Working Title: The Move, The Packing, The Thrush and The Woodpecker

This week Will Leschber barely makes it out of his moving truck to speak to Custom Made Theatre about The Thrush & The Woodpecker.

Hello there dear readers! You all are a dedicated bunch. I gotta give you props. Not only are you here now reading away, but we even tried to trick you all by saying that the last Working Title blog entry was a goodbye blog! Well, as you may know, it was a farewell Bay Area blog but it is not the last Working Title blog, no siree bob blog… we can’t trick you! Tricks are for kids. Let’s keep this party going from across the country!

So I can’t tear myself away. Even after the 3500-mile journey from San Francisco to Phoenix to Austin then Kansas and on to Connecticut in a 26’ box truck towing a car, even after unloading a ridiculous amount of moving boxes, even after getting my bearings and loosing sleep and battling landlords and praising new daycare workers and thanking in-laws and parents…even after all that, I can’t tear myself away from San Francisco indie theater. You guys deserve the best. So I have a few more suggestions to help wet your whistles and prep your brains as you dive into the new offerings from Bay Area theater.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Katz, Artistic Director at Custom Made Theater about The Thrush & the Woodpecker, a new play by Steve Yockey that has its rolling world premiere beginning in a few short weeks. If you think that driving cross-country with a dog and a dad sounds dramatic and surprising, that has nothing on this revenge play. Starring local legend Stacy Ross, Shotgun Players Company Member Fontana Butterfield, and hot up-and-coming actor Adam Magill (Berkeley Rep’s Macbeth, SF Playhouse’s Stupid Fucking Bird), The Thrush and the Woodpecker tells the engaging story of a mysterious stranger who arrives to turn the world upside down for Brenda Hendricks and her son Noah, who’s recently returned from college unexpectedly. What avian secrets lie in wait?! We’ll see…

The Thrush and the Woodpecker copy

I asked Brian Katz the best film to pair with the new and unusual Thrush/Woodpecker and like a good Artistic Director, he offered up the question to his wonderful production team to get a myriad of opinions. Here’s a sampling of recommendations:

Kitty Torres (costumer) suggests: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Since the play and the film definitely share the same levels of obsession and deceit.

Liz Ryder (sound) concisely recommends: The Birds!

Leah Abrams (Custom Made Theater Company’s Executive Director) offers up: The 2006 thriller Notes on a Scandal because its two female characters strike me in a similar way, a mix of perfectly normal/really off-kilter in their own way. AND Hitchcock’s The Birds. I think it’s the film that terrifies me most – there’s the obvious havoc wreaked by said birds, and also just that sense of the supernatural invading seemingly normal people in the real world.

The Birds copy

With the uncanny, supernatural, deceitful, unnerving recommendations Thrush/Woodpecker sounds to be quite an intriguing experience. The play opens August 4th and runs until August 20th. More info can be found at www.custommade.org.

Working Title: That’s All One, Our Play is Done…

This week Will Leschber bids farewell to the Bay …

Since this is the last blog entry I’ll write while I’m still in the Bay Area, we are going to change up the format, as one is wont to do when times are a-changing. Call it indulgent but I’m confident anyone out there can sympathize with a time of transition.

I’m not sure where to begin. How to sum up the closing of a chapter that has redefined one’s life? We all know that ruminating swell of indigo emotion that accompanies a transition. Whether it be closing a show, semester’s end, season’s shift, a graduation tassel turn, a job change, an impending parting, or a big move: There is a particular bittersweetness reserved for such occasions. As you my know, dear readers, my wife (fellow blogger, beautiful Ashley Cowan of Cowan Palace fame) and I are moving out of the Bay Area. We are journeying due east to see what dreams may come on another coast. Endings lead to new beginnings and the bittersweet feelings remain…

I’ve never been fully satisfied with the term bittersweet. The blanket term of bittersweet doesn’t lock down everything encapsulated in the leaving of a phase of life. There needs to be a term that rolls the jumbled entirety of emotions that may appear in the garbs of… excited to start a new era, anxious about the uncertain future, melancholy for all things left behind, joyful for optimistic possibilities, wistful of times gone by, thoughtful of all the 525,600 minutes that made up each year passed, hopeful for a bright road ahead, cognizant of the fact that these are the last days of disco. The juxtaposed opposing emotions somehow simultaneously crossing vast plains and wide trains of thought.

The Radiant Indigo Fade...or Crimson Wistful Waveaway...the new "bittersweet" should more resemble something of that ilk. If only wordy!!

The Radiant Indigo Fade…or Crimson Wistful Waveaway…the new “bittersweet” should more resemble something of that ilk. If only wordy!!

I knew that feeling when I moved out here 5 years ago. I travelled west to be with the one I love and to move towards a future in a new place and a bright space. I found a small place in the indie theater community here in the City which meant the world to me. Being a part of a living, breathing, evolving beast of creative theater forces was exciting.

12th Night cast copy

Living in a city where every street felt paved with history and character, the light and the dark. Working exhaustive long hours at huge party events from the rolling hills of Napa to the wet cliffs of Monterey where I would not get to attend the affluent galas but I would get to tear down the billowy tents and bright lights afterwards. Living in the middle of the socio-economic divide. Watching the 3am moon kiss the San Francisco skyline from the autumn avenues of Treasure Island in the middle of the Bay.

Treasure Island Living copy

Winking at the final sunset on the roof of our 2nd apartment as we moved into the last apartment we would have in the City. Seeing theaters close their doors when landlords decided they could get more rent. Performing Rent! Performing Shakespeare from bars to redwood forests. Performing my wedding vows in front of 150 of my closest friends and family on a day that could not have been better. Experiencing my first child come into the world and knowing joy unlike any other. Making last plans and saying goodbye… all these things are wrapped in that opalescent mass that color the experience of leaving.

