The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rob Ready

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rob Ready about PianoFight, Theater Pub, Short Lived, and $5,000 in prize money!

I caught up with Rob Ready, the Artistic Director of PianoFight, this week to talk about ShortLived, the short play festival that includes 36 pieces by “indy artists of all stripes”.

The competition brings a $5,000 cash prize on the line as competitors duke it out over six regular season rounds and then one championship road. Each round lasts a week and has four performances. The short plays are scored by audience members and the highest scoring piece of each round clinches a spot in the championship round. We’re currently in week five of ShortLived with the championship round right around the corner. The winner will receive a full-length production in addition to the $5,000 cash prize.

Rob gave me background on ShortLived, how it compares to other new play development programs out there, and some of his favorite moments.

Barbara: What’s your background in theater?

Rob: Performing since I was a kid, school and community theater growing up, BFA from NYU Tisch and artistic directoring PianoFight ever since. I had gigs at ODC in marketing and Z Space in biz dev and producing random shows. Oh and I play a drunk Llama every year for Theater Pub. And THAT’S IT.

Barbara: How did ShortLived come about?

Rob: We were coming to the end of our first year running Studio 250 at Off-Market (our old venue), and were talking to Point Break Live about renting three months. We were stoked because it was our first year and we ran a ton of shows and after nine months we were tired. But then they took a tour of the space, said, “This won’t work.” And they bailed. So we had to come up with something that could fill three months and that we actually wanted to do. So we came up with ShortLived, a show that changed each week, and that audiences had a hand in deciding, and where the prize was legit – a full-length production the following year. It’s definitely a slog, but the experience of putting on new plays every week for three months is one that has shaped me as a performer and producer.

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Barbara: What is the thing you like most about ShortLived and how have audiences reacted?

Rob: The instant community. You bring together a ton of very different artists, and they compete creatively – basically you don’t get any phoned in performances, because there are only four shows per round and there’s money and resources and bragging rights on the line. Watching your peers work to actively be better every night is a cool thing to see. When everybody else is pushing to be better, you push to be better, and there’s an interesting bond that comes from that.

On the audience side too, the act of scoring elicits real opinions and discussion from audience members who have a natural instinct to compare notes during and after the show. Because folks are directly asked to evaluate pieces critically, the chatter after shows tends to be pretty high level, so strangers who happened to sit next to each other in the show will end up having beers at a table after discussing why they scored one piece higher than another. Again, it’s another cool thing to see.

Barbara: How does it compare to other new play development opportunities/venues? What does it offer that others don’t?

Rob: I’m sure there are other festivals that do similar things to ShortLived, but seems like the main differences are that ShortLived:

– gets all 36 plays off book and on their feet
– provides critical audience feedback for artists
– has no submission fee =)
– is hyper local
– lets audiences decide the winner and which plays advance
– offers a legit grand prize of cash money AND a show

Barbara: Favorite moments – how about three, from ShortLived?

Rob: These are gonna be more personal for me, but here ya go:
– In ShortLived 2 or 3, Duncan Wold, Christy Crowley and I put together a 10-minute musical in one day. It didn’t win, but it did really well – and working that fast was very cool.

– Performing Kirk Shimano’s play Inner Dialogue in ShortLived 4. It took second place in ShortLived 3 in 2011, and because the rules were different, it performed every weekend for 13 weeks. So when we brought back the festival after 144 Taylor St opened, it felt like it was a good call to bring back that piece and enter it into the Wildcard Round. Hadn’t acted on stage with Dan Williams since we’d done the piece originally, so being able to perform with my friend and business partner in our new theater was pretty special.

– Producing Megan Cohen’s first play in ShortLived 1.

Barbara: Anything you’re looking forward to this time around?

Rob: The Finals. They are always amazing. They sell out like crazy, the plays are really strong, the crowds are amped, the performers are jacked too and the whole week is just really fun.

Barbara: Plugs/shout-outs for upcoming performances of friends’ work?

