Theater Around The Bay: Theater Pub Evolution

Co-Founding Artistic Director Stuart Bousel confirms, denies and imparts the future of Theater Pub.

So, by now, you may or may not have heard that San Francisco Theater Pub is about to go through some major changes.

If you’ve been a part of Theater Pub from the beginning, you may know that we’re pretty much always changing, that few constants exist in Theater Pub-land. As the lead line of this recent article about us suggests, One Bourbon One Scotch and One Bard, part of the appeal of Theater Pub has always lain in its unpredictability, and that’s not just on stage. It’s always an adventure to be in one of our shows, or to put one together, just as much or more so than it is to watch one. True, a hapless audience member may have a glass dropped on them (or be pulled onto a pool table for impromptu romance with another audience member), but from day one of Theater Pub (and only myself and co-Founding Artistic Director Brian Markley remain from Day One) there has always been an undercurrent of “this could end at any time”. Truth be told, when myself, Brian, Ben Fisher and Victor Carrion first came together to create Theater Pub, we planned no farther than three months in advance and habitually said, “In six months, when this is all over, we’ll be glad we did it.” The fact that we’ve lasted 43 months is, all things considered, pretty amazing, and entirely unexpected.

And no, Theater Pub is not ending. Let’s just kill that rumor first. But yes, we are leaving the Cafe Royale at the end of July. That is true. Our last performance there will be the closing night of this year’s Pint Sized plays, on Tuesday, July 30.

“But no!” you cry and “Why?!?”

Why we’re leaving the bar is a complex conversation and can probably best be summed up by Brian Markley’s recent statement that “bars have souls” and the soul of this bar, the Cafe Royale, is changing. The soul of any business develops as a combination of who is running that business and what their vision for it is, and who is regularly patronizing it and what their expectations are. We were brought into the Cafe Royale at the invitation of Les Cowan, who had a vision for his bar as a cornerstone of local culture and a fixture in the arts scene, but he left the Cafe Royale in March of last year to pursue other ventures. The new owners took us on but from the beginning made it clear they wanted to make the bar their own and honestly you can’t blame them for that: it’s their bar. To their credit, they recognized that we were an invested entity that was very successful, both financially and in our  ability to attract a robust and loyal audience and press following, but we were never part of their vision when they as a group of friends first got together and made plans to purchase and open a bar. We were inherited with the place, and something they had to adjust their vision for. We agreed to give it a year and it’s a testimony to them and us that we not only got through it and all the changes that came with the new ownership, but that both Theater Pub and the bar continued to succeed together. When the decision was made, earlier this year, to leave the Cafe Royale, it was entirely on mine and Brian’s end, and comes down to the fact that every theater company also has a soul. And our soul feels progressively headed in a different direction than the Cafe Royale.

These things happen. Things change. But in addition to unpredictability, part of Theater Pub’s appeal has also always been its flexibility and adaptability. As Julia Heitner, Artistic Director At Large, aptly demonstrated last year when she took a number of our shows to other locales, and as Sunil Patel recently continued to demonstrate with the Borderlands Bookstore preview of “The Pub From Another World”, Theater Pub doesn’t have to happen in a bar- or the same bar- to be Theater Pub. True, it’s not the same thing seeing, say, Measure For Measure, in the Plough And Stars as opposed to the Cafe Royale, but progressively the Cafe Royale (which is scheduled to be heavily renovated this fall) isn’t going to be “the same” either, and the truth is no matter how good our shows are or how exciting it’s been to have balconies to stage Shakespeare in, the real reason I, at least, have stayed with Theater Pub so long is because of the people we get to work with and the people who come to see us, again and again, and love us so much.

As current Cafe Royale co-owner Will Weston recently said to me in a phone call, “You guys are cool. You’re a thing,” and I agree. We are A Thing. I’d even go so far as to say we’re A Scene or A Movement even. We’re most definitely A Community, and we have every confidence we can continue to serve and foster that Community in a variety of ways for a long time yet to come. The real point of Theater Pub was never to put on monthly shows at the Cafe Royale; the true core of why we existed was to bolster the San Francisco Theater Community by making it more accessible, to audiences and artists, and more fun. The word “Pub” comes from “Public House”, being a place where a community gathers to be a community. Usually with beer. Going forward we plan to be more of a Public House than ever, frequently, but not always, with beer.

