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.

The San Francisco Theater Pub(lic) Blog Reaches Another Milestone!

“Working Title” has gotten the week off so we can bring you something fun in honor of a big milestone for all of us here at The San Francisco Theater Pub blog (or the San Francisco Theater Public, as we’ve taken to calling it.) You can catch Will’s next column on April 1st.

Today’s post marks our 500th post on this blog!

Amazing, huh?

Considering we started this four years ago in the month of March (thanks to initiative taken by Bennett Fisher), this is kind of an amazing milestone, not only for reminding us how long we’ve been around, but how much work we’ve done in the last two years since first making the commitment to move to more frequent and diverse content. In honor of this momentous occasion, all the hard work we’ve been doing, our own ridiculous egos, and social media’s current fascination with personality quizzes, we have come up with nothing less than a WHICH THEATER PUB BLOGGER ARE YOU personality quiz!

Bravo! Bravo!

Bravo! Bravo!

Special thanks to Ashley Cowan for the idea, and Allison Page, who did all the leg work to make it happen, including writing all the copy for the results. We hope you all enjoy this bit of fun, and have a laugh with us. The eight possible answers are the eight current staff bloggers (Stuart Bousel, Ashley Cowan, Barbara Jwanouskos, Will Leschber, Allison Page, Claire Rice, Dave Sikula, Marisa Skudlarek), but as always, we couldn’t have made it this far without the rest of the Theater Pub crew: Victor Carrion, Julia Heitner, Brian Markley, Cody Rishell, and all our past staff writers and contributors. Thanks, guys, this one’s for you!

Encore! Encore!

Encore! Encore!

Please feel free to share your results in the comments below! And, if you aren’t happy with your results (even though we’re all so lovable) and want to take the quiz again, you can do so if you clear your cookies first. You can also take it as many times as you want if you are a member of the company we built this quiz with, but disabling/clearing cookies will also do the trick.

Have fun! And thank you for reading the San Francisco Theater Pub(lic)!

Theater Around The Bay: A Post About Posters

Our guest post today is by long time Theater Pub Art Director, Cody Rishell, who is making his debut on the blog as a writer!

We have all been enchanted by posters, and I’m willing to bet that there’s a poster hanging in your home, office, or studio that you cherish. It’s a theater poster or a film poster, a motivational poster, a propaganda poster, or a poster that just lets you escape for a few seconds in the day whenever you look at it. We hang them for education in when we’re in elementary school, and out of rebellion when we get to high school; in college it’s how we make our dorm room feel like our room.

When you're in my bedroom, you Can-Can sucker.

When you’re in my bedroom, you Can-Can sucker.

It’s a fine art, the poster, and has an incredible history that is largely responsible for bringing fine art to a lot of people who can’t afford originals or a expensive prints. It took art from inside the salons of Paris and put it into the streets and the homes of the lower classes, which was kind of a big deal. We owe a lot to the early greats and the Cherets, Muchas, and Lutrecs of the most recent ages. Hell, I dare you to look at a Drew Struzen and not feel enchanted by the Star Wars universe.

Since I much prefer Mucha, however, you're getting some Mucha.

Since I much prefer Mucha, however, you’re getting some Mucha.

Now, the poster has leapt from carts and panels to become a cornerstone of modern marketing. At its core, the poster’s purpose is to inform the greater public of SOMETHING, that SOMETHING is happening and you had better be a part of it. It’s not an easy task. A poster has about 3 seconds to create enough interest that a viewer remembers the image and whatever slogan your marketing team spent hours (or seconds) on wordsmithing. And truly good posters are hard to make for that reason. A lot of them, even some really beautiful ones, are still forgetable, often either because they’re not-eye catching enough, or so overwhelming (or obtuse, or complex) that they fail to convey their intent quickly enough to associate the image with whatever it’s supposed to be selling.

No, really, this poster is lovely... but what the hell is it trying to tell me?

No, really, this poster is lovely… but what the hell is it trying to tell me?

I’ve worked in the Bay Area theater scene as a graphic artist for a little over six years, and I have seen a lot of posters (usually reduced to their lesser cousin, the postcard.) I’ve seen some pretty terrible ones, some mediocre ones, some great ones, and some mind blowing ones, but I can’t really say that the poster, whatever form it takes, is really working for a lot of venues. There are a host of reasons as to why, all of which are understandable: shows come with contracts stating you have to use X imagery, artistic directors end up creating the posters themselves, marketing people put all their effort behind social marketing instead, etc. Whether it was lack of time, funds, initiative, know-how, or a great idea that sort of fizzled, at the end of the day, a lot of Bay Area theater scene posters kind of fail, and when I say that, I by no means think that every poster I design is perfect either, because the poster is a really simple, but incredibly complex, monster, and often times it kicks my ass too.

