Theater Around The Bay: Talk Is Sheep

Charles Lewis III brings us a special report on the rebirth of Theater Pub’s performance branch.

Welcome back, old friend.

Welcome back, old friend.

Right now I have three distinct memories stuck in my head.

The first takes place a few years ago when I found myself crashing on the sofa of Clint Winder (tech guru for PianoFight) and his roommate, Rob Ready (the artistic director). It had been a wild night of inebriated debauchery in which I probably did one or two things I’d probably regret if I could remember them. Needless to say, I was grateful to Clint for taking mercy on me and letting me sleep it off at he and Rob’s Chinatown bachelor pad. When I woke up the next morning – throat scratchy from weed and head throbbing from drink – I’ll never forget the first thing my eyes focused on was the blueprint on the wall. For quite some time, the PianoFighters had been talking about having their own piece of real estate. Not just being renters like every other non-profit indie theatre company in the Bay Area; no, they this was going to be a full-blown theatre owned and operated by PianoFight. It would have, as was described to me, “an upstairs, a downstairs, a full bar, a cabaret space, and different stages going all at once”.

Of course there were quite a few naysayers. Several theatre people (who shall remain nameless) laughed at the idea that “the Delta House of Bay Area theatre” could pull their shit together long enough to even get this ridiculous idea off the ground, let alone actually succeed. They thought PF’s plans were just a bunch of talk and waiting patiently for them to fail spectacularly. Me? I couldn’t predict the future of the space one way or another. I just know that the blueprint and the idea behind it were a pleasant sight to see first thing on a Sunday morning. That, and I really needed a Tylenol.

The second memory is walking down Market St. over the past decade. Even as a born-native San Franciscan, I’d never been in Hollywood Billiards. I had nothing against it, I just never found my way inside. I usually met friends at bars of their choice and our pub crawls never went down Market. Maybe it was my lack of any tangible connection to the place that kept me from lamenting its passing. I mean, its front doors had been replaced with a cool psychedelic mural that, to me, actually improved the walk down Market. The changes in my city irk me more than most, but still… those eyes, man. Those eyes were where it was at.

The third memory takes place several times in 2014. I’m at a bar with other theatre folk, in a kitchen with other theatre folk, or at a backyard party with other theatre folk. We’re all drinking, as we are wont to do, and throwing out ideas for theatre ideas we each think would be pretty cool. A full-length adaptation here, a night of hilarious shorts there, the occasional suggestion for a one-(wo)man show – the usual stuff. None of us are as dismissive as we usually are, no matter how ridiculous the ideas. All we need is a place to put it on and some folks willing to sacrifice their dignity to make it happen. It’s only a matter of time before someone grips their drink tightly in one hand, yells “Fuck!” whilst swinging their other hand, and laments “This would be a perfect show for Theater Pub!”, at which point we all mourn the fact that at the time that name only applied to the very website you’re now reading.

All three of these memories are on my mind as I walk toward the former home of Hollywood Billiards this past December. The psychedelic eyes are long gone, there isn’t a pool table anywhere to be found, and the inside is full of local eateries. When I was in Stuart’s play Pastorella one of my co-stars had told me about the changes, so I began stopping by every now and then. The place is okay, I think. I can’t mentally compare it to what it was before, but I’m more interested in how it will look in the future. As this was December, we were a few weeks removed from both the Thanksgiving announcement that this would be one of Theater Pub’s two new homes, and the original staged reading [/LINK] of our first new show, Satyr Night Fever. I look around and don’t see any place for a stage or a band, but there’s lots of room to maneuver around the way we did in our old space. I have no idea how this is going to work and, now considered an “official” member of Theater Pub, I have the presumptive gall to think “What the hell has Stuart gotten us into?”

There’s been a lot of talk about when (if ever) Theater Pub would come back and what form it would take if it did. That’s the think about talk: there’s rarely any requirement for it to be more than just that. But as I sit in the newly-dubbed The Hall sipping boba tea and munching a fish taco, the idea of a staging a romantic comedy about a lovelorn goat-man and a walking tree spirit doesn’t seem so crazy. I don’t know how it’ll happen, but I’m glad to hear people talking about it.

PianoFight’s new Californicorn that hangs above the new space.

