Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part One)

Pint Sized V begins its four performance run tonight at PianoFight at 8 PM! We’ve got an amazing line of up of writers this year, and check back next week when we introduce you to our directing team! Meanwhile, here’s Christina Augello, Stuart Bousel, Megan Cohen, Alan Coyne, Elizabeth Flanagan, Jeremy Geist, Christine Keating, Juliana Lustenader, Lorraine Midanik, and Daniel Ng telling you all about what it takes to bring you this year’s collection!

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How did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Stuart Bousel: Well, as one of the founders of Theater Pub, and the current Executive Director, I knew the festival was around because I’m the guy who puts it on the schedule. That said, I have had a piece in every Pint Sized except Pint Sized II. The first year was a short called Queen Mab in Drag. All the other years, including this one, have been a monologue written for our mascot, the Llama, who was created by Elana McKernan for the first Pint-Sized, and has been played by Rob Ready ever since. No, I don’t have to go through the submission process- I’m grandfathered in every year. Executive Directorship has its privileges.

Stuart Bousel

Stuart Bousel

Christine Keating: I heard about Pint-Sized when it happened in 2013, but I wasn’t able to see it. It sounded fun and exciting, and I enjoy short storytelling in many forms: flash fiction, web shorts, podcasts. I had written my plays a few months ago to get the idea onto paper, and then Pint-Sized seemed like the perfect venue for them!

Lorraine Midanik: I heard about the Festival from a fellow playwright who thought I might be interested. In March, one of my plays was produced at PianoFight’s Shortlived Festival, and I am excited to have another play presented in that terrific venue. I have always been fascinated by the names of beers and thought it would be fun to play with it in my writing.

Elizabeth Flanagan: General stalking of the SF Theater Pub website. I wasn’t fortunate enough to make any of the Pint-Sized performances at the Café Royale but I have seen most of the videos of the plays. Good stuff. I feel privileged to be part of this history. It‘s also pretty special to be included in the first Pint-Sized festival to be performed at PianoFight. My dad lived in the tenderloin and used to take us to Original Joe’s on occasion. It’s very cool to be back at the old stomping grounds in a new way.

Alan Coyne: I almost certainly heard about this iteration of Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival through Facebook, and from there, Theater Pub’s website. And I’d heard about previous versions of it from folks who’d been involved in them. I’ve had the idea of Einstein as a bartender in a scene for a long, long time. There’s something about the image of him as a silent observer in a bar, a place where the rules of space-time so clearly intersect with the rules of human behaviour, that I find engaging. And so this festival presented the perfect opportunity to try and explore that notion in my own clumsy way.

Christina Augello: I am very familiar with Theatre Pub and knew it was coming up and got an email reminder and followed the link and there it was and I have been wanting to write and the limited parameters seemed perfect to get me started. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Christina’s first play ever!)

Daniel Ng: It was a great experience having my piece, Mark +/-, in Pint-Sized IV, so I’ve been looking forward to submitting again since then.

Jeremy Geist: I found out about it from one of the Theatre Pub people I’m friends with on Facebook. It was only a two-page play submission, and I already had an idea, so I felt it was worth the effort.

Juliana Lustenader: After seeing the call for submissions on the SF Theatre Pub blog, I decided to do some research and found old YouTube videos of past Pint-Sized performances. The plays I watched were all so creative and funny. I knew I had to be involved with the process somehow. Usually I would audition as an actor for these sort of things, but watching those old videos inspired me to write what I think is the silliest five pages I’ve ever written. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Juliana’s Bay Area debut as a playwright!)

Megan Cohen: I watched the very first night of Theater Pub ever, years ago, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front row, then I joined the family immediately, writing a piece for the very next monthly event. The community that’s found each other at Theater Pub is diverse in artistic style, and you never know what you’ll see, but I find that the theatermakers gathered under this banner tend to be reliably open and generous, with each other and with the audience. Pint-Sized feels like a flagship festival to me, because it pulls together so many of us, with our unique voices and approaches, and I just can’t miss it. I’ve written for Pint-Sized every year. I keep coming back here because of happy history, and because we get an unusual crowd. Since the shows are free, people come who otherwise wouldn’t take a chance on a night at the theater, and I love the responsibility of that; it means I better give them something worthwhile to watch, so they’ll come back!

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

Elizabeth Flanagan: Getting it done. I think the big misconception would be that shorts are quicker to write. Not for me they aren’t. I’m always amazed at the amount of time I can spend on a short. I can bang out a rough draft fairly quickly, but the rewrites are tricky. I tend to put just as much work into a short as a full length.

Lorraine Midanik: For me, it’s making sure the turn happens at the right time (not too early, not too late…sort of like Goldilocks!). In a short play, there isn’t much time to develop the characters and have an engaging plot so it’s really a challenge.

Juliana Lustenader: Fitting your 50 page idea into a 10 page limit.

Christine Keating: Crafting characters who are real and relatable in a short conversation.

Jeremy Geist: Creating something meaningful. With a play this short it’s really easy to just write a few pages of filler and call it a day.

Daniel Ng: The hardest thing is crafting a satisfying ending. Compelling concepts/scenarios/gags are relatively easy. Sometimes that’s all you need or have time for in a short piece, but delivering a definitive punchline or reaching a pithy denouement takes a piece to the next level. But it’s hard to get there in a short time in a way that feels organic, that isn’t just tacked on.

Megan Cohen: Short plays can be mistaken for “a little something,” as though their length means they are inherently small, in importance or in impact. The hardest thing is to not fall for that trap. As any poet will tell you, short isn’t the same as small. Keep the play big, and the words few.

Megan Cohen

Megan Cohen

Alan Coyne: The hardest thing about writing any play is the foreknowledge that the brilliant, dazzling dialogue in my head is going to come out all lumpy and misshapen when I start using actual words. And then once you start, it takes on a life of its own, and spawns a million new tangents, and you could spend the rest of your life rewriting it, and so finishing it is practically impossible. Thank goodness for deadlines!

Stuart Bousel: These days I don’t really write short plays any more, and the Llamalogues are really speeches, which I’ve always found rather easy to write, actually. That said, there is always all the usual challenges of any writing- which is to keep it interesting, and striking that balance between challenging and accessible- not always easy when your only character is a sort of emotionally unbalanced alcoholic anthropomorphic animal.

Christina Augello: Actually I liked writing a short play and it wasn’t hard at all.

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

Megan Cohen: Audiences love short work, and that’s enough for me; I just checked, and Pint-Sized will feature the 72nd short of mine produced onstage since 2008. (Wow, just reading that sentence makes me tired.) I like the immediacy of shorts; the way this industry works, a full-length play can take years to develop and find a home onstage, but the turnaround time to production with a short is often a journey of just a month or two. An audience is there almost immediately, showing you how your play works, and what it is. You see what makes them laugh, where they get upset, what they connect with, and you get the goodies now, not later, which is an obvious priority for me as an impatient American.