Rob: Adventures in Tech by Stuart Bousel and directed by Allison Page. Also Terro-Rama 2 by Anthony Miller and Claire Rice and directed by Colin Johnson. Maggie’s Riff, written by John Lipsky, adapted by his son Jonah with musical direction by his other son, Adam, directed by Faultline AD Cole Ferraiuolo. And yes – they are all here at PianoFight!

For more on ShortLived at PianoFight, click here!

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part II

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!

Thank-You-Someecard-2

Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.

Cowan Palace: Spooky Tales of Audition Costumes

Ashley’s teamed up with some Bay Area artists to chat about auditions and dressing for the part.

Halloween is just three days away and I’m sure you’ve been keeping busy thinking about costumes and perfecting your sexy Kim Davis outfit, ensuring your wig looks as intolerant as possible. But as October comes to a close so does our month’s design focus theme.

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So I started to think about memorable costumes I’ve had the opportunity to wear in the past and my own attempts to “costume” myself for certain auditions. I gave myself bangs to look younger, I wore fingerless gloves to look edgy, and canceled an audition that sent me a follow up an hour before my time slot asking me to be ready to read my scene topless. Ah, so many stories so little time!

But I reached out to a few pals to see if they had any audition tales and they kindly were willing to share a few gems. It’s nice to know we’re all in this together, right?

Melinda Marks:
I showed up to callbacks for Doubt, and there were only three other women there. They were all wearing habits and rosary beads. Like, chatting merrily. In habits. At first I was mortified because I thought SURELY if these women were in HABITS I must have missed, like, a really important memo from the design team. I later found out they were ALL IN A SHOW TOGETHER and had just done it for funsies. I got that part, by the way.

Jan Gilbert: Right before I moved here, I played Yitzhak in a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, so I was ecstatic to see an audition notice for the production here in the city. In the process of booking an audition, the casting folk used the sentence: ‘If you would like to come dressed in any sort of character appropriate Drag, you are certainly welcome to.’ And yes, the word ‘Drag’ was capitalized.

Now, being an avid ‘always play dress up for auditions’ type of actor, I had already been taken aback by how casual auditions here seemed to be. Before moving here, I would never have DREAMED of wearing jeans to an audition. Or not wearing my hair down. Ever. But, seeing as they were inviting you to dress in character appropriate ‘Drag’…and seeing as I happened to still have the camo cargo pants I wore in the recent production in which I dressed like a man for most of the show, I took a leap, after much back and forth, pulled back my hair, threw on the pants, wrapped up with a trusty ace bandage and went for it.

When I got into the audition room, the director looked at me, held up my headshot and asked ‘this is you?’ It didn’t feel like the best way to start an audition, but oh well.

So I went to an audition in ‘Drag,’ and it was a boundary-pushing experience for me. I did get a callback. They asked me to ‘please wear a dress’ to see my take on the character post-transition. When I showed up dressed in my normal audition gear, they again didn’t recognize me. It was quite an interesting feeling.

While I didn’t end up getting cast (I ended up on their ‘possible cast for extension’ list), I was glad in the end that I just went for it. I guess it’s like they say: ‘dress for the part you want’…or something like that.

Colin Johnson: I was holding auditions and a guy came in looking very Zoolander. Tight black pants, V cut black tee, and leather jacket. He was so bad that I was convinced he was doing a guerilla comedy thing/prank. His ineptitude was so over the top. I ultimately couldn’t stifle my laughter. Turns out he was a model trying to act and taking it very seriously. Luckily he didn’t catch on to me laughing in his face and walked away very self-satisfied. The show was The Oresteia and needless to say, he wasn’t cast.

Xanadu Bruggers: I was auditioning for a commercial and it was to recreate the famous World War II kiss in Times Square. I bought a costume and got my hair done, makeup, etc. Just to walk into a room and be dipped. It turned out everyone had the same idea and there were about 100 people dressed like sailors and nurses in this tiny room. I felt ridiculous. But I still wear the heels I bought.

