The Five: The Hamilton-Free Tony Wrap Up

Anthony R. Miller checks in with everything else that happened at the Tony Awards.

Hey you guys, so while watching the Tony Awards last Sunday, there were moments where I felt kinda bad for everyone in a musical that wasn’t Hamilton. I mean, yay for Hamilton, but there’s no need to expound on its brilliance any further (many have done it for me). The fact is, there was some really interesting stuff that I think got a bit overshadowed by History’s Greatest Musical. I mean seriously, when THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES introduces the show you’re competing against, you lost. So today, let’s chat about some of the overlooked gems at this year’s Tony Awards, and yeah, there are five.

James Corden Is A Big Sack Of Sugar
From the pitch-perfect tribute to the lives lost in Orlando, to his self-deprecating humor, to his just lovable demeanor, I loved Corden as host, and my daughter was very excited the Baker from Into the Woods was hosting. It was then I decided this was not the time to discuss the finer points of Chip Zien, but I really wanted to, cause like seriously, Chip Zien, people.

That Waitress Musical Tho
When a famous person writes a musical, the results can be mixed. (I’m looking at you, Bright Star.) Sometimes, the songs are fine, but the storytelling isn’t strong, sometimes the songs aren’t good. So imagine my surprise when the cast of Waitress came on and it was…pretty great actually. Sara Bareilles should be given all the credit in the world. And while I’m here, I was also totally blown away by the revival of Spring Awakening, and School of Rock was really flippin’ charming. It’s a shame that they were practically afterthoughts.

Oh Wow, Chicago Has Been Running A Long Time
Bebe Neuwirth and the cast of Chicago came out to remind us that the current revival has been going for 20 years and is now the longest-running American musical (note the qualifier) on Broadway. Which is cool until you realize you were 18 when that show opened…

Apparently Only Actors Get To Make Speeches
Am I the only one that gets bummed out when the speeches by designers and choreographers are shown in clip form as opposed to all the “Best Actor” speeches? Am I the only one that would love to hear what the lighting designer has to say?

The Fact That Long Day’s Journey Into Night Still Gets Revived Gives Me Hope For the World
I will fight anybody that doesn’t put this play in their top 3, cause it’s brilliant. My hackles go up when someone says “Four hours?! Who would sit through that?” I’ll tell you who, anybody with a soul. In this day and age it’s hard to feel empathy for white people who own a summer home and drink too much. But Eugene O’Neill makes it happen. So the very idea that somewhere a couple of Broadway producers got together and said “You know what would make a truckful of money? A revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night!” Although I’m sure there was at least one smart-ass intern who sneered and said “Ugh, this totally could have been 90 minutes, no intermission. Like, we get it, the Tyrone family is sad. You know what show doesn’t feel long at all? Hamilton, you’ve seen it, right?”

And that’s when I shot my intern, your honor.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer. Keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and his smart-ass comments on Twitter @armiller78

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The Five- 5 Horrible Imaginary Plays I Would Rather Watch Than Hear One More Word About This Godforsaken Election

Anthony R. Miller checks in with crappy imaginary options to crappy reality.

Hey you guys, I used to really get into elections. There was a time in my life where I almost double-majored in Political Science. But there are so many aspects of our current presidential election that have beaten the ability to care right out of me. So for those who share my sentiment and would rather be slapped in the face with a dead trout than hear one more thing about this dumpster fire of an election, here are some theatrical equivalents to trout-based assault. Remarkably, there are five.

White Hamilton

Also known as 1776. (I kid, I kid.) I swear to god, you could recast this show with Macklemore, Snow, Everlast, The Lordz of Brooklyn, Princess Superstar and Artie from Glee and I would rather see that than have one more conversation that invalidates my opinion because I am stupid, or being lied to, or haven’t read this article, or watched this video, or care about people in other countries. I would rather watch the walking corpse of Corey Montieth take over for Lin-Manuel Miranda than see one more article from a totally unaccredited source be shoved in my face and considered true because it validates your worst fears.

The More Similar Than Not Couple

Neil Simon’s comedy reimagined as a 90-minute play where two adults have a quiet respectful conversation. At the end they realize they agree on more than they disagree on. The both enjoy a sandwich and watch Daredevil on Netflix. This would be boring, and refreshing — refreshing in the saddest way possible.