Lorraine Midanik: I like the opportunity to tell a story in a confined timeframe. It forces me to edit out unnecessary words and actions and focuses me on moving the play along in a fun way.

Daniel Ng: The best thing is bringing something to fruition in a short period of time. This is especially true when working with Pint-Sized, where pieces are quickly produced and performed. It’s like the immediate satisfaction from cooking and then enjoying a great meal.

Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng

Elizabeth Flanagan: Going deep quick. Often a short will feel like a throw away piece or it seems a little more frivolous, than say a heavy drama in two acts. But, because you have limited space and time, that entire world, those characters need to be created in a matter of words. When it works it’s fantastic. Also with shorts there is great freedom to experiment. With Magic Trick I had a lot of fun playing with a mix of language and genre.

Jeremy Geist: Being able to pursue weird ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work in longer formats. I read a lot of weird/gross things on the Internet and like working them into my writing, but they aren’t substantial enough for a full-length. It’s nice to use short formats to vent some of my more indulgent projects.

Juliana Lustenader: When writing a short play, I feel like I can “get away with” more things. Mainly because it’s over before anyone can go “Hey…”

Stuart Bousel: It’s definitely true that, aside from the length restriction, all other bets are off- and that is liberating.

Christine Keating: Not wasting any time getting to the point. Also, throwing an audience into the deep end of the world of the play is fun.

Christina Augello: You get it done quickly.

Alan Coyne: The best thing about writing a short play, or having it performed, is seeing how much better everyone else involved makes it.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Christina Augello: The theatre artists I know and work with influence my work as well as over 60 years experience in the theatre and life in general.

Christina Augello

Christina Augello

Megan Cohen: The character of the BEEEEAAR, that is, the character in the monodrama I wrote for this year’s festival, specifically owes a lot to the influence of playwright Charles Ludlam, a leader of the “Ridiculous” aesthetic movement Off-Off Broadway in the 1970s and 80s. His work has taught me a lot about foolishness and dignity, and the entertainment value of earning a good laugh with a bad joke.

Lorraine Midanik: Because I often write about strong, funny women, my mother is my major influence. She passed away in 2008, but her strength and humor always permeate my work and live within me. My writing has also been influenced by Anthony Clarvoe from whom I have taken playwriting classes at Stagebridge for the last 3 years. I am very lucky to have a wonderful husband and two amazing daughters from whom I draw my inspiration.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Depends on the time of day. Thinking of the short form, Alice Munro is one of my favorite short story writers. Maybe I’m not so much influenced by her as I admire her ability to write a near perfect sentence, and I don’t mean grammatically. She’s one of those writers where a line cuts you to your core. You finish the last line, the last word, and you sit, you just sit with it, thinking there was no other ending because it’s so utterly complete.

Stuart Bousel: My influences are all over the place, I’m very intertextual, read a lot, see a lot of movies and theater, and I listen to a great deal of music. John Guare and Marsha Norman are my favorite playwrights, but their plays are sort of non-traditionally structured and my plays often follow a structure closer to film or musicals. My monologues, particularly the direct address ones like Llamalogue, are often structured like songs, with choruses repeated and builds and codas. So, for this one I’m going to say Sondheim, who is always an influence, really, for me. Sondheim, and some Shakespeare too. And Dostoyevsky. And Morrissey. All the greats.

Christine Keating: On these plays, probably comedians like Amy Schumer. In general, my favourite playwrights are Sarah Kane and Martin McDonagh.

Daniel Ng: The past couple of years, I’ve filled in some of my gaps in Vonnegut and Phillip K. Dick. As I get older, I like their ideas (and personal experiences) about persevering in the search for meaning in the face of a bewildering and uncaring, or worse, openly antagonistic world. Like maybe you can be world-weary, yet, at the same time, remain stubbornly human and humane.

Jeremy Geist: This question is hard for me because I can’t point at specific mechanisms I use and say exactly who it came from. In terms of my comedy, I will say I’ve been heavily influenced by a sportswriter named Jon Bois lately. His stuff is some of the best out there these days – check out his Breaking Madden series.

Juliana Lustenader: A major influence on my comedy writing is David Sedaris. I love the way he can spin an average and innocent encounter with another human being into a ridiculous farce using his wit and seemingly endless vocabulary. I didn’t use much wit or vocab in To Be Blue, but it is definitely ridiculous.

Alan Coyne: I’d like to imagine that Douglas Adams is a major influence on my work. I owe at least some of my interest in cosmology to the Hitchhikers’ Guide series, which I encountered early on thanks to my father. And if I could write like anyone, I would want it to be him. Adams, that is, not my father. Although for all I know, my father could also be a brilliant writer. I mean, he could also be a brilliant writer like Adams, not me, I wasn’t saying I was a brilliant writer. Er, let’s move on.

Alan Coyne

Alan Coyne

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Elizabeth Flanagan: Because it’s noir I’m tempted to say Bogart or Bacall obviously. But I’d probably lean more towards Cary Grant. He has a better mix of comedy and suspense.

Juliana Lustenader: Kit Harington, so I can selfishly stare at him during rehearsals.

Stuart Bousel: I mean, it’s hard to think of anyone but Rob Ready playing the Llama, but if I had to go with someone else I’m going to say Derek Walcott, who I once heard read and has the like… sexiest voice. Also he’s a brilliant poet and he’d probably be able to do all sorts of exciting line readings a traditional actor wouldn’t necessarily think of.

Megan Cohen: All the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn; if you’re wondering why, just watch this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTXsec9rvw4M

Lorraine Midanik: That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say Anna Deveare Smith. She is extraordinary in how she takes on the persona of her characters. She is magical on stage by combining advocacy with her outstanding acting and writing.

Daniel Ng: Uzo Aduba. In Orange is the New Black, she perfectly rides that edge between mad fool and truth-teller, comedy and tragedy. And have you heard her story about learning to be proud of her name? Look it up–she’s a hero.

Christina Augello: Ian McKellen….he is a superb actor who’s performances invite you to share in his skill, fun and joy.

Christine Keating: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson for Part 3, definitely.

Alan Coyne: If I could cast one celebrity in my show, it would be Albert Einstein. But not as himself.

Jeremy Geist: I think Ice-T could do a pretty good job.

Jeremy Geist

Jeremy Geist

What’s a writing project you are currently working on and/or what’s next for you?

Christina Augello: Working on a personal story to present as a solo show and looking forward to performing in a couple of upcoming plays in 2016.

Christine Keating: I’m directing two plays in Those Women Productions’ In Plain Sight night of one acts (September 4-20) as well as writing a full night of plays on horror tropes about sleep for September’s Theater Pub (September 21-29!).