I may also have really high standards.

I may also have really high standards.

I will probably lose black box street cred when I say this, but I love “The Phantom of the Opera.” I first heard the overture of Act One when I was 9 when my sister was rehearsing it on her flute. I remember asking what it was, and she showed me the shows music book. The cover was a replica of the poster from the show, and it looks like how that overture should feel: dark, moody, and romantic.

Bravi, bravi, bravissimi...

Bravi, bravi, bravissimi…

It’s also so simple: black, a mask and a rose, and the shattered mirror font of the title. It’s not complicated but it really tells you what the show is about, without using a photo, while also leaving a ton of mystery, creating intrigue. It assists in the illusion that the show seeks to cast on the audience. All of the great theater posters have this approach in common, from “The Fantasticks” to “Wicked”. The best posters are simple, iconic, and tell you something about the show to pique an interest. They’re the brand of the show that adorns all other marketing materiel like programs, web banners, and e-mail blasts, and they’re usually the first impression your audience sees of the thing you’ve worked so hard on. Therefore they need to convey the mood of the piece, the flavor of the evening in store, along with subject matter, while also still leaving room for all that actual information like dates and times and places.

You are in for singing, violence, blood, and fabulous hair... AT THE ST. MARCUS THEATER!

You are in for singing, violence, blood, and fabulous hair.

I won’t go into much detail about my own process, but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that I think are good things to keep in mind, both as a designer and as the person working with a designer, when creating posters for the theater:

1) Details of the show. Check the profound adjectives at the door. I want to know the title, who wrote it, what will the set look like, what will the costumes look like, what era does it all take place in, and who or what is the playwright’s favorite artist or design aesthetic. After this, tell me in one sentence the message you want to get across about your play. If you are going to put on a production of “Hamlet” where all of the male characters are played by female actors, and vice versa, because you believe “Hamlet transcends gender” that’s a pretty bold statement. So the design should probably be something bold.

Nothing says bold like Death looking you in the face.

Nothing says bold like Death looking you in the face.

2) What has come before this? There are so many ways to sell “Hamlet”, but what is the best way to sell Hamlet for your production? Looking at what others have done in the past and steering away from that is a good place to start, since obviously you want something brand new (unless your concept is to actively evoke other people’s interpretation), but how does your unique production inspire or justify going into new visual territory? Looking at how another company did (or did not) solve this design problem is a great way to get ideas- including ideas on what not to do.

Hmmmmm...

Hmmmmm…

3) What is the language of your audience? Tap into your inner anthropologist, and go out and see what the community you are designing for likes to do, talk about, and see. What images resonate with them- in good and bad ways? What challenges them? What bores them? What do they talk about- and especially what do they make fun of? Where does their aesthetic, your aesthetic, and the production’s aesthetic all meet?

The MTV Generation is now reaching Theater Patron age... can you tell?

The MTV Generation is now reaching Theater Patron age… can you tell?

Of course, most of the time, as a contract artist, you have to use already established imagery that has been designed by a design house, because in the Bay Area shows are predominantly put on by companies who are more concerned (perhaps justifiably so) with branding themselves than their individual shows (which is more the case on, say Broadway, where each show is kind of it’s own little company). But for the shows where you do have the chance to truly create the marketing images you send out, treat that process like it is a part of the play’s process, because it’s just as important in the long-run. Remember that while the poster helps get the audience in the door, they’re also (along with postcards and programs) the take-aways. They’re the thing that you give to audience members to remember all of your hard work and time, and ideally they hang your poster on a wall and be re-inspired by the show every time they glance at it for years to come. I think that it is really a precious thing when you can become a part of what long-term inspires someone, and so as you (and I) and our theatrical collaborators strive to create the perfect poster, always remember that the art is Art too!

Cody Rishell is a graphic artist who can often be found creating images and posters for the San Francisco Theater Pub, the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and for his own interests and musings. His past work also includes the Fringe Festival 2012, Bay One Acts 9 – 12, and Central Works. He currently has a daily cartoon called Clyde The Cyclops, which follows the adventures of a little blue cyclops named Clyde.