PianoFight’s new Californicorn that hangs above the new space.

Three months earlier I’m at SF SketchFest to see a show featuring PianoFight’s all-female troupe, Chardonnay. It was a really funny show. Afterwards we all head to a nearby bar and I catch up with everyone. Having known most of the members since 2009 at this point, it’s a bit of a trip to see how many of them have… I’m trying to think of a better term than “settled down”. That implies that they’ve somehow lost their edge and become a shadow of their former selves, and that sure as hell ain’t true. One thing I learned from the baudy show put on that night is that no one at the company is ready to give up on the raunchy satire that is their bread ‘n butter. But there’s definitely been changes in the PianoFighters themselves. Quite a few of them have gotten married, nearly all of them have gotten new jobs, and the new space is their base of operations after wandering through different venues. No, “settled down” isn’t the right term. “Grown up” fits better.

By December I’d toured the new space as it was a work in progress. Wires needs to be connected, walls needed painting, and pieces of wood were everywhere. But the Californicorn was up behind the bar. PianoFight’s logo is the California grizzly with added unicorn horns and angel wings. To christen their new place, they commissioned a mosaic of the logo by performer/artist extraordinaire Molly Benson. It’s really purrty. More importantly, it’s representative of how serious the company is to make this place work. They’ve planted their flag and staked their claim in the middle of the Tenderloin. Quite a few theatre people talk about what they’d do if they had their own space, but know they’ll always be at the whim of dickish landlords and a shrinking number of viable spaces. PianoFight decided to stop talking and actually make one of their own. Is it any surprise that we all thought “Wow, that place would make a great home for the new Theater Pub”?

That question was briefly on my mind last Saturday. This was the long-awaited day Satyr Night Fever made its debut at The Hall. It was the first ‘Pub show since December 2013 and the first ever “matinée” show, starting at 2pm. There was brunch, there were laughs, there were a few technical SNAFUs that were easily covered up by ecstatic moaning off-stage. Complete strangers who’d just stopped in for a quick snack wound up staying for mimosas and goat-man love. Familiar faces like such as Claire Rice, Marissa Skudlarek, Matt Gunnison, and Christian Simonsen could be seen all around. Most importantly, San Francisco Theater Pub was back and we were all happy to see it.

Yes, they made a stage.

Yes, they made a stage.

Two days later I was sitting in the new PianoFight space getting a drink from Les, the sweet old guy who served us many a pint in the ‘Pub original heyday. Now here he was, beneath the Californicorn as Tonya Narvaez, one of our new co-artistic directors, gave the crowd the rundown for the evening. The last time I was part of Theater Pub, I directing Eli Diamond to not give any attitude to his ornery old granny. Now I was watching him be hit on then berated by a vivacious tree nymph in a horrible Christmas sweater. By the time Meg Trowbridge, our other new co-AD, gave her closing speech and hit up our audience for money, rest assured that they’d the single best Greek mythology love story that one could ever find in the cabaret space of the theatre building owned by a raunchy San Francisco independent theatre company. They had something to talk about.

It gave us all the feels.

It gave us all the feels.

In case you couldn’t tell yet, lots of talk annoys me after a while. I say that as someone who does a great of talking all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that it annoys me. Maybe it’s the person talking that gets to me, maybe it’s what they’re saying, maybe it’s the time of day when it was said – those things can count for a lot when someone is expecting me to listen to them ramble on and on. Hell, I consider it an act of faith that you haven’t clicked away by this point. The reason I bring this up is because the thing I most remember about Theater Pub is what people said – before the show, after the show, and what was said during the performance. We’d talk dreams and talk shit with equal aplomb. That’s what I missed most about Theater Pub going away, talking with everyone. Talking about Theater Pub was what I most loved and hated about the time when it didn’t have a stage home. Talking about it is what I look forward to most in its new incarnation.

None of us are the same as we were back then. We’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve transformed into things that would hardly recognise the people we used to be. There’s no guarantee of where we’ll go from here, but I can’t wait talk about where we are now.

Charles Lewis III will be at the final performance of Satyr Night Fever tonight if you want to talk to him. He’ll understand if you don’t. It’s at 144 Taylor St. in San Francisco. The show starts at 8pm, with a $5.00 suggested donation at the door.

