In For a Penny: Bum-rush the Show!

eggs-i-dont-care

“A wise man told me ‘Don’t argue with fools
‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who’ ”
—Jay Z, “The Takeover”, The Blueprint

This past week I went to the Berkeley Rep to catch a preview performance of Jeff Augustin’s Last Tiger in Haiti. The story revolves around a group of “restaveks” (child slaves) and the stories they tell themselves to cope with the horrors of their daily lives. The first act takes place 15 years in the past, the second in present day, with the shadow of the 2010 Haitian earthquake looming large. Incidentally, this show was in production as Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti earlier this month, resulting in a death toll estimated between 1,000-1,300. As such, the curtain call features the actors asking for donations to help with relief efforts.

As I began putting on my coat, an older White man behind me began complaining to his female companion about being asked for donations. “It’s just like being in church: if I don’t put something in the collection plate I look like an asshole,” he said before ranting about how his having attended the performance should be “donation enough”. As I began making a mental list of just what obscenities I’d yell at him, I asked myself what the point would be in doing so. I put on my coat, dropped a fiver in the donation basket, and walked to BART.

I thought of that old man’s casual racism this past Tuesday when I went to The Magic to see Campo Santo’s final preview for Nogales. The play uses the story of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez – a Mexican teen killed on the Mexican side of the border wall by trigger-happy border agent on the Arizona side – as part of a wider examination on US-Mexican immigration. As I settled into my seat before the start of the show, a White couple in their 20s began talking about theatre around the country. The young woman said that she found Chicago “too insular,” but was willing to “tolerate” SF and LA. The young man ranted about how much he hated New York, really loved Cleveland, and lamented that in his short time in SF (he said he’d been here a week) he’d only seen “these kinds of ‘ethnic’ shows.” I didn’t turn around, but I could hear in his voice the way the word “ethnic” left a foul taste in his mouth. In fact, it’s probably for the best I didn’t turn around – I’d have been too tempted to punch him. I sipped my free wine and got ready for the show.

Neither of these incidents were a first for me and I know they won’t be the last. I also know from experience that if I were to engage them, odds are that I’m more likely to be painted as the bad guy. I’ve been in enough arguments at events for Intersection for The Arts and Z Space to know that what I call a debate has been described as “this Black guy just attacked us”. That can make someone a bit gun-shy about wanting to engage in such a debate again, leading to the misconception that he doesn’t have an opinion at all.

In my defense, my not hesitance has less to with how I’m perceived (although I do admit that I think about it) and more with my not wanting to “feed the trolls”. The old man at the Rep and the young couple at the Magic were, to my knowledge, nothing more than theatre patrons (ie. the lifeblood of our industry). They’re allowed to have opinions – passive-aggressively racist though they may be – so long they paid for their tickets; for full-color casts, no less. As much as I’d love to strap them in chairs Clockwork Orange-style as they sit front row for my long-planned production of Jean Genet’s Les Nègres, clownerie (The Blacks: A Clown Show), I take comfort in knowing I’m entitled to speak my opinion as freely as they, but that would be no different than engaging the anonymous randos who send me racist tweets. I haven’t been on Twitter since August, why do it in real life?

Not worth the effort.

Not worth the effort.

If I’m going to spend time and energy voicing an opinion about theatre, both are better spent on actual theatre artists. Granted, this too will occasionally get me in hot water. A few years back I was at the developmental reading of a show by a popular local theatre with whom I’d recently gotten on very good terms. I’ll never forget how offended I felt when the longest sequence in the show was dedicated to one of the few White characters/actors getting a subplot only tangentially connected to the main action and characters. At intermission, I was pissed. Really pissed. I mean go-to-a-corner-away-from-your-colleagues-so-they-can’t-see-the-scowl-on-your-face pissed. They second act was… a bit more tolerable, but still problematic. I sat in my chair thinking “I could just leave now, accept that I saw a shitty reading, and let it end there.”

But I didn’t do that. As the cast (all of whom I knew well) took their seats, the first few “questions” were really just shallow praise for the White writers and directors for telling a story about people of color. One of those praises came from someone higher on the Bay Area theatre food chain than I; someone whose opinion I respected; someone whose opinion of my actually could influence how further I got in this business, so it would have been in my best interests to stay quiet. Instead, my inner Kanye told me “Fuck it” as I raised my hand and (calmly and rationally – there were witnesses) explained everything I found wrong with the two hours of White privilege I’d just witnessed.

My comments immediately divided the room: half agreeing with me; others saying they were out of line; and all the while, the row of actors scowling at me from their seats on the stage. I eventually saw the full production and sure enough there were changes made. Overall it wasn’t a great show, but I felt better about speaking up when I did.

I made that show faaaaamous!

I made that show faaaaamous!

It’s no secret that lots of local theatre companies are struggling just to keep the lights on, but it obviously has a stronger effect on me when I see PoC theatre artists having to struggle even harder. Just as Campo Santo had to leave their longtime home a few years back, so too is Af-Am Shakes raising funds to find a new home and support their upcoming season. The importance and necessity of theatre companies like these becomes all the more apparent when I think of asinine opinions like the ones I mentioned above. In fact, they become apparent whenever some otherwise-progressive White theatre artists asks me why the Bay has “no Black actors/theatre”. In 2016 – the 50th anniversary year of the Black Panther Party (spawned here in the Bay Area) and the final year of the first Black president of the US – we’re still looked at in a “liberal” arts community as if we’re Klingons.

Here’s a hint: it’s not for a lack of trying, it’s because we seem to be easy to ignore. Whenever we do make ourselves visible enough to where we can’t be ignored, we’re told that we’re being over aggressive and threatening. Right… I’ll remember that the next time someone pretentious White theatre artist limply defends their show by telling me “if it offended you, it’s done its job”.

Charles Lewis III’s latest project is directing a script about a bunch of crazy White people.
You can see it tomorrow night at The EXIT Theatre as part of the SF Olympians Festival.

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Theater Around the Bay: Marissa Skudlarek and Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”

We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Marissa Skudlarek and director Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”!

Inspired by the classic Smiths song, “Cemetery Gates” is a vignette about two moody, pretentious high-school seniors who have snuck into a bar with fake IDs in order to try overpriced cocktails, quote poetry, and imagine a world in which they could be happy. Sailor Galaviz plays Theo and Amitis Rossoukh plays Flora.

Skudlarek photo

Writer Marissa Skudlarek goes for a moody-rainy-day aesthetic.

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

Marissa: I have a long history with Pint-Sized. The first edition of the festival, in 2010, was also the first time any theater in San Francisco had produced my work. I had a play in the 2012 festival as well, and then last year, I came back to serve as Tsarina (producer) of the entire festival, the first time that it was at PianoFight. I can’t resist the lure of an imperial title and a rhinestone tiara, so I signed on as Tsarina again for the 2016 festival. Meanwhile, I had originally written “Cemetery Gates” as a submission for The Morrissey Plays, Theater Pub’s January 2016 show. The producer of The Morrissey Plays, Stuart Bousel, didn’t end up picking my script, but he said “This is a good play, you should produce it in Pint-Sized this year.” And, well, the Tsarina gets to make those decisions for herself. It’s good to be the Queen!

Adam: I had been an actor at PianoFight in The SHIT Show and Oreo Carrot Danger with Faultline Theater, but I really wanted to break into directing. I studied directing at UC Santa Cruz, but no companies in the Bay Area seem to want to hire a 24-year-old to direct. I sent my resume to Theater Pub and I’m so grateful they are taking a chance on me.

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

Marissa: I feel like I allow myself to indulge my idiosyncrasies more because, hey, it’s only 10 minutes, right? Last night I was talking to Neil Higgins (a frequent Theater Pub collaborator who directed “Beer Culture” in this year’s Pint-Sized Plays), and he pointed out that both “Cemetery Gates” and my 2012 Pint-Sized Play “Beer Theory” are very “Marissa” plays. They are plays that I could show to people and say “This is what it’s like to live inside my head.” Writing a full-length often means seeking to understand the perspectives of people who don’t think or behave like me; writing a short play lets me burrow into my own obsessions.

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

Adam: I love creating theater outside of conventional theater spaces. I’ve worked with Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in Yosemite and taken Shakespeare to senior-citizen centers, but never done a play in a bar. PianoFight is my favorite bar in the Bay Area, so I’m thrilled to be creating theater in their cabaret space.

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

Marissa: Sometimes it can be complying with the length-limit, though that wasn’t a problem with “Cemetery Gates.” Creating vivid and complex characters while only having a limited space to define them.

What’s been most troublesome?

Adam: My script is six pages. Trying to create a full theatrical experience in under 10 minutes is a really creative challenge for a director. You want a full dramatic arc while also fleshing out your characters, which isn’t easy to do in such a short period of time. And yes, scheduling too. The actors in my piece are both very busy with other projects, so our rehearsal time was limited.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Marissa: Ooh, that’s a daunting question, so I’m going to re-frame it as “What are the biggest artistic influences on ‘Cemetery Gates’?” Well, there’s the Smiths song, obviously, and the fact that I wish I’d discovered it when I was a teenager rather than when I was about 25. There’s my weird obsession with a clutch of Tumblr blogs run by teenage or early-twentysomething girls who post about what they call “The Aesthetic,” which seems to mean pictures of old buildings in moody light, marble statues, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, modern witchcraft, dried flowers, the idea of being this vaguely wistful girl writing in her journal in a coffee shop, etc. And, while I didn’t consciously realize it when I was writing the play, I think it’s probably influenced by one of my favorite recent films, Xavier Dolan’s HeartbeatsHeartbeats is the story of two very pretentious Montreal twentysomethings — a gay guy and a straight girl, like the characters in “Cemetery Gates” — who both fall in love with the same man. The movie is aesthetically lush and painfully funny. Dolan obviously loves his characters while at the same time acknowledging that they are completely ridiculous — which is exactly how I feel about the characters in “Cemetery Gates.”

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

Adam: I’d love to see Harry Styles from One Direction play Theo in Cemetery Gates. What can I say? He’s just so cute and pouty. It’d be great to see him play an alienated gay teen sneaking into a bar to wax poetic about Oscar Wilde. Molly Ringwald would be an excellent Flora — the ultimate angsty teenager who longs for something better in a world full of constant disappointments.

Marissa: Hmm, the trouble here is that both of my characters are 18 and I feel like I don’t know enough about who the good teenage actors are these days. Maybe Kiernan Shipka as the girl? I loved her as Sally Draper on Mad Men.

