Cowan Palace: PianoFight Resolves to Open the Damn Venue

Things are changing in the San Francisco Theater scene and PianoFight needs your help! Ashley Cowan profiles the ambitious folks behind this ambitious attempt to open a new space in the ever-emerging downtown theater scene!

Happy 2014! If you resolved to see more theater this year or become a more active participant in the community, I may have a suggestion. The fellas at PianoFight (Rob Ready, Dan Williams, and Kevin Fink) have made the ultimate resolution: to open a landmark entertainment venue complete with two theaters, a full restaurant and bar with a cabaret stage, rehearsal and office spaces, and even a film studio. It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be epic. It’s PianoFight.

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In the midst of their fundraising, I had the chance to ask the guys a few questions this week and learn a bit more about the project.

To those who are unfamiliar with PianoFight, can you give us a brief introduction?

Sure! PianoFight is a San Francisco based production company. We produce theater, manage / build venues, play music and cut records, film corporate and other creative videos, produce comedy and interactive shows, stage dance, run a website and do other generally creative things. It’s fun and we make it a priority to have fun, and we’re committed to producing new work by new artists.

Super fun! Can you tell us a little bit more about your new space and what you’re currently working on?

The new space is at 144 Taylor Street, in the Tenderloin. It’s a 50-seat theater, a 90-seat theater, rehearsal spaces, office spaces, a film production studio and a full restaurant and bar with a cabaret stage. We’ll have a multi-camera setup in the larger theater so we can live-stream and record shows, and we’ll rent out the space and offer classes so anyone and everyone can get in on the action. Find out more right HERE.

This is a massive undertaking. What’s been the biggest surprise in leading a fundraising campaign of this size?

Hands down, the broad-based and energetic support for the project. We knew we’d need a ton of backers to reach our goal, and were excited to see our immediate community step up and financially support this vision. But it’s really cool to see interest from all kinds of folks excited to be a part of something like this happening in San Francisco. And then there’s the random/awesome people that come out of the woodwork – someone with whom you went to elementary school but haven’t spoken to in years dropping $50 on the campaign. That’s freakin’ awesome.

What can we, the awesome Theater Pub community, do to help?

Well, the most straightforward way is to back the project and recruit other like-minded folks to back the project. Talk it up, post in on FB, Tweet about it and email your peeps – getting the word out in general is a HUGE help. If you know anybody who works at cool blogs that would be into this, please email Rob at rob@pianofight.com. Beyond that, just keep making dope art so we’ve got tons of cool projects and artists to fill up the stages.

What project and/or dope art are you most excited to work on in the new place?

Can’t wait to reboot our audience-judged playwriting competition, ShortLived. This has always been a fun, big project for us because it involves the indy theater community in a really interesting and unique way. We’ve taken time to rework the rules and format to make it’s more of a theater competition with different teams staging short plays. It’s still audience judged, but this time we’re upping the production value and adding cash prizes for the winners. When we launch it, we’re gonna go big, and whoever wins is going to have to run the gauntlet and prove themselves real theater rockstars.

I can’t wait. Personally speaking, writing for ShortLived has been one of my favorite Bay Area involvements. But in the meantime, how do you get through some of the more challenging aspects of this process?

Beer. Lot’s of it. Also, it helps that the three of us have been friends for so long – we’ve all been friends since grade school. Sometimes that’s rough, because we’re comfortable with each other to the point that we can say whatever the hell is on our minds. This can be, sometimes, not the nicest most sensitive thing in the universe. But really, knowing what we’ve been through over the years, and that we’ve had each other’s backs through all of that, there is nothing more reassuring than knowing your two best friends are in the trenches right beside you.

If PianoFight could be made into a drink, what beverage would it be?

Cutty Sark on the rocks. Or in two drinks – one shot, and one shitty beer.

What was your favorite theatrical experience of 2013?

Final run of Theater Pub at Cafe Royale. It was emotional and fun, and those kind of events mark phases of our lives and the life of the art-making community in the Bay. It was a very cool experience.

What’s the best part of being involved in the Bay Area theater community? And what’s the hardest?