The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2013

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2013 list. 

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to start my own Bay Area Theater Awards, because my opinions are just as legitimate as anyone else’s, the awards I give out are as valuable as any other critical awards, (recipients of the SEBATA, or the Stuey, if you prefer, get nothing but my admiration and some free publicity), and also because there’s a fairly good chance that I’ve seen a lot of theater the usual award givers haven’t seen. The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with. No one person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff.

Also, there are some people who think I don’t like anything, and I feel a need to not only prove them wrong, but to do so by expressing how much of the local color I do love and admire, as opposed to just pointing out that the reason they think I don’t like anything is because I generally don’t like *their* work (oh… I guess I did just point that out, didn’t I?). Normally I post these “awards” on my Facebook page, but this year I decided to bring them to the blog because the mission statement of the SEBATA is pretty in-line with the mission statement of Theater Pub, and having come to the close of an amazing year of growth for the blog, it now has a much farther reach than my Facebook page could ever hope to have. Congratulations SF Theater Pub Blog- you just won a Stuey.

Anyway, because I am a product of the generation that grew up with the MTV Movie Awards- and, because I’m the only person on the voting committee and thus can do what I like- I have decided that my categories are purely arbitrary and can be stretched to allow me to write about anyone I feel like. The two limits are 1) I can’t give myself an award (though I can have been involved in the show on a limited level) and 2) I won’t go over thirteen (though there may be ties for some awards). Because seriously, how (more) self indulgent would this be without either of those rules? Oh, 3) I won’t give out awards for how bad something was. I’m here to be positive. And chances are those people were punished enough.

To all my friends and frenemies in the Bay Area Theater Scene… it’s been a great year. Let’s you and me do it again sometime. Well… most of you.

And now, presenting the Fourth Annual Stuey Awards…

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
“Pint Sized IV” (San Francisco Theater Pub)
Pint Sized Plays gets better each year, and it’s honestly one of two things I actually miss about working at the Cafe Royale (the other is the uniqueness of doing Shakespeare there, which for some reason works in a completely magical way I wish it worked more often on traditional stages). This year the festival was put together by Neil Higgins, who did an amazing job, and I think we had some of the best material yet. The evening as a whole felt incredibly cohesive, with a theme of forgiveness and letting go, archly reflective of our decision to leave the Cafe Royale, and I think incredibly relevant to a lot of our audience. We knew Pint Sized could be very funny, and very socially pointed, but I’m not sure we had ever conceived of it as moving and this year it was, thanks in no small part to our writers (Megan Cohen, Peter Hsieh, Sang S. Kim, Carl Lucania, Daniel Ng, Kirk Shimano and Christian Simonsen), directors (Jonathan Carpenter, Colin Johnson, Tracy Held Potter, Neil Higgins, Charles Lewis III, Meghan O’Connor, Adam L. Sussman) and actors (Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Melissa Keith, Charles Lewis III, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, Jessica Rudholm). The evening would start off with a magical performance by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers, whose combination of skill and spectacle got our audiences excited for what was to come. As we moved through the pieces, each by turns funny and poignant, each in some way or another about finding something, losing it, letting it go, and then coming back stronger, you could feel the audience grow warmer and closer each night. By the time Rob Ready gave the closing monologue, fixing each audience member in turn with a smile, you could feel everyone really listening and you could hear a pin drop in the room, and that’s saying something for the noisy by nature Cafe Royale. I think a lot of love went into the festival this year, and not just because it might be the last, and the product of that love was real magic and like the best theater- you had to be there. And if you weren’t, you really missed out.

BEST SHOW
“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” (San Francisco Playhouse)
I saw a lot of decent, solid, well done theater this year but I had a hard time connecting to a lot of it, which was rarely a flaw with the show and probably had more to do with where I was/am as a person (lots of change this year). Then again, something about really good theater is that it can get you out of your own head and into some other world, for a while. Towards the end of the year, I saw three shows I really really liked: “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake” at Bigger Than A Bread Box Theater Company, “Peter/Wendy” at Custom Made Theater Company, and “First” at Stage Werx, produced by Altair Productions/The Aluminous Collective and Playground. Still, San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, directed by Bill English, was probably my favorite show of the year. Who knows why it has an edge on the others? Maybe because as someone who spent most of their childhood weekends in New York it seemed oddly familiar, or maybe it was the deft handling by the universally excellent cast (Carl Lumbly, Gabriel Marin, Rudy Guerrero, Margo Hall, Isabelle Ortega) of the complex relationships and dialogue that Guirgis does so well, or maybe it was just refreshing to see such a simple, honest play in what, for me, was a year characterized by a lot of stylistically interesting but emotionally cold theater. There is something very passionate, scathing, bombastic and yet also humble and forgiving about Guirgis’ work that I think makes him such an important voice in modern American drama and English’s production brought all that out with an easy grace. The show really worked, and got me out of my head, and when I went back to my life I felt much better for the journey. What more can you ask of a theater experience?

