Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part One)

Pint Sized V begins its four performance run tonight at PianoFight at 8 PM! We’ve got an amazing line of up of writers this year, and check back next week when we introduce you to our directing team! Meanwhile, here’s Christina Augello, Stuart Bousel, Megan Cohen, Alan Coyne, Elizabeth Flanagan, Jeremy Geist, Christine Keating, Juliana Lustenader, Lorraine Midanik, and Daniel Ng telling you all about what it takes to bring you this year’s collection!

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How did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Stuart Bousel: Well, as one of the founders of Theater Pub, and the current Executive Director, I knew the festival was around because I’m the guy who puts it on the schedule. That said, I have had a piece in every Pint Sized except Pint Sized II. The first year was a short called Queen Mab in Drag. All the other years, including this one, have been a monologue written for our mascot, the Llama, who was created by Elana McKernan for the first Pint-Sized, and has been played by Rob Ready ever since. No, I don’t have to go through the submission process- I’m grandfathered in every year. Executive Directorship has its privileges.

Stuart Bousel

Stuart Bousel

Christine Keating: I heard about Pint-Sized when it happened in 2013, but I wasn’t able to see it. It sounded fun and exciting, and I enjoy short storytelling in many forms: flash fiction, web shorts, podcasts. I had written my plays a few months ago to get the idea onto paper, and then Pint-Sized seemed like the perfect venue for them!

Lorraine Midanik: I heard about the Festival from a fellow playwright who thought I might be interested. In March, one of my plays was produced at PianoFight’s Shortlived Festival, and I am excited to have another play presented in that terrific venue. I have always been fascinated by the names of beers and thought it would be fun to play with it in my writing.

Elizabeth Flanagan: General stalking of the SF Theater Pub website. I wasn’t fortunate enough to make any of the Pint-Sized performances at the Café Royale but I have seen most of the videos of the plays. Good stuff. I feel privileged to be part of this history. It‘s also pretty special to be included in the first Pint-Sized festival to be performed at PianoFight. My dad lived in the tenderloin and used to take us to Original Joe’s on occasion. It’s very cool to be back at the old stomping grounds in a new way.

Alan Coyne: I almost certainly heard about this iteration of Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival through Facebook, and from there, Theater Pub’s website. And I’d heard about previous versions of it from folks who’d been involved in them. I’ve had the idea of Einstein as a bartender in a scene for a long, long time. There’s something about the image of him as a silent observer in a bar, a place where the rules of space-time so clearly intersect with the rules of human behaviour, that I find engaging. And so this festival presented the perfect opportunity to try and explore that notion in my own clumsy way.

Christina Augello: I am very familiar with Theatre Pub and knew it was coming up and got an email reminder and followed the link and there it was and I have been wanting to write and the limited parameters seemed perfect to get me started. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Christina’s first play ever!)

Daniel Ng: It was a great experience having my piece, Mark +/-, in Pint-Sized IV, so I’ve been looking forward to submitting again since then.

Jeremy Geist: I found out about it from one of the Theatre Pub people I’m friends with on Facebook. It was only a two-page play submission, and I already had an idea, so I felt it was worth the effort.

Juliana Lustenader: After seeing the call for submissions on the SF Theatre Pub blog, I decided to do some research and found old YouTube videos of past Pint-Sized performances. The plays I watched were all so creative and funny. I knew I had to be involved with the process somehow. Usually I would audition as an actor for these sort of things, but watching those old videos inspired me to write what I think is the silliest five pages I’ve ever written. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Juliana’s Bay Area debut as a playwright!)

Megan Cohen: I watched the very first night of Theater Pub ever, years ago, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front row, then I joined the family immediately, writing a piece for the very next monthly event. The community that’s found each other at Theater Pub is diverse in artistic style, and you never know what you’ll see, but I find that the theatermakers gathered under this banner tend to be reliably open and generous, with each other and with the audience. Pint-Sized feels like a flagship festival to me, because it pulls together so many of us, with our unique voices and approaches, and I just can’t miss it. I’ve written for Pint-Sized every year. I keep coming back here because of happy history, and because we get an unusual crowd. Since the shows are free, people come who otherwise wouldn’t take a chance on a night at the theater, and I love the responsibility of that; it means I better give them something worthwhile to watch, so they’ll come back!

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Elizabeth Flanagan: Getting it done. I think the big misconception would be that shorts are quicker to write. Not for me they aren’t. I’m always amazed at the amount of time I can spend on a short. I can bang out a rough draft fairly quickly, but the rewrites are tricky. I tend to put just as much work into a short as a full length.

Lorraine Midanik: For me, it’s making sure the turn happens at the right time (not too early, not too late…sort of like Goldilocks!). In a short play, there isn’t much time to develop the characters and have an engaging plot so it’s really a challenge.

Juliana Lustenader: Fitting your 50 page idea into a 10 page limit.

Christine Keating: Crafting characters who are real and relatable in a short conversation.

Jeremy Geist: Creating something meaningful. With a play this short it’s really easy to just write a few pages of filler and call it a day.

Daniel Ng: The hardest thing is crafting a satisfying ending. Compelling concepts/scenarios/gags are relatively easy. Sometimes that’s all you need or have time for in a short piece, but delivering a definitive punchline or reaching a pithy denouement takes a piece to the next level. But it’s hard to get there in a short time in a way that feels organic, that isn’t just tacked on.

Megan Cohen: Short plays can be mistaken for “a little something,” as though their length means they are inherently small, in importance or in impact. The hardest thing is to not fall for that trap. As any poet will tell you, short isn’t the same as small. Keep the play big, and the words few.

Megan Cohen

Megan Cohen

Alan Coyne: The hardest thing about writing any play is the foreknowledge that the brilliant, dazzling dialogue in my head is going to come out all lumpy and misshapen when I start using actual words. And then once you start, it takes on a life of its own, and spawns a million new tangents, and you could spend the rest of your life rewriting it, and so finishing it is practically impossible. Thank goodness for deadlines!

Stuart Bousel: These days I don’t really write short plays any more, and the Llamalogues are really speeches, which I’ve always found rather easy to write, actually. That said, there is always all the usual challenges of any writing- which is to keep it interesting, and striking that balance between challenging and accessible- not always easy when your only character is a sort of emotionally unbalanced alcoholic anthropomorphic animal.

Christina Augello: Actually I liked writing a short play and it wasn’t hard at all.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Megan Cohen: Audiences love short work, and that’s enough for me; I just checked, and Pint-Sized will feature the 72nd short of mine produced onstage since 2008. (Wow, just reading that sentence makes me tired.) I like the immediacy of shorts; the way this industry works, a full-length play can take years to develop and find a home onstage, but the turnaround time to production with a short is often a journey of just a month or two. An audience is there almost immediately, showing you how your play works, and what it is. You see what makes them laugh, where they get upset, what they connect with, and you get the goodies now, not later, which is an obvious priority for me as an impatient American.

Lorraine Midanik: I like the opportunity to tell a story in a confined timeframe. It forces me to edit out unnecessary words and actions and focuses me on moving the play along in a fun way.

Daniel Ng: The best thing is bringing something to fruition in a short period of time. This is especially true when working with Pint-Sized, where pieces are quickly produced and performed. It’s like the immediate satisfaction from cooking and then enjoying a great meal.

Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng

Elizabeth Flanagan: Going deep quick. Often a short will feel like a throw away piece or it seems a little more frivolous, than say a heavy drama in two acts. But, because you have limited space and time, that entire world, those characters need to be created in a matter of words. When it works it’s fantastic. Also with shorts there is great freedom to experiment. With Magic Trick I had a lot of fun playing with a mix of language and genre.

Jeremy Geist: Being able to pursue weird ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work in longer formats. I read a lot of weird/gross things on the Internet and like working them into my writing, but they aren’t substantial enough for a full-length. It’s nice to use short formats to vent some of my more indulgent projects.

Juliana Lustenader: When writing a short play, I feel like I can “get away with” more things. Mainly because it’s over before anyone can go “Hey…”

Stuart Bousel: It’s definitely true that, aside from the length restriction, all other bets are off- and that is liberating.

Christine Keating: Not wasting any time getting to the point. Also, throwing an audience into the deep end of the world of the play is fun.

Christina Augello: You get it done quickly.

Alan Coyne: The best thing about writing a short play, or having it performed, is seeing how much better everyone else involved makes it.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Christina Augello: The theatre artists I know and work with influence my work as well as over 60 years experience in the theatre and life in general.

Christina Augello

Christina Augello

Megan Cohen: The character of the BEEEEAAR, that is, the character in the monodrama I wrote for this year’s festival, specifically owes a lot to the influence of playwright Charles Ludlam, a leader of the “Ridiculous” aesthetic movement Off-Off Broadway in the 1970s and 80s. His work has taught me a lot about foolishness and dignity, and the entertainment value of earning a good laugh with a bad joke.

