Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life (On A Friday): Good Talkback, No Backtalk

Good morning! Please enjoy some displaced Marissa Skudlarek to start your weekend!

On Tuesday night, I attended a developmental reading of my play You’ll Not Feel the Drowning. As one of the four plays that Custom Made Theatre Co. selected for the first year of its new-works development program, it is undergoing a process that includes public readings, talk-backs, written feedback — in short, lots of people whom I may or may not know have the chance to tell me their opinions about my still-in-process script. And considering that the last time I had a talk-back, several years ago, someone publicly accused me of slandering the memory and reputation of a good man… I was feeling a little nervous about the whole endeavor.

By their very nature, even the best-run developmental readings and talk-backs can leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable. Here are some thoughts and tips about how to offset that vulnerability. Note that this isn’t about putting your fingers in your ears and saying “I don’t want to hear your feedback!” Rather, it’s about learning how to accept the feedback from a place of grace and strength, so that you and your script can grow and improve.

First, be sure that you’re in a good head-space before the reading. This is something that I could have done better on Tuesday night. I had hoped to leave work on the dot of 5 PM, which would give me over an hour in which to drink a hot beverage, write in my journal, and examine my anxieties and try to set them aside. But, you know, life and the Day Job have a way of intervening, and I didn’t leave the office till after 6. I felt a bit rushed and un-prepared. I started babbling about random stuff on Twitter, as I do when I’m anxious, and then started worrying that all my Twitter-babbling would make me lose followers. Waiting for the bus would’ve compounded my anxieties, so I took a cab to the reading instead. I hoped that this would make me feel like a fancy glamorous playwright, and it didn’t quite do that, but it was still money well spent.

Plan your outfit carefully. This advice might be more relevant to women than to men: in our society, women have more types of clothing options than men do, and unfortunately, many female outfits that read as “pretty” or “dressed-up” do so by enhancing the wearer’s vulnerability. I’m not saying you can’t look pretty or be comfortable at your own talk-back, but I am saying that those qualities are not of primary importance. What should be your priority is to find an outfit that makes you feel powerful. I have a gray knit dress that I pull out whenever I need psychological armor. It’s flattering and comfortable, yes, but it has become my chain-mail. I wore it to a staged reading in 2014 where I had to stand up onstage in front of the guy who’d dumped me six weeks previously; I wore it in early March, when I was on my first assignment for American Theatre magazine and met producer Carole Shorenstein Hayes; and of course, I wore it on Tuesday night. With high heels and brazen bright-red lipstick, no less. It’s not a frivolous frippery; it’s war paint.

Take notes during the reading: this will focus your attention and give you something to do. Note when the audience laughs; note when they seem lost or distracted. Note the moments where you yourself get lost or bored, and ask yourself honestly: is it the actors’ fault, or is it a flaw in my writing? Remember that, just as your primary purpose is not to be pretty or likable, the actors’ primary purpose is not to be entertaining or virtuosic. Rather, they are there to interpret the script in such a way that you gain a better understanding of its virtues and flaws. Hopefully, your actors (like mine) will be talented and committed people who ask you good questions in rehearsal, but the point is that they are there to serve your work. Listen to your actors, and maybe at the reading, something will click for you, and you’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, that actor was totally right, this monologue is way too long and I need to rewrite it” (or whatever).

As for the talk-back itself, I hope you have a strong moderator who knows how to structure the session and lays out solid ground rules. (Stuart Bousel did a very good job of this on Tuesday night, structuring the talk-back in a focused and precise way that allowed for some give-and-take between me and the audience, but kept everyone’s power in balance.) The moderator should emphasize that while you are interested in hearing thoughts and reactions that may spark your imagination, you are not interested in hearing suggestions along the lines of “This is how I’d rewrite your play.” Continue to take notes during the talk-back, especially when audience members make comments that fire your imagination or reveal a new layer of the play to you. The paper and pen are your shield and sword here.

A word about self-deprecating humor. It’s a defense mechanism, and I use it frequently when I have to speak about my work in front of an audience, but I realize it’s not the strongest armor. Essentially, self-deprecation says “I am pointing out my weaknesses in a humorous way so that you don’t point them out in a vicious way.” Yes, self-deprecation fills awkward silences and can make people think that you are charming, but you’re not there to be charming, you’re there to write a fucking awesome play. I wish I were better at talking about my weaknesses honestly and humbly and without giggling. Or, perhaps, waiting for other people to mention them rather than doing it with my preemptive self-deprecation.

More dangerous than the actual talk-back is the informal discussion about your play that happens afterwards. Maybe someone comes up to you and offers unsolicited feedback, in a format that would never have flown with the talk-back’s moderator. Prefacing everything with “Well, this is just my opinion, but…”, this audience member decides it’s time to tell you everything that’s wrong with your play and how he would have done it better.

