The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with Christine Keating

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us an inside look at this year’s Olympians Festival. 

This week, since the San Francisco Olympians Festival Indiegogo is at 8 days left, I thought I’d focus on one of the writers in this year’s festival, Harvest of Mysteries. The festival brings together a myriad of different people to create new work – this year, it’s inspired by the Greek and Egyptian gods of the dead. One of the best parts of the festival, from my perspective, is that you don’t need to have an extensive background or know someone in order for your proposal(s) to be seriously considered. All you need is a great idea. From there, the festival builds in small but manageable check-ins with writers, where you share what you’ve been working on and get feedback and encouragement from other writers in the room.

Operating on a very small budget yet still managing to acknowledge that everyone should be paid SOMETHING for their artistic work, this festival builds in a raffle whose proceeds are shared by the poster artists on the night of readings. By doing this, they give artists exposure and recognize that hard work goes into creating art.

As a writer for the festival this year, I’ve had the opportunity to hear short bursts of what Christine Keating is working on and I’m always excited to hear what she’s developed next. So, I thought I’d chat with her a bit more about her creative process and what she’s been up to.

 

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Colorful Christine

 

Barbara: What attracted you to theater? How did you get your start?

Christine: I’ve always been attracted to theatre because I am fascinated by the idea that a group of people can all be made to feel a feeling because of how words are put together by someone else.

I started by writing my own plays when I was about 7 years old, and they were all re-enactments of various horrible tortures people put other people through throughout history. I performed them for my horrified but supportive parents in my living room with my best friends. I acted in high school at the all-boys school in my town because I figured it was a great way to meet boys, and then I realized I actually like the theatre part better. I then realized I was a much better writer and director once I got to college, and have since then been attracted to the new-works scene because I love watching and being a part of the births of creative projects.

Barbara: This is a question borrowed from Mac Wellman – what is the first performance you remember seeing?

Christine: The first show I remember going to was Beauty and the Beast on Broadway – but I remember zero percent about the show, I only remember getting a cool sparkle wand afterwards. The first play I really remember seeing was Measure for Measure in London with my grandparents when I was about 7.

Barbara: How did you get involved in SF Olympians? What do you like?

Christine: I got involved when I wrote for The Sirens (The Sisters Sirene) with my friend Amelia Bethel two years ago. I was attracted to a Greek mythology festival, being someone who likes gore and torture and gossip. But I also was excited by the Olympians because it is a commission-based festival that really commits to nurturing its writers and their ideas.

Barbara: Tell me about how the festival nurtures writers. How is its model helpful for creating new work?

Christine: The writers’ meetings are a built-in community for people to make new connections and build on existing friendships. They’re so supportive of wherever you are in the process, and it’s nice to feel like we’re all struggling for the same thing. The whole festival also connects writers and directors and actors in this huge swirl of “wow this is my community, these are my people” which is such an invigorating experience for artists.

Barbara: Who’s your character and what’s your play about?

Christine: My play is about The River Styx, and while I’m still figuring out my play, I know it’s about being stuck and needing to cross something terrifying and not knowing how, or being afraid of it. It’s got a character who is forced to face all the things she’s messed up in her life, as well as all the things she’ll never get to do.

Barbara: What interesting challenges and/or opportunities have come up in the writing process?

Christine: I have never had writer’s block like I’ve had with this play. I’m normally one of those people who can shut myself up in a room and come out five hours later with the script I was supposed to write, plus 35 pages of another play I wrote by accident. Figuring out what Styx is about has taken me into doing a lot of really fascinating research, and immersing myself in the ideas I want to talk about in a way I haven’t done with other scripts.

Barbara: What stage is your script in currently and what are you excited to hear on the night of the reading?

Christine: It’s in the “I’ve had 15 versions of my first 15 pages” stage right now. I’m really excited to see what comes out of this struggle, and the audience reaction – the best part of theatre is being with other people when it happens!

Barbara: What writing/development do you anticipate having to do between now and the reading?

Christine: I love living-room readings, but I live in under 200 square feet, so I can really only have one if my cast is under 3 people and they’re willing to get cozy, or if someone else has a living room to donate…

Barbara: I’d love to hear your take on Bay Area theater. Why do it here and not in NY or someplace else? What do we have going for us? What could we stand to learn/put into practice?

