The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2013

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2013 list. 

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to start my own Bay Area Theater Awards, because my opinions are just as legitimate as anyone else’s, the awards I give out are as valuable as any other critical awards, (recipients of the SEBATA, or the Stuey, if you prefer, get nothing but my admiration and some free publicity), and also because there’s a fairly good chance that I’ve seen a lot of theater the usual award givers haven’t seen. The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with. No one person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff.

Also, there are some people who think I don’t like anything, and I feel a need to not only prove them wrong, but to do so by expressing how much of the local color I do love and admire, as opposed to just pointing out that the reason they think I don’t like anything is because I generally don’t like *their* work (oh… I guess I did just point that out, didn’t I?). Normally I post these “awards” on my Facebook page, but this year I decided to bring them to the blog because the mission statement of the SEBATA is pretty in-line with the mission statement of Theater Pub, and having come to the close of an amazing year of growth for the blog, it now has a much farther reach than my Facebook page could ever hope to have. Congratulations SF Theater Pub Blog- you just won a Stuey.

Anyway, because I am a product of the generation that grew up with the MTV Movie Awards- and, because I’m the only person on the voting committee and thus can do what I like- I have decided that my categories are purely arbitrary and can be stretched to allow me to write about anyone I feel like. The two limits are 1) I can’t give myself an award (though I can have been involved in the show on a limited level) and 2) I won’t go over thirteen (though there may be ties for some awards). Because seriously, how (more) self indulgent would this be without either of those rules? Oh, 3) I won’t give out awards for how bad something was. I’m here to be positive. And chances are those people were punished enough.

To all my friends and frenemies in the Bay Area Theater Scene… it’s been a great year. Let’s you and me do it again sometime. Well… most of you.

And now, presenting the Fourth Annual Stuey Awards…

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
“Pint Sized IV” (San Francisco Theater Pub)
Pint Sized Plays gets better each year, and it’s honestly one of two things I actually miss about working at the Cafe Royale (the other is the uniqueness of doing Shakespeare there, which for some reason works in a completely magical way I wish it worked more often on traditional stages). This year the festival was put together by Neil Higgins, who did an amazing job, and I think we had some of the best material yet. The evening as a whole felt incredibly cohesive, with a theme of forgiveness and letting go, archly reflective of our decision to leave the Cafe Royale, and I think incredibly relevant to a lot of our audience. We knew Pint Sized could be very funny, and very socially pointed, but I’m not sure we had ever conceived of it as moving and this year it was, thanks in no small part to our writers (Megan Cohen, Peter Hsieh, Sang S. Kim, Carl Lucania, Daniel Ng, Kirk Shimano and Christian Simonsen), directors (Jonathan Carpenter, Colin Johnson, Tracy Held Potter, Neil Higgins, Charles Lewis III, Meghan O’Connor, Adam L. Sussman) and actors (Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Melissa Keith, Charles Lewis III, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, Jessica Rudholm). The evening would start off with a magical performance by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers, whose combination of skill and spectacle got our audiences excited for what was to come. As we moved through the pieces, each by turns funny and poignant, each in some way or another about finding something, losing it, letting it go, and then coming back stronger, you could feel the audience grow warmer and closer each night. By the time Rob Ready gave the closing monologue, fixing each audience member in turn with a smile, you could feel everyone really listening and you could hear a pin drop in the room, and that’s saying something for the noisy by nature Cafe Royale. I think a lot of love went into the festival this year, and not just because it might be the last, and the product of that love was real magic and like the best theater- you had to be there. And if you weren’t, you really missed out.

BEST SHOW
“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” (San Francisco Playhouse)
I saw a lot of decent, solid, well done theater this year but I had a hard time connecting to a lot of it, which was rarely a flaw with the show and probably had more to do with where I was/am as a person (lots of change this year). Then again, something about really good theater is that it can get you out of your own head and into some other world, for a while. Towards the end of the year, I saw three shows I really really liked: “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake” at Bigger Than A Bread Box Theater Company, “Peter/Wendy” at Custom Made Theater Company, and “First” at Stage Werx, produced by Altair Productions/The Aluminous Collective and Playground. Still, San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, directed by Bill English, was probably my favorite show of the year. Who knows why it has an edge on the others? Maybe because as someone who spent most of their childhood weekends in New York it seemed oddly familiar, or maybe it was the deft handling by the universally excellent cast (Carl Lumbly, Gabriel Marin, Rudy Guerrero, Margo Hall, Isabelle Ortega) of the complex relationships and dialogue that Guirgis does so well, or maybe it was just refreshing to see such a simple, honest play in what, for me, was a year characterized by a lot of stylistically interesting but emotionally cold theater. There is something very passionate, scathing, bombastic and yet also humble and forgiving about Guirgis’ work that I think makes him such an important voice in modern American drama and English’s production brought all that out with an easy grace. The show really worked, and got me out of my head, and when I went back to my life I felt much better for the journey. What more can you ask of a theater experience?