Lorraine Midanik: Because I often write about strong, funny women, my mother is my major influence. She passed away in 2008, but her strength and humor always permeate my work and live within me. My writing has also been influenced by Anthony Clarvoe from whom I have taken playwriting classes at Stagebridge for the last 3 years. I am very lucky to have a wonderful husband and two amazing daughters from whom I draw my inspiration.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Depends on the time of day. Thinking of the short form, Alice Munro is one of my favorite short story writers. Maybe I’m not so much influenced by her as I admire her ability to write a near perfect sentence, and I don’t mean grammatically. She’s one of those writers where a line cuts you to your core. You finish the last line, the last word, and you sit, you just sit with it, thinking there was no other ending because it’s so utterly complete.

Stuart Bousel: My influences are all over the place, I’m very intertextual, read a lot, see a lot of movies and theater, and I listen to a great deal of music. John Guare and Marsha Norman are my favorite playwrights, but their plays are sort of non-traditionally structured and my plays often follow a structure closer to film or musicals. My monologues, particularly the direct address ones like Llamalogue, are often structured like songs, with choruses repeated and builds and codas. So, for this one I’m going to say Sondheim, who is always an influence, really, for me. Sondheim, and some Shakespeare too. And Dostoyevsky. And Morrissey. All the greats.

Christine Keating: On these plays, probably comedians like Amy Schumer. In general, my favourite playwrights are Sarah Kane and Martin McDonagh.

Daniel Ng: The past couple of years, I’ve filled in some of my gaps in Vonnegut and Phillip K. Dick. As I get older, I like their ideas (and personal experiences) about persevering in the search for meaning in the face of a bewildering and uncaring, or worse, openly antagonistic world. Like maybe you can be world-weary, yet, at the same time, remain stubbornly human and humane.

Jeremy Geist: This question is hard for me because I can’t point at specific mechanisms I use and say exactly who it came from. In terms of my comedy, I will say I’ve been heavily influenced by a sportswriter named Jon Bois lately. His stuff is some of the best out there these days – check out his Breaking Madden series.

Juliana Lustenader: A major influence on my comedy writing is David Sedaris. I love the way he can spin an average and innocent encounter with another human being into a ridiculous farce using his wit and seemingly endless vocabulary. I didn’t use much wit or vocab in To Be Blue, but it is definitely ridiculous.

Alan Coyne: I’d like to imagine that Douglas Adams is a major influence on my work. I owe at least some of my interest in cosmology to the Hitchhikers’ Guide series, which I encountered early on thanks to my father. And if I could write like anyone, I would want it to be him. Adams, that is, not my father. Although for all I know, my father could also be a brilliant writer. I mean, he could also be a brilliant writer like Adams, not me, I wasn’t saying I was a brilliant writer. Er, let’s move on.

Alan Coyne

Alan Coyne

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Elizabeth Flanagan: Because it’s noir I’m tempted to say Bogart or Bacall obviously. But I’d probably lean more towards Cary Grant. He has a better mix of comedy and suspense.

Juliana Lustenader: Kit Harington, so I can selfishly stare at him during rehearsals.

Stuart Bousel: I mean, it’s hard to think of anyone but Rob Ready playing the Llama, but if I had to go with someone else I’m going to say Derek Walcott, who I once heard read and has the like… sexiest voice. Also he’s a brilliant poet and he’d probably be able to do all sorts of exciting line readings a traditional actor wouldn’t necessarily think of.

Megan Cohen: All the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn; if you’re wondering why, just watch this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTXsec9rvw4M

Lorraine Midanik: That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say Anna Deveare Smith. She is extraordinary in how she takes on the persona of her characters. She is magical on stage by combining advocacy with her outstanding acting and writing.

Daniel Ng: Uzo Aduba. In Orange is the New Black, she perfectly rides that edge between mad fool and truth-teller, comedy and tragedy. And have you heard her story about learning to be proud of her name? Look it up–she’s a hero.

Christina Augello: Ian McKellen….he is a superb actor who’s performances invite you to share in his skill, fun and joy.

Christine Keating: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson for Part 3, definitely.

Alan Coyne: If I could cast one celebrity in my show, it would be Albert Einstein. But not as himself.

Jeremy Geist: I think Ice-T could do a pretty good job.

Jeremy Geist

Jeremy Geist

What’s a writing project you are currently working on and/or what’s next for you?

Christina Augello: Working on a personal story to present as a solo show and looking forward to performing in a couple of upcoming plays in 2016.

Christine Keating: I’m directing two plays in Those Women Productions’ In Plain Sight night of one acts (September 4-20) as well as writing a full night of plays on horror tropes about sleep for September’s Theater Pub (September 21-29!).

Elizabeth Flanagan: I’m nearly finished with a new full-length that I affectionately call “the meth play”. I look forward to setting up a reading for that play and hearing it in its entirety. I’m also a cofounder of Ex Nihilo Theater, a new playwright group with Jennifer Lynn Roberts and Bridgette Dutta Portman. We’ll have a reading of short plays on Aug 20 at The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland and in October we will present the first installment of a new serial play that we will be writing and presenting over the following twelve months. We would love to see you all there!

Elizabeth Flanagan

Elizabeth Flanagan

Megan Cohen: I’m writing a big ol’ two-act play about a pair of sisters, where the two actresses switch roles every night, and I’m trying to make the dynamic really taut, elastic just totally pulled to the limit between them; it’s so tense in the draft right now, and I hope it stays that way. I’m getting out of the house a little, too, acting in a show for SF Fringe Festival that runs in September. I’ve taken the role of the photographer Man Ray in the DADA spectacle Zurich Plays, so I’ll be going full trouser-drag for that which, as a 4’11” woman with serious hips, should be a glorious challenge. (http://www.sffringe.org/zurich/) Looking ahead, Repurposed Theatre (http://www.repurposedtheatre.com/) is doing a whole program of my short works and one-acts in December. All world premieres, all written by me, the show has this really fun vaudeville frame and is called The Horse’s Ass and Friends! That’s December 2015 at the EXIT Theater, directed by Ellery Schaar, a fabulously fearless partner who seems able to handle anything that comes out of my mind.

Daniel Ng: I’m trying to finish a short story that has now grown to a novella. There is an end in sight, though it’s merely vague and barely visible. My goal is to beat George R. R. Martin to the finish line.

Juliana Lustenader: Instead of finishing any of my scripts, I distract myself by auditioning for other people’s projects. You can see me as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew at Curtain Theatre through September and Sister Leo in Nunsense at Altarena Playhouse starting in October.

Alan Coyne: I’ve been working off and on (mostly off) on a musical involving astrophysicists that will never see the light of day. But more relevantly, I’m playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Curtain Theatre in Mill Valley through Sep. 13, and Stevie in Good People at the Waterfront Playhouse and Conservatory in Berkeley through Sep. 6 (yes, simultaneously; no, I didn’t think that through).

Jeremy Geist: Nowadays I’m mostly working on my board game company, follow me at @pknightgames. My flagship release is a Shakespeare-themed combat game called Happy Daggers!

Lorraine Midanik: I’m in the process of revising one of my full length plays after having worked with a dramaturg. The play is entitled Y Women and it focuses on the three very different women who meet in a behavior change program at a local gym. I have been fortunate enough to have had productions or staged readings of three scenes from this play. I’m also a playwright in the Theatre Bay Area’s 2015 ATLAS program (Advanced Training Leading to Artists’ Success) which begins this month. I am very excited to move my work to the next level.

Lorraine Midanik

Lorraine Midanik

Stuart Bousel: I’m working on a whole bunch of stuff I kind of can’t talk about. What I can talk about is that I’ll be going to Seattle in Septmeber to see the Seattle premiere of my play Everybody Here Says Hello! I’ll also be directing the October Theater Pub, which will be a short and furious version of Richard III. There’s a billion other things going on, but that’s all I can say… for now.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Megan Cohen: My own, of course! Anyone who says they care more about someone else’s shows than about their own is probably L-Y-I-N-G. That said, I’m really feeling Will Eno these days and am excited about The Realistic Joneses finally coming to SF (March 2016); I’ll follow actress Megan Trout to the ends of the earth, even if it means seeing Eurydice AGAIN (at Shotgun Players this time, Sept-Aug 2015); and you’ll certainly see me in Theater Pub audiences a lot in the coming months.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Aside from all the amazing Pint-Sized shorts you mean? I’ve never seen Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice so I definitely want to catch Shotgun’s production later this month.

Juliana Lustenader: I am looking forward to the Theatre Bay Area Awards this fall. I wasn’t able to attend last year, but many of my friends and colleagues were celebrated. Bay Area theatre companies stepped up their game this year and produced some spectacular shows, so I’m interested to see what the adjudicators enjoyed most. But more honestly, I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone.

Juliana Lustenader

Juliana Lustenader

Christina Augello: The 24th San Francisco Fringe Festival coming September 11-26th and of course Theatre Pub’s Pint-Sized Festival!

Alan Coyne: Other than my own, I’m looking forward to seeing Eat the Runt at Altarena Playhouse, and SF Olympians this November.