The Last Five Years

No joke here, I just find this show painful to even be near. Yet I would prefer to hear “Yeah, I’m a douchebag, but I’m a douchebag because you didn’t love me enough” than one more conversation between a Bernie supporter digging their heels in the ground about not voting if he isn’t the nominee and a red-faced Hillary supporter screaming “SO YOU’D RATHER HAVE TRUMP?!?!”

Long Days Journey Into Night In Real Time

I would rather watch 15 hours straight of sad, broken people drinking and telling each other how they really feel and talking in insightful drunken monologues than hearing two drunk liberals argue that Bernie Sanders is in fact a unicorn that poops ice cream and Hillary Clinton is the Winter Solider.

Noises Off: Fury Road

Taking Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy and setting it in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where water is the greatest currency of all sounds better than watching CNN and thinking “Oh crap, the apocalypse might actually happen.” I would rather see Lloyd make Poppy and Brooke his sister-wives than hear one more conversation about super delegates. I would rather imagine Poppy with a really sweet robotic arm, and a set that doesn’t just revolve in between acts, it REVOLVES FOR THE WHOLE SHOW. I would rather see Timothy Allgood play a guitar that shoots fire than spend one more moment watching friends shame each other for their political views. Freddy Fellows, wearing a crimson mask of his own nose blood while having the blood of virgins intravenously transferred in to his veins, is a more preferable image than the one I’ve been seeing for months. An image of people without empathy, loathing compromise, holding on to a “we’re right, you’re wrong, fuck you” attitude and just generally being crappy and condescending to each other. Cut it out, take a breath, please vote, and remember we all need to be friends after this election. Now if anyone needs me, I have a guitar that shoots fire to create.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer and will vote for a Cat Dressed As A Shark Riding A Roomba before he votes for Donald Trump. Keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org or on twitter at @armiller78.

The Five: Tony Award Snarkdown

Anthony R. Miller checks in (on a different day) with smart ass comments about this year’s Tony Award nominations.

Hey you guys, looks like I didn’t get nominated for a Tony again, although my long-term plan for a regional Tony is still rock solid. In case you didn’t hear (due to the lack of Wi-Fi in the cave you live in) the nominations for the Tony Awards came out on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen ‘em yet, go to www.tonyawards.com and get with it. It’s cool, I’ll wait…

All caught up? Great, now we can dive in to a few of my own observations. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

So Apparently Hamilton is Pretty Good

With a record 16 nominations, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton might as well just sit onstage all night. I mean, that’s why we’re all watching right? It’s been about 20 years since a Broadway musical has been such a cultural phenomenon, which is depressing. But I guess we’ll take what we can get. Sure, it might not be fun to be one of the other nominated musicals who will probably not have as triumphant a night, but the fact that a whole crapload of people who would have never watched the Tony Awards are gonna watch is something to celebrate.

I Can’t Hear You

It’s hard for me to be witty when I’m genuinely mad about something. But the fact that there is no longer an award for Sound Design is total garbage. You would think they would bring it back this year just for the sake of giving Hamilton another award. Seriously though, sound designers are artists, and in many cases, friggin’ miracle workers. The art of sound design evolved beyond sound effects and intermission music a long time ago. Maybe I’m spoiled because the Bay Area boasts some brilliant sound designers. So hug a sound designer today, they make your show sound good.

Every Day I’m Shufflin’

Let’s give credit to Shuffle Along. In a Best New Musical category populated by musicals about historical events (Hamilton and Bright Star) and musicals based on movies (Waitress and School of Rock),  Shuffle Along is a musical based on a musical. So there’s that.

Good for You, Arthur Miller

The Best Revival of a Play I Had To Read In College Category features Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Noises Off, Blackbird, and two, count ’em, two Arthur Miller plays (The Crucible and A View from the Bridge). So keep your eye out for that up-and-comer Arthur Miller, he’s going places.

We Love It When Our Casual Acquaintances Become Successful

So if local hero Daveed Diggs wins for Best Performance By An Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical, I will boast not one, BUT TWO Tony award winners on my Facebook friends list. In 1998, I was an ASM for a production of Children of Eden at American Musical Theatre of San Jose. This particular production featured a young fella named James Monroe Inglehart, we became dear, dear friends, OK, not really. But a few years later I served him shitty Chinese food and he totally recognized me. Then he went on to be the Genie in the Broadway production of Aladdin and took home the Tony. Now we have an actor whom I saw once in a production of Six Degrees of Separation, everybody in the Bay Area has been in a play with, someone whom I exchanged 3-4 actual emails with a few years ago about producing a one-man show that never happened. Daveed Diggs is a swell dude (based on our in-depth email correspondence) and it’s always great to see local actors go on to success right after they leave the Bay Area. So here’s to hoping the list of successful people I kinda know just gets bigger. Unless of course they’re a goddamned sound designer.