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Director Adam Odsess-Rubin is also looking very aesthetic here.

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

Adam: I’m very jealous of anyone who has had the opportunity to be on stage with Radhika Rao. She blows me away as an actor and teacher. She’s such a light in the Bay Area theater community, and such a talented artist. Her passion to create change through her art is what every theater artist in the Bay Area should strive for.

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

Adam: I’ll be directing three pieces for the SF Olympians Festival this year, which I am so excited about. My parents gave me a picture book of Greek mythology when I was very little, and so I can’t wait to bring some of these tales to life in a new way on stage. Anne Bogart talks about the importance of mythology in theater, and Anne Washburn touches on this in a big way in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, which I assistant-directed at A.C.T. and the Guthrie Theater under the late, great Mark Rucker. I was so moved by Washburn’s unique argument for theater as this invincible storytelling form.

Beyond that, I’d love to direct a full-length show next year at a theater company in the area. Artistic Directors, you’ll be hearing from me soon.

Marissa: Revising my long one-act play You’ll Not Feel the Drowning for a staged reading on September 13, part of Custom Made Theatre’s Undiscovered Works program. Finishing a one-act play based on the story of Macaria, Hades and Persephone’s daughter, for an Olympians Festival staged reading on October 14. Planning and hosting a celebration of the Romantic era to take place over Labor Day Weekend. Attending a friend’s wedding in Oregon in mid-September. Trying to keep my sanity in the midst of all this (seriously, it’s a lot right now).

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

Adam: I saw Eric Ting’s production of We Are Proud to Present… at SoHo Rep in NYC in 2012 and it was the single greatest production I’ve seen, period. I can’t wait to see his production of An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep next season. I love Annie Baker and am looking forward to John at A.C.T. And Hamilton – my God! I’m not original in saying this, but that show is brilliant.  I’m so glad SHN is bringing it to SF. I don’t know what the smaller theaters have planned for next season yet, but Campo Santo and Z Space produce great work. New Conservatory Theatre Center is an artistic home for me. I’ll see anything they produce.

Marissa: The Olympians Festival, of course! The theme this year is myths of death and the underworld, and I’ve been writing a lot of weird death-haunted plays this year (including “Cemetery Gates”) so that fits right in. Also, a bunch of my friends and I read or reread Pride and Prejudice this year, so I want to plan a field trip to see Lauren Gunderson’s P&P sequel play, Miss Bennet, at Marin Theatre Co. this Christmas.

What’s your favorite beer?

Adam: Moscow mule.

Marissa: The Goldrush at PianoFight — bourbon, honey, and lemon, good for what ails ya.

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

The Real World- Theater Edition: An Interview With Star Finch

Barbara Jwanouskos brings you the author of H.O.M.E.

I heard the title first, H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually) and I thought, “okay, now, that’s gonna be good…” I see it and it’s this meld of worlds, ideas, curiosities, passions, and most importantly, issues I care about, so I was immediately drawn in. It’s speaking to something mythic and larger than life, but is what our every day is made of. When we think of what the future – or even the present – will be like and wonder who’s going to celebrate in the success and who will be left out? With people being pushed out of their homes and places around the Bay that they grew up, this is palpable and real. And the play opens that door. For me, it was the first time in a long time that I felt connected to something that I can only relate to the word, “spiritual”. It’s the type of theater that captures you and draws you into its share experience and shared space. It lets you be there and lets you listen as the ideas, the words, the characters come to life on stage. Gives you a place where you can share this with others.

Suffice it to say, I was moved deeply.

Campo Santo is currently putting on the production at The Strand Theater by playwright, Star Finch, who was born and raised in San Francisco. I was able to connect with her after seeing the show – thanks to Sean San Jose. I asked her about her process and how H.O.M.E. developed.

Star Finch

Star Finch

Barbara: Tell me about your artistic and writing background. What drew you to theater?

Star: I’ve always used writing as a way to make sense of the world or my experiences within it since I was a teen. It wasn’t until later in life that I found the courage to admit to myself that I wanted to be a writer and should actively pursue it rather than hide it away in notebooks. I found my way to theater specifically in grad school when I randomly took a course with Michelle Carter, despite my focus being in fiction. I immediately fell in love with the plays we went to see, the playwrights she introduced into my world, and the layers of energy that could be folded into great dialogue. Michelle Carter became a mentor and later a great friend who was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue my path.

Barbara: Do you have any influences – shows you saw that you were inspired by, books or essays, teachers, family, friends or mentors, etc. – that show up in your writing?

Star: I’m very much inspired/influenced by the playwrights Caryl Churchill and Suzan-Lori Parks. Everything David Lynch produced made a big impact on my childhood subconscious (why I was allowed to watch his work as a kid is its own mystery). Michelle Carter’s emphasis on the dance of beats and subtext within dialogue stays with me. Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu’s work speak directly to the ghosts I carry. And lastly D. Scot Miller’s manifesto on AfroSurrealism was a revelation that gathered all the tiny fragments of my lived experiences and named/framed them into a whole.

Barbara: What’s your process like and did anything about it change in writing and developing H.O.M.E.?

Star: My process was always to write late at night after my kids and husband had gone to bed and the house was finally quiet. I would write by hand in notebooks until I felt like I had a solid chunk of scenes and then I’d type them up on my computer to get a view from a different angle. For the most part that remains my process in that I always begin by hand in a notebook. For whatever reason I can’t just jump onto a computer/laptop and take off. What was different with H.OM.E was that it was written within Campo Santo’s informal writing group, Clika. So in this case I was sharing scenes, hearing scenes read by actors, and getting feedback from the very beginning. Prior to that I had only written something all the way through on my own and then asked for feedback on the draft as a whole.

Barbara: I’m curious about your thoughts on how you engage with collaborators, for instance once you’re in the rehearsal room. What was it like to work with Campo Santo?

Star: Campo Santo is an amazing place to call home. Sean San Jose truly feels like a long lost brother. I don’t know if it’s because we’re both SF natives or what, but we just vibe really well and make each other laugh. There is a trust involved that speaks to our commitment to speak truth in matters of injustice, hypocrisy, or oppression within the stories we seek to tell in our work. In the rehearsal room we spent a good two weeks sitting around a table asking questions. Everyone at the table was given a voice to seek whatever answers they needed to best help them embody the text. In a way we were all sitting in the dark with a script and it was important to build the world collectively through conversation.

Barbara: Could you tell me about H.O.M.E. and what inspired or prompted you? Do you have a favorite moment or line in the play? What draws you to it?

Star: The original prompt for this play was a photograph, by Chris Arnade, of two sex workers in the Bronx looking through a telescope. The photo got me to wondering about space travel, access, privilege, and who would be “allowed” to travel to new worlds in the future. It’s difficult to pick a favorite line or moment in the play, but one of my favorite images is the idea of a mythological Tupac Amaru Shakur living as a prophet in a cave on Mars. That thread throughout the piece became even more poignant for me after the death of Afeni Shakur in May. I love the idea of writing the spirit of their names across the solar system.

Star's inspiration for H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually). Photo by Chris Arnade.

Star’s inspiration for H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually). Photo by Chris Arnade.

Barbara: What do you think about where San Francisco and the Bay Area is at now (theater scene or beyond) and where we’re going?

Star: In theater (and beyond) I think San Francisco and the Bay Area talks about wanting diversity and inclusion but it’s for the most part just talk. The word diversity is often a matter of using numbers to secure grants, create a “colored” brochure, or pat oneself on the back for being a progressive city. But true progress requires actively dismantling and rebuilding as an act of restoring normalcy, not feigning nobility. Organizations, neighborhoods, workplaces ought to be diverse because the very nature of Nature itself is diversity in abundance. The gap between the image the Bay Area projects and the reality of who is made to feel welcome here grows wider every day.

Barbara: Is there anything that drives you to write within (or out of) that context? How so?

Star: Yes! Because I know how diverse, vibrant, wild and open this city used to be. I’m always writing from a place that questions the sanity of what we’re conditioned to consider normal, and who benefits from said conditioning.

Barbara: Are there other theaters, writers, performance artists, artists of any media for that matter that you think are doing really something really interesting? Work you enjoy experiencing?

Star: I like how Ubuntu Theater Project and AlterTheater are putting on shows in unexpected spaces. Local artists like Paul Lewin and Lexx Valdez produce imagery that speaks to my soul. Over the last year I’ve been leaning heavily into reading women playwrights such as Naomi Wallace, Kia Corthron, Annie Baker, and Sarah Kane. And of course I have to again mention Michelle Carter and Sean San Jose. For some reason I tend to be most inspired and excited by documentaries about space, nature, creatives, and subcultures–the more wild and far out, the better. Foreign films are another source of inspiration. Is it odd for a writer to find most of her inspiration from visual art forms? LoL! I love all of the exhibits SOMArts puts on and the ways they engage with gentrification and its erasure.

Barbara: What do you love most about San Francisco?

Star: My old answer to the San Francisco question would be its diversity. I grew up around people who looked like me, in addition to having friends/neighbors from a wide variety of different cultural backgrounds, and sadly when I look at my children’s class photos that is no longer the case. My new answer to what I love most about San Francisco now would be the food. Whenever I take a trip out of town I quickly realize how unbelievably spoiled we are here. Not to mention its beauty. The city is gorgeous from every angle.

Barbara: Any words of wisdom or thoughts for people who want to do what you do?

Star: The most important bit of wisdom I can offer is Keep Writing!! (and sending your stuff out.) Even when it might seem pointless or as if no one is interested, press on. You never know when an opportunity might present itself and when it does you’ll want to have your best work on deck and ready to be read. It also helps immensely to be part of a community—so seek that out whether it comes from school, volunteering at a theater, taking acting classes, signing up for a workshop. Making authentic connections with your fellow creatives is a vital part of the process.

Barbara: Any upcoming projects you or friends are working on in the Bay Area?

Star: I have a play called Bondage that will be produced by AlterTheater next January. It’s a play that came about through my year long residency with them in AlterLab 2015. Campo Santo also has a bunch of cool collaborations on the horizon through their residency with Magic Theatre and beyond. First up is Nogales, written by Richard Montoya and directed by Sean San Jose. The best way to keep up with them is via their Facebook page: CampoSantoSF

Image by Lexx Valdez

Image by Lexx Valdez

You can check out H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually) at the Strand Theater through the weekend. Click here for more information.

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Donald E. Lacy Jr.

