Theater Around The Bay: In Every Ending, A Beginning

Barbara Jwanouskos, thinking, remembering.

My first teacher in playwriting – really, the first teacher that taught me how to write and parse out creative thought – was Naomi Iizuka. Among many things that have stuck with me over time is how she would describe beginnings and endings. She asked us to take notice and reflect on how every ending within our play was also a beginning – and vice versa. I think about this frequently. How the end of one period of life can welcome a new stage and moment, which is exciting.

I’m thinking about this in the context of the news about Theater Pub’s closure. How this space, company, and group of people has given us confidence and joy in making art and exploring its edges together. And I’m thinking about the ways in which an ending of Theater Pub means a beginning of something else. Something new and exciting and that we don’t know anything about yet.

I’ve written before about relishing in the space of the unknown and how in this realm, anything is possible. That it’s all about ideas and trying them out and learning from them. I think this is one of those times again. Where we can allow ourselves the time to ask questions that get to something deeper than probably a lot of us realized we were capable of. The start of those questions resulted in the closure of Theater Pub, but this is just the beginning. This means that artists and thinkers of all types now can go out trying things on their own or with new people, old friends, whomever. It gives us all space to put on stage exactly what we want to see and really make it a project we truly care about. It’s not that we didn’t have that with Theater Pub – quite the opposite, Theater Pub taught us how to do this. How it was possible.

So, I’m looking at this moment and looking beyond the foreground to what’s on the horizon. We may not be able to fully see it yet, but I am confident with the experiences we had from doing things together under this umbrella, we will be making some great art for our communities to share in. Thank you for reading, seeing, and supporting us! There is always more to come though maybe it looks a little different than in the past.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. For more, check out her blog, The Dynamics of Groove.

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Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: What I Did For Love

Marissa Skudlarek shares some thoughts on our impending closure.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Theater Pub will wind down operations after our December show. It’s not a decision that the artistic staff made lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision they made with no regrets and no sense of heartbreak. Theater Pub is dying a peaceful, natural death; we’re not looking for a miracle to “save” us and, in fact, we might not accept it if it was offered.

Indeed, we really don’t want people to see our closure announcement and spin it into some story about how The Arts Are Dying In The Bay Area Because It’s Too Expensive Here. Maybe that’s true for some arts organizations that have had to shut down, but not for us. Nor do we feel like our passing will leave an un-fillable hole in the local theater scene. Contrary to popular belief, “there are a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be,” as Meg Trowbridge wrote.

When we posted our closure announcement on a Bay Area theater message board, a local theater patron reacted with concern and alarm. He offered to set up a GoFundMe page if that would allow us to “stick around.” As I said, we want to nip this narrative in the bud, so Stuart Bousel gave me the go-ahead to reply to the man. This is what I wrote:

“I’m a longtime Theater Pub attendee/writer/producer/blogger/actor and friend of the Pub’s current leadership, Stuart Bousel, Meg Trowbridge, and Tonya Narvaez. We appreciate your concern and your desire to keep art alive in the Bay Area, but as Stuart and Meg and Tonya wrote in their post, money has very little to do with why we have decided to end Theater Pub. Theater Pub was never going to be a full-time, quit-your-day-job career for any of us. We are indie theater artists juggling a lot of responsibilities (both theater-related and not), and after many years of hard work to produce a new show in a bar every single month — not an easy task! — we want to concentrate on other projects, other ways of making art, other things in our lives. None of us are quitting theater or leaving the Bay Area — on the contrary, I think we’re all busier than ever! So Theater Pub, the institution/organization, is going away, but WE, the artists, are not going away. The friendships and connections we have made, the skills we have learned, are not going away. It may sound strange, in a capitalistic age in a crazy expensive city where nearly every conversation turns to money, but the reason we’re ending Theater Pub isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.”

Meanwhile, this Medium post by Jeff Lewonczyk about why he gave up making indie theater in New York, has been making the rounds. As I said, for the time being, none of the core Theater Pub folks are planning to give up theater the way that Lewonczyk has. But I also think that we all understand his sentiments and don’t blame him in the least. There comes a time to step away from things, thoughtfully but without regrets.

