Theater Around the Bay: Alan Coyne & Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”

The Pint-Sized Plays begin their 2nd week of performances tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Alan Coyne and director Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”!

“Bar Spies” is a spy-fiction pastiche, full of false identities, double-crossings, and heightened tension. Actors Courtney Merrell and Andrew Chung show off an impressive array of accents and some slick trench-coated style as the two spies.

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Playwright Alan Coyne has a sense of humor.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Alan: I wrote a piece for Pint-Sized last year (“Relativity”), and this year I figured I’d have another go. I can’t write without a deadline, and this festival gives you that plus a setting, so it’s exactly what I need to write something.

Juliana: I first got involved with Pint-Sized last year as the writer of “To Be Blue,” directed by the wonderful Neil Higgins and featuring the hilarious duo of Eden Neuendorf and Tony Cirimele. The show was such a success last year, I knew I wanted to come back. I’m super excited to return as a director this time!

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Alan: For me, the hardest thing about writing a short play (or anything) is getting started. And after that, it’s translating the amazing idea in your head into the least-clunky language possible.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Alan: Knowing that everything in it has to matter. That helps focus me on what I actually need to put in, and what I can do without.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Juliana: The most exciting moment for me so far this year was watching my actors read the script for the first time out loud while Alan and I watched. I couldn’t stop smiling as Courtney and Andrew took these two silly characters and brought them to life so easily despite the ridiculous accents we are making them do.

What’s been most troublesome?

Juliana: Scheduling! But that’s what I get for wanting to work with such talented folks.

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What are your biggest artistic influences?

Alan: P.G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams. They are who I would want to write like, if I could. For this particular play, it’s John Le Carre, who wrote Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; “Bar Spies” is very much a parody of that genre, and he, for me, is the best spy writer. And I owe a little something to Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, which is also a spy parody play. And Chess, which is the musical I’m rehearsing for at the moment, and is set during the Cold War.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Juliana: Sean Connery, because he is the best spy with the best accent.

Alan: Alec Guinness, who played the main character in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and did so definitively. Luckily for me, Courtney Merrell pretty much is Alec Guinness, so that worked out.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Juliana: Brian Martin is the first to come to mind, though we did do a scene study project in college together. Still, I think it would be a treat to work with him in a more professional setting.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Alan: My next writing project is for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, it’s called Hypnos, and it’s an excerpt from Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio. It’ll be performed Saturday, October 15. And my next acting projects are the aforementioned Chess for Custom Made (September/October), in which I play The Arbiter, followed by Feste in Twelfth Night at the Metropolitan Club on Saturday, November 5, which Juliana is also directing.

Juliana: Up next, I’m directing Twelfth Night as part of Shakespeare at the Club. I’m also performing in Chess at Custom Made Theatre Company and Avenue Q at New Conservatory Theatre.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Juliana: The Fringe Festival at the Exit Theatre.

Alan: The Olympians Festival is always wonderful, everyone should check that out at the EXIT this October. I had the opportunity to participate in Musical Cafe this year, and they’re doing another showcase in November, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for that. And PianoFight always has something good going on, especially shows which feature Andrew Chung.

What’s your favorite beer?

Juliana: Right now it’s Old Rasputin’s Russian Imperial Stout, but I’ll drink whatever you buy me.

Alan: For this show, I recommend drinking a pint of (Alec) Guinness.

“Bar Spies” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 3 performances remaining: August 22, 23, and 29 at PianoFight! 

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Cowan Palace: An Outcast, A Breast Pump, and An Eccentric Morrissey Fan Walk Into A Bar

This week Ashley chats with Morrissey Play actors, Andrew, Caitlin, and Kitty!

It was about a year ago I asked four wonderfully willing and eager actors to perform in my short, THIS IS WHY WE BROKE UP, which premiered at PianoFight’s ShortLived Competition and was directed by Charles Lewis III. So I was delighted to see that three out of four of them (hope to see you next time, Dylan Pembleton!) were lending their talents to Theater Pub’s current production, THE MORRISSEY PLAYS, which opened on Monday evening.

So I felt like I had no choice but to ask yet another favor of Andrew Chung, Caitlin Evenson, and Kitty Torres because they’re delightful people on and off stage and I wanted the excuse to talk to them. Here they are to tell us a little bit more about their current roles. This one’s for you, Morrissey!

