The Real World- Theater Edition: One More Interview

Barbara Jwanouskos- one more interview for the road.

As my last post to The Real World – Theater Edition, I’d like to first thank all the readers out there who have gotten some enjoyment from following this column. I am extremely grateful to Theater Pub to have been able to have the space to reflect on art, theater-making, and the creative process. Thank you to all the people I’ve interviewed for being so heartfelt and expressing your passion for art. Your dedication is such an inspiration and so needed. Please, all artists and people, keep creating and building. If this column has taught me anything, it’s that perseverance and commitment to craft and vision can be momentous. The creative power that we have can do so much. I guess I keep distilling the words of wisdom from the past two years of interviews and I come up with —

don’t be discouraged
what you do is important, powerful, and beautiful
stay connected
keep going even (especially) when it’s hard, even if only a baby step

I was fortunate enough to connect with local playwright-director Andrea Hart and dramaturge Heather Helinsky for this last interview on Andrea’s new play, dark is a different beast. We talked about collaboration and the creative process, how they work together, and how they fit into a broader theater ecosystem.

Thank you for reading.

BJ: Tell me a story of how you got into theater. How did you know this was it for you?

AH: I studied theater at college in upstate New York and had an amazing advisor and theater director, Robert Gross. His experimental ethos pervaded the theater program there, including an amazing student-run theater program. One year I performed at midnight in sunken gardens that were part of our art building. The audience was loud and raucous and huge…they were as much a part of the performance as we were. I loved that. And we were in an unusual place at an unusual time and all of that was part of the performance too. All my work tries to capture that essence of creating something that doesn’t conform to expectations, but that takes everyone involved on a unique journey.

HH: Oh, many reasons, but one of the most compelling things for me is what happens in the room together, when we’re all breathing in and responding to the same story. It’s important in our divided culture to find ways of talking and really listening to each other. I learned that in 2008 when I was dramaturging a long run of August Wilson’s Radio Golf in Pittsburgh right up until the eve of Obama’s first election. It was like a town hall meeting every night! So much energy and electric conversations. It brought so many neighbors together and everyone had an opinion about what August was saying about the challenges of a black man running for elected office, roughly ten years before Obama showed up on the national scene. August’s play helped us all process the daily news cycle. Well, Andrea’s play is a response to this year’s national election. We need to keep talking, not shut down. Theatre forces us to stay engaged instead of being cynical about it; artists try their best to show the way.

Heather Helinsky, dramaturge.

Heather Helinsky, dramaturge.

BJ: How did you get involved with 6NewPlays and what has the development experience been like?

AH: I started talking about creating a West Coast version of 13P in 2010 with an L.A. playwright I met at the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Our goal was to find a way to make West Coast theater vital and relevant and combat the feeling that if we weren’t doing it in New York or Chicago we were somehow less committed. Over the next couple years we kept finding other playwrights who resonated with the idea. Originally we tried to do an L.A./S.F. group, but it became too unmanageable, so the SF contingent kept meeting and discovering the shape we would take. It took about 3 years of meeting pretty regularly to get ourselves up and running, but the conversations we had those 3 years were a lifeline for me as I continued to try to figure out what it means to be a playwright in this area. Or at all!

HH: Andrea and I are colleagues through Great Plains Theatre Conference, which is a residency that allows playwrights the time and creative space to dream their next project into existence. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just the relaxed environment we nurture in Omaha: a place for writers all over the country to push conversations forward. I’m not surprised that 6NewPlays started there. In Philly, where I’m based, Orbiter3 has been successfully keeping this playwright-centered process going. We need more of this organic energy where playwrights get to drive the process, but every theatre community has its challenges, here in San Francisco no exception. I’m excited by the warehouse space Andrea has chosen, it gives the storytelling a uniquely Bay Area sense of place, but that’s my outsider opinion. I hope this 6NewPlay movement helps the artist community here find their own unique spaces that help add to another part of the conversation to the production.

BJ: What is dark is a different beast about?

AH: dark is a different beast is about finding connection in a disconnected world. I think it’s ultimately a meditation about what living during this time, and watching the news and being aware of what’s going on in the world and living through various catastrophes—either personally or via your experience of watching it unfold on the news or through a friend or loved one—what that does to our ability to love ourselves and each other. Sometimes it feels like authentic connection with others is a process of cutting through layers and layers of padding and protection before finally revealing and seeing the soft core of someone else, and discovering the strength in that place. The play is basically that image played out on a large scale.