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Donald E. Lacy Jr.

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and mentor, Donald E. Lacy Jr., regarding the collaborative piece, Endangered Species conceived of and created alongside theater artist, Sean San Jose, as well as the voices of formerly incarcerated men that Sean and Donald have been working with. I only very recently learned about the show and so I was fortunate when Donald was able to respond so quickly before the deadline.

Donald is an actor, an activist, a radio host and DJ, a comedian, a compelling performer, and a prolific writer — among some of his many other outstanding contributions to the community. In the interview below, we talk about the impetus behind Endangered Species and how the process unfolded. Endangered Species and Ascension (written and performed by Rising Voices and directed by Catherine Castellanos and Margo Hall) are a part of the Restorative Performance Series playing at Bindlestiff Studio on July 15 and 16. For more information: http://m.bpt.me/event/1844925.

Donald E. Lacy Jr.

Donald E. Lacy Jr.

Barbara: Tell me about Endangered Species. What is it about and how did the idea for the piece start to form?

Donald: Thank you, Barbara, for having me back on the blog. I like reading what you write. Well, the idea for Endangered Species came from the fact that a class that Sean San Jose and I teach in conjunction with the San Francisco Sheriff’s department, the class is for formerly incarcerated men.

The charge was to write a play based on their real life experiences with the theme of how to stay out of prison. We did several writing exercises on their neighborhoods, their homies and life behind the walls. The theme that kept coming up was how many friends and family members they had lost to murder and violence. We asked them to compile a list of names of all the people they had lost and one of the young men who is 25 said, “Man, I ain’t got enough paper to write down all them names.” He said since elementary school growing up in Oakland he had lost most of his friends. Only a few were left living. So murder and violence of Black men is beyond epidemic proportions. Add to the mix that Black men are incarcerated in the United States in record high numbers. So therefore when you think about all the Black men who have been murdered since the middle passage (some estimates are as high as 400 Million) the Black man is indeed an Endangered Species who through various forms of genocide is being systematically eliminated.

Barbara: I’m curious to learn about yours and Sean’s creative processes. What were you considering when you began the piece? What elements felt important to retain and what others did you end up cutting?

Donald: In terms of the process, the initial part as I alluded to earlier was a series of interviews with the program participants. They told layered stories of life on the streets and life behind bars. The initial part of the process was to merely have them compile these stories that they would write. Some of the clients were better storytellers than writers so we were thinking of merely framing their stories without writing them down word for word per se, but to let their natural charisma and ability to communicate drive the piece. The class started with six guys at its height but a couple dropped out then we were down to four participants. Two weeks ago, two of them went back to jail and another one dropped out so we were down to one participant who, mind you, has not acted in a play before. Even before the guys started dropping out we wanted the piece to be about where you are from, family, friends, your crimes, life on the inside and the loss of lives you have experienced.

Interestingly enough the play was also going to have a piece about how you were going to stay out of jail –a lot of those guys were multiple offenders– and how to stay alive once back on the streets. Ironically only one participant is still standing. So two weeks ago, we took the gist of the stories of the previous participants, added the idea of the Black man facing genocide, and wrote original scenes to compliment what we had already created and were able to use. We had to cut some of the stuff we were gonna use once guys got locked up and dropped out, but we added the character of the Voice Teeoni who is a women who works with these men to keep them from going back to jail. Her personnel testimony is one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard which I won’t share here, but when people hear it in the show it will blow your mind and break your heart. In a word, she is simply incredible.

We also called on our Campo Santo family member, Juan Amador, to utilize his prestigious rapping/spoken word skills and his acting ability. I have worked with Juan several times and what he is doing in this piece is amazing. We hired a young actress, Ariella, who was referred to us by Smiley and she is a powerhouse. In fact I am gonna claim right now as having discovered her. Thanks, Smiley! Your girl is incredible. We added another young actor, Eric, who I saw in Margo Hall’s production of Hamlet: Blood In the Brain and he is strong as well. The cast is rounded out by the one sole survivor of the program, Jeremy Dorsey, who has never acted before but is doing dynamic work. I am so excited to see this thing go up. Sean and I have created a living breathing entity. It reminds me of the Marvin Gaye quote when asked what his inspiration for creating he said is and I quote, “I’ve heard millions of cries for millions of years.” If you come see this piece you will hear and feel those cries. The spirits are speaking strong in this one.

Barbara: I’ve worked with you on Color Struck, which has toured nationally and inspired many with your one-man show about your own experiences dealing with racism and how you came to learn about the system of White Male Supremacy. In the end, you have a poem where you repeat the phrase, “endangered species” in reference to Black men in today’s society. Does this piece take off where the last play ended in some ways? I’m wondering about the linkage of those very powerful words and poetic performance.

Donald: Wow, Barbara, did you read the script? That is exactly what it is. In fact that poem is used in this piece, a part of it anyway, as the thread that holds the theme together. It is interesting to hear a part of that poem spoken by a woman and a Latino male, as well. As you know, that piece as it is used in this play addresses the elimination of the Black man through drugs, injustice, murder, incarceration and several other unnatural societal factors that have contributed greatly to the Black man’s current situation. Pieces of that spoken word piece are strategically weaved in between the real life stories that the characters tell and make for a very compelling piece of theater. In fact this is not theater. It is in a theater and there are lights and sound like a play, but these are real stories onstage told in a real way. It is as powerful as theater can get in my opinion.

Barbara: You have such a rich and inspiring background of incorporating social justice themes into your art. How did this develop? Was it a skill you had to refine over time? How do you know if you’re doing it “right”?

Donald: Well, I can say I came by it honestly. I grew up in east Oakland, California. At the time, the Black Panthers were thriving and at the height of the Black Liberation struggle. I was always a person of consciousness, which was stimulated by my parents who gave me the book, Black Boy, by Richard Wright when I was eight years old. I was taught by my parents about Paul Robeson and his commitment to activism and elevating Negroes, as we were called back then, and working class people. I remember watching the ’68 Summer Olympic games as a kid and seeing John Carlos and Tommy Smith raising their black gloved fists on the medal stand. I loved it when Cassius Clay won the heavyweight champion and then the next day changed his name to Muhammad Ali and declared he had joined the Nation of Islam. The autobiography of Malcolm X opened my eyes to so many things about America and set me on a path of studying the myth of White Male Supremacy and institutionalized racism. And then I hear Richard Pryor using humor to address societal ills. Then Stevie Wonder’s song, “You Haven’t Done Nothing.” Big brother Stevie and Richard are my two biggest artistic influences.

So I was an activist from a very early age and I was taught to be proud of my Blackness and Black people. When I first got into theater I felt a responsibility to do work that spoke to the struggles and experiences of Black people and our fight for equal rights and justice. I love entertainment, but I have always done, for the most part, work with some type of societal significance or that raised questions to spark dialogue. Just as I do with Color Struck, which has been sparking dialogue about race around the country for going on nine years now and counting. I don’t know necessarily as looking at it as if I got it right or not, rather I look at it as what do I want to say and how can I tell the truth. For me, I believe in speaking the truth, like Cleopatra was Black, not looking like Liz Taylor, that is a truth. Some people will say, “Heh heh, that’s not right,” but whether you think it’s right or not, it is the truth. So for me, it’s all about truth-telling and I can feel it when I have told the truth in an uncompromising fashion. The beauty of the truth is that the truth cannot be compromised.

Barbara: Do you have any advice for writers, performers, comedians, artists of all kind, really, for creating new work and specifically I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how artists can try to create art that has a conscious or impulse for social/political change within it?

Donald: For other writers and artists I can’t tell them what to write or how they should address social ills, but the first advice I would give is to say you have to feel passionately about what you are writing about, whatever that may be. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but for me, I have to care. Especially as it relates to social issues and or injustices. I despise injustice. I despise racism, so having such strong feelings about those issues, it makes it easy for me to tap into what I want to say about those particular issues. But for me, I like to support my point of view with facts. For instance, to write Color Struck, I had to examine the history of institutionalized racism. I also had to learn the true history of Africans before slavery was instituted and after we were forcefully brought to America. There are a lot of things I read from young activists/writers who feel strongly about injustices like Eric Garner, Freddie Grey, the Black Lives Matter movement and many other issues. The funny thing is the more injustice rears its ugly head, the more these great young voices of dissent rise to the forefront. My one word of advice would be don’t be afraid to speak truth to power. In the seriousness of the times we live in, we need more voices speaking out against injustice… Fight the power!

Barbara: Any last thoughts and shout-outs to other performances around town?

Donald: Yeah, big ups to Margo Hall and Catherine Castellanos who are doing a piece with our piece called Ascension. Their piece is with formerly incarcerated women who are telling their stories. I saw a version of it shortly after Sean and I were hired to work with the men. It was very moving, raw and powerful. I don’t keep up with the Bay Area theater scene too much anymore.

For Black actors now, Bay Area theater is separate and not equal. I have been fortunate to be doing more work in Los Angeles this year. I lament the death of Black theater in the Bay Area. Yes, Marin Theatre has done some good black plays including August Wilson stuff. Bravo. Yes, Cal Shakes has opened up and done Raisin in the Sun, Spunk, and Montoya’s great work… But you got to understand when I started acting in 1984 (yes I’m that age) there were, count ’em, 6 Black theatre companies where Black actors could work on their craft. Because let’s face it, if you are not doing a play in front of a live audience, you are not working on your craft. Sure, you can do scene study and get great acting coaching, but until you do it in front of a live audience six, seven, eight nights a week, sorry, Charlie, you ain’t doing it. We had Oakland Ensemble theater, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Julian Theatre, Egypt Theatre, Full Circle Theatre Collective (my company) and, of course, Black Repertory theatre. What we got now?

I’ll leave it at that.

From a tech rehearsal of Color Struck while on tour at Sarah Lawrence College.

From a tech rehearsal of Color Struck while on tour at Sarah Lawrence College.

Donald E. Lacy Jr. is a performer, comedian, and writer. You can catch his show, “Wake up, Everybody” on Saturday mornings from 7 AM to 12 PM on KPOO 89.5 FM San Francisco, www.kpoo.com. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Lovelife Foundation, created to provide youth services and mentoring in radio and television programs to affirm life.

Theater Around The Bay: Year-End Round-Up Act 1

Well, we’ve made it- the end of 2014! It’s been a tremendous year of learning and change, tragedy and triumph, and our eight staff bloggers are here to share with you some of their own highlights from a year of working, writing and watching in the Bay Area Theater scene (and beyond)! Enjoy! We’ll have more highlights from 2014 tomorrow and Wednesday! 

