Theater Around the Bay: Christian Simonsen & Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”

The Pint-Sized Plays have their 4th performance tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the festival’s writers and directors by speaking to writer Christian Simonsen and director Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”! (Alejandro also served as the Deputy Producer of Pint-Sized this year.)

“No Fault” introduces us to Jack and Kate, a divorcing couple with an 8-year-old daughter, who’ve scheduled a quick meeting in a corner bar to sign their divorce papers, make it official, and try to put the past to rest. Colin Hussey and Lisa Darter play the couple.

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Christian Simonsen, a writer returning to Pint-Sized.

What made you get involved with Pint-Sized this year or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Christian: I have been a fan of the Pint-Sized Play Festival since the beginning, and I was honored to have an earlier short play of mine, the comedy “Multitasking,” produced by this festival in 2013. I love immersive, site-specific theater like this, where the actors rub shoulders with the audience. That’s not just an expression… if you come to this show, a drunk llama may literally rub your shoulders!

Alejandro: I love this theater company and all the fresh work they bring to San Francisco (and on a monthly basis too). I’ve directed and performed with them before and have also met some great and talented folks that keep me coming back.

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

Christian: The challenge to writing a short play is to remember that it’s not a full-length play crammed into a few pages. That may sound obvious, but it’s tempting during the writing process to forget that. It generally can only be about one thing. Every word of dialogue, every prop, every stage direction must earn its keep. A full-length play can survive three or four weak scenes. A short play has trouble recovering from three or four weak lines of dialogue. As a general rule, a short script can’t really handle numerous subplots crisscrossing each other, but it should also avoid being a “mood piece” that just sits there.

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

Christian: Its purity. Audience members rarely walk away from a short play with mixed feelings; it either worked or it didn’t. As a writer, I’m most productive when I’m given boundaries and limitations, and the short play format fits the bill perfectly. For example, in “No Fault,” a separated couple are going through the awkward, tense ordeal of signing their divorce papers in a pub that they used to frequent during happier times. The stage directions have both actors sitting at a table for most of the script. But when the woman delivers the most intimate line of dialogue to her now ex-husband, she is standing away from the table while the man remains seated. The ironic contrast of their emotional closeness and their physical distance would be lost (or at least watered down) in a longer play where the actors would be moving around for two hours, willy-nilly.

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

Alejandro: Simply getting it all together as producer and table work as a director.

What’s been most troublesome?

Alejandro: Scheduling!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Christian: For scriptwriting in general (short and long, stage and screen), they would include Richard Matheson, Elaine May, Ernest Lehman, Preston Sturges, John Guare, Tina Fey, Aeschylus, Euripides, Shakespeare, Ben Hecht, Tom Stoppard, Horton Foote, Monty Python.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Christian: That’s tough, because I try and make it a point not to picture celebrities, whether world-famous or local, when I create characters. My goal is always to write a character that is solid and fully-formed on the page, while still leaving enough wiggle room where an actor can put their own spin on him or her. That being said, for this script I could picture actors Mark Ruffalo, Elden Henson, John Hawkes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Amy Poehler, Sandra Oh.

Alejandro: Hmm… Maggie Cheung and Joaquin Phoenix. I they would make for an interesting dynamic.

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Director Alejandro Torres shows off his dramatic side.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Alejandro: This is cheating as I have worked with these two before but have never directed them: Genevieve Perdue and Alan Coyne.

What are you currently working on/what’s next for you?

Christian: I was one of the staff writers on Killing My Lobster’s August sketch comedy show Game of Nerds, which was a lot of fun to work on. My next project is a collaboration with the multi-talented Sean Owens. We are developing a comedy web series called Under the Covers, which will be both hysterical and educational (or at least one of the two).

Alejandro: The SF Fringe Festival this September will be my next project. I will be remounting an original piece called Projected Voyages about dreams, nightmares, and passing thoughts.

What Bay Area theater events or shows are you excited about this summer/fall?

Christian: I want to see Barry Eitel’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident. I’ve always admired Barry as an actor, and I’m anxious to see what he does as a playwright. It also stars two of my favorite local actors, Becky Hirschfeld and Paul Rodrigues. And producer Stuart Bousel’s San Francisco Olympians Festival in October is always an exciting event that features new plays by Bay Area writers.