San Francisco U Turn copy

I know anyone who has lived in this tumultuous time and hurly burley place will hear the echoes of my experiences within their own.

I don’t know how to properly put into words the feeling that I know the decision to move on is the right one, yet a part of me will feel as though they never got enough time here. The truth is I am past the point of being able to live and breathe the City. To experience a place fully one needs time and the means to do so. Too often I’ve found myself busy with the act of getting by and being an bill-paying adult to truly enjoy this glorious place. So much of living in the Bay Area within the Theater scene or otherwise feels so transitory and impermanent. But that is the way of all things. The edge of impermanence is just sharper here. Outside all of the sharp edges, I can say in all cliche, I will leave some of my heart in San Francisco. I am so grateful to have known the people I have known. I am so thankful to have been part of the projects of which I was a part. To Theater Pub, to theater goers, to the blog readers, to the bay, to the City, to all co-workers, to the friends I’ve made, the the daughter I made, to love that never fades…thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

…Be seeing you.

I leave you with a little Shakespeare and a little rock ‘n roll bard named Tom Petty

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.
~Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act V, Sc 1

It’s time to move on
It’s time to get going
What lies ahead I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, babe,
The grass is growing.
It’s time to move on
It’s time to get going…
~Tom Petty, Time to Move On, Wildflowers

Everything Is Already Something: Realistic TBA Conference Panel Ideas

Allison Page is clearly looking forward to the TBA conference on Monday.

Berkeley Frappe: Which Theatre Companies Have The Best Snacks

We Hired Only Local Actors for One Year & Our Theater Didn’t Burn to the Ground

The Sarah Rule: How to Produce Plays by Women (But Only if They’re Written by Sarah Ruhl)

How to Take a Selfie Good Enough to Use as a Headshot for Twelve Years

Getting Cast as a Woman Over 40 Without Playing Someone’s Stepmother

Set Designs You Can Repurpose Until They Collapse During a Performance of Man of La Mancha

Faces to Make During Board Meetings When You Want to Perish But Cannot

Audition Waist Trainers: A Roundtable Discussion

Creative Ways to Swear in Front of the Kid Playing Oliver Twist When Nancy Forgets Her Line Again

Pros & Cons: Pretending to be a Man to Get Ahead as an Actor

Fight Choreographers Wrestling Each Other for 90 Minutes

Improvising a Monologue Because You’re Too Lazy to Memorize Even One More Thing, Please God, Please

How to Watch ‘The Bachelor’ During Rehearsal Without the SM Noticing

Do Blondes Really Have More Fun (Playing Girlfriends of the Protagonist)?

Group Nap

Playwright Complaint Circle

Moving From San Francisco to New York to Get Cast in San Francisco

Producing David Mamet Over & Over & Over Again, A Guide

Stage Managing a Show You Hate with People You Hate

How to Perform on a Stage 400 Times Smaller Than This One:

Empty Theater Stage

Empty Theater Stage — Image by © Chase Swift/CORBIS

Showmances: How to End Them…Maybe, But Probably Not

How to Use a Toaster as a Light Board After Yours Gets Stolen for the 9th Time

Payment Negotiation for Actors: Get Two Beers Instead of One for a Three Year Run

Shakespeare for Dummies: Can You Get an Actual Dummy to Replace an Actor in Midsummer Night’s Dream to Save Cash? Yes, You Can.

5 Sexiest Theatre Companies Shut Down This Year Due to Lack of Funding, Hear From the Weeping Artistic Directors Themselves!

Getting Board Members to Stop Asking if You Can Tap Into the Popularity of ‘The Walking Dead’

Can You Get Away With Casting This White Male as Tiger Lily? (THIS IS A TEST)

Stage Manager & Director Speed Dating: Watch 45 Directors Fight Over 3 SMs

Costume Designing on a $6 Budget

Are You Ready to Set Every Show in the Apocalypse?

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director in San Francisco. She’ll be looking for snacks at the TBA Conference and live tweeting it all @allisonlynnpage.

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Re-Cap Of 2015 Part I

Today is the first of our three installments of 2015 recaps from each of our nine staff bloggers. Each has their own unique angle on this past year, so make sure you come back for the rest tomorrow and Wednesday. The Stueys will post on New Year’s Eve.

Top Five “Words of Wisdom” From Folks I’ve Interviewed by Barbara Jwanouskos

2015 marked the first year of shifting “The Real World – Theater Edition” to a mostly interview-based column mainly focused on generative theater artists, new work, and playwrights. As I reflected on the year, five “words of wisdom” moments sprung to mind that I would love to set as an intention moving forward into 2016. They resonated with me when I initially interviewed each of the people below and then again as I reviewed the interviews of the past year.

I think it’s best to let these words stand alone without any framing or reasons why I chose them. After all, when something resonates for you personally, it just does. There’s not much more to it than that. Hopefully, though, highlighting these five artists will also bring new ideas and wonder to the forefront of everyone reading too!
In no particular order, here are their words again:

1) Ariel Craft, director
“Don’t be afraid of not knowing, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know. You can’t be expected to have all the answers in the beginning and, if you think that you do, be cautious of those answers.”

2) Donald E. Lacy, Jr., comedian, radio DJ, performer, writer, director, and community leader
“For other writers and artists I can’t tell them what to write or how they should address social ills, but the first advice I would give is to say you have to feel passionately about what you are writing about, whatever that may be. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but for me, I have to care. Especially as it relates to social issues and or injustices. I despise injustice. I despise racism, so having such strong feelings about those issues, it makes it easy for me to tap into what I want to say about those particular issues. But for me, I like to support my point of view with facts.”

3) Alan Olejniczak, playwright, librettist
“You must also really love the subject of your play as it may take years to develop.”

4) Savannah Reich, playwright, performer, and producer
“For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.”