BEST READING
“Paris/Hector” (San Francisco Olympians Festival)
I attend a lot of readings every year, and run a reading festival myself, so I’ve come to greatly value a really well done reading. This year, the award goes to director Katja Rivera and writers Kirk Shimano and Bridgette Dutta Portman, whose pair of one acts about the pair of Trojan princes Paris and Hector made for one of the best nights of this past year’s San Francisco Olympians Festival. Part of what I loved about it was that in one evening we saw the amazing variety the festival can offer: Kirk’s play was a comedy with a poignant moment or two, while Bridgette’s was a faux-classical drama- written in verse no less. Though the writers are the center of attention at the festival, credit really has to be given to Katja Rivera, who as the director of both pieces, made many simple but effective choices to highlight the best elements of both works and utilize the talents of her excellent cast: Yael Aranoff, Molly Benson, Jeremy Cole, Mackenszie Drae, Allison Fenner, Dana Goldberg, John Lennon Harrison, Michelle Talgarow, Alaric Toy. With the combined excellent story-telling of the performers (including beautiful and surprising singing from Yael, Molly and Dana), the thoughtfulness of the scripts, and the cohesiveness of the whole, this night of the festival stood out best in what was a consistently strong year at the Olympians.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“My Year” by Megan Cohen (Bay One Acts Festival)
Megan Cohen’s “My Year” is the kind of thing I wish more short plays would be: dynamic, personal, and complete. In a sea of short plays that are really fragments, or meet-cute plays, it’s always lovely to see something with a beginning, a middle, and end, and full-formed characters having actual interactions and not just feeling like Girl A and Guy B, thrown together by the whimsy of the playwright to make a point (though of course, the right playwright can pull that off- which is why so many people try to ape it). A friend of mine described “My Year” as “A fun little 90s indie film on stage” and my reaction when watching it was “Oh, Dear God, convince Meg to let me write a companion piece to this!” because let’s face it: at least a third of what I write is a 90s film on stage. My own vanity aside, what I loved about this play (directed by Siobhan Doherty, starring Emma Rose Shelton, Theresa Miller, Nkechi Live, Allene Hebert, Jaime Lee Currier, and Luna Malbroux) was that it felt constantly on the move, while still being mostly composed of intimate moments between a group of women at a birthday party. Like a lot of the theater that I really loved this year, it also just struck a personal chord, watching this young woman (Emma Rose Shelton) trying to enjoy the party her friends have thrown for her (though she doesn’t like surprise parties) despite there being no food and a random stranger (Theresa Miller) who worms her way in only to turn out to be the troublemaker she’s originally pegged for. Megan’s writing had its usual combination of smart and sentimental, but whereas a lot of her other work heads into absurdity and/or extreme quirkiness (not that this is bad), “My Year” stayed very grounded and found its meaning in that effort to stay grounded, making what might be a quiet little play in anyone else’s oeuvre, a nice change of pace in Cohen’s. The final moment, where the characters howl at the moon because what else are you going to do after a shitty birthday, felt like a communal sigh even the audience was in on, probably because we could all relate to Shelton’s character, and while having always loved and admired Meg’s work, this is probably the first time I related to it so wholeheartedly.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Linda Huang (Stage Manager, Tech, Box Office, Everything)
You know how the Oscars and Tonys give out Lifetime Achievement Awards for people whose contribution is so massive that it would kind of be criminal to pick one work or contribution so instead they just get an award for basically being themselves? You know, like how Peter O’Toole got that award because at some point somebody realized that he was pervasively brilliant and always in fashion and therefore easily forgotten because things like “Oh, well, he’ll win next year” often times factors in to who we recognize, meaning things like reliability and consistency do not? Well, for the first time ever in the history of the SEBATAs, I’m creating The Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness and giving it to Linda Huang, without whom, in all seriousness, I believe that small theater in San Francisco would probably grind to a halt. Earlier this year, I got recognized by the Weekly as a “Ringmaster” of the theater scene, but frankly I (and people like me) could not do what we do without having Linda (and people like her) constantly coming to our aid despite being paid a fraction of what they’re worth and half the time being forgotten because what they do isn’t in the immediate eye of the audience. Linda is a total gem of the theater scene. She wears many hats, though she’s probably best known for running light boards, and one of my favorite things when attending the theater is running into her, usually working in some capacity I previously was unaware she was qualified to do (note: Linda is qualified to do everything). What I love best about Linda (aside from her cutting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor) is her incredible generosity: she does so much for local theater and rarely gets paid, and even when she does get paid she often says, “Pay me last.” A true team player, and one we don’t thank enough, especially as she’s the only person who seems to know how to get the air conditioning in the Exit Theatre to work.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Atticus Rex, Open Mic Night In Support of the Lemonade Fund (SF Theater Pub/Theater Bay Area Individual Services Committee)