BEST READING
“Paris/Hector” (San Francisco Olympians Festival)
I attend a lot of readings every year, and run a reading festival myself, so I’ve come to greatly value a really well done reading. This year, the award goes to director Katja Rivera and writers Kirk Shimano and Bridgette Dutta Portman, whose pair of one acts about the pair of Trojan princes Paris and Hector made for one of the best nights of this past year’s San Francisco Olympians Festival. Part of what I loved about it was that in one evening we saw the amazing variety the festival can offer: Kirk’s play was a comedy with a poignant moment or two, while Bridgette’s was a faux-classical drama- written in verse no less. Though the writers are the center of attention at the festival, credit really has to be given to Katja Rivera, who as the director of both pieces, made many simple but effective choices to highlight the best elements of both works and utilize the talents of her excellent cast: Yael Aranoff, Molly Benson, Jeremy Cole, Mackenszie Drae, Allison Fenner, Dana Goldberg, John Lennon Harrison, Michelle Talgarow, Alaric Toy. With the combined excellent story-telling of the performers (including beautiful and surprising singing from Yael, Molly and Dana), the thoughtfulness of the scripts, and the cohesiveness of the whole, this night of the festival stood out best in what was a consistently strong year at the Olympians.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“My Year” by Megan Cohen (Bay One Acts Festival)
Megan Cohen’s “My Year” is the kind of thing I wish more short plays would be: dynamic, personal, and complete. In a sea of short plays that are really fragments, or meet-cute plays, it’s always lovely to see something with a beginning, a middle, and end, and full-formed characters having actual interactions and not just feeling like Girl A and Guy B, thrown together by the whimsy of the playwright to make a point (though of course, the right playwright can pull that off- which is why so many people try to ape it). A friend of mine described “My Year” as “A fun little 90s indie film on stage” and my reaction when watching it was “Oh, Dear God, convince Meg to let me write a companion piece to this!” because let’s face it: at least a third of what I write is a 90s film on stage. My own vanity aside, what I loved about this play (directed by Siobhan Doherty, starring Emma Rose Shelton, Theresa Miller, Nkechi Live, Allene Hebert, Jaime Lee Currier, and Luna Malbroux) was that it felt constantly on the move, while still being mostly composed of intimate moments between a group of women at a birthday party. Like a lot of the theater that I really loved this year, it also just struck a personal chord, watching this young woman (Emma Rose Shelton) trying to enjoy the party her friends have thrown for her (though she doesn’t like surprise parties) despite there being no food and a random stranger (Theresa Miller) who worms her way in only to turn out to be the troublemaker she’s originally pegged for. Megan’s writing had its usual combination of smart and sentimental, but whereas a lot of her other work heads into absurdity and/or extreme quirkiness (not that this is bad), “My Year” stayed very grounded and found its meaning in that effort to stay grounded, making what might be a quiet little play in anyone else’s oeuvre, a nice change of pace in Cohen’s. The final moment, where the characters howl at the moon because what else are you going to do after a shitty birthday, felt like a communal sigh even the audience was in on, probably because we could all relate to Shelton’s character, and while having always loved and admired Meg’s work, this is probably the first time I related to it so wholeheartedly.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Linda Huang (Stage Manager, Tech, Box Office, Everything)
You know how the Oscars and Tonys give out Lifetime Achievement Awards for people whose contribution is so massive that it would kind of be criminal to pick one work or contribution so instead they just get an award for basically being themselves? You know, like how Peter O’Toole got that award because at some point somebody realized that he was pervasively brilliant and always in fashion and therefore easily forgotten because things like “Oh, well, he’ll win next year” often times factors in to who we recognize, meaning things like reliability and consistency do not? Well, for the first time ever in the history of the SEBATAs, I’m creating The Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness and giving it to Linda Huang, without whom, in all seriousness, I believe that small theater in San Francisco would probably grind to a halt. Earlier this year, I got recognized by the Weekly as a “Ringmaster” of the theater scene, but frankly I (and people like me) could not do what we do without having Linda (and people like her) constantly coming to our aid despite being paid a fraction of what they’re worth and half the time being forgotten because what they do isn’t in the immediate eye of the audience. Linda is a total gem of the theater scene. She wears many hats, though she’s probably best known for running light boards, and one of my favorite things when attending the theater is running into her, usually working in some capacity I previously was unaware she was qualified to do (note: Linda is qualified to do everything). What I love best about Linda (aside from her cutting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor) is her incredible generosity: she does so much for local theater and rarely gets paid, and even when she does get paid she often says, “Pay me last.” A true team player, and one we don’t thank enough, especially as she’s the only person who seems to know how to get the air conditioning in the Exit Theatre to work.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Atticus Rex, Open Mic Night In Support of the Lemonade Fund (SF Theater Pub/Theater Bay Area Individual Services Committee)