Daniel Ng: SF Olympians. It’s such a varied showcase of ideas and talent and 100% local.

Christine Keating: I’m looking forward to Disclosure from Those Women Productions at PianoFight, as well as the upcoming seasons at Custom Made, Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company. Also, all the shows that are happening soon that I’m exciting about but won’t remember until closing weekend, and then rearrange everything to catch them!

Christine Keating

Christine Keating

Lorraine Midanik: I am particularly excited by venues that feature plays by women and include strong roles for women. 3Girls Theater immediately comes to mind as well as Shotgun Players that is producing an entire season of plays written by women.

Jeremy Geist: I haven’t really been paying attention to anything.

What’s your favorite beer?

Megan Cohen: Free!

Christine Keating: I’m more a cider person, I mostly drink Angry Orchard.

Alan Coyne: Smithwick’s, for purely patriotic reasons.

Christina Augello: I don’t like beer, sorry!

Juliana Lustenader: Hoegaarden, ‘cause day drinking.

Stuart Bousel: Bass. Harp. In my 20s I would frequently two-fist both.

Lorraine Midanik: I know this is going to sound odd, but I don’t drink beer. (Please don’t throw me out of the Festival!). I am actually a cocktail (whiskey sour) and wine person. When I find myself in a pub where cocktails and wine are unavailable or possibly frowned upon, I either order a hard cider (hopefully fruit flavored) or a shandy (beer mixed with lemonade or ginger ale). Forgive me!

Jeremy Geist: Anything from this bracket http://www.sbnation.com/2015/3/23/8277455/jon-and-spencers-beer-bracket-its-the-great-beer-bracket-challenge-so

Daniel Ng: Still Guinness. Always Guinness. They say you can drink it straight out of the new bottles, but they’re lying. Use a glass, you savages.

Elizabeth: Feels like I’m obligated to say Guinness. Which may or may not be true. You’ll have to catch me at SF Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Fest to find out for sure!

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform four times: August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, click HERE!

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Savannah Reich

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Savannah Reich about her upcoming Bay Area production.

Savannah Reich is the type of playwright that when you read and hear and see her work, you’re like, “I want to do that! That’s so cool! Theater’s so cool!” I met her while in the second year of the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University, headed by Rob Handel, and was blown away by her humor, theatricality, and the moving moments of human connection and confusion she creates within her writing. So, of course, I was very happy to learn that her play, Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play was being produced by All Terrain Theater in the summer of 2015.

The show opens next Thursday, July 30th at 8:00 PM and runs on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until August 8th at the EXIT Theatre in downtown San Francisco. I had a chance to chat with Savannah about playwriting, the inspiration behind Six Monsters, and her creative impulses.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Babs: Very excited to interview you!

Savannah: Thank you! I am so excited to be interviewed!

Babs: To begin, could you tell me about your background? How did you get involved with theater and writing?

Savannah: I wrote my first play in the second grade. I’m not sure where I got the idea. My parents were both doing theater when I was a kid, as a prop-master and scenic artist at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, so I’m sure I had already seen plays? I am counting this as “my first play” because it was more elaborate than a show I did with friends in the basement or whatever- it had a typed script, which went through several drafts, and I think I forced my entire second grade class to be in it, although I don’t remember that part.

So as long as I can remember I had this incredibly specific compulsion to write plays. I briefly went to NYU for the undergraduate playwriting program, which I was not really prepared for at eighteen. I dropped out after a year and decided I would never write a play again- I was just going to be wild and free and be in punk bands and experience real life. But then I started writing plays again probably six months after that.

I recently found the script for my first play in a box at my parent’s house; it was about two witches who turn people into chickens and serve them to children at an orphanage, which actually sounds like something that I might be working on now.

Babs: How would you describe your style and what interests you?

Savannah: The way I’m thinking about it these days is that I am interested in taking inexplicable emotional processes and making them into something concrete and mechanical. I am obsessed with the Charlie Kaufman movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because it does this so nicely- it takes this very gooey personal feeling, the grief about losing a shared past when you end a relationship, and makes it into this action story. It literally ends with a chase scene. So that’s a really nice way to create ways to talk about things that maybe don’t fall into the cultural shorthand.

More concretely, my plays tend to be removed from true-to-life situations- as Sarah Ruhl says, “my characters have no last names.” They are animals or ghosts or subhuman beasts. They tend to be suffering greatly in some neurotic, cyclical way and they all talk on rotary dial telephones.

Also, I am interested in structure because it is the essential relationship between the play and the audience, which for me is at least as interesting as the relationships between the characters.

Babs: I think Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play has an interesting origin story – do you mind sharing and then how it developed from its inception?

Savannah: Yes! You were there! It was very early on in my first year at CMU, maybe the second or third week, and Rob Handel had us do a writing exercise that involved beginning a 60 page play at nine am and finishing it by midnight. The exercise was so great, but I feel like I don’t want to give it away in case he is going to do it again next year- part of what was great about it for me was the surprise. I had all these ideas for plays that had been percolating for a long time, and I was fussing over them and trying to make them “good”, and then we got this exercise that said, “Okay, forget about all those plays- here’s a prompt, now write this play. Write this play today.” It was totally liberating for me.

Before grad school, I had been writing plays and producing them myself, so I think that I had gotten into this trap of keeping my producer’s hat on while I was writing. I would think about making props affordable, stuff like that. It was dumb. This exercise broke me out of that. The original opening stage direction for “Six Monsters” was something like, “There are six audience members seated on a wooden cart. The wooden cart rolls through an infinite darkness.”

I also think I put a bunch of things that felt really vulnerable and revealing to me in this play, and maybe I wouldn’t have if I had been imagining that it would ever be performed. I write much better when I am able to convince myself that no one I know will ever see it.

After I finished the play, I co-produced a one night workshop performance of it with our fellow MFA writer Dan Giles, with him directing, me as the skeleton, and six amazing CMU undergrad acting students as the chorus, which I will get to brag about when they are all famous in like twenty-five minutes.

Babs: When I last saw this piece, you were actually performing in it as the Skeleton. How do you think performing/not performing in your own work influences how you see the play, what to develop/not develop next?

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah: I’m not sure how I feel about this anymore! I am worrying about it a lot in a neurotic and cyclical way! I have performed in my own work a fair amount, and sometimes I think I don’t want to do it anymore, because probably it would be better with real actors who are good at acting. But then I recently saw the performance artist Dynasty Handbag in New York, and I love her, and I thought that maybe I should always perform my own work. Not that I am a performer like she is- I tend to be visibly thinking on stage in that way that playwrights do when they try to act- but I do think there is something special about seeing someone perform their own words, there is a kind of specificity to it.

But I’m not going to be a performance artist because I love actors so much. They are my favorite thing to look at, especially when they are in my plays being hilarious. It’s great to be a playwright because we get to see all these very attractive people pretending to be us, pretending to have our same anxieties about capitalism or intimacy or whatever, which feels deeply healing in some probably very messed up way. Also good collaboration makes the show better, of course. The actor can see a lot of things about the show that I can’t.

I don’t know that I learn anything much from being in my own plays. I played the part of the skeleton in the workshop mostly because it felt too personal to turn it over to an actor. But now I have a little more distance, and I’m so excited to see what Laura Peterson does with it.

Babs: In the San Francisco production, is there anything that you are most looking forward to seeing or experiencing?

Savannah: I was just talking about how much variability actors bring to the table but of course that’s also very much true of directors. I haven’t worked with Sydney Painter before, and seeing her take on the piece is probably what I’m the most excited about. I haven’t been in town for rehearsals yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this crew has interpreted the show in different ways than I would have imagined.

Babs: Any advice for playwrights in creating new work or getting it produced?

Savannah: For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.

Babs: Any shout-outs for shows, events, or other things going on around the Bay Area that you might check out while you’re here?

Savannah: If you come to Six Monsters; A Seven Monster Play you will also get to see a short play by the fabulous Tracy Held Potter called Texting. And we should probably all get on a plane to New York to see Dan Giles’ play How You Kiss Me is Not How I Like To Be Kissed at the New York Fringe Festival.

Also, this.

Learn more about Savannah Reich, her screenplays, plays, and upcoming artistic projects from her website, http://savannahreich.com/.

Working Title: Old School Wargames & Desk Sets

This week Will Leschber asks…Would you like to play a game of Global Thermonuclear Office Dynamics?

Technology is timeless. Sure, it’s a marker that can pinpoint a place in history with ease: Computers that would fill whole rooms in the 50’s, the brick cell phone of the 80’s, the you-thought-you-were-so-cool 90’s pager, the ever present smartphone of today and tomorrow. Yet, technology and the keystones therein are just another tip in the waves of change.

Which of these buttons turns on Netflix again?!

Which of these buttons turns on Netflix again?!