Tell us who you’re playing and a little about the play(s) you’re in!

ANDREW: I’m in 3 of the Morrissey plays, playing three very different characters: Remember those goth kids in high school who were unsettlingly obsessed with the creepy and the occult? In David Robson’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, my character was once one of those high school outcasts. Since graduating from high school, he’s married his high school creepheart and opened a bar in their sleepy little hometown. He and his wife have invited an old classmate over for drinks, but booze isn’t the only thing on the menu…

In “World Peace is None of Your Business” by Kylie Murphy, I am one of those Morrissey fanboys. You know, the kind who just won’t shut up about how awesome and innovative and infallible he is and oh man the world would just be so much better if we all listened to him and by the way have I mentioned how Morrissey is God on Earth?!?! My compatriot and I have cornered some unfortunate soul who apparently has not heard the Gospel According to Moz, and are dead-set on giving this poor sap some education.

Finally, in a fun little script by Alan Olejniczak titled “Unhappy Birthday”, I play a boisterous frat bro trying to console his friend who just went through a breakup. And in his mind, the best way to get over someone is to go and GET SOME, SON! *insert unsubtle pelvic thrusts*

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in "Everyday Is Like Sunday"

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in “Everyday Is Like Sunday”

CAITLIN: Cecily in “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” by Jessica Chisum. I’m a new mom of three months meeting my best friend whom I haven’t seen since having the baby. Over the course of the play, which is split into three parts over the course of the evening, we touch on the significance of love, lost youth, and Zooey Deschanel (spoiler: she stole my life!)

KITTY: I am really fortunate to portray a few characters in THE MORRISSEY PLAYS. I play Angela in “How Soon Is Now?” by Allie Costa. As she recounts how this song brought her and her best friends together for the first time. It’s such a wonderful and adorable teenage story about how we all have those songs that define who we are as well as moments in our lives. I also play Emily in “World Peace Is None of Your Business” as a loyal and tad eccentric Morrissey fan who is dealt a hard dose of reality from someone who’s been in my shoes before. I lastly play opposite Brian Martin in a quick passage based on Morrissey’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, by Peter Bratach. We begin the play with him as “you” and myself as “me”, then switching sides to end the play. Performing the script in two different contexts, we portray the struggle arguments everyone deals with when they get into passionate and yet somewhat sedentary arguments with that friend who maintains polar opposite views.

What was your relationship with Morrissey before getting cast in this show and how would you describe it now?

ANDREW: I vaguely knew who Morrissey was before being cast, but I hadn’t heard much of his music and didn’t have much of an opinion of the man. And to be completely honest, that hasn’t really changed. Morrissey and his music just aren’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure he’s fine with that.

CAITLIN: I had no idea who he was when we began the rehearsal process. We were sent a documentary to watch as research and some songs and I realized that I had indeed been exposed to Morrissey before but had somehow missed the major cultural phenomenon that was the Smiths (outside of having seen (500) Days of Summer…). I’ve since gained an understanding of how much his music has meant to people, who his fans are — a lot of interesting dramaturgical stuff. I think I’m still wrapping my head around the “feel” of Morrissey so don’t ask me to articulate that just yet, but I’m getting close.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

KITTY: Growing up, I was lucky to learn about Morrissey through The Smiths from my childhood friend, Caitlin Carlson. She was and is a musical genius who told me simply to just listen to them and make my own understanding of them but to maintain that they were her favorite band ever. I was constantly surrounded by people who liked the work of both The Smiths and Morrissey and while I wasn’t a die hard fan, I got into them and appreciated their work. The music was dangerous and insane and made people uncomfortable. It made me feel uncomfortable and I started to like it and everything in life that made me feel so shaken up. Now that I’ve had some major crash course time to be all about this music again, I feel like my relationship has changed for the better with his music. I definitely roll my eyes at some of the shit he says but I respect him even more. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and to display his own conflicts within himself. That takes so much courage and love. Though he probably wouldn’t describe it like that, haha.

If you had to describe the evening in 160 characters or less and using mainly emoticons, what would you say?

