In For A Penny: The All-Seeing Eye

Charles Lewis III SEES YOU.

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-Drama-Shot copy

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
– William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, Sc. 1

I was originally going to write this post about the similarities between professional sports and theatre – what with baseball season now in full swing, the Warriors kickin’ ass in the play-offs, and Wrestlemania a few weeks back (the latter would have included several nods to my ‘Pub colleague and fellow wrestling fan Anthony Miller). But as I took a peek back at my last entry, in which I pondered on-camera work vs. on-stage work, I found myself stuck on a lot of recent conversations about the two possibly converging in order to survive.

Let me start off by saying something we all know: theatre is neither dying nor dead. It’s been around longer than any of us and will still be around after we’re gone. The reason for that being the fact that in the end all one needs for theatre is at least one performer and an audience. That’s why you can’t look any changes to it the same way you look at recent changes to film (going digital), television (cord-cutting and Netflix binging), or radio (also transitioning to digital and competing with Pandora/Spotify/Rdio/etc.). All three of those of those formats are technologies first, performance art media second (if that). Theatre should never be wholly dependent on technology (despite the fact that tech people are super-amazing powerful wizards in whose hands we put our lives and whom I love dearly).

But what about when theatre does incorporate tech? Hell, going from soft blue to a spotlight to a blackout can mean the difference between a play being brilliant or just confusing. In recent years we’ve all seen a significant rise in theatre productions incorporating technology not traditionally associated with theatre, even here on the indie theatre scene. Some of them, when done right, can add a powerful new element to the story (video projection), whilst others are just a plain intrusion to the entire process (tweet seats). And of course, there’s technology that allows you to watch theatre when you’re nowhere near the theatre. And that, my friend, is what I’ll be focusing on today.

Recently, as I was scrolling Facebook, I came across this article posted on the wall of Melissa Hillman, Artistic Director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley. It’s an op-ed blog about two new apps – Periscope (owned by Twitter) and Meerkat – that allow you to live-stream events directly from your phone. Naturally this has led to heated discussion as to when using such an app would be appropriate, if ever. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go to a play and sit behind someone holding up their phone or tablet like some concert-goer (something that actually has happened to me in recent years: once at a Thunderbird show and once at BOA). And that’s not even getting into the whole piracy question; the whole reason Google Glass is banned in American cinemas is for that very reason.

Still, I’m not opposed to the idea of live-streaming theatre. I mean, why not? The big guys are already doing it. I’ve been part of productions for the SF Opera that were either broadcast live or recorded to re-air on PBS. Fathom Events is a company specifically dedicated to transmitting live sporting events (like boxing and wrestling – I still mentioned wrestling this week) and performances into cinemas across the country; most notably those of New York’s Metropolitan Opera before they also re-air on PBS.

And we in the indie theatre scene have HowlRound TV. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never attended the One-Minute Play Festival (for which the ‘Pub’s own Marissa Skudlarek has written several plays), but I make it a point to watch HowlRound’s annual live-stream of the production. Now think of how many productions you’ve done that friends and family members wished they could attend, were they not halfway across the country. Before I inherited this piece of internet real estate from the esteemed Claire Rice, she made a Top 10 list of things she thinks theatre needs. After re-reading No.s 8 and 10 (and maybe even No. 5), I can see live-streaming of plays as something that could be a real boon to the indie theatre scene, if done right. In fact, in regards to No. 10, I’d love to see our friends at Theatre Bay Area take this under consideration, even if it meant teaming up with a company like HowlRound. Imagine the TBA Awards – which, incidentally, is now Claire’s jurisdiction – streamed across the country (nay, the world) for theatre-lovers all over?

And how, pray tell, do we do it “right”? I’m glad you asked. I happen to have a few suggestions that would appeal to both the folks at home and those with butts in seats:

1. Mic. The. Stage. I really should say “Use the best equipment” because this first suggestion comes from being told personally by a member of the 1MPF crew that they don’t have the capability to use HD camcorders, so the cameras they do use are archaic. I hope this is something they can solve soon, but I also hope they don’t resort to the mobile phone antics of Periscope or Meerkat. Still, I’ve always been able to see what’s happening on stage, even if it wasn’t always clear. But it can be a real pain in the ass to hear what’s going on. In a perfect set-up, there would be unseen mics either on or directly pointed at the stage, so as to not be drowned out by the ambient noise of the theatre. If live-streaming or recording for archives, tap into that audio. I’d like to actually hear a playwright’s words before I criticize them for using the word “irregardless”.