Christine: Well, first off, I don’t like NYC because within ten seconds of getting into it, I become a huge jerk to everyone. It’s something in the air. I think what San Francisco has is many small groups of people who find that they need to work together and support each other in order to have a thriving arts scene, which means we come up with a lot of different kinds of performance, and new people are always discovering it. We’re also a community that recognises when someone is talented and then nurtures and encourages them to grow in a way I don’t hear my friends in New York talking about.

Barbara: What words of wisdom do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Christine: I think the best words of wisdom I ever received were just someone looking me in the eye and saying “You can do this. This is a hat, among many, that you can wear.”

Barbara: Any plugs for your work or friends’ work happening soon?

Christine: Of course! You should check out the Bay Area Playwrights Festival this weekend – my friend Logan Ellis directed Non-Player Character by Walt McGough. Also, Portal: The Musical is playing next week at Theater Pub, written by Kirk Shimano, whose play for Olympians I will be directing this year! I saw it this week and I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt the overwhelming urge to dedicate the next month of my life to re-playing Portals 1 and 2. And finally, my boyfriend Adam Magill will be in The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made Theatre coming up next month, and having read the script a few years ago, I am really excited to see what the excellent creative team does with it.

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For more about Christine Keating, check out her website. Her play, STYX, commissioned by the San Francisco Olympians Festival, will be read on Wednesday, October 12 at EXIT Theatre in San Francisco.

The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us a double interview with one of San Francisco’s most exciting writing teams.

When I heard about Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song’s idea for a play inspired by the god Oceanus, for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, I was very excited because it seemed like this really interesting meld of Greek mythology, technology and environmental issues. So when I heard that Dan and Siyu’s play had been selected for the New Play Development Program and the Undiscovered Works Series by Custom Made Theatre, I was jazzed for the play to get a further life at other Bay Area theaters. I’ve always been fascinated by writing collaboratively and have started to venture to do this myself as well. When I had the chance to ask Dan and Siyu how they came together, I couldn’t pass it up. Below is an interview with Dan and Siyu about their process and what to expect next Tuesday at the Gallery Cafe.

BJ: Could you each tell me about your artistic background/trajectory? How did you get into writing?

DH: I’ve been a theatre nerd since I had the ability to throw a towel around my shoulders and call it a cape— but veered towards prose and journalism in college. It was after I graduated that my longtime interest in writing, specifically nonfiction, and theater came together when I started to write plays. It’s my hope that my dramatic work has a journalistic quality and the journalism has a dramatic flair.

SS: I studied computer science in school and worked for a few animation/visual effects studios. I was always very interested in stories and storytelling but coming from a technical background, I was always intimidated by the “creative” side of storytelling. But, I took an improv class four years ago on a whim and haven’t looked back. With improv, I found ways to break down stories and characters to patterns and logic that was very conducive to my brain and the way I was trained to approach problems. After doing improv for a few years, the desire to tell more specific and nuanced stories led me naturally to want to do more writing.

BJ: Tell me how you came together to work on Oceanus — what was the idea?

DH: Siyu and I have been friends since we took a sketch comedy writing class way back when. And we’re both alums of the SF Olympians — a one of a kind new works festival that I’m sure your readers are familiar with. When a call for pitches for the 2015 “Wine Dark Sea” iteration of Olympians came around, we were talking and somehow decided that working together would be more fun than working alone. In discussing the possible prompt of Oceanus, a primordial sea god that controlled an underground river that circles the earth, we somehow got on the topic of underwater internet fiber optics cables. And we’re like, let’s write a play about that. Let’s write a play about what happens when a line gets cut and is somehow inspired by a Greek god. Is that how you remember it, Siyu?

SS: Yea that’s about right. When we were going through the topics for pitches, Oceanus stuck out to me because earlier that year my work had suffered a similar internet outage when a fiber optic line got cut and our provider had to send a boat out to the middle of the ocean to fix it. I am a classically trained engineer, so for me it was a nice reminder that while we regard the internet and “the cloud” as ephemeral, they are things that exist in the physical world and have tangible manifestations. We ran through many iterations of what the play would be, but the fiber optic line being cut was the central idea that we developed around.