Best part: the Bay Area is bursting with talent that tends to have a singular edge or rawness. Bay Area artists are highly motivated to take risks and be innovative, producing some extremely exciting work.

The hardest part is the lack of platforms / distribution channels / megaphones to propel that art and those artists into greater markets, so that Bay Area art can be better represented on the national and International stage. Thus, this venue.

Bang, kill, or marry: Shakespeare, Chekov, or Arthur Miller :

They’re all already dead so killing would be redundant, and banging or marrying would be illegal. How bout this – we promise not to produce any of them.

Any interesting, personal resolutions you guys have made for 2014?

OPEN THE DAMN VENUE!

What can we expect next from PianoFight?

In January, Mission CTRL will premiere an all new show at SketchFest, and Chardonnay (formerly ForePlays) will also play a show with SketchFest. And then in February, Chardonnay will premiere an all new show at EXIT Theater. Then after that, WE’RE OPENING THAT DAMN VENUE!

Back us on Kickstarter.
Like us on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.
Check out our website.

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A big thanks to PianoFight for taking a moment to chat about this exciting project. They have 9 days to raise the money and make this resolution come true. So spread the word, sing it from the rooftops, hire a carrier pigeon, or do whatever you can do because this is something worth (Piano)Fight(ing) for. (Did you guys see what I did there?) As always, I wish you all well and look forward to another glorious year of Bay Area Theater!

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Cowan Palace: Rob Ready, The Man Behind the Llama

Ashley Cowan talks with a Llama.

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with a fictional fiancé from four years ago; a Pint Sized regular, the infamous Rob Ready.

He’s certainly a leader among the San Francisco theater community and he’s become a bit of a local legend. As a llama. Oh, and other things, sure. But today we’re here to talk about all things llama! Rob has taken on what has become a mascot for Theater Pub and as the past four years have changed us all, the Llama has gone through his own transformations as well.

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

What has been your favorite Llama development as he’s grown throughout the years?

When Stuart (Bousel) started writing the Llama pieces he made the character this sad, drunk, funny, bumbling, lovable ass and he just nailed it. Also, having the Llama on the Theater Pub t-shirt is pretty cool. And the fact that we’re actually doing a blog post with questions and answers about a sad drunk Llama. All of those things are awesome.

Yes, Rob. I am totally awesome. Thank you for that. These past few years have been busy for you outside your Llama persona; if you could tell the Rob of four years ago one piece of advice, what would it be?

Go grocery shopping you fat drunken idiot.

Sure. Food is important. So what has been your process taking on this role? And has it changed from year to year?

Yes. These past two years I’ve actually had to prep and memorize and rehearse a little. The first two years the Llama just walked on like an ass hole and pounded a beer while shouting something about pigs and left. Given my personal experience behaving in a similar way, those first two years were pretty simple.

What’s the most challenging part of being a Llama?

I really want to spit a lot more than I do, but I’m afraid it’ll land on people’s shoes.

Where do you find the best inspiration?

Friends.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Drink a beer. Run through the lines. Talk to whoever is bartending and let them know I’ll be screaming at them for booze later on.

What’s your favorite memory from working on this festival since it began? Is it pretending to be engaged to me in Queen Mab in Drag? Is it?!

Queen Mab was awesome, though despite appearances, I’m still a little uneasy wearing a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Playing the Llama opposite Alison Page as the Bear last year was a blast. She was lights out hilarious. Like, she had the audience giggle farting in joy. So every night I just went out and tried to be as funny as she was and also make her laugh.

The script called for the Llama to resuscitate the lifeless Bear and it was so fun. Alison’s trying to stay dead while I’m working overtime to get her to break. One night, the CPR bit turned into me just blowing spittle on her face. She lost it, I lost it and then the audience really lost it.

Having her be so good really motivated me and that bit of competitiveness ended up pushing the whole piece a lot further. (Megan) Cohen and Stuart had written these amazing characters and then Alison and I got just go be goofballs together and by the fifth show we’d added in all manner of physical bits, audience interaction and some new text and were just having way too much fun on stage.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Where do you hope the Llama goes next?

Broadway, baby.

If the Llama could share a pint with one person, who would it be?