5) Marisela Treviño Orta, playwright
“I make a point to wait until I’ve gotten a play into several drafts before sharing the script with anyone. I need that time to really get to know what the story so that when people have notes for me I’m able to determine if those notes help me realize the narrative I’m trying to write or if they are going in another direction.”

The 5 Most Surprising Things that Happened to Me This Year by Charles Lewis III

I wouldn’t call 2015 my favorite year, but it was an interesting one theatrically. Some of it was by design, some of it was happenstance, but all of it taught me something. With all the moments I now recall, here are five that came out of left-field.

1) I sang. I’ve auditioned for so many musicals over the years that I’d long-since stopped holding my breath about actually being cast in one, let alone two in one year (one of which also required me to dance). But between appearing in a brand new musical and singing “Pinball Wizard” at the top of my lungs, I finally got over a stage-based fear that’s been with me since high school.

2) I saw the Red Planet. I was part of the writers’ pool for this year’s two rep shows by Wily West Productions. It was my first time being part of a group, this one led by Jennifer Roberts. One of the two scripts, Zero Hour: The Mars Experiment, had a performance attended by actual candidates of the Mars One project and got a reading at the Otherworld Theatre in Chicago.

3) I learned to like costumes. Not that I ever hated them (although I’ve worn a few horrendous ones in my time), I just didn’t ever want to be the one making the decisions about them. But a director kinda has to make those decisions and I wound up directing a lot this year. To my pleasant surprise, I wound up liking the things my actors wore: I created a cartoonish burger-place cap for On the Spot; I got my Olympians cast to look like a pack of scented markers; and as for Texting

4) I made a skimpy man-thong into a prop. A proud moment for me. Nothing I put on my resume will ever top it. Speaking of which…

5) I gave up my reluctance in calling myself a director. I only acted in two projects, which would normally lead me to calling this a slow year. But I felt envigorated after doing them. This occurred in the same year that I found myself at the proverbial “helm” of so many projects that I finally felt confident enough to put “Director” on my theatrical CV and told people to consider me for projects – which they have.

Oh yeah – I also ran into Colin Firth on the streets of San Francisco, but no one wants to hear about that, do they?

The Top Five Venues of 2015 by Anthony Miller

Hey you guys, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, when my Top 5 format becomes everyone’s format. It’s much like the 90’s, when what I already wore became fashionable. At the beginning of the year I made 2 resolutions, 1) Read The Great Gatsby and 2) Leave the house more often. As we come to the end of the year, only one of those really worked out. As it stands, I have read 17 pages of The Great Gatsby, it took all of 2014 just to finish the introduction. So we’ll table this one again. However, I did manage to get out more, consequently I got to see a lot of different shows in a whole bunch of places. So let’s look at my five favorite venues of 2015.

1) Pianofight
Wasn’t this everyone’s favorite venue of 2015? I’m not the first person to say it, but what Rob Ready and everyone at Pianofight has accomplished is amazing. It’s always fun to be there, the bar is great, the fried chicken sandwiches are the best, and it’s provided a clubhouse of sorts for SF theatre. With three stages, it’s hosting shows from every facet of the Bay Area performing arts scene. All the mini-scenes in the bay are getting together in one place and it’s resulting in more shows and bigger audiences. Whether I’m seeing a show or producing a show there, it’s always fun. I see a huge 2016 for this place, and they deserve it.

2) The Curran
While the 100 year-old Curran Theater is going under renovations, it has been hosting an exciting new series of plays called Curran: Under Construction. I was lucky enough to see a lot of these this year, and because I knew most of the house staff, I got to see not only a lot of cool theatre; I got to explore the place like crazy. By putting the audience on stage with the show, it turns the historic Curran stage into an intimate 150 seat venue that just happens to overlook a 1600 seat theatre and a giant chandelier. The sheer variety of shows I saw was vast There were immersive theater pieces like The Object Lesson, one man tributes to Lenny Bruce, and the Theatre Rock awesomeness of Ghost Quartet and Stew’s Notes of A Native Song. Add that to hanging out on a stage that has hosted hundreds of theatre legends, exploring their basement, fly rails and sneaking into a box seat and drinking a beer, and it makes for an awesome experience every time. And entering through the star door is pretty fun; It’s a really nice stage door.

3) Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater
For purely sentimental reasons, The ol’ Roda Theater makes my list. After roughly 3 years of House Managing for them, I left for greener pastures. Sure, the Roda can be aptly described much like Ferris Beuller described Cameron’s house; “It’s like a museum it’s very beautiful and very cold, and you not allowed to touch anything”. But I did have a lot of fun there. My co-workers were great, and as nerdy as it sounds, there is something absolutely thrilling about getting 600 people seated and giving the house away on time. Not to mention, I saw Tartuffe there, which was easily my favorite show of 2015.

4) The Grand Lake Theater
OK, this is a movie theater, but it is noteworthy. The historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland is my favorite movie theater in the world. I saw Star Wars Episode 7 in classic 2 projector 3D there and whenever I can see a movie here, I do. It’s a beautiful old fashioned theater that still raises a curtain when the movie starts; an organist plays before the show, and it’s got a pretty ceiling. Not to mention the fiercely liberal views that are often displayed on the marquee. Let me be clear, this is best movie theater in the Bay Area. They’re currently hosting the “Roadshow” Version of The Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm, You’re doing it no justice by seeing it at the Kabuki AMC, Go to Oakland, see a movie there. You won’t be sorry

5) The EXIT
I just can’t quit you EXIT Theater, I love you and your pee-pee smelling sidewalk. I don’t see a world where I don’t see shows here. It still remains a place where independent theatre artists can find a home or just get started. It’s the home of SF Fringe, The Olympians Festival, DivaFest and everybody’s first show in San Francisco. With great new venues like Pianofight and the Strand opening up, the Exit is still the Exit, the CBGB’s of SF Indie Theater.