BJ: How have you worked together to create the piece?

SS: We met in person in the beginning while we were figuring out how to build a play around the idea of a disconnect in the internet infrastructure. Those meetings were mostly just us hanging out and talking about things we wanted to write about. Data, relationships, talking sharks. There was a lot of agreeing. Partly because Dan and I are very polite humans but (hopefully?) more because we are very similar people with a lot of the same interests but we approach the world from slightly different perspectives so it’s always interesting for me to get Dan’s take on something.

DH: Also, lots of g-chatting! We’re actually both answering these questions via a Google Doc right now. One funny life imitating art thing about this process has been that while we were writing this play about people trying and failing to connect across great distances I moved a great distance— to Pittsburgh where I’m currently working on an MFA in dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon. So as we’ve been working together writing scenes about friends trying to see each other on a video chat we too have been trying to video chat.

BJ: Any interesting discoveries along the way?

DH: I’ve learned a lot about collaborating and how you can share authorship with someone. I think we’re still figuring out our process and how we make collective decisions that reflect both people’s sensibilities. And I’m such an overbearing control freak, so that’s hard. Siyu, I hope I haven’t been a total pain in the ass to work with this whole time.

SS: Ha! No it’s great. I think for me when we landed on a sort of anthology piece with lots of vignettes that was when everything clicked. To Dan’s point about sharing authorship- there are threads that feel very much like Dan’s personality and threads that are very much Siyu’s but my feeling after the SF Olympians reading in November was that the ways the threads connected and the structure felt like something we created together.

BJ: Has the piece changed substantially since the SF Olympians reading? And what are you aiming for developmentally?

DH: It’s about 20 minutes longer. We’ve added several additional scenes to really flesh out the cast of characters we have and to make sure each vignette gets something like a full arc. I also think when we first started working on this we really only envisioned it as something that would be a staged reading. Now, as part of Custom Made’s Undiscovered Works series, we’re trying to envision this thing more as an actual play.

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BJ: What are you hoping to hear at the Custom Made reading next Tuesday?

DH: This play has so many different characters and plotlines, I’m just hoping to see if the audience can follow it all and that each of the vignettes lands in some fundamental way.

SS: We talked a lot about the world we were building to tell all the disparate stories. I’m interested in hearing about what worked for the audience and which characters or scenes didn’t quite sit in the world.

BJ: I’m curious about your creative process and artistic development personally– what do you do (or not do) to keep yourself, or at least feel, a forward momentum?

DH: Spreadsheets. Specifically, I keep a spreadsheet of all the plays I’m working on and where I’ve sent them out, where I’ve been rejected, etc… Accumulation of material feels like momentum.

SS: HA! I’m impressed and mortified at “spreadsheets”. I’m nowhere near that organized (but also not as prolific as Dan) I’m lucky to be an ensemble member with the SF Neo-Futurists, part of that means being in a weekly show for months at a time where we write/direct/perform pieces.

BJ: Tell me about the theater scene either here or more broadly — is there anything you are seeing/not seeing that makes you excited?

DH: All the current dialogue that’s happening about diversity and inclusivity in theatre feels positive. We could see a lot more representation of underrepresented communities out in the world and on our stages, but I’m glad there’s a sense of urgency about getting there.

SS: I echo all of what Dan said. I’m also acutely aware of how difficult it is to be an art maker in San Francisco. Hopefully I’m not setting the bar too low here, but seeing anyone put up original work these days, my reaction is “Yes. Please. More.”

BJ: Any advice that you have for others that would like to do what you do?

DH: Don’t take advice from people who aren’t qualified to give advice? Well, actually, the best piece of advice I heard recently from someone else is: finish things. I think that’s true for writing and life. You don’t know what you’ve got on your hands until you written— figuratively or literally— the words “the end.”

SS: Again, I echo everything Dan says. Just to be different though – I’ll say pursue lots of endeavors and don’t get bogged down in a specific form or medium. Sketch writing isn’t so different from dramatic plays isn’t so different from improv. Trying different forms will expose you to new ideas, new people, and new opportunities.