Probably himself. He’s a loner. Or a random stranger. Or that fucking Bear.

What’s next for you? What fun project is on the horizon?

GET RIGHT ALL NIGHT is PianoFight’s first ever hybrid music music – comedy – dance party featuring live surf and soul music from the PianoFight Music Department and the show features ForePlays, Imaginary Radio, Anna & The Annadroids, The Lazy Susans, DJ Short Shorts and a big sweaty dance party. It’s this Saturday, July 27 at 8pm at Inner Mission and it’s gonna be awesome.

Then BOA is coming up in September which is always rad.

And PianoFight has been building a space for a thousand years but it’s actually going to open this year. So that’s exciting.

It is exciting. I think your fans will be happy to keep the party going. So, in five words, how would you capture this year’s Pint Sized Festival?

Bittersweet end of an era.

Ah, poetic. Okay, on a different note, if you could set up characters from the last four Pint Sized productions on a date, which two folks would you put together?

Deb O Rah the dildo saleswoman (from Tom Bruett’s play) and a character Sunil Patel played a couple years ago in Nancy Cooper Frank’s play. That would be hilarious.

And just for the record, people can find out about PianoFight at http://www.PianoFight.com or follow us on Twitter @pianofight or on Facebook.

Thank you to Rob Ready for not only being an incredible Llama Hero but for taking the time to talk about Theater Pub. Cheers to you! You can buy Rob a beer next Monday and Tuesday at Cafe Royale as Pint Sized takes over for two more evenings. Get those Llama snuggles while you can!

You can catch Ashley on Twitter @ashcows posting a lot of pictures of her dog or on stage with Custom Made Theatre’s production of Book of Liz playing every weekend until August 18.

Cowan Palace: Quick and Dirty Tips to Surviving The Taming of the Shrew

This week, Ashley Cowan offers a few thoughts and facts regarding The Taming of the Shrew to get you ready for March 18’s Opening Night at Cafe Royale. 

Now, I’m sure most of you out there are Shakespeare fans. Or at least, that’s what you tell your friends. But just in case he makes you a little nervous, here are a few basic points to help ease you into to The Taming of the Shrew

First, what the heck is a shrew?

Well, according to the dictionary a “shrew” is a mouselike mammal with beady eyes and a long pointed snout. Its second definition simply explains a shrew as “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman”.  And while I do think Stuart should have considered casting an array of small creatures, in this case, the tamed shrew describes Katherina.

Katherina? What an exotic name! Where does this play take place?

In the Italian city of Padua. 

Ah, and when was it written?

There are a few opinions on the year but most seem to believe it was in 1592.

16th-century Italian comedy was a thing, right? Did that impact the play?

Well, reader, great observation.  There does seem to be some evidence within The Taming of the Shrew that reflects some of the style of Commedia dell’Arte. For example, the combination of some melodrama moments and slapstick humor executed by a colorful collection of characters. 

That sounds fun.

It is!

Has The Taming of the Shrew ever been made into a movie?

It has. An impressive fourteen different films have been created; including one with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It also helped to inspire the enchanting musical, Kiss Me Kate, and the ever popular teen classic flick, 10 Things I Hate About You

So how does this story start?

Once upon a time there were two sisters: Katherina and Bianca (spoiler alert: one of them is a shrew) who lived with their father, Baptista. Bianca was considered a hot piece and managed to attract herself three suitors but Dad refused to take any of them seriously until his other single daughter, who had a reputation for being harsh and unfriendly, found a beau of her own.  

Theater Pub has taken a slightly different route and has cast Baptista as a woman. And since mother often knows best, this should be a fun interpretation of controlling parenting presented with a feminine approach and two daughters working what their mama gave them. 

Does Katherina find someone?

Does she! After a few questionable OKCupid dates, Petruchio leaves Verona and comes into town in search of fame, fortune, and perhaps some female companionship.  And when he meets Kate, he’s not afraid of her or her reputation. 

So?

So? People love this stuff. It’s the whole “battle of the sexes” thing. We get to explore the relationship of two strong competitors who both embody elements of their sex and the fire to remain in control. 

Would you say it’s a romantic comedy?