Elizabeth Flanagan: I’m nearly finished with a new full-length that I affectionately call “the meth play”. I look forward to setting up a reading for that play and hearing it in its entirety. I’m also a cofounder of Ex Nihilo Theater, a new playwright group with Jennifer Lynn Roberts and Bridgette Dutta Portman. We’ll have a reading of short plays on Aug 20 at The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland and in October we will present the first installment of a new serial play that we will be writing and presenting over the following twelve months. We would love to see you all there!

Elizabeth Flanagan

Elizabeth Flanagan

Megan Cohen: I’m writing a big ol’ two-act play about a pair of sisters, where the two actresses switch roles every night, and I’m trying to make the dynamic really taut, elastic just totally pulled to the limit between them; it’s so tense in the draft right now, and I hope it stays that way. I’m getting out of the house a little, too, acting in a show for SF Fringe Festival that runs in September. I’ve taken the role of the photographer Man Ray in the DADA spectacle Zurich Plays, so I’ll be going full trouser-drag for that which, as a 4’11” woman with serious hips, should be a glorious challenge. (http://www.sffringe.org/zurich/) Looking ahead, Repurposed Theatre (http://www.repurposedtheatre.com/) is doing a whole program of my short works and one-acts in December. All world premieres, all written by me, the show has this really fun vaudeville frame and is called The Horse’s Ass and Friends! That’s December 2015 at the EXIT Theater, directed by Ellery Schaar, a fabulously fearless partner who seems able to handle anything that comes out of my mind.

Daniel Ng: I’m trying to finish a short story that has now grown to a novella. There is an end in sight, though it’s merely vague and barely visible. My goal is to beat George R. R. Martin to the finish line.

Juliana Lustenader: Instead of finishing any of my scripts, I distract myself by auditioning for other people’s projects. You can see me as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew at Curtain Theatre through September and Sister Leo in Nunsense at Altarena Playhouse starting in October.

Alan Coyne: I’ve been working off and on (mostly off) on a musical involving astrophysicists that will never see the light of day. But more relevantly, I’m playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Curtain Theatre in Mill Valley through Sep. 13, and Stevie in Good People at the Waterfront Playhouse and Conservatory in Berkeley through Sep. 6 (yes, simultaneously; no, I didn’t think that through).

Jeremy Geist: Nowadays I’m mostly working on my board game company, follow me at @pknightgames. My flagship release is a Shakespeare-themed combat game called Happy Daggers!

Lorraine Midanik: I’m in the process of revising one of my full length plays after having worked with a dramaturg. The play is entitled Y Women and it focuses on the three very different women who meet in a behavior change program at a local gym. I have been fortunate enough to have had productions or staged readings of three scenes from this play. I’m also a playwright in the Theatre Bay Area’s 2015 ATLAS program (Advanced Training Leading to Artists’ Success) which begins this month. I am very excited to move my work to the next level.

Lorraine Midanik

Lorraine Midanik

Stuart Bousel: I’m working on a whole bunch of stuff I kind of can’t talk about. What I can talk about is that I’ll be going to Seattle in Septmeber to see the Seattle premiere of my play Everybody Here Says Hello! I’ll also be directing the October Theater Pub, which will be a short and furious version of Richard III. There’s a billion other things going on, but that’s all I can say… for now.

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

Megan Cohen: My own, of course! Anyone who says they care more about someone else’s shows than about their own is probably L-Y-I-N-G. That said, I’m really feeling Will Eno these days and am excited about The Realistic Joneses finally coming to SF (March 2016); I’ll follow actress Megan Trout to the ends of the earth, even if it means seeing Eurydice AGAIN (at Shotgun Players this time, Sept-Aug 2015); and you’ll certainly see me in Theater Pub audiences a lot in the coming months.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Aside from all the amazing Pint-Sized shorts you mean? I’ve never seen Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice so I definitely want to catch Shotgun’s production later this month.

Juliana Lustenader: I am looking forward to the Theatre Bay Area Awards this fall. I wasn’t able to attend last year, but many of my friends and colleagues were celebrated. Bay Area theatre companies stepped up their game this year and produced some spectacular shows, so I’m interested to see what the adjudicators enjoyed most. But more honestly, I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone.

Juliana Lustenader

Juliana Lustenader

Christina Augello: The 24th San Francisco Fringe Festival coming September 11-26th and of course Theatre Pub’s Pint-Sized Festival!

Alan Coyne: Other than my own, I’m looking forward to seeing Eat the Runt at Altarena Playhouse, and SF Olympians this November.

Daniel Ng: SF Olympians. It’s such a varied showcase of ideas and talent and 100% local.

Christine Keating: I’m looking forward to Disclosure from Those Women Productions at PianoFight, as well as the upcoming seasons at Custom Made, Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company. Also, all the shows that are happening soon that I’m exciting about but won’t remember until closing weekend, and then rearrange everything to catch them!

Christine Keating

Christine Keating

Lorraine Midanik: I am particularly excited by venues that feature plays by women and include strong roles for women. 3Girls Theater immediately comes to mind as well as Shotgun Players that is producing an entire season of plays written by women.

Jeremy Geist: I haven’t really been paying attention to anything.

What’s your favorite beer?

Megan Cohen: Free!

Christine Keating: I’m more a cider person, I mostly drink Angry Orchard.

Alan Coyne: Smithwick’s, for purely patriotic reasons.

Christina Augello: I don’t like beer, sorry!

Juliana Lustenader: Hoegaarden, ‘cause day drinking.

Stuart Bousel: Bass. Harp. In my 20s I would frequently two-fist both.

Lorraine Midanik: I know this is going to sound odd, but I don’t drink beer. (Please don’t throw me out of the Festival!). I am actually a cocktail (whiskey sour) and wine person. When I find myself in a pub where cocktails and wine are unavailable or possibly frowned upon, I either order a hard cider (hopefully fruit flavored) or a shandy (beer mixed with lemonade or ginger ale). Forgive me!

Jeremy Geist: Anything from this bracket http://www.sbnation.com/2015/3/23/8277455/jon-and-spencers-beer-bracket-its-the-great-beer-bracket-challenge-so

Daniel Ng: Still Guinness. Always Guinness. They say you can drink it straight out of the new bottles, but they’re lying. Use a glass, you savages.

Elizabeth: Feels like I’m obligated to say Guinness. Which may or may not be true. You’ll have to catch me at SF Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Fest to find out for sure!

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform four times: August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, click HERE!

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Theater Around The Bay: Pint-Sized Plays: The 2015 Lineup

We are proud to announce the lineup for the 2015 edition of Pint-Sized Plays, our annual bar-specific short plays festival!

From over 40 submissions from Bay Area playwrights, we’ve chosen the following scripts:

She Don’t Work Here No More by Christina Augello

Relativity by Alan Coyne

Magic Trick by Elizabeth Flanagan

Colored Pencil Werewolves by Jeremy Geist

People Having Important Conversations While On Their Phones by Christine Keating

To Be Blue by Juliana Lustenader

Branding by Lorraine Midanik

Wretched by Daniel Ng

In addition, Pint-Sized will see the return of two favorite characters:

Llama V by Stuart Bousel

Bear 2: Electric Beargaloo by Megan Cohen

Stay tuned for announcements of directors and actors in the coming weeks! And mark your calendars so you don’t miss the show in August! The Pint-Sized Plays will have four performances: August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 PM in the PianoFight bar space.