Don’t forget to watch on June 12th!!!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Producer and Theatre Nerd, keep with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78

The Five- How to Pretend to Know Anything About the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Anthony Miller, making your life just a little bit easier.

Hey you guys, I’m sure a lot of you are super stoked for Hamilton winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sometimes it seems like organizations are inventing awards just to create an excuse to get the cast to perform on their show, while some are highlighting awards no one previously knew existed (I’m looking at you, Grammy Awards). Before we go running into the streets once again to celebrate Hamilton as the savior of American theater and the greatest thing since the last greatest thing ever, ask yourself, “What is a Pulitzer Prize for Drama anyway?” Funny you should ask, because I’ve got you covered. I’ve compiled a handy list of Pulitzer Prize for Drama trivia that you can wow your peers with at your next fancy theatre party, or at the bar. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

How Do You Win?
The criteria has changed over the years, but one thing remains, it must be an American play. The official criteria (as listed on their website) are as follows: “For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.”

Are Winners Rich?
The winner gets $10,000. The first winner, Why Marry? by Jesse Lynch Williams in 1918, got $1000. So no, not really.

What Other Musicals Have Won?
There have been 8. Of Thee I Sing by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin (1932), South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Joshua Logan (1950), Fiorello! by Jerome Widman, George Abbott, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (1960), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows (1962), A Chorus Line, by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood Jr., Marvin Hamlisch, Nicolas Dante and Edward Kleban (1976), Sunday in the Park With George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (1985), RENT, by Jonathan Larson (1996), and Next To Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (2010).

Is There One Every Year?
Even though there are nominees every year, there is not always a winner. The following years had no official recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: 1917, 1919, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986, 1997, 2006.

Has Anyone Won More Than Once?
Eugene O’Neill has 4: Beyond The Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1957). Edward Albee has 3: A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), Three Tall Women (1994). August Wilson and Thornton Wilder both have 2. You can also mention that this is not the first time Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated: In The Heights was a finalist in 2009 but lost to Ruined by Lynn Nottage.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Producer and a Big Theatre Nerd, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Who Needs a National Theatre?

In which Dave Sikula decries institutional theatre.

A few days ago, I was one of the many thousands who have been trooping to movie theatres to see a broadcast of Benedict Cumberbatch in the National Theatre’s production of Hamlet. I’ll begin this by saying that I’m generally a fan of Mr. Cumberbatch’s (the film of August: Osage County excepted; but, other than Margo Martindale, no one got out of that movie alive) and was highly looking forward to it.

My take on the overall reaction is that it’s been generally favorable, with reservations. That was pretty much my reaction. It was intelligent, reasonably well-spoken, and coherent, but not very gripping. (I’ll mention here that my wife loved it and found it “muscular” and though it clarified many of the knottier aspects of the text, so the opinions expressed herein are my own.)

What it lacked for me, though, was any sense of danger or even visceral excitement. In my mind, if Hamlet is anything, it’s everything. It’s a meditation on mortality. It’s a revenge story. It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a ghost story, an examination of the thought process. You name it, it’s got it. There’s so much in it that the one thing it shouldn’t be is routine. It’s not just another play; it’s the play. It’s the role. There’s got to be a reason to do it.

Unfortunately, the production I saw was just kinda there, trapped in a concept that had something to so with a big house and a lot of dirt. (Seriously, I felt sorry for the stage crew that had to lug all that dirt on stage at intermission and then clean it all up at the end of the evening.) It felt like the director had a big star and the huge budget that came with him and decided to spend all of it on her set rather than trying to tell her story in a gripping manner.

I’ve explained before about how tired I am of plays from London being broadcast on American movie screens. I’ve got nothing against the Brits per se, but I am tired of them being cast as Americans (I mean, how many more crappy accents do I need to hear?) and seeing their shows held up perfect exemplars of theatrical excellence. (“They have Training!”)

But the specific problem with this Hamlet, to me, was that, since the National is subsidized and paid for by the government, while it may not be swimming in money, it has so much that it can waste it on elephantine sets representing Elsinore.

The program cover. A shiny dime to anyone who can explain its relevance to the production.