ANDREW: 😀 D: 🙂 :O ;_; XD 😡 (> ‘ . ‘ )> <( ‘ . ‘ <)

CAITLIN: No emojis on my laptop so: “pint glass” “dreary day” “lonely” “acerbic” “revelations” “twist” “flawed humans” “love” Now imagine emojis. Ta-da!

KITTY: Oh man, well you know how you’ve always had that fantasy to throw on your old prom dress 💃and go to a dive bar with some close friends to drink cheap martinis 🍸and eat peanuts🍩 and talk about how fucked up everything’s become?🙋🏽🙋🏽🙋🏽 Whether it be young romance being ripped to shreds👨‍❤️‍👨 losing three jobs in a year, 🏆🏆🏆dealing with sudden deaths of your loved ones, 😣😣dealing with slow deaths of others😖😖 and wondering what the universe is trying to say? And then you stay up to watch the sunrise just to make sure you’re still alive.🎉🎉🎉🎉 That’s what this evening is, haha.

What’s been the biggest surprise working on a show inspired by Morrissey?

ANDREW: Finding out just how many people in the show are big fans of his.

CAITLIN: I had no idea he had such a large and passionate fan-base! The biggest surprise is how I managed to not know about him for so long!

KITTY: The biggest surprise has been to realize how much I’ve changed from when I was a teenager listening to this music and yet Morrissey still resonates with me. Still reminds me to be myself despite how much it pisses people off.

What’s your favorite Morrissey lyric and why?

ANDREW: From “There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends”: All that we hope is that when we go, our skin and our blood and our bones don’t get in your way, making you ill the way they did when we lived.

It’s such a wonderful way to say “fuck you,” isn’t it?

CAITLIN: Well…I only know the lyrics that are in my play…but I do think that “to die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die” is pretty darn romantic.

KITTY: While I definitely didn’t like this lyric before the show, the lyrics to “A Light That Never Goes Out” has become my favorite. It reminds me of a good friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I genuinely miss him, haha.

If Morrissey could be any drink, what would he be?

ANDREW: Fernet Branca. It’s not to everyone’s taste (many say it’s very in-your-face and off-putting), but man oh man does it have a large, utterly devoted cult following.

CAITLIN: I feel woefully under qualified to answer this. Like a poser. But I suppose my part in this play has given me some credibility. So I’ll say tea. Tea with no sugar because the lump of sugar is crushed on the floor next to the table the tea cup is sitting on.

KITTY: Probably crude oil with some rose petals as garnish. Haha, alcoholic drink, I’d say he would have to be a pina colada. It’s really pretty, cute looking from the outside, delicious to drink but ultimately kicks you in the ass by the end of the night and leaves you with a stomach ache the next day.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Where can we see you next?! Tell us about your next project!

ANDREW: Catch me in February’s Theater Pub show, OVER THE RAINBOW: The totally obviously true story of how Lisa Frank wandered into a magical rainbow realm, setting her on the path to becoming the ironfisted CEO of Lisa Frank, Inc. I’m also co-hosting the next installment of Saturday Write Fever on Feburary 13th at the Exit Cafe!

CAITLIN: Stay tuned!

KITTY: I don’t admittedly have anything going on acting wise, I am continuing to assist the wonderful Brooke Jennings in costuming for Custom Made Theatre and hope to dive back into auditions as soon as possible.

You have two more chances to see the show so mark those calendars! Monday and Tuesday at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco, California 94102)!

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part II

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!

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Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.

Theater Around The Bay: DICK 3 OPENS TONIGHT!

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It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former King Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco) and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing DICK 3!

Announcing this year’s Halloween show at Theater Pub!

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It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former king Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Theater Around The Bay: 16 Actors You Should Totally Cast

Stuart Bousel processes a callback that was an embarrassment of riches.

I recently had the awesome experience of sitting through the call-backs for Custom Made’s 2014 production of The Crucible, which I will be directing. I say “awesome” because it’s probably the first time in my career I gotten to watch 50+ actors audition their butts off for five hours and have literally all of them be really, really good. No lie: we honestly could have charged admission to the callbacks, they were that entertaining and engaging. I could have easily cast the show three times over with totally different people each time, and been perfectly happy with each version of the cast, that’s how good this pool of performers was.