HH: Great answer, playwright Andrea! I encourage playwrights on principle not to over-explain your play, let the audience come up with their own interpretation. It’s that and many other things, including the elemental forces in this country, the conflicts between fire and wind, water and earth. We’re living in a time where all of those elements are fueling a big bonfire of issues, and the play mines those metaphors. We’ll see what resonates the most when the audience shows up!

BJ: How are you both working together in this production? What are your roles? Do they have boundaries? What’s your working style?

AH: I asked Heather to work with me on this script after the script had been around for almost 5 years. I wish I had asked her 3 years ago! She has been amazing at helping me find the structure and make the actual “plot line” clearer, without sacrificing the imagery or fantastical elements of the piece.

She came out to see a few rehearsals in October. I had never had a dramaturg working with me during the production, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She was able to describe the play to the cast in ways I hadn’t yet. She gave them direct feedback about how the story was coming across and where it wasn’t. She and I stayed up until midnight discussing the ending and she talked me through how to present script changes to the cast. She is basically like a script doula…she holds my hand and encourages me to make the tough choices. She helps me put the script first even when all the production concerns are making me want to do the opposite. She was even counseling me through some actor notes last night via text when it was after midnight her time.

Andrea Hart, playwright-director.

Andrea Hart, playwright-director.

HH: Thanks, all kind of you to say, Andrea. One of the hardest things for a playwright to do is be a playwright-slash-director. Andrea came to me while we were in rehearsals at GPTC for a very poetic play by Chicago playwright/director/producer Bonnie Metzgar. We talked there of the challenges of self-producing and decided to set deadlines over the summer so the actors and designers didn’t feel unnecessary stress if Andrea did any major rewrites. Her focus right now should be directing and nurturing the actors. But the reality of writing is sometimes you discover things in the rehearsal room along the way, so we had a very calculated strategy for me to come in midway and take a hard look at the ending. I’ll miss being there for opening night and I would have loved to see the designers tech this show. I’m sure we could learn more if I wasn’t based on the east coast, but there’s always limitations in theatre-making. Sometimes a limitation can be freeing and have its own advantages. Andrea and I can work well long-distance because there’s a strong bond that has been built over the years working together at GPTC. We’ve been through fire there too, I know Andrea’s aesthetic preferences, we know how to make a quick but tough decision and keep moving forward. Onwards!

BJ: Has working with the story in film changed or opened up how you see dark is a different beast as a play?

AH: The film came out of the need to have better footage of my work to use in grant applications. The cinematographer was a friend and he suggested making it into something that could stand on its own as a film. The process, I think, taught me more about film then it did about theater. It did make me realize that this is definitely a theatrical piece. It helped me know when the language was working or not working—after editing the same line multiple times! The film also only included a few short scenes from the full play, so ultimately the play is an entirely different beast (har har!). And I think how the piece ultimately needs to be seen.

HH: Film is not my medium. As a dramaturg, I work purely in theatre. I read about 300 new plays a season for different national new play organizations and my job is often to sniff out a submission that is really a film script trying to pass as a play. But when a writer like Andrea comes to me and has the experience of making her script as a film first, I love hearing what she learned and what’s she’s already willing to throw away for the sake of a making it a play. There’s always a lesson from crossing over, but you have to be willing to rip it apart and potentially throw away the things that worked best on screen. My training came from the American Repertory Theatre, under AD Robert Woodruff, where we were always encouraged to search for new forms. Woodruff loved Fellini, so we did several exercises ripping apart Fellini’s films and finding the values that were purely theatrical and repurposed them. Like ripping apart a historic house and turning it into a hipster contemporary apartment.

BJ: What challenges and opportunities have come up in the process?

AH: Challenges: How do you have enough time with actors in the room to work the script, discover the design, etc? Really, that’s the biggest challenge. How do you have the space/time/resources to develop the play in the way that it needs before being seen by an audience? I think that’s especially important working with a piece that is this visual and design oriented.

Opportunities: The actors have all brought a lot of interesting knowledge to this piece, from the 3rd Face of Power, to Native American ritual, to comic-book imagery…everyone in the room is constantly introducing me to something I wouldn’t have known about before that is completely relevant to the piece. That makes the piece so much richer and fuller.

HH: Yes. All of the above. Just telling your truth in the form of a play is a challenge, and communicating with a room full of collaborators, and making sure we’re all on the same page with the playwright, and not spinning too far in other directions.

BJ: Have you had any moments of being stuck? How did you get out of it? Or are you still there?