In concrete terms we can absolutely tell you what the rest of 2013 looks like, and we hope you’ll support us in this transition by continuing to attend and participate in our events. Saturday Write Fever, our monthly event at the Exit Cafe, will continue as scheduled and we love that so many of our regulars at the Pub have turned up there- we hope to see more of you! Additionally, our November event, which will be produced by previous collaborators Nick and Lisa Gentile, will happen at the Exit Cafe as scheduled. Between now and then we will be returning to the Bay One Acts Festival for a third time this September/October, with Brian Markley producing the event and frequent Pub contributor Rik Lopes directing a piece of their choosing. Kat Bushnell and James Grady, who have been the driving force behind our holiday musical theater concerts of Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent, are already busy planning this December’s show, and seeking a venue. We’re even talking of touring a couple bars this time around.

Which may be the future of Theater Pub in general. After all, from the beginning we’ve basically operated out of a box in the basement of the Cafe Royal: why not move the box from venue to venue, like theater companies of old, putting on a show wherever they let us and people are willing to watch and throw some money in the pot? Though it’s true we’re taking a partial hiatus from regular productions (shows will happen, just much more sporadically), we do hope to return to our monthly format further down the road in 2014, and being nomadic may be the way to go as it certainly has its advantages. That said it’s also really nice to have a home, as the Cafe Royale was for us for over three years, and we’re definitely interested in finding new hosts if they’re out there. So if you know of a bar, or if you run a bar that wants to take on the unique, Award-Winning, Critically Praised, Frequently-Packed-Beyond-Standing-Room San Francisco Theater Pub, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’d love to meet with you and see your space and find out how we can be part of your vision. But in the end it will come down, once again, to a soul thing, as Brian and I agree that our soul is far more important, and far richer than putting on a show each month. But of course, we’re theater people and we love a show, so fingers crossed for 2014 and we look forward to being there with our community in whatever capacity presents itself at the time.

Finally, the digital form of Theater Pub, this website, will continue to exist and grow. Since this became “more than just a website” starting in February of 2012, we have literally tripled our output and quadrupled our traffic and the fun is only just beginning. Like the Cafe Royale, we have plans for some major overhaul in the next few months. New look, new writers, new features all intended to continue the conversation we get to have on the website not just with the Bay Area, but the world as a whole.

That conversation is, in the end, what this is all about and what any artistic endeavor should be about. We are truly, madly, deeply invested in making sure that conversation continues, and we’re looking forward to being surprised and delighted by wherever and whenever it pops up next- on the internet, in a bar or a coffee shop, a bookstore, a park. The possibilities are limitless and the truth is, by stepping away from the bar and our obligations there, we can truly explore those possibilities. We’re using this break with the structure of the past as an opportunity to be more flexible in both what we do and what kinds of projects fall under our umbrella so as usual if you have ideas, let us know: maybe there’s a one-off or a site specific production only an e-mail or two away from happening at a bar near you. The future is wide open and that’s scary, and bittersweet, but also very exciting.

Stuart Bousel is a Co-founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. He has a soul and you’re soaking in it. 

The BAY ONE ACTS Festival Starts On Sunday April 22!

The Bay One-Acts Festival features the very best of Bay Area theater and celebrates the short play form. Back for its eleventh year, the festival will feature TEN new plays produced by ten local companies.

The festival plays April 22nd – May 12th, 2012 at Boxcar!

Check out www.bayoneacts.org for the juicy details, ticket information, and more.