The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rachel Bublitz

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rachel Bublitz.

Rachel Bublitz is one of those amazing people that you exemplifies what it means to be a supportive theater artist who is furthering her own artistic journey for theater and writing. I first met Rachel when she came to a performance of my first full length production by All Terrain Theater, It’s All in the Mix. Right away from her positive energy and enthusiastic attitude, you can tell that she is a playwright who will go far. She has a natural tenacity that some struggle to master, others just exude.

I was very excited to interview her about Loud and Unladylike, the new festival presented in partnership with DIVAfest, which highlights unknown, yet influential women in history by exploring their stories through a new works series. The festival started yesterday, June 25th, with Tracy Held Potter’s A is for Adeline (also showing on July 9th), continues with Claire Ann Rice’s The Effects of Ultravioliet Light on June 26th and July 11th, and Rachel’s own new work, Code Name: Brass Rose, presented on June 27th and July 10th. For more information, you can also check out the website at http://loudandunladylike.com/.

Babs: Tell me about Loud and Unladylike. How did it come about?

Rachel: One of my classes at State last Spring – I’m currently going for the MFA and MA combo from SFSU – had a final involving writing a script inspired from an outside source, and a classmate of mine did hers on a historical woman that I had never heard of. And I got a little mad, why hadn’t I heard of this kick-ass woman? That night I met Tracy and Claire to see a play, and I told them all about it and said there should be more plays about historical women, and they agreed, and so we did it. Something I love about having Claire and Tracy as close friends and collaborators is that we all agree that seeing a problem is only part of it, you have to then do something. This is our response to the lack of women’s plays being produced, and the lack of complex female characters in so many plays and films.

Claire then brought the idea to DIVAfest’s Artistic Director, Christina Augello, and she thought it would be a great addition DIVAfest’s season, and that was the start of Loud & Unladylike.

Babs: How did you choose your figure – Nancy Wake? When did you first learn about her?

Rachel: So we decided on the festival and that we’d be the guinea pigs and write for the first year. After that we had a meeting with lists and summaries of all the interesting lesser-known historical women we could find. Most of the women I had researched had been soldiers or spies; I’m drawn to the juxtaposition of war and what society tells us femininity should mean. Nancy was on a few different blogs that I came across, posts with titles like: “25 Badass Women You Don’t Know About.” That sent me off to Wikipedia, and before I knew it I was ordering her autobiography from Australia.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins, and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins,
and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

I spent most of that meeting trying to convince Tracy and Claire that one of them should write about Nancy Wake, and finally, I think it was Claire, said to me, “Ya know, if you like her so much, maybe you should write about her.” And this blew my mind, how could anyone not want to write about this powerhouse? After they both assured me it was okay, I never looked back. We were meant to be, Nancy and me.

Babs: What has it been like collaborating with Claire and Tracy on building the festival?

Rachel: Collaborating has been a challenge, it’s not that it’s hard for the three of us to be on the same page, we are just all very busy ladies. Tracy just finished up her MFA from CMU and has her two boys, Claire directed Allison Page’s fantastic show HILARITY earlier this year and is working on a commission from Terror-Rama, and I have my rug-rats and school as well, and so finding time to get together has been hard to say the least. Somehow it’s worked so far. I think we owe a lot to the other ladies in Loud & Unladylike who support us so well; the very talented Tonya Narvaez and Roxana Sorooshian, our production manager and literary manager respectively.

This year has also found us to be on a very slow learning curve, well me at least. Running a festival is tricky. So many complications pop up every day! And there are also so many cool things you’d like to do but aren’t worth the trouble, especially in the first year when keeping things as simple as possible is key. Even the simple gets hard, trust me. But we are kicking around some exciting ideas for the 2017 festival, and we’re in the midst of selecting the plays for 2016, so a lot of exciting things are on the horizon.

Babs: I’m also curious to learn about the development process – how have you supported each other in the research and writing or has it been mostly solo? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?

Rachel: We’ve shared pages at meetings, and talked about the themes and questions we’d like to bring up in each of our plays. Something that surprised me, that I think we’ve all had to deal with, is getting over the reverence for the person the play is inspired by, so that you can actually get something written. Knowing that this was a real person and that you’ll be informing some amount of the population about them is a heavy task, and having Claire and Tracy wrestling with this same challenge all year has been a comfort.

Also, one of my most favorite parts of the festival, is that we each will have two readings with about two weeks in between to rewrite. We’ll be hosting talkbacks after each play, and Claire and I will be running those in week one. I’m excited to play that role and engage with my fellow writers and the audience in order to develop the plays further. The second week, which might have three totally different plays based on what happens in week one, will have talkbacks lead by our literary manager, Roxana.

Babs: What do you love about the Bay Area theater scene and what would you change?

Rachel: One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area theater scene is that I’m constantly discovering more of it. I’ll be out at a show, chatting with someone brand-new, and they’ll mention so-and-so theater that they work for, and more often than you’d think, it’s a theater company I’d never heard of. I’ll think, oh they must be new, but no! Usually they’ve been around 10 or 15 years. It’s insanity. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a theater company here and that’s pretty special. BUT, in a way that’s something that I’d like to change too. Not that I’d like to see less companies, I just wish there was more collaboration among them. I love seeing companies joining forces and I think everyone could stand a little more of that. If a project is too big for one company to take on, find another to duel produce it with! Let’s do big things and stretch ourselves, and help one another.

Babs: Any advice you have for aspiring playwrights and producers of new work?

Rachel: I think the most important thing you can do, other than of course the writing or the producing, is to go see shows. I have kids which makes it hard, but I try to make it out to as many plays as possible. Not only can you learn just from seeing other work, and all other work, good, bad, mediocre, all of it has lessons for those who are looking, but you go and see the work and then you talk to people after. Say hi to the director, the actors, the playwright. Tell them what you enjoyed (only of course, if you actually did), ask them about their inspiration, ask how you could get involved. Theaters take on a risk when producing local work, but if we all went out and saw one another’s work, that risk would be much less, so I especially try to make it out when a new work of a local playwright is being produced. We can’t demand it if we don’t ourselves support it.

Also, and this is what I think is the second most important thing, share your work. Submit plays to theaters, yes, but also have your friends over to read your drafts. Ask actors and directors you know to read what you’re working on, ask advice on where your work would fit best, and then reach out to them. You’re going to be ignored a lot, but I’ve found that if you keep it up, and you keep everything positive, they don’t ignore you forever. Also, true story, I’m still being ignored by plenty of folks, that’s just part of the business. Try not to take it personally, though I know that can be hard.