I never expected to include a note about someone who performed at an open mic/variety show, but I wanted to shout out to Atticus Rex, a young performer who literally made his performance debut at the San Francisco Theater Pub/ISC fundraiser for the Lemonade Fund this year. A last minute replacement, Atticus and a friend performed some original hip-hop for our audience of mostly performance professionals and their friends, and despite the formidable crowd and the first time nerves, he basically killed it. Even when he made a mistake it worked: he’d call himself out, apologize, and start again, somehow without ever missing a beat. His lyrics are very tight and poetic, and the contrast between the power in his words and his humbleness at approaching and leaving the stage works so well you’d almost think it was an act- except he later confessed he’d never performed live before, and it couldn’t have been more sincere. With genuine hope he never loses his sincerity, while also continuing to grow his confidence and experience, I wanted to take a moment to say congratulations once again, and thank you for reminding us all what it looks like to really take a risk onstage.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola (Genie and Audrey’s Dream Show, SF Fringe Festival)
What’s potentially cuter than “Clyde the Cyclops?” Very little, but these two ladies and their breathless, funny, and surreal little clown show come dangerously close to giving Clyde a run for his money, and it’s the only show I saw at the Fringe this year that I wished my boyfriend had also seen. Bravely straddling the bridge between performance artists and acrobats, this collage of monologues, poems, jokes, mime, clowning, puppetry, stunts, music, and children’s games, is like watching two hyper-articulate kids on pixie sticks go nuts in a club house, but only if those kids had an incredible sense of timing and arch senses of humor (not to mention very flexible bodies). I’ve never been a huge fan of circus stuff (I like it as an accent, sometimes, but as entertainment on its own it doesn’t tend to hold my interest long), but I think I’d be a fan of anything that had these two women in it. Their ability to play off each other is the key to making their show work, and when you watch it you have that sense of being let into the private make-believe world of people who have found kindred spirits in one another. It’s an utterly magic combination and from what I know of other people who saw it, it basically charmed the pants off everyone. Or at least, everyone who has a soul.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Ben Calabrese (Apartment in “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”)
I saw a lot of great performances by men this year (Sam Bertken in “Peter/Wendy”, Tim Green and Gregory Knotts in “First”, Paul Rodrigues “Pint Sized Plays IV”, Will Hand “Dark Play”, Casey Robbins “Oh Best Beloved!”), but this one really took my breath away (though since Sam Bertken actually got me to sincerely clap for fairies in Peter/Wendy, he gets a second shout out). Ben’s role, which is to literally embody the voice of a neglected apartment, is the kind of role that could either be the best thing about the show, or the worst. Luckily for Bigger Than A Breadbox’s production of “Crumble, or Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake (written by Sheila Callaghan), Ben rocked it. Bouncing around the stage, dive bombing the furniture, all the while spouting, eloquently, Callaghan’s beautiful and complex monologues, Ben was so utterly watchable it was impossible not to buy the conceit of the role, and so moments when he has an orgasm from having the radiator turned on, or turns his fingers into loose electrical wires, don’t seem ridiculous, but made immediate and total sense. It’s usually not a compliment to tell an actor they did a tremendous job being an inanimate object, but what Ben did so well was illustrate that a home, while not “alive”, does indeed have a life to it. And if that life occasionally fixes the audience with Ben’s particular brand of “scary actor stare” why… all the better.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Brandice Marie Thompson (Georgia Potts in “First”)
Oh, this was a tough one. As usual, the actresses of the Bay Area are kicking ass and taking names no matter what their role, and my decision to pick Brandice above the rest is because I think she best exemplified that thing which so many actresses have to do, which is take a relatively underwritten role in a play about men and turn it into a rich, believable character who somehow manages to steal the show. Evelyn Jean Pine, who wrote “First”, is a fantastic writer and she writes women and men equitably well, and due credit must go to her for the creation and inclusion of this character in a story mostly about male egos, but in a lesser capable actresses hands, this role could have been annoying, or forgettable, or purely comical, and Brandice avoided all of these traps while making the character utterly charming at the same time. The truth is, her arc became much more interesting to me than that of the main character, and I think a strong argument could be made that “First” was just as much about Georgia as it was about Bill Gates. Director Michael French no doubt had a hand in this too, but in the end it’s a performer who makes or breaks a role and Brandice’s ability to combine mousy with spunky with unexpected and yet thoroughly authentic character turns was deeply satisfying to watch. Georgia kicked ass and took names, because Brandice does. Runners up: Melissa Carter (“Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”, Bigger Than A Breadbox), Allison Jean White (“Abigail’s Party”, SF Playhouse), Sam Jackson (“Oh Best Beloved!”, SF Fringe Festival), Courtney Merril (“Into the Woods”, Ray of Light), Elissa Beth Stebbins (“Peter/Wendy”, Custom Made Theatre Company).