2. Good camera location. For the past few years now, me and Paul Anderson have been the officially unofficial chroniclers of the Olympians Festival. I take photos, he records video – not something we planned, just what happened. Both of us have to do these from rather static positions. When I saw the above article on Melissa’s wall, I immediately began thinking of exactly where I’d place cameras around Impact. Then I started thinking about The EXIT. PianoFight. Cutting Ball. Even the SF Playhouse. Each and every one of these venues could easily use some discreet, high-quality cameras that would transmit in crystal clarity whilst remaining invisible to the audience. Just be sure that your camera operator and sound person are part of the rehearsal process, so the folks at home don’t miss out on the moments that the live audience sees. Speaking of the live audience…

3. Audience quota. I’ve been in a couple different productions that had to cancel performances due small audiences. Let’s be real: with the average indie theatre ticket running somewhere between $15-$30, some folks would be tempted to never leave the house if they knew they could just watch it at home – that’s the “dying” aspect of theatre people fear. Now, I don’t know if services like HowlRound TV will always be free, but I certainly think live audiences should always take priority. Which is why I propose that live-streaming be done ONLY if a certain audience number is met each night. It doesn’t have to be a full house, but depending on the capacity of each theatre, there should be a minimum number of filled seats or no broadcast that night. This is less about the folks at home seeing the seats filled and more about the folks putting on the show being able to pay to keep the lights on. The actors can perform with a small live audience, but for the folks at home it should be a privilege.

And that, to me, is the point: this isn’t about taking away from live theatre, it’s about enhancing it for a wider audience. I’m not against the idea of apps for theatre. Hell, I get what apps like Periscope and Meerkat are trying to do, but they’re not solving a problem, they’re adding to it. But if a life of being a tech buff has taught me anything, it’s that’s folks will eventually choose low-quality convenience rather than having to wait for top-quality expense. That’s why VHS beat out Betamax and why people are losing their hearing with crappy digital music. Live-streaming represents a bold opportunity for indie theatre to get in on the ground floor of both a new technology and a new wider performance venue.

Technology in and of itself does not improve art; it’s just another tool of the artist. The most important thing to remember is that in the end, the folks at home and the folks in front of you are both hungry for the exact same thing: they want to see a good show.


Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: By Any Other Name

Claire Rice submits her last list item for San Francisco Theater Pub.


The most wonderful thing happened to me on Tuesday. A woman asked me how to pronounce my name. For a moment I was caught off guard. I’ve never been asked how to pronounce my name before. Claire, while mispronounced more often then you would imagine, isn’t immediately intimidating. The women, when she asked, did so with such kindness and sincerity that I was taken aback. Then I remembered: on Facebook I changed my name to “Erialc Ecir”.

Since I changed the name I’ve gotten the same question several times. Why?

For the last few weeks I thought the answer was simple. I thought it was a kind of vague, if limp, protest against Facebook’s real name policy. That it was an experiment to see what it would be like, what it was like, for all those men and women who Facebook forced to change their names to their “legal” name. When I changed my name, I was still myself as I am, but I was not as I was known. The reorganization of the letters had caused me to move into a digital shadow. I couldn’t be seen and when I was seen I was ignored. Not in a cruel way, it was just that now I was unfamiliar.

It isn’t the first time I’ve had a different persona online, but my other persona was short lived and more of an inside joke than anything. That name was about hiding in the hopes that my words would feel truer. They didn’t. They were still mine. They were as true as they were when they came out of my fingers.

Seeing my words under a different name isn’t too far from hearing them through other people’s lips. There’s a sort of out of body experience. At times when listening to actors speak my words out loud I’ve had moments when I’ve taken quiet satisfaction in my own abilities, and others when I’ve been proud enough that it could be called a sin. There have also been moments, whole hours even, when I’ve cringed and grimaced and almost had to tie myself to my chair to keep from running from the theatre. But, even when they were terrible, they were my words.

But what version of me?

