In For a Penny: Of the People, By the People, For the People

Charles Lewis III, giving us another look at Paul Flores.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down Brothas on the Instant Replay”
– Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not be Televised

On-site theatre is a risky proposition, both for the performers as well as the audience. One the one hand, you’ve freed yourself from the rigid constraints of a typical performance space; on the other hand, you’re subject to the elements and limited as to what you can openly display in public. I’ve done Shakespeare in the woods, Sarah Kane’s Blasted in an actual hotel room, and – as the name of this website may have told you – pub-set plays in actual pubs. I can’t recall any one of those being preceded by the advisory that the show could be “shut down by the police at any moment.”

Such was the case yesterday at 2pm outside the SFPD Mission station. I’d seen on Twitter that Theater MadCap would be staging a special performance of You’re Gonna Cry for the so-called “Frisco 5”, so I decided to check it out. For those who don’t know, the Frisco 5 are five SF activists and politicians (Edwin Lindo is running for District 9 Supervisor) who are staging a hunger strike in front of the Mission station in protest of police-related killings by the SFPD. They plan to continue their strike until Police Chief Greg Suhr resigns from his post. Despite the word “Frisco” rubbing me the wrong way, I sympathized with their cause and am always interested in the intersection of art and social justice. The very idea that art can be used for genuine social change is one that still gets my blood pumping.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

The “early bird” audience consisted of the strikers themselves, reporters from various news outlets and websites (one cameraman from KTVU was captured everything), twenty-or-so students from Mission High who took the day off to witness protest first-hand. Given that Flores’ one-man show begins in 1995, I was struck by the fact that none of these kids were even alive when this all took place.

I remember clearly what San Francisco was like that year (I was 14) just as I remember that dot-com bubble that followed. I also remember that it as being the first time I took a theatre class and the first time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I wanted to perform, I wanted to get in touch with my Blackness, I wanted to fully embrace every part of this great, big world that had now been opened up to me. All of those memories came flooding back as Flores put on many hats – literally and figuratively – and I scribbled down notes as traffic occasionally drowned him out.

Most of it was the business-as-usual collection of garbage trucks and mail carriers, but there were also the occasional pointed honks of solidarity from motorists who held their raised fists out their windows. Several folks stood across the street to take photos and get a better look, though they couldn’t hear what was said. Since the performance was in the street’s bike lane, quite a few Schwinn-enabled hipsters swerved around the crowd with bewildered looks on their faces. About 15 or 20min. into the performance, another motorist drove by to show neither curiosity or support. A White man over 40, he began using his horn as a punching bag and angrily shouting “Go home! Go HOME!!!” to all gathered. Since he drove by during a green light, he was as gone as quick as he’d appeared.

Through all of this, Flores never missed a beat. Sliding from one persona to the next, it makes sense that a play about the colorful characters who used to inhabit the Mission be staged amongst and for the colorful character who inhabit the Mission now. Jumping from Spanish to English and back again, the high schoolers in attendance seemed most receptive of all. As much as it pisses me off when people call to “kill off Shakespeare” – claiming that he’s obsolete in contemporary theatre and curricula – I get equally pissed by people who say that youngsters couldn’t possibly take an interest in theatre, given their supposedly short attention spans. The teens gathered yesterday contradicted that theory.

We were told that the SFPD could shut down the performance at any minute. This gave the show an air of uncertainty and unease when uniformed officers gathered at the corner of 17th &Valencia. Flores made it a good 50-or-so minutes through his performance without fail before he finally had to stop. To our surprise, it wasn’t the SFPD that stopped him.

Through a chorus of drum beats and chants heard from a block away, the 20-some-odd Mission High students were joined by a massive crowd of students from Everett Junior High School. Flores kindly relinquished his “stage” to these young supporters as they took turns extolling words of encouragement to the strikers.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

It was then that I had another one of those moments. You know the ones. I’ve occasionally mentioned them during my column posts this year. It’s a moment that happens in spite of people saying “No one goes to theatre”. It happens in spite of my being told that my generation “is fucked and the next generation is double-fucked.” It happens in spite of everyone telling me “SF is so over”.

It’s the moment when I know they’re all wrong and I remember why I do what I do. I watched an effective peaceful protest in my hometown, punctuated by a moving performance, interrupted by a show of support from active youth. That’s almost everything I could want out of theatre.