Charles Lewis is an actor and a director and a writer. Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright. Anthony R. Miller is writer and producer, he’s a got a very busy 2016 coming up, keep up with it at http://www.awesometheatre.org.

Everything Is Already Something: Writing the TBA Awards or How the Sausage Gets Made

Allison Page, bringing you the sausage.

If you’re a theater person in the Bay Area, you probably know the Theatre Bay Area Awards show was this past Monday. You may or may not know that I wrote the script. As in, the script for the 2+ hours that is the TBA Awards Show. Last year I wrote a recap of the awards show for the TPub blog, and this year, since I’m looking at it from an entirely different angle, I’ll give you some idea of what is was like putting things together.

STEP 1: OH THIS WILL BE FUN
When I was approached to write the script, I accepted because it seemed like such a strange experience. How could I say no to that? What other chance will I have to write the script for an awards show, until Neil Patrick Harris uproots me from my tenderloin apartment and takes me away from all this, of course.

STEP 2: THERE’S A LOT OF THIS, ISN’T THERE?
Just setting up the structure of the script (which I wrote in Final Draft) took many hours.

There are 27 categories, most of them with three tiers of recipients. There are 4 unique awards — three Legacy Awards and one Charles Dean Award. The regular awards do not receive acceptance speeches, but the Legacy and Charles Dean Awards do, so they look a bit different in the script. There were also 4 musical acts and two host monologues. The script skeleton, without ANY dialogue or lyrics, was 38 pages long. All said and done, it was 116 pages. YEAH. Each segment needed stage directions. Where are people entering? Do they cross to the podium? Do they have a body mic or a handheld? Which handheld? What are the finalists doing? Where do the recipients enter? Where do they exit once they’ve received the award? Where is the band? Does the screen come in? Does the screen go out? Is the iris open? Are there sound cues? Light cues? Curtain cues? Chairs? Tableaus? Does the host introduce the presenters? Or does the announcer do it? Because those are two different people. Where does the musical act come in? That was an exhausting list, right? It’s not even everything that needs to be considered.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

STEP 3: NOBODY’S A WINNER
Terminology. Everybody loves to specify their terminology. In particular, they customize it to make people feel cozy. In this case, you’re not a “nominee,” you’re a “finalist” and you’re not a “winner,” you’re a “recipient”. I get it. I definitely get it. But also, the collective brains of most people would never go to those words first, so you’ve got to correct people over and over when they say, “winner” because they’ll get it stuck in their heads and then everyone’s saying the wrong thing — or worse if you’re a writer who is easily bothered by things, which is to say if you’re a writer — inconsistently referring to people as more than one thing. If someone uses all of these words: winner, recipient, nominee, and finalist, now everyone’s wondering if there are different kinds of awards and if only they’d been nominated in that category, they could actually be a real winner.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.21.46 AM

STEP 4: WHAT WILL THEY SAY?
A cool thing about the TBA Awards is that they remind you just how large the Bay Area theater community actually is. Of the 20+ people I had to write things for, I knew…3 of them. And those three I didn’t even know very well. I will say I learned a fair amount about various theater companies and people because of all the necessary Googling and Facebook stalking I had to do. The whole thing made me paranoid to put words in anyone’s mouth that they wouldn’t say. For instance, I had some remark about “Oh I’m going to go home and drink some wine,” or some tame thing like that, and then searched through that person’s Facebook photos to see if I could find photos of them drinking a glass of wine, not to make sure they liked wine, but to make sure they weren’t sober after years of dealing with alcoholism and attending AA meetings because WOULDN’T THAT BE SO TERRIBLE?!? It would. It would be terrible. I did find photos of that person with wine and the horror of making a magnificent faux pas began to fade. Fade, not go away entirely. Strangely, it was stuff I would never have thought anyone could take issue with, that people would want to change. Humans love to tinker. That’s fine. If you’re going to take on a project like this, it’s best to be flexible because otherwise your head’s going to pop. That being said…

STEP 5: JUST SKIMMING IT
Oh boy. The most delightful surprise of this process was that people just do not read very carefully. I GET IT. We all have a lot of stuff to do. Shows to direct, sets to build, lines to memorize, all kinds of stuff. But the majority of things I had to take a second look at because someone had a question or request or complaint, weren’t even valid. It was just that they hadn’t read it properly. So I’m going back over the script with a fine, fine sifter looking for what they’re talking about, over and over again, and then ending up with “It’s already right.” Now 20 minutes of my life have died because they’ve been glancing more than reading. Like I said, I get that. Maybe I would do the same thing. After all, I’m the writer, so it’s my job to look at this damn thing over and over again anyway. They’re just presenting and there’s no reason they should be laboring over the thing like it’s grandma’s antique fine china.

STEP 6: SPEECHES THAT I CAN’T CONTROL
When Legacy and Charles Dean Awards are given out, there are two speeches: a speech by the person giving the award, and a speech by the person or representative of the person receiving the award. Clearly I don’t write those, because that wouldn’t make any sense, but it also means nobody knows how long they’re going to be. I freely admit to being obsessed with timing and shortness (despite the length of this blog). I’m the creative director of a sketch comedy company. I like 20 second sketches. 4 specialty awards were given out. That means 8 speeches. 4 to give them out, 4 to accept them. Let’s say each speech is 3 minutes, that would mean 24 additional minutes are added to the evenings events. And though I was wandering around drinking cocktails during most of the show, I can tell you I saw some longer than that. There was at least one acceptance speech that was very short because the recipient (RECIPIENT, SEE, IT’S IN MY BRAIN NOW) didn’t know she was receiving an award. So it was one of those great, sincere surprise moments of “Oh my gosh, thank you!” that tends to inspire brevity. Naturally, I loved that. It’s also just nice to see someone so thankful and surprised in real time. Then there’s the host monologues. The host flew in the afternoon of the show, so all of his stuff had to come together really quickly. He worked out all his own material for the opening monologue and mid-show monologue. It made the most sense to do that for several reasons. We didn’t know each other, he was flying in day-of, and we have completely different styles of humor. I’m more of a satire guy, and he’s more of a wordplay/pun/clown guy. Both are fine, but imposing one on the other without having the time to work it out together would be foolhardy and would have given him an awful lot of alien material to memorize when he’s already got his own stuff in his brain and there’s just 4 hours from his entering the theater until the show starts.