I never expected to include a note about someone who performed at an open mic/variety show, but I wanted to shout out to Atticus Rex, a young performer who literally made his performance debut at the San Francisco Theater Pub/ISC fundraiser for the Lemonade Fund this year. A last minute replacement, Atticus and a friend performed some original hip-hop for our audience of mostly performance professionals and their friends, and despite the formidable crowd and the first time nerves, he basically killed it. Even when he made a mistake it worked: he’d call himself out, apologize, and start again, somehow without ever missing a beat. His lyrics are very tight and poetic, and the contrast between the power in his words and his humbleness at approaching and leaving the stage works so well you’d almost think it was an act- except he later confessed he’d never performed live before, and it couldn’t have been more sincere. With genuine hope he never loses his sincerity, while also continuing to grow his confidence and experience, I wanted to take a moment to say congratulations once again, and thank you for reminding us all what it looks like to really take a risk onstage.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola (Genie and Audrey’s Dream Show, SF Fringe Festival)
What’s potentially cuter than “Clyde the Cyclops?” Very little, but these two ladies and their breathless, funny, and surreal little clown show come dangerously close to giving Clyde a run for his money, and it’s the only show I saw at the Fringe this year that I wished my boyfriend had also seen. Bravely straddling the bridge between performance artists and acrobats, this collage of monologues, poems, jokes, mime, clowning, puppetry, stunts, music, and children’s games, is like watching two hyper-articulate kids on pixie sticks go nuts in a club house, but only if those kids had an incredible sense of timing and arch senses of humor (not to mention very flexible bodies). I’ve never been a huge fan of circus stuff (I like it as an accent, sometimes, but as entertainment on its own it doesn’t tend to hold my interest long), but I think I’d be a fan of anything that had these two women in it. Their ability to play off each other is the key to making their show work, and when you watch it you have that sense of being let into the private make-believe world of people who have found kindred spirits in one another. It’s an utterly magic combination and from what I know of other people who saw it, it basically charmed the pants off everyone. Or at least, everyone who has a soul.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Ben Calabrese (Apartment in “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”)
I saw a lot of great performances by men this year (Sam Bertken in “Peter/Wendy”, Tim Green and Gregory Knotts in “First”, Paul Rodrigues “Pint Sized Plays IV”, Will Hand “Dark Play”, Casey Robbins “Oh Best Beloved!”), but this one really took my breath away (though since Sam Bertken actually got me to sincerely clap for fairies in Peter/Wendy, he gets a second shout out). Ben’s role, which is to literally embody the voice of a neglected apartment, is the kind of role that could either be the best thing about the show, or the worst. Luckily for Bigger Than A Breadbox’s production of “Crumble, or Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake (written by Sheila Callaghan), Ben rocked it. Bouncing around the stage, dive bombing the furniture, all the while spouting, eloquently, Callaghan’s beautiful and complex monologues, Ben was so utterly watchable it was impossible not to buy the conceit of the role, and so moments when he has an orgasm from having the radiator turned on, or turns his fingers into loose electrical wires, don’t seem ridiculous, but made immediate and total sense. It’s usually not a compliment to tell an actor they did a tremendous job being an inanimate object, but what Ben did so well was illustrate that a home, while not “alive”, does indeed have a life to it. And if that life occasionally fixes the audience with Ben’s particular brand of “scary actor stare” why… all the better.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Brandice Marie Thompson (Georgia Potts in “First”)
Oh, this was a tough one. As usual, the actresses of the Bay Area are kicking ass and taking names no matter what their role, and my decision to pick Brandice above the rest is because I think she best exemplified that thing which so many actresses have to do, which is take a relatively underwritten role in a play about men and turn it into a rich, believable character who somehow manages to steal the show. Evelyn Jean Pine, who wrote “First”, is a fantastic writer and she writes women and men equitably well, and due credit must go to her for the creation and inclusion of this character in a story mostly about male egos, but in a lesser capable actresses hands, this role could have been annoying, or forgettable, or purely comical, and Brandice avoided all of these traps while making the character utterly charming at the same time. The truth is, her arc became much more interesting to me than that of the main character, and I think a strong argument could be made that “First” was just as much about Georgia as it was about Bill Gates. Director Michael French no doubt had a hand in this too, but in the end it’s a performer who makes or breaks a role and Brandice’s ability to combine mousy with spunky with unexpected and yet thoroughly authentic character turns was deeply satisfying to watch. Georgia kicked ass and took names, because Brandice does. Runners up: Melissa Carter (“Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”, Bigger Than A Breadbox), Allison Jean White (“Abigail’s Party”, SF Playhouse), Sam Jackson (“Oh Best Beloved!”, SF Fringe Festival), Courtney Merril (“Into the Woods”, Ray of Light), Elissa Beth Stebbins (“Peter/Wendy”, Custom Made Theatre Company).