Perhaps the best strategy in this case is to say “I don’t want to hear it,” but it can be very hard to tell people to just shut up. An alternative strategy that I try to use is to put up a front. Mantras help: anything from “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” to “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds” – whatever makes you feel powerful. Chant that phrase to yourself as you listen to the criticisms. Smile and nod and say “okay,” like a sweet-natured robot. And let his words go in one ear and out the other, as you put up an invulnerable facade.

If that wasn’t quite effective and some of the criticism got through, niggling at you and sapping your writerly self-confidence, this where esprit de l’escalier comes in handy. Walking home, replay that conversation in your head. Feel the shame and anger. And, after having to listen to that “just my opinion” litany of everything that’s wrong with your play, imagine retorting: “Well, it’s just my opinion, but I think you are a tremendous jerk.”

After all, your words got you into this situation; your words can get you out again.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.

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Working Title: Stupid F**cking Plautus or With a Little Help From My Friends

This week Will Leschber gets his homework done…by someone else.

I’m writing this entry single handed this week…meaning that I’m literally only typing with my right hand. My hands have been especially full as of late with the arrival of my first child. And at the moment my left hand is providing a little, loving nest for my baby bird.

GAH... who threw up this blog on my shirt?!

GAH… who threw up this blog on my shirt?!

I know what you are saying…that’s cute and all, Will, but isn’t this supposed to be about theater and film and other dumb things you think about. I need my fix! Get to the goods! I’m trying, dear reader. Geez. Listen in the last week between hospitals, and in-laws, and hee hee hooo breathing, and car seats, and sleeping at 3 hour intervals when we’re lucky, time (and my hairline) is running thin. I watched most of The Lego Movie, half of Hugo, some short Broad City episodes (totally child appropriate 😉 ) and a two and a half YouTube clips. Point is, I don’t get out much. HOWEVER, don’t you worry your pretty little reader heads. I got you.

Since I’ve been cooped up all with the best bundle of joy since the Lord of the Rings Blu-ray box set, I solicited the help of some dear friends. I hit up two wild and crazy guys, Kai Morrison & Adam Magill, who are currently head-lining some hilarious, newly-opened plays. I asked them to proved a perfect cinematic pairing for their respective plays and they delightfully did my homework for me. Thanks guys. I owe you high fives and high balls.

Let’s start with Kai! Kai is one of the starring players in The Braggart Soldier, or Major Blowhard at Custom Made Theatre. Braggart is a World Premiere of director Evren Odcikin’s fast and furious mash-up adaptation of Plautus which proves that Roman comedies never get old, they just get funnier! Boom Bam Baby! The perfect film pairing for Braggart according to Kai would be Mel Brooks’ iconic 1981 comedy The History of the World, Part 1. “”Both pieces are bawdy, irreverent, and shameless, never afraid to set a high bar for lowbrow comedy. The plot of Braggart is timeless – give the jerks their due. Plautus, the Roman originator of Braggart, has a clear influence in much of today’s comedy, Mel Brooks included.” So wet your slapstick whistle with some Mel Brooks, then get to Custom Made and laugh your ass off.

juicy+loins+Braggart+pic

Now Mr. Magill! Adam Magill is one of the key players of San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stupid F**cking Bird. Bird is kind of adapted from Chekov’s The Seagull which sounds like a perfect recipe for intertwined hilarity and pathos. Adam chose to pair this year’s Best Picture winner Birdman with his Stupid F**cking play and had this to say, “Here’s the thing: Birdman and Stupid Fucking Bird are perfect for each other because they are both reiterations of the same questions Hamlet struggled with 400 years ago: What is art? What does it do to us? Does it make us better human beings? If not, then what’s the point?” Do you have existential quandaries that need answering? Are you in need of some deep guffaws? Go see Stupid F**cking Bird at SF Playhouse and watch Birdman if you haven’t.

Con (Adam Magill) contemplates life on the swing." as description.

Con (Adam Magill) contemplates life on the swing.” as description.

That’s all folks, Until next fortnight, I’ll be changing diapers and thinking about artsy fartsy stuff.

Sources:

Palopoli, Jessica. Stupid F**cking Bird Promotional Photo. Digital image. Http://sfplayhouse.org/. 1 Mar. 2015. Web.

Yamada, Jay. Juicy Loins, The Braggart Soldier or Major Blowhard Promotional Picture. Digital image. Http://www.custommade.org/. 1 Mar. 2015. Web.

Cowan Palace: A Play, A Pregnancy, A Passion for Broccoli Tacos, And Other Chats with Mary McGloin

This week, Ashley Cowan chats with actress, Mary McGloin!