AH: The ending was a big sticking point. I always sort of hated it and kept telling the actors…”We’ll figure that out soon.” Heather was a huge help in talking me through why it wasn’t working and what might work better. It took both of us only getting 3 hours of sleep and me trusting actors to deal with a major change. I’m still not sure it’s the right one, but I know it’s much closer to being right than what we had.

HH: Yep. Out of the 300 new scripts I read a year, a majority of them haven’t figured out the ending yet. Part of my job is to get the writer there. You have to see the potential and keep pressing after hard questions. But then, think about Shakespeare. How many contemporary directors cut the heck out of Shakespeare’s Act 4 & 5? We revere him, but we also get frustrated and cut his last acts to say what we want to say now. For a world premiere, you also have to respect and trust the writer, not force changes to the text until you absolutely have to. My philosophy is to treat a new play like a classic and a classic like a new play. Respect the writer’s first impulse, maybe even go back to an early draft to find the answer. Something hidden in there is closer to the truth.

BJ: What is your take on Bay Area theater vs. other places? What does it look like or how does it differ? Do you see any opportunities to grow the scene?

AH: One thing we’ve talked a lot about with 6NP is that in the Bay Area you really have audiences that are ready and willing to watch anything. What I would love to see is an expansion of support for local theater makers to have the time and space to develop more risky ideas BEFORE inviting the audience in. I think there are some amazing organizations offering this (CounterPulse comes to mind), but with the size of the artist pool, we need more. Ideally, artists shouldn’t have to use the production process to flesh out their work. I think when a workshop showing of a piece has to charge $30 for tickets, something in the ecosystem is not healthy.

HH: I work all over the country in many different theatre ecosystems and this is the first time I’ve been invited to the Bay Area. I’m happy to be here with Andrea, but our collaboration started outside of this city. It takes a lot of respect and trust to invite a dramaturg into the room. Our origin story is taking a critic and throwing an outsider’s critical opinion into the process. Do you want a Kenneth Tynan in the middle of your rehearsal process? Many people don’t.

BJ: What words of wisdom do you have for people that want to do what you do?

AH: I’m at the stage of the process where it’s really hard to feel wise. But I would say…as much as the audience showing up on opening night terrifies you, still make the risky choices. Do what you need to do to drown out the chorus of advisors and critics who get louder as you get closer to opening. Everyone is scared about their part in the final piece. Do what you need to do to get past the fear and find the essence of the story you’re trying to tell. Stick with that.

HH: Pay attention to the playwrights that are part of this 6NewPlays collaboration. In Philly, Christopher Chen’s production of Caught at Interact blew us all away and many Philly playwrights wrote their own new plays in response. I also love Eugenie’s work. Take care of the playwrights making work in your own backyard. The city has many stories to tell, there’s a unique ecosystem here and on a national level, we need to hear your voice just as much as playwrights in NYC, Austin, or Chicago. Give them grants so every once in awhile they can mix it up with writers in other cities, like Philly or Omaha, then bring them home. Don’t lose them.

BJ: Where can we find more info on dark is a different beast and do you have any other projects or friends’ projects coming up we should check out?

AH: Check out 6NewPlays’ website: 6newplays.com. You can find out about dark and also about the next show coming up by Erin Bregman. I also have to put a plug in for Ochlos Theatre Lab, where I create devised work with my collaborator, Carol Ellis. We are slowly working on a new project that we’re hoping will emerge toward the end of next summer: http://ochlostheatrelab.org/. I also pretty much always love what CounterPulse is doing and the education department at ACT—specifically director Tyrone Davis. (Every 28 Hours!)

HH: Playwrights of San Francisco, send your work out bravely to these places, because I work there: Great Plains Theatre Conference, Sundance Theatre Lab (November 15th deadline!), PlayPenn, Jewish Plays Project in NYC, the O’Neill. Or if you’re still in college, the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival’s playwriting division. I hope our creative paths cross again. Thanks for my first experience in the Bay Area! Looking forward to getting to know your community more. Andrea did a fantastic job in hosting me and introducing me to how things work here. A sincere thank you.

dark is a different beast is playing at Light Rail Studios in San Francisco on Nov. 11, 12, 18, and 19. For more information, please visit http://m.bpt.me/event/269658.

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The Real World- Theater Edition: Interview with William H. Bryant Jr. and Skyler Cooper

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews the creative team behind Every 28 Hours.