Alas, as is often the case, I only had 16 slots available, not even a third of the excellent actors I had to choose from. When it came to decision time, I worked really hard to balance my final choices with familiar faces and new ones, people I loved working with along with people I’ve been wanting to work with, while also factoring in all those different things any director factors in when casting (like if certain actors make for a believable family, etc.), and yet of course at the end of the day I still ended up with a list of un-cast actors I couldn’t help but stare at and think, “Oh, but that person’s fantastic!” while also recognizing there just wasn’t a place for them in this show.

For me, the list of desired collaborations is always longer than the list of people I actually get to collaborate with on any given show, so, with an enormous desire to celebrate just how much talent we really have in this Bay Area theater scene of ours, here are 16 incredible folks from The Crucible callbacks that I didn’t cast this time around, which again still leaves out a whole lot of other great people who I saw that day. Next time, my friends. And in the meantime, to all my fellow directors, snatch these folks up while you can. They’re amongst the best of the best.

Sam Bertken. I’ve gotten to know Sam pretty well over the last year since I first met him at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, and he’s both a delightful person and a delightful actor. His strengths lie in physical comedy and exciting, larger-than-life characters, and so he’s perfect for stylized works, broad comedies and performances pieces. He played Tranio for me when I directed Taming of the Shrew this past year and he’s very easy to work with, very dedicated, and he comes into the room with a lot of ideas to contribute towards building a character. He also takes direction exceptionally well, pulling back and toning down when you need him to, opening up and making a character explode on stage when you let him run loose. He almost stole the show every night of our run and yet he’s undeniably a total team player. He’ll be playing Peter Pan this fall at Custom Made and I kind of can’t wait in an embarrassingly fanboy way.

Kat Bushnell. Kat and I have a long history of working together, ever since I cast her back in 2011 in my production of Giant Bones, the auditions for which were my first introduction to the bundle of warm support and talent that is Kat Bushnell. Funny, smart, friendly- and she can sing!- Kat Bushnell is a triple threat who pulls off one of the best British accents of any actress I’ve seen in the Bay and she works hard in any role you put her in, from minor character to lead: a perfect ensemble member (which was essential in Giant Bones). She’s also a great cold reader- playwrights take note!- and a lot of the work I’ve done with her has been script in hand because Kat’s good at making strong, immediate choices and she has a lovely, melodic speaking voice that makes all your lines sound good, hence making her a staple of the SF Olympians festival since year one.

Ben Calabrese. Never saw this guy before Crucible auditions, I sincerely hope to get a chance to work with him at some point in the future. An able reader and a jovial participant, I kept having him read partly because I enjoyed what he brought out in other actors and he had a really nice, open-to-anything vibe that I found myself enjoying regardless of what role I had him read for. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, my guess is he’s a total team player- you’d have to be to endure five hours of callbacks and still have a smile on your face.

Ashley Cowan. Ashley has played a lead for me twice now and I have to say, she is one dedicated actor and you can be sure, if you cast her, that she will work incredibly hard. She’s also a friendly, pro-team presence backstage, perpetually positive and good at rallying the troops even when you’re marching through that deathly terrible dress rehearsal where nothing goes right. She turns in thoughtful, layered performances with a particular penchant for anti-ingenues, those young women roles characterized by being just outside the normal, run-of-the-mill heroine variety, smarter and quirkier than the girl next door. As Viola in my Twelfth Night she had a heart-breaking reunion scene with her Sebastian that brought tears to the audience’s eyes every single time but she’s probably better known throughout the Bay Area as a comic actress and for very good reasons: she’s genuinely funny and has a dry, deadpan delivery that kills when aimed to do so.

Laura Domingo. A passionate, fiery performer, Laura does hysteria and agony like nobody else, but she’s also got a sexy, seductive side that revealed itself during the Olympians Festival last year when she played a femme fatale in a noire style play by Colin Johnson. In reality, she’s a sweet person who has been game for everything we’ve given her at the Olympians Festival and I love when she turns up again and again for consideration- demonstrating a positive, open attitude that characterizes the best variety of performer. One day, Laura, I just know we’re going to do a kick-ass show together. 