On the BART ride home I just happened to see Barbara’s interview with Paul Flores get posted as I was already planning to write this very piece. I had no idea she’d interviewed him, so don’t mistake this for a two-part advertisement for his show. Still, I find it appropriate that both pieces run so close together, as they both present two important parts of the artistic process. The interview represented the artist’s intentions, this piece sees it in practice. Whether or not they’ve succeeded is up to you (this isn’t a review of the show), but I’m glad I got to observe it with the usual restrictions removed.

Charles Lewis III is in a show this weekend, but will definitely see You’re Gonna Cry during its run, which begins tomorrow and runs until May 28th. The “Frisco 5” protest has no end date in sight.

The Real World- Theater Edition: Interview with Paul S. Flores

Barbara Jwanouskos (on a different day) chats with Paul S. Flores about You’re Gonna Cry.

This week, I was lucky enough to coordinate with Eric Reid and Paul S. Flores to talk about You’re Gonna Cry, the new show that will be opening soon at Theater Madcap. Paul developed a play that sounds incredible and is in response to the gentrification of the Mission, which has lead to the displacement of communities of color. He is an artist that uses his gifts to direct and open conversations about events that have had devastating effects on the communities he cares about.

Paul works with, is influenced by, and grew as a theater artist with some of my mentors and heroes in the theater scene — people I consider to be extremely talented in their way to access parts of the soul and provide such depth and complexity to their art. Paul and I talk about You’re Gonna Cry, creative process, and Paul’s thoughts on theater and the Bay Area.

I hope you will enjoy the interview below and then, of course, experience the show he created that is coming up…

Paul S. Flores. Photo credit: Ramsey El Qare

Paul S. Flores. Photo credit: Ramsey El Qare

Barbara: How did you get interested in theater and especially in creating new work?

Paul: I came out of the Spoken Word scene of the 1990’s in San Francisco’s Mission District. My first group or performance ensemble was Los Delicados, a Latino hybrid of spoken word, song and dance, and AfroCuban drumming—kind of like the Latino version of The Last Poets meets Perez-Prado. I evolved from performance poetry into Hip-Hop Theater in 2001 collaborating with Marc Bamuthi Joseph on the first Hybrid Project at Intersection for the Arts. Then I got my first commissioned play in 2004 from Su Teatro (in Denver) and the National Performance Network; it was called Fear of a Brown Planet. We toured that all over the nation, mostly to Latino theaters. I have written four plays since that have all toured. I have only been interested in creating new original works. Voice is most important to me. I am a writer by training. So I only do original work.

Barbara: What’s your approach? Any particular stylistic tools/techniques you like using in your work? Why?

Paul: I have apprenticed as a theater artist with theater makers and directors like Sean San Jose, Guillermo Gomez Peña, Elia Arce, Danny Hoch, Kamilah Forbes, Michael John Garcés, Brian Freeman. I did not study theater in any institution. I’m a theater outsider. And I’m not loyal to any genre—I use them all. I am committed to experience and healing my community through whatever artistic and organizing methods I can channel. But I love theater for its live ritual. My approach is what I called social practice theater. I focus first to social issues—gang violence, immigrant struggles, racial profiling, male gender stereotypes—and apply interview research methods to development. I partner with social service organizations to base stories on experiences from their constituency. Language authenticity is number one. I’m not an actor in the sense of training. I’m an actor whose purpose is to realize the message in my writing as an immediate visceral experience—what I see and endure so does the audience. I’m not spoon feeding anyone a list of recommendations for social ills. I’m presenting people as they are, how I see them. And creating an opportunity for audiences to recognize the systemic problems around them. And I hope to offer a path to healing through the work I create.

Barbara: Tell me about You’re Gonna Cry. How did it come about? Anything you were responding to?

Paul: Initially I was responding to a call for creating work that addressed the connection of new technology and changing demographics. John Kilacky from the SF Foundation commissioned a short, initial iteration of You’re Gonna Cry in 2009. I lived in the Mission during the 1990s and saw the introduction of the dot-com tech industry tear apart my neighborhood with greed: greedy investors/venture capitalists created greedy landlords which created greedy new residents which altered the culture and community of The Mission District. I attended so many evictions parties then. My friends were forced out of the neighborhood. A vibrant community of collaboration and justice minded artist collectives and ensembles were disintegrated. Many who stuck around turned all our energy to telling the story of systemic oppression expressed in gentrification (begun with Willie Brown’s statement in 1998 “you need to make $80,000 a year to live in San Francisco” to Mayor Lee’s tax breaks for tech companies like Twitter and Zynga). We had to become political artists to survive. We had to tell the story as a record and as a means to organize. Gentrification is violence. Displacement is violence. Poverty is violence. Erasure of cultural memory is violence. Being priced out of your arts practice is violence. Homelessness is violence. Police bring violence. We see the effects of gentrification in the deaths of Alex Nieto and Luis Gongora. So when you think about the effect of gentrification, behind the façade improvements, the increased appearance of cafes and high priced boutiques, the “Urban Safari” truck painted like a zebra driving past Galeria de La Raza on 24th Street, stopping to take pictures of me while I rehearse in the studio, it’s a crying shame, a cause for rage. Painful.