Recently, I’ve been re-listening to a band that I fell in love with in the early ’00s (Isn’t it crazy that we can now be nostalgic about the 2000’s, Whoa mental-timeshift!) Just like the chunky cell phone I had at the time, the music of Alt-rock Indie band The Get Up Kids served as a marker to a phase in my life now ebbing away. It’s an odd thing stepping back and thinking, I feel further away from that time now than I ever have and yet the emotional link is the same. You know what I’m talking about; Think back to plays you worked on, bands you threw all your churning emotional youth into, School clubs, video-game worlds or any healthy obsession that took so much more of our time when we had more time to spare. My point is the emotional distance to those things can feel so thin, and the linear distance ever expanding. Revisiting these things can be like relating to an earlier version yourself; maybe a technological equivalent would be using your modern iPhone 6 ears to listen to a iPod Touch version of yourself.

iamyourfather

There are no rules for nostalgia cycles, yet the way I look back has changed as time goes on. Being in a distinctly different phase of your life will do that. Glancing from 27 to 20 feels much different than looking from 33 in the same direction. I’ve come to think that being two steps removed from a particular time in your life (or relationship you had, or school you attended, plays you worked on, acted in, directed, etc) is the minimum distance to get a semblance of perspective. Or maybe that’s just me starting to set my experiences in the solid amber of memory.

The beautiful thing about looking through amber is that everything has a golden sheen, and (If you’ve seen Jurassic Park as many times as I have you know…) magnifying your petrified past can occasionally cast accurate light on what is captured there. Looking back to earlier eras can fulfill a nostalgic niche and also remind us that so much of our experience is universal. This week No Nude Men and The EXIT Theater open The Desk Set, a workplace comedy set in the 1950s where the four leading women in the research department for a television studio are facing technological advancements which threaten to take their jobs. Technology taking jobs…sound familiar!?

Compleat Computer Comic

This old theme is constantly new. More interestingly, re-visiting human relationship dynamics, well that’s always in vogue! How we relate to one another proves a curious conduit to another time. Inter-office power dynamics, male and female roles inside and outside the workplace, the social tools readily implemented by each sex: How much have these things changed in 65 years? Perhaps, Desk Set is the perfect tool to make such comparisons. Check it out and you tell me.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide you all with some relevant film offering to wet your palettes before or after your play viewing. I reached out to the ever exuberant, Kitty Torres (who is one of the excellent actors featured in Desk Set) to help pull some fitting cinematic recommendations. She had not one but THREE superb suggestions. Take it away Kitty:

Kitty Torres as Ruthie in Desk Set.

Kitty Torres as Ruthie in Desk Set.

I would have to say that the top three films (because I cannot just pick one) would be:

1.) Adam’s Rib (another Hepburn/Tracy film, 1949) for it’s relevance to women in the workplace as well as the impact it had on relationships at home during the 50s.

2.) WarGames (1983) mostly because of the relevance between computers and people on the civilian level as well as the political level (and because I adore Matthew Broderick in this)
and

3.) His Girl Friday (1940) for the relevance of office themes, fast talk, quick wit and Roselyn Russel.

Matthew Broderick, making hoodies tech-chic since '83.

Matthew Broderick, making hoodies tech-chic since ’83.

So if you want to play a game with Matthew Broderick, or listen as fast of possible through the newsroom of His Girl Friday, or maybe even make a case for the opposing romantic lawyers of the Oscar nominated Adam’s Rib…DO IT and then go see The Desk Set. Now may be the best time for looking back.

WarGames & His Girl Friday are available to stream on Netflix, Huluplus, and other streaming sites. And Adam’s Rib can be found for rent on Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms. Tickets for The Desk Set can be found HERE!

Theater Around the Bay: Pub Love! Five Things We’re Celebrating

Marissa Skudlarek brings us a special report on what we’re just loving about Theater Pub these days!

June is traditionally a month for celebrations (dads, graduations, weddings…) and here at Theater Pub, we have a lot to celebrate too! Five things we’re happy about this week:

1. A Wake by Rory Strahan-Mauk, opening a week from tonight, is our first site-specific commission in our new performance space, the PianoFight Cabaret. See the show on June 22, 23, 29, and 30 at 8 PM.

2. Last Friday, we hit 1,500 followers on Twitter (join us @SFTheaterPub) and today, we hit 1,250 “Likes” on Facebook! Thanks to everyone in our social media community – we couldn’t do it without you!

3. Speaking of nice round numbers, this past Saturday, we hosted our 25th edition of Saturday Write Fever in the EXIT Theatre café! We’re thrilled that this has become such a popular and long-running event that encourages people to explore their creativity.

4. Today, American Theatre Magazine’s Facebook page linked to blogger Marissa Skudlarek’s most recent column, “She Submits to Conquer.” With this, we’re grateful to be part of the national conversation about how to improve gender parity in theater.

5. Our staff is the largest it’s ever been — in the inimitable words of Megan Cohen, “there’s enough of us now to cosplay Too Many Cooks.” We’re already making plans for our first all-hands meeting (combining production staff & blog writers) in July, so we can continue bringing you great theater and great writing from the City by the Bay!

Can it get even better? We shall see! Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who continues to make Theater Pub a success!

Everything Is Already Something Week 50: Why Isn’t It Just Funny?

Allison Page gets serious. And anxious. And anxious about being serious.

“Wh…what did you think?”, I stammer.
“Why wasn’t it just funny? It should have just been funny.”, says a faceless man, walking away from where I stand, leaving me in front of a grungy set, holding a beer. Then the floor opens up and I drop into a lava pit and am quickly enveloped in a sea of hot melty fire sludge. And then maybe a pterodactyl flies by or something.

This is what my brain makes up when I start thinking about what other people’s reactions to my first full length production as a playwright will be. The fact that I missed writing my last blog – which is the only time that has EVER happened in the last two years – should tell you how deep I am into this show. And let’s be clear about one thing – it is going fantastically well. Rehearsals are these great revelatory experiences, mostly because the director (Claire Rice) is the exact right fit for this play. She asks the right questions and that’s a biggie.

But I have this…thing hanging over me. And I sincerely doubt it’s unique. It’s also sort of narcissistic and I totally recognize that. It’s that thing where people get used to you doing a certain thing or being a certain way and then you deviate from the path in some manner and have no idea if that’s going to be a plus or a minus to people. Yeah, okay, I usually write comedy. I know that. And yes, this play has a title that makes it sound like a comedy. But it is really dark. The assistant director referred to it as “cruel” which it definitely is at times. This is especially true of the main character, who – SPOILER ALERT – is played by me. So yeah, now I’m that guy. I’m in a thing I wrote. Now, I don’t tend to write things for myself. Actually, I’ve never done it before. This is the first time. It’s a unique project and I don’t see writing lots of things for myself in the future. But it certainly is extra pressure on me. Then, naturally, my brain goes “God, what are people going to think of THAT?”

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

The Number 23 has an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in case anyone was wondering.

I could think about this stuff all day. I mean, I’d go crazy doing it, but I could do it. They’re all self-inflicted issues mostly based on what I would think if I knew someone who wasn’t me who was doing the same thing I’m doing. Ya know, because I’m a judgmental jerk and kind of a lunatic. Taking ownership of this project and saying “If people don’t like it, that’s okay.” is hard. But totally necessary. I’m making it not because I think it’s for everyone and that they’ll love it and lose their minds. I’m making it because I couldn’t let it go. It’s been brewing for 4 years in my brain, and at some point I just figured that I had to find a way to make it happen because otherwise I’ll be forever bitter at myself for not doing it. It just stuck with me like nothing else has, and I have to think that’s because I need to do it.

53%...slightly better, anyway!

53%…slightly better, anyway!

When I try to think about who I think this show is FOR – like what kind of audience is the best kind of audience for this play – I’m not sure I know how to answer that. I have this nagging feeling that any critics who have liked me up to this point are not likely to approve of this show. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Either way it doesn’t really matter, I’m going to do what I’m doing because it feels necessary. And yeah, the narcissistic part is thinking that anyone, anywhere gives a shit if I deviate from a perceived norm. Because that means I think someone is actually paying enough attention to make the assumption that I only work on certain types of material.

*snake eats its own tail AGAIN*

I’m not a sensitive person, but this thing is bringing weird stuff out of me. I’m trying to stay even and calm because that’s my preferred state of mind, but I can’t help but feel I’m taking some kind of risk – which is important, right? Otherwise WHAT ARE WE ALL DOING?!

80% - hey, that's pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

80% – hey, that’s pretty good! Actually, I give this movie my own 100%, and I think Patton Oswalt is brilliant in it.

Oh boy. What a mess this blog is. Also, I make no comparisons between me and Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, or Patton Oswalt. Just…so we’re clear. Back to revisions and memorizing. And then trying not to sweat it, and sweating it anyway.

You can catch Allison Page in her DIVAfest-produced HILARITY at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco, opening March 5th.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up, Act 4, The Stueys (Again)

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2014 list. Finally. We know it’s long, but read the whole thing. Seriously. If he was Tony Kushner you’d do it.

So if there is anything I learned last week it’s that one can have spent too much time thinking about Into The Woods.