Tonya Narvaez: Once I was auditioning for a play in which the most interesting character to me was in her late 30s. I was early 20s. So I tried subtle old age makeup but it looked ridiculous so I took that off. I put some really subtle dark circles under my eyes thinking somehow that may help me look less young. It didn’t. But I went with it anyway. Then I got there and all the women auditioning for that part were actually the proper age range. And I felt incredibly ridiculous. My little high pitched, naive voice alongside theirs. Oy. Didn’t book it.

Dave Sikula: I mentally rolled my eyes and rushed into the theatre to warn the producer and the directors, “There’s a guy in a toga in the bathroom.” They visibly rolled their eyes, and I went out to usher this actor into the lion’s den. The producer said, “Ah, I see you’re doing something modern.” The actor muttered some humorous reply, climbed the stairs to the stage, and launched into a very bad version of “Franz, romance, countrymans” (sounding, in memory. like a bad Schwarzenegger impression). He finished and the producer went up on stage, put a friendly arm around his shoulder, and explained to him why his choices may not have been the best. (For more on this story and others check out Dave’s blog: http://heartyhandclasp.blogspot.com/2014/03/audition-horror-stories.html)

So there you go! As we’ve learned, sometimes dressing for the part can yield positive results but for the most part, it may be just to put your actor hat on and act the part you want. Until next time gang, here’s wishing you a fun Halloween!

The Five- It’s TERROR-RAMA TIME

Anthony R. Miller checks in with some shameless self-promotion.

Hey you guys, so this Monday, the Horror-Theatre Double-Feature returns with the first public reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT. It’s a fund raiser, it’s a developmental reading, it’s a party. I have a million reasons I want you to be there, but I’ll whittle it down to five.

Join us on the Journey

This “Grand Unveiling” of sorts is just the beginning. TR2 will get a full production in October 2016 at the lovely new PianoFight. This reading begins our year-long effort to produce the show. Just like last time we will give you a crapload of behind-the-scenes access like photos, videos and the backstage journal known as the TERROR-RAMA DIARIES. Follow us as we fundraise, design, plan and stage this crazy, crazy show.

New Plays

I feel like we’ve really upped our game here. We’ve got two brand new plays that we’ve developing over the last 10 months and now it’s time to show you what we got. The first is “Purity” by Claire Rice, it’s a creeptastic look into the world of Purity Balls, religion and fear. The second is “Sexy Vampire Academy” by me, it’s about a coven of vampires who live the year 1996 over and over. Think “Lost Boys” meets “Jawbreaker”. Oh and it’s pretty funny, I think.

An Awesome Cast

We totally lucked out on this cast, we love them. You should come see them be great. It’s not every day you get to see fellow t-pub blogger Ashley Cowan-Leschber play a teenage nineties Vampire.

#dontmakeuscrowdsource

We’re trying something a little different for fundraising. Not crowdsourcing, not officially, not with kickstarter or indie go-go. We plan to have a “My Bloody Valentine” fundraiser in February, we have outside investors and there will be a way to donate on line, but we’re trying to do it the old fashioned way. We’re trying to grow , but in a smart way, the venue is larger, the cast is (slightly) larger and god willing the payroll is larger. So if you like the idea of one less Kickstarter campaign in the world,and giving actors and designers raises, come to the reading, make a donation in person like people did back in 90’s.

It’ll be fun Dammit

PianoFight is already a great place to see a show, awesome bar, good food and a great atmosphere. We couldn’t be happier to be partnering with them for the reading and the actual run in October 2016. Our stalwart Director Colin Johnson is back. Horror-Host Sindie Chopper is back to run the show and dammit, these plays are awesome. We’ve really gotten to focus on the development of these plays over the last ten months and it’s crazy to think how ahead of the game we are compared to the last production. So there it is, two world-premiere Horror-Plays, a great venue, the best host, an awesome cast and the promise of a very fun time. October is chock full of awesome, spooky theatre, so kick off your spooky theatre season with us! I hope you can all make it; we need your help to make this happen. Instead of giving us $10 online for a credit in the program, give us $10 in person and we’ll entertain the crap out of you.