The program cover. A shiny dime to anyone who can explain its relevance to the production.

Every so often, we hear calls for an American National Theatre. There have been numerous attempts to create one over the decades, probably as early as Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Rep in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Ellis Rabb’s APA-Phoenix in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and Tony Randall’s National Actors Theatre in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The problem with this plan is that it almost always centers around New York (there was some talk of creating a company at the Kennedy Center in Washington, but it didn’t last and was a rarity). That talk makes sense in that the center of commercial American theatre is indeed those 15 or so blocks in midtown Manhattan, but it also assumes that that’s the only place anything worthwhile is being done and that only work with a commercial focus is worthy. (One might also add parenthetically that it also seems to be the only place Equity actors who want to work in the Bay Area come from.)

This theory is, of course, arrant nonsense. One would be hard pressed to find a corner of the country where interesting and vital work isn’t being done. Seattle, Portland, Ashland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego – and that’s just part of the west coast and leaves out Denver, Chicago, Dallas, DC, Boston, Cleveland, Florida, Louisville, Minneapolis, and on and on and on and on. Any of these cities is producing work that can stand with anything done anyplace on the globe, but, of course, most of the country will never see or hear of it because it doesn’t come with the imprimatur of having a London or New York pedigree.

It makes sense for the Brits to put an English national theatre in London. The capitol is the center of the U.K.’s entertainment industry. TV, radio, film, and theatre are all headquartered there. But how would we justify placing an American national theatre in just one city? I suppose it would be possible to emulate the Federal Theatre of the New Deal era and have multiple locations and troupes, but the whole point of theatre is to be in that room with those people while they tell a story. Even screening productions in movie theatres wouldn’t be a solution, because, for all our pretenses, it’s really just another movie at that point. This is especially true if the production is recorded rather than live. Those actors are going to do the exact same things in the exact same way for eternity. The spontaneity and reaction to the audience that are at the heart of the art don’t exist. It doesn’t matter if the theatre is full or empty; the performances and production are frozen and will not change.

I remember in 1976, Christopher Durang and Mel Marvin’s A History of the American Film (which, I might add, is a very funny show that someone ought to revive – although, frankly, Americans’ knowledge of classic film isn’t as strong now as it was then, so most of the references would be lost) had three simultaneous premiere productions, in Los Angeles (where I saw it), Hartford, and DC. Was one of these more official than the other two? Despite doing the same script at the same time – even if they somehow each had the same design and same director (which they didn’t) – each was different because of the unique casts, venues, and regional receptions. There was no way to centralize the productions, and there never will be. Even a tour, which might be the best/only solution, would have variations from venue to venue.

The

The “Salad Bowl” number from A History of the American Film.

But the larger point, even if we could figure out a reasonable solution to the problem, was embodied for me in Hamlet and other shows I’ve seen at the National (either in person or on screen). They can be well done – really well done – but they’re safe and don’t take any risks. I don’t know if it’s that they don’t want to upset their government sponsors or don’t feel any pressure, but it never feels like there’s an imperative behind it. They’re nice to look at and intelligent, but they’re antiseptic.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I had no prejudice against the production because it had a big star in it. As I said, I him and actually applaud him for doing it. And there’s nothing wrong with big names in plays. I couldn’t have enjoyed Kevin Spacey or Nathan Lane in their own productions of The Iceman Cometh or Peter Falk and Joe Mantegna and Peter Falk in Glengarry Glen Ross, Harold Pinter in (yes, in) Old Times, or Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot any more if I’d tried.

The shows I’ve loved the most in my life – Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil production of Richard II, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamophoses, José Quintero’s The Iceman Cometh, Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and Ghost Quartet, even Casey Nicholaw’s The Drowsy Chaperone – were big and bold and personal and even messy in places, but there was a recognizable artistic sensibility behind them. They were shows that had to be done.

Mr. Malloy in Natasha and Pierre.

Mr. Malloy in Natasha and Pierre.

When I was in college, I remember overhearing the faculty planning the shows they’d be doing the next year. There was no excitement about the choices; it was more like “Well, we haven’t done a Moliere for a while … ” or “Do you want to do a Shakespeare this year?” “Naw, how about an Ibsen?” “Yeah. I guess … ”

If that kind of listless programming is the cost of creating a national theatre that doesn’t take enough chances to endanger its funding, I’ll take regional theatres that at least try something different.

The Real World – Theater Edition: Back to School! An Interview with Rob Handel

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews a former mentor about the rules of playwrighting.