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
“Nightingale” (Davis Shakespeare Ensemble/SF Fringe Festival)
This little gem at this year’s fringe festival was adapted from the myth of Philomel by Gia Battista, with music by Richard Chowenhill, directed by Rob Sals (with Battista), and staring Gabby Battista, April Fritz and Tracy Hazas as three remarkably similar looking women who each take a turn playing the heroine of a bizarre fairy tale (all the other characters in the story are played by them as well). Dance, pantomime, narration, song and traditional theater techniques all came together in a way that was astonishingly clean and charming in its simplicity. The black and white aesthetic used to unify the look of the show and performers gave the whole thing a quality both modern and timeless, and in its gentle, dreamy tone the sharp elements of social commentary and satire often seemed more brutal and impactful. Of everything I saw at the Fringe this past year, which included a number of excellent works, this piece has stayed with me the longest.

BEST SOLO SHOW
“Steve Seabrook: Better Than You” by Kurt Bodden (The Marsh)
I saw a lot more solo performance than usual this year (including works by Annette Roman, Laura Austin Wiley, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Jenny Newbry Waters, Rene Pena), and realizing how good it can be is, in and of itself, kind of a miracle because I used to say things like, “Theater begins with two people” and “If Aeschylus had wanted to write sermons he wouldn’t have added Electra”. Kurt’s show was not created this past year, it has a long history, but I only saw it in its most recent Marsh incarnation and I’m hoping he’s been able to find ways to keep it going (his Facebook feeds indicate this is so). A satire of motivational speakers and the cult of self-improvement, “Steve Seabrook” manages to be so much more by combining satirical fiction with moments of the kind of personal monologue (still fiction) that permeates solo shows. The result is a sense of development, of a story (Steve’s) unfolding in real time while another story, (Steve’s Seminar) plays itself out over the course of a weekend. Playing off the convention of a backstage comedy (we see the seminar, then we see Steve when he’s not “on”), Kurt’s brilliance as a performer is evident in the seamless transition from one to the other, again and again, carrying a throughline that shows us not only why Steve buys into his mantras, but why any of us buy into anything we’ve come up with (or adopted from someone else) to keep us moving through life’s ups and downs. At once very funny and cutting, while also moving and real (and yes, fuck it, kind of inspirational), Kurt’s show also gets a nod for its fantastic takeaway schwag: a keychain light with Steve’s name on it, with which every audience member is encouraged to shine their light in a dark world.

BEST DIRECTOR
Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, “Oh Best Beloved” (SF Fringe Festival)
“Oh Best Beloved” got a lot of attention and deservedly so- well acted, well designed, it was a genuinely fun piece of theater. Perhaps most deserving of being singled out in the project, however, are director Rebecca Longworth and partner Joan Howard, who share credit for conceptualizing the show (in which Joan also played a part and had, in my opinion, the single best moment in the show), and who lead the rest of the company in adapting the material from Ruyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Anyone who saw the show could easily see that it had about a million moving parts, and Longworth and Howard’s ability to keep all those plates spinning on a small budget and under the strict conditions of the San Francisco Fringe Festival (they literally put up and pulled down a full set with each performance) is worthy of award in and of itself, but the level of commitment and craft they were able to pull from their design team and performers was equally as impressive. Everything about the show, even the parts that didn’t work as well as others, felt thought through and done with panache, making this ambitious and unique experience a delightful jewel in the SF Fringe Festival’s crown.