Ashley Cowan’s Top 5 Actors I Met This Year (in random order!)

1) Heather Kellogg: I had seen Heather at auditions in the past but she always intimidated me with her talent, pretty looks, and bangin’ bangs. Luckily for me, I had the chance to meet her at a reading early in the year and I immediately started my campaign to be friends. She also just amazed me in Rat Girl.

2) Justin Gillman: I feel like I saw Justin in more roles than any other actor in 2014 but I was completely blown away by his performance in Pastorella. What I appreciated so much about his time on stage was that underneath an incredible, honest portrayal was an energy that simply longed to be; there’s something so beautiful about watching someone do what they love to do and do it so well.

3) Kitty Torres: I absolutely loved The Crucible at Custom Made and while so many of the actors deserve recognition for their work, I really wanted to commend Kitty for her part in an awesome show. She had to walk the fine line of being captivating, but still and silent, while also not taking attention away from the action and dialogue happening around her in the play’s opening scene. And she nailed it. I met her in person weeks later in person and my goodness, she’s also just delightful.

4) Vince Faso: I knew of Vince but we officially met at a party in February of this year. I enjoyed getting to know him both in person and on stage but it was his roles in Terror-Rama that made me realize that Vince is like a firework; while the sky may be beautiful on its own, when he walks on stage, he naturally lights it up in a new way.

5) Terry Bamberger: I met Terry at an audition and she’s the opposite of someone you’d expect to meet in such an environment. She was incredibly kind, supportive, and while you’re hoping you get into the play, you start to equally root for her to be in it too. And after seeing Terry in Three Tall Women, it’s clear that she’s also someone who deserves to be cast from her range and skills alone.

Barbara Jwanouskos’s Top 5 Moments in Bay Area Theater Where I Admired the Writer

This year has been one of momentous changes. I spent the first five months completing the last semester of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and receiving my MFA. I moved back to Bay Area and since then, have tried to become enmeshed in the theater scene once again. I haven’t had the resources to see all the performances I would have liked, but this list puts together the top five moments since being back that I’ve not only enjoyed the performance, but I found myself stuck with an element of the show that made me appreciate what the playwright had put together. In no particular order…

1) The Late Wedding by Christopher Chen at Crowded Fire Theater: Chris is known for his meta-theatrical style and elements – often with great effect. I have admired the intricacy of Chris’s plays and how he is able to weave together a satisfying experience using untraditional narrative structures. While watching The Late Wedding, I found myself at first chuckling at the lines (I’m paraphrasing, but…), “You think to yourself, is this really how the whole play is going to be?” and then finding a deeper meaning beyond what was being said that revolved around the constructs we build around relationships and how we arbitrarily abdicate power to these structures. Then, of course, I noticed that thought and noted, “Man, that was some good writing…”

2) Superheroes by Sean San José at Cutting Ball Theater with Campo Santo: I was talking with another playwright friend once who said, “Sean can take anything and make it good – he’s a phenomenal editor,” and in the back of my head, I wondered what types of plays he would create if behind the wheel as playwright. In Superheroes, there is a moment where the mystery of how the government was involved in the distribution of crack unfolds and you’re suddenly in the druggy, sordid, deep personal space of actual lives affected by these shady undertakings. Seeing the powerlessness against addiction and the yearning to gain some kind of way out – I sat back and was just thinking, “Wow, I want to write with that kind of intense emotional rawness because that is striking.” I left that play with butterflies in my stomach that lasted at least two hours.

3) Fucked Up Chronicles of CIA Satan and Prison Industry Peter and Never Ending Story by Brit Frazier at the One Minute Play Festival (Playwrights Foundation): Clocking in at under a minute each – these two plays that opened the One Minute Play Festival’s Clump 6 after Intermission were among the most striking images and moments for me of that festival. Brit’s two plays were hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, extremely timely works that I just remember thinking, “Now that is how to tell a whole story in just one minute.” I was talking to a friend about the festival and he said, “Even though they were only a minute, it’s funny how you can tell who really knows how to write.” I totally agree, and the first plays that I thought of when he said that were Brit’s.

4) Millicent Scowlworthy by Rob Handel at 99 Stock Productions:
I was only familiar with Aphrodisiac and 13P on a most basic level when I decided to apply to Carnegie Mellon, but, of course, training with a working playwright and librettist, you can’t help but be curious about his other work. Though I hadn’t read Millicent Scowlworthy, the title alone was something that I figured I’d enjoy. Seeing the production this summer, I had another “So grateful I got to train with this guy” moment as I watched the plot swirl around the looming question that the characters kept on attacking, addressing, backing away from at every moment. The desperate need for the kids to act out the traumatic event from their past and from their community felt so powerfully moving. I understood, but didn’t know why – it was more of a feeling of “I know this. This is somewhere I’ve been.” And to me, what could be a better feeling to inspire out your audience with your writing?

5)
Year of the Rooster by Eric Dufault at Impact Theater: I’d met Eric at a La MaMa E.T.C. playwriting symposium in Italy a number of years ago. We all were working on group projects so you got less of a sense of what types of plays each person wrote and more of their sources of inspiration. I have to say, going to Impact to see Year of the Rooster was probably THE most enjoyable experience I’ve had in theater this year – just everything about it came together: the writing, the directing, the space, the performances… There was pizza and beer… But I was profoundly engaged in the story and also how Eric chose to tell it and it was another moment where I reflected, “where are the moments I can really grab my key audience and give them something meaty and fun?”

Will Leschber’s Top 5 Outlets That Brought You Bay Area Theater (outside of a theater)

5) Kickstarter: The Facebook account of everyone you know who crowd-funded a project this year. Sure, it got old being asked to donate once every other week to another mounting production or budding theater project. BUT, the great news is, with this new avenue of financial backing, many Bay Area theater projects that might have otherwise gone unproduced got their time in the sun. This could be viewed as equally positive or negative… I like to look on the bright side of this phenomenon.

4) Blogging: San Francisco Theater Pub Blog- I know, I know. It’s tacky to include this blog on our own top 5 list. But hey, just remember this isn’t a ranking of importance. It’s just a reminder of how Bay Area theater branches out in ways other than the stage. And I’m proud to say this is a decent example. There, I said it.

3) YouTube: A good number of independent theater performances are recorded for posterity. Theater Pub productions of yesteryear and past Olympians festival readings are no exception. I’d like to highlight Paul Anderson who tirelessly recorded this year’s Olympians Festival: Monsters Ball. Due to his efforts and the efforts of all involved, the wider community can access these readings. For a festival that highlights a springboard-process towards playwriting improvement, that can be a very valuable tool.

2) Hashtags: #Theater, #HowElseWouldWeFollowEachOther, #MyNewPlay, #YourNewPlay, #Hashtags, #KeywordsSellTickets

1) The Born Ready podcast: Each week Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs tear into the San Francisco theater scene with jokes and, dare I say it, thoughtful commentary. Looking for a wide spanning podcast that touches on the myriad levels of theater creation, production, performance and all things in between? Crack a beer and listen up! This is for you.

Charles Lewis III’s Top 5 Invaluable Lessons I Learned

This past year was a wild one; not fully good or bad. I achieved some career milestones AND failed to meet some goals. I got 86’d from some prominent companies AND formed new connections with others. With it all said and done, what have I got to show for it? Well, here are five things that stand out to me:

1) “Be mindful of what I say, but stand by every word.” I said in my very first official column piece that I had no intention of trolling – and I don’t – but when I start calling people “asshole” (no matter how accurate), it can run the risk of personal attack rather than constructive criticism. I’m trying to stick to the latter. And believe me, I have no shortage of criticism.

2) “Lucid dreams are the only way to go.” There are some projects, mostly dream roles, that I now know I’ll never do. What’s occurred to me recently is that I shouldn’t limit the creation of my dream projects to just acting. Lots of venues opened up to me recently, and they’ve set off cavalcade of ideas in my head. They might not be what I originally wanted, but it’s great to know I have more options than I first thought.

3) “It’s only ‘too late’ if you’ve decided to give up.” I don’t believe in destiny (“everything is preordained”), but I do believe in fate (the perfect alignment of seemingly random circumstance). I kinda took it for granted that the chances of me making a living at performance art had passed me by, then this year I was offered several more chances. Which ones I take is still in flux, it’s made me reassess what’s important to me about this art form.

4) “Burn a bridge or two. It’s nice to see a kingdom burn without you.” This year someone (whom I shall call “Hobgoblin”) tried to put a curse on me. Nothing magical, but more along the lines of a “You’ll never work in this town again” kinda curse. Years ago I might have been worried, but I knew his words were just that. Instead I threw back my head, started laughing, and said “Oh, Hobgoblin…”

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5) “If you EVER have the chance to work with Alisha Ehrlich, take it.” If I had to pick a “Person of The Year” for Bay Area Theatre, she’d be it. I acted alongside her in The Crucible this year and when some of us were losing focus, she brought her A-game Every. Single. Night. Most of us can only hope to be as dedicated to our work.

Anthony Miller’s Top 5 People I Loved Working With This Year

There were way more than 5, but I just wanted these people to know how much I appreciated everything they did this year!

1) Colin Johnson: This fucking guy, he was a huge part of my year and the success of Terror-Rama. He’s a fantastic Director, resourceful as hell a never ending source of positivity and enthusiasm and a swell guy .

2) Alandra Hileman: The courageous Production Stage Manager of Terror-Rama. Smart, unafraid to give an opinion or tell an actor, designer director or producer “no”, in fact she’s fantastic at “No”.

3) Brendan West: Brendan is the Composer of Zombie! The Musical!, we had our first conversation about writing the show in 2007. Since then, it’s been produced a few times, but never with live music. Working with Brendan again to finally showcase the score live in concert was incredible.

4) Robin Bradford:  In the last 3 years, when no one believed in me, Robin Bradford believed in me. This year, I was lucky enough to direct staged readings of her plays, The Ghosts of Route 66 (Co-Written by Joe Wolff) and Low Hanging Fruit. I love getting to work with the amazing actors she wrangles and incredible work she trusts me with.

5) Natalie Ashodian: My partner in life, devoted cat mother and so much more, this year, she has been my Producer, Costume Designer, Graphic Designer, Film Crew Supervisor, Zombie Wrangler and Copy Editor. She is the best. The. Best.