BJ: Any plugs and shout-outs for other work you have coming down the pike or friends’ work we should check out?

DH: Everyone should keep an eye on the rest of Custom Made’s Undiscovered Works series. On the second Tuesday of every month you can hear new plays by the talented likes of Marissa Skudlarek, Kirk Shimano, and Alina Trowbridge and us (we’re coming back in October with a new draft!). Also, Siyu is one of the members of the totally bad-ass SF Neo Futurists that perform weekly, you should check out their extra special Pride Show, Wednesday, June 15. I’m positive it will be exciting and surprising and very fun.

SS: Dan’s play Subtenant is premiering on June 17th at the Asylum Theater in Las Vegas. I got to see a reading of it a while back and it was so good it made me angry, it was like when Salieri hears Motzart’s symphony and goes into a fugue state. I haven’t tried to poison Dan yet, but it is that good. It will be playing until July 3rd so if you’re in Las Vegas you should definitely make an effort to see it.

DH: Salieri to my Mozart? More like Romy to my Michelle! By the way, rest in peace Peter Shaffer…

You can catch Oceanus this coming Tuesday, June 14th, at the Gallery Cafe at 1200 Mason Street in San Francisco. For more, click here.

Cowan Palace: Why Closing A Show Is The Worst

As Ashley prepares for Closing Night, she reflects on the hardest parts of the process.

Back in early February, closing Middletown seemed so far away. 2016 had only just started and I was feeling both anxious and excited to dive into my first full length show in three years. Rehearsals were only just starting, lines were still new and not memorized, and I hadn’t even met the entire cast yet. It seemed like we had a long road ahead.

I’m a believer that sometimes plays find you. They grab a hold of you before you even realize it and strive to teach you something, leave you with something, before that grasp is forced to let go. It could be the language in the text, an emotion it brings out, or simply, just a shared quiet moment between you and an audience member. And so, here we are. Months later. The long road approaches its finish line. Our last four performance of Will Eno’s Middletown at Custom Made Theatre start tonight and by Saturday evening our show will be closed.

Sure. We’ll all get some more personal time to catch up on our poor neglected friend, TV and maybe get a little more sleep to dream about TV. But there’s a lot of stuff that sucks about ending a show, too. Here’s just a few things I’ll miss

1.) Justifying a dinner consisting of those delicious individual sized Sabra hummus and pretzel cups, a Quest bar, and a venti Starbucks caffeinated beverage

Oh, hummus. I think I’ll miss you most of all. Nothing compares to you. Certainly, not a bigger hummus container of the same flavor at home.

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2.) The cast and crew
I mean, duh.

3.) Big Booty
Okay, I love cast warm ups. They’re such a great way to connect with your team before you’re out together on stage and sometimes they offer enough physical activity for me to sort of feel like I’m at the gym! Big Booty. Whenever someone suggests we play it, I’m filled with an incredible anxiety and excitement that can not be matched! If you don’t know the game, look it up. It’s a crazy rush!

4.) The play within the play
There’s a lot of beautiful stuff that happens backstage. Between the very tight quarters and our large set pieces and some creaky floor boards and a big cast, there’s a delicate dance that goes on each night that the audience never gets to see. Sometimes it’s not so delicate and suppressing some of the giggles that result from those more difficult maneuvers can be a challenge but that just makes it all more fun.

The cast (and stage managers) of Middletown snuggling in the Green Room!)

The cast (and stage managers) of Middletown snuggling in the Green Room!)

5.) The constant stream of lines running through my mind
When I hear a certain word or phrase that is either in the show or reminds me of the script, I’m immediately transported to where I am when that moment of the play is happening. I know when the show closes, this feature will start to fade away as it always does, which makes my heart ache just a bit.

6.) Those moments when you’re putting your makeup and first costume on while someone else bares a life story you’ve never heard before or shares a secret.
Like I said earlier, I think plays find you. And sometimes that’s to bring new cast mates together. When I think back on this production of Middletown, I know I’ll remember those surprising moments in the girls dressing room (lovingly called, “The Boudoir” when we’re in the middle of a show) when we sat putting on makeup and someone told a wondrous story from their past or quietly offered a truly honest, bare event from their life and how it’s shaped them. Mainly we laugh together, but we’ve also created this space that allows us to explore some other colorful feelings, as well. Those moments have made me so thankful and emotional, which I think is a big lesson from Middletown and I know I’ll forever miss it.

