Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost – the Who, What, & Why, with Director Claire Rice

Stupid Ghost director Claire Rice tells us about the immense talent involved in this month’s production, the challenges faced in staging the show in a bar, and the reasons it’s important to catch before we close tomorrow night!

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Who are you? Who is involved in this production?

I am Claire Rice and I’m the director of Stupid Ghost. Tonya Narvaez, Theater Pub co-artistic director and the producer of this play, brought me this script in early 2016. Along the way she’s been my sounding board for ideas, my champion, my anti-procrastination machine, and a constant source of positive energy. Savannah Reich is the playwright. Early on I decided that the song in the show needed to have music arranged for it so I brought on Spencer Bainbridge who wrote the music. To help promote the show I created a short video. Spencer played guitar, Karen Offereins sung and it was recorded by Christine McClintock. I was able to convince Tonya to play a ghost in the woods along with Marissa Skudlarek, Neil Higgins, Erin Merchant and my husband Matt Gunnison. Tonya and Theater Pub co-artistic director Meg Trowbridge helped cast the show. The actors are Megan Cohen, Christine Keating, Ryan Hayes, Celeste Conowitch and Valerie Fachman. Celeste designed and did the lettering on the costumes. The actors designed their own costumes. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get such a talented group of people together.

What is Stupid Ghost?

Stupid Ghost is a story of love, regret, selfishness, the search for life experiences and the destruction of lives. In many ways it really does follow the path of a traditional ghost story. A ghost follows a girl home and slowly begins taking over her life and the consequences are tragic. But instead of it being a horror from the perspective of the living, it is a tragedy from the perspective of a lonely ghost. She doesn’t mean for the things that happen to happen. And I think following her journey we can see ourselves in her. Searching for contact with other people. Searching for love and light. Trying to be seen for who we really are and falling in love when we shouldn’t. It is a really lovely play that packs a great deal into its short run time.

What challenges did you encounter staging this production in a bar?

I think the biggest challenges with this play have been trying to translate it to the bar. It isn’t easy, but it is fun, to come up with concepts for a canoe and a car chase through the woods in a black box theater, but it feels impossible in a bar. Even simple choices in any script become a strategic nightmare. Both Savannah and I were worried about ensuring that the intimate scenes remained quiet and intimate, which can be difficult in a working bar in the Tenderloin. I tried to work on as many levels as I could and keep the play moving so that when we get to that scene the audience is ready for stillness.

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Why Stupid Ghost?

I am drawn to plays that reach out beyond themselves to connect with the audience. It isn’t just the direct address, but the use of unreliable narrators, linear storytelling, unique world building, and moments that almost feel like lessons in empathy. In this play the characters need so much and they discover what those needs are as they go. They learn about themselves through mistakes and sacrifices and successes and connections. The characters are well drawn and the action is entertaining. It has been a fun show to work on and I’ve really enjoyed watching it over the past two nights as well.

Why here? Why now?

What I love about the San Francisco theater scene is the urge of its artists to do theater in every nook, cranny and corner they can. There is an urgency and a living quality to the scene that makes it feel as necessary to the fabric of San Francisco as cable cars and strangely warm weather in the Fall. Stupid Ghost is a storytelling play reaching into the audience. It makes sense that the audience be in arms’ reach and in a place that doesn’t feel like a traditional theater space. And Stupid Ghost is entertaining. It is funny and lively and lovely. You feel hope and fear and love and all the things that make seeing theater fun.

You have two more opportunities to catch Stupid Ghost at PianoFight (144 Taylor St.)!

TONIGHT – Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
TOMORROW – Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciate to our hosts.

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Claire Rice’s Enemey’s List: When a Theatre Goes Co-Op

Claire Rice on how Thunderbird Theatre Company becomes a Cooperative Corporation…tell your enemies!

Thunderbird Theatre Company has been producing original comedy in the Bay Area since 1998. We specialize in mash-up style storylines where the good guys are wondering idealists and the bad guys come with a posy of henchman. I say “we” because I have been working with Thunderbird Theatre Company since 2006’s “Release the Kraken”, a take-off on Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” and the 1981 classic “Clash of the Titans”. I played Andromeda, who was from the Ukraine and ends up in the Princess Leia gold bikini at the end of the show.

No, really.  THE gold bikini!

No, really. THE gold bikini!

Over the years Thunderbird Theatre Company has brought together some exceptionally talented people to do some exceptionally silly and entertaining theatre. A long the way we’ve also grown up, bought houses, started careers, gotten married, had children and done all the things that people do as they grow older.