Matt Gunnison. Matt and I have done four full productions together and a play I wrote has, what I think, is the perfect leading role for him (now if only I could find a producer!). Talk about an actor with range, Matt can do funny, Matt can do scary, and Matt can do sympathetic, and in my ideal role for him he gets to do all of that and more in one night. He has an elastic body and an incredibly expressive face that evokes tremendous responses from audiences and he’s both absolutely solid and reliable while also being the sort of performer who can, when asked, surprise the hell out of you. On top of that he’s arguably the nicest guy in the Bay Area theater scene, soft-spoken and gently witty, astute and supportive and 100% there when you need him. He’s a cornerstone actor, the kind of presence that elevates your production both backstage and onstage, and it’s criminal that he’s not hugely famous.

April Green. Seriously, this woman is such a powerhouse and I never saw her or knew her name before these auditions and now I want to see whatever she gets cast in next because I sense she tears it up like few others can. She brought a deeply emotional weight to everything she read for and she has a grace and a kindness to her that I found very moving, especially for a cold read. I worry she’s gonna read this and think I’m a stalker. I swear, I’m not. Just a freshly converted fan to who was, for me, the best new face in this truly epic assortment of actors.

Ryan Hayes. My longest running collaborator in the Bay Area, Ryan was in the very first show I ever directed in the Bay Area (Edward II) and we’ve probably done ten shows together since, not to mention a ton of readings and other theatrical collaborations. An amazingly versatile and dedicated performer, Ryan is one of those people who can play a wide variety of roles, from over-the-top to incredibly subtle, and often times accessing both extremes of his range in the same evening. He loves big characters but he’s excellent at solid and subtle ones too and when he’s in your cast you can rely on him coming through on all fronts, being one of the first to get off book, and ready to lend a hand with any element of the production. He’s a team player and a team leader, and he just gets better and easier to work with as time goes on.

Neil Higgins. Neil can do flamboyant, acidic wit like nobody else and, interestingly enough, his other forte is charmingly insecure everymen. He has exceptionally good comic timing and the unique ability to go from brittle to endearing at the drop of a hat. Backstage he’s a solid addition to the mix, sure to make people laugh in the rehearsal process, always able and willing to buckle down and get work done when the time has come. During the production of Measure for Measure I cast in him (and in which he stole the show every night) he destroyed a bottle of beer mid-performance and totally made it work without missing a beat. It was pretty legendary. 

Sharon Huff Robinson. I only got to know Sharon a little bit through callbacks but she made a very good impression on me, striking me as a smart woman with a great sense of humor about herself and the whole show business thing, combining that with some really truly solid acting skills. What I loved the most about her audition is that she’s so obviously a strong, self-assured woman who wouldn’t put up with all the crap Miller subjects his female characters to in The Crucible. Side note: she kind of looks like mid-1980s Carrie Fisher.

Heather Kellogg. Yet another smart, enthusiastic and courageous actress, Heather always makes super daring choices during auditions that are a nice contrast to her very girl-next-door look and vibe. She can do a thoroughly believable Irish accent, has a good command of stylized language and classical text, and she’s at the perfect place to play a number of different ingénue roles, from flighty and delightful, to the “guarding secrets and plans” variety, to the brave and plucky kind. I kind of want to see her play Anne Shirley in a stage adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, and if you know how much I love Anne of Green Gables, you realize this is no joking matter.

Brian Martin. Of all the actors I have known over an extended period of time, Brian has evolved the most. He was always very watchable, a cute guy with a very natural acting style that makes him an excellent choice for modern theater, but in the last few years I have been using him for classical productions and he’s just as competent and comfortable with verse and poetry. He works hard, he takes himself and the art very seriously, but he’s never a wet blanket about anything and he has no ego at all, making him a great addition to the backstage environment of the show (seriously, is there anyone in the world who doesn’t like Brian?). He’s at the perfect age to play lots of male romantic leads and he’s one of the most non-awkward stage kissers I’ve ever directed. Seriously, he’s made out with somebody in every single play I’ve cast him in, and nobody ever complains about it. 