Allison Page’s Top 5 Moments That Made Me Love Being A Theater Maker In The Bay Area

1) The Return Of Theater Pub: I just have to say it – I’m thrilled that Theater Pub’s monthly shows are starting up again in January. It’s such a unique theater-going experience and encourages a different type of relationship to theater which is essential to new audience bases who maybe think that it isn’t for them. It infuses life and a casual feel to our beloved dramatics and welcomes any and all to have a beer and take in some art. I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring for TPub and its artistic team! And obviously, we’ll be here with ye olde blog.

2) Adventures At The TBA Conference: That sounds more thrilling and wild than it actually is. What happened is that I found I had a bunch of opinions about things! WHO KNEW?! Opinions about things and shows and companies and ideals and art and the conference itself. Conferences aren’t a perfect thing – never will be, because they’re conferences – but it does shine a light on what it is we’re doing, and that’s a biggie. Also I had a lot of whiskey with some new and old theater faces before the final session so that was cool.

3) The Opening Of The New PianoFight Venue: This is clearly getting a lot of mention from bay area theater people, because it’s exciting. No, it’s not the first theater to open up in the Tenderloin (HEYYYY EXIT Theatre!) but another multi-stage space is really encouraging. This next year will be a big one for them. Any time you’re doing something big and new, that first year is a doozy. Here’s hopin’ people get out to see things in the TL and support this giant venture. I will most definitely be there – both as an audience member and as a theater maker. It’s poised to be a real theatrical hub if enough people get on board. GET SOME!

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4) Seeing The Crucible: Seeing Custom Made’s production of The Crucible was exciting for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that I’ve never seen a production of it filled with actors instead of high school students. IT WAS GREAT. Yes, surprise, it’s not a boring old standard. It can be vital and thrilling and new but somehow not new at the same time. It was so full of great performances in both the larger roles and the not so large ones, and it really felt like everyone was invested in this big wrenching story they believed in – thus getting the audience to believe in it, too. Maybe that sounds like it should be common, but it’s not as much as it should be.

5) Everything That Happens At SF Sketchfest: Man, I love Sketchfest. Not just participating in it, but seeing everything I can (you can’t see all the things because there are so many, but I do what I can do). It’s this great combination of local and national stand up, improv, sketch, tributes, talkbacks, and indefinable stuff which takes over the city and points to the bay area as a place able to sustain a gigantic festival of funny people. And audiences go bonkers for the big name acts who come to town. The performers themselves get in prime mingling time with each other – something funny people can be pretty awkward about, but in this case we all know it’s going to be weird and we just go for it.

Dave Sikula’s Five Theatre Events That Defined 2014 for Me

1) Slaughterhouse Five, Custom Made Theatre Company: I’ve previously mentioned the night we had to abort our performance because of an actor injury. (I insisted at the time that it was the first time that it had happened to me in 40 years of doing theatre. I’ve since been informed that, not only had it happened to me before, it happened at the same theatre only two years ago.) Regardless, it marked for me a lesson about the magic, and hazards, of live performance. The idea that, not only can anything happen on stage, but that, if the worst comes to the worst, a company of performers will do all they can to come together and make a show work even in the most altered of circumstances.

2) The Suit, ACT: A touring production, but one that provided an invaluable reminder about simplicity. In the 80s, I’d seen Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabrarata, and what struck me at that time was how stunningly simple it was. Brook’s faith and trust in cutting away pretense and bullshit and concentrating on simple storytelling – in a manner that is unique to a live performance; that is to say, acknowledging that we’re in the theatre, and not watching television or a movie, was a lesson in stripping things down to their essence and letting the audience use their imaginations to fill in and intensify the story.

3) The Farnsworth Invention, Palo Alto Players: I’ve written at extreme length about the controversy over our production. I’m not going to rehash it again, but I mention it as another lesson; that, in the best circumstances, theatre should provoke our audiences. Not to anger them, but to challenge and defend their preconceptions; to make them defend and/or change their opinions.

4) The Nance, Century at Tanforan: Something else I’ve written about is my frustration at how, even though we’re finally getting “televised” presentations of plays in movie theatres, they’re almost always from London. I have nothing against British theatre (well, actually, I have plenty against it, but nothing I want to get into here …) I realize American producers don’t want to cut into their profits if they can help it, but not only did film versions of Phantom and Les Mis not seem to hurt their theatrical box office receipts, is there any reason to believe that shows like The Bridges of Madison County or even Side Show wouldn’t have benefitted from either the extra publicity or extra cash that national exposure would have given them? Similarly, would broadcasts of the Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellen Waiting for Godot or the Nathan Lane/Brian Dennehy The Iceman Cometh do any harm? I’ll stipulate they don’t have a lot of title recognition, but did The Nance or Company other than their star leading performers? And let’s not limit it to New York. I’d like to see what’s happening in Chicago or Denver or Ashland or San Diego or Dallas or DC or Atlanta or Charlotte or Louisville or Portland or Seattle or Boston or Cleveland – or even San Francisco. The shortsightedness of producers in not wanting to grow their audiences at the expense of some mythical boost to the road box office (and even that, only in major cities) is nothing short of idiotic.

5) The Cocoanuts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Another one I wrote about at the time. One of those frustratingly rare occasions when a production not only met my high expectations, but wildly surpassed them. Hilarious and spontaneous, it was another reminder of why a live theatrical performance is so exciting when the actors are willing to take chances in the moment and do anything and are skilled enough to pull them off.

Marissa Skudlarek’s Top 5 Design Moments in Bay Area Theater

1) Liz Ryder’s sound design for The Crucible at Custom Made Theatre Company: Mixing Baroque harpsichord sounds with the frightening laughter of teenage girls, it created an appropriately spooky atmosphere. The friend who I saw The Crucible with went from “What does a sound designer do, anyway?” to “Now I see what sound design can do!” thanks to this show. I also want to honor Liz for the work she did on my own show, Pleiades, composing delicate finger-picked guitar music for scene transitions and putting together a rockin’ pre-show/intermission mix.

2) The Time magazine prop in The Pain and the Itch at Custom Made Theatre Company:

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This play takes place on Thanksgiving 2006, and the subtle but real differences between 2006 and 2014 can be tricky to convey (after all, clothing and furniture haven’t changed much in these eight years). But the November 6, 2006 issue of Time, with President Bush on the cover, takes you right back to the middle of the last decade. Even better, actor Peter Townley flipped through the magazine and paused at an article about Borat. Since Townley’s character was dating a broadly accented, bigoted Russian, it felt just too perfect.

3) Eric Sinkkonen’s set design for Wittenberg at the Aurora Theatre: This clever comedy takes place in the 1500s, but features puns and allusions of a more recent vintage. The set design perfectly captured the play’s tone: sure, Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door, but the door’s already covered with flyers advertising lute lessons, meetings of Wittenberg University’s Fencing Club, etc. — just like any bulletin board at any contemporary university.

4) The whirring fan in Hir, at the Magic Theatre: I am, somewhat notoriously, on record as disliking this show. But the holidays are a time for generosity, so let me highlight an element of Hir that I found very effective: at the start of the play, the sound design incorporates a whirring fan. (The monstrous mother, Paige, runs the air conditioning constantly because her disabled husband hates it.) You don’t necessarily notice the white noise at first, but the whole tone of the play changes when another character turns the AC off at a dramatic moment.

5) Whitehands’ costume in Tristan and Yseult, at Berkeley Rep:

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Technically, I saw this show in late 2013, but it ran into 2014, so I’m including it. Whitehands (played by Carly Bawden) is Tristan’s other, less-famous lover. Her little white gloves were a clever nod to her name – and, crooning “Perfidia” in a yellow Fifties suit, pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and handbag hanging perfectly in the crook of her arm, she made heartbreak look impossibly chic.

What are your top choices, picks, experiences from the last year? Let us know! 

The Real World, Theater Edition: A Conversation with True Heroes, Sean San José and Donald Lacy

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Sean San José and Donald Lacy.

I sat down with Sean San José and Donald Lacy about “Superheroes” to talk about the newest Campo Santo show, “Superheroes” written and directed by Sean San José and featuring Donald Lacy. “Superheroes” is a poetic look at the crack epidemic by using the research of Gary Webb and the real lives of people affected by this drug, and how the government is implicated in the utter decimation of black and brown communities that still continues to this day in policies and procedures regarding racial profiling, police and government misconduct, the prison industrial complex, not to mention the thousands of families that have been destroyed by it.

I am completely biased since I learned how to be in theater from Campo Santo. Their productions have always stood out as able to probe deep into societal injustices and present them in a way – along with the stories of real people and experiences – to create something incredibly moving and powerful. I talked to Sean and Donald about the process of creating this work, lessons learned along the way, and artists who have been heroes to us over time.

This conversation was especially poignant to me considering my time spent learning from people who I consider to be some of my most staunch mentors and advocates. To have a conversation with my own personal heroes describe their heroes in turn was an incredible experience. The transcript of our conversation follows.

BABS: I was curious about your process for creating “Superheroes” and connected to that what does it mean to be a Campo Santo production – Is that a kind of style, a philosophy, an approach or aesthetic? And then how does Cutting Ball get wrapped into the development process and why were they the right partner?

SSJ: Those are great questions, Barb. I think starting with the last one and I could probably handle this one. I guess to go backwards a little bit, this was an idea that was really a matter of the world speaking loudly enough and I felt like even without the wherewithal, the tools even, or the story, it was something I had to respond to. I feel like in some way all my stuff that I’m really interested in doing at the end of the day responds in some way to the two epidemics: AIDS and crack.

The funny thing, or the difficult thing, with crack is that maybe it’s too close or maybe I’ve tricked myself well enough like the rest of the country has, to not deal with it in a direct way. So I’ve always felt there was something in there and I think the media’s taken to it so fully, it’s hard to even decipher real life and, sort of, cartoon life. In other words, The Wire, passes as not like a good piece of TV, but somehow passes as very similar to like a version of journalism, which is not anything against The Wire, which I’m a fan of, but it brings a question to me of what does that say about our journalism or lack thereof any longer in the United States. And more than that, what does it say about us as a country responding to an epidemic that we’re living and dying through. So all that to say – I had never had an idea to do this.

I went out to Oakland when Donald was doing a live remote at the Jahva House when the Wiggins brothers used to have that place over there off the lake in Oakland and I was just going because Donald’s show, you know, like me, Barb, big fans of the show, just because it’s a great show and then to see it live was interesting. Gary Webb was on that particular day and he did probably 30-45 minutes-

D.LACY: 52.