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
“Nightingale” (Davis Shakespeare Ensemble/SF Fringe Festival)
This little gem at this year’s fringe festival was adapted from the myth of Philomel by Gia Battista, with music by Richard Chowenhill, directed by Rob Sals (with Battista), and staring Gabby Battista, April Fritz and Tracy Hazas as three remarkably similar looking women who each take a turn playing the heroine of a bizarre fairy tale (all the other characters in the story are played by them as well). Dance, pantomime, narration, song and traditional theater techniques all came together in a way that was astonishingly clean and charming in its simplicity. The black and white aesthetic used to unify the look of the show and performers gave the whole thing a quality both modern and timeless, and in its gentle, dreamy tone the sharp elements of social commentary and satire often seemed more brutal and impactful. Of everything I saw at the Fringe this past year, which included a number of excellent works, this piece has stayed with me the longest.

BEST SOLO SHOW
“Steve Seabrook: Better Than You” by Kurt Bodden (The Marsh)
I saw a lot more solo performance than usual this year (including works by Annette Roman, Laura Austin Wiley, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Jenny Newbry Waters, Rene Pena), and realizing how good it can be is, in and of itself, kind of a miracle because I used to say things like, “Theater begins with two people” and “If Aeschylus had wanted to write sermons he wouldn’t have added Electra”. Kurt’s show was not created this past year, it has a long history, but I only saw it in its most recent Marsh incarnation and I’m hoping he’s been able to find ways to keep it going (his Facebook feeds indicate this is so). A satire of motivational speakers and the cult of self-improvement, “Steve Seabrook” manages to be so much more by combining satirical fiction with moments of the kind of personal monologue (still fiction) that permeates solo shows. The result is a sense of development, of a story (Steve’s) unfolding in real time while another story, (Steve’s Seminar) plays itself out over the course of a weekend. Playing off the convention of a backstage comedy (we see the seminar, then we see Steve when he’s not “on”), Kurt’s brilliance as a performer is evident in the seamless transition from one to the other, again and again, carrying a throughline that shows us not only why Steve buys into his mantras, but why any of us buy into anything we’ve come up with (or adopted from someone else) to keep us moving through life’s ups and downs. At once very funny and cutting, while also moving and real (and yes, fuck it, kind of inspirational), Kurt’s show also gets a nod for its fantastic takeaway schwag: a keychain light with Steve’s name on it, with which every audience member is encouraged to shine their light in a dark world.

BEST DIRECTOR
Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, “Oh Best Beloved” (SF Fringe Festival)
“Oh Best Beloved” got a lot of attention and deservedly so- well acted, well designed, it was a genuinely fun piece of theater. Perhaps most deserving of being singled out in the project, however, are director Rebecca Longworth and partner Joan Howard, who share credit for conceptualizing the show (in which Joan also played a part and had, in my opinion, the single best moment in the show), and who lead the rest of the company in adapting the material from Ruyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Anyone who saw the show could easily see that it had about a million moving parts, and Longworth and Howard’s ability to keep all those plates spinning on a small budget and under the strict conditions of the San Francisco Fringe Festival (they literally put up and pulled down a full set with each performance) is worthy of award in and of itself, but the level of commitment and craft they were able to pull from their design team and performers was equally as impressive. Everything about the show, even the parts that didn’t work as well as others, felt thought through and done with panache, making this ambitious and unique experience a delightful jewel in the SF Fringe Festival’s crown.