To purchase tickets:
https://www.ticketturtle.com/index.php?ticketing=boa

PROGRAM ONE plays 4/22, 4/25, 4/27, 4/29, 5/3, 5/5, 5/6, 5/9, 5/11, 5/12

Cello by Anthony Clarvoe
The Seagull Project by 11th Hour Ensemble
Three Little Dumplings Go Bananas by Megan Cohe
Brainkill by Stuart Eugene Bousel
In Bed by Sam Leichter

PROGRAM TWO plays 4/22, 4/26, 4/28, 4/29, 5/2, 5/4, 5/5, 5/6, 5/10, 5/12

Death to the Audience by Ken Slattery
The Bird Trap by Bennett Fisher
I.S.O. Explosive Possibility by Erin Bregman
Maybe Baby by Amy Sass
A Game by Christopher Chen

2012 Producing Partners
11th Hour Ensemble
Instrumental Theatre
No Nude Men
PianoFight
Playwrights Foundation
Precarious Theatre
Ragged Wing Ensemble
SF Theater Pub
Sleepwalkers
Threshold

The Cast of “Brainkill” Tells All

In the latest of our series of articles on “Brainkill”, this year’s Theater Pub contribution to the annual Bay One Acts Festival, we chat with the cast about what it takes to put together a new work, what makes them tick and how many eggs you have to crack to get an omelet.

All right cast of “Brainkill”. Who are you?

Dave Levine: I am a San Francisco native, a big fan of puns, and love spending time in the sunshine. I love good jokes and if you ask nicely, I’ll tell you one, or five.

Theresa Miller: I love cooking, acting and watching squirrels in Golden Gate Park. I grew up in Santa Monica, went to school at Sonoma State and now happily live in SF. By day, I act as a patient for medical students where I get to have babies, weird infections and hang out in hospital gowns.

Travis Howse: I’m a recent graduate of SFSU, an actor, a puppeteer, a techie, a clown, and at the moment, a professional grilled cheese maker.

Kate Jones: I’m a Chicagoan who moved to SF based on a gut instinct 4 1/2 years ago.  I love acting more than candy (and I really love candy) and have been involved with theater – improv, sketch, drama, etc., since I could talk. Oh, and during the day I manage travel industry sales at the amazing California Academy of Sciences!

Giovanna Arieta: I’m an ultra-sensitive, laughter enthusiast who flosses twice a day. Seriously.

Dave Levine plays Bobby.

And have you ever worked with Theater Pub before, or been a part of the Bay One Acts Festival? Or both?

Giovanna Arieta: This is my first time working with Theatre Pub and BOA.  I’ve worked with Sara Staley in NCTC’s Youth Aware program and Sheherezade X.  She’s a fabulous director so I know if she’s involved in a project, it must be amazing.

Travis Howse: I haven’t worked with either group before. I have worked with Stuart Bousel before, on Juno En Victoria and last year’s Olympians Festival. I’m very excited to begin what I’m hoping is a long relationship with both the BOA festival and Theater Pub.

Theresa Miller: For Theater Pub, I was in the Greek plays The Congresswomen and Helen. I suspect that Stuart just likes dressing me in sheets. This is my fourth BOA. Our fabulous director, Sara Staley, directed me in BOA ’08, where I was proud to play Object #1. Last year in the festival I was a God freak and three years ago I played a devil.

Kate Jones: I just did Theater Pub for the first time this year (January’s Occupy Theater Pub!), which was such a fun experience, and this is my very first BOA!

Dave Levine: This is my first time acting with both Theater Pub and BOA.

What’s got you excited about being in this year’s BOA Festival?

Travis Howse: I love working with new people. New directors, new actors, and new writers all add to a person’s growth. It is always fantastic to work with such a large group of people on so many different projects and new scripts.

Theresa Miller: Getting to collaborate with a bunch of talented and creative artists has got me pretty pumped too! We had a big table read back in March, and there was this excited energy in the air. I’m thrilled to see how it all comes together.  I also LOVE Brainkill and working with Sara, Dave, Kate, Giovanna, Travis and Stuart. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is received.

Dave Levine: All of the acts are bringing something so new to the table. They’ve all got such style and flavor, their own blend of spices, so I’m excited to see the delicious contrast between the pieces. From what I’ve seen so far, I can’t wait for a taste!

Kate Jones: Ohmigosh, I am so thrilled to be in BOA.  So excited in fact that I am taking a night off from performing in my own show (PianoFight’s ForePlays) that I produce so that I could be involved.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful than being surrounded by so many talented writers, directors and actors, and I feel very lucky to be included in this group.  Hopefully this is my first of many BOAs!  Also, I really loved this piece, Brainkill, and after reading my characters monologue I couldn’t wait to perform it on stage.