September (and, over time, August too) are, of course, synonymous with heading back to school. With that idea in mind, when thinking of the next playwright to interview, I had to return to one of my mentors from Carnegie Mellon University, Rob Handel, to check up on how he’s viewing theater and playwriting these days.

It’s fitting that this month for Theater Pub ended up being sort of “break the rules” themed, because initially what was on my mind was a conversation Rob and I had back in April about teaching and how strange it was that you often make these initial “rules” or “principles” to guide a newbie student in the right direction, but over time you start to realize that rules are not needed at all in order to make a great play.

Of course, at CMU, when we’d have workshop, invariably we received feedback from Rob that quoted one of The Rules. Some of us politely nodded, others vehemently defended the opposite position and maybe others played devil’s advocate while the rest of us shrank lower in our seats, fearing being asked to take a side. Clearly, they were a hot topic for the students, but over time, I keep on making more sense of them, and at the same time, there are plenty of great plays that are notable exceptions.

So, in this interview, you’ll get to read as I put Rob to task on what his rules are, why they are, and also – what I thought was interesting, is Rob’s response when I asked if I could ask him about The Rules. He said, “Sure, but I’m actually re-thinking the rules…” What??! Well, I had to hear more about that… And now, so can you!

Rob Handel, Head of Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon University

Rob Handel, Head of Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon University

Barbara: So in class occasionally you’d reference your rules for playwriting. What’s on the list?

Rob: Don’t talk to the audience. Don’t withhold information from the audience. Don’t write “blackout” in the middle of a conversation. (Maybe you remember more of my rules? I feel like I’m forgetting something.)

Barbara: I remember one which was not to have your characters talk about more than one off-stage/not seen character per play.

Rob: I think that offstage character rule is such a good rule that I am charging $30,000 tuition for it.

Barbara: Can you explain the reasons why it might be a good idea to follow these rules?

Rob: “Don’t talk to the audience”: This rule comes out of my experience reading hundreds of plays every year (for admissions, selection committees I’m asked to be on, etc.). 99% of the time, a play that starts with a direct address is going to be a bad play. It suggests that the writer knows where the play is going to end up, and this character, the narrator, is going to talk to us again at the end and tell us what we were supposed to learn. I go to plays to see the exploration of a question, a journey into the unknown — not to be lectured at.

“Don’t withhold information from the audience”: 99% of the time, the withholding of information is being used as a substitute for plot. For example, “at the end of act one, we realize that Paul is actually the same person as Peter.” The problem with this is that “we” is not a character in the play. The way storytelling works is that the audience (like it or not) identifies with a character, and we have the same information as that character (or MORE) but not less, so that when they are surprised, we are surprised WITH them. The great example of this is the screenplay for THE SIXTH SENSE. We have the same information as Bruce Willis, not more and not less, throughout the picture.

“Don’t write ‘blackout’ in the middle of a conversation”: If your characters are stuck, stay stuck with them. One of the things theatre is best at, better than any other form, is claustrophobia — what is it like to be trapped in this apartment, this office, this room, with this other person? In a charged, awkward emotional moment, you must resist the temptation to end the scene on a great line if it robs us of finding out how the characters escape that moment. You can learn a lot about someone by watching how they extricate themselves from an argument.

Barbara: But recently, when chatting you blew my mind when you said the rules were made up and that actually you’re having second thoughts about them! Why teach them if made up? And what are you re-thinking?

Rob: “Don’t talk to the audience”: If I made a list of my top 20 favorite plays, at least 10 of them, probably more, would be plays that use direct address. So something is clearly wrong with my theory. Take How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel: the direct address is critical to the play because it lets us know that the play is memory, therefore the heroine will survive. Furthermore, she is telling the story, controlling the narrative — and this creates a safe space to tell a highly charged and deeply uncomfortable story. There are lots of ways to use direct address, and they don’t have to be awful.

“Don’t withhold information from the audience”: This is a pretty good rule. Plays that violate this rule tend to be sadistic and/or condescending. If you’re drawn to that kind of play, maybe you really want to be a magician or a maker of haunted houses? (Great professions, by the way. But not the same as playwright.) On the other hand, not all plays tell stories in the same way. Some plays are made of emotional moments and some are made of mysterious video interludes and some plays don’t have characters at all. There is probably a great play out there, or being created right now, that will prove me wrong.