Barbara: How did you and Eric Reid come to work together and what are your future plans?

Paul: Eric reached out to me a couple years ago to participate in a theater activity at his theater Inner Mission that was targeting theater makers and playwrights of color. Eric was recruiting playwrights on Facebook. I went to an event and was inspired by his vision to create space for Bay Area theater artists of color.

Then last year 2015 I had an opportunity to hire a manager, and I needed production support for the tour of my play PLACAS ( starring Ric Salinas of Culture Clash. I hired Eric to be my manager, and to help me produce the California tour of PLACAS. Working together we realized we both wanted SF Theater to represent the community that we are inspired by: the Mission and the Fillmore—both gentrified. In November I performed a one-off of You’re Gonna Cry at the White Privilege Conference at St. Ignatius High School. Eric also did production on that show. He thought bringing the show back for a new version would tie perfectly into the current activism to stop police violence and evictions. We are on the same wavelength. We want theater to advance the causes we believe in.

Barbara: How do you like being an artist in the Bay Area? What are the unique characteristics of living, working, developing art here?

Paul: The Bay Area, especially San Francisco and Oakland, inspires critical thinking, civic engagement and prolific creativity in modes of communication. Liberation not innovation is the primary theme here. I will not waiver on that. I don’t believe tech innovation defines us, not now and definitely not then.

I am a California loyalist. I chose San Francisco instead of New York to ground my art and represent California culture nationally, globally. I am San Francisco. The Bay Area has nurtured me since 1995. We created Los Delicados in The Mission. Around the same time we also created Youth Speaks in the Mission, and I used to teach writing workshops for teenagers at Southern Exposure Gallery when it was part of Project Artaud. My fundamental voice as a writer/performer is informed by the Mission District—culturally rooted, community based performance that connects indigenous, Latino and African diasporic arts traditions. This urban indigenous ecosystem is the foundation of the Mission arts venues that cultivated my work: Galeria de La Raza, Mission Cultural Center, CellSpace, Intersection for The Arts, Youth Speaks, Red Poppy, Brava, Project Artaud…so many. Even when I am integrating technology into my shows it’s always from the perspective of “How does the Latino community relate to it?” I almost always collaborate with Mission-based musicians and visual artists in my work—Marcus Shelby, Rio Yañez, Culture Clash, Greg Landau, Norman Zelaya, Dj Sake-1, Eric Norberg. I also have a lot of love for Oakland, which is grounded in roots culture, community organizing, polyculturalism, and immigrant co-existence. Bamuthi and I both lived together and created plays for a couple years in Oakland. My first docu-theater project was called “Fruitvale Project” directed by Elia Arce, and produced by La Peña. I shadowed a Cambodian immigrant refugee named Kong, who escaped the Khmer Rouge, while he documented damage after the “Raider Riots,” in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. I performed as Kong. At the same time Bamuthi was working on Word Becomes Flesh, and Scourge about Black and Haitian identity through the lense of hip-hop theater. We informed each other in the early years of our growth. So to be an artist in the Bay Area is to be immersed in culture, conflict, tradition and prolific social and political interaction.

Barbara: I want to ask you about gentrification and the Mission — your thoughts and how it’s reflected in the show — what you are exploring?

Paul: You’re Gonna Cry specifically tears the façade off the Mission of the 1990s and lets the audience see inside the homes and lives of Mission natives, immigrants, techies and artists. The piece contextualizes the concept of gentrification—economically motivated culture shift of a neighborhood—by highlighting what is powerful about the culture of the neighborhood. Which also reveals how such a place like the Mission can be vulnerable to gentrification and evictions. We see how violent gentrification really is as new residents from a different economic class use real estate to impose their will on the neighborhood’s already existing social relations which creates massive conflict. When the dot-com industry of the 1990s was introduced, newly monied tech industry workers and venture capitalists from Wisconsin and Michigan fell in love with the physical beauty and vibrant action of the Mission District, but they didn’t try to get to the know the lives of its native population: people who were born and raised in The Mission. Instead internet business people wanted to appropriate what was already thriving, and then change it to fit their needs. It’s like this real estate trend of maintaining original classic external of a building but gutting the inside to make it modern. Gentrification is American post-colonialism. It is late 20th century capitalist culture. In the name of new experiences for the wealthy (lofts, bars, restaurants, doggy hotels, indoor mini-golf), it leaves immigrants and poorer people behind without a care for their well-being.