BEST DESIGNER
Bill English, “Abigail’s Party” (SF Playhouse)
Scenery in general doesn’t do much for me. I enjoy good scenery, but the best scenery should kind of vanish into the background, in my opinion, and be something you barely pay attention to. As a result, I’m often just as happy with a blank stage, or really well thought out minimal set, as I am with a full one, so long as the play I’m watching is good. That said, every now and then I will see a set I just adore, and this year it was Bill English’s set for SF Playhouse’s “Abigail’s Party”, by Mike Leigh, directed by Amy Glazer. Basically a living room/dining room/kitchenet combo, this fully realized “home” was very well crafted as a place, but more importantly, it really worked as a place where people lived. The 70s style was at once present without being overwhelming, evoking the time period without looking like it was a homage to the time period, or a museum dedicated to 70s kitch. I mean, it honestly reminded me of numerous homes I’d played in as a child (I was born in 1978) and all the wallpaper looked like wallpaper in my parents’ home before my mother completely re-did the house in 1990 because “we can admit this is ugly… now”. The amazing thing about English’s set is that it didn’t seem ugly, in spite of being made up entirely of patterns and colors we now find appalling. He made it all work together, the way people once did, and the final result was simultaneously comfortable and dazzling. I remember thinking, waiting for the play to begin, “I could live here.”

And last, but not least, every year I pick…

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE EXPERIENCE TO WORK ON
“The Age of Beauty” (No Nude Men Productions/The Exit Theatre)
I had taken a break from directing my own work, but with this nine performance workshop I allowed myself to re-discover that, as much as I like directing plays by others, there is nothing quite as satisfying as feeling like I’m telling a very personal story of my own and having the final say on how that happens. Of course, such experiences are only rewarding when you get to work with great actors, and I was lucky to have four amazing women (Megan Briggs, Emma Rose Shelton, Allison Page, Sylvia Hathaway) who were willing to go on this adventure with me, always keeping stride as I made cuts and changed lines, memorizing a mountain of material in Emma and Sylvia’s case, and crafting subtle characters who had to be both different from each other and relatively interchangeable at the same time. When I had a hard time articulating what I was going for, they would nod and smile and then show me what I meant by doing it better than I could describe it. When the show opened by the skin of its teeth it had one of those minor miracle opening nights, where even though you’re just a tiny bit unprepared (all my fault, I kept changing the script), it somehow all comes together and really works. Over the course of the show, as their performances grew and refined (our final two nights were simply perfect), I was able to see what flaws still remained in the script (two pages, middle of scene of scene two were cut the day after we closed), and any writer of new work will tell you that’s the best experience you can hope for on a first production. Shout outs to my awesome design team Cody Rishell, Jim Lively and Wil Turner IV! “The Age of Beauty” helped restore some of my lagging faith in the theater process, and made me commit to doing more of my own work in the coming year.

Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

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Don’t Miss Your Last Chance To See Shooter…

…and the rest of the Bay One Acts, which close this weekend!

Meanwhile, checkout this review, which includes a nice nod to “Shooter” and director Rik Lopes!

http://theatreplaybyplay.com/brevity-is-the-soul-of-the-bay-one-acts-festival/#.UkSK5YasjTo

“Shooter” by Daniel Hirsch, directed by Rik Lopes, and featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check out http://bayoneacts.org/.

Cowan Palace: The Woman Behind BOA 2013

Ashley Cowan asks Sara Staley a thing or two about BOA’s Program I and II.

It’s been a busy week for the Bay Area theatre scene. With plays opening, auditions on the horizon, and new works being brought to life, it’s a fun time to play for this artistic community’s team. The Bay One Act Festival officially began its run over the weekend and behind that magic is Producing Artistic Director, Sara Staley. Sara kindly agreed to answer a few questions in the midst of the excitement.

First things first! How did you first get involved with BOA (Bay One Acts Festival)?

I first directed for the Bay One Acts Festival in 2008 for Three Wise Monkeys Theatre, which is now just the name of the non-profit organization that is connected to BOA, and that founded the festival. The festival was helmed by Richard Bernier (who passed away in 2010), and held at the Eureka Theater for many years.

Out of all the many hats you’ve worn being involved with the festival in the past, which has been your favorite?

As Producing Artistic Director for the first time in this BOA go round, I really enjoyed the process of selecting plays (with the help of my BOA Lit. Committee), coming up with an engaging and dynamic line-up for both BOA programs, and then having so many great “page to the stage” moments during final dress rehearsals. And it’s all because of this talented and dedicated BOA 2013 company.

How is this year different than BOA festivals of the past?

We have a new venue at Tides Theatre and many of our 13 Producing Partner theater companies, directors, playwrights, actors and production staff are involved in BOA for the very first time. We have new to the bay area theater companies on board, and we have BOA actors like Siobhan Doherty and Brian Trybom, who are directing for BOA for the first time. So there is a mix of old and new, different but the same.

What is something about this year’s festival we may not know? (Keep in mind, a lot of us have done our fair share of facebook stalking and would love a juicy scoop!)