Giovanna Arieta: Being in the original cast of any show is an honor, but with Brainkill it is particularly so because the characters give breath to such a raw depiction of human kind.  The script says the characters can be any race, age or sex, so it is exciting to create character that that could have been cast in a completely different way.  Every Carmen will be different.  I am excited to introduce the audience to MY Carmen.

Giovanna Arieta plays Carmen.

So what is this play about?

Dave Levine: Brainkill is a bit of an onion. From the get go, you meet characters that are pressed by their incredible wants and needs as well as the world they live in. We can see what drives people at a very basic level, and sometimes, the terrible places they go because of it. In the end, we all have to come to face up to who we are and what we’ve done. But more than anything, Brainkill is about eggs.

Travis Howse: I think it’s a play of extremes. It’s about extreme bad and extreme good, extreme chaotic and extreme lawful. It’s about being trapped by those extremes. And it follows one character as he tries to find a balance between those extremes, and we get to see those struggles play out.

Giovanna Arieta: Brainkill shows, in a very sassy and fun way (if I do say so myself), the potential that we all have to be greedy, vulnerable, evil and hyper-sexual, especially in desperate situations.  One person might see the show and relate it to their social circle and someone else might relate it to the world as a whole.

Kate Jones: I really think it speaks to the greed and need for material items in today’s world.  We are all at fault – myself definitely included – but it is important to remember what we should really value and hopefully that is not just “stuff.”  I think this is an extreme way of looking at what the world could become if you take a high contrast, without the grey, and look at society.

Theresa Miller: It’s about different value systems and moral codes, friendship, power, choices, understanding ourselves, what drives us… and Eggs.

Theresa Miller plays Alex.

And who do you play in this show?

Giovanna Arieta: I play Carmen.  She (Or “it,” perhaps?) is objective, steady and without opinion.

Travis Howse: I play Elliot, and Elliot falls into that extreme good category. He is optimistic to the point of delusion, and has a constant desire to help everyone around him. He is like that friend we all have that constantly says, “no worries man, its a beautiful day”. He is attracted to Bobby because Bobby is struggling. Elliot feels that not only can he help Bobby, but he has to help Bobby.

Dave Levine: I play Bobby. He is sweet, unfortunately for him not the sharpest knife but unexpectedly strong in his determination to escape from a life he didn’t mean to fall into. I look at Bobby as a personification of something we all wish we could have done over again and done right.

Theresa Miller: I’m Alex and Alex is Terrifyingly Awesome. She’s powerful, aggressive, manipulative, violent, impulsive and super hot.

Kate Jones: I play Darcy and  I really feel for Darcy. Her character is one that I think people can relate to though they may not want to admit it.  She wants to be wanted and she thinks that having stuff makes her desirable so she will do anything to get it and must constantly have more.  The unfortunate result is that she looses her own values and who she is in order to become what she thinks other people want.

Got a favorite line?

Travis Howse: “I am free”. The line doesn’t make much sense out of context, but it is such a powerful statement in the realm of this play.

Kate Jones: Oh gosh, I have several.  Out of my character’s lines, I really like “”I have never had an ulcer but I know it feels like an empty hole in your gut where other people’s stuff is supposed to be.”  It really shows how much people in this society have lost their own sense of self and who they are is defined by their material items.

Theresa Miller: Too many favorites! Top 3: “I want a fucking omelet. Don’t you want an omelet Bobby? “So put Darcy out of Darcy’s misery” and “Let’s fuck”, which is still kinda scary to say, but I love it!

Dave Levine: I love ‘We’re carrying guns!’ It’s such a delicious verbal joust.

Giovanna Arieta: “Why doesn’t my character have more lines?”

Kate Jones plays Darcy.

So when you’re playing a part, how do you go about getting into the character’s head?

Dave Levine: After I read the script, I go back and sift through trying to find any major or defining moments for the character. What was their motivation and why did they make those choices? It’s important to understand what type of person would choose to live that way. Once I have an understanding for those moments, I can expand on who that character is and step into their skin.