In an already exciting season for Custom Made Theatre Co., I recently had the opportunity to see their latest production of How The World Began and not to get into “review territory” but I thought it was fantastic. Aside from catching Theater Pub’s February contribution, I sadly haven’t been up for a lot of theatrical viewings these days. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to sit longer than an hour without having to pee or put my feet up so seeing anything away from my couch has been tricky. And to be honest, when I entered Custom Made’s space last week, I was already uncomfortable and achy.

But in true theatre healing style, I sat down and was immediately brought to another place. Where I could watch three characters, one of which was suffering through pregnancy pains of her own, explore the divide between religion and biology.

In this Bay Area premiere, written by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Leah S. Abrams, we meet Susan (played by Mary McGloin), a high school science teacher, her student Micah (played by Tim Garcia), and Micah’s “guardian”, Gene (played by Malcom Rodgers) who are all fighting for a chance to be heard and understood. I had the opportunity to ask Mary McGloin a few questions regarding her experience with the production and gain some additional insight into this piece about the universe’s origin story.

picture by Anne Livingston

picture by Anne Livingston

AC: What first drew you to How The World Began and helped you to accept a role three thousand miles away from home?

MM: I first discovered How The World Began back in 2011 when I went on an acting retreat in Costa Rica with casting director, Alaine Alldaffer. She runs the retreat and assigns each actor a role and a play to work on for it. She assigned me Susan. I immediately fell in love with the play and the role and dove into working on it. I will always remember doing the 3rd scene on a beach.

When I saw the Off-Broadway production at the Women’s Project in 2012, I fell in love with the play again and hoped to one day play Susan. Back in April of 2014, Leah, our wonderful director, announced that she was going home to SF to direct this play in Winter of 2015, I immediately said, “I’m right for that role.” Lucky for me, she agreed enough to cast me, which led me home to the Bay Area for this production. (Missing winter in NY notwithstanding.)

AC: What is the biggest thing you have in common with your character, Susan?

MM: That’s funny you should ask. My little sister and brother in law came to the show and said, “Oh my God, she’s exactly like you, did they write this role for you?” I definitely have a very strong sense of justice, fairness, and a desire to stand up and stand by what I believe in, even if it makes me unpopular. That said, I think I personally am a bit more hypersensitive to other people’s feelings and beliefs and would probably have not ended up in the same situation exactly. I tend to apologize more. Though we are eerily similar.

AC: What’s been the biggest surprise challenge in playing Susan?

MM: Surprise challenge? I am not sure what was a surprise exactly but – when I initially read the script, some of the way she talks seemed foreign to me, I don’t say things like “willy-nilly” and “doing my darndest” but it was surprisingly easy to get that once I saw where she was coming from. The first scene sets up quite a tone for the play and I knew that I had to answer a few questions internally to know where to start from. It’s also important I think not to get angry or frustrated with Micah early on as he’s a kid who’s clearly hurting and she’s really trying to do the best she can, that and there’s a long way to go and if you start there you’ve no where to end up.

AC: As the play centers around discussions of faith and biological origin, did conversations of this nature infuse the rehearsal process as well?

MM: This is San Francisco, after all, so no, not really.

AC: What do you hope audiences leave thinking about after they’ve seen the show?

MM: About how easy it is to mis-characterize what other people believe – maybe how they would feel in the situation, how we as a country might be able to be a bit more tolerant of one or another’s views, whether we agree with them or not. Maybe especially when we disagree.

Picture by Jay Yamada

Picture by Jay Yamada

AC: How has your acting preparation process been influenced by playing a character who is pregnant?

MM: I’ve never been pregnant, so I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and asked friends who have been for their experiences. I also did a lot of people watching.

AC: What has been your favorite part about being back in the Bay Area theatre scene?

MM: Oh, God, I miss home. This is my home. I have a lot of friends and family here. I come home typically at least twice a year to visit. Before I moved to the East Coast, I had been living in SF and other parts of the Bay Area for 15 years. I have worked at theatres all around the Bay. Everyone is nice, welcoming, supportive and you can really get to know the community and be seen for roles when they’re casting – New York is so huge and so competitive – it’s hard to keep on keepin’ on but it’s what we do. I was broken-hearted when I had to leave SF. But ultimately, I believed after understudying 12 times at Bay Area Theatres – mostly to women who lived in NYC and had MFA’s – that if I wanted to compete with that I needed to get my MFA and move to NYC, so I did. Was that accurate? I guess I’ll never really know. I would love to come back here at any time and do shows. Eventually, I’d love to be so well situated in my career that I could live anywhere and work consistently, and not just on stage but in TV and Film as well.

AC: What do you miss most about Brooklyn and the New York artistic scene?