Alejandro: Killing My Lobster’s August show Game of Nerds. [ed: this closed last weekend! Apologies for not posting this interview sooner!]

What’s your favorite beer?

Christian: Stella Artois, but I will happily endorse another brewery if they give me their product or money or both.

Alejandro: IPAs that pair well with whiskey.

“No Fault” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 2 performances remaining: August 23 and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight! 

 

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Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays

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Theater Pub is thrilled to announce that our Pint-Sized Play Festival returns this August for FIVE performances at PianoFight — August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29. That’s right, we’ve added a fifth performance by popular demand!

The Pint-Sized Plays – short plays by Bay Area playwrights that take place in a bar and involve characters drinking beer – have been Theater Pub’s flagship event since 2010. This year, producer Marissa Skudlarek and deputy producer Alejandro Emmanuel Torres are pleased to present 11 new plays by a mix of Theater Pub veterans and new faces.

Many of the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays deal with endings and beginnings. A man and woman meet to sign their divorce papers in “No Fault,” by Christian Simonsen. In Marissa Skudlarek’s “Cemetery Gates,” two moody and self-dramatizing teenagers sneak into the bar, while in Shirley Issel’s “Angel of Darkness,” Death himself comes to the bar and targets an unsuspecting patron.

Two one-woman shows depict women on the brink of major life changes: “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky features a 36-year-old woman who has finally become an adult according to Judaism, while Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go With Olivia” is about a woman who’s ready to put her old life behind her and start anew.

National and world politics are on everyone’s mind this summer, so some of this year’s Pint-Sized Plays have a political bent. “Polling Place,” by Gabriel Bellman, satirizes the anxieties and rhetoric of the 2016 election, while in “Don’t I Know You,” by Elizabeth Gjelten, a woman confronts the trauma of her past in a war-torn country.

On the lighter side of things, “Beer Culture” by James Nelson satirizes just how snobby San Francisco millennials can be about microbrews, and “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove pays tribute to Shakespeare in this #Shakespeare400 year by imagining his visit to a modern-day bar. Alan Coyne’s “Bar Spies” presents a dizzying array of false identities and double-crossings in a spy-fiction pastiche

As always, Pint-Sized Plays’ mascot, the drunken llama played by PianoFight’s Rob Ready, will return with a new “Llamalogue,” written by Stuart Bousel.

Full lineup of plays, with a quote from each, is as follows:

“Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah,” written and directed by Jake Arky—“After the bar mitzvah…it’s just the bar. Okay, so technically this is a bat mitzvah, but let’s not split hairs, yeah?”

“Polling Place” by Gabriel Bellman, directed by Megan Briggs—“What if I did choose a candidate based solely on whether they share certain characteristics with me or not, does that mean I’m voting for myself? Because I’m terrified of narcissists.”

“Llama VI” by Stuart Bousel, directed by Emma Rose Shelton—“Look, I hate tradition as much as the next person, okay? But one day, probably, I won’t be here—and you’re gonna miss that.”

“Bar Spies” by Alan Coyne, directed by Juliana Lustenader—“You asked for this meeting. I have what you want. Tell me what I need to know, or there’s no deal.”

“Don’t I Know You?” by Elizabeth Gjelten, directed by Jimmy Moore—“Here I am, a long way from home, and I see this one here, and I swear, we shared a beer. Back home. Maybe at Salim’s?”

“Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, directed by Vince Faso—“Thou thinkest thy sisters arranged a meeting but never had intention of coming hither? Forsooth, wherefore this deception?”

“Angel of Darkness” by Shirley Issel, directed by Jamie Harkin—“He’s probably going to finish that beer; and when he does… Are you listening? You’re gonna die. So, what are you drinking?”

“Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney, directed by Vince Faso—“I have accepted a new job and would like to pursue this without you beginning September 1st. This does not mean I want a long-distance relationship. Or much continued contact at all.”

“Beer Culture” by James Nelson, directed by Neil Higgins—“I’m really not cool about what just happened. He was going to drink a Stella! At my table! What would people say?”