No, but seriously, in the time since I published last week’s avante garde explanation for why I wasn’t going to do the Stueys, ironically, as these things often happen, I rediscovered why I want to do the Stueys. Blame it on a couple of supportive emails I got, a text of a friend reading my blog from inside a security fort and identifying too much, and a chat on a bay-side bench with a young, hopeful playwright, but my heart started to heal from the poison I was bleeding out of it and then one night, quite spontaneously, I just sat down and wrote them. And it just felt dumb not to share them. Before I do though, I wanted to briefly (for me) revisit the three things I wanted to get across in last week’s article. In 2015 it’s my goal to create space both for what I want to say, and what I need to say.

1) I kind of hate the Internet. But seriously, after the last year or so, does anybody not? I mean, I love what it can do but I’m starting to truly hate what it brings out in people, including myself. To be honest, while I am still quick with the quippy comments on Facebook and such, you may have noticed I am much quieter on the debates and controversy front than I once was and this is because I’ve just reached my limit of getting into fights that started out as conversations but then devolved into people just trying to outshout one another. It’s amazing to realize that a silent medium requires a volume dial but it really does, and the truth is, there are days I fear to be anything but funny on the internet, or ubiquitously positive, and so I ironically don’t want to talk in what is supposed to be a forum, not because I fear critique or debate, but because I’m not looking to start any wars. Too bad the Internet is pretty much a 24/7 war zone.

2) I kind of hate awards. I always kind of have, but this became more apparent to me after I won a TBA Award this year and I know that sounds ungrateful but believe me, I am honored and flattered to have received it, and I understand why awards are important, or at least necessary, and I can’t state enough, especially as someone who got to discuss the process and purpose behind the awards extensively with the folks running them, that I do believe the TBA awards are both well intentioned and super inclusive in their attempt to create an even playing field for theater makers coming from a diverse level of resources. What I dislike so strongly about awards is how many people, in the broader sense, use them as shorthand to designate the value of art, artists, and organizations. And no, they’re not supposed to do this, I know, but they do, and we as artists are not supposed to internalize this, I know, but we do. And I became really aware of that standing in a room with my fellow nominees that night, who didn’t win an award, all of whom were good sports about it but I could tell it made them sad. Which made me feel kind of miserable. And now my award lives in the back of my closet because as proud as I am of it, I’m also weirded out about it, and what it might mean to people, the expectations it might create about me or my work. And awards are nice but they can’t be why we’re in this, and I know that sounds kind of bullshit from somebody who has a few but it’s true and we have to remember that.

3) I kind of hate theater. Okay, that is an exaggeration but I am going through a phase of being sort of disenchanted with theater and some of the theater community. I know this is hardly a first for anybody in the community, and I suspect it’s a particularly common feeling when you’re feeling overworked- which I definitely was in 2014. 2015, however, doesn’t promise to be any less work, in fact the opposite, and so that’s got me down. And yes, I know it’s my choice to work as much as I do, but it’s also kind of not. A lot of what I do won’t happen without me and that makes me want to keep working because I believe in it and all the people it serves or creates opportunities for, but my inability to really escape the theater scene for more than a day or two before my inbox fills and my phone rings reached epic proportions in 2014 and lead to some intense moments of resenting the thing I love for needing me so very much while not always feeling like it needs me, Stuart, so much as anybody dumb enough to work this hard for this little pay. Which is a nasty thing to say but sometimes… sometimes it’s also kind of the truth. Feeling taken for granted sucks; feeling enslaved to passion has a dark side. So it goes. It balances out all the times I feel rescued and redeemed by it.

So, hopefully, you can see how all this could make for a mood not suited for creating the Stueys. Considering my general ambivalence/anxiety about awards, but recognizing that some people take the Stueys seriously enough to put them on resumes and websites, I really have been struggling with how ethical, not to mention hypocritical, it is for me, as an artist, to be handing out awards, no matter how playfully, to my fellow artists, when the only thing determining those awards is… me. Who no one should take seriously. But who apparently some people really do. Cue paralysis inducing terror and suddenly I couldn’t remember why I was doing this or what it was all about, but I felt I had to say something because I had all this stuff to say. But it can be hard for me to talk about myself, what I’m personally going through, and even harder for me to advocate for myself. I hate disappointing people. But I hate being insincere more. And I wanted to begin to understand why I was feeling all this dread.

Anyway, without more ado, and much, much later than intended, here they are, 14 awards for the 2014 Stueys.

BEST ADDITION TO THE BAY AREA THEATRE SCENE
The Bay Area Theatre Awards

The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with, and when we celebrate that whole community, regardless of budget or house size, Equity relationship or ticket price, we are celebrating our Art, ourselves as Artists, and Artists as contributors to and saviors of the World. Of course, no one organization or person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff. No matter how far we cast our net, there is always more to see and more to explore and we’re fortunate to have it that way, so for a moment, let’s just celebrate what an incredible delight it is to now have an official awards system for our community that appears to be on the same page as that sentiment of inclusivity and casting a wide net, regardless of whatever other kinks may still need to be ironed out. And for those of you who feel the TBA Awards are not enough, or still missing the boat in some regards, you are correct. And you should do something about it, whatever that means to you. To me, it means keeping the SEBATAs going, because in my mind, Heaven is a place where at last we are all recognized for what we bring to the table, and I dream of a Bay Area filled with organizations and individuals proudly recognizing one another at every possible turn, for as many reasons as can be found, as many times as it pleases us to do so. And so I am giving the first Stuey this year to TBA, and specifically Robert Sokol, for having completed a Herculean task that they will now have to complete all over again. And then again. And then again. And again. Good luck everybody!

BEST NEW VENUE
PianoFight

Is there anyone who isn’t excited about all the potential here? Rob Ready and company have been building this space for years now, and walking into it you see why it has taken so long- it is just beautiful. From the mural by Molly Benson to the floors and the furniture, they have been seeking to create not just another black box or just another dive bar, but something truly magnificent, welcoming, inspiring, and everything a venue dedicated to a community art should be. Best thing of all? They’ve asked Theater Pub to perform there, and so we will be performing there, starting in January, at least twice a month going forward. Which makes us excited and scared. Something we’re sure they understand. This whole year looks to be exciting and scary.

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
San Francisco Fringe Festival (EXIT Theatre)

Dear San Francisco: this amazing thing happens right in the middle of you every year and not enough of you know about it and not enough of you make the time to visit it. And like… really visit it, not just duck in to see your friend’s show and then run out. And I understand why you do that because I used to do the same thing but now, having worked there for three years, I have to say, you are robbing yourself of an amazing opportunity to see theater from all over the country and the world, and to meet and talk with the most diverse collection of artists any one event assembles at any given point in the year, and to be a part of something bigger than you and bigger than just this venue or this theater scene for that matter. Do yourself a favor, serious theater goer, serious theater maker, and commit to seeing at least three shows at the Fringe this next year. Pick one by someone you know, one by someone you have heard of, and one by a total stranger. See them all, bring a friend, hang out in the Café and the Green Room between shows (on almost any night of the Fringe you can see 2-3 shows in one visit to the venue, and all the tickets are super cheap), introduce yourself to the staff and artists, tip the Fringe, and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to see more, know more, do more. If the Bay Area Theatre scene is a garden, this is one of our most vital vegetable beds. Tend this garden, and then come get fed.

BEST SHOW
“Our Town” (Shotgun Players)

Won’t lie… it kind of kills me that this was my favorite show of the year. But it was, so much so that my boyfriend, afterwards, said, “Let’s not see anything else this year- let’s let this be where we stop” and he was right and I agreed, but that’s part of what worries me: for far too many people I think theater starts and stops with “Our Town”, or its equivalent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good theater because it is, and I have long defended Thornton Wilder as being one of the great playwrights whose work is often undermined by having been overdone. This production, directed by Susannah Martin with assistance from Katja Rivera, was anything but overdone, it was subtle and lovely and elegantly realized, from the costumes and lighting, to the music and the performances, and it all came together in a way that, while nostalgic and dramatically safe (which aren’t necessarily bad things, but important to recognize), still felt fresh and sincere, like the gesture of laying down in the rain on the grave of a loved one. There was really nothing I didn’t love. Though if I had to pick favorites I’ll say very little is more entertaining than watching Michelle Talgarow and Don Wood play off each other, even during the intermission raffle. The night I was there they got some very chatty audience feedback and they handled it Grover’s Corners style: graciously and politely and in a way that warmed your heart.