Theresa Miller. Speaking of inarguably lovable, Theresa Miller is another person I think we can all agree is just, well… utterly likable. Blessed with an inarguably endearing smile and a penchant for feckless comedy, my favorite roles I’ve seen her in are the ones where someone has noticed just how terrifying Theresa is when cast as evil. Evil Theresa is truly scary, because when she says horrible things there’s still an undertone of sweetness to her that somehow makes it just that much more psychotic sounding. She also nails victimized characters, at least partly because you never want to see anything bad happen to Theresa. A few years ago I produced a play she was in called Oily Replies where she played a kind of lost film noire ingénue and moments when the detective would manhandle her you really just wanted to punch him. A truly charming and dedicated actress who generates immediate emotional loyalty from audiences (when not creeping them out), I can’t recommend her more.

Allison Page. This just in: if you don’t know Allison Page, you need to, and now is your chance because I predict she will be beyond big time relatively soon. Everything about her is star quality. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s sensitive, she’s articulate, she can take direction well and she likes to push herself to do new things and go places she hasn’t gone before. She’s a delight backstage- I thoroughly believe she has been blessed with the remarkable ability to be able to get along with virtually anybody- and audiences fall in love with her approximately 35 seconds after she first walks out on stage. Jennifer Lawrence whatever, Allison is the perfect ingénue for modern theater because she nails quirky without ever being precious or contrived and she’s also got a tough core that lends her characters a nice edge and some gravitas. She’s very beautiful in a throw-back to the Golden Age of Hollywood way, and her ability to knock both indie heroine roles and comedic love interest parts out of the park makes her usable in a variety of shows and contexts.

Jessica Rudholm. Ultra-professional backstage and a thoughtful, invested performer, the most unique and startling thing about Jessica is that she packs, into a small and delicate body, an unbelievable amount of power and strength. She has dancer and movement training that allows her to do physically astounding things on stage and her voice is deep, smoky and resonate. She’s so striking on stage she almost demands exceptional parts of the Queen, Sorceress, God Incarnate variety, and in the past she’s played unusual characters like Feste in Twelfth Night and the Moon in my play Twins because there is an ethereal, mesmerizing quality to her that allows her to pull off those kinds of roles without the tiniest bit of affectation. It’s just Jessica doing what she does best, namely being the most riveting presence in the room.

Paul Stout. I kind of feel like Paul can do almost any kind of character you throw at him, and is the apex of that solid, dependable performer you can use in a wide variety of roles, always knowing that whatever he’s been given he’ll make it a vital part of your production with strong and compelling storytelling. I’ve particularly liked Paul in lovable dickhead roles, though I think my favorite performance of his is still the first one I saw him in, as a drunk, pathetic factory foreman in Audience at Theater Pub. Paul nailed that perfect balance between irritating and impossible to not feel sorry for, and he repeatedly makes difficult characters accessible, show after show.

So there you go. Sixteen actors I won’t be using for my next show but you absolutely should. And you know what? I could list another 16, and still not have listed everyone at these call-backs who was worthy of note (which again, was pretty much everyone). What it really comes down to is this: there are a lot of things we can stand to improve in the Bay Area theater scene, but it’s important to also remember there are a lot of things which are right, which are un-beatable, and there’s nothing like five hours of watching talented, passionate performers perform to remind you that a lot of the good stuff about doing work out here starts with the people you get the chance to work with. Someone you love not on this list? Then by all means, tell us about them! Tell the world! Help open a door for them and by doing so continue to grow our scene into a better, brighter, more exciting place to be.

Stuart Bousel attends an abnormally large number of auditions over the course of any given year and does his best to pay really close attention to all of them. That said, he won’t be casting any shows for quite some time in the forsee-able future. Yes, it’s screwing with his brain. He hopes to one day talk a producer into funding his dream production of Clive Barker’s Colossus, in which he would be able to cast literally everybody who was at the Crucible auditions, and then some. You would want to see this show. It would be amazing.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Everyone knows Taming of the Shrew for its warring leads, but the action of the story begins with Lucentio’s quest to marry Kate’s sister, the fair and mild-mannered (or is she?) Bianca. In honor of our show opening tonight, we took the time to interview our Lucentio (Brian Martin), our Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) and our Tranio (Sam Bertken), Lucentio’s loyal servant who in some ways spends as much time courting Bianca as Lucentio does.

So who are you, in a hundred words or less.

Brian: I am Brian Martin, a native San Franciscan and a recent graduate of the theater program at SF State. I have been acting steadily in San Francisco for several years now.