Every 28 Hours is a piece that was created by linking one-minute plays based on the staggering statistic that every 28 hours, a person of color is murdered by a police officer, vigilante, or security guard. This is a piece that hits deeply into the legacy of white supremacy that our culture has been built upon and asks us if we are willing to look at ourselves to build a way of living and interacting where black lives matter.

I had the opportunity to speak with two of the actors in the Every 28 Hours production here in the Bay Area. Their names are William H. Bryant Jr. (BJ) and Skyler Cooper, and I feel fortunate that we were able to connect to share their experiences working on such an intensely powerful theatrical production.

Every 28 Hours is produced by Faultline Theater and playing at PianoFight until Nov.12.

Skyler Cooper. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Skyler Cooper. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Barbara: Tell me about Every 28 Hours and how you came to be involved. What are you bringing to the table? Where do you see yourself in the piece?

Skyler: Every 28 Hours is a collection of stories influenced by experiences of black and brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement in this country. I wanted to be a part of this because it’s necessary and it’s vitally important to raise awareness and I am all about the creative activism that weaves throughout these stories. In my heart I knew I was being called forth from a deep spiritual place to do something with my artistic voice. I have been using my art to bring awareness to LGBTQ issues in the past, present, and future. But I am not just from that community, I am also black and I am an American and this affects me and my loved ones. I am fortunate that I am able to say “Yes”. I know so many actors would if they could. It felt like a “call to arms” when I was first told about the project. Also I relate to these stories not just because I’m black but also because I’m transgender, as well as two-spirited. I have walked in both black men and women’s shoes in this country and I’m here to tell you it ain’t easy. Currently the path I walk in the world is predominately as male. I’m either seen as a cisgender black male or a black trans male, every now and then (although I identify as a transgender actor), I am still remembered for the characters I’ve done as a cisgender masculine-of-center female. So I could be seen as black butch female. They have it just as bad as males if not worse in some cases.

BJ: First and foremost, thank you, Barbara, for the opportunity to share a bit about myself and the type of work I love doing the most. Every 28 Hours is a project comprised of 72 one-minute plays that are inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and was developed after the news of Michael Brown’s death. The title comes from the often challenged statistic that a person of color is murdered by a police officer, vigilante, or security guard every 28 hours.

I first heard of the plays, actually, from one of my cast mates and friend, Deane, who had already started working on the plays before I came aboard. I ended up joining the rest of the amazing cast late because they needed another actor due to one having to drop out because of a conflict. I couldn’t be more grateful for the open arms that welcomed me, from the cast, to the directors, to the production team. Not only did I see it as an amazing opportunity to speak up for something with life-and-death importance to me, but I saw it as a responsibility to stress how important it is for us to, at the very least, open dialogue and have a conversation about the subject matter of the plays.

I see myself in this piece as part of a group with a story to tell. We all complement each other in ways I feel make us most effective in telling these stories. The bond that we created has been so crucial in working to do the writers of these incredibly moving pieces justice.

Barbara: What has the creative process been like? Has there been anything that surprised you along the way?

Skyler: Doing one-minute plays with five different (amazing) directors is a treat. Yet the creative process is different on so many levels from a traditional three-act structured play. It’s kind of like boot camp for character development. Much of what these plays give are a three-act story structure in one minute. I can find the beginning, middle, and end in most of the pieces on stage. Much of the creative process on all these plays is put into the backstory — what is not seen or said in the play. It has allowed us to bring full characters to the table. It’s necessary when you only get one minute! I’m surprised at how full these plays can be, say so little, and give so much.

BJ: The creative process of working on the pieces has been quite the learning experience. We are very lucky to be working with five of the most ingenious, brilliant, and hardworking directors and production team. This itself has made the creative process for this project so much more effective and real. The directors have put all of their beings into this whole process, instilling life into the pieces and allowing us the freedom to do the same with the characters while keeping in mind that this project isn’t for us; it’s for the victims, their families, and everyone who is blind to the fact that there is a major problem in our society/country.

I was actually surprised by how physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, the entire process would be. But, the cause itself, the work, and each other are motivation enough that help along the way and keep us aiming to raise the bar after each and every performance.

3rd: William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

3rd: William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Barbara: Is there anything you do for yourself when investing so much of yourself into a powerful piece like this one? How do you keep going when it goes so deep?

Skyler: What I do to care for myself through this process is exercise my spiritual practice. It keeps me grounded and I include everyone else in my prayers — cast, crew, audiences and the souls that we lost. I rededicate each performance and I try to ground myself in their power, the power of the piece, and the power of the people. When I’m able to do this my cause is unshakable, because the roots are deep with love rather than fear or hate. I try to give love to myself and to the purpose of the piece. It’s all love.