“No Fault” by Christian Simonsen, directed by Alejandro Emmanuel Torres—“Look, if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t sign yet. Nothing’s changed regarding Wendy. Still joint custody.”

“Cemetery Gates” by Marissa Skudlarek, directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin—“Every time you look at someone you love, you know they will never be more beautiful than they are at that moment, because they will never again be so young.”

The Pint-Sized Plays acting company will feature the talents of Layne Austin, Andrew Chung, Lisa Darter, Nick Dickson, Daphne Dorman, Caitlin Evenson, Sailor Galaviz, Jamie Harkin, Colin Hussey, Sarah Leight, Alexander Marr, Kyle McReddie, Brett Mermer, Courtney Merrell, Rob Ready, Paul Rodrigues, James F. Ross, Amitis Rossoukh, Jessica Rudholm, Ron Talbot, and Noemi Zeigler Sanchez. (Additional casting TBA.) Logo designed by Cody Rishell.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform five times: August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, please visit www.sftheaterpub.com.

Write-Side Up: An Introduction to Saturday Write Fever

In honor of our first Saturday Write Fever of 2014, fast approaching this Saturday, January 11, and our switch to every second Saturday of the month going forward, we asked frequent SWF attendee and honorary assistant Charles Lewis III to do a re-cap of last year. Enjoy, and see you on Saturday night!

“I love deadlines. I love the ‘whooshing’ noise they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

DISCLAIMER: Attendance at Saturday Write Fever is no guarantee of facial caress by Cary Grant’s cheeks.

DISCLAIMER: Attendance at Saturday Write Fever is no guarantee of facial caress by Cary Grant’s cheeks.

Allison Page has done lots of cool things in her life. She acts, she writes, she does stand-up, she’s travelled the world, she founded her own theatre company, she’s a black belt martial artist, she started a comedy duo, she moved from the snow-covered-and-cold-as-a-witch’s-teat tundra of Minnesota to the snow-free-but-cold-as-a-witch’s-teat hills of San Francisco. Plus, for shits ‘n giggles, she has her own regular TheaterPub column called “Everything is Already Something”. She’ll probably accomplish a lot more before she’s shuffled off this mortal coil. And yet… if the task of writing her obituary were charged to anyone who sat in The EXIT Theatre café last year, there are three words that would be guaranteed to appear: “BLACK. TAR. HEROIN.”

That, dear reader, is the result of unpredictable creative exercise known as Saturday Write Fever.

The collaborative brainchild of TheaterPub co-founder Stuart Bousel and frequent ‘Pub collaborator Megan Cohen, SWF – as it’s known to cool kids, gang members, and fans of pro wrestling – is the first regular ‘Pub spin-off.

Stuart and Megan… givin’ you Fevah! (photo by Rachel Bublitz)

Stuart and Megan… givin’ you Fevah! (photo by Rachel Bublitz)

It can sometimes seem like the erratic Mr. Hyde to the ‘Pub’s Dr. Jekyll: both inhabit the same skin, but couldn’t represent a greater dichotomy. Whereas a typical ‘Pub show is staged during the traditional “dark nights” of theatre (usually Mon. – Wed.), Fever is put on during one of the most competitive performance nights of the week (especially for The EXIT, which is often running two or three other shows at the same time). Though a ‘Pub show is the end result of days or weeks of rehearsing after who-knows-how-long-it-took to write, SWF is entirely written, practiced, and read, all in the same night. ‘Pub shows occasionally have cast members hiding amongst the audience; Fever’s participants are whomever volunteers from that evening’s audience. A ‘Pub show is (hopefully) memorized back-and-forth; a Fever gives you a Post-It, a pen, paper, and lets you go to town.

There is a sense of order to the implied chaos. From the very first night (23rd March 2013) the plan for the evening was simple: 8:30 is considered the official opening of the “mixer”. During this time prospective writers and actors add their names to Stuart and Megan’s list. At about 9pm each writer is called to the stage to pick a prompt out of the bucket. From there the writers are sent to the EXIT’s green room with the writing materials of their choice – pencil, paper, laptop – and given 30 minutes to knock out a page-long monologue. At the end of the half-hour, the writers go back to the stage to pick actor names from a different bucket (buckets play a vital role in the whole process). After five or ten minutes of reading over the pages and discussing them with the writers, the actors take to the stage to read material that didn’t exist one hour earlier.