There is a version of me that writes poetry. Some of it sacred, some of it saccharin. There is a version of me that writes romantic comedy novels and a version that writes punk fantasy. There is a version of me that writes epic revenge tragedies and a version that writes kitchen sink dramas. There is the version of me that writes angry opinion pieces and a version that writes self deprecating personal essays. There is a version of me that stares at my computer screen as the curser blinks on the empty page, and a version that writes for days on end obsessively as easy as breathing.

This version, that has written for San Francisco Theater Pub, has enjoyed this last year very much. This version of me has both loved and feared the opportunity to write here, as it should be. This version of me is both very sad and very happy to be moving on.

I expect my name on Facebook, once my sixty days are up, will change back to Claire Rice. I expect that you may see one or two impassioned blog posts about theatre on my personal blog before too long, but this version of myself will no longer be the Enemy’s List version. Thank you for letting me in. This version, any version.


Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Comedy of Personal Errors

Claire Rice bumbles through life…and has the stories to prove it! 

I’m working on an ongoing series on what the theatre scene looks like in the Bay Area on any given night. While I continue doing research for the final article in the series I would like to present you with a comedic break: shit that went wrong a little wrong. You see, sometimes things go really wrong: “Well shit, now the curtain is on fire.” Sometimes things go kind of wrong: “OMG! I’m at the wrong theatre! Be there in five!” Sometimes things go wacky wrong: “Then I dropped a line and everyone was quiet for, like minute before the sound guy made the gun go BANG!”

But sometimes you have little personal comedies that don’t harm anyone else really. They are just publicly embarrassing or privately surreal. Sure, these moments are “teachable” but they are also the ones that stick with you in the middle of the night when you find yourself reexamining your life choices.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

I didn’t take it seriously

This one isn’t funny “ha ha” sort of funny…sad. I went right from undergrad to graduate school with only a summer in between. During the long strange summer spent in San Antonio before the move to San Francisco I was alternately bored and anxious. I spent the time working at a strange job and writing. I also submitted my senior thesis, a short play about a Cambodian boy solder, to a prestigious theatre company in New York. I’d never submitted my work anywhere before and I picked this one because it had a famous name attached to it. It seemed like, maybe, they might like the play. But being so isolated in New Mexico until that time, I really didn’t know anything about the American Theatre scene. It was a shot in the dark. So when they called me back asking for the whole script I figured that is what happened every time you submitted a script. Of course, I didn’t put my phone number on my submission, I put my mother’s. By that time, though, I had moved to San Francisco and started school so they had a hell of a time reaching out to me. When they finally got a hold of me I was on my cellphone outside and the poor literary manager at the other end couldn’t hear me. We had to try several more times. When we finally connected I let her know that I had, in fact, sent her my full script and that there wasn’t any more to send. That was the whole play. There wasn’t more to it. She, surprised, said “oh.” And that was it. When I told someone later about this whole thing they looked at me shocked: They called you?! They actually called you!?! They want you to write more?! You TOLD THEM THERE WASN’T ANY MORE!?! YOU NEVER SUBMITTED TO THEM AGAIN!?!?!?!?! That’s right. I had a major literary manager on the phone with me who worked hard to talk to me and I didn’t do anything to further that relationship at all. See…funny sad.

I’ve seen everything you were in…or one thing…that I can’t remember the name of

I was holding auditions and an actor I had really been looking forward to seeing walked in. I’d seen him in a show and I had specifically requested that the casting director invite him. He looked happy to be there. I smiled and shook his hand. “Thank you for coming!” I said. Before my brain could stop my mouth I followed that with, “I’ve loved everything I’ve seen you in.” He followed up my line with “Oh, what have you seen?” My anxiety kicked in: Was it Shakespeare? He was funny. Wait, was he? No. Yes. It was at Theatre X…but I see so many shows there…shit. Wait. Was it there? Maybe it was at Theatre Y…CRAP! “Uhm…wasn’t it…Mid Summer?” He saw through my faux Hollywood-glad-handing-kiss-ass ways and his eyes glazed over and I could tell we were done here. There really wasn’t much of a need to go on.