BEST READING
“Hydra” by Tonya Narvaez (SF Olympians Festival)

God, there is very little better in life than a really good reading, and possibly nothing more frustrating than watching people shoot themselves in the foot on what should be the simplest, easiest theatrical event to pull off. And yet… again and again we see it at the SF Olympians Festival, the full range of dramatic readings, from the simple but impafctful, to the overdone and done to death. This year we had a number of excellent readings, but my favorite standout was “Hydra”, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez. A ghost story, a comedy, a conundrum, the piece was elevated to a new level by Tonya shrouding the stage in total darkness except for reading lights for her cast who, illuminated in the stark and eerie glow, were uniformly excellent- not in the least because they were relieved of having to worry about blocking and forced by the light to focus only on the text. Such a simple, elegant choice, but so effective. She won that night of the festival, and wins this Stuey for Best Reading.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“Mars One Project” by Jennifer Roberts (part of “Super Heroes” at Wily West Productions)

Jennifer Robert’s play, about a female astronaut who is denied her chance to go to Mars because she has a daughter and the Powers That Be don’t think the world can stomach or root for a woman who would leave her child, even in an attempt to create a role model for that child, was by far the best piece in this evening of shorts. There was plenty of fine writing, but this is the one that transcended its own subject matter to present that ever elusive thing: an issue play in which both sides of the argument are presented with pathos. The tragedy of the piece is less that “we’re not there yet” and more, “is what it will take to be there always going to require sacrifice on this level”, to me a much more interesting, more human question. In an evening of mostly sketches, it was the one piece that could not only stand on its own, but really stood for something, and it’s a near perfect short play- which as an author of short plays, I assure you, is a near impossibility.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Amanda Ortmayer (EXIT Theatre Technical Director)

Amanda Ortmayer has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome. If you haven’t had a chance to work with her, I hope, one day, you do. It’ll remind you why we’re all in this, or at least, why we should all be in this: for the people.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Marissa Skudlarek, “Pleiades”

One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to people complain about how there are not enough opportunities, while refusing to ever create those opportunities themselves. For the record I agree, there aren’t enough opportunities, but at some point we need to realize that if we have our health and a clear sense of our dreams, we’ve already been given more than most people get so it’s really just about figuring out how to see your dream materialize. Watching Marissa Skudlarek as she put together her first production as a producer (she wrote the script too, but we’re giving her recognition for the producer hat here), I was blown away by how organized and focused she was, how determined she was to do it as best she could even the first time out. Which is more than I can say for me. Even now, I feel like I mostly just take a deep breath, pick up my sword, and rush into battle blindly, while Marissa strategized and planned, gathered information, raised funds, and was just in general super smart about it all. Was anyone surprised? Not really. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take one more moment to tell her she did an amazing job. Everyone looking to produce a show in 2015- call Marissa. She knows what she’s doing.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Michaela Greeley, Katherine Otis, Terry Bamberger (“Three Tall Women”, Custom Made Theater Company)

It is not easy to play three versions of the same woman but this trio of ladies, under the direction of Custom Made veteran Katjia Rivera, brought so much magic to the stage that the leap of faith required for Act Two of Edward Albee’s classic was not only easy to make, you made it with a song in your heart! This is a lovely show, but one I rarely feel enthusiastic about, energized by, and these three performers, working so well together, in such total tandem with one another, sold me on this show in a way it’s never been sold to me before. Michaela Greeley was uncomfortably good at playing the frailty of her character in Act One and the fierce stubborn vitality in Act Two; while Terry Bamberger was an edgy warmth in Act One that ballooned into an explosion of heat and fire in Act Two; Katherine Otis, in the part with the least to work with in both acts, managed to strike the aloof brittleness required in the first act while still laying the foundations for the insecure idealist the second act tears to pieces. But what I may have loved the most was the way these ladies moved, always circling one another, always creating triangles on the stage, each one so aware of the other, having to fill the space one vacated, or rushing to claim a spot before the other could. It was like a dance, like a motorized portrait of the Three Fates and they wove a spell together that was frightening and enchanting all at once.

BEST RISK
Kat Evasco, “Mommie Queerest” (Guerilla Rep/DIVAfest)

Kat Evasco knows how to work an audience, but the audience at her show might not have been ready to get worked so hard. Bravely darting in and out of us, throwing herself around the stage in gleeful and breathless abandon, Kat unravels a personal story about the struggle to discover not only who she is- but who her mother is. And why she needs her mother to know who she is before she can finally accept herself. Co-written with John Caldon, who also directed, the show avoids the bulk of solo show clichés, feeling more like a play where Kat has just been tasked with playing all the roles to the best of her ability, and the audience isn’t really asked to come along so long as commandeered by her at the beginning and let go only when she sees fit. The piece is courageously risky, not only because of the controversial elements within it, but because Kat leaves no fourth wall standing between herself and the audience, and if they don’t run with her on it, her show is kind of screwed. Both times I saw this though, that wasn’t a problem; it’s hard not to jump in both feet at a time with a performer who is so ready and eager to do it.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Justin Gillman (“The Pain And The Itch”, Custom Made Theater Company; “Blood Wedding” Bigger Than A Breadbox Theatre Company; “Pastorella” No Nude Men; and like a billion other things)

So… how many plays was Justin Gillman in this past year? It seemed like every time you turned around he was being cast in something, including by me, and every time he was pretty amazing in it. I don’t know how he does it. Like seriously, I don’t know how he memorizes all his lines, let alone doesn’t burn out from the constant rehearsal and yet somehow he shows up every night, fresh and ready to perform. Generous with everyone, onstage and off, it’s rare I don’t find him the highlight of a cast, usually finding a way to balance being a somewhat over-the-top character with a deeply human core that is achingly vulnerable when not just a tiny bit scary. In each of the three roles highlighted above, this was the common thread- men at first dismissable, who at sudden turns revealled their fangs, and then wept as they ripped your throat out. Delicious.

The ladies have gotten a lot of attention on this year’s list, which is great, but we like to keep things balanced here at the Stueys so we’re giving two more nods out: Kenny Toll (“Dracula Inquest”, Central Works) and Sam Tillis (“Slaughterhouse Five”, Custom Made Theater Company). In my opinion, both of these gentlemen were the best thing about these two shows, which were solid enough theatrical productions but elevated by fully committed actors. In both cases, both men also played characters who were… well, committed. As in insane. Though the insanity characterizations couldn’t have been more night and day than the plays were (Toll’s was of the by turns wimpering, by turns screeching Bedlam variety, Tillis was the diamond hard, lethally cold, slow burn sociopath kind), both managed to be believable and unsettling without being melodramatic or over-the-top. Toll even managed to be sympathetic, while Tillis managed to be mesmerizing. Either way, it was endlessly watchable, haunting, and impressive.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Cat Luedtke in Anything

Seriously, once upon a time there was no Cat Leudtke and then one morning we woke up and she was everywhere. I think I might have seen her in like six shows this year and in each case she was the walk away discovery, the revelation performance. The tremendous skill of this woman is matched only by her tremendous range, as every role I saw her in this year was different, though perhaps none so piercing and breathtaking as her role in Custom Made’s “Top Girls” as England’s most done-with-it-but-not-lying-down-about-it mother. I’ve also seen her sing and dance, act Lorca, play the 19th century adventurer, the dutiful wife, and more (probably helps that one of the things I saw her in was a collection of one-acts), bringing to each role a personal touch and a universal power, a sincerity and openness of heart that made you feel like you were watching a real person. She’s very much a “real actress”, whatever we mean by that when we say it. I know that what I tend to mean is somebody so good at throwing themselves into something, they transcend and turn into someone else, each and every time.

There is always an embarrassment of brilliant female performances in the Bay Area, so I feel a few other honorable mentions are in order: Mikka Bonel in “At The White Rabbit Burlesque” (DIVAfest), giving a performance as a rabbit that was unlike any performance of anything I’ve ever seen; Ariel Irula in “Blood Wedding” (Bigger Than A Breadbox), whose deeply passionate performance was matched only by the soul of her singing voice; Jean Forsman in “The Pain And The Itch” (Custom Made Theater Company), nailing well-meaning but vapid liberal mom as only someone like Jean could, walking perfectly that line of endearing and annoying; Stephanie Ann Foster in “Slaughterhouse Five” (Custom Made Theater Company), who played both a woman and a man in the show, and was lovely, heartbreaking, deeply sympathetic in each role.

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
Now And At The Hour (Christian Cagigal, H.P. Mendoza)

The fusion of theater and film is a tricky one, and I can only imagine how filming a stage show without destroying the magic of live theater must require an excellent understanding of both mediums. Now make that live theater a magic show too and you are truly setting yourself up to fall flat on your face, but H.P. Mendoza’s film of Christian Cagigal’s “Now And At The Hour” flies, it is magical and touching, the decision to interrupt the narrative of the stage show with the narrative of Christian’s life and the important players in it only adding to the emotional punch of this unique variation on “the artist and his work” formula. Beautifully shot, entertaining, unexpectedly poignant, this is a stellar example of a collaboration between artists and mediums.