STEP 7: THE OPENING MUSICAL NUMBER
So, because the entirety of the rest of the script was not enough work, I also wrote and directed the opening musical number, which was performed by Killing My Lobster, the company I’m co-creative director of. It was a parody of Willkommen from Cabaret, referencing various Bay Area theater stuff. It was really fun and complicated to put together. There were 12 performers, and only a few of them are singers and/or dancers. Mostly it was just funny people. Thank goodness the TBA Awards musical director came in to work with us on our vocals for an hour last week. But all said and done we got ONE rehearsal with the band, the afternoon of the show. The sort of psychological reaction of the performers when they walked out onto that big stage in that HUGE theater, was really interesting to me. It was a unique experience for them to be in a space that size. We’re used to performing in a house closer to 100 seats, and in that environment, we can totally dominate. But suddenly being in that grand theatrical arena really freaked them out for a minute. I had the sense that they hadn’t really given themselves permission to do it; that they felt they didn’t deserve it or something. After a rocky run with the band, there was a necessary pep talk in the dressing room, and once they took the stage for the actual performance, they killed. Or that’s how I feel anyway. Clearly I’m biased, but I thought it was awesome. The two most important jokes (to me) I wrote for that evening were in the opening number, and I was really proud that we got to do it.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number...in their underwear.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number…in their underwear.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
My goals taking on the writing of the script were thus: have a unique experience, work really hard at something no one I’ve ever known has done before, do the world’s fastest rewrites, be funny when I can, be real about certain issues within the theater community (again, when I can get away with it), make the show more entertaining and hopefully shorter than the previous year, have a good time, get a lot of drinks, wander around The Geary like I owned the place, recognize more companies/groups/people in writing and in person, and wear a cute dress. I accomplished a lot of those things. I didn’t write every single word that was said, it’s a big show and there are so many perspectives and ideas coming from everywhere that there’s no way anyone could put it together without input/ideas/edits/on stage improvising from other people. The amount of time and effort I put into this project was truly staggering. Day and night, piles of stuff building up in my apartment as I type for so long that my legs hurt from sitting. Not going places, or doing things because I have to write constantly to get it done. I couldn’t even tell you how many hours it took. A LOT. The show itself was still too long. It’s very hard to speed these things up because there are so many moving parts, but I think there are some things that can be done to make it faster the next time around. But, this is only the second annual TBA Awards ceremony and it can certainly continue to get better and smarter over time, like all things should. Like the theater community should. I’m always bored to tears when people want to talk about why they don’t believe in awards shows, or whatever their particular issue is with it. The funny thing about that is those people often have a lot to say about theater, and if they went to the awards, they’d probably notice there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of theater people all in one place on one night, and there is no better way to connect with those people and talk about what it is that we’re all doing, what we love about it, what we hate about it, what we can DO about it, how it can be better, what the future holds, and why we don’t see each other more often when we are, collectively, the present and future of the art form we care about. So, sure, you can sit at home and write an email about it or whatever ya like doing, but it’s got nothing on looking people in the face and connecting with them over your shared loving and loathing of art. Maybe you’ll even work together someday. Or at the very least, have a feeling that maybe some production choice that they made was inspired by something they really felt passionate about, and not something they were doing specifically to piss you off. Wild, I know. Listen, after all is said and done, I will have been a part of nearly 19 productions in 2015, 3 of which are even eligible for these awards, and none of which got any nominations. So that is certainly not why I go. Though someday maybe the stuff I do will count for that. We’ll see. But I go because I’m part of this whole big monster that is theater.

I have to say, the feeling of watching someone whose work you believe in take the stage, and getting to scream and shout “WOOOOOOOOO!” for them, is pretty amazing. Because you’re not saying, “WOOOOOOOOO!” you’re saying “YA’LL SEE THAT PERSON? YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, BUT THAT RIGHT THERE IS SOMEONE YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING. WE LOVE THEM AND YOU SHOULD LOVE THEM TOO. CHECK US OUT. WE’RE OUT HERE WORKING OUR TAILS OFF JUST LIKE YOU ARE.” And that has nothing to do with winning or losing…sorry, receiving or not receiving.

Also someone held up a Black Lives Matter banner on stage and it was pretty great.

As a fun bonus, here is the entirety of the Willkommen TBA Awards opening number. (As performed by Jan Gilbert, Kyna Wise, Elaine Gavin, Ron Chapman, Sam Bertken, Justin Lucas, Griffin Taylor, Katharine Chin, Jeunee Simon, Melanie Marshall, Carlye Pollack, and Shaun Plander, with host Ron Campbell entering at the end. Two Rons, I know, you’ll figure it out.)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
Breadbox, Lamplighters, Mime Troupe
San Jose Stage, It’s all of the rage
Custom Made Theatre
Can you see the stage?

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

JUSTIN. (spoken)
Oh it is so nice to see you! Good evening! Is Broadway By The Bay in the house? Oh good. Sorry about our singing. Except mine!

RON.
We Players is probably doing Hamlet at the Jack in the Box across the street. They’ll be back, they’ll be back!