I play about 12 characters from different generations, genders, races, interests on the block of 24th and York St. The characters reveal the neighborhood. I don’t spell anything out for you. I use music, spoken word, dance, monologue, puppets, video. This is an impressionistic portrait. Nothing is obvious. You must listen and feel what each character says to understand all the connections between them and their stake in the neighborhood.

Barbara: Can you tell me your creative influences, heroes, and things you would love to do but haven’t (yet!)?

Paul: My heroes are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amy Winehouse, Miguel Piñero, Miles Davis, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Oliver Mayer, Leon Ichaso. My influences are my colleagues and friends Norman Zelaya, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Danny Hoch, Culture Clash, Mayda del Valle, Elia Arce, Saul Williams, Tanya Saracho.

I want to work with Rosalba Rolon from Pregones Theater and musician Yosvanny Terry on a musical theater piece about Cuban emigres of the 1990s. I want to write a story of folks who came to the US during Cuba’s Special Period, after the fall of the Soviet Union, when financial sponsorship of Cuba was halted. I want to write about their story in the US. I am a big fan of Cuban music and of Pregones.

I want to write TV. I want to create a show like The Wire but about the Oakland school district from state take-over to the current push to turn all the schools into charters. Oakland Unified is the American public school system. It is ripe with drama and characters, and I want to write the TV. Make the heroes teachers on TV instead of fucking cops.

Barbara: What are your thoughts on the Bay Area theater scene and anything you would change?

Paul: Bay Area theater is small, exciting and functioning at a certain level. There is good work out here: Michael Torres directed MAS at Laney College, Sean San Jose recently directed Chavez Ravine at UC Berkeley, the Magic did Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. Ubuntu Theater is very interesting. I am sad we lost Octavio Solis to Oregon Shakes. I’m not happy Campo Santo doesn’t have a home theater. I was excited to see Between Riverside and Crazy at ACT. But I wonder why they didn’t do Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Hudes. Maybe one day Berkeley Rep will invest in new Latino playwrights from the Bay Area… I just came out of a 10 year partnership with the San Francisco International Arts Festival who commissioned two of my plays (PLACAS, and Representa!). It was very fruitful, and I am thankful to Andrew Wood’s support. And I am entering into theater commissions with Loco Bloco and Youth Speaks on two plays about police violence and gentrification—which I just received the Gerbode Playwriting Commission for, and for which Sean San Jose will direct my play Arresting Life. I’ve also been in the Tenderloin rehearsing more, and I wonder what theaters like the Exit, PianoFight and Cutting Ball will do to develop artists from that neighborhood. I don’t think the current state of Equity makes anything any better when no one can afford to own a building. National theater networks are growing. A lot of talk about White Privilege. A lot of talk about making theater more diverse. I don’t really see it though. A lot of smart talk. Very little smart action on the part of regional theaters. They are worried about legacy and job hoarding. I was recently at South Coast Rep. I met the entire “Artistic” creative wing of their massive theater. All of them white. Nice people. But not a single black or brown leader in the artistic division. That is typical to me. So I keep working with non-traditional theaters, or non-traditional partners, making work that matters to the empowerment of our people. I will not beg regional theaters to include me, nor will I conform to their cultural standards of what they think good theater is. Not while theater critics keep describing Latinos as “spicy” or “hot.” I do love the conflict though. It helps create meaning. You find purpose, and can be inspired to be a mentor to other artists. The imbalance of resources in theater forces us to address history. I will work with individuals whose work I admire. Wherever they are.

Barbara: Thoughts/words of wisdom for others out there who want to do what you do?

Paul: Work your networks. Cultivate community. Believe in your friends. Donate time and money to your friends’ work. When the work is hard, you are doing the thing you were meant to be doing. Nothing happens overnight. Take time when creating theater. Do not rush it. Nothing worthwhile should come easy. Take risks: reach out to people you don’t know that well but who you are interested in. Practice compassion. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Find love in all the interactions you have. Try to identify with people who are in pain. Ask them who their family is. Ask: Tell me who loves you? Lead with healing.