So many feelings, only so much hummus to sustain them all.

So many feelings, only so much hummus to sustain them all.

7.) Taking a moment to dedicate each show to a past me
As part of my own personal, pre show ritual, I take a moment before each performance and “dedicate” the show to a past version of myself. To the 4 year old who told her parents she wanted to be an actress, to the 12 year old who hated looking in the mirror and longed to grow up, to the senior in college scared that she’d never be cast in anything in the real world, to the young twenty something living in NYC waiting hours just to sing her 16 bars at an audition, to the woman who moved to San Francisco on a whim, to the February Ashley who worried that it’d be impossible to manage being in a play again with a baby at home, etc. The ritual helps me to focus and be grateful to be exactly where I am.

Closing a show always makes me cry. Even thinking of closing a show gets me teary eyed. Not gonna lie, I’m probably crying as you read this. Closing a show is the worst. But the journey, the whole experience, is as beautiful and wonderful as you allow it to be. So, to the cast and crew, those that shared this story with us, and to the folks we hope to see in these final four performances – thank you. While closing is the worst, I think you’re all the best.

You can see Ashley either crying or not crying at Custom Made Theatre’s Middletown playing tonight at 7:30 and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm!

Cowan Palace: Don’t Drink Seawater And Other Stuff Kids Know

This week, Ashley’s asking her theatre students to help write her blog.

Greetings, friends! Here’s hoping your week has been full of pie and sans 23 Ides of March stab wounds.

I’ll be honest. I’ve piled my plate a bit too high this year. I mean the Bachelor finale and these Fuller House episodes aren’t going to watch themselves. And between being a mom and working a full time job, I’ve also been busy in rehearsal for Custom Made Theatre’s upcoming production of Middletown (my first full length show since 2013!), trying to be a motivated Maid of Honor for my sister’s upcoming May nuptials, and teaching preschool drama classes on the side.

Because this week was a particularly busy one, I thought I could commission my four year old students to write my blog for me. Their pay? Stickers! Obviously. I’m a pretty generous boss.

So, before we had our warm up and after I had them “shake out their sillies”, I asked my Monday class of five kiddos for their thoughts.

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TEACHER ASHLEY: Why do you guys think doing theater is important?

KID ONE: Where are the stickers?

TEACHER ASHLEY: Safe and sound in my bag; keeping my book and my “Jar of Sillies” company. So what do you think? Why do you think drama class is a good idea?

KID ONE: I got new skies! Can I tell you something? I went to Tahoe!

KID TWO: I’m thirsty. I need water!

KID THREE: Me too! (coughs in sudden thirsty despair)

TEACHER ASHLEY: Okay, okay. Let’s take a quick trip to the water fountain. Let’s make a line and pretend we are giraffes! (Kids quickly line up as giraffes and tiptoe to get a drink. Once there, they consume the water in a craze)

KID THREE: I hate seawater!

KID FOUR: Me too! It’s so salty!

KID THREE: I drank seawater! Yuck!

KID ONE: Can I tell you something? I like my skies.

TEACHER ASHLEY: Let’s come back and make a big circle! Let’s see if we can make it look like a giant pizza!

KID FOUR: Seawater is so gross!

TEACHER ASHLEY: C’mon, guys! Let’s see if we can come back to our circle in ten seconds. Remember, if we get through a great class, we can celebrate with some stickers! (Kids immediately run and form a circle on the colorful carpet) Great job! Okay, does anyone else want to share something?

KID FIVE: When do I get to be a mermaid?

TEACHER ASHLEY: You can be a mermaid when we play our storytelling game! Do you think that’s why doing theater is important?

KID FIVE: I’m going to be Ariel. (whispers) And have magic powers.

TEACHER ASHLEY: I can’t wait to see that. Does anyone else want to pretend to a special character today?

KID ONE: Tiger. But this time he really dies.

KID FOUR: Yeah! I’m a tiger too!

TEACHER ASHLEY: Maybe the tigers can fall asleep and wake up with some mermaid magic.

KID ONE: Fine. But then they’re lions.

KID TWO: I want to be a fairy princess baby! And we all go to the castle to watch a movie.

TEACHER: Great! So… is that why theater class is important? Because we get the chance to use our imaginations, work together, and tell stories?

KID THREE: Can I see the stickers?

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Ah. Okay. Well, there you go! The kids and I spent the rest of class playing games and making up new stories. I got hugs and laughs and even some drawings to take home! But most importantly, I got a needed distraction and energy boost to help survive these next few weeks with a very full plate. I also learned that maybe money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you stickers. And stickers pave the way to happy trails.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: No, I Don’t Want to Take Five

Marissa Skudlarek declines the cliche.

On Saturday, I went to see the Custom Made Theatre’s production of Sam and Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant. During the final scene transition in the show, as we waited in the dark while the stagehands finished their work, the melancholy strains of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 flowed from the theater speakers.

I first heard this music when I was fourteen years old and acting in a student one-act play festival – it was used as a piece of transition music there, too. Hearing it on Saturday night, I was transported back in time: I was waiting in the wings of my high school auditorium, in the velvety darkness, listening to that poignant piano music, acutely aware of being a sensitive teenage artist with an unspoken crush on somebody else in the show. Then I shook myself out of my reverie and remembered that Satie’s solo piano works are a cliché of theatrical scene-transition music.

This was only reinforced for me when, three nights later, I saw The Nether at San Francisco Playhouse. This complex play takes place half in a future dystopia, half in a virtual realm that resembles the late 1800s. As such, the sound design during the scene transitions mixes cold modern noise with elegant classical music. And within it, my ear definitely caught the strains of Satie’s mega-famous Gymnopédie No. 1.

I’m not immune to the lure of clichéd transition music. I still cringe when I think about how, the very first time I directed a play, I requested that the transition music be “Take Five.” (In my defense: I was fifteen, the characters were in a waiting room, my drama teacher had requested that our transition music not have any lyrics, and I didn’t know what else to pick.) Since then, I feel like I’ve heard “Take Five” in far too many small black-box theaters, all convinced they’d found music that set just the right tone (hip, sophisticated, laid-back-but-upbeat) to keep the audience’s attention during a transition.

Yesterday I polled my Facebook friends to learn which shopworn pieces of transition music bother them the most. Many people cited lite-classical pieces that premiered in the late 1800s and early 1900s – “cultured” but catchy music that influenced the great film composers of the 20th century. Orff’s “O Fortuna” (this might be more of a film cliché than a theater cliché, because the apocalyptic battle scenes it most often accompanies are found more frequently in film than theater). Holst’s The Planets. Ravel’s “Bolero.” Don’t get me wrong: over-familiar as they are, I like these pieces of music! Ravel’s “Bolero” is the absolute best thing to listen to when you are doing data entry or other busy work, and want to vanquish it in triumph. But it took me right out of the play when I went to see Cyrano de Bergerac at the venerable Comédie Française and heard “Bolero” underscoring the battle scene in Act IV.

Other pieces of music are clichés only within a certain context, to evoke a certain mood. The song I think of as “cliché French accordion music” (and don’t even know the real title of) for scenes set in Paris. “White Rabbit” for anything that has to do with the ‘60s counterculture – this gets bonus points because Alice in Wonderland allusions are already kind of a cliché on their own. “How Soon is Now” or “The Safety Dance” for anything to do with being a teenager in the ‘80s.

Believe it or not, just like Gnossienne No. 1 and “Take Five,” “The Safety Dance” also made an appearance at my high-school one-act festival. (A dude in the class above me wrote a play that referenced it and its bizarre music video.) And I guess that’s what it comes down to: it’s forgivable when high-schoolers make clichéd choices, but I kind of expect local professional theaters, or the Comédie Française, to be more inventive. Thinking about clichés in scene-transition music is a useful reminder to all of us not to reach for the easy choice; to keep expanding our knowledge of the art and music of the past and present; to forge new associations rather than relying on preexisting ideas.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Despite her quibbles about their scene-transition music, she very much recommends you see both Sam and Dede and The Nether before they close this weekend.

