Off-Kilter And Off-Key: An Interview With Lisa and Nick Gentile

In anticipation of “Crappy Holidays”, our anti-celebration of the holiday season coming at you this Saturday, November 16 at 8:30 at the Exit Cafe, we took a moment to chat up Lisa and Nick Gentile, the creators behind the show and a unique husband and wife team in the San Francisco playwrighting scene.

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So, level with us: what have you got against the holidays?

Nick: I always enjoyed the holidays because we got time off from school, so I appreciate the original purpose of the holidays – permission to behave irresponsibly. It’s all the dreary repetitive ritual stuff that got grafted onto the holidays that bothers me.

Lisa: Holidays are Petri dishes of angst, resentment, fear, expectation, hope, and love. It’s rich material for human drama. Some people take holidays so seriously, they need to be soothed when we handle an occasion with anything less than absolute reverence. Everything is fair game for us. I think that’s all there is to it.

Where did these plays come from? Real life experience? Horror stories of others? Your own twisted minds?

Nick: “Death Is My Bitch” came from real life. Lisa was driving on Highway 17 in the rain, and I started talking about how dangerous the road is, and she told me to shut up. We made up the part about dying, though.

Lisa: That’s not all that we made up.

Nick: “Ma’s Thanksgiving Pie” grew as we work-shopped it at Play Café. Doing readings at workshops helps a lot. When you hear it read, you realize what parts are thin. We realized that the first version of the play had only one plot twist, and that we needed to add a few more to make it worth the audience’s while.

Lisa: The empathy that helps us define a character’s wants and pains comes from real life. We like to riff on real world events and archetypes. Maybe we live closer to our shadow selves than some. It’s always high noon!

Nick: Neither of us can remember where “Bobby’s Letter to Santa” came from.

Lisa: Someone asked whether “Bobby” is autobiographical. I didn’t know how to respond.

Your work in general tends to have a bit of an off-kilter quality to it. What do you credit as the source for that?

Lisa: Real life is off-kilter.

Nick: Tell them about your background in psychology.

Lisa: At an early age, long before my formal education, I wanted to see what people would do in various situations. And what moves me more than anything else is the expression of human potential. In our writing I enjoy looking at creativity free of right or wrong. I like to explore how characters see and reach for what they want. I like that we don’t burden them with any codes of conduct other than what makes sense for the story. We get to cut loose, too.

Nick: My Pookie is like the Nietzschean Ubermehsch, beyond good and evil! As for me, I just listen to the voices in my head…the screaming ones…

What’s the best thing about writing as a team? What’s the worst?

Nick: The best part is that, when you run out of ideas, you can get help.

Lisa: The worst part is debating whose take is better for a given scene. We exhaust each other.

Many of the actors are ones you have worked with before. Do you generally write for certain actors?

Nick: We don’t write for specific actors. It’s only afterwards that we realize that this person would be perfect for that role, etc. But perhaps these actors have subconsciously educated us to write for them.

Lisa: We were lucky to meet most of this cast through Theater Pub. We know as a fact that Warden Lawlor, Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, Dan Kurtz, and Tavis Kammet will totally commit to these characters no questions asked.

Nick: At least one of them has actually said, “I’m your bitch. Anything you want.” It’s too much fun to give up.

Editor’s note: we’re fairly certain the actor in question is Warden.

Lisa: We’re excited to add Stefanie Geerlings, Eden Davis, and Doug Miller to the mix for this show.

You’ve formed your own production company recently- tell us more about that.

Lisa: When we started writing and submitting plays together it was easy to just be two authors. Someone else produced them. But then we started writing and producing short films with other collaborators and a loosely structured network of mix-and-match teams developed. Then we went on to produce films for our niece and nephews. We didn’t want our names to interfere with their credit. Now we also produce stage works. We needed a way to package our various contributions so we picked a name. Our mission is to generate smartly twisted comedy. Studio Banal+ is about to celebrate 10 years of letting the shadow shine.

What’s on the horizon for you after this show?

Nick: We’ve been trying to do a longer work for a while. It involves a producer, a director, and a screenwriter discussing a bad science fiction movie that they are trying to make, with nuns taken over by alien brains and pregnant androids. The three are arguing about changes they want to amok, and whether these are driven by artistic merit or hidden ulterior motives.

Lisa: Someday I want to set one at sea so that we can have those fake waves moving back and forth on stage. But I what I know about being at sea I can’t yet put to paper.

So really, come on… what is your favorite holiday?

Lisa: The ones where the whole family gets together are good fun. It’s nonstop storytelling, playing music, and laughing. But we can’t always make it happen around a holiday. Sometimes it’s a summer weekend at the beach or in the woods. Last year we scheduled our Christmas gift exchange for 30 minutes in the café at Bass Outdoor World in Manteca, even though none of us lives there.

Nick: The ancient roman holiday of Saturnalia. This occurred in December, and involved banquets, gift-giving, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned social norms. I think the Christians stole it and turned it into Christmas, and got rid of that carnival part, which was the best part. That Council of Nicea – they were jerks!