MM: New York is pulsating and alive. It’s like being on a train that never stops. There is a great amount of opportunity there to succeed and in a very big way – but it also comes with a big price tag. It’s because of the support of my friends and family here and there that I can get up and do what I do everyday.

To be honest, though, I miss my friends and family in Brooklyn and NY (though if I were there I’d miss you guys here, doh!) , I miss the constant auditioning, I miss the willingness of everyone to bust their butt to make something happen. Brooklyn, itself, I miss Prospect Park, I miss broccoli tacos, I miss finding new and unexpected places to go.

AC: Tell us about where we can see you next and any upcoming projects!

MM: I am busy writing 2 web series in NYC. One is called Lines & Asides and I shot a pilot that got into a few film festivals. It will probably be re-shot when we shoot the whole season. The show revolves around a classically trained actress (typecasting) struggling in NYC and the people she knows – it’s really a story of the life of most of the actors I know in NYC – the idea and the humor are kind of a cross between Slings & Arrows, Waiting for Guffman and The Office. It’s been fun to write – I’ve written 2 seasons, I want to write a final third and then do some re-writes before trying to get it shot.

The other series is about 2 women who work at a startup tech company. My day job has been as a QA Engineer for many years and both me and my co-creator, Amanda Van Nostrand, are taking stories from our lives in this word to make a short (3-5min) episodic. This one is all set in an office and I hope to shoot much sooner than Lines & Asides.

AC: In twelve words or less, why should people come and see How the World Began?

MM: It’s a powerful script that will give you something to talk about!

Picture by Jay Yamada

Picture by Jay Yamada

How The World Began Runs has four shows left and will close on March 8th. To get tickets, please go to: www.custommade.org/tickets and catch this show while you can!

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Actus Interruptus

Dave Sikula, typing from the trenches.

I write this in a sort of gobsmacked state. As I type these words, I’m painfully aware that, under usual circumstances, I’m doing it at the same moment I would normally be finishing up a performance of “Slaughterhouse Five” at Custom Made Theatre Co. (we close on Sunday the 26th, so there are still tickets). Something happened tonight that’s never happened to me in 42 years of doing theatre: we had to cancel a performance in the middle of the show.

Now, I’ve had performances cancelled – even whole productions. (And don’t get me started on that incident …) I’ve had an actor die (quite literally) in the middle of a run. I’ve worked with actors who were drunk or deathly ill. I’ve performed while being deathly ill myself or even lacking a voice, but the show, as the cliché has it, has always gone on.

Until tonight.

Now, I’m not going to go into the exact circumstances. Not only do I not know exactly what happened, but it’s not my place to violate the medical privacy of the actor in question.

What I will say that, whatever happened occurred during a scene change and I was getting ready to come on, so all I saw was the aftermath and another cast member, Sam Tillis, who was the hero of the evening, taking charge in an extremely admirable way, calling for the show to be stopped and doing all he could to get a cell phone and call the paramedics – who arrived within a matter of minutes and really took charge.

Sam Tillis rocks.

Sam Tillis rocks.

The stage manager came down from the booth, assessed the situation and made the announcement that, basically, there was nothing we could do and we were going to have to cancel the rest of the performance.

After a few minutes, the audience pretty much cleared out, even the friends and family who were there – and for whom I felt especially bad, if only because I know them. We got out of costume, and the cast kind of stood and sat around, trying not only to sort out our feelings, but also what we should do. There was, of course, nothing. The paramedics were taking excellent care of our friend (who has, in the meantime, Facebooked from the ER about how the morphine was working well, so that’s a relief), so there was nothing we could do in that regard. There was nothing to be done in regard to the show or the audience, and we were all sort of dealing with – well, not shock (because that’s far too strong a word), but the sudden unexpectedness of it all. As with anything unexpected, we were all left to deal with whatever the hell had just happened and why we weren’t doing the show we were supposed to be in the middle of.

My approximate reaction to the whole situation.

My approximate reaction to the whole situation.

Even now, two hours later, and at a time when I’d normally be home, I’m still sort of gobsmacked. To tell the truth, I felt a little off at the beginning of the performance. We’d had our usual few days off, so I’m sure that was the reason. It was little things; nothing major, and probably stuff no one else would ever notice, but then one’s perception of one’s own performance is always different from everyone else’s, isn’t it?

Anyway, we’re probably due for some changes in the show Friday. I can’t imagine it’ll be business as usual, but it’ll doubtless be interesting.

“The Magic of Live Theatre,” indeed.

“Let’s go on with the show!”

“Let’s go on with the show!”

Editor’s Note: The following is a statement from Custom Made Artistic Director Brian Katz:

Brian Katz here, Artistic Director of Custom Made. To add to the weirdness of the night, I was over 3,000 miles away when it happened. Texts started coming in flurries at 11:40pm Eastern time, and kept buzzing until 2:30am when everything seemed stable. I want to take a second to shout out to my wonderful staff and actors for handling the emergency as well as I knew they would. We are blessed to have so many wonderful professionals that work with us, and whose support of each other knows no limits.