The Real World – Theater Edition: Gino DiIorio

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Gino DiIorio, the writer of SAM AND DEDE (OR MY DINNER WITH ANDRE THE GIANT), opening at Custom Made Theatre on February 11th.

On his website, Gino describes the play as such —

True story: 12-year old Andre the Giant, already over 6 feet tall and 240 pounds, didn’t fit on the school bus. Andre’s neighbor, as a kind gesture of returning a favor, offered to drive him to school in his truck. The neighbor was Samuel Beckett. Out of that bit of trivia comes “Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant,” imagining three scenes between a giant – a man who cannot hide, and a writer obsessed with silence.

So of course, I was intrigued. I mean lately I’ve been obsessed with silence and subtlety and how it’s theatricalized. Gino and I talked about that and also his influences and creative process.

Enjoy the interview below!

Gino Dilario

Gino DiIorio

Barbara: First off — your premise for SAM AND DEDE sounds amazing — a man obsessed with silence and a giant who cannot hide — how did you come to the idea for this play? What intrigued you?

Gino: My son was very interested in professional wrestling. And I mentioned that when I was his age, I was as well and he asked who were my favorites. And I mentioned Bruno Sammartino and the British Bulldogs and of course, Andre the Giant. He had never heard of him so we Wikied him and that’s where I found out he knew Sam Beckett. And I thought if anyone can write this play, it’s me. Cause I love Beckett as well.

It was great fun to write because once I got them in the room together, I couldn’t shut up them up. They just had great takes on the world, such different experiences and in a way, (not to be too egotistical) but they’re extensions of me. And I guess that’s true of all writers, every character we write is just an extension of ourselves. But Andre is the part of me that thinks I can do everything and that everything is simple and nothing matters and so what if it did? And just have a good time and live life to the fullest. And theatre is about being big and over the top and crazy. Beckett is the part of me that doubts everything, my ability to do anything, the reason to get out of bed in the morning, the weight of the world, the heaviness of existence, the inability to construct a sentence. In this regard I suppose they’re probably like everyone else on the planet!

Barbara: Tell me about your creative process. Is each play unique or do you generally approach new work in a similar way?

Gino: I try to put the characters in a room and let them talk. And if it’s going well, they do things that surprise me.

Barbara: Anything that you’ve come across in your trajectory as a theater artist that made you question or overhaul what you do? What happened? What changed?

Gino: Good question. I sometimes think I’m a bit of an anachronism. I tend to write stuff that’s very linear, straightforward plot lines, etc. I think it’s harder to write a play with a plot. Most writers avoid plot because it’s so damned difficult. But then again, it’s good to try to write something that perhaps doesn’t follow a traditional line and I guess Sam and Dede is just that. It’s a play where I didn’t feel to urge to have anything happen. Kind of like a Beckett play I suppose. Nothing happens. and in turn, things begin to happen in that absence. If that makes sense.

Barbara: How did you get into theater and writing in particular?

Gino: I began as an actor. I did a lot of Shakespeare, regional stuff, commercials, etc. I did it in high school mostly cause I was good at it. And I liked losing myself in the role.

Barbara: Tell me about the current state of theater. Where are we going?

Gino: Oy. In some ways,there’s a lot of good going on. I see a lot of focus on new play development. The problem is it’s too expensive to produce new plays on Broadway and Off Broadway. So it’s hard for plays to get their New York pedigree,if you will. If i could snap my fingers and change one thing about theatre, it’d be that. I’d make it easier to produce new works on the New York stage. it’s just too cost prohibitive. Negotiating a new deal with the technical unions would be a good first start.

But here’s the good news, people still love writing for the theatre. And going to the theatre. It’s wonderfully atavistic and despite the cost and the assault from new technologies, it still remains unique and vibrant.

Barbara: Anything about it that scares you or makes you dream big?

Gino: Wow. I don’t know. I think I get scared that I’ll die before I finish all these play ideas I have in my head! I don’t dream that big. I dream of small honest moments on stage. If I get a lot of those, I’m happy.

Barbara: What’s next for you?