Babs: Plugs for upcoming work and shout-out for other plays to check out around the area?

Rachel: Yes! My full-length play Of Serpents & Sea Spray is getting a week-long workshop with a staged reading this July (the reading is on July 24th) and will be produced in Custom Made’s 2015/16 season this coming January, with Ariel Craft as the director.

As for other shows, I don’t think anyone here in the Bay Area is allowed to miss Desk Set presented by No Nude Men, it’s a power-house cast, and is being directed by Stuart Bousel, who might just be the most generous member of the Bay Area theater community and an all around excellent theater maker. It’s running July 9-25, and will probably fill up quick, so I’d jump on those tickets ASAP, if you know what’s good for you. And, the show I’m most excited for this summer, other than Loud & Unladylike of course, has to be SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays this August! Megan Cohen’s “BEEEEEAAR!”, performed by Allison Page back in 2012, is still at the top of my all-time-favorite theater experiences, and I have a hope we’ll see more of that beer loving bear this time around.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who can be found on twitter as well @bjwany. Tweet at her to point her to theater happenings around town!

Theater Around The Bay: Thirteen Questions About “PASTORELLA”

Megan Cohen makes a guest appearance today as interviewer for Stuart Bousel, whose new play “Pastorella” will be opening at the EXIT Theatre this weekend.

MC: What are 13 adjectives that describe this play?

SB: Funny. Sad. Angry. Self-Righteous. Compassionate. Critical. Reverent. Irreverent. Hopeful. Tragic. Passive Aggressive. Confrontational. Magic.

MC: “Pastorella” takes place backstage during a production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia.” What are your experiences with “Arcadia?”

SB: It’s a beautiful play I first discovered in high school and I still think it’s brilliant and in the hands of the right cast and director, it’s undeniably a masterpiece. It’s also over-produced and very long.

MC: If you could forcibly invite one person, living or dead, to sit in the front row and watch this play, who would you choose?

SB: Jodhi May, who played Alice Munro in Michael Mann’s film of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Alice Munro (as she’s depicted in the film) is symbolically very important to the play, and May’s performance in that film was hugely influential in the formation of my aesthetic as an artist.

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MC: What’s your nightmare of someone’s reaction to this piece, what’s the LEAST appropriate thing someone could walk away thinking after the show?

SB: The idea that I either hate theater and/or actors, or that I don’t respect people who choose to pursue mainstream theatre careers. Also that any one character is based on a real person. They’re all based on real people. Many real people.

MC: If you had to get a single line from “Pastorella” as a tattoo, what would you get, and where?

SB: “Never is a strong word, don’t promise it to anybody, ever.” On my chest. Jean Valjean style.

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MC: You wrote the first draft in a very intense process over a very short period; it seems like the initial script arrived hot and sudden, quick and powerful, like a volcanic eruption. How typical is that for you?

SB: Not at all. One out of every five things I write, at MOST, happens that way. Most stuff takes much longer and has like… an outline and such. PASTORELLA’s first draft was almost stream of consciousness.

MC: What part of this play has changed the most since the first draft?

SB: Well, the character of Lance used to actually be in the play. Now, we never see him. That’s kind of a big change. Except people involved with the play from the beginning all agree that they don’t particularly miss Lance. So… maybe it’s not a big change?

MC: You’re directing the play yourself, which is something you do frequently, but not always. How do you decide which of your scripts are right for you to direct auteur-style, and which are better to collaborate on with an outside director?

SB: Well, sometimes the producers decide that for me, but when I produce a play I wrote myself I generally direct it too, because that means for me it’s a play that I want to see put on for very personal reasons. It’s not so much that I don’t think anybody else would be able to do it, or get it, so much as the first production is kind of the last stage of the process and purpose behind the creation of the play in the first place.

MC: The poster is gorgeous, evoking the famous 1970s Broadway poster for “A Chorus Line,” but with a really distinctly modern attitude. What did you and graphic designer Cody Rishell talk about when planning its creation?

SB: I said, “I want to totally reference the poster from Chorus Line.” And he said, “I want to make it yellow, like the color of the EXIT Theatre sign, as a tie in to the EXIT Theatre.” And that was pretty much it. It’s worth stating we also have promotional cards for the show that reference the Brady Bunch and traditional Old West “Wanted!” posters.

Pastorella

MC: “Pastorella” is an ensemble piece, with an ensemble cast, featuring a lot of distinctive characters. If one of the characters had a spin-off, and got their own play all about them, whose is it, what it’s about, and what’s it called?

SB: It’s probably about Josh, and it’s probably about what happens to him after he leaves the play at the end of the second scene. I’m going to give it the working title of, “I Am My Own Hamlet”.

MC: You’re doing this show at the EXIT Theatre. What’s your relationship with the venue, and why did you want to mount this piece there?

SB: I have a lot of relationships with the EXIT, some of which I maintain better than others, right now, because I’m super busy, but I’ve been working as an artist there since 2005 and at some point between then and now (I’m not entirely sure when) I became a resident artist and No Nude Men, my company, became a resident company. Which is awesome because you get all kinds of help from the theater when putting on your shows and this is in addition to everything the EXIT does and stands for as the cornerstone of the indie theater movement in San Francisco. Which is the real reason PASTORELLA is happening there, because it’s about a theater like the EXIT, or at least many of the companies that work at the EXIT, and the philosophical thrust of the show is very much in line with the spirit of the EXIT and its artistic director Christina Augello.

MC: What questions were you asking, as a theatermaker and as a person, when you wrote this play? Have you found any answers through the process?

SB: I’m not sure if I was asking questions so much as I was challenging myself to understand some of the people who have come and gone from my theater life over the years and also to finally articulate why I consider myself a theater professional and someone with a theater career, even though many people might not agree with that. In light of that, no, then, I don’t think I found any answers per se…. or maybe, actually, I found ALL of the answers.

MC: If “Pastorella” were a person, what would be its Halloween costume?

SB: Harold from TWIN PEAKS.

Want to go see PASTORELLA? Well, you can get tickets here. Hurray!

Theater Around the Bay: First Time A-Fringin’

Charles Lewis III returns to talk about his first time working behind the scenes at the SF Fringe Festival.

Fringe-official

Fringe-official

“Clowns are the pegs on which a circus is hung.”
– PT Barnum

We’re always told that first impressions count for a lot; that you can’t make them twice; that they will forever define you in the eyes of the other person, whether they admit it to you or not. So naturally I wanted to make the best impression as a new house manager at SF Fringe. I’ve always been one of those folks who believes that I don’t just represent myself, but also the company whose logo adorns my shirt/name tag/pay stub. I mean, they don’t just give this bright yellow shirt and laminated badge to just anyone, do they?