ELAINE.
It’s okay it’s just a joke.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

RON.
Leave your Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle awards outside!

KYNA. So you didn’t get as many nominations as you did last year City Lights? Hm? Forget it!

JAN. We have no troubles here. Here, life is beautiful! The Geary Theater is beautiful! Even Sean Kana’s band is beautiful!

Band is revealed.

Faultline, you’re brand new, welcome
There’s Old Hats like ACT and Magic
Cal Shakes AKA Hypothermia
Hillbarn did Funny Girl,
(spoken) Everyone did Glengarry Glenn Ross

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
There’s OMG
NCTC
and BRT

RON. So many acronyms!

JUSTIN.
And now presenting some of the nominees.

ELAINE. You mean finalists!

JAN. There are East Bay theaters and South Bay Theaters, or is it South Bay theaters and East Bay theaters? You know there’s only one way to tell the difference. Someone not from San Francisco will show you later.

KYNA. Get it, because we never leave the city!

ELAINE. You know one of my favorite things about seeing a show at Impact?

ALL. Pizza!

KYNA. Betcha they didn’t have that at the Globe.

JUSTIN. Suck it Shakespeare!

RON. And, of course, Just Theater’s amazing production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.

RON passes out on stage. JUSTIN fans him, shakes him, and does various other business to get him up and moving again.

JUSTIN. He’s okay! Just keep going!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
(whispered)
Buy a drink, fluff your hair, smile
No win? it’s okay, screw it

ELAINE. Hello, Spreckles!

ALL. (still whispering)
Taste is subjective, we don’t even sing

JUSTIN. Enchante, Central Works!

ALL.
Here for the party
At PianoFight
(We’re cheap!)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
One Man, Two Guvnors,
Pussy

We’re not just vulgar, that title is real
Happy to see you,
Please applaud with zeal

JAN. One more time!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
We’re KML
To T…B…

They are interrupted by Ron Campbell’s entrance.

RON CAMPBELL. KML? You’re Killing My Lobster?

ELAINE. Yeah!

RON CAMPBELL. You’re not even eligible for these awards, are you?

ALL. No/well not exactly/maybe someday/a technicality, etc.

RON CAMPBELL. How did you guys even get in here?

RON. Rob Ready left the door open.

RON CAMPBELL. Go back to BATS or Big City Lights or wherever it is you guys hang out. The Sketch Comedy Festival. I’ll take it from here. Come back when you do legitimate theater.

KML winces at the word legitimate.

JAN. Hey, we premiered Hunter Gatherers! We launched Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

RON CAMPBELL. Yeah, 10 years ago. Go on now, scoot!

KML starts to exit, sadly.

RON CAMPBELL. Where did they leave off? Sean, play me my note.

Band plays very end of song.

RON CAMPBELL. To T…B…

KML turns around, runs/slides toward RON, and they all finish the last note together.

RON & KML. Aaaaaaaa!

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/person who is slowly recovering from the insanity of the last week, with snacks and cleaning her apartment while watching Bob’s Burgers.

Everything Is Already Something Week 62: What If Plays Were Like Prom Dresses?

Allison Page is storming the barn.

This year there were three separate productions of Glengarry Glen Ross in the Bay Area meaning the play was running for four months straight: one production in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and one in Alameda. I should say there was one ten day stretch where GGR wasn’t playing, but there was also one ten day stretch wherein two were happening at the same time, 11 miles apart, so they sort of cancel each other out in my non-scientific mind. I wonder if both of those Ricky Romas were looking up at the same moon.

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Eurydice is playing right now in Berkeley, and played earlier this year in Palo Alto, as well as two years ago in both San Francisco and Hayward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were missing some.

There’s a company who does Book of Liz every year in San Francisco, and another company has upcoming auditions for that same show in the East Bay.

Company is playing right now in San Francisco, and auditions were just held for another production of it in the Bay Area.

Where am I going with this? (It isn’t that I’m dying to get hate mail, and it’s not that these productions can’t be good) The point is — why is this happening? I’ve heard many people say that they don’t know what other companies’ seasons are like, and that it happens out of pure coincidence. I’m sure that’s true a lot of times. Though naturally, Samuel French will tell you which other companies have a show like Glengarry Glen Ross in their line-up. Looking at it now, if you manage to miss it here, head on over to Attleboro, Massachusetts to hear some old white men yell “Cunt!” this October or wander into Cincinnati, Ohio in April of 2016 to get your Roma fix!

Now you probably think I hate GGR because I just said that. I don’t. I like it, and I actually saw one of those productions. It’s not like someone’s about to surprise anyone with it, though. “Come see our new and inventive production of Glengarry Glen Ross set in a basement sex dungeon in Quebec!” Okay, maybe I’d be into that, I don’t know.

There’s also that whole thing about how the theater community at large, and definitely the Bay Area theater community, have done much buzzing about gender parity, and clearly having three of those things happening at one time means, uh…well, something not great. I think what it actually means is not willful constant dude-choosing over lady-choosing because SCREW ‘EM, on ANY of those companies’ or directors’ or producers’ parts, but actually just the age old problem that we tend to assume it’s someone else’s job. We’ve all talked about the issue together, and now everyone will do better because we did that…so we’ll just to stick to the old white men yelling “CUNT!” train and wait for someone else to produce Top Girls to balance us out. (Also, there are other plays featuring many women at once that aren’t Top Girls. I just have to say that twice a year to remind myself that it’s true.) And then we’ll hop onto another panel next year and nod our heads while everyone complains about how there aren’t roles for women and how awful that is.

BE it, not talk about it.

BE it, not talk about it.

While I totally understand that super common impulse, it’s also how we keep things exactly the same and never ever change them: by thinking someone else will do it or that we’ll get to it later. That’s why my dad still hasn’t invented any of the weird gadgets he doodles on scratch paper, like the little water-filled windshield dog who turns to look in whatever direction you’re about to turn the car. (Sorry, pops, should’ve gotten a patent.)