Barbara: Plugs for friends’ things or anything else we should check out?

Paul: Check out On The Hill, my next production about the death of Alex Nieto at the hands of the San Francisco Police. I am collaborating with Loco Bloco and Eric Reid. Coming to Brava Theater in October 2016.

"You're Gonna Cry" by Paul S. Flores

You’re Gonna Cry by Paul S. Flores

You’re Gonna Cry by Paul S. Flores and produced by Theater MadCap, is playing May 6-28th at the Phoenix Theater. For more information, go here.

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview with Eric Reid

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews the man behind a new company and a new opportunity for local writers to get work seen and heard.

In a new feature on this column, I’m setting out to interview theater professionals in the Bay Area to learn more about how they involve themselves in the scene. Eric Reid, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Theater Madcap, was the first of these interviews. We chatted at the Mission Public about his new playwriting series, Staged!, (the lack of) diversity in theater – and the opportunities and challenges that presents, and upcoming projects at Theater Madcap.

Eric Reid, Executive Director of Theater Madcap

Eric Reid, Executive Director of Theater Madcap

BJ: Tell me about Staged! and how it got started.

ER: Staged! is a ten-week staged reading series designed to develop new work that explores diversity. It happens every Tuesday at Inner Mission. It started because as an actor and a person of color looking for work that explores diverse themes is few and far between. A couple years ago, along with Rob Ready, we’d started a similar series for new work with PianoFight called “Shortlived”. The idea was to produce short plays and have the audience vote on their favorite over the course of three months and then from that the winner was given a full-length production. With Staged! I wanted to take that same idea and select 10 plays to be read over 10 weeks and from that, I select one winner for a full-length production. That way, I can promote and support work I want to see that is exploring themes I think are important.

BJ: What was the impetus to start this new series?

ER: The tagline of my theater company is “Deliberately Diverse Theater” because we’re interested in producing theater that’s deliberately exploring diversity as a topic. I’ve been in the Bay Area scene for 13 years and it was hard for me to find roles. And you have to ask yourself questions about why that is. As a city, we pride ourselves on being ethnically diverse, but the reality is in 1980 about 19% of the population was African-American. In 2000, it went down to 12%. Now, it’s down to 6%. In any other scientific field, you’d look at a sizable decrease in population as a crisis leading towards extinction. There were certainly factors that lead a mass exodus of African-Americans out of San Francisco and when the economy recovered, there was no place for them. With this series, I wanted to try and figure out a way that we could live up to the identity of being diverse. For me, that starts with the writing. It’s in the spine of the story for writers to incorporate diversity of all types.

BJ: Where are you at in the current series? How’s it going so far?

ER: This past Tuesday was our fourth week and so far it’s going well! I recognize that it’s a hard topic. I had high aspirations to have a performance about diversity and then a talkback. And it’s easy to feel, but really hard to talk about. There are so many opinions and no one’s really come up with any good format of how to lead a talkback session about diversity. So, I lead with that. I say that it’s going to be uncomfortable, but that’s okay. And for the playwright, they get to see what the audience truly got out of their piece. The great thing about theater is it gives the opportunity to the audience to empathize with another character who might not be like them. A performance will present events that never happened before or after. Even if you see another performance of the same play and same company, it’s always going to be different. So, it links the audience together into something that’s truly magical. It’s hard to criticize when you’ve had such an intimate experience with one another. And this is what sort of lubricates the gears when we talk about diversity afterwards. How it affected them, what they would like to see, etc.

BJ: Have you had any sticking points with any of the talkback sessions so far or by contrast has it actually brought people together?

ER: Not really, I think if anything it’s brought people together. Because people come to sit and listen. And when you’re in a talkback session, your brain is in listening mode. The hardest thing about the talkback sessions is the fear of feedback. This type of performance then talkback model takes judgment off the table. You’re igniting your listening muscles and it creates a unique atmosphere. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that one of the main things for minorities, is we just want to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard. This gives people the chance to express their opinions and that’s the beginning of the healing process. It’s an opportunity to speak and express oneself in a positive way.

BJ: What plays and playwrights have you done so far?

ER: The first play we did was Hedge by Robin Lynn Rodriguez. It’s a play about gentrification. It’s set in Oakland and these two well-meaning hipster couples move into a new neighborhood and want to change things for the better, but experience some obstacles with the community. It’s about what happens when pure intentions and the reality of going into a place that is unknown.