The sirens that call to us.

The sirens that call to us.

As simple as that sounds, it can be maddening for the writer. You might know this about us – what with all the drinking and neuroses associated with writers – but the idea of filling a blank page terrifies us. It’s no easier when you’re stuck in a room full of both complete strangers AND familiar colleagues. Of the 30 minutes allotted, I’d say I often spend 20 of those looking around the room, the next five writing the first two paragraphs, and the final five rewriting the entire piece from scratch. Oh, and I have to work in the phrase “It’s a good thing I brought my own”, as that was my prompt opening night. How it translated into a piece about the prophylactic use of dental dams, I still don’t know?

And that’s the thing with those prompts: as innocuous as they are, they serve as an amazing Rorschach test into minds of the writers. Whether or not Stuart and Megan theme the prompts for the evening (4/20, Xmas, etc.), they seem fully aware that making the words on those Post-Its as broad as possible will lead to the most unexpected results. Still, one has to wonder how Sunil Patel could take a phrase like “Okay, but I want to go first this time” and write a heartbreaking piece about reincarnated lovers whose respective deaths never get any easier for each other? What inspired Marissa Skudlarek, Claire Rice, and Rachel Bublitz to write pieces about introverted office workers, cat-sitters, and regretful young brides, respectively? And, for the love of God, who drew the mental road map that lead Allison Page from the phrase “let’s spend some money” to “Black. Tar. Heroin.”?!

But that’s the beauty of it all. One of the greatest feelings is when we pick actors, take them out into the hall, hand them the pages, and watch as they glance up at us from the page, unable to believe what they’ve just read. It’s reassuring to a writer that they have the ability to surprise someone. With the actors chosen at random, it never ceases to amaze us how well the words still work, even when the writer is the opposite of what was envisioned. Women read for men, young people read old characters, everyone eventually reads as an animal.

No one knows EXACTLY what to expect. From the very beginning TheaterPub has prided itself on, amongst other things, creating new work and smudging the audience/performer barrier. Now the flagship of its “second era” is spending the second Saturday of every month. So now you – yes, you – can spend your Saturday nights mingling with creative new people AND taking part in the madness that is the creative process.

It’s true, I tells ya! Cure your writer’s block and stage fright in 30 simple minutes! It’s fun! It’s free! No experience? No problem! All ya gotta do is come catch the fever! Just look at these satisfied customers: tragedy, comedy, and pure Insanity! This and more can be yours!

Julia Heitner, photo by Colin Hussey.

Julia Heitner, photo by Colin Hussey.

Jeunee Simon, photo by Colin Hussey

Jeunee Simon, photo by Colin Hussey

Sam Bertken, photo by Colin Hussey

Sam Bertken, photo by Colin Hussey

The first Saturday Write Fever of 2014 will take place on Saturday – Jan. 11 at The EXIT Theatre on 156 Eddy St., San Francisco. No reservations needed. Admission is free. Participation is voluntary and subject to number of prompts.

Charles Lewis III is prone to spontaneous one-man karaoke sessions in the middle of BART stations.

ANNOUNCING OUR NEXT SHOW: ORPHEE!

For April, Theater Pub continues its love affair with Greek mythology and with overlooked European drama by presenting a staged reading of Jean Cocteau’s ORPHEE, originally written in 1925. In this surreal adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, Death is a beautiful woman in a pink party dress, Orpheus has a pet horse who taps out cryptic messages, and a simple handyman might be an angel in disguise. Marissa Skudlarek’s new translation of the play captures the spirit of Cocteau’s original French, from its rhapsodic poetry to its profane humor.

Fresh from her successful production of EURYDICE at the Custom Made Theatre Co., Katja Rivera returns to Theater Pub to direct Cocteau’s version of this famous myth. The reading will feature actors Andrew Chung, Colin Hussey, and more.

One performance only! Monday, April 15, at 8 PM at the Café Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy food from the pop-up restaurant Hyde Away Blues BBQ, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!