Well, for you Theater Pub beverage lovers, Rob Ready stocked our concessions at Tides Theatre, so we are ready to serve you. AND we have Kirsten Broadbear covering a lot of BOA bases with graces as my Festival Coordinator AND she’ll be running concessions for Program One AND understudying TWO roles in TWO plays on Thursday in Program TWO. So get your tickets now because they are only $13 (shameless plug).

Cheers to that, those are my favorite plugs! Now, everyone always wants to talk about women in the industry, am I right? And how there continues to be a lack of opportunity for us lady-folk. As a woman in charge of a huge theatrical festival, do you have any observations or words of wisdom to share on the topic?

Well, I can say that I am proud of the diversity of BOA 2013 across the board from playwrights, to directors, cast, to our production team, which does happen to be all female. I feel like opportunity should be given to those who want to do engaging or innovative work, or tell a story that needs to be told, or support artists and community in a positive and productive way, regardless of their gender, color, or sexual orientation.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered while working on this show?

There was a surprising connectedness in the themes of the plays, and I had to see both programs open this weekend and I had to see the work on stage to really see those common threads come to the surface. There were obvious theme connections that drew me to the 13 plays in BOA 2013, but there was another connection that formed between direction, vision, risk taking, vulnerability, humor, fear, loss, and magic that connected the programs together in way that was pretty unexpected for me. You’ll have to come see both programs of BOA 2013 to find your own connections. 😉

In ten words (or less), what can we expect to see at this year’s festival?

Thirteen new plays, thirteen theater companies, one BIG BOA 2013.

Many thanks to Sara for giving us a moment of her time! Between a stocked concessions stand, new plays, and ultimately, a celebration of Bay Area theatre, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to be a part of BOA 2013. Now running through October 5 at the Tides Theatre (533 Sutter Street, San Francisco). For more information, check out: bayoneacts.org or https://www.facebook.com/bayoneacts.

Actor John Lowell On “Shooter”

John Lowell, who is one of three actors in “Shooter”, talks about the play, his process and creating a role in the next Theater Pub show.

Give us a brief impression of who you are, in a hundred words or less.

I was born and raised in Portland, OR and I’ve lived in San Francisco on and off for a combined twenty years. I’ve also lived and worked in parts of Europe, Asia and E. Africa. I acted in and developed plays as a kid but moved away from it until years later when I took a theater class to balance out the dry world of business school. It was like the flood scene in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; it swept me away, limbs flailing with joy. Thank God.

John Lowell, lost in the flood.

John Lowell, lost in the flood.

Is this your first time working at BOA? What’s that like? If it it’s not your first time, what brought you back to such a unique festival setting?

It is my first time with BOA. The perception that drew me to it is proving to be the reality – a diverse and exciting set of plays and artists coming together. I’m loving it so far.

You’re the first people to appear in a production of “Shooter”- what’s the best thing about “creating” a role this role as an actor?

I always try to either avoid watching previous versions of a role or if I’ve already seen some to file those images away and approach it as freshly as possible. So for me it’s great to be able to come to it initially with only the images that have developed from reading the script and build from there.

Are there any challenges?

Not so much from being the first to do it (per above), but specific to this role I’m finding entering this character’s world to be emotionally difficult. But I cherish opportunities to take artfully written material and immerse myself in the character, whoever they may be.

What’s been a particularly interesting element of this rehearsal process?

This piece is constructed in a way that is sort of like a dance where the dancers are unaware of each other yet connected. Excited by where this can go.

“Shooter” is an ensemble piece. How does being in an ensemble piece differ from, say, playing a lead in a show, or having a “minor” role?

It’s interesting to remove those usual elements, made more so by the fact that our stories unfold intertwined but without conscious acknowledgement of each other. But we naturally at some level acknowledge and are affected by each other. And our dialogue is connected.

Do you get a chance to see the other shows in the Festival this year? Anything got you excited besides your own? 

Will try to see all I can. The read-throughs made me want to see all of them.

What about in the upcoming theater season in general? 

So much I’d like to see but I need to get out there more.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to be in another play at BOA, “Break of Day” by Jeff Carter, directed by Brian Trybom, acting with Shane Fahey.  I will be doing a reading of Blood of My Subjects by Richard White with PCSF on 10/14, and also doing the 24-Hour Play Fest with PCSF on 9/28. I’m assistant directing on the next production at Tides Theatre, Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jennifer Welch and featuring Cary Cronholm Rose and Wylie Herman, running 10/10-11/09.

“Shooter” will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check outhttp://bayoneacts.org/.

An Interview With Dan Hirsch

Happy Labor Day everyone! We’re excited to share this interview with Dan Hirsch, a new addition to the local playwriting scene, whose new play shooter is our contribution to this year’s Olympians Festival. Enjoy!