SEE YOU AT THE FIRGHTFEST

TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT

Reading/Fundraiser

Monday October 12, 8PM

Pianofight 144 Taylor St. SF

$10 suggested donation at the door

WATCH THIS VIDEO!

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with all things TERROR-RAMA at www.awesometheatre.org. You can also learn more about his play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party” at www.sfolympians.com

Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part 2)

We’re back tonight with more PINT SIZED! Today we introduce you to this year’s directing team, Stuart Bousel, Neil Higgins, Colin Johnson, Claire Rice, Gabe Ross, Sara Staley, Sam Tillis, Alejandro Torres, and Meghan Trowbridge, here to tell you all about the perils and pitfalls of creating some of the best bar theater around.

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How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Sara Staley: I really enjoy site specific theater and shows that play with the audience’s focus. . I directed a couple of pieces for Pint Sized back in 2010-11, and I think the “finish a beer during the play” parameters given to playwrights who submit are great. It’s really fun watching this festival come together and to see how audiences respond to the work. Fits right in with Theater Pub’s good, casual, beer, and theater thing. I’m also a fan of short plays and festivals that showcase new, local work, or bring together the Bay Area theater community in different ways. And I’m a company member at PianoFight, so it’s great to get the opportunity to stage something in our fabulous new bar/cabaret space for the first time.

Alejandro Torres: I recently worked on a production with several folks involved in Pint Sized and the SF Theatre Pub. They needed an additional director last minute and approached me, I was thoroughly honored and the rest is history.

Stuart Bousel: I run Theater Pub, so I volunteered to direct if Marissa needed me to. She did.

Gabe Ross: I asked Stuart about it. He told me to ask Marissa.

Neil Higgins: I’ve directed for Pint-Sized a couple years now and it’s always a fun summer project.

Sam Tillis: First time at Pint-Sized! Marissa sent me an email saying, “We got this Star Wars play, and I hear you’re a total nerd, so…?” And I was like “Hell yes!”

Colin Johnson: I came back because I think Theatre Pub is doing some of the most interesting performances in SF. The layout of the bar and the interactive nature of the shows create a very fun, collaborative atmosphere. I’ve done several projects with TP in the past and will always look for an excuse to come back.

Claire Rice: I love Pint-Sized. I’ve directed in previous Theater Pub and Pint-Sized shows and there is so much energy and enthusiasm. The audiences are boisterous and the productions are fun. And there’s a little thrill I get every time the audience cheers when an actor chugs their whole pint. It just feels freeing to be among people who are happy to be exactly where they are.

Meg Trowbridge: I don’t know how to quit you, Pint Sized! I’ve directed a piece in every Pint Sized production, and when the Beer Bear and Llama returned this year, I leapt at the opportunity.

Meghan Trowbridge

Meghan Trowbridge

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

Sam Tillis: As with a lot of directing, reading the play for the first time and thinking This is awesome, I could totally direct this is a special treat. And, of course, assembling a cast. And rehearsal, naturally. Alright. I give up. Every part is the most exciting part.

Neil Higgins: The script I’m directing is centered around a song I haven’t thought about in 15 years, so that’s been a fun walk down memory lane.

Meg Trowbridge: Reading the new scripts for the Beer Bear and Llama, and watching Allison and Rob slide back into those roles.

Alejandro Torres: The rehearsals (or the laboratory) and staging theatre in a bar for the first time.

Colin Johnson: Finding naturalism and nuance in a show which requires drinking and screaming over people.

Stuart Bousel: I have a piece that is very much a moment- just a moment in the bar- and so it’s all about subtlety. Which doesn’t always translate well in Theater Pub. The audience has to really listen to get what is going on. Luckily the piece is very short, so it doesn’t test patience and what patience it does require is quickly rewarded. I think it’s a very clever piece, and very real, and I’ve cast three actors who are all “coming back” to theater after a long time away, and there is a realness about them which I love and think lends itself well to the piece. Also, it’s always great when Theater Pub gets to be a place where people return to this art form.