So as I stood in front of an anxious, impatient audience, I can only imagine what they thought of the stammering schmuck in front of them. I’m an actor, I thought. Talking in front of audiences is what I do. I should thank them for coming, right? Now what? Something about “the State of California” and fire exits? Oh, oh – phones! I’ll take out my phone… and I dropped it. It broke apart. “But as you can all clearly see: it’s off.” Oh God, I’m dyin’ here. What next? Why am I holding this bucket again? Oh yeah, we want them to donate! Tell them I’ll be out there when they’re done. Or someone will be out there. Someone with a yellow shirt and a laminated badge. One would hope. Damn, I’m cutting into performance time, aren’t I? Just say “Thanks for coming” and chase your dignity out the door.

I raced out the door now fully aware that the “acting” part of the brain is separate from the “curtain speech” part. I felt like slapping my forehead so hard that it would be heard three states away. Instead I shuffled into the greenroom/hospitality suite and shoved a handful of microwave popcorn into my face. The pictures of Clyde the Cyclops on the wall helped. Thus began my tenure at the 2014 SF Fringe Fest.

But then, Clyde makes all things better

But then, Clyde makes all things better

It’s kinda odd that when I eventually wound up at SF Fringe, it was in this capacity. I was actually supposed to be in a show in (I think) 2007. It meant a lot to me I’d just gotten back into acting two years earlier with film work and this was to be my first theatre experience since school. I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the director and wound up quitting over the phone, something I haven’t done before or since. Even though one of my would-be fellow actors was an actress I’ve gone on to admire, I didn’t bother to see the actual show or anything at the festival that year. I actually haven’t even been to the festival since as I’m always knee-deep into a show at the time. It seems like everyone I know has encouraged me to see certain shows and skip others; some have even offered to cast me. Alas it took about seven years for me to finally get my Fringe on.

And hoo-boy, was I thrown into the deep end on my first day. In fact, I’d say I was blindfolded, handcuffed, and kicked off the plank into shark-infested waters after receiving fresh cuts on my arms and legs. But then, I’m fond of analogies. Nevertheless, as someone who has done front-of-house work at countless theatres, cinemas, and concert venues, not even I was prepared for the onslaught of countless indie theatre patrons clamoring to get into a theatre for which 80% of the tickets are already pre-sold and half of those patrons haven’t arrived 10 min. before curtain. People get angry. They get impatient. They look for an excuse to take their frustrations out on someone and, as house manager, that someone will be you.

Now these folks have my empathy, every single one of them. After a pretty disastrous first day, I quickly got into the swing of things and made it my priority to communicate that above all else, we are trying to help YOU. The final day of this year’s festival I had to deny entry to show to that show’s director. She’d travelled “all the way from Santa Cruz” with her boyfriend and was told by the show’s performer to just give her name at the door. Well the only names we have at the door are on the will call list and this one was packed. The show completely sold out and I told the director how sorry I was. “If anything,” I said, “this should be a testament to how good your show is.” Directors have been shut out of their own films at Sundance. Is it more important that you see your work or that the audience does?

But we do have an arts ‘n crafts section you can use.

But we do have an arts ‘n crafts section you can use.

Thankfully, as the song says, you get by with a little help from your friends that served me well. Stuart has already mentioned Christina and the wonderful folks who keep the EXIT and Fringe gears moving as smooth as a Swiss watch, and bless them for that. When you’re an apple-green newb trying to figure the best way to tell someone the “No Late Seating” rule is in full effect, it really helps to have an even-tempered Ariel Craft standing near to back you up. And what I would have done without Florian on-hand, I don’t know.

And let us thank the Theatre Gods for the aforementioned hospitality room. Not just a place for patrons to chew popcorn, sip lemon water, paint domino masks, and have their photos taken as “Fringe Royalty” (yes really) – the area might be most valuable to Fringe staff. When not in the middle of the mad rush of patrons, the near-silence of green room makes it almost seem like 30-minute day spa. I don’t know of many day spas that play The Cranberries over their speakers, but more should. Taking time out to chat with Stuart, Barbara, Tonya, and Quinn about… whatever, I remembered just how valuable such moments are, and have been for me over the past year. Having spent most of the summer sequestered from both Facebook and most of my regular theatre friends, the time I’ve spent reconnecting, reminiscing, and, yes, gossiping have been invaluable.

What, did you think I was kidding about the throne?

What, did you think I was kidding about the throne?

I arrived really, really late to the Fringe closing party this past Saturday. I’d gone to a friend’s party in Oakland, which was a lot of fun. By the time I caught up with my fellow Fringers at Emperor Norton’s, most of them had already left and the others were on their way out the door. I had a few of the leftover hors d’œuvres before heading out myself. Still, the Fringe has left its mark on me. Though I might not necessarily agree that The EXIT is akin to a used record store, I do agree – and have been saying aloud for years – that it is the true heart of the San Francisco theatre community. The ACT and Berkeley Rep might be akin to fancy hotels, but The EXIT is home. And the SF Fringe Fest is akin to opening one’s home to both regular friends and out-of-town guests. Or at least a decent hostel. There might not be an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but the activities are fun, the guests are… unique, and you’ll definitely tell all your friends when you get back home.

Charles is happy to be a part of Fringe royalty. He shall be calling The EXIT his home for at least the next month as he begins rehearsals for Stuart’s new play Pastorella.

Theater Around The Bay: Save the Empire

Stuart Bousel, subbing for Barbara Jwanouskos.

Is it just me or does the week after Labor Day always kind of suck?

It didn’t in school. But that’s because the week after Labor Day was really the week things started to kick into gear, whether you had started classes that Tuesday or had started the week before in August. Labor Day meant new beginnings, a new year, and the countdown to everything I love in life- the start of autumn, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, the start of winter, Christmas, New Year! Labor Day meant making new friends, catching up with old ones, and taking a bit of a breather after a long summer that, because of its lack of class, was always distinct from the rest of the year. Maybe because I usually hadn’t been working much all summer, Labor Day ironically was like, “Back to work day!” Something I used to love because I used to love the work I was doing (school) and in college that only became a more pronounced and exciting feeling.

As an adult though, progressively, Labor Day has often ended up feeling like a grim reminder that, as the character of Max says in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking And Screaming (one of my favorite movies ever), “What I used to able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life.” It’s not just that it’s become a bit of a mockery of the very people it was supposed to honor and salt in the wound for the many people who are either out of work or struggling to make ends meet with substantially less than they used to have, but for many I think it’s also just a day off thrown in at precisely the right moment to remind you that you didn’t get done a lot of what you wanted to get done, probably never had much of a “real summer” unless you were lucky enough to be able to take a vacation, and ultimately that the year you were convinced was going to be “Your Year” now has a mere four months left to go, and still sort of seems a lot like… well… just another year. Oh, and, of course: you’re not getting any younger either.