To update the situation, the performer in question is resting and is feeling better. She plans to go on tonight in a limited capacity. For those of you who have seen Slaughterhouse, you know it is a complex show where everyone is involved in the 50 transitions that occur over 100 minutes, but I know my amazing artists will figure out a solution. Also, we are reaching out to everyone who was in the audience last night, asking if they wish to attend one of our final performances (until Sun.) If they cannot, we will offer tickets to any of the shows left in Custom Made’s 2014/15 season.

A final adage: my mentor in college once told me the only reason people go to the theatre is because someone can die on stage. I truly believe that. This is the difference between our art form and many others; these are real live people up there, and because we are all this mess of atoms and organs and cartilage, anything can happen at any time. It is dangerous; therefore, it is thrilling. What is even more wonderful is that when the unexpected happens we always pull together, and make sure the show does, in fact, go on.

The Five: 5 Shows in the 2014/15 Season I can’t wait to see Pt: 1

Anthony R. Miller brings you part 1 of a 2 part series about some incredible shows coming in the 2014/15 season, this week he focuses on formal subscription based seasons:

In spirit of this month’s Theater Pub theme of preparing for the new theatre season, I decided to make a list of shows I was really excited to see. Not soon after beginning my research, I encountered a problem. I found myself with ten shows I was pretty excited about and half of them were part of a formal subscription based season and half were independent productions that were stand-alone events. So once again, I made this a two part series. Part 1 is five shows that are part of a formal subscription based season and in two weeks; Part 2 will cover independent standalone shows in 2014/15. To be clear, this list is written from the perspective of not a critic or prognosticator (Lord knows not as a journalist), but as a fan. Here are 5 shows in the formal 2014/15 that I’m really excited to see.

Slaughterhouse 5-Custom Made Theatre Co.
Sept 16-Oct 12, 2014

In 1996, playwright Eric Simonsen adapted and directed Kurt Vonnegut’s time jumping, dark comedy, absurdist war novel for the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. This play is being performed in the Bay Area for the first time and is being directed by Custom Made’s Artistic Director Brian Katz. As a longtime fan of the book, I have often wondered how this could translate to the stage, and thanks to awesome folks at Custom Made, I shall wonder no longer.

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life)-Ray of Light Theatre
October 3rd-November 1st, 2014

The last few years, Ray of Light Theatre has been making a name for itself as one of the few companies in the Bay that focus exclusively on musicals. After years of doing well known contemporary classics and some cult faves as well, Ray of Light made a gutsy move and scheduled two shows that were practically unknown. The first was Triassic Parq, the next is; Yeast Nation, a new Musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann of Urinetown fame. Now what makes this production super cool is that under the direction of Artistic Director Jason Hoover, the writers themselves have been here work shopping the piece. This is a fantastic opportunity for a local company that is still very much on its way up. And we get to see a brand spanking new show by the guys who wrote everyone’s favorite musical in college.

Our Town-Shotgun Players
December 4-January 11, 2014

Fact: The Ashby Stage is three blocks from my house; it’s ridiculous that I don’t see everything they do. That said, I will definitely be making the treacherous five minute walk from one end of the Ashby Bart to the other to see this show. I can’t entirely explain my fondness for Our Town, its schmaltz, but it’s really well written and often profound schmaltz. And in a time such as now when our lives are a Facebook status roulette of bad news, Our Town is a bastion of simplistic comfort. The Ashby stage is a great place for it and I’m excited to see what Shotgunny twists they put on it. (ie how many mandolins will be used) Consider me already in one of their church pews watching what Award winning Director Susannah Martin and co. does with this even-when-it’s-bad-it’s-still-pretty-good chestnut.

X’s and O’s (A Gridiron Love Story)-Berkeley Rep
January 16–March 1, 2015

For the minority of theatre folk who also love football, we’ve long lamented the lack of plays about Football, because it’d be ridiculous. Now Berkeley Rep brings us, the always lively topic of traumatic head injuries suffered by Football players. For reals though, these stories are heartbreaking. And it’s an amazing examination of the very-men portrayed as god-like gladiators on TV every Sunday. Based on real interviews with players and their families, I’m excited to see these tragic stories brought to light and given a voice. I will probably cry. Playwright K.J. Sanchez just had a huge hit Off-Broadway called ReEntry which focused on the stories of Marines returning from combat. Another completely rad thing about this production is it was commissioned and developed right here in the Bay as part of Berkeley Reps Ground Floor program, which is dedicated the creation and development of New Work.

