, I wondered what types of plays he would create if behind the wheel as playwright. In Superheroes, there is a moment where the mystery of how the government was involved in the distribution of crack unfolds and you’re suddenly in the druggy, sordid, deep personal space of actual lives affected by these shady undertakings. Seeing the powerlessness against addiction and the yearning to gain some kind of way out – I sat back and was just thinking, “Wow, I want to write with that kind of intense emotional rawness because that is striking.” I left that play with butterflies in my stomach that lasted at least two hours.

3) Fucked Up Chronicles of CIA Satan and Prison Industry Peter and Never Ending Story by Brit Frazier at the One Minute Play Festival (Playwrights Foundation): Clocking in at under a minute each – these two plays that opened the One Minute Play Festival’s Clump 6 after Intermission were among the most striking images and moments for me of that festival. Brit’s two plays were hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, extremely timely works that I just remember thinking, “Now that is how to tell a whole story in just one minute.” I was talking to a friend about the festival and he said, “Even though they were only a minute, it’s funny how you can tell who really knows how to write.” I totally agree, and the first plays that I thought of when he said that were Brit’s.

4) Millicent Scowlworthy by Rob Handel at 99 Stock Productions:
I was only familiar with Aphrodisiac and 13P on a most basic level when I decided to apply to Carnegie Mellon, but, of course, training with a working playwright and librettist, you can’t help but be curious about his other work. Though I hadn’t read Millicent Scowlworthy, the title alone was something that I figured I’d enjoy. Seeing the production this summer, I had another “So grateful I got to train with this guy” moment as I watched the plot swirl around the looming question that the characters kept on attacking, addressing, backing away from at every moment. The desperate need for the kids to act out the traumatic event from their past and from their community felt so powerfully moving. I understood, but didn’t know why – it was more of a feeling of “I know this. This is somewhere I’ve been.” And to me, what could be a better feeling to inspire out your audience with your writing?

Year of the Rooster by Eric Dufault at Impact Theater: I’d met Eric at a La MaMa E.T.C. playwriting symposium in Italy a number of years ago. We all were working on group projects so you got less of a sense of what types of plays each person wrote and more of their sources of inspiration. I have to say, going to Impact to see Year of the Rooster was probably THE most enjoyable experience I’ve had in theater this year – just everything about it came together: the writing, the directing, the space, the performances… There was pizza and beer… But I was profoundly engaged in the story and also how Eric chose to tell it and it was another moment where I reflected, “where are the moments I can really grab my key audience and give them something meaty and fun?”

Will Leschber’s Top 5 Outlets That Brought You Bay Area Theater (outside of a theater)

5) Kickstarter: The Facebook account of everyone you know who crowd-funded a project this year. Sure, it got old being asked to donate once every other week to another mounting production or budding theater project. BUT, the great news is, with this new avenue of financial backing, many Bay Area theater projects that might have otherwise gone unproduced got their time in the sun. This could be viewed as equally positive or negative… I like to look on the bright side of this phenomenon.

4) Blogging: San Francisco Theater Pub Blog- I know, I know. It’s tacky to include this blog on our own top 5 list. But hey, just remember this isn’t a ranking of importance. It’s just a reminder of how Bay Area theater branches out in ways other than the stage. And I’m proud to say this is a decent example. There, I said it.

3) YouTube: A good number of independent theater performances are recorded for posterity. Theater Pub productions of yesteryear and past Olympians festival readings are no exception. I’d like to highlight Paul Anderson who tirelessly recorded this year’s Olympians Festival: Monsters Ball. Due to his efforts and the efforts of all involved, the wider community can access these readings. For a festival that highlights a springboard-process towards playwriting improvement, that can be a very valuable tool.

2) Hashtags: #Theater, #HowElseWouldWeFollowEachOther, #MyNewPlay, #YourNewPlay, #Hashtags, #KeywordsSellTickets

1) The Born Ready podcast: Each week Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs tear into the San Francisco theater scene with jokes and, dare I say it, thoughtful commentary. Looking for a wide spanning podcast that touches on the myriad levels of theater creation, production, performance and all things in between? Crack a beer and listen up! This is for you.

Charles Lewis III’s Top 5 Invaluable Lessons I Learned

This past year was a wild one; not fully good or bad. I achieved some career milestones AND failed to meet some goals. I got 86’d from some prominent companies AND formed new connections with others. With it all said and done, what have I got to show for it? Well, here are five things that stand out to me:

1) “Be mindful of what I say, but stand by every word.” I said in my very first official column piece that I had no intention of trolling – and I don’t – but when I start calling people “asshole” (no matter how accurate), it can run the risk of personal attack rather than constructive criticism. I’m trying to stick to the latter. And believe me, I have no shortage of criticism.