Claire Rice: Opening night. Wondering if it’s going to work. If the audience will like the show. If we’ll have thought out all the variables. Shows like this have so many moving parts and waiting for all the magic to click into place is exciting.

Gabe Ross: So far; answering this questionnaire. But hopefully staging it will be good too.

Gabe Ross. Twice the Fun.

Gabe Ross. Twice the Fun.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Neil Higgins: Scheduling! It’s always scheduling.

Gabe Ross: Having to replace an actor who dropped out.

Stuart Bousel: I also had to replace actors. But I like the ones I found!

Sara Staley: Casting! I got the short recurring vignettes type piece in the festival this time, which I enjoy for the immediacy and challenge of directing five super, short pieces in a truthful way. But it’s been more difficult to cast and rehearse using actors already cast in other pieces in the festival.

Sam Tillis: Scheduling rehearsals is a bitch.

Meg Trowbridge: The knock-out, drag-out fights between Rob and Allison. Such divas…

Claire Rice: There isn’t anything more troublesome about Pint-Sized than any other ten minute festival. It comes back to the moving parts issue. Where it gets tricky is the audience. All that alcohol, all those glass containers, all the excitement…let me just say I’m glad that we don’t have a balcony any more.

Colin Johnson: Finding naturalism and nuance in a show that requires drinking and screaming over people.

Alejandro Torres: I’ll keep you posted, so far smooth sailing. 🙂

Alejandro Torres

Alejandro Torres

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

Sam Tillis: Skin-of-my-pants. I’ve lost so much pant-skin in the last couple weeks…

Colin Johnson: More seat of the pants, because you need to be able to roll with punches, bob and sway with circumstance. It’s not an act of desperation, which what I think of when i hear the phrase “skin of the teeth”. It may be a totally wrong interpretation of the term, but I see Theatre Pub as an act of ever-changing theatrical endurance.

Alejandro Torres: Seat of your pants, because I’m so excited!

Gabe Ross: Seat-of-your-pants. “Skin-of-your-teeth” sounds a little more painful. “Seat-of-your-pants” sounds a little more wild and crazy. Pants is a funny word.

Stuart Bousel: I have this weird fear/obsession with teeth, so I’ll go with “seat of your pants” because I want to associate Pint Sized with fun, uncomplicated things.

Claire Rice: Seat-of-your-pants. I think it’s the nature of the beast. High energy, high adrenaline , but also there’s a lot of last minute thinking that goes into directing a piece in a working bar. A lot of working with the environment that you have.

Neil Higgins: Seat-of-your-pants. I have nice teeth and I want to keep them nice.

Meg Trowbridge: Seat-of-your-pants, IMHO. You make decisions as you go along, and change it up regularly, based on how your piece fits with the other pieces of the night. You have to be flexible. Seat-of-your-pants is the name of the game.

Sara Staley: There’s definitely gonna be some skin and teeth involved in pulling it off, but a sharp cast ready to learn roles quickly, and a cracker jack Pint Sized producer this year has really helped.

Sara Staley.

Sara Staley.

Fuck, Marry, Kill, Bay Area actors, go!

Sam Tillis: Nopenopenopenope. Nope.

Sara Staley: The Llama and the Bear.

Alejandro Torres: In keeping with my hedonistic ways… Fuck.

Gabe Ross: All of them, none of them, just the tall and good looking ones.

Claire Rice: Tonight? Well, if you say so. (Sound of a zipper going down.)

Stuart Bousel: Fuck: Oh that list is so long. Marry: Megan Briggs. As far as I’m concerned we’re pretty much already married. Someone should let her know, though, maybe? Kill: Oh that list is so long.