A Little Night Music -ACT
May 20-June 14, 2015

It would seem we are at a Sondheim saturation point here in the Bay Area. Last year, Ray of Light gave us Into the Woods (following up last year’s production of Sweeney Todd), and this year, SF Playhouse followed up by producing… Into the Woods and for good measure next season they are producing Company. Throw in a big screen adaptation of Into the Woods that nobody has seen but everyone already hates, and you’d gotta be crazy to jump into the Sondheim mosh-pit that is Bay Area theatre, but that’s just what ACT (The Company We Love to Hate) has done. Now let’s make something clear, I love the shit out of this show. It’s the Pitchfork Magazine pick of the Sondheim catalog, not his most commercially successful, but arguably his biggest artistic triumph. It’s sophisticated, dripping with subtext (There’s a 17 minute trio of songs about sex for god’s sake) and easily my favorite of Sondheim’s work. The fact that it is written completely in Waltz beat makes it stand out not only amongst his work but amongst most popular musical theatre. It’s grand and majestic but with remarkably vulnerable characters. Not to mention, “The Quintet” that acts as a brilliant narrative device and actually sings the overture. (Authors Note: this went on for 17 more pages and included a story about how I explained the song “Send in the Clowns” to my Dad, but was omitted for brevity.) ACT has a golden opportunity to do a not-as-famous Sondheim piece and stand out amongst the glut of audience friendly Sondheim shows by knocking this out of the park, let’s see what they do with it.

See you in two weeks with my picks for Standalone/Independent production of the 2014/15 season!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Director, Producer and the guy who won’t stop calling you about renewing your theatre subscription. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens in October.

Introducing The Writers of Pint Sized Plays IV! (Part Three)

We’re continuing our series of profiles of this year’s writers and this time we have two very old friends who have been contributing to Theater Pub for years: Megan Cohen and Sang S. Kim. Both prolific and highly respected local writers, Sang and Megan have been strong supporters of Theater Pub throughout the years and so we’re very excited to have them be a part of the festival this year. In some ways, they also have an unfair advantage on everyone else when it comes to this interview- namely because they’ve already done it before!

So how did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Sang S. Kim: I hear about Theater Pub all the time. Every social gathering, the two things that come up are Pint Size and Olympians. It’s the Equinox and Solstice of the Bay Area theater community. It’s like your life is measured in relationship to these events.

“How old’s your kid?”
“Two Pint Sizes and half an Olympian.”

What possessed me to submit? The spirit of Carol Channing. I know she’s still alive but that’s how awesome she is.

Megan Cohen: I’ve had a play in every Pint-Sized Festival so far– this is my fourth Pint-Sized Play. You’d think I’d be over the format by now, but I’m not! After writing a monologue (“BEEEEAAR!”) for last year’s festival, where it’s just one character hanging out at a table, I wanted to swing the pendulum way in the other direction and do a sweeping epic with a lot of action and movement, and see how far I could push that in the Pub setting. A situation only gets old if you stop trying new things.

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

Sang Kim: Who say’s its hard. It’s not hard. Have you ever ridden the BART between Oakland and Embarcadero around midnight? A lot can happen in 10 minutes or less.

Megan Cohen: Remembering that it’s a short play, not a small play. It doesn’t have to be about small ideas or small themes, and it doesn’t have to be simple or cute. You can give the audience a real experience, a complex experience; you can make those ten minutes important.

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

Megan Cohen:They’re easier to get produced. We’re all working with such limited resources in the arts, and it’s really a huge financial investment for a company to rehearse, produce, and promote a full evening-length play; one major failure can pretty much bankrupt a small theater company, and even if they survive, it can damage their reputation and credibility. Short play festivals are cheaper, faster, and more casual, and they usually draw an adventurous audience who don’t mind if they haven’t heard of the writer, the director, or the actors before, which means companies can take risks on new and emerging artists. It’s still really competitive to get a short script chosen for production, (there are so many playwrights in the world!), but it’s much less competitive than getting a long script accepted. So, the best thing about writing short plays is knowing that they’re easier to get produced, and there’s a better chance the play will get to an audience instead of sitting in a drawer.

Sang Kim: I like to get in late and leave early. This is not good advice outside short plays though.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Sang Kim: David Ives. He really ought to sue me for how much he influences my writing.

This is Sang S. Kim, David. Remember His Face.

This is Sang S. Kim, David. Remember His Face.

Megan Cohen:Right now in general, I’m actively trying to steal as much as I can from David Lynch, Alan Ball, and JJ Abrams. I’ve read too much Shakespeare for that influence not to be present in everything I write; same goes for Tom Stoppard; same goes for Sondheim; couldn’t turn those formative influences off if I tried. This specific play, “The Last Beer In The World,” is an Arthurian grail quest written in rhyme. So, obviously, you’re gonna get some Monty Python in there!!! We’re talking about a whole tradition of quest stories behind this kind of format, though, which are like 100% absorbed by all of us through cultural osmosis, even if we’ve never read any Arthurian literature on purpose. Star Wars? Yeah. Harold and Kumar? Sure. Some book I read as a 12-year-old about flying cars? Probably.