SSJ: Yeah, a good healthy discussion with Donald. I had read one of the articles and then I had the book and so that was really deep in my head – like deep layered in me. Hearing him speak and the way – the combination of Donald speaking with him unconsciously sort of set the idea for the piece. It took me a long time to get to it. But, what it did was it gave you the facts and then it gave you a living sort of aftermath. So the facts are Gary Webb and then Donald responding as an active, civic member of the society, saying, “Well, yes… And still, and yet, here we are dealing with it all”.

There’s something about watching Gary Webb do it that sparked an idea to do it. It’s this weird thing again about journalism, about truth-telling, is that it took someone objectively speaking on it and just laying out the facts and the story – not that he was not vested in it, but he was not impassioned in it in the same way that maybe Donald or I might be. Hearing it that way- it was done with quietude, but an integrity, that actually made it starker – the facts of it, if that makes sense.

When I read it, someone had passed the article – the two articles – around. And all we- it was like inflammatory. I bet the article got ripped up by the third person who it got passed to. So you just go… Or, me, I just go from zero to one thousand when I read those facts. It’s so upsetting. It’s so… incendiary. And then hearing Gary Webb, this Pulitzer Prize winning journalist just lay it out and he just was… So that there could be no time to sort of filibuster like they do to us all the time and sorta say, “Well, that’s because you did that” and “You’re interested.” “Your vested interests this that and the other…” It was a guy that said, “You know, I’m not from here. I had no – I didn’t even set out to tell this tale. I did what a journalist does. I followed the trail and I uncovered the facts.”

So hearing that in sort of the context of “Wake Up Everybody” show, sort of laid it all out. But I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I just said to Donald after the show, “We gotta tell this story on stage” because, you know, like us, all three of us, that’s what we do, we tell stories on stage. But in getting involved in doing that, it took a long time to realize on a practical level, it’s really hard to do. There’s a lot of facts. It’s really hard to follow. But the more I spent time with it, the more I realized what Gary Webb had done was a reality. It was facts. It was published. It was confirmed, so what would I be doing by re-telling a version of this story? And what I realized was, what stuck with me was this story that given this reality, this confirmation of this horror, we were still living in it. Yet, we as a society hadn’t responded to it, so that’s what it became about. So, it’s really less about showing that connection, but showing what has happened since that connection.

And you know, I had a very early – I wouldn’t even call it a draft. I had a series of images and pages, as I often do, and I read it like solo for Donald and we got really deep in it and Donald is probably one of the bigger champions of Gary Webb, but interestingly Donald’s response – and this really broke it open – was now we have to show the lives that have been lost through this. Not the lives that are told in the Dark Alliance book that should be accounted for, but the lives that were surrounded by it. The spirits, the ghosts of the people that have lost, or the people struggling still, and that sort of cracked it open. It was like, oh right, it’s not “Dark Alliance – The Play”, it’s a response to the facts of Dark Alliance and us living in the aftermath of it.

So that’s a long way of saying that’s how all that happened. But that’s really how all of the things happen, right? Meaning that it’s a mixtured response of responding to the world around us and this just happened to be heavily weighted because it has really direct geo-political connections to it, like these massive, horrible, nefarious – all these words that you would never use in everyday life – are now come to light because of this horrible truth that he’s revealed. And I think that makes it a Campo Santo show in that way. In that we set out to tell some of the many untold stories and always try to be reflective of the world we live in. And what could be more reflective of the world we live in than responding to two epidemics we’re living through?

What was very interesting about getting together with Cutting Ball is that it was never something like I pitched or something. I had this thing in the cut. Me and Donald heard it. And that was about it. You know, that was kinda it. It took me a long time. It wasn’t even like, “Here’s the next Campo Santo play. Llet’s develop this.” It was more just something that ate at me a lot. This idea that we, as a society, hadn’t responded to it yet, and I needed to find a way for myself spiritually, personally, to respond in some way to the epidemic of crack.

And then Rob Melose had asked me. He said, “Do you want to do something here?” And I was like, “Yeah, no.” Meaning “Yeah, I do,” but “No, I don’t really know how to do things like their plays.”

D.LACY: Perfect place, right?

SSJ: I love the boldness. I love their experimentation. I love that integrity they have, but it’s not a thing that my tools set is like, “Number one, two, three,” so I was like, “Not really, to be honest. Yes, I want to do something with you guys, but I don’t know what that would be because we only do new things.” And he was like, “Well, what new thing?” And then I just sort of thought, “Well, why do something that’s sort of like midstream in development with Campo Santo. Here’s this thing.”

And it was actually Ben Fisher… I was like Ben “What do you think? Would this be interesting?” And he was like, “I think it would be the time and the place to have someone else sort of take it on”. And then when we all got over here, it just became- it was too… it would be as if, you know… Something else was at work, you know. That we’re doing a play responding to the daily lives of the crack epidemic and we’re on Taylor Street right here and so if we as a group say, “We’re trying to put the audience to the test, to the task of dealing with this,” we have to do that every single day we walk to rehearsal. It’s really right out the door every day. So that’s was a beautiful and real thing that had to happen and that’s how it happened, but Donald’s really kind of the heart of the thing.

D.LACY: Sure, buddy. You know something, man? I just realized something.

SSJ: Say what now.

D. LACY: I just realized from 2004 to when the piece was conceived in 2006. When we went up to the trees and when we did Hamlet about the crack shit that was all the-

SSJ: Yeah! I agree.

D. LACY: -that was all the grist for your mill-

SSJ: I agree.

D. LACY: To get to them spirits. I just- It had never occurred to me. We were subconsciously doing a part of this story then through that whole Hamlet process.

SSJ: Yeah, pretty much.

BABS: That’s so interesting.

D. LACY: And then hearing about Dr. Pamela and all the- And it just hit me. Wow! We were in this back then and didn’t even know it.

SSJ: Yeah, yeah. And the fact that one point after- This just sort of nerd stuff…

BABS: No, that’s what- We can… So just so you know too about the… I will print all of the worlds, not like editing it down. All of them.

D. LACY: Oh, shit!

BABS: So it really is just like a- We can go as-

D. LACY: Well, in that case tell that mothafucka I want my money!

SSJ: Yeah, I heard that. No, but after we did Blood in the Brain, I was talking with Naomi Iizuka and I was just so… You know. You come out of a project and you immediately want to stay coupled with those people. And I think for us a lot of times, I think it’s like – especially when we work with writers – like, as one is starting to hit its zenith my producer/development brain is always like, “Let’s do the next one!” I get so excited working with these people, you know, I was like, “We have to do something, Naomi. We have to do something and she was like, “Yeah.” You know, Naomi’s so cool and so down.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: She was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “I’m sort of sifting through a bunch of stories now. Why don’t you throw something at me.” You know, because we worked together in a really cool way on Blood in the Brain. That was really very instrumental in the way I tell stories and the way I collaborate with people. The way she both empowered me and collaborated with me throughout, but then I was like, “Yeah…”

There was this one book that she and I had always liked a lot and we were like, “Maybe we should do that book…” And then I said, “Hey, there’s this thing I’m really trippin on. This Dark Alliance. It’s based on this. And, you know, out of a series of six, she was like, “Those are really interesting”. She goes, “You know that thing about the CIA thing…” She was like, “that’s the one,” but she was like, “But I can’t do that. We just did Blood in the Brain. I can’t… Like that was hard enough to enter a world that’s not my world and that doesn’t feel like solid ground for me. Let’s think of another thing.”

BABS: Interesting.

SSJ: And so I was like, “Okay,” and then it made a lot of sense to me and I was like, “Okay, okay, that makes sense. I’ll just kinda mess with this on my own.” It was sort of a further… It ended up being a helpful step. But it was further for me to go, “Oh, okay, I’ll pull this one back to my desk and just kinda poke at it and see what comes out.”

BABS: That is interesting, just to hear the- you know, how Naomi informed your process too.

SSJ: Yeah, I mean Naomi did a great thing when we did Blood in the Brain. I mean a lot of times we would just riff on – She’s so smart so it’s like kinda once in a lifetime type stuff, but she would say, “What would two people say in a situation that’s like this?” So she would sorta set the stakes for you, and I could like put it in the context of what we were dealing with.

I think what Donald said was right. That was almost like either sharpening the tools or however you want to say it. Sowing the seeds to get closer to this thing. I think what was helpful for that, you know an interesting process in that Blood in the Brain was that we were taking something that seemed so, for me, in a lot of ways, out of reach and really kind of disconnected. In that we were sort of taking themes from Hamlet and placing them in a world that we – me, Donald, Tommy, and-

BABS: Ryan, Ricky…

SSJ: Yeah, Rick and Ryan and others and Margo, of course, were dealing with in the play. And Joy Meads, that was the big key in that one, connecting to the real world. But the idea that you could take big themes – I still think we have this idea that “big themes” are for “big theaters” or for “white theaters” or there’s “white themes” and we have “different themes” or our themes are “different” and they’re “smaller”, and subsequently- but obviously that’s not true.

And there was something great in that process of Blood in the Brain is that we were taking- I mean we were actually taking the themes from Shakespeare, regarded the greatest dramatic writer there is, taking that and placing him in our world. And in doing so, it gives you a sense of the scale of your lives, of people’s lives. You go, “Right, we struggle. We love. We fight. We wonder. We wrestle with the same – not only the same issues, but the same scale. The same urgency. The same need.”

And I know that sounds a little simplistic, especially for a group like Campo Santo or whatever. We’ve been doing this since 1996 so we understand the need and obviously the nobility in our people’s stories, but that was a different kind of affirmation, I think. I think because it was something so close to the world for me. Like, “Well, describe East 14th Street,” and you know. That kind of – now I think it’s very in vogue in the theater world to say like, “we’re doing a documentary play.” I don’t even know what the fuck that means really, to tell you the truth. Like, what do you mean you’re doing a “documentary play”? I don’t know what that is. I think there’s journalism and then there are performances. And I don’t see how there’s like a – what is that – I don’t see how there’s a- I don’t know. What does that mean? You know what I mean?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: If the great August Wilson is a documentary playwright, then none of us are. Because he wrote the rhythms and the tales of the people, so like if that doesn’t count, then nothing does. And if he counts, then everyone counts. Because everything falls underneath him in a way. I mean obviously there’s other great writers, but…

BABS: Yeah, right?

SSJ: You got August Wilson. You got Caryl Churchill, and the rest of us are just playing.