The last few weeks seem to have been super tough on a lot of people I know in this theater scene. On this blog alone we’ve had two people lose a dear friend, one lose her gall bladder, one discover a project she’s been working on is a dead end, and another texted me this morning with that “shit is hitting the fan” text that translates to me writing this ad. Me, who blew off his own attempt at taking back Labor Day and hid in his room all weekend because… drum roll… I got pink eye. Yes… pink eye. Something children usually get because there kind of dirty but since I’m a pretty clean guy I can pretty much chalk this one up to some bad decision making somewhere  and/or divine smack down. It’s okay, I’m laughing about it now because it’s mostly gone and I’m no longer contagious but you know what is even more mortifying than calling off your Labor Day event because you’re so hungover you can’t run it? It’s finding out that the reason why your eyes have been hurting and feeling feverish since you woke up that Sunday were because you have Pink Eye.

And this is after what one director friend of mine has dubbbed, “A white knuckle year”. In other words, not a bad year (it certainly hasn’t been a bad year for me) but a year of tremendous shift and change, rarely comfortable, even when good, and so constant one starts to feel less like they are growing so much as holding on for dear life while the roller coaster heads straight for… well, who can say, right? I, for one, have found it to be incredibly up and down, so much so that I become suspicious of things when they start to seem too quiet, (my summer, by the way, had been pretty quiet), and I’ve found it’s also been one of extreme self-scrutiny and re-evaluation, public scrutiny and re-evaluation, new understandings, new ideals, new heights, new lows, new triumphs and new problems. On one level, I can say with sincerity I have felt very alive this year, and like I am moving, generally speaking, in more or less the right direction- certainly compared to last year, and definitely compared to the year before it. But is that momentum not terrifying in its own right? And do I feel like I am in control of it so much as being swept along? And am I actually ready for whatever tomorrow brings, even if it brings flowers and money and wedding bells? These are all entirely different questions. Depending on the day… no, let’s be honest here, depending on the minute… the answer is a resounding and eviscerating “no.” But such is life, so what am I going to do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, actually: for the next two weeks, starting tonight, I’m, going to basically live my non-working hours at the EXIT Theatre, the place that has emerged above all others as my home in this city, in any city, on the planet, really, in this era of my life. It’s the place where I’ve most frequently been allowed to be myself, where the people there before me made room for me too, where I’ve been embraced and challenged and scolded and pushed and rewarded and empowered and it starts with the artistic director (Christina Augello) but the truth is everyone there contributes to that feeling, whether it’s by doing far more than any one person should ever have to do to keep things running (Amanda Ortmayer), or ensuring that someone remans relatively sane (Richard Livingston), or making sure we’re all fed (Donna Fujita), or sitting around the Cafe during off hours gossiping the way we used to hang out in the theater or the humanities buildings at college and just… talk to one another (this list is a long one, but usually includes some combination of Christian Cagigal, Michelle Talgarow, Alexia Staniotes, Mark Weddle, Ariel Craft, Dot Janson, Margery Fairchild, Happy Hyder, Mikka Bonel, Dylan West, and most recently, this year’s Fringe intern, Florian Bdn). Though I love my apartment and I love my friend’s homes, Le Zinc on 24th and the Pilsner on Church, the Sutro Baths for strolling, Jupiter when in Berkeley and the White Horse on Sutter, everything about North Beach and a good deal about the Richmond, I don’t know that anyplace in the Bay Area feels more home to me than sitting in the EXIT Cafe eating Indian Take out or making popcorn in the Green Room microwave.

Earlier this year I made my boyfriend watch “Empire Records“, a movie I loved to hate when it came out because it was an attempt at corporatizing everything I loved… and now I kind of hate to love it, because time has ultimately shown it to be a lasting relic of the fantasy of the mid-90s, and what it lacks in nuance, subtlety, or, to be truthful, quality, it by far makes up for in heart and sincerity, which somehow shine through despite the best efforts of the studio to both destroy the film and then bury it. This amazing article can tell you pretty much everything I would want to say about Empire Records, except this last part, which is unique to me: basically, about halfway through his first viewing, my boyfriend said, “So, if this was a theater instead of a record store, it would basically be the EXIT, wouldn’t it?” and I couldn’t not argue otherwise. And while I’m not saying that my deep desire to create a stage version of “Empire Records” is due to its amazingly similar dynamic and function in our lives, I would say that it’s my continued experience at the EXIT which allows me to fully understand the sentiment screenwriter Carol Heikkinen was attempting to capture in her film when she told the BuzzFeed article linked above that, “I wanted to show how the employees were a family, and how, for some of them, this minimum-wage job would be the best job they ever had.”

This will be my third year running the Hospitality Room at the Fringe and I’ve started looking forward to the Fringe in a way that I once used to look forward to school starting. Just like school, there are people who I never see except at the Fringe- artists, of course, bringing work, but also techs and volunteers, who return year after year, for not much money or no money at all, simply to be a part of this event that is arguably the jewel in the EXIT’s crown and makes indisputable its place at the top of the independent theater scene in San Francisco. For two weeks we form our own little society, gathering around the craft table (did you know there was a craft table?) after hours or during slow times, going on errands together, playing pranks on one another, and of course seeing shows together. And talking about the shows. And talking about shows in general. It’s a ton of work and make no mistake about that, but for two weeks it’s also kind of this crazy vacation in indy theater land, a sort of small town version of theater school and summer camp rolled together and plopped into the Tenderloin for a brief but valiant moment each year when the object of the game is not to compete as artists but to play together, to be a community. And the heart of this is the Hospitality Room, if I say so myself, and this year it’s better than ever, so you should definitely put down whatever that heavy load you’re carrying is and come say hello as we celebrate these last weeks of summer and move into the autumn, a time I’ve personally always found to be more enchanted and generally saner too. There will be snacks, and you can make some crafts, and Clyde the Cyclops is on the walls so the room feels like a hug.

Oh, and, my Pink Eye has totally cleared up. So don’t worry about that.

Come visit Stuart and hang out in the Hospitality Room this Fringe! Make crafts, take photos, eat snacks, and be a part of the community. www.sffringe.org.

Theater Around The Bay: Get Ready To Fringe

Stuart Bousel, who moonlights once a year as the San Francisco Fringe Hospitality Coordinator, gives us a sneak peak at this year’s Fringe Festival.

On Saturday, following a picnic with former Theater Pub AD Julia Heitner (who was in town for the weekend) I headed over to the EXIT Theatre for the first event of this year’s Fringe Festival.

In case you don’t know anything about the Fringe or fringe festivals in general (which seems unlikely, if you read this blog), the San Francisco Fringe Festival is the second oldest/longest running fringe festival in the United States (23 years), and is a variation on the world’s most famous fringe festival, which was started in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is widely considered the largest annual arts event on the planet. Though the term fringe theater has come to mean “non-mainstream”, at a good fringe festival you’ll find almost everything represented, from classical works to performance art, to music acts and dance troupes, to world premieres of new plays and musicals. Over the years a number of shows we now think of as mainstream actually had their premieres at a fringe festival, and the number of actors, performers, artists, writers, directors, dancers, musicians, acrobats, clowns, magicians and whatever-else-you-can-think-of who have passed through a fringe festival somewhere, one way or another, is incalculable. I myself performed in a fringe play during my first year in San Francisco- a little musical about a gay baseball player called “The Seventh Game of the World Series” by poet (and avid baseball fan) David Hadbawnik.