No, really…please don’t make me see your show

Rob Ready has made a great deal about theatre’s late seating policies on his podcast. Most of his contention is with a “no late seating” policy. He feels that theatre has to work so very hard to keep audience right now, why are we turning any of them away? So what if they are ten or fifteen minutes late. They want to see the show. Let them see the show. The last show I directed had a no late seating policy for various reasons. The first three minutes where in utter darkness. The audience door was used as an entrance frequently. The audience door also faced the audience making it particularly distracting when it was opened or closed for any reason. I felt justified in the policy. I mean, sure. I was the one who directed it that way so I also ENSURED the policy had to be in place. Anyway, during the run of that show, Cutting Ball was showing “Communique” which I had been looking forward to. I bought a ticket for one of the last performances. I laughed, LAUGHED, when I got an email that was so hand-holding I thought it was ridiculous. (Read the following like a teenager who has a permanent eye roll in place.) A little history on the play was nice, but detailed information on when to arrive…I mean come on. I bought the ticket! I know what time the show starts! I’m not an idiot! (Teenage mode off.) But I am an idiot. The email was sent, in part, because the show started at 7:30pm…not 8pm. A follow up email also had that information. In bold. My ticket had that information. Everything had that information. Except my mind. My idiot mind. I showed up at 7:50. Rob Ready, you would have been proud. That theatre was bending over backwards to get me in. In hushed tones they welcomed me and told me not to worry. They called up the assistant stage manager on headset who picked out a seat. She was in communication with the stage manager over when a break in the action would happen so I could be seated. There were limited doors into the theatre so I would need to be guided into the house. I could see the actors waiting to enter where I would eventually be lead. Everyone was so nice. And I could see how much trouble I was causing. “You know, I’m sorry. I think I’ll just go.” No, no…they said…just wait a few more minutes. “I am so embarrassed, please…” No, really, it’s Ok. That house manager was so nice. Everyone was so nice. They wanted me to see the show. “No, please don’t make me go in there now.” I couldn’t I couldn’t be the late person. The late THEATRE person. After all the emails and the trouble. I couldn’t do it. I ran out of that theatre and went home and had a stiff drink.

I fell asleep during a show…while running lights

I was running lights for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was an easy job. The stage manager was good and I just had to hit a “go” button. The booth was warm…and full of bees. The theatre was having a problem with a wasp nest in the fly grid. The nest had been sprayed, which meant drunken wasps were flying around harmlessly everywhere. A large number of them found their final destination in the booth. Also, I had a crush on the young man playing Reverend Canon Chasuble. He was funny, handsome and very talented. The show was a great show all around. Beautiful set design, gorgeous costumes, and lively comedic timing. So there were a number of reasons I should not have been able to fall asleep. A drunk and disorderly wasp might land stinger side down. The handsome man might come up and see me during intermission. The show was worth watching. This is why I don’t chalk it up to “being tired.” Nope. I had to WORK at that nap. I let myself sleep. My heavy eyelids slipped somewhere in the first act and I let them go. Speaking of the word “go”, this word filtered into my dreams and acted like a shot of adrenaline. I heard it and snapped awake and acted. I hit that “go” button with as much force as I could. Of course, it wasn’t my go. It was a sound cue. I plunged the stage into the pink lights for the act scene change. It was at that moment the adrenaline, sensing no immediate danger after all, left my system and sleepy confusion returned. Where was I? What happened? Who are all these people? The stage manager yelled something in my ear and my fingers fluttered over the board. I hit the “go” button again and brought in the lights for the following act. After a furious moment of hitting buttons I was only vaguely familiar with, a short disco ensued onstage before the lights settled into their proper places. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The terror was over. And then a wasp landed on me.

My costume fell off

Matthew Lillard gave a great interview to the AV Club about his career. He talks at length about his experiences doing bad movies. He even goes so far as to say that if his name is at the top of a call sheet, you know it’s not a great movie. “And being an actor, when you sign onto a project—whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent— you kind of fall in love with it. You fall in love with the experience, you fall in love with the memories.” Keeping that quote in mind, know that when I say I was in a show where I was dressed in the Princess Leia gold bikini, standing next to Perseus, looking on at our fallen hero (a Teddy Ruxpin), and surrounded by the dead bodies of our enemies and photo copy clerk rivals when the bottom of my costume fell off…well…I’m in love with that memory. I love telling that story. If you’ve been at a bar with me late enough into the night, you’ve heard that story. I might have even already told it on this blog. I’ve told it so many times I’m sure the telling of it has colored the actual memories. As a director I tell my actors again and again that they should be human beings on stage. React when things happen. If your clothes were to fall off, don’t stare down at them stupidly and wish them back onto your body. Don’t stand in your nude underwear and suddenly hope that you shaved down there sufficiently. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The audience laughed, as they should have. And when I caught the eye of an audience member she mouthed to me “You’re so brave.” It was all I could do to not bust up laughing.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: The Adding Machine