Gino: I’m researching a historical piece on slavery in the 18th century. Yeah, I know. Good luck getting that produced! But it’s what I’m interested in.

Barbara: Words of wisdom for people who want to do what you do?

Gino: If you can do anything else, do it. If you must write or be in the theatre, don’t think you can make a living at it. Remember what makes it great, what you love about it, and judge your success by how much you live in that.

Barbara: Any bad advice that might actually be good?

Gino: Wow, good question. I’ve been lucky, I haven’t gotten that much bad advice. But I will share something my good friend Gary Garrison told me, it’s good to listen to lots of people but reserve the right to ignore all of it. Or some of it. You can pick and choose your advice. Ultimately the piece has to mean something to you. It’s why you wrote the thing in the first place.

Barbara: Shout outs and plugs for your things (theater and otherwise), friends’ things or just anything you thought was rad?

Gino: New Jersey Rep is the greatest. Suzanne and Gabe Barabbas, great people. Clark University rocks. Which is where I met Leah Abrams and Brian Katz of Custom Made!

Dave Sikula and Brendan Everett in rehearsal at Custom Made for SAM AND DEDE.

Dave Sikula and Brendan Averett in rehearsal at Custom Made for SAM AND DEDE.

You can catch SAM AND DEDE at Custom Made Theatre from February 11 through March 5.

Theater Around the Bay: All the Theater Pub News that’s Fit to Print

Marissa Skudlarek is wearing her news-reporter fedora (and not her columnist cloche) this Thursday.

The year is still young but it’s already been very kind to Theater Pub and many of its affiliated artists.

Theater Pub in the media!

Writer Beth Spotswood and photographer Gabrielle Lurie attended the penultimate performance of The Morrissey Plays and then wrote this wonderful feature article about it for the San Francisco Chronicle! We’re thrilled that Theater Pub is now described, in print in the local paper of record, as “creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of 1960s Greenwich Village than 2016 Tenderloin” and targeting “pop-culture-savvy, intellectually snooty theater kids.”

Travel bloggers Shine and Isis of Let’s Go Travel Show, a new web series, attended January’s Saturday Write Fever and filmed it for inclusion in their series! We haven’t seen the footage yet, but keep an eye out on their web page http://www.letsgotravelshow.com/.

Theater Pub artists creating new work!

The Custom Made Theatre Co. has just announced the writers participating its inaugural Undiscovered Works play-development program, and three of them have Theater Pub ties: Dan Hirsch (author of “Shooter,” Theater Pub’s contribution to the 2013 Bay One-Acts Festival), Marissa Skudlarek (longtime Theater Pub columnist and “Pint-Sized Plays” tsarina), and Kirk Shimano (author of Theater Pub’s shows “Love in the Time of Zombies” and the upcoming “Portal: The Musical”). Congratulations!

Meanwhile, the three women writing plays for the 2016 Loud and Unladylike Festival, which commissions new works about lesser-known historical women, also have Theater Pub connections: Skudlarek once again, plus “Hit By A Bus Rules” columnist Alandra Hileman, and Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez. More info is available at http://loudandunladylike.com/. Remember that Tonya is also writing and directing our February show, the Lisa Frank fantasia Over the Rainbow!

Opportunities for actors and directors!

Theater Pub founder, Stuart Bousel, will be holding auditions on February 24 and 25 for his production of Paradise Street by Clive Barker, which is happening at the EXIT Theatre (co-hosts of Saturday Write Fever) in December 2016. This is an especially good opportunity for actors who’ve been working on their British Isles accents — the play features Liverpudlian, Cockney, Scottish, Irish, and time-traveling Elizabethan characters! 5 roles for men and 4 roles for women are available. For more information and to sign up for an audition slot: https://www.facebook.com/events/513349952159221/.

Sooner in time and closer to home, our own Sara Judge is still seeking actors and directors who are interested in being a part of Theater Pub’s March show, On the Spot! This is our twist on the ever-popular “24-hour theater festival.” Writers have 24 hours to write a ten-minute play based on a given prompt, actors rehearse with a director for just one week, and the show performs at PianoFight on March 21, 22, 28, and 29! For more information and to sign up: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/how-to-get-involved/.