At the Theater Bay Area Conference in April of this year, I was struck HARD by something Martha Richards said about parity at the opening panel. (I had to search through the billion #TBACon15 tweets from April to find this — already more research than I’ve ever put into any other blogs.)

“The numbers haven’t budged in years, there’s just more conversation about it.”

Woof. Ouch. We talk about it and then almost 5 months later I’m writing this blog about how it feels like instead of being the change — Be The Change was actually the tagline for TBACon15 — we’re just looking for the change from other people.

Okay, parity is not actually the point of this blog, I’m heading back to my original point.

I’ve heard many times over that the most offensive theater is the boring kind, and — to me — there is nothing more boring than the same shows over and over again. I like a classic as much as the next guy. I like a 90s romcom, or an 80s feminist play, or a 50s drama, or old white guys yelling “CUUUUNT!” but I like them to be mixed in with a representation of NOW. Or at least something I didn’t just see last month. We live in a time of instant entertainment. A movie comes out and it’s up on iTunes nearly immediately…or sometimes even before it’s out in theaters. We want the now, we want the here, there, and everywhere and we want it immediately. Why does Bay Area theater often feel so far behind? New works are being given readings which is…good? Sometimes I’m not sure. I want those FULL productions. I want to see what the new blood has to say before it resigns itself to being produced 25 years from now and buys a warm cardigan to settle in for the cold spell. TV shows and movies take time to make. Movies can take years. Plays take time too, but they can also go up really quickly. So, to me, theater can be the most vital, fast, furious beast around, but it often isn’t. It doesn’t feel like that right now.

And yes, I KNOW PEOPLE LIKED MAD MEN, BUT GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS ISN’T MAD MEN. I’m glad we cleared that up. Also, guys, Mad Men isn’t even on anymore. You’re way fucking behind. If you wanna tap into that vibe, there have got be other plays about businesspeople/assholes so that we don’t all have to do this at one time, but seriously, Mad Men is over. It feels like we’re teaching the emerging voices of what could be a flourishing generation of theater makers that their art isn’t going to matter until they’re either in New York or have been dead for 40 years. Or until our marketing campaigns for said art can align with a TV show. That feels shitty.

What does all this have to do with prom dresses? I don’t know how it was for you, but where I grew up, no one was allowed to buy a prom dress someone else had purchased, for either a certain mile radius, or based on which school they were going to. I’m aware that rights givers could themselves crack down on this the most easily, but I don’t see that happening. I know sometimes companies try to get the rights to a play and they can’t, because that’s the hot new play at the moment and everyone wants it. That’ll happen. But why, then, is the fallback not something equally as new and exciting? I want someone to get a beautiful new prom dress, and the next person in the store is told they can’t have it, and gets an equally beautiful new prom dress — not the dress off the person working the register. There’s more than just one new great play in one hand, and one that’s been done a hundred thousand times and has no parts for women in the other.

Listen, everyone wants to sell tickets. Everyone needs to sell tickets. And get new audiences. Ohhhh the elusive New Audiences moving around in hungry clusters, passing us by. We’re all trying to hook them into our atmosphere and get them to stay there, orbiting with us. It’s not like I’ve cracked the code, but I know what doesn’t crack it. I know what they don’t want — the 21 year old, hip, fun audience members companies are salivating over, the ones you want to hop aboard the theater train — they don’t want to see something they’ve already seen. Or something so far removed from themselves (old white men yelling “CUUUUUUNT!”) that they have no real connection to it. They need to look up there, and connect. I don’t see them connecting to that. This isn’t really about Glengarry, it’s just such a good fucking example I couldn’t not use it. No, I’m not worried about Mamet alienating me. He does not now, nor will he ever know I’m alive, so it’s fine. But if you do try to move GGR into a sex basement in Quebec, I’m sure you’ll hear from him. Meanwhile you could have just commissioned a new play about Quebecois sex dungeon lovers for less than or equal to the royalties of GGR, depending on the writer.

One could argue that those theaters are in different parts of the Bay Area and that their audiences are not necessarily shared. That stance doesn’t really do it for me. I go to all those cities and see theater. And I keep thinking it wouldn’t be terrible if somebody missed something some time. Maybe next time something they want to see is showing a 20 minute drive away, they’ll suck it up and go there because it’s not coming directly to their living room (if it’s interesting enough). Training audiences about what to expect from you is something I think about a lot. If your shows start late, the audience will assume the next show will start late, and they’re not going to be on time. And now you’re starting shows late for the rest of your life because you did it twice. Teach people that theater here can be missed because it’ll just be back 10 miles away next month, and there’s no urgency to see it now. The Bay Area also shares a creative pool. Actors from Vallejo perform in San Francisco, actors in San Jose perform in Berkeley, so at least keep your collaborators excited by offering something that every other town isn’t offering. Because we’re getting paid peanuts anyway, ya might as well create something.

I can’t solve this whole thing, clearly, but I have to put out there that it feels like we’re not taking risks as a community right now, and playing it safe doesn’t work forever. Eventually we’ll play it so safe that everyone will forget we’re here. Hell, maybe they already have. And then they’ll just watch Glengarry Glen Ross on Netflix because Jack Lemmon is in it and he’s the man and theater doesn’t feel like it’s for their generation. There are definitely some groups and companies that are making really interesting, cool, risky stuff. But there are so many more who aren’t doing that. Or are relegating those projects to readings. I often want to take a company’s reading series and swap it with their actual season.