BEST SOLO SHOW
Kevin Rolston, “Deal With The Dragon” (SF Fringe Festival)

Remember my earlier bit about the Fringe? Here is a glowing example of why going into something blind at the Fringe can sometimes result in stumbling across something truly excellent. I didn’t know anything about this show. It had a fun premise in the Fringe guide (Man moves in with Dragon) and a bad flier design (sorry, it can’t all be hugs and snuggles here) and while I had no expectations what I wasn’t expecting was to be so thoroughly moved and entertained. It does not hurt that Kevin Rolston is an incredibly talented performer with an ability to switch between his three narrators with glass-like smoothness, or that each of the three stories he tells, each with a different take on the idea of a “dragon”, are all funny and unsettling portraits of our tenous relationship with self-control and those things inside us that scare us. An unsettling fable about how our potential for violence and indulgence can also be our potential for strength and transformation, Rolston’s notes in the program claimed the piece is unfinished, but it could actually already stand as is. Here’s hoping the final product is as good as the draft.

And as for Me…

So Usually I end the awards with something about the show I personally worked on that affected me the most, but in all honesty I got so much out of all of them it would be hard to pick one so I kind of just want to take a final look at last year as a whole so I can both make sense of it and kiss it goodbye.

For me, it was an incredible year, but that doesn’t mean I loved every second of it. Far from it. It was as demanding as it was rewarding and at times it also seemed… endless. Like there was just always one more thing to do, to get through and then… two more. And then nine. I got to work with material by the incredible Kristin Hersh this year and that will forever be a highlight of my life but the production itself was a rough process, and the reception was rough, it all kind of placed too much strain on an important relationship in my life and I walked away feeling very differently than I had when I walked in- which was hopeful and desirous to bring a project that meant a lot to me to people I loved who I thought could benefit from it, but by the end I was wondering if I had ultimately done more harm than good by bringing such tremendous attention to something so natal. Then I directed a stellar production of “The Crucible” that made me acutely aware of how resistant critics and audiences can be to seeing a familiar play in a new way, and also how embracing they can be, but by that point I was having a hard time hearing the love and found it easier to focus on the detrimental views. I worked to let it all go, focused on feeling proud of the work my actors and designers had done, which was stupendous, and then just as I was feeling more balanced again, Wily West’s production of my play “Everybody Here Says Hello!”, after a whirlwind of a production process, opened to unexpectedly and ubiquitously positive reception. Suddenly, I was a guy with a hit show on my hands- technically my third this year since “Rat Girl” and “The Crucible”, despite whatever misgivings critics were having, were also big audience successes. For the first time in my career though my writing was the center of attention (I often feel I am mostly known as a director who writes, though I am actually a writer who directs), partly because Rik Lopes, not I, had directed “EHSH”, and so critics had to speak about our separate contributions separately, and that was wonderful but the moment was short-lived: we ended up having two performances canceled and the show only ran 7 times and it became my play everybody “really wished they had made it out to see.” Me too! Though one should never shake a stick at houses full of strangers. But oh… we do this partly because of the friends we hope to show something personal to, don’t we? And, again, I was having a year where it was hard not to keep adding things up in the negative, no matter how well they were actually going.

Anyway, this was then followed by the Fringe, as rewarding and as demanding as ever, which was then followed by the fast and furious (yet incredibly smooth) rehearsal process for my play “Pastorella”, which was the only piece I both wrote and directed last year, and which was well received, actually pretty much adored by audiences, but played to 2/3rds full houses or less its entire run after opening to an audience of 11- my second smallest audience in the history of my theater life in San Francisco (not my whole life- I once played to an audience of 2 in Tucson). The result was a show that, though very economically produced, still ended in the red, something which shouldn’t affect one personally as much as it does. But if you haven’t gathered yet, I’m being truthful here, even if it makes me seem a little petty. So yeah, my final passion project of the year was probably my personal favorite artistic accomplishment but it also cleaned out my bank account, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that 2014 was the year I went freelance/contractor and believe me- it’s been an adjustment. One I’m still adjusting to. Finally we had the fifth installment of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which was wonderful if perhaps more draining than usual, and fraught with an abnormal amount of backstage drama, from some diva moves on the part of some of our participants, to a failure to meet our fundraising goals (first time ever), and then the pique of which, of course, was having our dressing room robbed on, naturally, the night of my reading, which was successful in that it was well done by my trooper cast, but again, sort of middling attended, and a bit anti-climactic as an artist considering it had taken me all year to write it. And did I mention that some of my favorite actors kind of hated the script? Disappointing, but less so than having a “colleague” tell me that working with me was basically bad for businesses because of my strong opinions and tendency to carve my own way, nonsense that nobody who was actually a friend would have bothered to bring up- especially not when I was in the midst of trying to find a way to help them realize their own plans for the local theater scene. But I have occasionally been told my Achilles heel is caring about the band as much as I care about myself.

And somewhere in there I won a TBA Award for “EHSH”, had two works of mine garner bids for film adaptations, threw a delightful birthday party and another successful Easter brunch, but had to cancel a major social event because I got pink eye. Which is only worth mentioning again because in retrospect, it really is kind of funny. I wanted to get more reading done and much more writing, but it just didn’t happen. Best laid plans of mice and men…

So yes, 2014 was amazing but it was also, definitely, a mixed bag. Rewarding to no end, but unforgiving in many ways, most of all in that I had a hard time forgiving myself for just… well… doing my best but not always getting everything the way I wanted it or hoped for. The problem is, when you’re burnt out, stuff that you’d normally brush off or accept as the breaks of the business or just how life is get harder to be blasé about, and I found myself at the end of 2014 feeling accomplished but bruised, lucky but kind of cursed, exhausted and not excited so much as terrified about the future and yet… hopeful. Cause I am hopeful. And I want to stress that and more or less end there, and tell you it was amazing to have 800+ people applaud me for winning an award (even if it was for a play I always considered a bit of a “minor work” and never guessed would be so defining), and it was incredible to walk up those stairs that night, all alone, and think, even as my thoughts came crashing down around me, “Well, you certainly don’t do anything half-assed, do you Stuart?” (even if that means sometimes I paint myself into an intellectual corner with the same gusto I pull myself out of it). Though I definitely experienced a lot in 2014, I often felt like I wasn’t actually learning so much as surviving, and oh, by the way, I had massive writer’s block, and it was writing all that out last Monday that finally cured it… and got us here. And here is not a bad place to be: hopeful, and weirdly confident that whatever happens next, I can probably handle it. I just kind of wish I had a clearer idea of what “it” was. But then we all wish that, don’t we?

Ah well. C’est la vie.

Deep breath.

Happy New Year.


Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up Act 3, The Stueys

Stuart Bousel was supposed to do his annual best of list, the Stuart Excellence in Bay Area Theater Awards. Instead, he’s giving us this experimental, free-flowing one-man show that may or may not have begun as he was walking up all those stairs between the first floor of the Geary Theatre and the very top balcony where he was seated for the TBA Awards, one of which he’d just picked up for his play, EVERYBODY HERE SAYS HELLO. He took the stairs, and not the elevator, for a reason. It’s worth noting, the stairs were empty the entire way up, despite the theater being full. This is always an interesting place to be. The empty place next to a full one. If you can accept that he began this monologue on the stairs of the Geary, then you can probably also accept he finished it sometime in early January. It took him that long to climb the stairs.

So, I was going to have the last 2014 blog entry for SF Theater Pub be the Stuey’s but the day came and went and the story wasn’t… satisfactory… so I skipped it and said I’d finish it on the 1st. Which I didn’t. Despite telling everyone I was going to. Which is how I blackmail myself into finishing things when I don’t want to. But this time I just kind of… blew it off. Which is probably for the best. It’s 2015. What do the winners of 2014 matter now? Talking about the past and all the change, the triumph and failure that you may or may not have actually processed because you didn’t have the time and when you did you didn’t have the energy and neither did anybody else- people, is this anyway to start a new year? Benny just lost his cat. Have you seen the video?

Over the last year in particular, often times when reading something on the internet, particularly Facebook, particularly a debate, particularly about… ANYTHING, I have found myself quietly quoting the Witch from Into The Woods: “No but what really matters is the blame; somebody to blame; fine if that’s the thing you enjoy, placing the blame, if that’s the aim, give me the blame…”. This is, by the way, the most important lyric in “Last Midnight”, not the far more often touted, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.” Please. I get why people are like “Ooooooo” cause it’s a smooth ass bit of verse, but if you walk out of the show thinking the Witch is right you have missed the point of the show and no, it’s not open for debate- if the Witch WAS right, the show wouldn’t end with her coming out and singing a third variation of her big song in which she completely changes her perspective from the previous variations. There’s only one thing the Witch is in fact right about before “Children Will Listen” and it’s that most people, even good people, when faced with the complications of life, would rather put energy into placing the blame and finding fault than celebrate the success or, God forbid, forget the blame and just offer a solution to the problem. Cause you see, that would take work. Like actual work and trial and error and looking bad and getting better and cooperation and genuine pride tempered with genuine modesty and tolerance and forgiveness and everything else we hate to have to do because it can’t be done quickly and angrily while the mob posts “fuck yeah!” on our thread and we can come out looking like we have somehow saved the world again without any sacrifice on our end. See, throwing Jack to the Giant is, in fact, the easy solution because the Witch doesn’t care about Jack and she doesn’t really care about the kingdom. The Giant, to her, is an interesting problem to be solved and once Rapunzel is gone the Giant becomes a tool of the Witch’s rage, a physical manifestation of eye for an eye that does not care about what happens next, just wants to see everyone get theirs like she got hers because the world has crapped on her and the only thing that matters is how it hasn’t crapped on you AS MUCH or AS HARD and BOOM CRUNCH that’s Justice. Which doesn’t make the Witch evil, by the way, or the Giant. But it doesn’t make them good or admirable, either, so don’t lie to yourself about that, or the nature of Justice.