“Don’t write ‘blackout’…” This is a good rule. I think the main reason I’m trying not to say “This is one of my rules” anymore is that I’ve realized that what keeps me alive as an artist (and as a consumer of art) is my idea of what a play is, or what theatre can be, is constantly being challenged and overturned. Some of the most inspiring plays I’ve seen recently could not possibly be written following even the most basic rules that I used to throw at people. (I’m thinking of Savannah Reich’s Six Monsters, the Rude Mechs’ Stop Hitting Yourself, the Debate Society’s Jacuzzi, Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.)

Barbara: What do you think are the things someone can do if they want to write better plays?

Rob: Conveniently, there is exactly one way to write better plays: write more. Write every day. Carry a notebook. If you’ve written a 30 page play, rewrite it as a 60 page play. (Then, keep only the good pages.) If you’ve written a three hour play, rewrite it as a ten hour play. Keep going.

Barbara: To submit a play to an opportunity or to DIY a production? And why?

Rob: Both. As with political change, you want to be in the streets AND in the halls of power.

Barbara: Any thoughts on the current state of theater and playwriting– what does it need? Have too much/not enough of? What are you excited to see? And anything that scares you about the future of theater?

Rob: I am thrilled to be a theatre practitioner at this moment. The heated discussions about diversity and representation are not going to go away. People who run their companies the same way they did 30 years ago are going to keep getting called out. We’re going to keep moving forward with inclusiveness, and that means companies will need to create structures that allow them to give tickets away for free. (I just had the privilege of having my play A Maze produced with such a “radical hospitality” structure by Theatre Battery in Kent, Washington.)

Barbara: I love the term radical hospitality and am curious how it worked!

Rob: Here are some links about Radical Hospitality:

http://howlround.com/radical-hospitality-the-artistic-case
http://howlround.com/the-business-case-for-radical-hospitality-at-mixed-blood-theatre

Barbara: Any advice for those who want to write plays?

Rob: I hear the MFA program at Carnegie Mellon is excellent.

Barbara: Any shows we should catch?

Rob: My new play I Want To Destroy You will be produced by Theatre Vertigo in Portland (Oregon) in January: http://www.theatrevertigo.org/. On the East Coast, I’m looking forward to Gardiner Comfort’s solo piece The Elephant in Every Room I Enter: http://lamama.org/the-elephant-in-every-room-i-enter-2/.

Follow Rob Handel on twitter @sailordoghandel for more.

Theater Around The Bay: Thirteen Questions (And One In-Joke) About Terror-Rama

Today’s guest interviewer is local actor Tony Cirimele, who interviews Anthony Miller, one of our regular columnists (“The Five”) and the mastermind behind this year’s Halloween spectacular, “Terror-Rama.”

TC: “Terror-Rama” is a rare breed of theater; billed as a “Horror Theatre Double Feature”, it is comprised of two one-acts whose sole purpose is to scare. Think “Grindhouse” with a bit of “Friday the 13th” and “M” thrown in for fun. “Terror-Rama” is comprised of two parts; “Camp Evil” by Anthony Miller is a darkly comic look at slasher flicks, while “Creep” by Nick Pappas is a deeply disturbing crime thriller. When Anthony Miller was approached about being interviewed for SF Theater Pub, he requested that his “celebrity” interviewer be yours truly. Besides bonding over having more or less the same name, Anthony and I worked together on several projects during our time at SF State, and one magical summer we were neighbors/drinking buddies. I recently sat down with Anthony (via email) to discuss “Terror-Rama”.

As anyone who saw “Zombie! The Musical!” will know, this isn’t your first theatrical horror piece. What is it about the horror genre that you feel makes it work for theater?

AM: Making it work is half the fun. Horror is very reactive and elicits a reaction from its audience, that lends itself very well to a live performance. But taking concepts from films and turning them into a theatrical concept, to make it theatre, is the exciting part. When it’s done well, it can be fun to watch, exhilarating even.

TC: Your piece, “Camp Evil”, is about a summer camp that may or may not be haunted. What was your camp experience (if any) like in your energetic youth?

AM: I was a Boy Scout so I did a lot of camping trips as a kid. My parents sent me to summer camp for years. I have good and bad experiences, but the bad ones were important because I was very much the weird kid who everyone teased mercilessly. Some of my bad experiences tie in (albeit in more comical ways) to what happens to the characters in “Camp Evil.” I also always loved movies and TV shows about summer camps. I was particularly fond of Salute Your Shorts, and of course, Sleepaway Camp.

TC: What scares you the most? And does that work its way into your writing (horror-genre or otherwise)?

AM: Death, I’m in general terrified of death. I had to deal with it early in my life so it was always something I’ve had to process, more so now because I’m in my mid-thirties and people my age are starting to die. So in every play I’ve written, someone dies and a big part of the plot is how people react to death. More specifically I’m afraid to die suddenly. Being given a time table and die in bed with my loved ones around me doesn’t worry me as much, it’s not seeing it coming or it happening in an impersonal way that scares me. Everything I write tends to deal with that.

TC: Let’s say I’m a total wuss who doesn’t like a lot of blood and guts in his talking pictures, but is willing to give it a go. What horror films do you recommend?

AM: There are lots of great Horror movies that aren’t big on blood and guts, they’re usually called thrillers. Movies like Dementia 13 or Psycho are good. Nightmare on Elm Street is so ridiculous; the violence is more comical than scary. Friday the 13th is pretty tame by today’s standards. Night of the Living Dead is another good one.

TC: Do you have a favorite obscure horror movie that you wish more people knew about? Or a famous horror movie you find inexplicably popular?

AM: Long Island Cannibal Massacre is an unknown masterpiece in my opinion. I also have a deep fondness for Troma Studios; they made the Toxic Avenger films, Basket Case, Monster in the Closet, De-Campetated, and Rockabilly Vampire. There’s a campy, punk rock, DIY feel to those movies that I try to carry over into my work. Lloyd Kauffman (Head of Troma Srudios) is a hero of mine. What I don’t get is torture porn type movies. I think Eli Roth is more talented than the films he makes. He’s got such a great talent for storytelling and his visual style is fantastic. But it seems like these movies are more like gross-out movies or just barrages of horrific imagery for the sake of having barrages of horrific imagery. The Saw films are also a good example, the first one is practically an art film, the dozen sequels don’t even come close. I will always consider the 70’s as a golden age for Horror. I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and Dawn of The Dead are all brilliant films.

TC: Did you and fellow “Terror-Rama” playwright Nick Pappas collaborate and/or read each other’s pieces during the process? Or is one half of this show completely new to you?

AM: I commissioned him, gave him some parameters and we put both plays through a development process. There were several drafts, two readings and lots of dramaturgical work. So we often gave our opinions back and forth. Part of my job as producer was to shepherd along both plays. So I’m pretty excited to see how far the pieces have come. A neat thing about it is that both plays were commissioned, written, and developed for this show. So this has been a play incubator as well,

TC: What writers/non-writers have had the most influence on your writing style? And conversely, which writer has had the least influence?

AM: Playwrights like Charles Busch, Neil Simon, Arthur Laurents and Christopher Durang are all really influential. They are very much the folks I started off trying to emulate and after a while, find my own voice from. Also, I’ve always liked how David Mamet writes how people talk on the phone, I steal that pretty often. From Film; Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Robert Rodriguez and Wes Craven are big influences as well. On the other end of that, I’d say my two favorite playwrights are also the ones that have had no real influence on my work. That’s Eugene O’Neil and George Bernard Shaw; I am deeply intimidated by their work. Candida and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are without a doubt my two favorite plays, but I don’t think my work resembles them or those plays at all.

TC: Describe your ideal writing setup. Laptop or longhand? Music or silence? Coffee or “Faulkner’s Little Helper”?

AM: I’m lucky enough to have my own little man-cave at home. So I still use a desktop computer (laptops and I have a strenuous relationship). I don’t do anything long hand, my handwriting is atrocious. I like being able to edit as I go and I don’t really have the romantic obsession with typewriters others do. I listen to a lot of music when writing; sometimes I’ll put together a playlist of songs that kinda resemble the tone I’m going for. “Camp Evil” was written to a lot of Styx, Peter Frampton, Bad Company and various 70’s stoner music. When I edit, it’s usually a quiet, concentrated time. Podcasts or silence is really good for editing. Writing and drinking has never really worked out for me. Coffee, if I’m writing at the beginning of my day.

TC: You have quite an eclectic cast assembled, including a very talented actress I once made out with in a zombie-related show. What kind of actors are you drawn to as a writer/director?

AM: Most of the time, I cast people because I see aspects of that character in the actor. But sometimes you have a person that can play anything. Sometimes, I use people who aren’t primarily actors, but who would do that specific role well. In truth, the kind of people I want/need to work with need to be kind of up for anything. The cast (and crew) we have for Terror-Rama is the best group I’ve ever worked with. Like, ever.