******** UPDATE
So, I started writing this a couple of weeks ago and wanted to sleep on it. Then I went to New York City for a vacation. While I was there I saw two extremely popular shows: HAMILTION, and HAND TO GOD. They were so exciting, unfamiliar, wild, creative, new, unexpected, and VITAL. The houses were packed (Yes, they’re on Broadway so pretty much automatically they’re going to be selling tickets like hotcakes, but there was an excitement there that can’t be explained away with flashing lights.) They felt really risky in a good way, and you could tell that everyone working on them was invested in something they believed in. Maybe that’s what I’m really talking about. I want to see something and say to myself, “These people really believe in this. They really feel they’re doing something here. It feels important and necessary to them.” Even if I don’t like it, even if I think it’s poorly executed or just straight up isn’t to my tastes, I can get behind people who get behind their stuff and feel that it’s got urgency.

When you look at HAMILTON, you see a runaway hit, a game-changing hip hop musical with as diverse a cast as I’ve ever seen on stage at one time, based on Alexander Hamilton of all people. It’s a big idea. It’s a big, seemingly risky idea.

The diverse and talented and good looking and magnificent and swinging-for-the-fences cast of HAMILTON.

The diverse and talented and good looking and magnificent and swinging-for-the-fences cast of HAMILTON.

HAND TO GOD is a comedy about a man with a demonic sock puppet. It’s weird. It’s brash. It takes everything to 11, and knocks it out of the park.

“Yeah,” you’re thinking, “Those are amazing plays. Amazing plays like that don’t come around every day. My company needs to produce good stuff and most new plays aren’t going to be as good as that.” and to that I say, look harder. Or find a writer you believe in and commission something.

What do we want people to think theater IS? I want to ask myself that more often. I want us all to ask ourselves that more often. Because right now I’ll tell you what they think it is: outdated. And we’re not doing enough to show them otherwise. We’re too often giving them what they expect us to give them. And few things are less interesting to me than walking out of a theater saying, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought it’d be.” I’m not shitting on Shakespeare or O’Neill. I’m doing Richard III next month (a cut version in a bar, and as a Sid Vicious-lookin’ murderer named Ham, with an eye patch, but still Richard III.)

Maybe we just need to be more aware of each other. We’re not disparate entities floating in the ocean. We’re part of a larger whole as much as we may try to pretend otherwise. We are all theater, and the choices we make for our companies impact what this person or that person thinks of theater. What message are you sending? Is it the message you want to send?

Is it “CUUUUUUUUNT!”

Allison Page is a writer/actor/creative director of Killing My Lobster, a sketch comedy company with gender parity across both writers and actors with a new show written in two weeks, rehearsed in two weeks, and then performed live, every month at PianoFight in San Francisco. Ya know, in case you were wondering if she sticks to her own nonsense ideals, the answer is that she tries. And sometimes fails, of course.

You’re Being Watched (Or: Too Much of Everything Except Helen of Troy)

It’s the last Cowan Palace of 2014!

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As I write this, a yawn catches my throat. Not from boredom but from sheer exhaustion. I mean, I can’t be alone in proclaiming this year a tiring one, right? Hands down, 2014 will go be remembered in the Ashley Cowan history books as a time of action, impact, and extremes. Within the same time frame, I’ve experienced huge highs of celebration and joy and also cried harder and used more profanity than ever before.

For being such a dramatic year though, I have to mention that I also completed it without acting in a play! Aside from some staged readings, I’ve gone through these last few months sans a production to truly call my own. A first for my time in the Bay Area. But yet it’s been an interesting writing year for me. Along with hitting some personal goals, I’ve also angered and hurt people through writing Cowan Palace that I never intended or imagined would be so impacted or influenced. And that’s a heavy heartbreak I think about everyday. While I don’t regret being truthful to myself and all of you, I am sorry if my words wounded as that was never what I set out to accomplish. Sometimes my feelings got the best of me and I didn’t always realize how they could be understood. With all the moments of this past year, I know I’ll look back and realize all the things I learned and all the things I was meant to learn.

And, I’m not the only one. Last night, my fellow Theater Pub bloggers met for our semi annual discussion to chat about areas we’d like to celebrate and places we could improve.

Overall, we seemed optimistic and eager to take the lessons of 2014 into a new year. And the big theme of the evening was, “you’re being watched”. Meaning, folks are turning to us as a media source. We’re writing things that people are paying attention to and we’re continuing to take a stance in the Bay Area theater scene. Cool, right? So thank you for that!

And, duh, I’m not saying that EVERYONE is watching us and we’re tots the most popular thing in town; but in terms of the local artistic community, we’re a voice that continues to get stronger. Which is something that comes with responsibility.

I’m grateful to be a part of that. I’ve been humbled these past several months in countless ways. Somehow, I found a comfort in admitting my fears and frustrations as a theater-maker and as a gal just trying to get through the day through this blog. I’m grateful to be involved with a team of other writers who have helped pushed me forward when I needed a little more strength and also who could balance my thoughts when I wanted to let my emotions drive.

In the middle of our meeting break, Stuart shared with me a fortune he received recently that he’s decided to keep close to heart (literally, he’s carrying it around because it’s a good one). It reads, “You will continue to take chances and be glad you did”.

I’m going to steal that thought for a bit. Yes, most of the time, this year felt like “too much” of just everything. Too many changes, too many feelings, and not enough time to process it. But, I think it also made us bolder and braver. Partially, because we didn’t really have a choice. We had to keep going, we had to move forward.

But, I am tired! And I’m ready to let everything settle again. Next year will be full of new things, too. I aim to be better blogger and a stronger member of this community because if you are watching, I’d like to make you proud. Or at least, entertain you with my struggles. And maybe next year, I’ll attempt to actually include Helen of Troy in a blog (because for some reason, Stuart’s blogs about her continue to be some of Theater Pub’s most popular articles)! Until then, many thanks to my fellow Theater Pub writers and to all of you who have made 2014 so wondrous.

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