Shay: I’m a performer in the Bay Area that loves to dance, act and sing (only alone in my apartment with my cat). I started a theater company with two of my good friends senior year of college called Do It Live Productions and have been producing lots of shows, including new work in the area.

Sam: I’m a Bay Area native returning from four years in the Midwest. I like writing, performing, drawing stories in general.

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Brian: I got involved with Theater Pub in its first year when Stuart Bousel asked me to be a part of the Lovecraft staged reading series, and since then I have done a reading of The Dragon, and was in the second Pint Sized Play Festival.

Shay: I had started going to theatre pub a few years back and have always been interested in what it was all about. Finally, I was asked by Stuart to be a part of Taming of the Shrew

Sam: I met Stuart while volunteering at the SF Fringe Festival. I was described as “always auditioning,” which I guess is how I got this part!

Who wouldn't hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

Who wouldn’t hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.

What’s got you excited about working here?

Sam: Honestly, at first I was just excited to be performing in San Francisco, but the sense of camaraderie is very infectious.

Brian: I’m so excited to be back at Theater Pub; I have a blast every time I perform here. I really like the atmosphere and excitement that comes with performing in a Theater Pub show, the audience always seems to appreciate the work and the fact that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere.

What’s got you worried?

Brian: So many things can happen at Theater Pub shows that you have no way of preparing for in rehearsal, so I am little worried about doing a full production in this situation but it’s also part of what makes this process exciting.

Sam: Yeah, I’m mostly worried that I’m going to step on someone.

Shay: Well, im always excited to do theater! And I always get excited about doing Shakespeare. Doing a show with a company that I have never worked with is always a thrill, I just worry that I wont fit in so I stay shy for a good portion of the process. I get worried about putting up a show with a three week rehearsal process, especially Shakespeare. It always takes a bit longer to learn the lines. But, I
have put my trust in this very talented cast and will perform with all my confidence in them.

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?

Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?


Have you ever been in this play before? What’s your history with this show?

Shay: I had never been in or seen this play. I had actually never read it all the way through (bad theater student)! I have seen the wooing scene done in high school at competitions, and those scenes always stand out in my mind so because of that, I have always wanted to be in it! One day I will conquer Kate…

Sam: Never been in Shrew but I have been in other Shakespeare plays! I watched some classmates do the opening scene between Tranio and Lucentio once, but that’s the extent of it. The interpretation this time is a bit different.

Brian: This will be my first production of The Taming of The Shrew. I am familiar with it from reading it and from seeing the Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton film and a DVD of a really entertaining comedia del arte performance ACT did in the late 70’s.

Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?

Sam: I think the go-to answer is perceived misogyny.  The gut reaction to this play is that it preaches subjugating women to the will of their husbands.

Brian: Well, I have to admit that’s how I use to think of the show, but working on it and understanding it better, I no longer believe that.

Shay: The only thing I could really think could be controversial about it is how open it is about women in the time it was written being seen as objects and property. But that is still true, in some ways, in modern times, and I think what is great about this play is how Kate is a strong woman, despite the times, and she doesnt loose that through the play. Through some say a ‘man’ changed her, I see it as someone who took the time and effort to see past her ‘shrewishness’ and to dig out the good while still respect her personality.

So tell us about your characters. 

Brian: Lucentio is a wealth young man from Pisa, who is thrilled to begin his studies in Padua until he spots Bianca and can think of nothing else but how to win her and with the help of his best friend and servant Tranio, concocts a scheme to do just that. I love him for his passion and commitment; when he sets his sights on something he will work to overcome every obstacle to get it. I don’t hate anything about him, but this passion and commitment can make him inconsiderate and selfish at times. I think the biggest challenge is to make sure I create a well-rounded three dimensional character that fits into this particular production.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Brian Martin: rounding it out.

Shay: Bianca, the other shrew. I love that she, like Kate, has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants. She has a strong hold on so many men in this play. I like to love vicariously through her. She, like me, is the little sister, so I could connect with her and the younger sibling manipulation element to her character. I wish she was more out spoken! But I guess there cant be that much shrew in one show.