Meg Trowbridge: Ummm – to keep it simple, I’ll go with historic Pint Sized producers because they are actors, too! Fuck: Julia Heitner (because obvi). Marry: Marissa Skudlarek because our home library would be top-notch. Kill: Neil Higgins BECAUSE IF I CAN’T HAVE HIM NO ONE CAN! (Editor’s Note: Marissa Skudlarek accepts your marriage proposal, Meg)

Neil Higgins: You mean in that order? Well, one of my life goals IS to be a black widow.

Neil Higgins.

Neil Higgins

No, but seriously, who out there would you love to work with?

Neil Higgins: Oooooh! No one. Black widows work alone.

Claire Rice: ( Sound of zipper going up.) Oh. Uhm…Well this is awkward. But seriously I just finished working with Marie O’Donnell and Indiia Wilmott for Loud and Unladylike and they were amazing actresses. I’d love to be able to work with them again soon. I don’t know if Elaine Gavin is looking to act, but she’s wonderful. Melissa Keith is also super talented. I feel like I should name some dudes too. Dudes like Jason Pencowski, Neil Higgins, and Nikolas Strubbe are all actors I completely enjoy watching.

Meg Trowbridge: I can’t wait to work with Ellery Schaar, who is directing my Olympians play this year!

Stuart Bousel: I’m actually in the middle of casting Six Degrees of Separation over at Custom Made and as usual I’m excited by all the great actors I get to choose from. I’m always trying to find a way to keep building relationships with actors I know and work well with, and also to keep new blood flowing in. The beauty of a large cast show like Six Degrees is that it can allow for both quite easily.

Alejandro Torres: Anyone creating intriguing stuff with a gregarious attitude.

Sam Tillis: You. That’s right. I would like to work with you, humble reader. Let’s do lunch.

Gabe Ross: Maybe you?

Colin Johnson: The list grows the more people I meet. I want Stuart, I want Allison Page, I’m very excited to be working with Claire Rice on Terror-Rama 2, I constantly develop awesome collaborations with the good people of Shotz. I would like to collaborate with some of the amazing performers up at the Circus Center. And I hope beyond hope that Breadbox will let me play with them at some point.

Colin Johnson

Colin Johnson

What’s next for you?

Sara Staley: Directing a reading of Oceanus by Daniel Hirsch and Siyu Song for the SF Olympians Festival this fall.

Neil Higgins: Olympians! Woot!

Stuart Bousel: Running Olympians. DICK 3 here at Theater Pub. Other stuff I feel like I’m not supposed to talk about.

Alejandro Torres: Saving up money to produce some fun theatre in 2016.

Gabe Ross: ATLAS Directing program. Performing in John Fisher’s next opus at Theatre Rhino in November which has yet to have an official title.

Colin Johnson: I’m writing a full length play for this years SF Olympians, I work on the monthly Shotz shows (second Wednesdays at Pianofight). Also in the early stages of directing TERROR RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT, along other upcoming projects through Thunderbird and Playground.

Sam Tillis: I’ve got a theatre company! We do science-fiction/fantasy plays, like the one I’m directing for Pint-Sized but full length! Check out our website at quantumdragon.org.

Sam Tillis

Sam Tillis

Meg Trowbridge: For Killing My Lobster I am writing for the August show, and directing the September show, and head-writing the November show. My still-untitled-play inspired by the ancient god Pontos will premiere at the Olympians Festival on Nov. 21.

Claire Rice: (Sound of a zipper going down.) No but seriously, I’m planning next year’s Loud and Unladylike Festival, which will again be produced by DIVAfest, and I’m writing for Terror-rama along with Anthony Miller which will have a reading October 12 at Piano Fight.

Claire Rice

Claire Rice

Last but not least, what’s your favorite beer?

Alejandro Torres: Racer 5, pairs well with whisky.

Sara Staley: Just went to Portland and drank a lot of beer last month, and so my new summer favorite is Deschutes Brewery’s Fresh Squeezed IPA, which you can also find in SF, yum.

Sam Tillis: Root beer.

Gabe Ross: Any amber ale. I like Gordon Biersch Marzen, and Fat Tire, and Red Seal. I also like Shock Top which is more of a Belgian Style white ale I think? I like beer, but I’m not a beer afficionado.