We also came to the realization that if we wanted to keep doing what we loved (namely have as much fun on stage as we could) we would need to re-organize ourselves.

I sat down with long time Thunderbird Christine McClintock to talk about Thunderbird, what it means to be a Cooperative Corporation, lost doubloons, gigglebones and other very adult things.

What is Thunderbird Theatre Company?

Christine: After a yearlong hiatus from production, we have been reorganized as a California Cooperative Corporation named The Bird Empire, doing business as The Thunderbird Theatre Company.

If Thunderbird wasn’t a business before, what was it for 16 years?

Christine: Thunderbird was definitely a business, and everything we did was totally and completely legit… as far as anyone knows. (You’ll never find our doubloons, Marx!)

We were previously a sole proprietorship. This meant that most of the liability for the business fell on one person. Aside from this being incongruous with our operating structure and ideals, it made for some awkward situations, such as the predicament of divulging an individual’s social security number on behalf of the company.

Why a co-op and not a non-profit (or sole proprietorship or llc, etc.)?

Christine: The reasons behind the decision to reform as a Cooperative Corporation are threefold.

Ideologically, we do not fit the parameters of a 501(c)(3) organization. Those requirements being:

“…charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”

Making silly plays with your friends, for your other friends to come see is not a legally recognized tax-exempt purpose. Whether or not it should be is a worthy conversation for another time and place. Quite simply, we did not want to be beholden to these requirements set forth by a governmental agency, or contort our activities to fit these stipulations.

Secondly, we wanted to formalize and equitably divide our financial contributions. For the majority of our years as a company, we have operated at a loss. This loss will now be evenly distributed across the company members so that each individual pays their fair share – and only their fair share. It’s our hope that in the future, we will turn a profit on each production, and in turn, those profits will be equally distributed among the company members.

Finally, we felt we wanted our structure to continue to be horizontal. We do embrace the fact that no “leaderless” organization is ever fully so, but our current configuration lets us both play to our individual strengths while leaving space for us to rotate responsibilities, recruit fresh voices, and provide opportunities for newcomers.

We felt the best match for these three primary philosophies is the cooperative model.

The meetings will look like this, but with more cheese and puns.

The meetings will look like this, but with more cheese and puns.

Can you still do fundraising (like Kickstarter or Grants)?

Christine: Yes and no… and maybe… and yes again.

Many grants require a 501(c)(3) status or fiscal sponsorship to determine eligibility, so we would only be able to apply to grants to do not require such a status – like TBA’s CA$H grants. We’re honest with ourselves that we’re not the kind of organization that most grantors are looking to fund at the moment. We’re making art for ourselves, and grantmakers tend to look to size and area of impact. We tend to only impact gigglebones.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo, on the other hand, do not require an organization to be a non-profit in order to launch a campaign. We need to be clear with our donors (Kickers and Go-goers) that contributions made to Thunderbird are not tax deductible.

We are still a corporate entity though, and as such, we are only eligible to receive funds that are related to our business. Donations not directly related to goods or services, therefore may trigger an audit or a revocation of our corporate approval. That being said, the rules governing such things are, (for better or worse), more flexible than they may appear.

How does being a co-op change how you make decisions?

Christine: The great thing about being a cooperative is that our decision-making process hasn’t caused us to change drastically. In fact, it highlights a track record of decision-making that has already been mostly democratic. Writing our bylaws helped us to clean up some of the specifics of administering an arts organization such as what denotes a quorum, how will we decide what will be our next production, etc.

The overarching precept is equality: one member, one vote.

Also, standard shotgun-calling rules apply.

Do you know how this will affect your future?

Christine: Some guy named Commodore briefly mentioned something about our membership growing, creating more content, experimenting online, and sometime in the very, very distant future, we will acquire our own space, perhaps in the East Bay.

Where should people go if they are interested in getting involved?

You can write to any of the current members, respond to this post, or email us here: info@thunderbirdtheatre.com

Right now we’re looking for folks who want to be “Collaborators”. This is a non-voting level of membership that comes with perks and treats (and responsibility). After a year, “Collaborators” may be invited to be full-voting members, though they may elect to indefinitely remain at the “Collaborators” level and hoard their perks and treats.

Thunderbird Theatre Company’s latest comedy “SHOW DOWN!” opens on Friday, August 1, at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are on sale at Brown Paper Tickets. Please, if you love ThunderbirdTheatre Company tell your friends. And if you don’t…tell your enemies!