I guess you could say that. But the play certainly opens the door to larger social issues regarding the institution of marriage and the exploration of the roles within them. 

Does the shrew ever get tamed? 

That’s something we can talk about over a beer.  Partially because it can be a fun discussion and partially because I’m thirsty. 

At the beginning the play, so much of what we, the audience, know about Kate is told to us by the other characters. They all seem to be on a mission to teach us about her incorrigible ways. But as the story progresses, we start to get an idea of what may be influencing her behavior and her response to her sister being favored by her father (or in this production, her mother). 

Now, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’m a bit of a romantic. I’ve been through many heated discussions about this play and listened to the backlash of several spirited thinkers who find the piece to be sexist and degrading. And to them, I say – maybe grab a drink and relax for a moment. I personally believe it’s a story about people learning from each other, exploring their fears, and ultimately transforming by approaching life in a new way. The play can be farcical but it’s also richer and more developed than that too. 

Yeah, but what’s up with Kate’s speech at the end? 

It depends how you direct it and interpret it but I believe it’s a representation of Kate’s dynamic spirit evolving into a more mature state. She seems to be accepting that she’s in a partnership and perhaps with that, she understands that power can exist together. When one succeeds, the other benefits.

Okay. Why should I see Theater Pub take this play on?

Well, what else are you doing? 

Come see it. There’s nothing like watching Shakespeare’s words come to life surrounded by bar patrons and theater lovers alike. This production is sure to entertain and challenge us, make us reconsider the strengths and weaknesses of relationships, and delight us with a cast of talented Bay Area actors. Image

Plus, I’ll be there. And I’d love to see you. 

 

Cowan Palace: 7 Reasons Why Shakespeare Belongs In A Bar

As we move closer to Theater Pub’s next production of Taming of the a Shrew, I thought it would be fun to get the party started by learning just a little bit more about one of history’s favorite writers. So to kick things off, here are Ashley Cowan’s top 7 Reasons Why Shakespeare Belongs in a Bar!

7 Reasons Why Shakespeare Belongs in a Bar

1.) He puts the “bar” in “Bard”.

2.) We don’t really know how to spell his name.

Just like a drunk Marina brah who writes his number down for a tipsy sorority sister, the mighty Bard also abbreviated his own name and signature. Apparently, there were about 80 different ways Shakespeare’s name was written out during his lifetime – and that’s only counting the cocktail napkins that survived! Some include whacky interpretations like “Shaxberd”! For that one alone, we should all take a drink.

3.) Shakespeare’s daddy was paid to drink beer!

That John Shakespeare tried out a few careers in his day but in 1556 he became a professional drinker. He was an ale taster responsible for reviewing bread and malt liquors. Cheers, John!

4.) Taming of the Shrew begins with a drunk dude!

Before the first act officially begins (in the Induction), a rather sloppy Christopher Sly is kicked out of a bar. He is then becomes the target for a sneaky nobleman who tricks Sly into believing that he too is of notable nobility. Bestowing upon him the honor of a play and officially beginning 10 Things I Hate About You.

5.) Shakespeare put a curse on his grave!

Okay, this may not directly correlate to Shakespeare being performed in a bar but it’s bad-ass! It’s believed that he wrote the epitaph reading: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, / To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” Now, if only he had written something for Richard III…

6.) An anagram for “William Shakespeare” is “A Karma Wheelie Lisps”.

That clearly was made for a bar. Or you could go with the more well-known anagram: “I am a weakfish speller” but how can you resist celebrating when a karma wheelie lisps?

7.) He wrote about beer!

My three text favorites include:

“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.”Henry V

I will make it a felony to drink small beer.”Henry VI, Part II

“OLIVIA: What’s a drunken man like, fool?
CLOWN: Like a drowned man, a fool, and a madman: one draught above heat makes him a fool, the second mads him, and a third drowns him.”
– Twelfth Night

Taming of the Shrew opens on March 18 and also plays March 19, 25, and 27 at Cafe Royale. Which gives us plenty of time to add to our list of why Shakespeare belongs in a bar. Part beautiful language, part beer, the production is sure to be worth toasting to!