Claire Rice: I’m digging Bison beers right now. Chocolate Stout and the Honey Basil.

Neil Higgins: I’m more of a cider guy. But I do enjoy a nice, cold Singha.

Meg Trowbridge: I don’t really have a “favorite” as I’ll drink them all, but I do always scan a bar to see if they have Alaska Amber Ale… something about it has got me hooked.

Colin Johnson: SPEAKEASY.

Stuart Bousel: I need to get more serious about giving up gluten so… sauvignon blanc.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform two more times: August 24 and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE, but if you like what you see, throw $5 in when we pass the hat. For more information, click HERE!

Theater Around The Bay: Colin Johnson Is Creative

Our next show, The Creative Process, opens tonight at Theater Pub! We took a moment to chat with Colin Johnson, the playwright, about the show, making theater, and looking like a chump.

Colin offered no comment, just this cheese ball photo.

Colin offered no comment, just this cheese ball photo.

No, but really, who are you? 100 words or less.

I am Colin. I make theatre and movies and write and produce and act and sell books. I enjoy hiking and chronicling human misfortune in both comedic and horrific ways. I’ve been around the Bay since 2008 and have dabbled in every form of art and storytelling i could possibly taint. I’m currently involved with SF Playground, SF Shotz and SF Olympians, along with co-running my own small production venture, Battle Stache Studios.

And what is this show about? Like really about?

The show is about all the internal and external bullshit that goes into creating anything. The insecurity, the masking of insecurity, the spontaneous inspiration, the yelling, the overwhelming compulsion to be the center of attention and to be validated, the willingness (or refusal) to sell out, the desperation, etc.
We, of course, will wrap these themes into a ridiculous and entertaining format of three short plays, all loosely tied together through character and content. We will also include a live band in our attempt to shove as much art as possible into the experience.

Yeah, but why should I come see it?

First of all, the environment. Pianofight. Where else will you be able to drink, eat, see outrageous comedy and listen to a live band all on the same cabaret stage? Also, anyone who has ever created or produced art will identify with the scenarios we’re exploiting, and will hopefully enjoy the absurd lengths we go to in sketching out the eternal struggle of the artist.

Tell me about your creative process- how do you come up with ideas?

I have trained myself to pull ideas out of any and everything, often to the detriment of my social and romantic life. After conception, my process usually revolves around slight reorganization of my environment, pre-production (I’m big on pen-and-paper prep), and ruthless, energetic optimism. As someone who does a lot of film and theatre production and who recognizes the differences the two formats require, I relish the fact that every project requires a different approach and a different style. Whatever works. Creation isn’t a set menu, it’s a buffet.

And then what?

And then the key is making sure everyone you bring on board is just that: on board. If you surround yourself with amazing people who have faith in the product, the finish line will appear out of even the darkest moments.

What’s your favorite part of the creative process?

Collaboration. I love getting friends and colleagues in the same room and jamming. Creating the perfect creative environment where everyone feels free to experiment and express themselves is the best workplace I could imagine.

What’s the part that makes you want to tear your eyes out?

That’s a multi-tiered answer with a nifty little twist. The final run-up. In independent production, you can be damn sure that Murphy’s Law will rear its ugly head sooner or later. And those obstacles usually show up at the WORST POSSIBLE TIME. Also the occasional bad attitude that sneaks into projects. There’s nothing worse than a morale vaccuum roaming free on set or in rehearsal. Thirdly, the maddening lack of funds and/or production assistance the average independent project has to deal with. These days, there are so many odds stacked against you when you launch a project or a show. The culture is saturated. However, I see this problem as an exciting challenge and an opportunity to forge ahead with new ideas and new presentations. If stress is a motivator for you, if you thrive under the gun, look nowhere else to get your kicks.

How do you know when something is a bust and just isn’t going to happen?