2) “Lucid dreams are the only way to go.” There are some projects, mostly dream roles, that I now know I’ll never do. What’s occurred to me recently is that I shouldn’t limit the creation of my dream projects to just acting. Lots of venues opened up to me recently, and they’ve set off cavalcade of ideas in my head. They might not be what I originally wanted, but it’s great to know I have more options than I first thought.

3) “It’s only ‘too late’ if you’ve decided to give up.” I don’t believe in destiny (“everything is preordained”), but I do believe in fate (the perfect alignment of seemingly random circumstance). I kinda took it for granted that the chances of me making a living at performance art had passed me by, then this year I was offered several more chances. Which ones I take is still in flux, it’s made me reassess what’s important to me about this art form.

4) “Burn a bridge or two. It’s nice to see a kingdom burn without you.” This year someone (whom I shall call “Hobgoblin”) tried to put a curse on me. Nothing magical, but more along the lines of a “You’ll never work in this town again” kinda curse. Years ago I might have been worried, but I knew his words were just that. Instead I threw back my head, started laughing, and said “Oh, Hobgoblin…”

Labyrinth_-_Sara_-_You_have_no_Power copy

5) “If you EVER have the chance to work with Alisha Ehrlich, take it.” If I had to pick a “Person of The Year” for Bay Area Theatre, she’d be it. I acted alongside her in The Crucible this year and when some of us were losing focus, she brought her A-game Every. Single. Night. Most of us can only hope to be as dedicated to our work.

Anthony Miller’s Top 5 People I Loved Working With This Year

There were way more than 5, but I just wanted these people to know how much I appreciated everything they did this year!

1) Colin Johnson: This fucking guy, he was a huge part of my year and the success of Terror-Rama. He’s a fantastic Director, resourceful as hell a never ending source of positivity and enthusiasm and a swell guy .

2) Alandra Hileman: The courageous Production Stage Manager of Terror-Rama. Smart, unafraid to give an opinion or tell an actor, designer director or producer “no”, in fact she’s fantastic at “No”.

3) Brendan West: Brendan is the Composer of Zombie! The Musical!, we had our first conversation about writing the show in 2007. Since then, it’s been produced a few times, but never with live music. Working with Brendan again to finally showcase the score live in concert was incredible.

4) Robin Bradford:  In the last 3 years, when no one believed in me, Robin Bradford believed in me. This year, I was lucky enough to direct staged readings of her plays, The Ghosts of Route 66 (Co-Written by Joe Wolff) and Low Hanging Fruit. I love getting to work with the amazing actors she wrangles and incredible work she trusts me with.

5) Natalie Ashodian: My partner in life, devoted cat mother and so much more, this year, she has been my Producer, Costume Designer, Graphic Designer, Film Crew Supervisor, Zombie Wrangler and Copy Editor. She is the best. The. Best.

Allison Page’s Top 5 Moments That Made Me Love Being A Theater Maker In The Bay Area

1) The Return Of Theater Pub: I just have to say it – I’m thrilled that Theater Pub’s monthly shows are starting up again in January. It’s such a unique theater-going experience and encourages a different type of relationship to theater which is essential to new audience bases who maybe think that it isn’t for them. It infuses life and a casual feel to our beloved dramatics and welcomes any and all to have a beer and take in some art. I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring for TPub and its artistic team! And obviously, we’ll be here with ye olde blog.

2) Adventures At The TBA Conference: That sounds more thrilling and wild than it actually is. What happened is that I found I had a bunch of opinions about things! WHO KNEW?! Opinions about things and shows and companies and ideals and art and the conference itself. Conferences aren’t a perfect thing – never will be, because they’re conferences – but it does shine a light on what it is we’re doing, and that’s a biggie. Also I had a lot of whiskey with some new and old theater faces before the final session so that was cool.

3) The Opening Of The New PianoFight Venue: This is clearly getting a lot of mention from bay area theater people, because it’s exciting. No, it’s not the first theater to open up in the Tenderloin (HEYYYY EXIT Theatre!) but another multi-stage space is really encouraging. This next year will be a big one for them. Any time you’re doing something big and new, that first year is a doozy. Here’s hopin’ people get out to see things in the TL and support this giant venture. I will most definitely be there – both as an audience member and as a theater maker. It’s poised to be a real theatrical hub if enough people get on board. GET SOME!