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Made In China: The Saga Continues

Well, guys, we’re finally here. The world premier of Made in China is tonight, and I’m very excited about it. Tickets for tonight are selling pretty well. We got some good write-ups in the SF Weekly and SF Chronicle (96 Hours), and I’m sure that helped with ticket sales.

We’ve been working our butts off this past week building a great set and a nice lighting design. Two nights ago, I got home from the theater at 4:30 AM, so we’ve definitely been spending most of our days and nights working on the show. My co-producers in this thing, DL Soares and Clint Winder, and DL’s girlfriend, Hannah, have been true champions this past week. They haven’t slept very much at all, especially Hannah and DL, but I think the sleep deprivation is about to pay off.

There’s a lot I could say right now, but I think the best thing, at this point, would be for you readers to just come to the show. It’ll be a lot of fun. You can buy tickets at the door starting at 7PM at Bindlestiff Studio (185 6th St.) or purchase tickets online at http://madeinchinamusical.wordpress.com/tickets. I can’t wait to finally perform this musical. It’s been a long journey, and the greatest part of it is coming tonight! I’ll hope all of you will be coming tonight…or at least to one of the performances, if not multiple. Hope to see you all there!

By the way, if you’d like to read the SF Weekly and 96 Hours write-ups, please visithttp://www.voiceplaces.com/made-in-china-san-francisco-bay-area-3342251-e/ andhttp://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Made-in-China-at-Bindlestiff-Studio-4236818.php, respectively.

Thanks for reading!

Made in China: An Original Musical by Nicholas Weinbach

Nicky Weinbach continues his chronicle of bringing an original musical to the stage for the first time.

In my last entry, I talked about how we were in the process of deciding on a final cast list for Made in China after having held the auditions a few days before. It was a very difficult choice to make because there was a lot of great talent that came to the auditions. We didn’t want to let anyone down. I’m sure that must be one of the harder parts of any director/casting director’s job: having to let someone great know that he or she has not been cast.

On the upside, I think we made a good decision on our cast (listed below this blog entry), and we’re really happy to start rehearsing with our actors. Our first read-through is tomorrow, and I’m very excited about it. The hard part is all the tedious things I needed to do during the past week to prepare for it. I didn’t just have to print out multiple scripts for everyone involved, I had to organize and print out all the music for every actor and musician and the full score for the conductor (my twin brother, Max). It would be too difficult for me to explain the tiresome process of going into Finale (the computer software on which I wrote out and arranged the complete score) and having to extract every part from each song of the score, but let’s just say it’s long and arduous, and I ended up having to print out almost 1700 pages of music and script two days ago. That’s a lot. After that, I had to go back into Finale and merge – here come the technical terms – every vocal part with its accompanying piano part into separate two-part scores of their own, then save those scores as MIDI files, and, finally, burn a CD of the appropriate MIDI music for each cast member in order that he or she easily practice his or her part at home. I know it all sounds complicated. It is.

On another note, a week ago, co-producer Clint Winder and I met up at the theater where we’re putting on this production (Bindlestiff Studio) to discuss and plan out how we’re going to set-up the actual theater space for the performances. This is also a little complicated because you have to think about where to put the pit orchestra. You want them to be out of the way and not overpower the actors’ voices, but you still want your audience to see and hear them because it’s a musical, and it’s comforting and exciting to know that there’s a real orchestra accompanying the show. When you see the orchestra there, the magic is heightened.

Anyway, I think we came to a pretty good understanding of how we’re going to set up the theater and a general idea of how we’ll want the set to look. I locked down a set designer a couple of days ago. He’s actually a friend and former roommate from college. I think he’s going to design something great but something that meets our modest budget.

Overall, I’m a little nervous about the days and weeks to come. I hope it all goes well. I’m losing sleep every night thinking about how much work needs to be done and how much work I’ve already done. With a little luck, my next entry will highlight some of the ups and downs (hopefully, mostly ups) of our first few rehearsals. Until next time.

Made in China Cast List

Max – Nicholas Weinbach
Amber – Marisa Gregory
Gary / Mr. O’Meckles – Henry Kelly
Harry / Date – Jan Gilbert
Larry / Mr. Cousins – William Douglas Lester
Mary – Katy Yost