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Originally from Massachusetts, but a Bay Area resident for eight years, and a recent Silicon Valley escapee, I’m now living as a freelance writer in San Francisco. What this means exactly changes every day. Some days, I’m reporting news for a hyperlocal journalism site in the Mission where I live. Other days, it’s cute web copy. The tedious days, it’s pretending to find more freelance work but actually reading Buzzfeed. And on the nicest days, when I’m not trying to make any money at all, I write plays.

This is you first time working with Theater Pub, yes? And BOA? What’s it like to be the new kid on the block?

I feel really excited. It seems like a pretty tight knit community that I’m eager to be a part of. A couple of times I’ve had the distinct feeling of people eyeing me and wondering: “Who is this guy? Where did he come from?” My answer: “I’m Dan Hirsch and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Dan Hirsch Is Happy To Meet You!

Dan Hirsch Is Happy To Meet You!

So what made you write “Shooter”?

I wrote “Shooter” in the summer of 2012, the summer that James Holmes opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the summer that Wade Michael Page killed six people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and numerous other acts of gun violence seemed to consume the national imagination. But also, it was the summer a 19-year-old was shot and killed on my block, almost directly across from my house. In response to the national conversation about gun violence and the very local tragedy, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of confusion and helplessness, something I’m sure many of us felt. I couldn’t stop wondering: who are these people that commit this terrible violence? James Holmes left no record, he didn’t write any manifesto. Despite his proximity, the killer on my block was part of a completely different community and world that I knew nothing about. As a way just to tease out and think about this question, I wrote “Shooter.” While I read a lot about gun violence in America—I spent a lot of time looking at Guide to Mass Shootings in America by Mother Jones, for one—I feel like this research is totally inadequate. “Shooter” is ultimately just an act imagination, an attempt at empathy for people who challenge our ability to empathize most.

Would you consider this work typical of your writing? How is it a “Dan Hirsch piece”… or is it?

Are you asking if all my plays describe brutal acts of real world violence from the perpetrator’s perspective? Definitely, not. They’re not all this dark either. I actually sometimes write totally silly sketch comedy. I hope what unifies my work, maybe even the goofy stuff, is their relationship to the world around us. As I mentioned, I’m also a journalist and feel very invested in thinking about and responding to the way we live now, and I think a strain of non-fiction storytelling permeates my plays. In my journalism and playwriting, I like weaving many distinct voices together to tell a compelling story or engage with a complex issue.

It’s your first time working with Rik Lopes, the director. What’s it been like for you, developing a piece with him?

Rik is a baller. It’s been a pleasure working with him so far. He’s got great ideas and is totally interested in hearing my ideas and what went into the writing of this piece. Throughout auditions, the various readings, and meetings, I felt very much like we are the exact same wavelength about nearly everything—even in terms of facial hair. It’s been a total delight.

What’s turning out to be the biggest challenge in creating a piece like this, and in a festival setting?

To echo what Rik said in his TP interview, also to prove my point about the same wavelength thing, the challenge is about where “Shooter” fits in with the rest of the festival. While I hope it will make people think and respond in a variety of ways, the play is kind of intense. I love the diversity of the one acts in our program, and think “Shooter” definitely belongs somewhere in there, but it’s never fun to be that serious guy at the party talking about gun violence in America.

What’s the greatest asset of being part of a short works festival?

There’s 13 different theater companies, writers, and directors in this thing. As relatively new member of the theater scene, this has been such a great opportunity to get familiar with the work of a bunch of different artists all at once. There’s so many small, independent theater companies in the Bay Area, it can be hard to keep track of them all. BOA is like a lunch buffet of talent. All those people should also make it easier for us to fundraise.

What else at the festival are you most excited to see?

As the new guy, I need to be careful not to make anyone angry and I do really admire the incredible range of talent and ideas. I also missed the table read for Program One, so I can’t even comment on those. Of all the plays in our program, “Break of Day” by Jeff Carter is the one that I wish I had written, it’s so simple and sad and funny and everything you want in a one act. I was also totally entertained by Megan Cohen’s “My Year” and look forward to Lauren Gunderson’s “Two Pigeons Talk Politics” because it’s going to have puppets in it!

What’s next for you as a writer?

On November 6, I’ll have two short works in the SF Olympians Festival, which I’m really looking forward to. A full length play of mine called Subtenant just had a developmental reading at the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco which was hugely useful. I’m in the process of editing it now, and hope that it will have a life in production sometime in the near future. I’m a frequent contributor to the news site Mission Local, you can see some of my recent journalistic efforts there.

“Shooter” will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check outhttp://bayoneacts.org/.