Travis Howse: Honestly, the first thing I do is say all of my lines out-loud. Before a first read through, I’ll sit in my room and speak. Reading the words is one thing, but saying them gives you the feeling of being the character. It starts to train your mouth to talk like the character, and familiarizes your mind with the character’s. It’s difficult to explain without sounding pretentious.

Giovanna Arieta: I define the character’s point of view.  I believe a person’s perspective of the world is the most revealing thing about her.

Kate Jones: I try to understand what the character wants and then why the character wants whatever it is they want.  I can usually find something to identify with based on my own personal wants and needs.  We are all willing to go to different extents to get something that we feel is necessary to our being.

Theresa Miller: I ask why is this person saying this? If the script is well-written, the answers are there in the text. I understand who they are and what motivates them by looking at what the writer gives me.

So in light of THAT, what’s the greatest challenge with playing this character?

Kate Jones: How she can seem one dimensional at points.  But if you look deeper, you can see the sadness, see how she is breaking down and see how she is a little part in all of us.

Giovanna Arieta: Carmen lacks emotional connection to any of the other characters, which makes her very different from any other role I have ever played.

Dave Levine: Bobby is a ton of fun. I don’t really see anything at the level of ‘greatest challenge’, but I did spend a fair amount of time memorizing the repeating and reflexive lines, as well as all the ‘but’ and ‘what’ lines. Those were pretty tricky.

Theresa Miller: I’m enjoying the challenge of making Alex relatable. Her ideas are so out there that she could easily be written off as an evil lunatic. My challenge has been to find the humanity in her and make her real.

Travis Howse: I tend to have a more cynical view of the world and of people, so I’m constantly looking for the negative aspects of any character. In Elliot, I am naturally looking for the ways in which he is a bad person. But after talking with Stuart and Sara and really dissecting the script it is clear to me that Elliot really is the embodiment of a good person. Even though some of the things he does are for somewhat selfish reasons, his heart is always in the right place and his actions are always helping someone else. So the biggest challenge I’m having so far is trying to keep my own prejudice out of Elliot’s personality.

What’s a part you’ve always wanted to play, or an actor whose career you’ve always admired?

Kate Jones: Wow, great question!  I tend to steer on the comedic side. My dream would be to star on a comedy TV series so this might not be very theatery but I would love to take the path of Julia Louis Drefus – SNL, Seinfeld, New Adventures of Old Christine – yes, yes, yes!

Giovanna Arieta: Karen Walker from Will & Grace.  Cam from Modern Family.  Veronica Corningstone from Anchorman.

Dave Levine: I don’t have my sights set on anything specific right now, but I would like to play a character like Gene Wilder’s in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, or Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. Something along those lines.

Travis Howse: I’ve always wanted to play the Emcee from Cabaret, which is unfortunate because I can’t sing very well.

Theresa Miller: My dream is to play Portia from Merchant of Venice in rep with Pantalone- the commedia character who’s the ultimate crotchety, sex-starved, miserly old man.  I love how they’re opposites!

Travis Howse plays Elliot.

What’s something else going on in this year’s festival you’re really looking forward to seeing?

Theresa Miller: I’m especially excited to see A Game and I.S.O. Explosive Possibility, which are both in Program 2.

Travis Howse: I’m looking forward to I.S.O. Explosive Possibility, because I’m a huge Claire Rice fan, absurdly huge, and she’s directing it. I’m also really excited for The Seagull Project. I went to school with a lot of the performers and creators of that piece and it is always great to see classmates doing so well.

Kate Jones: Of course the PianoFight piece (In Bed) because I do love my theater group and our material and also those 3 Dumplings because I just get giddy at the thought of peaking inside Megan Cohen’s head.

Dave Levine: It’s my first BOA, so naturally, I’m a bit like a kid in a candy shop. If I had to choose, I can’t wait to see In Bed by Sam Leichter. I watched the reading and was totally blown away. It’s raw and very touching. I’m also really excited to see Three Little Dumplings Go Bananas by Megan Cohen for its unhinged hilarity as well as the ukulele playing in The Seagull Project by 11th Hour Ensemble.

Giovanna Arieta: Everything!  I know our show has come a long way since the first staged reading so I’m excited to see how all the other plays have evolved.

To find out more about the Bay One Acts, check out http://www.bayoneacts.org.