BJ: When investing everything I can into a piece like this I learned that it helps to clear your head by bonding with your cast mates, friends, family, and loved ones. Also, I have guilty pleasures that I go to, like watching cartoons every now and then or watching superhero movies. I’ve learned during this project that we have to continue to go as deep as possible because this play isn’t for us and we have a message to send. So it helps knowing that we’d be selfish if we were to hold ourselves back in any way. So that, and knowing that my castmates, who have become like brothers and sisters to me, and my family and friends always have my back, definitely helps keep me going. I’m extremely lucky and blessed to have the support system I have especially in doing a project like this.

Barbara: Do you have a favorite moment or line of the piece? What is it and why is it your favorite?

Skyler: There are many… but I think my favorite line is the whole point of Every 28 Hours. It’s where two black men, one from the past and the other from the present, say, “I don’t want to fight. I want to be free.”

BJ: It’s tough to point out a specific piece or line and say it is my favorite because there are so many magical, tragic, heartfelt moments that capture the essence of the messages we are trying to send. There is a piece called “The Gray Area,” written by Chisa Hutchinson and performed spectacularly by Adriane Deane and Stephanie Wilborn in our run. It is a play in which a black protester explains to a white protester who is protesting “police brutality against all people,” that her form of protest is a form of racism because of her choice to ignore the fact that police brutality disproportionately targets black people. This is one of my favorite pieces because there are so many people in society who severely undermine the Black Lives Matters movement with the statement, “all lives matter,” when all lives aren’t being taken at the same rate that black lives are because of police brutality.

Barbara: What words of wisdom would you give to others that want to do what you do?

Skyler: Do it. There is only one you. Also, know that training, focus, dedication, courage, humility, and passion, are helpful to any actor who wishes to find their artistic voice. When I was able to find my artistic voice, I was able to chose the plays and characters that helped me to develop my craft beyond my training. Even still I think taking workshop intensives are great. Every instrument needs to be tuned every now and then. The theater is where I started and I highly encourage anyone who wants to be an actor to look to theater at some point preferably at the beginning. It truly is where the actor gets to work their craft the most, your entire body becomes your instrument.

BJ: I would say if they are willing to put everything they have into their craft, especially in doing plays like these, then be sure to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Really diving into a piece as heavy as this one can take a toll on your body in many different ways.

Barbara: What are you hoping someone watching the piece will take away?

Skyler: To have an unshakeable desire to enact a change in this country. Mindfulness to a degree that allows them to shift unconscious biases held against black and brown people.

BJ: What I am really hoping that people take away from this piece is the urge to act and not just stand by any longer as this continues to go on throughout the country. There are many ways to become active and fight against racism, systematic racism, and police brutality against people of color. I also hope more and more people try to get others to open their minds and understand the struggle instead of staying stagnant, in denial that there is a problem in society.

Skyler Cooper and William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada

Skyler Cooper and William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada

To learn more about Skyler Cooper’s work –including several upcoming films — is visit http://www.skylercooper.net/#skyler-cooper and https://www.facebook.com/skyler.cooper.9. For more information on upcoming projects for William H. Bryant Jr., please visit http://www.williambryantjr.com/ and @bjbeege19 on Instagram.

The Real World – Theater Edition: Get It Out

Barbara Jwanouskos, putting it out there.

My mind races constantly. From what I’ve gathered, this is pretty normal. It’s filled with so much stuff that I can have trouble focusing on any one thing. I think some would say that they’re good at multi-tasking when they have this quality – I not sure I believe in the concept of multi-tasking. To me, that means spreading your attention over a wide variety of tasks, projects, ideas, and thoughts equally.

No, instead, I think how it works is you work quickly on one thing at a time and, let’s be honest, sometimes you half-ass it. That’s okay. I’m not saying don’t do that. What if you could be less scatter brained and give most gusto? What if you could get some of what’s inside out?

This is about writing and doing and creating theater or any other type of project. This is about how to start. This points to some elements of how to keep going. It’s more observation than advice. It’s not even a real essay with the best structure or syntax. This is an idea that needed to get out.

I hear and I have SO MANY good ideas. Brilliant ones. Things that shatter your mind into a million pieces and make you go, “this changes everything.”

I see less of this actualized. I guess it’s to be expected. It takes a lot of effort to get things going.