For me, as someone who is enticed by even the smallest projects and has a hard time saying “no”, the realization that something will bust comes early in the process. If the energy isn’t there, if the core idea takes more than 3 minutes to describe, if you find that people in creative roles aren’t condusive to your own process, or, as I’ve just begun to learn, if there’s nothing in it for me, ideally in terms of compensation but more realistically in networking, If I know I’ll not be able to give it all my energy and won’t take something new and valuable from the experience, I’ll move on.Once that perpetual snowball starts rolling, though, I will finish. Even if it becomes something it was never intended to become, even if cast members drop out or the venue catches on fire, once I have concrete work done and have decided to finish something, I will finish it.

How do you know when something is finished?

When I’m content enough to walk away with a modicum of satisfaction. Nothing will ever be perfect or exactly the way you envisioned. The trick is letting it go and moving on. There’s always another opportunity to screw everything up.

Who are the artists who you respect the most and what about their process do you identify with?

I have major respect for artists who can swing back and forth between multiple formats and styles. I’ve been waiting to see what lands on top, theatre or film, for 10 years now and it’s turned into a constant back and forth. My immediate interests at the moment are finding ways to combine the two in organic, innovative ways and enhance certain types of stories. People like Martin McDonaugh, Clive Barker, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Orson Welles, just to name a few, all move seamlessly between multiple forms of expression, from film to theatre to music to books to radio to painting to everything in between. I guess basically I’m trying to say that someday I hope to EGOT. A fella can dream.

Don’t miss The Creative Process, starting tonight at PianoFight at 8

Working Title: Take the Shotz and Release Your Creative Devilry

This week Will Leschber talks to Colin Johnson about creating art that is about creating art.

I don’t know about you, but I love movies about movies. And theater about theater. Maybe it’s because all us creative types are a bit self involved. We like seeing things we can relate to. Who doesn’t?! More so whenever we are privy to a story “from the inside” of something, I normally extend an extra credit of believability to the project. I think, yeah, they lived that, so they must know what they are talking about. Social workers writing about at-risk kids, teachers writing a coming of age story, screenwriters writing about the trials of adaptation. Once you get past the navel gazing, the number one thing they tell you is: write what you know.

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This week I ask, writer/director Colin Johnson about his work with ShotzSF! highlights a streamlined creative process as it beckons six groups to each write, rehearse and stage a new short play every month. That’s a feat! It’s easy to mingle the end product with the process when a creative gauntlet is thrown. Both are to be marveled at (when all comes out well). Challenge accepted.

Is this fresh-off-the-page-play going to be any good?! Is this enough time to mount a good show? Will this all come together? Therein lies the draw. Which would make sense why Colin Johnson links his play in this week’s “ShotzSF!: The Chekhov Variations” to other film chronicling creative endeavors.

He had this to say, “In Shotz this month, I’m playing with the idea that Chekhov wrote his plays to be comedies only to see them turned into tragedies. The struggles of the playwright are ripe filmic fodder.” Johnson mentioned, and I agree, the perfect filmic pairing for this idea would be The Coen Brothers ’91 treasure Barton Fink where John Turturo’s playwright moves from a successful theater run in New York to slave away over a film script in Hollywood as he descends into the hellish depths of the Hotel Earl, a stand-in for creative devilry.

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OR David Mamet’s 2000 effort, State and Main, where a Hollywood film crew invades a small Vermont town. A high praise cast and Hollywood Hijinks ensue. Both State and Main & Barton Fink navigate the serio-comic aspects of balancing personal ideals and creative pursuits.

Johnson went on to say, “Also movies that deal with the toil of producing a show only to fall victim to disaster around every corner make for a ready comparison to this Wednesday night’s Chekhov Variations.” He made mention that Noises Off (the 1992 film or any production at a summer stock near you!) or the absurdly sublime, Steve Coogan vehicle, Hamlet 2, would make for particular good viewing in this vein as well.

ShotzSF! is here and gone Wednesday night only (5/13) at Piano Fight. So bulk up on your meta narrative act of creation films and then go witness a jolt of compressed creation.