Last week Claire talked about all the shows happening on a particular day in September. This week she’s going to make wild assumptions based on guesses, wishful thinking, and poor research.

When we say there are over fifty shows playing on a given night (my rough count is 54), what does that mean people wise?

This shouldn't be too complicated...right?

This shouldn’t be too complicated…right?

I estimate that on the night of September 19th there are over 450 actors performing in the Bay Area. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are as many shows in rehearsal as there are in performance. Continuing that argument, let’s say there are at least as many actors in rehearsal as there are performing. Yes, I understand that many actors might be in rehearsal and in performance at the same time. I also get that shows like Beach Blanket Babylon and Foodies! The Musical aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and those performers aren’t necessarily going anywhere either. So, we can put an estimate on over 1000 actors working (or enjoying a well earned night off) on the night of September 19th.

The estimates above are based on published cast lists and play descriptions. It’s a rough estimation, but the number is close. A harder estimation to make is the numbers of directors, writers, artisans, designers, crew members, house staff, and administrators are also being employed on a single evening. Some of the directors, and many of the designers, double up on shows. Some theatre companies need a very large crew of ushers to handle the large numbers of audience. Some theatre companies are able to work with a single stage manager who also acts as box office manager because there is no one else to do it. We’ll imagine, for this exercise, that it averages out to five on site crew members for each performance that evening. That’s 270 people working shows that night. Yes. I agree. I also think that number is too small. But let’s keep going. If we say that there are as many shows in rehearsal as performing then we’ll also say that there are an average of three crew working each of those rehearsals (I’m counting the directors in this number). So that’s 162. So, that’s 432 total.

1432 actors, directors, artisans, crew, administrators and assorted ner-do-wells working on the evening of the 19th.

But Claire, you say, you just made up all those numbers. Correct, smarty-pants-math-person. But, let’s keep playing pretend for now because I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts my number is off because it is too low.

Let me say that again. 1432 is a low end, non-scientific estimate of how many theatre artists are actively engaged in their art on the night of September 19th.

1,432 artists.

If Bay Area Theatre were a single employer, then they would be almost on par with Twitter, who employes 1,500 people in San Francisco. Twitter is, by the way, the third largest tech employer in San Francisco.

So that’s something to make you feel good. Sure, it’s a little superficial , but even so it’s the kind tag line that could get you through the day if you need to feel good about your life choices.

Next time we’ll go back to that 432 number and see how many of those roles are actually available to Bay Area actors, take wild guesses on who in that number is getting paid, and check out hot button topics like gender and ethnic parity.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Get the Fuck off the Couch

Claire Rice channel surfs theatre listings so you don’t have to.

What does a typical night of theatre look like in the Bay Area? It’s hard to say. Different parts of the season will have different shows. So I’ve decided to start a new series where I pick a Friday night and really look at the show listings to see what’s playing. Maybe by the end of the season we’ll have a picture of the Bay Area Theatre scene.

To start with I picked September 19th, 2014 as my “any given Friday”. I picked this date because I figured the big houses would have just started their first shows of the season, the Burning Man crowd would be back and sober and still excited about art, and it would be the night most everyone would realize that summer is ending and the long slow slog to the holidays is about to begin. What better time to see theatre?

What did I find?

All in all there are over 50 shows to see and there is something out there for everyone. And, yes, it is a diverse field. No, it’s not nearly as diverse as you would like. All the usual minorities are still minorities this season so far. But, this isn’t a full picture of the Bay Area theatrical climate! And just like the weather there are micro climates where some theatrical forms thrive and others wither on the vine.

Community Leaders are Leading the Way – To HAPPY TOWN!

