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.

Don’t Miss “Shooter” At This Year’s Bay One Acts Festival!

Just wanted to share a haunting shot (no pun intended) of Theater Pub’s contribution to this year’s Bay One Acts Festival, “Shooter.”

A scene from "Shooter", featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, photo by Christopher Alongi

A scene from “Shooter”, featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, photo by Christopher Alongi

“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, September 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/.

Founding Artistic Director Brian Markley On Theater Pub at BOA 2013

The summer is almost over and we’re getting ready for our third collaboration with BOA, the Bay One Acts festival. This year’s project, Shooter, is being helmed by founding artistic director Brian Markley, who answers some questions for us today on the blog. Check back every Monday for the next month or so to find out more about the play, the festival, and the people behind this important annual SF Theater scene event.

First off, for those who don’t know, what is BOA?

BOA is one of the best indy theater collaboration in the Bay Area, and it’s entering its 12th year putting on a two week program of new local plays, all produced by small local theater companies.

How did Theater Pub get involved with BOA?

This will be our third year since (former Founding Artistic Director) Ben Fisher got us involved back in 2010. As a fellow community-minded theater company interested in widening our circle further and also bringing in fresh talent to Theater Pub, it’s an obvious partnership.

What drew you to pick “Shooter” as this year’s contribution by Theater Pub?

Both the director, Rik Lopes, and I were drawn to this piece immediately. It’s emotionally true, really insightful, and feels ripped from today’s news (without being just an “issue” piece). Also, I wanted to meet Daniel Hirsch (the author) after seeing he’s bound to become a successful playwright.

When and how did Rik Lopes come into the process?

I’d worked with Rik before, first as a fellow actor in an AtmosTheatre production of Alice in Wonderland, where aside from his amazing performance as the Mad Hatter, I was super impressed with his insight, maturity and communication style during rehearsals, helping the entire production and building more community among the actors. When I wrote a short piece for Theater Pub’s Pint Sized festival in 2011, I immediately asked Rik to direct. He’s sensitive and badass at the same time, and I think that kind of describes “Shooter” too.

What’s your involvement as the producer?

Not that much really. I’m procuring rehearsal space, tracking the budget, attending production meetings to be sure we’re turning things in on time. It’s the least artistic connection I’ve had to a project, but I’m happy to see such a good product coming together with Rik and Daniel and the cast.

What’s got you excited about bringing this piece to an audience?

I think it’s important, besides being a well-paced, explosive piece of theater. I hope people talk about it in the lobby or at the bar afterwards. I talked to my girlfriend about it for an hour after reading it for the first time.

What else at this year’s festival are you excited to see?

Without checking back on all the great pieces I’ve read, off the top of my head I’d say: Ben Fisher’s piece, because I’m following his whole career as a lesson, and Tracy Held Potter’s piece, because it’s hilarious on paper and I can’t wait to see it with costumes.

What the best thing about working in a festival environment? 

Feeling the family vibe. Among other examples, Quinn (Whitaker) at Wily West is stepping up to provide all the furniture for the run, and Tides Theater (whom I hadn’t met until our first production meeting) stepped in quickly to provide an awesome venue when plans changed for the initial choice. It’s fun to sit around a table where every company wants the same project to succeed, instead of competing for eyeballs and publicity.

How is a Theater Pub show still a Theater Pub show, no matter where it’s done?

Our shows have always appealed to more than the standard ‘professional’ theater-going crowd and this is no exception. Also, I expect our shows will always be followed by discussions over beers and our widening (thanks to BOA) circle of friends

“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/.

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/.

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.

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. 

Field Notes From A BOA Virgin: Strange Bedfellows

Annie Paladino sends us her last blog about BOA 2012.  Feel like telling us about your neck of the Bay Area Theater woods? Let us know! We’re always looking for stories

…and just like that, it was over. BOA 2012 ended its run on Saturday and much hugging, drinking, dancing, congratulating, sleeping, and ripping up of stages ensued (mostly in that order). Followed by more sleeping.

I want to extend my own personal congratulation to everyone involved, and ginormous THANK YOUs to our spectacular audiences (particularly the packed-to-standing-room closing weekend houses!).

But I guess what has really stuck with me, and what I hope continues to be a discussion in the Bay Area small theater scene, is how deeply entrenched we are in our separate art-making spheres. One of the wonderful things about BOA is that it smushes together 10 different producing companies (each with a different style, philosophy, mission, history) almost by brute force: many, if not most, of these companies probably wouldn’t choose to share a billing like this, and have not worked together in the past. In fact, a common topic of conversation among the actors seemed to be, “so what does your company do?” Genuine interest in each other’s work — and an equally genuine ignorance of each other’s very existence — characterized many of the interactions that I observed and/or participated in.

Why don’t we know about each other? It’s somewhat disheartening to realize the extent of our tunnel-vision: how can we expect audiences to find us and know about us if we aren’t even really aware of each other?

I have no idea how to fix it. I suspect that an increase in cross-pollination and artistic polyamory would go a long way, and certainly things like BOA are invaluable to our little community, knitting us together into a lovely, ephemeral, messy patchwork of local small theater. In general, the Bay Area small theater community is amazingly collaborative, active, and supportive. I’m not saying we have to love each other’s work, I did not love every piece in BOA, but really, in the grand scheme of things, we’re all on the same team, right?

WARNING: SELF-IMPORTANT METACOMMENTARY AND PAINFULLY CLICHE METAPHOR AHEAD: maybe THIS VERY BLOG can start poking little air holes in our cozy bubbles.

Lots of love,

A.M.P.