4) Seeing The Crucible: Seeing Custom Made’s production of The Crucible was exciting for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that I’ve never seen a production of it filled with actors instead of high school students. IT WAS GREAT. Yes, surprise, it’s not a boring old standard. It can be vital and thrilling and new but somehow not new at the same time. It was so full of great performances in both the larger roles and the not so large ones, and it really felt like everyone was invested in this big wrenching story they believed in – thus getting the audience to believe in it, too. Maybe that sounds like it should be common, but it’s not as much as it should be.

5) Everything That Happens At SF Sketchfest: Man, I love Sketchfest. Not just participating in it, but seeing everything I can (you can’t see all the things because there are so many, but I do what I can do). It’s this great combination of local and national stand up, improv, sketch, tributes, talkbacks, and indefinable stuff which takes over the city and points to the bay area as a place able to sustain a gigantic festival of funny people. And audiences go bonkers for the big name acts who come to town. The performers themselves get in prime mingling time with each other – something funny people can be pretty awkward about, but in this case we all know it’s going to be weird and we just go for it.

Dave Sikula’s Five Theatre Events That Defined 2014 for Me

1) Slaughterhouse Five, Custom Made Theatre Company: I’ve previously mentioned the night we had to abort our performance because of an actor injury. (I insisted at the time that it was the first time that it had happened to me in 40 years of doing theatre. I’ve since been informed that, not only had it happened to me before, it happened at the same theatre only two years ago.) Regardless, it marked for me a lesson about the magic, and hazards, of live performance. The idea that, not only can anything happen on stage, but that, if the worst comes to the worst, a company of performers will do all they can to come together and make a show work even in the most altered of circumstances.

2) The Suit, ACT: A touring production, but one that provided an invaluable reminder about simplicity. In the 80s, I’d seen Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabrarata, and what struck me at that time was how stunningly simple it was. Brook’s faith and trust in cutting away pretense and bullshit and concentrating on simple storytelling – in a manner that is unique to a live performance; that is to say, acknowledging that we’re in the theatre, and not watching television or a movie, was a lesson in stripping things down to their essence and letting the audience use their imaginations to fill in and intensify the story.

3) The Farnsworth Invention, Palo Alto Players: I’ve written at extreme length about the controversy over our production. I’m not going to rehash it again, but I mention it as another lesson; that, in the best circumstances, theatre should provoke our audiences. Not to anger them, but to challenge and defend their preconceptions; to make them defend and/or change their opinions.

4) The Nance, Century at Tanforan: Something else I’ve written about is my frustration at how, even though we’re finally getting “televised” presentations of plays in movie theatres, they’re almost always from London. I have nothing against British theatre (well, actually, I have plenty against it, but nothing I want to get into here …) I realize American producers don’t want to cut into their profits if they can help it, but not only did film versions of Phantom and Les Mis not seem to hurt their theatrical box office receipts, is there any reason to believe that shows like The Bridges of Madison County or even Side Show wouldn’t have benefitted from either the extra publicity or extra cash that national exposure would have given them? Similarly, would broadcasts of the Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellen Waiting for Godot or the Nathan Lane/Brian Dennehy The Iceman Cometh do any harm? I’ll stipulate they don’t have a lot of title recognition, but did The Nance or Company other than their star leading performers? And let’s not limit it to New York. I’d like to see what’s happening in Chicago or Denver or Ashland or San Diego or Dallas or DC or Atlanta or Charlotte or Louisville or Portland or Seattle or Boston or Cleveland – or even San Francisco. The shortsightedness of producers in not wanting to grow their audiences at the expense of some mythical boost to the road box office (and even that, only in major cities) is nothing short of idiotic.

5) The Cocoanuts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Another one I wrote about at the time. One of those frustratingly rare occasions when a production not only met my high expectations, but wildly surpassed them. Hilarious and spontaneous, it was another reminder of why a live theatrical performance is so exciting when the actors are willing to take chances in the moment and do anything and are skilled enough to pull them off.

Marissa Skudlarek’s Top 5 Design Moments in Bay Area Theater

1) Liz Ryder’s sound design for The Crucible at Custom Made Theatre Company: Mixing Baroque harpsichord sounds with the frightening laughter of teenage girls, it created an appropriately spooky atmosphere. The friend who I saw The Crucible with went from “What does a sound designer do, anyway?” to “Now I see what sound design can do!” thanks to this show. I also want to honor Liz for the work she did on my own show, Pleiades, composing delicate finger-picked guitar music for scene transitions and putting together a rockin’ pre-show/intermission mix.

2) The Time magazine prop in The Pain and the Itch at Custom Made Theatre Company:

Time_cover_Nov_2006 copy

This play takes place on Thanksgiving 2006, and the subtle but real differences between 2006 and 2014 can be tricky to convey (after all, clothing and furniture haven’t changed much in these eight years). But the November 6, 2006 issue of Time, with President Bush on the cover, takes you right back to the middle of the last decade. Even better, actor Peter Townley flipped through the magazine and paused at an article about Borat. Since Townley’s character was dating a broadly accented, bigoted Russian, it felt just too perfect.

3) Eric Sinkkonen’s set design for Wittenberg at the Aurora Theatre: This clever comedy takes place in the 1500s, but features puns and allusions of a more recent vintage. The set design perfectly captured the play’s tone: sure, Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door, but the door’s already covered with flyers advertising lute lessons, meetings of Wittenberg University’s Fencing Club, etc. — just like any bulletin board at any contemporary university.

4) The whirring fan in Hir, at the Magic Theatre: I am, somewhat notoriously, on record as disliking this show. But the holidays are a time for generosity, so let me highlight an element of Hir that I found very effective: at the start of the play, the sound design incorporates a whirring fan. (The monstrous mother, Paige, runs the air conditioning constantly because her disabled husband hates it.) You don’t necessarily notice the white noise at first, but the whole tone of the play changes when another character turns the AC off at a dramatic moment.

5) Whitehands’ costume in Tristan and Yseult, at Berkeley Rep:

Whitehands copy

Technically, I saw this show in late 2013, but it ran into 2014, so I’m including it. Whitehands (played by Carly Bawden) is Tristan’s other, less-famous lover. Her little white gloves were a clever nod to her name – and, crooning “Perfidia” in a yellow Fifties suit, pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and handbag hanging perfectly in the crook of her arm, she made heartbreak look impossibly chic.

What are your top choices, picks, experiences from the last year? Let us know! 

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Get the Fuck off the Couch

Claire Rice channel surfs theatre listings so you don’t have to.

What does a typical night of theatre look like in the Bay Area? It’s hard to say. Different parts of the season will have different shows. So I’ve decided to start a new series where I pick a Friday night and really look at the show listings to see what’s playing. Maybe by the end of the season we’ll have a picture of the Bay Area Theatre scene.

To start with I picked September 19th, 2014 as my “any given Friday”. I picked this date because I figured the big houses would have just started their first shows of the season, the Burning Man crowd would be back and sober and still excited about art, and it would be the night most everyone would realize that summer is ending and the long slow slog to the holidays is about to begin. What better time to see theatre?

What did I find?

All in all there are over 50 shows to see and there is something out there for everyone. And, yes, it is a diverse field. No, it’s not nearly as diverse as you would like. All the usual minorities are still minorities this season so far. But, this isn’t a full picture of the Bay Area theatrical climate! And just like the weather there are micro climates where some theatrical forms thrive and others wither on the vine.

Community Leaders are Leading the Way – To HAPPY TOWN!

American Conservatory Theatre is bringing back perennial favorite Bill Irwin in “Old Hats”, a show that has old fashioned clowning befuddled by new fangled technology. On the other side of the bay it is all about legs and singing at Berkeley Rep who is bringing in Knee High founder Emma Rice and a delightful woman named Meow Meow. Both companies seem to be saying with their season openers that they want you to be happy damn it! Whimsically, giddily, cavity educing happy!

Fuck “with music” I want MUSICAL!

You got it! Well, not in San Francisco…but totally! SHN has “Motown: The Musical!” and while I feel that the story of Motown is musical worthy…really I think you can just go home and just get the original songs and rock out. What you can’t get off iTunes is “Beach Blanket Babylon” which is that show you saw that one time your Aunt came to visit. You could also take your chances with “Foodies: The Musical!” brought to you buy the same guy who wrote “Shopping: The Musical!”. (Honestly, I don’t even need to be sarcastic.) But if you find yourself on September 19 really really needing a musical then get yourself a Zip Car and take your pick between “Company”, “Gypsy”, “Big Fish”, “The Addams Family”, “Funny Girl”, “Life Could Be a Dream” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”. They are all out there if you are brave, true of heart, and have access to a car. Well, Town Hall Theatre (playing “Company”) and Center Repertory Theatre (playing “Life Could Be a Dream”) are all about ten minutes from a BART station. Wait. What am I talking about? Everyone reading this is probably an artist of some kind so you probably already live away from or are considering moving out of San Francisco, Berkeley or Oakland. In which case, can I have a ride? “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” looks great!

I Want a Return to the Way Theatre Should Be

Then let’s go with traditional, Theatre Appreciation 101 plays. You need an experience where you already know the play, you probably saw the movie, and you would like to sink in for an entertaining evening of the familiar. Great. The Shelton Theatre is putting on “Noises Off” (Though, I literally don’t know HOW. The Shelton stage is TINY!) Marin Shakespeare outlasts all the other summer Shakespeare with “Romeo and Juliet”. Around the Bay you can see performances of “The Glass Menagerie”, “All My Sons”, “Wait until Dark”, “Iceman Commeth” “Fox on the Fairway” and “Bell, Book and Candle”. If there were a channel like Turner Movie Classics for plays, these plays would be on it ALL THE TIME. These plays will never be irrelevant, and they will stick around to remind you of that fact forever.

How about what’s HOT right now?

Excellent. Well chosen. Because COCK is hot right now. There’s “Cock” (about two men fighting like cocks) at NCTC and Impact Theatre has “The Year of the Rooster” (about actual cock fighting). I would also like to point out that there is a film screening tribute to The Cockettes at the de Young Museum on the 19th. If you are tired of cock move out beyond The City for your fill of lady playwrights including “Art” at City Lights, “Wonder of the World” at Douglas Morrison, “The New Electric Ballroom” at Shotgun Players, and “Rapture Blister Burn” at Aurora.” These three plays don’t fit in with my cock humor, but you should also check out SF Playhouse who is putting on a full production of their award winning “Ideation”, “Slaughter House Five” at Custom Made which was first seen at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has brought audiences to tears all over the country and “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” will be at the newly built Flight Deck in Oakland.

I want Brand New! I want to say “I Saw It First”

Sure. Ok. Good news. San Francisco prides itself on generating new works. Theatre First has rising star Lauren Gunderson’s play “Fire Work” and Chris Chen continues his creative relationship with Crowded Fire for “Late Wedding”. The Marsh has new solo performances of Marga Gomez’s “Love Birds” and Dan Hoyle’s “Each and Every Thing”. The Magic Theatre bring us “Bad Jews.” (This company is always good for brand new plays with titles you aren’t sure you want to put in emails.) Renegade Theatre Experiment will bring us “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated”. September also has an Improv Festival for you! At BATS, the Eureka, Stage Werx and other venues are improv acts that will make you say “I can’t believe that wasn’t scripted!” Well, it wasn’t and that’s why you went. But if you DO want scripted theatre you should go to the EXIT for Fringe Festival. If you haven’t binged on fringe you haven’t lived. If you are into binging on theatre, check out “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” where they try to perform thirty plays in sixty minutes.

Actually, I want an EVENT

Sure. I hear that audiences all over don’t want just “theatre” they want attending to be an “event”. For companies that take the process if creation very seriously check out Mugwumpin who will present “Blockbuster Season” and We Players who will take on an adaptation of King Leer with “King Fool.” For a traditionally untraditional experience Pear Avenue is playing “House” and “Garden” by Alan Ayckbourn, in which both plays are performed simultaneously using the same actors. You’ll have to go back a different evening to see how the other half of the play went. The Costume Shop is showing “The Haze”, which is a solo show that has come and gone before under different names, but the event that is built around the show is really about raising awareness of how crime labs deal with rape kits. Dragon Productions presents “Arc:hive Presents A Moment (Un)bound”. I don’t know what it’s about, but it has to be eventful if there is so much crazy punctuation in the title.

How are Ticket Prices?

If you plan ahead (now) you can see any of these shows for under $50 a ticket. The average is $30, but most can be seen for much less if you work at it.

Promo Lines

I’ve always felt the first sentence you use to promote your show is the most important sentence. Here are some of my favorite first sentences:

“What would you do if a time portal opened up inside your refrigerator?”

“In this revival of the great Tennessee Williams classic… Tom Wingfield is a homeless man living under a fire escape in modern-day St. Louis.”

“The following is from WikiPedia referencing the film of the same name.”

“What would you pay for a white painting?”

“Don’t miss the latest installment in this playwright’s meteoric rise to national prominence.”

“Star-crossed lovers and hot, sweaty street fighting make for an evening of romance, poetry, passion and excitement.”


Did I Miss Something?

I’m sure I did. Tell me about your show in the comments section.

The Point?

You have something to do on September 19. Get the fuck off the couch and go see theatre. (Of course, you might also be in one of these shows or rehearsing for one coming up. More on that next week.)