American Conservatory Theatre is bringing back perennial favorite Bill Irwin in “Old Hats”, a show that has old fashioned clowning befuddled by new fangled technology. On the other side of the bay it is all about legs and singing at Berkeley Rep who is bringing in Knee High founder Emma Rice and a delightful woman named Meow Meow. Both companies seem to be saying with their season openers that they want you to be happy damn it! Whimsically, giddily, cavity educing happy!

Fuck “with music” I want MUSICAL!

You got it! Well, not in San Francisco…but totally! SHN has “Motown: The Musical!” and while I feel that the story of Motown is musical worthy…really I think you can just go home and just get the original songs and rock out. What you can’t get off iTunes is “Beach Blanket Babylon” which is that show you saw that one time your Aunt came to visit. You could also take your chances with “Foodies: The Musical!” brought to you buy the same guy who wrote “Shopping: The Musical!”. (Honestly, I don’t even need to be sarcastic.) But if you find yourself on September 19 really really needing a musical then get yourself a Zip Car and take your pick between “Company”, “Gypsy”, “Big Fish”, “The Addams Family”, “Funny Girl”, “Life Could Be a Dream” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”. They are all out there if you are brave, true of heart, and have access to a car. Well, Town Hall Theatre (playing “Company”) and Center Repertory Theatre (playing “Life Could Be a Dream”) are all about ten minutes from a BART station. Wait. What am I talking about? Everyone reading this is probably an artist of some kind so you probably already live away from or are considering moving out of San Francisco, Berkeley or Oakland. In which case, can I have a ride? “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” looks great!

I Want a Return to the Way Theatre Should Be

Then let’s go with traditional, Theatre Appreciation 101 plays. You need an experience where you already know the play, you probably saw the movie, and you would like to sink in for an entertaining evening of the familiar. Great. The Shelton Theatre is putting on “Noises Off” (Though, I literally don’t know HOW. The Shelton stage is TINY!) Marin Shakespeare outlasts all the other summer Shakespeare with “Romeo and Juliet”. Around the Bay you can see performances of “The Glass Menagerie”, “All My Sons”, “Wait until Dark”, “Iceman Commeth” “Fox on the Fairway” and “Bell, Book and Candle”. If there were a channel like Turner Movie Classics for plays, these plays would be on it ALL THE TIME. These plays will never be irrelevant, and they will stick around to remind you of that fact forever.

How about what’s HOT right now?

Excellent. Well chosen. Because COCK is hot right now. There’s “Cock” (about two men fighting like cocks) at NCTC and Impact Theatre has “The Year of the Rooster” (about actual cock fighting). I would also like to point out that there is a film screening tribute to The Cockettes at the de Young Museum on the 19th. If you are tired of cock move out beyond The City for your fill of lady playwrights including “Art” at City Lights, “Wonder of the World” at Douglas Morrison, “The New Electric Ballroom” at Shotgun Players, and “Rapture Blister Burn” at Aurora.” These three plays don’t fit in with my cock humor, but you should also check out SF Playhouse who is putting on a full production of their award winning “Ideation”, “Slaughter House Five” at Custom Made which was first seen at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has brought audiences to tears all over the country and “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” will be at the newly built Flight Deck in Oakland.

I want Brand New! I want to say “I Saw It First”

Sure. Ok. Good news. San Francisco prides itself on generating new works. Theatre First has rising star Lauren Gunderson’s play “Fire Work” and Chris Chen continues his creative relationship with Crowded Fire for “Late Wedding”. The Marsh has new solo performances of Marga Gomez’s “Love Birds” and Dan Hoyle’s “Each and Every Thing”. The Magic Theatre bring us “Bad Jews.” (This company is always good for brand new plays with titles you aren’t sure you want to put in emails.) Renegade Theatre Experiment will bring us “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated”. September also has an Improv Festival for you! At BATS, the Eureka, Stage Werx and other venues are improv acts that will make you say “I can’t believe that wasn’t scripted!” Well, it wasn’t and that’s why you went. But if you DO want scripted theatre you should go to the EXIT for Fringe Festival. If you haven’t binged on fringe you haven’t lived. If you are into binging on theatre, check out “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” where they try to perform thirty plays in sixty minutes.