I’m just going to point to one thing that may help in this process of turning an idea to a reality – write it out. Get it out. Badly if need be. Repeatedly. Using really bad jargon-y, clunky turns of phrase. With bad grammar or no grammar. *gasp!*

I know, I get it. It’s scary. But at some point the idea needs to get out so we can shape it and mold it. It has to be spoken aloud. Written out. It has to come out, not stay in for a huge change to occur.

I do believe in the power of transformation. It sounds so new age-y, but whatever, my thing is, hey, do you want to keep living the same old life you’ve been living? Or would you be willing to put it out there and maybe have someone scoff, but so what?

The result is a new play.

The result is a new play that moves people.

The result is a new play that changes people’s perception.

The result is a new play that inspires someone to take their own courageous step.

It ripples out.

But it has to start somewhere. This is a small way. Easily overlooked. Easily shooed as a given. Yet it’s so essential. And sometimes putting a little intention into it goes a long way. Keeps things moving forward.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer who writes all kinds of things. She co-wrote a play with Julie Jigour, THANATOS, for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which will be read this Saturday at EXIT Theatre at 8 PM. For more and to experience her creative writing, go to https://dynamicsofgroove.com/.

Theater Around The Bay: In Every Ending, A Beginning

Barbara Jwanouskos, thinking, remembering.

My first teacher in playwriting – really, the first teacher that taught me how to write and parse out creative thought – was Naomi Iizuka. Among many things that have stuck with me over time is how she would describe beginnings and endings. She asked us to take notice and reflect on how every ending within our play was also a beginning – and vice versa. I think about this frequently. How the end of one period of life can welcome a new stage and moment, which is exciting.

I’m thinking about this in the context of the news about Theater Pub’s closure. How this space, company, and group of people has given us confidence and joy in making art and exploring its edges together. And I’m thinking about the ways in which an ending of Theater Pub means a beginning of something else. Something new and exciting and that we don’t know anything about yet.

I’ve written before about relishing in the space of the unknown and how in this realm, anything is possible. That it’s all about ideas and trying them out and learning from them. I think this is one of those times again. Where we can allow ourselves the time to ask questions that get to something deeper than probably a lot of us realized we were capable of. The start of those questions resulted in the closure of Theater Pub, but this is just the beginning. This means that artists and thinkers of all types now can go out trying things on their own or with new people, old friends, whomever. It gives us all space to put on stage exactly what we want to see and really make it a project we truly care about. It’s not that we didn’t have that with Theater Pub – quite the opposite, Theater Pub taught us how to do this. How it was possible.

So, I’m looking at this moment and looking beyond the foreground to what’s on the horizon. We may not be able to fully see it yet, but I am confident with the experiences we had from doing things together under this umbrella, we will be making some great art for our communities to share in. Thank you for reading, seeing, and supporting us! There is always more to come though maybe it looks a little different than in the past.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. For more, check out her blog, The Dynamics of Groove.

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost Opens Next Week!

Co-Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez reveals what drew her to Stupid Ghost, announces the marvelous cast, and releases a teaser trailer.

One week from today, San Francisco Theater Pub will open Stupid Ghost, written by Savannah Reich (http://savannahreich.com) and directed by Claire Rice. I chose this play for Theater Pub after it was shown to me by a friend, Theater Pub’s own Barbara Jwanouskos. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This play touches me in so many ways. It has heart, it’s dark and twisty, and it has the kind of humor that sort of tickles you on the chin before punching you in the gut. To me, this play is about the desire to connect above all else, being unsure how to do so, and being willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get what you want.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

I selfishly wanted to direct this piece myself. After sitting with that decision for awhile, I realized there was only one person I knew who could direct this play. That person is Claire Rice. To me, this play screams Claire Rice’s name from the rooftops. It pleads to be read by her. It begs to be thoughtfully analyzed and synthesized into a production by her mind and her heart. I sent the play in Claire’s direction and let her know how I felt. Thankfully she agreed with me and took on the project.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

I’m now incredibly delighted to announce our cast and release a teaser trailer for this very special Theater Pub production.

Ghost – Christine Keating
Ronnie – Celeste Conowitch
Poltergeist – Ryan Hayes
Lecturer – Valerie Fachman
John Pierre – Megan Cohen

See Stupid Ghost only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco):

Monday, September 19 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 20 @ 8:00pm
Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts.

See you at the Pub!

The Real World – Theater Edition: Imagination as Power

The other day I had the good fortune to join local playwright, Veronica Tjioe, in being interviewed by Jovelyn Richards on her radio program, Jovelyn’s Bistro. We talked about the SF Olympians Festival and the plays we were writing as a part of it. I had a fantastic time being a part of the conversation, which you’ll be able to check out on KPFA’s website, under the Cover to Cover archives.

One of Jovelyn’s questions really got me thinking about our role as writers and creators and the power we have to invent new worlds, new language, new characters, relationships, and modes of being. I’m paraphrasing, but she asked our thoughts on the importance of inventing new language and constructing new narratives in order to respond to what we’re not seeing represented. If I could underline, highlight, put in bold, and make 64 font anything, it’d be this idea. And the heart of it, for me, is within the question Jovelyn asked.

As writers (but honestly this could span to the other roles we play as well), it’s more than just the recognition that we have this ability to see and imagine new worlds and possibilities — I would say we have a responsibility to promote and enact them to the fullest of our capacity. And — good news! — if you are creating, dreaming, and envisioning, you are already doing that. Here’s one step further, if you have articulated this vision to another person or written the idea down, you are already working towards implementation. This is a huge step closer to seeing a new possibility as a reality and creating it.

When I started writing plays some of it was a response to things about the world that I found more nuanced than what the mainstream version of that idea was. I see these unspoken rules that are often hypocritical, yet we’re expected to live by them. For instance, with one of the first full length plays I wrote, It’s All in the Mix, I really just wanted to create a play about DJs because I wanted to see that on stage. Rob Handel of CMU would often tell us to write the play you would go see. But in this world I was seeing these rules and ideas that tended to collide and overpower each other.

Everyone can be a DJ if you learn how and pursue it with passion and skill.

Skill and technique talks.

Okay, well, what about women are they good DJs?

I feel like all I hear is no, but I’m a woman and I like DJing so am I doomed to being bad?

Oh, I saw this DJ who’s a woman and she was really good!

But other male friends didn’t think so? Can’t articulate why?

I don’t get it.

For me in this instance, it starts with this feeling like something I’m experiencing isn’t being represented, or is minimized, shut down, and ignored. So I want to test if this is true. I started with using plays in order to see the characters relate to each other and how it unraveled. I’m using gender in this example, but this extends into race, ethnicity, income level, backgrounds and abilities of all types, who you love, what you look like, how you live your life, and what you believe. There is so much out there beyond what has become a standard for a protagonist or story. We just need to create it and if people aren’t going to make it – then we need to help each other make it.

I think now I’m in a different space with writing – I see gaps in what characters or stories the entertainment world and I’m looking to fill that gap if I can. And if I can’t, I want to support someone (or multiple people!) who can. It starts with the recognition that I can do something. One of my gifts may be writing or storytelling. Others have other gifts or other ways they express those gifts. We can all learn so much from each other as we continue to imagine different worlds than what we’re seeing and support each other in making them real.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. Blog’s over here. THANATOS, the play she is writing with Julie Jigour and directed by Christine Keating, is being read on October 15 at EXIT Theatre in San Francisco.

Incidentally, if you want to put that imagination into practice – check out the SF Olympians Festival’s call for submissions! The Real World – Theater Edition: Imagination as Power

The Real World – Theater Edition: A Couple Words

Barbara Jwanouskos, speaking up.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written more of an editorial for San Francisco Theater Pub instead of conducting an interview with a local theater maker, but I thought I’d write down a couple words this week because I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been thinking about how our artistic systems are set-up and how we engage in them. I’ve been thinking about how we develop our craft and make connections across communities. I’ve also been thinking about all the barriers that come about when you’re trying to make art. And why even make art in the first place and not something useful like a chair? Though it seems even chair-making is a becoming a lost art.

Barbara: Writing is hard!

Barbara: Writing is hard!

I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to connect with other people making theater, help them out, get them to read my stuff and give me their feedback, submit to stuff, have people I don’t know give me recognition, have my writing bolstered by being a part of development groups. Not everyone gets these chances. And I feel very lucky that they’ve come my way.

At the same time, I’m writing my plays and as much as I can I go see theater and be a part of my community (though it’s not been nearly as much as when I was younger since I had less that I was responsible for then). And then something happened. I stopped doing that as much as I was.

Why?

When you look at how we put on plays, you usually have three choices:

1) do it yourself – self-produce
2) make friends with people who can put on your play, like a theater company
3) send it into the ether and hope that your writing holds weight against anyone else out there doing the same

(We haven’t even gotten into the question of how to get people who are not your family or friends to see your plays or pay attention to you in anyway.)

So, these things are hard, which is not a reason not to do them, but something about this process felt icky and off. I felt overly attached to the idea that someone else knew more about what I should create, why I should create it, and whether it was any good. Everyone needs feedback – you can’t live in a vacuum. BUT.

I was thinking to myself at some point this year – why do I do this? It’s extremely painful. There are so many other things I could do with that time that may be more enjoyable and relaxing. Maybe even more rewarding. Why do I keep coming back to this? And the simplest answer that I could come up with is that I do it because I have to do it.

I don’t have a deeper answer than that. I wish I did. Because then I could keep reminding myself of that when it gets hard, when I feel like my writing sucks, that I suck, and that it will probably always be that way. It’d make it so much easier. Maybe this is why I can’t be motivated by money or even pushing to a greater good – though I do think my role in that realm is partly enacted through writing.

A couple months ago, I started looking for ways that I could get in between 5 minutes to 1 hour of writing regularly. Everything that I did was based off a deadline, but it usually went something like, do nothing, do nothing, do nothing, deadline approaches – note that, do nothing, freak out, do nothing, freak out to the point of breakdown, turn inward, do nothing, start doing some mindless task that has nothing to do with writing, deadline is around the corner, freak out, and then finally write something. Suffice it to say, I procrastinate. And I’m a perfectionist. It’s a winning combination. ☺

Anyway, I was trying to break that cycle so I figured, well hey, if I can do a little tai chi every day and get after what I want, then I should just shut up already and figure out a way to do it with writing.

I had this blog that I wasn’t using. Guys, it was the equivalent of a rundown old warehouse that had bug problems or something. Totally useable space that needed some work.

At first, the idea was, “Oh, I’ll just share these short plays and snippets of scenes I write”. But it gradually morphed into a space and time where I could very casually explore creativity through writing without boundaries or rules. I made a goal – write and post something on there every day – so it’s been mostly poems and short stories (WHICH I NEVER WRITE) and then most recently, a little scene popped out the other day.

I was like, “Oh, hello, friend. What’s this?”

The whole shift towards devoting time to this space was to take the power to create back in my own hands. To say, hey, I don’t need anyone to give me a grant for this, welcome me into a development program, say I’m a good writer, buy a ticket to see a play of mine, or pay attention to me in any way at all – and I can STILL write good shit every so often. Honestly, I personally find something of value in everything I put down in words. Some resonate with me more than others, but everything has helped.

A strange thing happened – a small group of people started paying attention to me. No really, like 10 people. But, even though it’s a small group – I don’t know any of them personally. Not a one. All of them live all over the world. Occasionally I get a comment that I restored their faith in online poetry or something – which real Barbara is like, “wtf, me? Really? Are you sure? Cuz I’m just winging it and going with the flow…” And online Barbara is like, “omg thank you for reading!”

My point is that in being able to remove my attachment to any sort of outcome with where my writing should go or what it should do or whether it should make me money or open up any doors, it is in some small way giving people a little joy or inspiration in their day and for me, it’s opened up a huge door of possibility. I’d never fully considered/believed before that I could write a book, or even in theater – that I could get that fellowship or teaching appointment or have my play produced and developed by X, and now, I’m like, “Oh, well, I would just need to set it up as a goal and start training.”

I want to share this because so often as artists we are told no or that we’re missing the mark or that we’re confusing and people aren’t going to get it or that we’re not going to make any money and survive by our art alone. And I just want to say, I think that’s all bullshit and that if you burn with a desire to write, then just write stuff and fuck everyone else who will give you a prize or a pat on the back. They’re cool too sometimes, but it starts – it ALWAYS starts – with what you love. Do that and then if you have a goal you can chip away in some small way every day.

Eventually you will reach a height you hadn’t dreamed of. And eventually you will be working with such speed and proficiency that you wouldn’t recognize yourself five years ago or even five months ago.

And for the people out there that have keys to doors we don’t have – remember why it is that you do what you do. You have the power to open up opportunities for lots of people who are very passionate about what they do. All it takes is a second to listen and a little patience as someone reveals what they are capable of. Know that they have to reveal it to themselves before they can reveal it to anyone else.

Official Babs Headshot

Official Babs Headshot

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. She has a blog called the Dynamics of Groove, which if you go to, know that the bio is still under construction. She is co-writing a play about the Greek god, Thanatos (think the Grim Reaper only less scary) with her friend and fellow writer, Julie Jigour. It will be presented through the San Francisco Olympians Festival on October 15, 2016 at EXIT Theatre. For more information, click here.