I say all that to say though, you know, the idea that literally our blocks could then be on the stage. In a certain sense Hamlet, or what we did, Blood in the Brain was a mixture of that. That sort of alchemy of going like, “There’s this and there’s that. And this is how it lives in the world,” that lets us see our world, but in a different scope or with a different view finder. And that was really cool. I mean, it was beautiful and it was hard. Hard, meaning the struggle of our peoples and our neighborhoods is hard sometimes, but it’s also very beautiful. That would in particular was a response to the violence in our neighborhoods, and that’s really hard, you know…

So, you know, it’s really interesting that Donald brings that up because he’s exactly right. It was totally unconscious. It’s why…

BABS: I felt it.

SSJ: Yeah! It’s why you get to do the stories you do as long as you do. Some stuff stays in the front of your brain and some stuff just melts right into your skin. And Naomi Iizuka’s like, she’s one of my heroes. Everything I’ve done with Naomi… yeah, it’s like melted into me, so I maybe don’t put that at the forefront of my brain like, “We’re going to do Dark Alliance like we did Blood in the Brain.” No, I never thought of it like that at all.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But there’s certainly something to that. She does this thing. She taught me a lesson a long time ago.

The great Luis Saguar was writing his play, his masterpiece, Hotel Angulo, and he would dictate sometimes and I would write. He was just a natural born great storyteller. So, I knew what he was writing as he was writing it, and by the time he’d compiled say 25 pages of this stuff, he was like, “I’m going to give it to Naomi Iizuka and another writer friend of ours.”

And I was like, “Uh… Okay… You sure? Don’t you want to finish it? Or get a draft or something like that?” He was like, “No, I wanna see what I have. I love them. I trust their opinion.” You know, I was like- it obviously hadn’t- it wasn’t telling it’s full tale, but the heart was in there.

And I had this sort of, you know, this brainy, dumb idea, and I was like, “Hey, why don’t you think of it as not a big night of theater and maybe it’s a smaller refractions. Think of it as kind of a quartet thing.” He was a little bit like, “Yeah, that’s not what I’m thinking. That’s not what I see. So, I’m gonna see what this story is.” And I was like, “Eh, I don’t know… I really don’t-” And you know, that was my big brother. He is my big brother. I wasn’t being critical. I was just being like what I felt like is a real collaborator, to say-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: -here’s my opinion. The same way I that I would offer to Dennis Johnson. Not because I think I’m so smart, but because I’m in the lab with those people. And… You know, he was very sure. He said, “nah”. That’s it. “Nah” meaning like- “Nah” not “no, you’re wrong”, but “no, that’s not what I see, so I’m not going to write that”. And I was like, “Yeah, I just don’t think – It’s not forming a story, B.” He was like, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

And Naomi read it and I was like, “Well, what’d she say?” He was… I was like, “Naomi, don’t you think he should make more like collage-like or more… It doesn’t have the shape to hold up to like play like that.” She was like, “I think the storytelling is so from the heart and so real that it should dictate its own form. And it should just be that. He should just continue writing that.” And I was like, “O-Okay…” You know I still- I heard what she was saying, but maybe I didn’t see it on the paper when Luis was writing it.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But he took that and he was like, “Yeah! See? That’s what I want to do. I want to follow whatever it is that’s in me.” And that’s- I mean, what a lesson. That’s the lesson, like follow the real shape even if you don’t know where it’s headed. If it’s true enough and strong enough in you, it’s gonna tell you. It’s gonna inform you.

And sure enough, that’s… I have no hyperbole when I say that’s a masterpiece that he wrote. A transcendent piece that sticks with me almost every day of my life. Like, I’ll hear a word or a line or a motion from that thing that just… that kills me and it’s because of the fullness of his theatrical storytelling, which he didn’t- he knew, but he didn’t have it sort of stated out and she knew that. She’s just a genius like that. She knows that part. She knows that the truest, greatest structure is the one that the story is as opposed to- She never said no obvious shit like, “Well, if we’re going to follow this guy, Mike, we gotta like him and when he kills his best friend, that might not be the best thing.” She said, “You have to follow the thing and let the thing be the thing.” And sure enough, we did a bunch of passes on that thing, and it became one of the most eye-opening – very structured – non-structured thing.

And I say all that to say, Barb, that with this. It never- I knew that again. Naomi’s sort of lessons, Luis’s lessons are melted inside of me where I don’t even think like, “Here’s my Robert McKee and-

BABS: Right?!

SSJ: “And I’m gonna look at this before I start it.” I just start guttin-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And just put it out. There wasn’t a part where I said, “Well, if you follow these two guys, maybe you should just follow these two guys.” Then the voices just start talking. Then you just start putting it out. Then you can start to shape it. And there was something must have been in me that still remembers that conversation with Naomi about Luis’s piece that just like whatever the story’s gonna be, it’s gonna tell you at a certain point.

And I feel really great about… Great and true. Like, I think what this does is true to, at least my experience, of trying to take all this stuff in – not just Gary Webb stuff, but like walking around the street and the experience of being almost thirty years later and sort of looking back at this broken refraction of what it used to be and what it could be and yet, in a lot of ways, is still there. So, I feel like all those jagged pieces find their way into this storytelling that way.

So, certainly not a play. Certainly not linear. But, you know, structured in the same way that your experience or your memory or a haunting does that to you. Like, I don’t sit down and be like, “Yeah, Imma be haunted by my partner that got shot at the Grand Auto. Yeah, I want to write about that haunting.” That shit just happens, you know. Those hauntings just happen. I think about Donald’s daughter a lot, but I couldn’t consciously – nor would I have the sort of hubris to go like, “yeah, I’m gonna write something that sort of responds to that.” I can’t do that. I can feel my feelings, then see where the spirits…

This one has taken on that sort of ability – not ability, but openness to sort of saying, okay, now let- If we’re trying to unearth something, then whatever you unearth is going to talk back to you also. It sounds a little frou-frou and hippy dippy, but it’s- Hey man, that’s how it got written, you know what I mean, so-

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I don’t know what to say there.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And, I wouldn’t say that- Say we set out to do another that I lead in this way with the pen, I don’t think I would necessarily set out to do it that way. It’s the subject matter that did that.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Yeah, let’s hear Lacy! I keep talking too much. Come on, playa, spit! Give us some jewels before we cut!

D. LACY: Nah, I just-

SSJ: Give us some jewels! Put that in the text there, Barb!

BABS: I will!

D. LACY: I just realized-

SSJ: We want the jewels!!

D. LACY: I’m abouts to give ‘em to you. If you just- It’s just amazing that 8-9 years later since we did Blood in the Brain that how that was the tilling of the soil, if you will, for this piece. The whole workshops at Santa Barbara, the whole talking to the kingpin of the heroin trade, the whole everything. And how that’s where really… Sean’s “eggs” were fertilized, if you will, and the baby was conceived.

And I really feel that strongly because the first thing we did in preparation for that was we went up to the Children’s Memorial Grove where they have trees for my daughter. We took Naomi. It was me, Sean, who else was with us? It was one other person. But it was the three of us for sure-

SSJ: No, and Joy.

D. LACY: And Joy, that’s right.

SSJ: The beautiful Joy Mead.

D. LACY: Joy Mead, that’s who it was.

SSJ: Yep, that was… You’re right!

D. LACY: That was where the baby was conceived, not born, conceived. We meditated up there, prayed a little bit, and it’s Sean said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “This is something so tragically beautiful.” And that’s the apt description.

And I call that place, “Halfway to Heaven”. There’s a lot of spirits there – because it’s only children 18 and under who have been murdered in Alameda County. There’s babies in there – four months old. When we looked at the plaque and we read all the names of the kids. There was a couple- They were murdered. There’s a four month only baby in there. I don’t remember his or her name.

But relating to Sean what saying about channeling spirits, he really isn’t so much a writer, to me, of this piece, as he is a vessel. And he’s letting the spirits of the grave injustice be heard, you know. And did it so brilliantly by using the circumstance of what the late great Gary Webb unveiled. But taking the top of it, much in the way – As I was listening to him say about Hotel Angulo like how Luis did. He opened up this world of heroin. “Okay, this is what it looks like.” He just took us in that dirty, grimy, nasty, filthy, beautiful… all the layers of that world and this is what Sean has created with this piece. You see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between that this insidious monster of a drug created and how-

I was talking about it on the radio yesterday and someone called in and said, “Yeah, but you gotta tell people, it’s uplifting! Even though it was fucked up-” – he didn’t say it on the air-

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: He said, “I saw it and even though it was fucked up, at the end I felt uplifted. Like I wanted to do something or there’s gotta be hope.” And he said that thing about the children really struck him. “Not seeing children in the park”. He said, “Man, we gotta do something!” So, I thought, “Okay, wow!” If you can get just one person to have that mentality, that’s a major victory.

And Myers [Clark, one of the other actors in the cast] said something in the circle about a week or so ago that has become – I mean, as it was already, but it just reinforced it for me – he said, “We’re changing lives every night with this piece.” And it was just like BANG! The bells! For whom the bell tolls. I was just like, “Wow, that’s what we’re doing! We’re changing lives. We’re changing consciousness. We’re changing minds. We’re changing hearts. All of that.” You know, so…

Man, you know I can honestly say – I love Sean to death, I mean he’s my brother – but he’s a genius. I know he’s very humble and he hates people to talk about him, but I’m still learning this play! Every night it teaches me something. I tell all those younger actors since I’m the senior, especially Ricky [Saenz], “Don’t settle.” I tell Britney [Frazer], “Don’t settle. Keep digging, we’re not even there yet.” And then Juan’s been doing the same thing.

And it’s like, every night as an ensemble, this play teaches us something new and wonderful and amazing. And I can honestly say, it’s going like this [He indicates growth], we haven’t went back. We had one false start in the early preview because of whatever, but since then it just keeps going. And every night I say to myself backstage, “I don’t think I can do – or we can do – it any better than that!” And then the next night, we go someplace, totally fucking different! So, I’m not even going to say that to myself anymore. I’m not gonna put it in ether. I’m gonna just jump in this boat and… [sings] “sail on honey!”

Cuz this is an amazing experience. Just from the feedback I got from people I know and respect who’ve been seeing me on stage my whole life and telling me things and impressions of this piece and what it did to them. How it put their stomach in knots, how it made them hate the US government, how they want justice, how sad it was, how it made them think of their cousin who ODed. I mean, and this is the kind of stuff I’m receiving, and it’s all valid. I haven’t had one person say, “Critics be damned,” you know. I haven’t had one person say they weren’t affected by it, and that’s incredible.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: It’s definitely power of the people though, right, Barb?