As Stuart, Meg, and Tonya wrote in the title of their joint post, “autumn is a time to say goodbye.” Many of the Theater Pub usual suspects are also involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which begins in just a few weeks and whose theme this year is myths of death and the underworld. But at least for me, looking at death through a Greek-myth framework means seeing it as inevitable, and necessary, and possibly peaceful. (The mythological figure I’m writing about this year is Macaria, Persephone’s daughter and the goddess of peaceful death.) It means thinking about the cyclical nature of things; how Persephone goes to the underworld for half the year, but she is never lost down there forever.

And in the meantime, we’re ending Theater Pub with a show about a ghost (September), a show about a gravedigger (October), King Lear (November), and, finally, a musical celebration/funeral/wake. Because we’re theater people, and we know how to end things.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See the staged reading of her new play Macaria, or The Good Life at the Olympians Festival on October 14.

Working Title: Thankful for Thanksgiving Violence…?

This week Will Leschber gives thanks.

Fall finds it’s way into the corners of our lives blowing an ever cooler breeze off the bay and we pause whatever errant projects we are working on to come together for some thanks-giving. My Thanksgivings over the years have been peppered with family (distant and close), food (pleasant and gross), friends (old and new), and good times (never too few). Also I find this time of year is wrapped up with a sensation of endings, of the curtain’s close, of the year-wheel spinning down before the new start. A mixture of celebration, reflection and bitter-sweetness always flavors this season for me. That combination is somehow my favorite. Currently, this is all enhanced by the fact that I’m in the middle of moving into the first apartment that my new family (beautiful wife and lovely daughter on the way) will call home. It’s a time of High Transition.

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Within this whirlwind, I was still able to take a brief moment to enjoy some fall entertainment. The unlikely pairing taken in within days of each other turned out to be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 and Thrillpeddlers’ annual Grand Guignol horror plays: Shocktoberfest. Although seemingly an odd pairing, I found it interesting how both pieces of disparate entertainment used violence as a cathartic reward for the audience. Mockingjay presents it’s conflict as straightforward and serious. The wartime violence of this section of the story has a dramatic cost to the characters we’ve come to love, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that the action is part of the draw. It’s what we are coming to see. (Along with the emotional character components…my wife just wants to see the lovers kiss! Except Gale…Gale sucks).

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Similarly, though presented with a much different tone, Shocktoberfest celebrates a genre of theatre that is built around rewarding the audience with a sort of climactic blood letting. In keeping with Grand Guignol’s programming history, the four varied, short plays presented within the night offered psychological and physical terror that wove in humorous work, dance, and song. I haven’t seen much like it on stage and I was surprised on how much fun I had. This dance macabre was made all the better by the group of friends that assembled to see the show. We were cautious to call it “boys night” because that indicates regularity. With adult social life being as fickle as it is, we just appreciated the shit out of the time we were given. A bloody good time.

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Thanksgiving is all about community and coming together. We journey across state lines, bus lines, car lanes, and packed planes to join friends and family. What the hell does this have to do violent entertainment, you say? I’m saying this entertainment like any other is enhanced by the company in which we see it. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful The Hunger Games is improved by my wife and her sister whispering about how much Gale sucks. I’m thankful that popcorn/franchise entertainment can occasionally be high quality. I’m thankful that diverse kinds of theatre exists in the Bay Area and in the world at large. I’m thankful that five guys can make time in their adult schedules to hang out, have a beer and have some bloody fun. I’m thankful for you too. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Everything is Already Something Week 25: But What if They Hate It?!

Allison Page, talking about what she knows best: being an object of derision.

I was every kind of nervous. I realized too late that I hadn’t eaten enough. I started filling up on mimosas instead of food – what else could I do? I don’t know what I was so anxious about; it was exactly this moment that I had been building up to the last few months, and now that I was faced with it, it was really freaking me out! Yes, it was the actor read through of the first draft of my new play. This little baby nugget had to be tossed out of the nest. There was no more waiting, the day had come.