One of the best (and worst, depending on your perspective) things about the SF Fringe is that EXIT Theatre artistic director Christina Augello has kept the festival un-curated, and every year would-be participants must submit applications which are then thrown into a hat. At the annual Fringe Lottery, projects are pulled from the hat randomly before a live audience, and once the 35 available slots of the festival are filled the program is set. The beauty of this is an annual theater festival with local, national and international participants, that is entirely uncensored and devoid of theater politics. The downside is that quality control is virtually nonexistent. Then again, since quality really is in the eye of the beholder, of all the evils a festival might have, this one strikes me as the least, and considering all the other ways the SF Fringe sets the bar for fringe festivals (for instance, performers keep all of their box office), I’ve come to not only accept but embrace the less palatable aspects of the theater roulette that is seeing shows at the Fringe. As an environment intended for experimentation and risk, whatever that means to the performer whose work you are seeing, there is bound to be some mistakes, half-baked ideas, or just work that is still finding its way or its audience. That said, sometimes seeing a terrible show at the fringe is also like scoring a jackpot, as every year there is usually at least one show so bad it passes into legend. Depending on who you ask, the show I was in back in 2003 was one of those shows. Last year there were two, and we’re still talking about them.

On Saturday, festival staff, volunteers, performers and long-time patrons/fans assembled at the EXIT for free pizza and a sneak peak of 7 shows that will be playing at this year’s Fringe. I have to say, over all, it looks like there’s some really strong work this year, and nothing seems, at first glance, especially disastrous. Susan Fairbrook over at Play by Play has already done an excellent survey of what’s on the boards this year (including a shout-out to work by former Theater Pub Founding AD Bennett Fisher), but I figured as the Hospitality Coordinator for the Fringe (read: guy running the craft-services lounge/guest services desk) and a long-time Fringe audience member and staffer, I’d pass on my recommendations based on the preview, and also my ever-sharpening ability to call ahead of time what’s going to be especially good (which pales in comparison to the mad skilz of Fringe Tech Director Amanda Ortmayer).

Mandarin Orange by Kate Robards, directed by Jill Vice
There are a lot of one-woman shows at the Fringe (last year I saw four of them and that wasn’t even half) and so it struck me as appropriate to begin there, and this was actually the first preview of the evening as well. Kate Robards’ piece is a memoir of her life as an ex-pat in Shanghai, China and the contrast between that and growing up in small-town Texas, USA. As a guy from the semi-rural portion of Tucson, Arizona, I found Robards’s choice to set the scene with a piece of ridiculous local news (“Man’s Penis Lodged In Vacuum Cleaner!”) pretty spot on, but things got much more interesting during her portrayal of the circle of female ex-pats who take her under their wing upon her arrival in Shanghai. With each woman, Robards demonstrated a keen eye for detail, both in the material and the physicalization/vocalization of who these women were and what had brought them, and kept them, in China. Playing both sides of a conversation is always hard to pull off, and is the Achilles heel of most solo shows, but Robards jumped feet first into a group discussion and her ability to move back and forth between all five participants was expert and elegant. The subject matter of the show doesn’t seem to be particularly new, but Kate’s spin on it certainly seems fresh, and with China becoming more and more of an international presence once again I suspect it will spark some interesting conversations.

My Body Love Story by Dominika Bednarska
Speaking of one-woman shows- here’s another. Dominika Bednarska is a queer disabled femme whose press release boasts “rhinestones, storytelling, dancing and many laughs” but if the snippet on Saturday, double entendre of the title, and remark in the press release about “the body and self trying to get along” aren’t just red herrings, I suspect it will mostly be a show about disabled queer youth trying to get laid. Similar to Kate Robard’s show in that it’s based on the author’s experiences, Bednarska’s approach (from what I saw) seems to be less theatrical and more discursive, with her telling the stories rather than impersonating the participants- something that works beautifully because Bednarska is a delightful storyteller, laughing along with her own absurdities and daring you not to laugh with her. Simultaneously coy and bold in revealing the details of her sex life, she challenges not only conventional ideas about female storytellers and their stories, but conventional ideas about disabled youth, presenting them as horny, insecure, awkward, and basically ordinary young people pre-occupied with the usual woes of who will love me/want me/fuck me when I’m such a mess of problems/fears/on-going inner dialogues. To say it was refreshing doesn’t do it justice; of all the pieces presented on Saturday, it was the one I found most inspiring.

Genie And Audrey’s Dream Show! by Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola
Keeping with the female performer theme but moving into the two-hander fusion show, this circus comedy about two friends is a return from last year and won the Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Award in 2013 for “Best Chemistry.” You can read all about that here, and if that doesn’t convince you to see the show this year, I don’t know what will (except maybe this delightful account of how the show came together). For those of you who have already seen the show, it’s been touring around the country and growing and shifting, so seeing it again should be a whole new experience in and of itself as Audrey and Genie’s victory lap will no doubt be older, wiser, and better. Even if it’s exactly the same, though, there’s no other show like it, so you won’t want to miss it and I would definitely recommend getting tickets ahead of time.

An Awkward Sensation by Kurt Bodden and Allison Daniel
Rounding out my recommends is another two hander that combines elements from many different styles of performance. Kurt Bodden also won a SEBATA last year (for “Best Solo Show”) but that is the least of the accolades that have been deservedly showered on him over the years. Performance partner Allison Daniel is held in equitably high esteem for her puppetry skills, but like Genie and Audrey, what makes this show work is the chemistry between them. Also gifted with impeccable timing, their five minutes on Saturday was perhaps the most astonishing to watch as it veered from comedy (Allison as a crime-fighting cat easily distracted by Kurt’s laser pointer) to pathos (Allison turning a coat and hat into a strangely sympathetic puppet that silently asks to be carried by Kurt) and contained within that stretch a wealth of other emotions. Somewhere between sketch and performance art, I’m probably most intrigued by this piece, both by what other surprises it might contain and in what directions these two obviously adept performers would and could go. Plus that puppet bit will make my boyfriend cry, and that’s enough of a reason to go see anything.

Speaking of Cody Rishell, if you didn’t have enough reasons to come down to the Fringe this year, the Green Room (where I and my amazing band of volunteers will be dispensing snacks and information) will once again have his art on display. This year it will be a retrospective on Clyde The Cyclops, who just had his first birthday. Never will those walls have been cuter, so how can you miss out on that?

Stuart Bousel is one of the Founding Artistic Directors of the San Francisco Theater Pub and editor-in-chief of this blog. You can find out more about him at www.horrorunspeakable.com.