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Megan Cohen: I always say (you can check, it’s on my website at MeganCohen.com) that all the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn. I would love to see her as all three roles in “Last Beer!” If you mean a living celebrity… Michelle Obama. Imagine the publicity, plus you just know she’d be so nice to work with. Anyone who says they don’t want Michelle Obama in their play is lying.

Sang Kim: Daniel Day Lewis. He’s absolutely wrong for either a college kid or grandmother but I would just love to watch him prepare for the role.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Megan Cohen: I am prepping my solo adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey,” and I hope you will come see the first sneak peek of it at the SF Olympians Festival on Nov 8th! I’m going to perform it myself, as a kind of bard from the very-near future, as though I’m speaking to you from tomorrow about one of the oldest stories humans have ever told! The Olympians showing will be an evening-length “highlight reel,” but I’m working towards eventually creating a 12-hour durational piece where I tell the entire story, beginning to end, over the course of a single waking day! It’s all in rhymed verse! It’s a very long-term project! I’m calling it “A Totally Epic Odyssey!” I’m very excited! You can tell how excited I am by all these exclamation marks!

Sang Kim: Finishing these 10 Questions. I’m really close to spending as much time on these questions as I did writing my Pint Size submission.

What’s next for you?

Megan Cohen: Yeah, you can get in on my NEXT thing at BetterThanTelevision.Com. I’m building a “transmedia” story experience where a GHOST haunts your SMARTPHONE for the month of October, leading up to Halloween. I’ve got a great cast, and I’m completely enthralled with this amazing new software platform called Conductrr, which we’re using to make it an interactive story, so that you can communicate with the characters by text and email and stuff like that. It’s a sort of spooky narrative about a Victorian-era magician’s assistant who haunts you until you help her restless spirit cross peacefully into the next world! It’s part game, part film, but it’s really a whole new kind of story experience; it’s social, and modern, lives in your pocket, and should have lots of surprises; hopefully it will actually be “Better Than Television!” Dot com. Better Than Television Dot Com. BetterThanTelevision.Com. BETTERTHANTELEVISION.COM. Ok, I’m done.

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

Sang Kim: I’m helping the people at Bay Area One Acts this year and I’ll probably contribute here and there but I’m actually thinking of taking a break for a while. I find I’m repeating myself and running out of things to write about. Seriously – I’ve been staring at the last two sentences for 10 minutes before I wrote this sentence.

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Megan Cohen: “The SF Olympians Festival: Trojan Requiem” (not just because my Odyssey is in it, I promise), and “Strangers, Babies” at Shotgun in Oct/Nov. I’m stoked for that, because “Any Given Day” by the same team (Dir Jon Tracy and Playwright Linda McLean) at the Magic was soooooo unique, it had this kind of delicacy that really wasn’t like anything else I’d ever seen.

Sang S. Kim: I just looked at my Facebook Event page so I’ll go ahead and plug the next two shows I’m seeing which are “Book of Liz” at Custom Made and “Age of Beauty” at Exit.

What’s your favorite beer?

Sang Kim: I’m actually drinking cider these days. I’ve been having the worse dreams when I drink beer. Like Lars Von Trier directed dreams.

Megan Cohen: If I’m buying, PBR. If you’re buying, two PBRs. If you are buying and have a good job, Russian River’s “Consecration.”

You may have heard it’s our last show at Cafe Royale. What do you look forward to for the future of Theater Pub?

Sang Kim: I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the move to bring even more new people. Also, I look forward to not having to worry about drinks falling on my head because someone forgot how gravity works.

Megan Cohen: Keeping the dream alive with “SATURDAY WRITE FEVER!” It’s a free monthly playmaking party at the Exit Theater Cafe, co-produced by Theater Pub and the Exit, and co-hosted by me and Pub founder Stuart Bousel. On the third Saturday of the month, everyone comes at 8:30pm to hang out and get a drink, then at 9pm, writers pull prompts from a hat and take a 30 minute “playwrighting sprint” to each write a new original monologue! At 9:30pm, brave actors read the monologues for the crowd. It’s fun, you should come, the writing is good, the acting is good, it’s friendly and lively, there are cheap beers or champagne cocktails, and absolutely everyone’s attractive and well-dressed. If you follow SF Theater Pub on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll hear about it when it’s happening. You should follow SF Theater Pub on face so you can know about SATURDAY WRITE FEVER, and about other such things, because I can tell from the fact that you’re still reading this article that you are definitely someone who likes to know about things.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 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!

Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life: An “Exploration” of Race

Marissa Skudlarek asks fifteen questions. We’d like to know if she enjoyed the play. Is that question sixteen?

Last week, I settled comfortably in my seat at Manhattan Theater Club and prepared for an amusing evening of light entertainment. I was seeing a preview of a new play called The Explorers Club, by Nell Benjamin, a comedy about a Victorian-era society for gentlemen explorers, whose president proposes granting membership to a talented lady explorer. I admired the detailed set, by Donyale Werle, full of polished mahogany, old maps, animal skins, exotic artifacts. I perused the thick, full-color Playbill.

And then the show began, and I realized that I had unwittingly bought tickets to one of the more controversial plays in New York City. For, in the role of “Luigi,” a native of the remote tribe discovered by the lady explorer, was an actor named Carson Elrod.

A few weeks earlier, a blog called “Why I’m Tired of Being an (Asian) Actor” (whitetribalchief.wordpress.com), had made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. In it, the Filipino-American actor Alexis Camins describes auditioning for a role as a “tribal chief” in a new comedy at a New York City theater. He made it through several rounds of auditions and hoped that this role might be his big break… and then was dismayed to learn that the theater had cast a white man in the role instead.

“Why I’m Tired of Being an (Asian) Actor” is a great blog, both thoughtful and outraged. It ends with a series of 16 questions, as Camins struggles with his feelings about the matter and aims to deepen our discussion of race in the theater.

Camins doesn’t name the theater, the play, or the actor who eventually won the role, but the context makes clear that he’s talking about The Explorers Club. Somehow, though, when a New York friend suggested that it might be fun for us to see The Explorers Club, I didn’t make the connection between the play I was buying tickets for, and the play that Camins described. It was only after the show started that I realized what I’d done and got a very uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.

So, I guess, here’s my series of questions, prompted by my experience as an audience member at The Explorers Club:

1. Why didn’t I recognize that this was the play mentioned in Camins’ post? Could I have done any kind of “due diligence” before buying my tickets?

2. Should Camins have explicitly named the play that he’s talking about, or was it better for him just to let us figure it out by the clues he drops? As an out-of-town ticket buyer who can’t keep track of everything that’s playing in New York, I would’ve found it helpful if he named the play.

3. One of the reasons I bought tickets to The Explorers Club is that it was by a female playwright, and I like to support female writers whenever possible. Do I get any credit for that?

4. However, though it’s written by a woman, The Explorers Club has a cast consisting of eight men and one woman. Is this really progress? Nell Benjamin, why didn’t you write more good roles for your fellow ladies?

5. But isn’t the mostly-male cast there to make a point about the forces of (white, male) oppression that the lady explorer must struggle against?

6. Can I get off of this feminist tangent, and back onto the subject of race? (Yes.)

7. In the promotional photos for the show, available online, Carson Elrod has his chest and face painted white with blue stripes. As such, it is pretty easy to tell that he is a white guy. When I saw the show, Elrod was painted entirely blue – which helps to disguise his race, although his facial features still read as Caucasian rather than “ethnic.” Was this the producers’ response to Camins’ blog? When was this decision made?

8. Would there be some twist in the play that would justify the casting of a white guy? All though the second act, I kept hoping that the lady explorer would be revealed as a fraud and “Luigi” would prove to be a white man painted blue. (The play is farcical enough that this could actually work – although this twist would then undermine the play’s feminist message.) Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

9. Would I have been so outraged by the casting of a white man as the tribal chief if I hadn’t read Camins’ post? If not, what does that say about me and my racial sensitivity?

10. What should I have done, when I realized that I’d paid money to see a play where a white actor was cast in a role that should’ve gone to an actor of color? Should I have complained? Walked out?

11. Maybe I should’ve asked for a refund. Yeah, that would have been the gutsy thing to do – ask for a refund. That would’ve shown ‘em. Right?

12. But isn’t it annoying when white people suddenly get up on a high horse about racism? If I’d asked for a refund, wouldn’t it have made a scene? Was I prepared to argue the point with theater staff? How far was I prepared to go?

13. Why was I so outraged by this instance of casting a white man in a non-white role? It’s certainly not the first time I have ever encountered this.

14. So, should I also have asked for a refund when I went to Berkeley Rep last winter, and a mixed-race cast performed the Chinese tale of The White Snake? Should I have asked for a refund when I saw Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them at Custom Made Theatre, and the actor who played suspected terrorist “Zamir” was not Middle Eastern?

15. Raising awareness, and participating in conversations about race and theater, are great — but what are the concrete actions that I can take to make things better?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her personal blog, marissabidilla.blogspot.com, describes her as “a girl with a question for most things.” No duh.