BEST DESIGNER
Bill English, “Abigail’s Party” (SF Playhouse)
Scenery in general doesn’t do much for me. I enjoy good scenery, but the best scenery should kind of vanish into the background, in my opinion, and be something you barely pay attention to. As a result, I’m often just as happy with a blank stage, or really well thought out minimal set, as I am with a full one, so long as the play I’m watching is good. That said, every now and then I will see a set I just adore, and this year it was Bill English’s set for SF Playhouse’s “Abigail’s Party”, by Mike Leigh, directed by Amy Glazer. Basically a living room/dining room/kitchenet combo, this fully realized “home” was very well crafted as a place, but more importantly, it really worked as a place where people lived. The 70s style was at once present without being overwhelming, evoking the time period without looking like it was a homage to the time period, or a museum dedicated to 70s kitch. I mean, it honestly reminded me of numerous homes I’d played in as a child (I was born in 1978) and all the wallpaper looked like wallpaper in my parents’ home before my mother completely re-did the house in 1990 because “we can admit this is ugly… now”. The amazing thing about English’s set is that it didn’t seem ugly, in spite of being made up entirely of patterns and colors we now find appalling. He made it all work together, the way people once did, and the final result was simultaneously comfortable and dazzling. I remember thinking, waiting for the play to begin, “I could live here.”

And last, but not least, every year I pick…

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE EXPERIENCE TO WORK ON
“The Age of Beauty” (No Nude Men Productions/The Exit Theatre)
I had taken a break from directing my own work, but with this nine performance workshop I allowed myself to re-discover that, as much as I like directing plays by others, there is nothing quite as satisfying as feeling like I’m telling a very personal story of my own and having the final say on how that happens. Of course, such experiences are only rewarding when you get to work with great actors, and I was lucky to have four amazing women (Megan Briggs, Emma Rose Shelton, Allison Page, Sylvia Hathaway) who were willing to go on this adventure with me, always keeping stride as I made cuts and changed lines, memorizing a mountain of material in Emma and Sylvia’s case, and crafting subtle characters who had to be both different from each other and relatively interchangeable at the same time. When I had a hard time articulating what I was going for, they would nod and smile and then show me what I meant by doing it better than I could describe it. When the show opened by the skin of its teeth it had one of those minor miracle opening nights, where even though you’re just a tiny bit unprepared (all my fault, I kept changing the script), it somehow all comes together and really works. Over the course of the show, as their performances grew and refined (our final two nights were simply perfect), I was able to see what flaws still remained in the script (two pages, middle of scene of scene two were cut the day after we closed), and any writer of new work will tell you that’s the best experience you can hope for on a first production. Shout outs to my awesome design team Cody Rishell, Jim Lively and Wil Turner IV! “The Age of Beauty” helped restore some of my lagging faith in the theater process, and made me commit to doing more of my own work in the coming year.

Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

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

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Just In Case You’ve Ever Wondered What We Look Like…

The nicest kids in town?

Dan Cowan, who is one of the owners of the Cafe Royale where Theater Pub does most of its shows, recently got married and threw a lovely party to which we were all fortunate enough to be invited. This photo was shot and is, as far as we know, rare proof we were actually all there (the photo was even taken by former Theater Pub Artistic Director, Victor Carrion). It also beautifully sums up everything about Theater Pub’s core crew: Stuart Bousel looks smug but restrained, Julia Heitner looks thoughtful and worried, Brian Markley is excited and all smiles, and Cody Rishell just wants a drink. Vive Theater Pub!

Pint Sized Festival 3: The Bard and the Llama

pint sized 3: the bard and llama

Don’t miss the Pint Sized plays, opening July 16 and playing July 17, 23, 30 and 31 with a special performance at the Plough and the Stars on July 18. All the rest are at our usual stomping grounds, Cafe Royale, located at the corner of Post and Leavenworth in San Francisco’s lovely Tendernob neighborhood. Performances are free, no reservations necessary, but show up early and stay late- we’re bound to be sold out and the crowd is always the best part of Theater Pub!