TC: You are serving only as playwright for “Camp Evil”, letting director Colin Johnson take the helm. Are you still active in the rehearsal process? You’re not one of those “back-seat directors”, are you?

AM: As Executive Producer, I was very hands-on at the beginning, I had some specific ideas that I wanted to be the foundation of the show. Like Sindie Chopper, the Horror host, she was a big element I pushed for. But now we’re in rehearsal and I’ve taken a big step back. There’s a quote by Tina Fey that I really like; “Hire brilliant people and get out of their way”. So to me, if I just meddled and micromanaged every aspect of the show, that would be a disservice to the people I hired. Some people can have one grand vision and execute every aspect of it, I’m not one of those people. I have learned that I like it much more when someone else directs my play. I can’t write and direct a play. In the best cases, the director sees something I didn’t and it’s better. I’m too reverent to my characters and writing. Colin has been perfect in this role; from day one he has always “got” the show. I was at the first read-through and then I didn’t go to rehearsals for two weeks. Now that we’re about to go into tech and we’re into run-throughs I’m around a bit more. But by this point, it’s very much their show, and I think this approach has worked out perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I find times to give my opinion. But I feel like Colin was given the space to make it his, and I love what he’s done with the whole show.

TC: You used to house manage at SF Playhouse. Have you ever based a character off of an annoying patron you’ve had to deal with?

AM: Patrons not so much, the most annoying ones aren’t that interesting. It was the people I worked with that were fascinating. Nick Pappas and I always talk about writing a pilot for an American version of Slings and Arrows based on the Playhouse. It is our dream to see Kevin Kline play Bill English.

TC: After reading the Terror-Rama Diaries at AwesomeTheatre’s website, this show seems to have had some difficulty getting off the ground. What motivates you to put on theater?

AM: Masochism mostly. But seriously, I get very frustrated when I hear people declaring theatre dead or dying because I find that to be patently false. Theatre as we know it now is destined to change, but that’s more natural evolution as dictated by what people want and react to. You have to keep it fresh. But the thing I think that will keep theatre around forever is that unlike every other form of entertainment, it requires more than one person to enjoy it. You can listen to music alone, you can look at a painting alone, you can watch TV, sporting events, and movies alone. You never have to interact with the people actually creating it. In theatre, there’s no way around it. Even if you’re the only person in the audience, you’re still in a room with actors and a couple of stage hands. You can’t have a theatrical experience all by yourself; theatre is unique in that sense. I mean, you can watch a play or musical that’s been recorded, but you’re really just watching a movie. I think that’s why I never got into film or TV, there’s an uncontrollable element to live theatre that I find appealing. If you want perfect, make a movie and it’ll be the same every time you watch it. But theatre has the ability to be different every time. Now in the case of Terror-Rama, I did initially pitch it to another group, and the talks went pretty far down the road but ultimately they didn’t really get it. That rings true for a lot of my projects, people don’t get it initially. Then they see it and they say, “oh now I get it”. So a big motivator for me is to take my crazy ideas that people don’t think will work and then prove them wrong. I’m really into converts, so I want to make theatre that attracts people who regularly wouldn’t go to theatre. If we can get those people in, then they can realize they do like theatre, provided they’re being told stories they want to hear. I’m less interested in what Theatre IS and more interested in what Theatre can be. It’s when we make hard definitions of the art form that people start to bemoan the death of theatre. I don’t think it will die, it just evolves. Being part of that evolution is what motivates me. And it’s the only thing I’m good at, so there’s that.

TC: And finally, what pearls of wisdom do you have for anyone trying to get a start as a playwright?

AM: It’s cheesy but, I think it’s important to spend a lot of time finding your voice. Knowing what you want to write and how you write it. So it’s not just writing a lot, it’s also finding out what inspires you and gets you excited about writing. Study the nuts and bolts of what it is that you like about them and what they do. Know what you like and know a lot about what you like. Also, sometimes only you will believe in your idea at first. Own your crazy idea and do it.

TC: My one In-Joke: Remember “Schuster Boys on Schuster Island”?

AM: Of course! Those damn Schuster boys; there was Jethro Scuhster, Mad Dog Schuster and their sister Lulabelle. Ah, wonderful times living in the Sunset.

Performances of “Terror-Rama” run October 17th-November 1st at the Exit Studio Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.