Then, we did Don’t Be Evil by Bennett Fisher. In that one a government agency kidnaps a programmer responsible for creating a search engine that implicates the government’s misdeeds. It’s exploring our understanding of technology and the possibilities of its use, since we don’t quite know what all things like the internet can be used for.

The third play was by Garret Groenveld called The Serving Class. And that was about an affluent family planning this extravagant wedding for their daughter and the people they hire to serve their needs for this endeavor. That one’s a comedy that’s about the reckless use of privilege and what people are consumed by.

Then, we had an African-American playwright, Richard Kevin Cartwright’s play, Drapetomania, which was a condition under the eugenics theories manufactured by the medical society to describe slaves who wanted to run or tried to get free. And this was a real thing used to identify and solve those who had this “condition” with testing in very gruesome ways. In addition to going into the history, this play really shows how we can be duped into believing anything.

And this coming Tuesday, is The Subtenant by Daniel Hirsch and it’s about a father who is estranged from his son who finds his old laptop and discovers things he never knew. It’s about the connection we have to our family and the denial of who they are when they act in ways that we don’t want them to, and then the regret for not having a chance at reconciliation.

So, really with all these plays we’re tapping into the human condition and discovering that the conditions we have are universal.

BJ: How can people get involved or submit their plays?

ER: Well, all the plays for the current season have been selected, but I actually ran into a problem that I didn’t expect that I could use some help on.

BJ: What happened?

ER: Well, it was really surprising actually. I ran into it on the last play we did, Drapetomania. I needed two African-American male actors and I was surprised by the lack of actors that were actually available. It’s only one rehearsal and one staged reading, so it’s not a huge time commitment, but you do end up having to work for free. A lot of actors I reached out to were in other shows and I just wasn’t getting responses to the calls I put out. It brought up the question, how do I widen my pool of actors? So, I’m thinking of ways to cultivate that. Perhaps offering acting and directing talent in addition to supporting writers. It’s great to support plays about diversity, but then the idea was to create more roles for actors and directors from a diverse range of backgrounds. Because it wasn’t for lack of trying with putting the word out on Drapetomania. It was like pointing to something else…

BJ: A systemic problem?

ER: Yes, exactly! It goes back to what we were talking about before – that only 6% of the population here is African-American. It’s all connected. Which is why it’s so hard to talk about in those talkbacks. The obstacle course for the night gets kinda tough. And I think it can be easy to choose not to take part in that. But I’m hoping that people have a stronger muscle for this and that we can continue to develop it. Whenever plays are cast with diversity in mind or are about topics relating to diversity, they do really well in the Bay Area. So, how do we do more of that?

BJ: Remind me again, how long does Staged! run?

ER: It’s every Tuesday night starting in July and running until September 2nd.

BJ: And what’s after that?

ER: After that, I’ll be staging Sam Shepard’s True West, but re-imagining the cast to be people of color. We’re not changing the text at all, but we’re hoping that by casting it a certain way, it raises questions and adds some nuance to the story. Then, we have the winner of Staged! in February. This summer has been our inaugural season. And then, that’s it. We’re a small company. We’re only staging three plays.

BJ: How do people connect with you and Theater Madcap?

ER: We’ll have a Kickstarter campaign to fund our season of programs. I really want to keep the Staged! series free for the public. They can also go to the website, our facebook page, and come out to see the next play in the series, this Tuesday, July 29th, 7 PM, at Inner Mission (2050 Bryant Street in San Francisco).

BJ: Any last thoughts/words of wisdom for aspiring artists?

ER: We have a real opportunity to explore diversity in a new way, for actors to gain new understanding of each other and a desire to add more to the tool kit by exploring diverse roles. It leads to greater empathy as human beings. I used to get angry when I heard the term “post-racial” because what does that even mean? At first, I understood it to be a term invented by those in power to stop any kind of discussion about race and ethnicity, but since starting Theater Madcap and the Staged! series, I wondered what if we challenged ourselves collectively to truly define what that term could mean. What if we tried to define what that means? And what could it mean if there was an actual desire to get past it? With a theater company that is trying to explore diversity, I think it’s something I’m interested in as a challenge. To start, I’m looking at San Francisco and trying to figure out ways that theater available matches its perceived identity and that there are more opportunities for minorities on stage. Words of wisdom? Keep exploring more ways to make diversity a real thing in what you do.

MadCap copy

You can see The Subtenant by Daniel Hirsch, the fifth play in the Staged! series by Theater Madcap on Tuesday, July 29th at Inner Mission.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright and blogger. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.