Sam: We’ve been talking a lot about the commedia stock characters that are the root of the characters in this play, and Tranio, my character, is definitely Arlecchino, who is a personal favorite of mine.  I like that I get to be mischievous and play silly characters, but the biggest challenge is coming up with interesting stakes for the character.  If he succeeds or fails, he just goes back to being a servant.  So, why strive for success?

What makes Tranio different from the usual sidekick role?

Sam: For one thing, this sidekick has some brains on him.  He’s quick on his feet and takes on some big risks but pulls it with aplomb (I hope!)  One of the possibilities that also exists in a character like Tranio is having his own aspirations be interesting and important, outside of helping his master woo a dame.  Even though he can never transcend his actual role in society, it’s interesting to see how he takes to manipulating folks for his (master’s?) own ends.

When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago?

Shay: I like to look at what I say in regards to myself, and the others that I interact with. Then I like to go through everyone else’s lines to see what they say about me. I make decisions on whether those things are actually true or if its a facade. I then discuss my relationships with the other actors and create secrets about each one that they never know about. I think whether the character is written yesterday or 400 years ago, you can still find something in common with them that will ring true to who you are as an actor.

Brian: When I create a role I read the play over and over and then think about the themes and how my character fits into the play as a whole. Then I investigate my character line by line, his actions and what others say about him to find his objectives, obstacles, relationships and backstory and with Shakespeare I look for the directions he gives in the writing. Then I set about relating to and understanding him so that his choices are my choices and his backstory become mine. Even though they were written so long ago I really don’t think the process of getting into a Shakespearian character is any different from getting into a modern character, except for certain beliefs at the time that influence the way a character thinks and behaves. Lucentio wants the same things any modern character might want: love, success, sex etc.

Sam: I love physical theatre, and since there is some commedia influence here, I start from the outside, creating the character body and developing a caricature that way.  That’s the first impression the audience gets.  Then, from this center point, I think about what situations prompt the character to change–how does he react to different stimuli (specifically, the ones in the play)?  That takes the character where he needs to go for a larger-than-life type of production like this.  It’s also helpful to think about the character in relation to his double–Lucentio–and ruminate on what sets him apart and what makes them peas in a pod.

For Shay and Brian, Shakespeare is known for having several sets of lovers in his comedies- usually a serious couple and a not-so-serious couple. Which couple are you and what’s cool about being that couple? What kind of sucks about it?

Brian: It depends on what you mean by serious, we are the serious couple in behavior and story as our character’s behavior and arc is a little more traditional than that of Petruchio’s and Kate’s, but we are “not-so serious” couple in that I think Petruchio and Kate are the couple the audience becomes more invested in. I am enjoying being a one of the more traditional young lovers, because I get to work with the very passionate and sincere romantic dialogue and scenes. I don’t think anything sucks about it, Shakespeare’s characters are always interesting and challenging to play, and unlike some of the other secondary young lovers in Shakespeare’s play, Lucentio and Bianca are not goody-goodies, victims or dupes; we go after what we want despite the trouble we may cause. We’re kind of selfish.

Shay: Well, I think out of the two, we are actually the serious couple. But I think we have a lot of comedic moments between us which were not necessarily written into the script, but that we discovered through the process of our of character building. Yes, we get some good kissing moments but I admit I wouldn’t mind slapping someone around on stage a bit.

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

Brian: “Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, / If I achieve not this young modest girl.”

Sam: “I am content to be Lucentio, because so well I love Lucentio.”

Shay: “The more fool you, for laying on my duty.” I enjoy this because I feel like its a moment where Bianca, a newly married woman, shows she can still stand up to the men around her. Stating that she is not just property you can order around and place bet on.

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

Brian: I’m a wimpy beer drinker so Blue Moon, Shock Top or any beer you can put a fruit in!

Sam: Does it need to be one on tap? Cause mine is Oberon from Bell’s Brewery. But I’m sure I’ll find one I love at the bar.

Shay:
I had a chance to take a look at the beer list during tech to better prepare myself for the after party. Though I usually go for a nice white, Belgium beer, one of my favorites is Chimay. But lets be real, Im not picky. Except No IPAs. Ever.

Don’t miss Taming of The Shrew, playing for four nights, starting tonight. Admission is FREE, no reservations necessary, but get there early to ensure a good seat!