Higher Education: Kicking Self-Doubt’s… Booty

Barbara Jwanouskos is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And she’s all out of bubble gum.

Summer’s winding down for me. I head back to Pittsburgh in just under two weeks and classes start just five days after that. I’ve been concentrating on finishing the projects that I’ve committed to finishing and starting to cultivate the former good habits that used to be a part of my every day.

Non-sequitur here! I’ve been thinking a lot about tai chi because once I go back, I will be directing my own practice again. I won’t have regular classes to attend. I won’t have guidance from senior students or my instructor anymore. It’s actually a lot like how I went into summer – only with the writing being the activity upon which I had to be more self-directed.

I’m not exactly nervous that I’ll fail to practice. Even though last year was difficult, tai chi was a great way for me to calm down, get centered and move around a little bit. I think the hang-up comes from some kind of thought that goes a little something like this, (HIT IT!) What if when I’m practicing on my own, I end up letting myself off the hook too much and my practice becomes lazy?

I worry about this with writing too. I worry that even my sometimes minimal attempts to work on my play or do free-writing are not enough. But then I read this blog article, “Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art” by Chuck Wendig and I had sort of a huh, how ‘bout that? moment because I totally agree with him about the idea that when you have a daily practice goal – length of time, words, pages, etc. – cranking out those last couple of words, minutes, fractions of pages do make a difference in the long run. Even if you do end up throwing out all of it. I feel like more often, I have the same experience that Wendig describes, where you read over the what you wrote, and realize, hey, this isn’t nearly as awful as I thought it was…

I had a thought while teaching tai chi to the cast of Nancy Frank’s Inexpressibly Blue directed by Robert Estes for the Bay Area One-Acts Festival. Robert asked me to go through some tai chi and qi gong postures with the cast since I practice and assistant teach tai chi at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi (over in Chinatown). I went through the beginning section of the Yang Family tai chi form up in a beautiful, sunny park yesterday. It was interesting for me to go through the postures and the philosophy behind tai chi with them because you can really go deep down the rabbit hole.

The cast was mostly fixated on the postures of the form because of the blocking they would need to figure out for the performance of the play. Beyond the choreography and memorization of movements, there’s a whole endless string of other considerations to put into the practice. I think writing has been the same way for me this summer. Whenever I get stuck or frustrated with one piece of the play, I just go to another section I think I know about. Sometimes I try to power through a section I’m working on, and just have faith that something might pop up or that I could throw it away if it really sucks.

Tai chi is the same way. I think any practice is. Ultimately, you do have to have faith in yourself that you can go further than you think you can. You have to have faith that you’ll come up with something if you don’t remember what to do next or if you can’t think of where the story goes to. And, you know, tomorrow is another day. Every sucky thing that happened yesterday when you were writing or tai chi-ing just is a total wash the next time you decide to give it time.

There’s this book I’m reading right now about tai chi energetics called Juice: Radical Taiji Energetics, which probably sounds like fake magic BS to a lot of people, but the thing is, even with a feat that seems impossible, the two things he says that you have to do in order to reach these advanced levels are practice every day and believe that it will happen. There’s something to that. I don’t care if it’s radical or if it’s common sense. They work together too. Maybe you don’t always believe in what you’re doing but, ef it! You’re gonna practice anyway. And maybe you don’t always feel like you have time to practice, but hey, if you don’t, then how will you ever develop?

One of the screenwriting books Save The Cat Strikes Back! says basically the same thing that in order for him to find success with his writing, he had to be disciplined, focused and positive with his work. Those are hard things to remember to do sometimes, but it sure beats kicking your own booty with self-doubt. I’m trying to remember these small ideas that count when I come back to my thesis play to write, as I prepare to teach a whole group of students creative writing for the first time, and as I try to keep my tai chi practice this year. I’m confident something will come out of it if I can just wade through the muck. Did anyone ever regret taking the time to put a few more crappy sentences upon the screen? Probably not… Who knows where they will lead!

Announcing Theater Pub’s Collaboration With This Year’s Bay One Acts Festival!

We’re excited to say that we’ll be returning to the Bay One Acts Festival (often referred to as “BOA”) for the third year in a row. This year’s contribution will be the one act play “Shooter” by Pub new-comer, Daniel Hirsch, directed by past-collaborator Rik Lopes. The cast will feature three more folks making their SF Theater Pub debut: Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell.

Billed with the tagline, “Three very different men, one terrible thing in common”, the show is a collage of three different voices, delving into the uncomfortable perspectives of men who have all committed a horrible crime. From different social classes and backgrounds, little unites these men together beyond the implement of their misdeeds: a loaded gun.

“Shooter” will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check out http://bayoneacts.org/.