I’m not prone to nervousness. In fact, it’s an extreme rarity for me. I get that from my dad. He’s a pretty calm and cool dude, and so am I. EXCEPT THIS TIME. Sure, I’ve written all kinds of stuff. Plays, even. But they’re not usually full length, and they’re not usually this important to me. And this was a first draft! Actors were coming over to read my FIRST DRAFT out loud! What if they hated it? What if they walked around shouting about how much they hated it? Here are some things I seriously worried about:

1) Do too many people in the play exit to the bathroom?! Everyone’s going to think the characters have digestive problems!

Even the cat's on the can.

Even the cat’s on the can.

2) This seems like Mamet-level swearing. What if they don’t like the swearing? What if they think it’s like…HBO swearing? Do I care?!

3) I wonder if everyone’s going to feel really weird about the sex scene. I mean, I feel a little weird about it myself. It’s SEX, after all.

4) I bet at least one person will think that I have my character picked up and carried around just because I love being picked up and carried around – because I do. But that’s not why I wrote it!…is it?!

5) What if the director lights the script on fire in the middle of the reading in a blaze of un-glory?

Once we sat down and actually started reading it, I calmed down. Well, I stopped being nervous, anyway…and I started being excited! I think I was twirling a pen around the whole time because I didn’t know what to do with my hands. And I ate a lot of handfuls of cheese puffs. (Sorry, diet.)

Mamet: Probably Not Impressed With My Swearing

Mamet: Probably Not Impressed With My Swearing

This play has been brewing in my head for nearly 3 years. To put it down in typed words had its bouts of ease and of difficulty. Naturally, the day before the reading I sat at my computer from 7:30am until after midnight in order to finish it. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. And even then…there’s no last scene. I have everything else, but there’s no last scene. Ending things is always difficult, I think. It’s so…final! Part of it is that I’m a little afraid of leaving these beloved characters in a not-necessarily-happy state. But I’m also hesitant to tie everything up neatly in a pretty bow. That just doesn’t seem a fitting end to their story; it’s too clean. It seems like I know I don’t want that good old fairytale ending, but I’m scared to do what might be necessary. It’s probably a “DO IT FAST, LIKE TEARING OFF A BANDAID!” situation…but I can’t seem to do that.

I told the actors at the reading that the final scene hadn’t been written yet. Even so, when we got to the last page, they all wanted to know what happens! I told them I had a few different ideas about how the last scene could go, but didn’t really tell them what those ideas are. They had their own suspicions. Deep down, a lot of people want a story with a happy ending – or as happy an ending as possible. But when that doesn’t serve the story – I’m not into it. If Ingrid Bergman had stayed with Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca, the story wouldn’t feel the same.

Forget that other guy, let's run away together! To hell with the fate of the world! Then let's make Casablanca 2: Lost in New York!

Forget that other guy, let’s run away together! To hell with the fate of the world! Then let’s make Casablanca 2: Lost in New York!

(Um, not that HILARITY is as important as CASABLANCA, but you know what I mean. Different endings have different effects.) Actually, many of the most enduring stories I can think of don’t have happy endings. I’m lookin’ at YOU, Romeo and Juliet! It’s not something I want to make a quick, impulsive decision about. I’m going to give it some time. I have a little time on my side at the moment, so I’m going to take advantage of that. Am I worried that I’ll choose an ending the audience won’t like? Mmm…yeah, a little. But mostly I want to make sure *I* like it. It’s my ending, after all. I don’t want to regret it. And I want to do right by the fake people who swim around in my brain. (Wow, that sounded delusional. Whatever.)

Oh, and no one noticed the characters going to the bathroom too much. Thank goodness, otherwise I’d be forced to put in a line about them having eaten a lot of spicy food or something.

You can witness Allison’s delusions live at SF Sketchfest on Monday, February 3rd at the Eureka Theater with Killing My Lobster.