Don’t miss Crappy Holidays, this Saturday at 8:30 PM at the Exit Cafe (156 Eddy Street, San Francisco). Admission is free, with a five dollar suggested donation!

Only Two Weeks Till Our Next Show!

And now we have this killer image…

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Deck the halls with irreverence!

San Francisco Theatre Pub is proud to present Crappy Holidays, three short plays about the holidays and their discontents, for one night only on November 16, 2013 at the EXIT Theatre Café at 8:30 PM!

Crappy Holidays, written by Nick Gentile and Lisa Gentile, includes Death is My Bitch, Ma’s Thanksgiving Pie, and Bobby’s Letter to Santa. The trio of dark comedies offers a grim reaper making friends in the wrong places, a quasi-sane mother outwitting her offspring, and a disgruntled holiday icon facing a career change. The cast includes Ashley Cowan, Eden Davis, Stephanie Geerlings, Dan Kurtz, B. Warden Lawlor, William Leschber, and Tavis Kammet.

Says director Nick Gentile: “If you don’t need to see another production of A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, this show is for you! Oh, and the cast rocks!”

Admission will be free, with a suggested donation, at the door!

The EXIT Theatre Café is located at 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA.

The Pub From Another World Arrives Tonight!

Tonight, for one night only, Cafe Royale transforms into THE PUB FROM ANOTHER WORLD, an inter-dimensional crossroads where theater is not bound by the constraints of reality! It’s a world where time travel is possible, where unicorns exist! From the minds of eight Bay Area playwrights—including a four-year-old girl featured on Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/2013/03/02/horrorsf-play-by-a-four-year.html)—come imaginative tales of everything from superheroes to surrogates, monsters to mad scientists, and other flights of fancy. This night of staged readings will be talked about for all eternity by those afflicted with immortality, so don’t miss it!

This strange brew of stories was concocted by Timothy Kay, Audrey Kessinger, Sang Kim, Allison Page, Sunil Patel, Bridgette Dutta Portman, Kirk Shimano, and Marissa Skudlarek. The intrepid troupe of actors includes Giovanna Arietta, Sam Bertken, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Caitlin Evenson, Paul Jennings, Timothy Kay, Dan Kurtz, Meg O’Connor, Sunil Patel, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers.

The wormhole will be open for one night only: Monday, May 20, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Admission is free and no reservations are required for this journey, but we recommend you come early for the best seats. Hyde Away Blues BBQ will provide food for all human guests.

Announcing Our January Theater Pub!

Pa-January! – A Night of Bedtime Stories

The holidays are over but 2013 is now here with a New Year of Theater Pub!

With winter still ahead of us, we’re inviting everyone to cozy up in Café Royale for a Pajama Party and a night of Bedtime Stories.  We’re talking grade-A comfort theater, with stories old and new, a lullaby or two, crayons and coloring and of course booze – just like elementary school!

This Theater Pub will be brought to you by the Letter T for Talent, including Stuart Bousel , Megan Cohen, Jeremy Cole, Ashley Cowan, Jaime Lee Currier, Sang S. Kim, Dan Kurtz, William Leschber, Carl Luciana, Brian Markley, Jan Marsh, Karen Offereins, Sunil Patel and Marissa Skudlarek,

Pajamas are optional but whimsy is not. That said, if you come in your pajamas, we’ll totally enter you in a raffle to win a prize!

It all happens on January 21st, 2013 at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco! The show starts at 8, but get there early to support our friends the Hide-Away BBQ, who will be bringing pop-up deliciousness! Admission is, as always, free, with a suggested donation at the door!

Theater Around The Bay: Lisa and Nick Gentile Discuss Writing as a Couple

We recently got a great submission from Nick and Lisa Gentile, a husband/wife writing team from the East Bay who have been participants and supporters of Theater Pub for years. Here in all its glory, is their funny and insightful look into life as an artistic duo. Enjoy!

People often ask us what it’s like writing as a couple. We usually give a glib answer, because we haven’t really thought about it. We thought we could try to answer the question by interviewing each other.

Nick: So, Lisa, when did we first start writing?

Lisa: 2004. Your birthday. I took you to see 8 Tens at 8 in Santa Cruz. Remember that?

Nick: I remember we both thought that some were good and some were . . . not inimitable. I never thought that I could write a full-length play, but after that we both thought that we could do ten minutes. I didn’t realize before then that there was an entry-level length. I thought you had to write this big honking thing like Long Days Journey into Night right off the bat. Do you remember where the idea for our first play, Ten Minutes to Burn, came from? Or anything about its origins? Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember any of it.

Lisa: We were at that little surf film fest at the Roxy and we ran to Arinell Pizza during intermission. We had only a few minutes and I complained that I knew the dude behind the counter was going to say, “this is all I have for ten minutes.” And he did! And that other guy came in and went on and on about death metal versus black metal. Funny how people never ask us whether that play is autobiographical.

Nick: Probably because the characters are all dead. Now our second play, Russian Roulette for Lovers – I know where that came from. Our only real argument as a couple, about the philosophical meaning of The Godfather. I was going on and on about it, and you thought I was ignoring your opinion due to a sexist belief that women cannot truly understand the movie due to its hyper-masculine subject matter. I’m glad you realized that wasn’t true. I was just in some strange oblivious testosterone-fueled movie-analyzing reverie.

Lisa: Yeah, once I gave up interrupting you to defend the position that I actually had a position I just watched, stunned, as you lectured the imaginary crowd.

Nick: You yelled, “Who are you having this conversation with?” which became a line in the play.

Lisa: Then I saw potential, both for our relationship to continue and for the new play. How would you describe our writing process?

Nick: Well, what I think goes on is we both throw out half-baked ideas, and we both try not to say anything critical until it becomes too painful to bite back our sarcasm. Then we try to come up with some plot that threads together the ideas or bits of dialog we really like, even if that plot doesn’t contain the other person’s ideas. And finally we both try to come up with something that melds both sets of ideas into something semi-coherent. So what does it look like from your perspective?

Lisa: So I’m not far off when I tell people that we take turns assuming the fetal position under the desk. One of us is usually willing to carry on the work if the other has fallen into the pit of despair. I know I whine a lot over story arcs. But I think it’s your way with dialogue, your inner Mamet or Stoppard, that really gets us through.

Nick: Stop. I should rend my garments. Nobody gets compared to Tom Stoppard. Now, the Mamet comparison I can live with, because I share one thing in particular with him, which is observing the way people express ideas in the vernacular. I mean the way that people express complex ideas and emotions with ungrammatically correct phrases and metaphors. And by swearing. Who influences you?

Lisa: Chekhov. And it’s not just about the gun, seriously. I think his work shows the tension and suspense that are inherent in relationship. I love how the service of tea can be wrought with anguish.

Nick: Is that grammatically correct? What do you mean “relationship”?

Lisa: It’s a poet thing. To explain it would kill it. What’s your favorite idea that we developed?

Nick: When our friend Kate Owen said to us, “You should write a play about mumble-mumble”, and we both though she said “maggots.” I don’t remember what she really said, but I remember talking about it on our drive home, trying to figure out what kind of play you could write about maggots. We decided that they should be philosophers, because they have mouths but no limbs.

Lisa: Metamorphosize, mon Amour sent us back to the college textbooks night after night. Remember that big chart that we made to outline coherent arguments for the three characters?

Nick: I think that chart shows how you take the lead role in providing the structure for our works, while I concern myself with coming up with amusing lines. Our different strengths merge synergistically. Or something. I’m getting points for saying this stuff, right? Pookie, would you say that playwriting together has been an extension of our love? I sure hope so, because this Fringe Festival show is going to be stressful. We’ll need all our love to make it through.

Lisa:
That’s sweet. But I have to confess something. I needed that chart because around that time I started spiking my mochas with rum. Speaking of booze (hint, hint), what’s your favorite production so far?

Nick: Why, God, Satan Beer, of course, at San Francisco Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays in August 2011. It’s obligatory that we mention that this was a great opportunity to get involved with a bunch of talented people through that production. And it’s also true, because we are working with some those people at the SF Fringe.

Lisa: I wouldn’t change a thing about Pint-Sized. Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, and Ashley Cowan made the crowd laugh. That’s what it’s all about.

Nick and Lisa Gentile’s show “Weird Romance” will be performed at the SF Fringe Festival on September 8, 9, 11, and 14. http://www.sffringe.org/wordpress/

Join SFTP this Valentine’s Day for a Classic Rom Com!

Join San Francisco Theater Pub this Valentine’s Day for a classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl to sexy foreigner, boy declares war on foreigner’s homeland, boy destroys foreigner’s homeland, boy gets girl back only to lose girl again and discover he may have never lost her (or had her) to begin with. Euripides’ HELEN is considered by many to be the first dramatic romance, an adult play (in the maturity sense, not the rated X sense) about middle aged lovers learning what it means to be married and committed, not just hot enough to die for. It’s comic, it’s bizarre, it’s full of massive plot gaps and leaps of logic, and more than one genuine nugget of beauty and wisdom on the evasive nature of true romance.

If you’re single, what better place to come launch a thousand ships with that sexy smile? If you’re paired off, bring your beloved and learn from the Great Poet while you’re still sober enough to absorb something useful, then get drunk with us afterwards and screw it all up during the trip home!

Starring Tonyanna Borkovi, Kirsten Broadbear, Nick Dickson, Maura Halloran, James Kierstead, Dan Kurtz, Theresa Miller, Tonya Narvaez, Karen Offereins, Leer Relleum, Marissa Skudlarek, Aaron Tworek and directed by Stuart Bousel, this will be a classic Theater Pub dramatic reading, complete with sexy actors in sheets and perhaps a Valentine’s Day Treat or two.

Admission is FREE with a suggested five dollar donation. No Reservations necessary, but we encourage early arrivals to get the best seating. The show begins at 8 PM!