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: Because you commune in a room like this-

D. LACY: Yeah.

SSJ: And if you come true with it enough and if the topic is relevant enough to the world, then it takes care of itself.

D. LACY/BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: I mean the performance of it is great. Cutting Ball, they’re bold. They’re experimental by mission and by integrity.

D. LACY: Right.

SSJ: Campo Santo, you know, I’m sorry, man, but they’re just the best.

D. LACY: The illest!

SSJ: They’re the best actors. They have great techs.

D. LACY: And all the other acting community knows it.

SSJ: But see, the shows are always – and I say this, not sort of arrogantly, but just because you put good people together, they’re good.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: But the specialness comes from putting it in the atmosphere.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: And if it’s deep enough and it’s real enough-

D. LACY: That’s it.

SSJ: -then, you will affect. You know, I think Donald’s right, that word, “consciousness”. I don’t think we’re not masters, we’re vessels in that sense in that we’re able to help bring about a new thought or have it surface. People think these things. We’re not the only ones who think these thoughts, but you see it manifested before you and you go, “Oh yeah!”

A guy said last week in the talkback – here’s where it gets deep, when you don’t talk about the play. He said, “Look, all I want to know, is given this is our government, what are we going to do? I’m not asking you [the actors], I’m asking you!” And he points to everyone sitting here [the audience], all fifty, selling out.

D. LACY: Right, right, that’s my boy.

SSJ: And he says, “What are we gonna do?” And that’s not a “Q&A” question.

BABS: Yeah.

SSJ: That’s when you go, “Yeah, great.” That’s why you worked the time and worked to get the timing down to make this that and the other. And you edit it here because you have experience where you can put it in the atmosphere in a room like this and Donald’s right, one person says it.

D. LACY: Then most people have been saying. And the thing that I’m getting is that it’s hitting people viscerally. And I don’t know-

BABS: Oh, yeah, I still feel it.

D. LACY: Yeah! So, I should ask you, what was it like for you?

BABS: I mean, to piggyback off what you’re saying and what we’ve all been talking about is that, I, you know, I’ve been following the news about Intersection and Campo Santo and stuff and I was like, “how is this gonna be possible again”, you know?

SSJ/D. LACY: Right.

BABS: Like, is it going to be possible? And I think this did it. To have that- When I came in – The first show I came in was when I met you [acknowledging Donald] and obviously-

Donald: So, I brought you in, huh? I jumped her in the gang.

SSJ: Well-

Donald: You can print that!

BABS: Well, UCSB that’s when I met Sean-

SSJ: Yeah, don’t be trying-

D. LACY: I’m taking credit!

SSJ: Anyone who’s dope, Lacy’s always like “Well, actually…”

D. LACY: Yeah, I brought her in, yeah!

SSJ: Shoot!

D. LACY: Right or wrong, Barbara?! And she’s in Lovelife, so there.

SSJ: Don’t you be cutting. I remember the first time we were down at Santa Barbara, Barb was like-

BABS: I was doing this [indicating recording discussion], wasn’t I?

SSJ: This how we met Barbara – She was sitting in the middle of the fucking floor with the recorder, with the mike-

BABS: Yeah, just trying to get everybody recorded.

SSJ: Yeah, man!

D. LACY: That was where they had the great shut-out conspiracy. They wouldn’t let me run, but anyway. I’ll just say this before I gotta go. I really hope and pray that this play lives forever. I think everybody needs to see this. The non-believers as well as the believers.

I mean tonight was probably the most choir members we ever had. A lot of the people here know the story and are pro-justice and I don’t think we’ve ever had that many in one audience. There was at least- I can count the ones I know and it’s at least twelve off the top of my head. And that’s why the play went to a whole different place because “mmhmm, that’s right, tell it! Yeah!” You know, and all that it was like preaching to the choir, but this is to the choir and the non-believers.

So, I’m hoping that it has a long shelf life and it can continue to be seen til like Sean referred to the gentleman that said, “well, what are we gonna do?” and keep raising that question. As long as there is breath in my body, Imma be saying it on the radio that the US needs to be held accountable for this bullshit. You know and if this play or any play can still make that point, it’s the greatest story ever told, in my opinion. And I’ll say this again on your periodical, to me, Sean San Jose has written and directed the most important play in the last 25 years – and you can quote me on that.

Other than what August Wilson means to the black community. This means as much if not more because it’s speaking specifically to a grave injustice that has destroyed millions of lives. Millions of lives. And somebody, and I’m gonna beat this drum til I’m dead and the good Lord take me home. Somebody gotta pay. Somebody gotta be held accountable. That was the question I asked that lawyer. It was the last question in the talk back. She was all, “Well, we don’t know if it was intentional or if it was just neglect.”

SSJ: I do.

D. LACY: I was like, “Wait a minute, This a white male supremacist society, I would suggest it’s not only intentional, it’s extremely intentional. And even if it isn’t, who gives a fuck? It’s been proven they did it, so now what is the statute of limitations on genocide?” There is none. Let me answer the question for you. She was like, “Well, you’re right, but this could be difficult politically.” I said, “I know it’s gonna be difficult. I ain’t saying it’s gonna be easy.”

SSJ: Right.

D. LACY: “But is it legally possible to sue the people responsible for this shit?” She said, “Yes, but.” Hey, I don’t give a fuck! What’s the character pushing the rock up the mountain, Sisyphus, or some shit? I’ll be him.

SSJ: Did you just Sisyph-y?

D. LACY: I’m gonna sing this song, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll pick up the baton. Now.

SSJ: And on that note, BAM!

http://vimeo.com/110932723

Sean San José is the writer and director of “Superheroes”. Donald Lacy Jr. is an actor in the show, a Campo Santo family member and host of the radio program, “Wake Up, Everybody,” Saturday mornings on KPOO 89.5 FM. The world premiere of “Superheroes” is presented by Cutting Ball from now until Dec. 21st at 277 Taylor Street, San Francisco. More details are found online at http://cuttingball.com/season/14-15/superheroes/.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright who got her start in theater learning from Naomi Iizuka, Sean San Jose, Donald Lacy and became an engaged theater citizen from Campo Santo. You can find her on twitter @bjwany.

Theater Around The Bay: A Community Conversation

Barbara Jwanouskos steps outside of her usual role at the Pub to talk about the recent developments at Intersection for the Arts.

Last Tuesday, July 15th, I attended the Community Conversation about the future of Intersection for the Arts. I’m sure you all have heard the recent news that Intersection has had to substantially cut back on its programming. Initially, longtime program staff, Kevin Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose had been laid off, but then changed to furloughed positions.

For a little background before I get into it, Intersection for the Arts holds a special place in my heart because it was the organization that I first got involved with once I had graduated from UCSB about ten years ago. I didn’t know which direction to go in or how one even pursued arts, much less made a career out of it. I worked as an intern with Campo Santo, Intersection for the Arts’ resident theater company, for a number of years. I grew from being insecure and shy about being a theater maker to feeling confident. It’s because of the hands-on learn-by-doing education I received here, that I have progressed to where I am now.

When I first learned the news about the threat of closure, I was in shock. Literally, I had no words to say about it for a long time, other than to friends and family. It’s taken me a while to process all of what’s happened, and I’m not even in the middle of it. I went to Intersection’s community conversation last night because I needed to learn what was going on and how I could help.

I am in a very different place than I was ten years ago or even five years ago. Ten years ago, I didn’t have money, but I had a bit of time to come up to San Francisco from San Jose and work on productions. Then, I got a job, and the situation reversed, I didn’t have time, but I could support Intersection through donations, by attending performances, and spreading the word about the work they do with artists. Then, with the move to Pittsburgh, I was out of the loop of most Bay Area theater and arts conversations. I’m back now, but am unemployed and access to arts, theater, and even San Francisco feels like a luxury that I have to constantly weigh. Will I have enough money to pay for groceries if I travel from an hour away to see my friends’ performances?

Last night’s conversation was the first of many conversations the organization hopes to have with the community. Looking around the room, it was a veritable Who’s Who of San Francisco theater, arts, music, and community organizers. We were given a bit of information on what is currently happening. Intersection is being led by a Transition Team made up of former program directors, board members, and other community partners. The goal of the evening was to look to the future. What was it about Intersection’s programs that was essential? How could people support? What resources could the organization draw upon?

We broke up into groups: Shared Spaces and New Models, Community Engagement, Fundraising, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts. I attended the Performing Arts group. Everyone seemed to agree that Intersection’s model of allowing artist to incubate for years while developing a new project was a key resource that was hard to find in other areas around town (though, it was also pointed out that other groups are also using or have adopted this model). Folks described their personal experiences with Intersection and how, like my own experience above, they really grew and became fully fledged artists by being involved in Intersection’s program.

Surprisingly the biggest issue that kept on being brought up in the discussion was whether Intersection for the Arts should or should not 1) have a space 2) keep the space they currently have at the old Chronicle building 3) should partner with organizations that have spaces 4) should explore entirely new models. The group was divided on whether to go forward in one particular direction.

There were vehement opinions that Intersection either needed to establish a space or forget trying to do that all together. Many pointed out that we are losing our artistic arts spaces and if Intersection had a space that was accessible to the community they serve, that would at least be one more space to see quality performances. Others added that it wasn’t just needed for performances, but space was needed for artists to develop, explore and be allowed to fail. Those on the other side of the debate, claimed that space doesn’t need to be as important if Intersection was allowed to extend its partnerships with other community organizations, schools that have unused theaters, arts organizations that run a theater already, etc. These partnerships were talked about as opportunities for Intersection to continue the cross-pollination or “intersection” of multiple disciplines that defined the organization.

This conversation made me wonder what other theater artists feel their largest issues are? Is it that you don’t have a space to create? That the scene is too silo-ed? Are there enough resources to go around? Give us your thoughts!

I ended up needing to leave before the large group gathered again, but there will be continuing conversations about the future of Intersection and what it will transform into. Another is scheduled for about a month later. Once more details of this are known, SF Theater Pub will share it with the public. For more information on Intersection for the Arts’ transition, click here and here.

Barbara Jwanouskos learned how to be a theater artist from Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts. She is a local playwright who writes for the blog series, “The Real World, Theater Edition” on San Francisco Theater Pub. You can follow her twitter @bjwany.