Actually, I want an EVENT

Sure. I hear that audiences all over don’t want just “theatre” they want attending to be an “event”. For companies that take the process if creation very seriously check out Mugwumpin who will present “Blockbuster Season” and We Players who will take on an adaptation of King Leer with “King Fool.” For a traditionally untraditional experience Pear Avenue is playing “House” and “Garden” by Alan Ayckbourn, in which both plays are performed simultaneously using the same actors. You’ll have to go back a different evening to see how the other half of the play went. The Costume Shop is showing “The Haze”, which is a solo show that has come and gone before under different names, but the event that is built around the show is really about raising awareness of how crime labs deal with rape kits. Dragon Productions presents “Arc:hive Presents A Moment (Un)bound”. I don’t know what it’s about, but it has to be eventful if there is so much crazy punctuation in the title.

How are Ticket Prices?

If you plan ahead (now) you can see any of these shows for under $50 a ticket. The average is $30, but most can be seen for much less if you work at it.

Promo Lines

I’ve always felt the first sentence you use to promote your show is the most important sentence. Here are some of my favorite first sentences:

“What would you do if a time portal opened up inside your refrigerator?”

“In this revival of the great Tennessee Williams classic… Tom Wingfield is a homeless man living under a fire escape in modern-day St. Louis.”

“The following is from WikiPedia referencing the film of the same name.”

“What would you pay for a white painting?”

“Don’t miss the latest installment in this playwright’s meteoric rise to national prominence.”

“Star-crossed lovers and hot, sweaty street fighting make for an evening of romance, poetry, passion and excitement.”


Did I Miss Something?

I’m sure I did. Tell me about your show in the comments section.

The Point?

You have something to do on September 19. Get the fuck off the couch and go see theatre. (Of course, you might also be in one of these shows or rehearsing for one coming up. More on that next week.)

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:

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!

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Theatre Gets a Big Tax Break

Claire Rice has tax code stories on her Google Alerts.

Excellent news!!!

A tax relief program will begin this fall which could give theatre companies up to a 25% tax rebate on 80% of a production’s up-front budget costs ahead of its run. Touring shows will receive a 24% tax rebate. Other productions will be eligible for a 20% tax credit. It is intended to benefit both commercial and subsidized companies, who can claim their relief by either offsetting taxes or as a cash credit. The relief will be evaluated on a per production basis. It is hoped the tax relief plan will help the theatre industry to compete with cinema and television, which has enjoyed similar tax relief measures for years.

You just know this guy is going to use his rebate to do a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar"

You just know this guy is going to use his rebate to do a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

An industry professional said: “Our desire is that this gives a boost to producing across theatre and other forms of performing arts such as dance and opera, and in particular that this helps regional theatre. There is an opportunity here to boots production, jobs and investment.”

The measure was first conceived in 2011 when tax credits for angel investors in small start ups were in the process of being reviewed. Lobbyists for the theatre industry called for a similar, but separate, review looking at tax breaks for the creative industries. That proposed relief would have been more about making investing in theatre attractive, while the relief that will go into effect on September 1st gives tax breaks directly to commercial and not-for-profit corporations.

Without a doubt, the most important part of this announcement is that the government is openly supporting the creation of art and it’s ongoing survival. “It’s a massive vote of confidence from the government,” said another industry insider. The big winner in this equation is touring companies, which means plays and productions will be able to survive longer and will be seen by more people.

Ah…wait. I’m sorry. I’m a bad reporter. All of this is happening in the UK.

It is good news for our friends across the pond who often have reason to crow. One of their major exports is, in fact, theatre. Though, while it may be a vote of confidence in the industry, it is also a little salve in the major wound of awful cuts to smaller subsidized theaters across the UK.

Still….le sigh.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have our president come out to his podium, smile, and say anything at all about theatre? Wasn’t it exciting to pretend, even for a moment, that our government was willing to throw us a bone?

A girl can dream.

For the real skinny on the tax relief plan:

For more information on cuts to UK theatres:

If you haven’t bought tickets for Thunderbird Theatre Company’s upcoming production of SHOW DOWN! you should. Thunderbird Theatre Company is back with a new comedy and the battle for television has begun…on stage! To buy tickets click here now: