Theater Around The Bay: On The TBA Awards

Will Leschber is on his honeymoon, so we’re bringing you a special report on last night’s TBA Awards, by none other than Allison Page.

I’m kind of hungover. But the okay kind, where you get to just think “Oh, that was a pretty good time. Ha!” without danger of throwing up all over yourself when you get to the “Ha!” Last night was the very first Theatre Bay Area Awards ceremony. Much discussion has rippled throughout the community about these awards. From “OH, we need that!” to “Theater isn’t a competition, you can’t compare this to that!” to “Yeah, but are there drinks?” (That last one may or may not have been me, I refuse to confirm or deny it.) Such was the discussion of these awards that I felt they warranted an immediate reaction. From me. For some reason. Let’s go topic by topic.

The Venue
I can’t even pretend to snark about The Geary Theatre. It’s crazy beautiful. And it made us all feel very classy and elegant, which is maybe not something my crew feels all the time. We’re the black box elite, right? We live in small, dark spaces and create as much as possible with as little as we can. Sure, we like to crack open the champagne whenever possible, but we got that “champagne” for eight bucks and it has a picture of an animal on the front and came with a bag of Fritos. The venue gets 5 Stars for glamour, even though we were totally in the nosebleed seats. There was also a nice little photo place outside the theater, with a TBA background you could pose in front of. But it was literally on the sidewalk so people kept walking through everyone else’s photos as they arrived. Maybe a designated place in the lobby would make sense? It was a cool detail, definitely, but I’m sure I’m in at least six photos I’m not supposed to be. (And Carey Perloff is apparently in Paris, so it kinda felt like San Francisco theater was sort of Airbnb-ing the mansion of an eccentric millionaire who was off on vacation in Ibiza. I think she’s actually working on a show but, ya know, a feeling’s a feeling.)

"Errebody walking through our glamour shots."

“Errebody walking through our glamour shots.”

Refreshments
There was a bar. The bartender was really nice, kept the line moving, and the drinks jumped in size at some point which I definitely appreciated. My whiskey gingers were $9, which isn’t the worst thing ever. Did I long for an open bar at this fancy event? I mean, YES. But I always do. It would have been pretty amazing if our tickets all entitled us to one complimentary drink. Wouldn’t that be a nice touch? It would be a sweet compromise between open bar, and totally not open bar. And actually, after people have one drink, I would think they’d shell out the cash for the next one, but that’s just me. I’m sure the organization has a financial reason to not do that because obviously booze costs money, but I think receiving something apart from a program and a nosebleed seat would be cool. Oh and I bought some peanut M&Ms. The foodstuffs were nothing to go bananas about – mostly granola bars and candy – but I don’t think anyone was coming there to eat, so it seems like a non-issue.

Let’s get into the show itself, shall we?

The Hosts
Hosting anything is a terribly thankless job and almost always people are jerks about the hosts. It’s a tough balance to strike: you have to be funny, but you can’t be too mean. You have to be relevant to the event and audience, but you can’t pander too much. You have to keep things moving, but you can’t rush through what you’re doing. Will Durst and Marga Gomez were this year’s stalwart hosts. I like them both a lot as comics, but opening with “Who loves theater?!?” was maybe a not-so-strong choice. I thought they were fine and had a tough job. These awards have never happened before so the vibe of them is sort of undefined. There were points at which it felt like things were sinking a little, but maybe that could have been helped with…

Lighting
I can take no credit for this thought. The Honorable Costume Design Nominee From Tier III For Custom Made’s Production Of THE CRUCIBLE, Brooke Jennings, said it last night: Perhaps it would be easier to keep the audience’s attention if the lighting was demanding that we look in a particular place.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

It was lights up on the entire stage, the entire time. It was easy to get distracted. “Is that a guy at a piano back there? Nice suit, piano guy. Hey, why does the set look like shards of glass? The girl in front of me has a great dress. My new shoes are shockingly comfortable. I wonder what I’m gonna do for breakfast tomorrow…where am I?” Though I appreciated that there was enough light in the house for us to be able to move around, use our phones, and keep the drink-spilling to a minimum. Actually, it was important to have some light in the house way up in the balcony, because otherwise moving around up there would be kind of terrifying. I was initially worried about tripping and quickly tumbling out of the sky and into Betty Buckley’s waiting arms.

The Presenters
I enjoyed that the presenters for the evening were varied peoples from varied tiers and represented lots of different kinds of theater. I was particularly happy Rob and Ray from Piano Fight were presenting, even though Marga mispronounced their podcast Born Ready as Born Reafy. It happens. I thought the presenters overall did a fine job. I was, however, worried that the audience clapping after every nominee was read would add two hours to the event. (It didn’t, it turned out to be fine. There were points at which it felt long, but we got out of there at a reasonable time considering the number of awards given out.)

The Nominees
There are a few things to address here. Let’s start with how the nominees are brought out. They’re in a huge line, sometimes stretching all the way across the stage in a jumble which can be extra tough if some of them are from PEARLS OVER SHANGHAI and keep their absolutely gigantic costumes on for the duration of the evening and then try to squish between two people who probably get glitter and feathers jabbed into their corneas. It was fun to watch that happen, though, because I was really far away and didn’t get glitter or feathers in my corneas. Then comes the time to list all the nominees. Is it crazy for me to think they should stand in order of how they’re being announced? I couldn’t always figure out who was what while that was going on, because as it turns out everyone has their own way of identifying themselves when their name is called: some demurely bow, some just clap and look at everybody else, some stand still and smile which is also what people do when their name ISN’T being called. I realize that would require people to get their shit together enough to stand in a line, in order, but these are actors. Lots of them have probably danced in a single file line before, I think they can handle it. Mostly I’d just feel bad for the SM trying to organize them but selfishly, as an audience member I would like to watch it make sense. Then again, that would require that the nominees actually attend. Which brings me to my next point:

TIER I, WHERE YOU AT? Now, I know there were some Tier I people there, and I certainly didn’t count them or anything, but it seemed there were more of the other two tiers. I’d like to know why that is. Are they uninterested? Do they not want to mix with the riffraff that are the lower tiers? Are they just sooooo busy that they can’t come? This is a community wide event. That’s part of its importance, right? We’re supposed to be crossin’ streams over here. When we get down to nominees for Outstanding World Premiere Play and Stuart Bousel is the only playwright on stage and he’s standing next to the only people representing an Outstanding World Premiere Musical nomination (The Bengsons, for HUNDRED DAYS), then I start to wonder what all those other people are doing. And thank goodness Stuart and The Bengsons are the people who won, because it would have been sad if they were the only people who showed up in that category and they LOST. Along similar lines, I heard that backstage things were sort of disjointed among the nominees, in that it seemed like Tier I people talked to Tier I people, and Tiers II and III were talking to each other – because all of life is essentially a middle school cafeteria scene. I was’t back there, so I can’t say first hand, that’s just what I heard.

Special Acts
Am I the only grouch who thinks that if there are going to be a bunch of songs from musicals, there should be scenes from straight plays? The freakin’ Tonys do it. Yeah, they’d need some mics, but I’m pretty sure that can happen. That would be a good opportunity to see excerpts from the Outstanding World Premiere Play nominees that people maybe didn’t have the chance to see.

The Thing That Pissed Me Off
There was one point when I got pretty irritated. A woman (apparently a really generous donor who’s done a lot for various theaters) took to the stage to give a short speech. In it, she said something like: “If everyone in here invited someone to see theater, we would become something that people talk about.” And I kinda wanted to flip a table. My actual reaction, courtesy of my Facebook post 20 seconds after that happened, was “GIRL YOU ARE TALKING TO A ROOM FULL OF THEATER MAKERS, WE INVITE EVERYBODY TO EVERYTHING. WE INVITE *DEAD* PEOPLE TO THE THEATER. TALK TO THE OTHER RICH PEOPLE. YOU’RE PREACHIN’ TO THE POOR CHOIR.” I don’t know that I need to elaborate on that. I’m glad she’s such a supporter of theater, but the problem isn’t that the broke-ass actors in the audience aren’t inviting people. We’re inviting everyone we’ve ever known. Are you?

Overall Closing Thoughts
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought, “Awards? I don’t know if we need that. Do we need that?” but I was thrilled to 1) Dress up 2) Hang out with my friends 3) Get drinks and 4) Think about the thing we have all chosen to do with our lives. And to me, that last one is the real takeaway. I don’t think an award legitimizes someone’s art, and I don’t think the lack of an award means something wasn’t effective or important. But I do think a large gathering of the people who give a shit about theater in the Bay Area is a good thing, because it shows that we are invested in each other, even if that’s sort of bullshit sometimes. Being aware of all the people outside of my immediate circle who exist and do the things we do gives me a view of how large we really are. Sometimes it feels like there are about 25 theater makers in the general vicinity, but there are so many more than that. If we want to be relevant to the public, we should probably start by being relevant to each other. This is a step in that direction, I think. We’re not quite one big happy family but, shit, at least I know we EXIST.

PS. Ruby Skye for the after party at an additional cost? Yeah, we went to the White Horse and drank beer in a tiny room with a hotel ice machine in it and had a fabulous time eating free popcorn.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

What did you think of the awards? Feel free to voice your opinion, as always, in the comments.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director in the bay area, and her hair looked stellar last night. Congratulations to all the winners/nominees/balcony-sitters/people who pour their lives into theater each day without recognition or proper funding.

Everything Is Already Something Week 45: Haiku For Tech Week

Allison Page shares with us the sound and the fury of tech week, summed up in haiku form.

Lights Up:
Spot light on stage right,
Actors on stage left somehow,
Look how avante garde

Wardrobe Malfunctions:
Oh you ripped your pants,
Oh you ripped them again, huh
Are you new to pants

Mush Mouth:
Did you just say “Glarp”
I have checked the script for “Glarp”,
I have found nothing

Sounds In The Wings:
A construction site,
Or an armoire factory,
Is much quieter

What Do I Do With My Hands:
Stop grabbing your shirt,
Stop messing with your hat please,
No no don’t hold hands

Big Dramatic Death Scene:
You’re dying so well,
But way way too far downstage,
You’ve died in their laps

Everybody Bleed Now:
Fight scenes are scary,
Please keep all your body parts,
It’s only Tuesday

Intermission:
Don’t eat in costume,
I’ll have to poison the food,
You’ll have it coming

Caught In A Bad Showmance:
Oh look they’re in love,
That’s sure to fall apart soon,
Don’t cry on costume

The Royal Ball:
Ev’rybody dance,
Yes that’s right with no rhythm,
I need a drink now

Object Lesson:
You’re miming a cup,
Cups are so hard to come by,
They’re just ev’rywhere

Curtain Call:
Yes please take your time,
They’ve just been here three hours,
Maybe crawl onstage

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/wrangler of 65 teenagers for THREE MUSKETEERS opening this weekend in San Francisco.

Everything Is Already Something Week 44: Thinking Outside The Black Box

Allison Page, letting her imagination run free.

“Listen,” I said to the herd of 25 teenagers forming a semi circle around me, “What you’re doing here – you should really cherish it. Relish it. This giant stage, this beautiful theater, the multitude of sets, costumes, props, sword fights, spiral staircases, and sheer number of human beings on stage – get everything out of it that you can, because if you intend to go on as an actor this very probably isn’t going to be the kind of theater you work in frequently, if at all.”

All for one, and one for really fancy outfits!

All for one, and one for really fancy outfits!

They silently nod, whether they really get it or not. I definitely didn’t get that nugget of information when I was their age. I guess I just thought all theaters were totally enormous. I guess I also pretty much thought all productions were enormous. I remember the first time I read Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf when I was probably 16 and thought “THIS PLAY ONLY HAS FOUR CHARACTERS, WHAT’S GOING ON? THERE AREN’T, LIKE, BUTLERS OR ANYTHING.” It sort of blew my mind at the time. High school theater (and community theater, for the most part) is often a matter of spectacle. How many kids can we fit on the stage? Can we make up a bunch of parts so more people can be involved? We can build a rock-climbing wall, right? Let’s make a big horse for everyone to ride in the background. Guess what! EVERYONE’S GETTING WIGS! AND MATCHING DRESSES! 26 MATCHING DRESSES! Oh, add three balconies – that’ll give it a lil’ somethin’ for that one scene, and then we’ll strike the balconies completely.

A spiral staircase in progress...because, why not?

A spiral staircase in progress…because, why not?

But as an adult theater-maker, my life couldn’t be further from that. I work in black boxes, primarily. Which I’m not complaining about, by the way. I love it. And that’s been the majority of my experiences for the last nearly 7 years. So when I came into this great big prep school theater, it was almost a shock to my system.

The Three Musketeers is a gigantic show. Even if you haven’t read or seen it, I think you know it’s a biggie. Giant cast, giant costumes, giant everything. AND it’s 137 pages long which is sort of…yeah, giant. I mean, Act II opens with a MONTAGE. And in the montage, King Louis is supposed to be wearing a 17TH CENTURY BEEKEEPING OUTFIT and using a 17th century beekeeping device to…keep bees. There aren’t even any lines about it or any lines in that portion of the play at all. Just an absurd montage of sword fighting and overly precious costumes and props.

The last thing I directed before this? A minimalist sketch show with six performers and no props or costumes. I did that on purpose. Because I don’t usually love dealing with all this other stuff. Also – all this other stuff is expensive. But in this case, it’s not a cost I have to worry about, and it’s part of the package. (Thank goodness for the fight choreographer and costumer and tech crew.)

It’s been an adventure. Some days are better than others. It is unquestionably a tough job. I mean, I’m no coal miner or anything but wrangling this many teenagers would be a test of anyone’s patience. All hats off to teachers who do this every day, every year. I can’t imagine that. The kids are great, they really are. And they want to learn, and they want to succeed, but in a show like this, everyone has to be patient. And that’s not easy for any 16 year old. I’m tired. I’m definitely tired. I just spent two hours sitting on the floor looking at photos of people in costumes and trying to remember what worked for whom, what we’re missing, and what we suddenly realized we need and had totally neglected before.

Don't even act like you're not dying to wear a ridiculous ball gown.

Don’t even act like you’re not dying to wear a ridiculous ball gown.

In the end, I think this show is going to be awesome. Like, it will actually inspire awe. Because it’s just so absolutely huge. But when it’s over, I will be happy going back to the cozy theaters I usually call home. Making things that may be small, but remain mighty. Worrying about how we’re going to fit more than one desk in a tiny theater for a play with “DESK” in the title, so we kind of can’t avoid having them. Stretching the limits of what a dollar can buy us in terms of costumes. Oh, look, a perfectly good pair of overalls on the sidewalk! I’ll take it! Doubling up parts because we can only afford 5 actors – and even if we could afford more, we can’t fit them backstage. Using chairs instead of a couch. Having a mask represent a lion – a puppet represent another character. Whatever the thing is, we’ll find a way to pull it off. Black box theater is a world of substitutions. It keeps us on our toes. It forces us to be inventive, and I love it for that.

Exciting, eye-catching, over-the-top adventure plays began my love of theater, and over time I’ve learned to love many different types of plays. I want these kids to get everything they can out of this and every theatrical experience they have, which will shape and inform the types of artists they become, and the types of art they share with other people. That’s a big deal to the future of theater.

And their friends will probably think it’s super cool that they’re sword fighting and swinging across the stage on a rope. I mean, come on. It’s a teenage dream.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director in San Francisco. THE THREE MUSKETEERS opens Nov. 7th. Tickets here: http://www.shcp.edu/events/three-musketeers-nov-07/

Everything Is Already Something Week 42: Things I’d Tell My Younger Director Self

Allison Page, better late than never.

Forgive me for the lateness of this post, I’m swamped. See, I accepted this sudden gig directing a gigantic play for a catholic prep school. Get the laughing out of the way now.

Okay, let’s move on. I’m also directing another show at the same time. So I go to the school for rehearsal 2-5 and have a rehearsal across town for another show from 7-9:30. A year ago I probably wouldn’t believe that was happening because when I moved to the Bay Area, I swore off directing.

Back in Minnesota I directed because that was how I could make a show happen. I was the producer, director, everything-er, and actor because otherwise there was no show. And it was REALLY stressful. It really made me act like a giant monster.

CRAZY?! DO I LOOK CRAZY TO YOU?! JUST DO WHAT I SAY!

CRAZY?! DO I LOOK CRAZY TO YOU?! JUST DO WHAT I SAY!

20 year old Allison had yet to grasp onto how to get people to listen without being…well, like I said, a monster. I swear I was headed for a heart attack by age 22. So when I moved here at 23, I dropped it entirely. Now that I’ve gone back to it, I find I’m a completely different director than I was before. Here are some things I’d like to tell my younger director self:

1) TAKE IT EASY, GIRL
That probably sounds pretty basic, and it is, but I was really high strung and serious about stuff from 15-23. At the time I felt like it would make people take me more seriously if I was acting like a serious person. Turns out that’s sort of stupid. People take your authority seriously if you’re comfortable with it. If you’re uncomfortable with it and have to emphasize it by acting like a grumpy weirdo, they’re just going to talk trash about how crazy you are behind your back. And thought that’ll foster a great group mentality amongst the cast – it won’t bode so well for you.

2) TRUST THE ACTORS, GIRL
Okay, I maybe couldn’t always trust them back home because they were just my friends, but it’s important to trust the people you have carefully chosen, otherwise why did you so carefully choose them? It’s not your job to reinvent the wheel and teach basic acting to actors if they consider themselves actors in the first place. That’s not to say there isn’t stuff to learn – there’s ALWAYS stuff to learn, but ushering them through every minute detail about how to form a character shouldn’t be a go-to strategy when you’re working with actors you’re paying to be there. Trust the people you’ve brought in, because you brought them in for a reason.

3) GIRRRRL, BE OKAY WITH NOT ALWAYS KNOWING THE ANSWER
It’s so nice to live in the knowledge that you don’t always have to be right. Man, that is great. Being right all the time is a pain in the ass. It’s so much pressure to put on yourself. And it can keep you from making positive changes because you end up married to your first idea, terrified that the cast will think you’re a freakin’ moron if you say “Actually, that looks bad, stand over here instead.” and what does that mean? It means it’s gonna look bad because you’re scared to change it. Everyone loses when you’re afraid to have been wrong.

No, this isn't Allison, this is Elaine May, and she's making a movie not directing a play, but let's just let that slide.

No, this isn’t Allison, this is Elaine May, and she’s making a movie not directing a play, but let’s just let that slide.

4) HEY GIRL, HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
Actually, these may not just apply to directing. These are pretty good life choices. Honesty is valuable. And not just for the director, for the actors too. It’s okay to ask them how they feel about what they’re doing, and it should be okay for them to respond honestly. Doesn’t that sound nice? But again, I wouldn’t say this if it wasn’t something that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes directors rule with an iron fist and don’t care what the meat puppets think. But hey, they’re your meat puppets, maybe ask them what they think about this thing you’re all doing together.

I’m really enjoying Director Allison 2.0, she’s way better than the yell-y one, mostly because she’s a nicer person. Huh. How ‘bout that?

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director in the Bay Area. You can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Higher Education: Grappling for Writers

Barbara Jwanouskos, working on keeping up.

So, last week I talked about the benefits of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. And I guess I’m still having feelings about that, so I thought I’d wrestle with them a bit more in this article.

This is the second week of New Works rehearsals where a couple of my fellow Dramatic Writing candidates and I are now seeing these thesis plays launch off the page. It’s been such an interesting process so far. My thesis play is called “The Imaginary Opponent” and deals with how a kung fu school’s community responds when violence breaks out between its students. So, obviously, there’s a lot of martial arts in it and also stage combat/violence.

I’m working with MFA Directing candidate, Quin Gordon, who has stressed from the beginning that because the physicality of the play, it’s important that the we engage in physical activities like running, kung fu and tai chi. Folks who read the Theater Pub blog frequently probably already know that I train in these martial arts disciplines, so that aspect of it, is not a problem. Running, however, is a whole different mental battle.

I’m an active person, but I’ve never been a great runner. When we go out as a group, I am huffing and puffing away, while the others zoom up ahead.

Wait for me, guys!

Wait for me, guys!

My stress over running doesn’t come from a physical standpoint, I get out of breath, but other than that, it doesn’t hurt me to run. In fact, it feels surprisingly great! And it’s not over being competitive. I mean come on, these guys are in their early 20s and are active from sun up to beyond sun down. There’s no need to compete. I’m just happy that I can even DO the route we do.

I think it comes from a place of feeling as if I should be able to do more. AHHH! But there, you see? It’s this whole ego perception thing because I know I’m working hard. I am trying my best. Maybe it’s easily bested by others, but it really is no big deal in the long run because probably the only thing I should be doing is what I already am minus the mental self-flagellation.

I could swim faster if we weren't on land!

I could swim faster if we weren’t on land!

I thought of the mental battle I’m having with running today while in a playwriting workshop with guest artist, Madeleine George. We were doing a lot of intellectual and creative writing/story generation exercises that gave me the same uncomfortable feeling at points that running does. I’d think, “Oh, I can’t write that down, that doesn’t make sense!” And yet, one of the things Madeleine wanted us to work with is not censoring ourselves.

I even feel fairly good at this when it comes to writing. It’s part of how I understand my process. I’ve built it into the way I teach playwriting to undergraduates. My first drafts are messy and don’t really make sense and have way too much stuff in them. But I can let the writing just pour out of me. I’ve been struggling with this a bit more this week however. I spent so long trying to write something new to bring to workshop on Monday, and that really came out was a bunch of non-plays and non-scenes and then about 16 pages of something new.

So, Madeleine’s exercise took a bit of mental grappling for me to stick to task. I found myself asking questions that I would know the answer to had I been leading others in writing. In the moment, I started to feel self-doubt creeping up on me. All the questions really centered around self-consciousness.

Am I doing it right?

Yep. There’s no wrong way.

The more that I pushed myself to keep going with the writing exercises, you could feel things changing and growing. That’s what I’m starting to really dig about running. For me, there are a lot of moments where I feel physically uncomfortable, but ultimately, I get into a groove while I’m doing it, and things just start to flow. It’s the same with writing by working with ideas and strategies beyond my comfort level. I come across pieces of my brain I never knew about.

And that can sometimes be really beautiful.

Where will this path lead?

Where will this path lead?