One of the ironies of the Witch calling out everyone else on their blame game is that she’s been doing it- blaming THE ENTIRE WORLD- since… well, since before all the characters we spend time with were born. The Witch’s garden is sown with hate and it grows ladders to destruction and the smugness with which the Witch berates the others is that brand of modern smugness now so prevalent, especially on the internet. Or more likely, probably always prevalent but now with a bigger, higher platform on which to display itself with that utter conviction that turns all conversations into arguments because Captain Justice understands the nuts and bolts of something, the basic math, but none of the nuance (often known as “reality”, “context” and “life”) that defines a blueprint from an actual building. This is usually buoyed on a blazingly obvious bed of deep insecurity and low self-worth, not to mention lack of genuine interest in others as actual human beings with souls and minds of their own and of equitable value, even if in opposition, to the Witch. The Witch may be factually right about some stuff… but she also is desperately trying to win a beauty contest in her head, the prize of which is the questionable love of the girl-woman she has held hostage for over a decade. This doesn’t mean disregard the Witch, but take her with a grain of salt, especially when she says things like, “Fuck you all for not killing the kid like I, with my fucking awesome nectarines, told you to- I’m out!” Anyone who leaves the room because they can’t handle being said no to was probably never there to improve the situation in the first place. They were just there to be right.

Not that I’ve never done that myself. Or called for Justice. As much as it’s a mentality I dislike, I’ve certainly fallen into it, almost everyone does at some point, with the redeeming (but also terrifying) factor being that almost everyone does it out of good intentions. You think you are standing up for yourself, you think you are standing up for someone else, you think your are standing up for A Reason, and maybe you are, but if the reason has made you so tall you can no longer hear or see what you destroy as you rampage on your quest… I mean, you can see where this is going and the point is, I do understand it. It’s a terrible world- princes, humans, wolves. The lot of them. They are all liars and thieves and that’s an opinion based on experience and including the knowledge that I’m not any better. Depending on who you ask I’m a prince, or a wolf, or just some douche bag whose song didn’t even make the film cause fuck that guy, what does he know, he traded his kid for a salad and probably thought he was getting the better end of the bargain. I mean, I firmly believe we all have a soul, and we all have value, and that means we all have the potential to do good, and be Good, but then again, depending on the day, look around, see how some of us are actualizing that potential… and you might see why someone would think that the best thing you can do is find a tower and hide in it. Is it a perfect solution? Well, no, I mean… for one thing you’ll be stuck in a tower, you probably won’t learn or grow very much, better hope there are at least some good books and games, oh and food, but even if a tower protects you for a while it’s only a matter of time before everyone around you in all the neighboring towers will probably blame you for all kinds of shit, including how their tower isn’t as nice as yours and so yours should be taken away from you (the ones who don’t think your tower is an eye-sore, of course, and thus just needs to be removed), or some curious prince/wolf/human will show up with all their desires and complications and breeding potential but hey, at least for a while in your tower you can’t hear it all or see it all and you don’t have to crush anything since you’re not going anywhere, so it’s almost an acceptable way to live. You know, provided you haven’t bothered to look outside your tower- something you’re absolutely not supposed to do, by the way, if you want to keep your tower flying below that collective “Come Fuck With Me” radar as long as possible. That window is for air, you hear me? We’re just keeping you alive so your cage has a purpose and don’t you forget it or we’ll take the cage away and then where will you be? That’s right: out here, getting stepped on by Giants.

My problem has always been that I have always looked outside my tower, all the time, and playing alone for long periods of my life, and getting really good at it, I might add, hasn’t reduced my desire to go out into the world, it has actually magnified it, to the point where, as an adult, I fear loneliness while also desperately craving silence. Like most artists I’ve spent most of my life feeling alienated and different, but also with a powerful, maddening compulsion to put myself out there, to be seen and listened to, to share my personal world with the bigger one, without really understanding what that might entail or how it will be received. I’m smarter than the average human so I do pick up enough pre-game to know that the world is rough and when you adventure into it, you should go disguised- sometimes as something flashier than yourself, sometimes as something duller than who you really are, but neither one telling anyone exactly who I am or even what I want. And because the interactions are not entirely sincere, they are a show, but I, in my madness, want to experience sincerity while using artifice, the part where I end up feeling disappointed by how “the world” still doesn’t seem to really care about me unless I am happy or angry enough to have become an annoyance of some kind… well, that is hardly the world’s fault. I mean, I don’t even know what I want, so why should the world be able to give it to me, or want to? Thank God that I’m so good at looking like I know what I want and even fairly good at going about getting it myself, that generally the world has been relieved of having to bother with a polite inquiry or even admitting I exist and have value and yes… I appreciate that as a token of the world’s appreciation for me never really seeming to need its interest and yet somehow managing to occasionally clean myself up into something it thinks is just the right balance of mainstream and “what is that?”, that I have been sent this lovely man with a slipper. The problem is, I don’t know what to do with this lovely man or this slipper, seeing as I just have the one. Correction: I can use it as a marble jar. Thank you, it’s lovely. The other…

Well, it’s like I got a puppy, you know? I mean, it is fucking bonkers cute and there will be days I just can’t stop snuggling it and it will snuggle me back AND THAT WILL BE TREMENDOUS, and of course, it’s all over the Internet and people I like are just going “yeah!” and people I don’t like are so noticebly quiet or super-satisfyingingly petulant, but… I can already feel that puppy getting less cute. And bigger. And getting bored. I know it’s a good puppy, it has the potential to be a great dog, but that is going to require work, classes probably, and in the meantime I am also going to have to feed it and it is constantly hungry. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s also super finicky about what it will eat and it will only tell you what it will eat AFTER you have bought and cooked the meal, and what am I, a fucking mind-reader here? Like, I’m supposed to be that while I’m wearing this outfit, which by the way is not gold, it’s gold leaves and gold stars, but even if it was gold that does not mean I am made of gold. Also, it’s questionable if this puppy-dog-man really has a discerning pallet to begin with. Also, it’s Canine, apparently, and I speak Human. Human and a little Bird. I mean, I get that a dog is like… a bright toddler… so we should be able to communicate but… well, anyway, you may not realize this, but that dress I wore, am wearing, was technically a hand-me-down (I mean, it literally came from the high parts of a tree, down to me) and possibly made from some leaves I just kind of threw together- I just look THAT FUCKING GOOD in gold- so while I’m flattered you think I belong on this throne I’m not sure I actually want to sit on it or that I was aiming for it and don’t you dare say I asked for it. You have no idea what I want. And even if I did want it… wanting a ball is not wanting a prince. I’m not “asking for it” by showing the fuck up. I mean, I recognize that doing so basically qualifies me for everything but that’s society’s fault, not mine, why am I being put on the pedestal (chopping block?) for it?

Oh, right, because I’m letting you. And because it’s true… I like the view from up there. You can really see the gold stars. And my whole life is pretty much about gold stars and trying to find a really good view from… well, anywhere, really. Except maybe this tower. And maybe this one too. Okay, maybe all of them. I mean, look people, if I wanted to just see it all from someone else’s tower or worse, from the one I was just handed by fate, then I wouldn’t have gone about putting all this work into baking cookies and writing graduate program recs for the people who are helping me build a tower of my own- which will totally have public viewing hours and elevators for patrons in wheelchairs so just calm the fuck down and let me have my Sunday on the Moon Deck with The Muse to myself, okay? Please? I mean, didn’t I earn it? I cleaned all those fucking pots for you and we don’t even have indoor plumbing.

Sitting on the Facebook (which I should never have open while I’m writing but I often do because I LIKE TO MAKE MY LIFE HARDER/GENUINELY CARE ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK AND SAY/CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF MY OWN VOICE/D) and reading other people’s responses to the Rob Marshall film version of Into the Woods, and Shotgun’s production of Our Town, (want to break your mind open- compare the two), and thinking on the past responses to my own productions of Hamlet and The Crucible, and the screen adaptations of Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit, and every Shakespeare play ever, and throwing in the case-studies of my three world premieres this past year, Rat Girl, Everybody Here Says Hello, and Pastorella, plus the case-study of the one play I managed to finish this year, Pandemonium, and the general hoopla leading up to and following the Tony Awards and the TBA Awards, all awards in general, and I am having just millions of thoughts about it all, none of which are helping me finish the Stueys, but in the end they all boil down to one: most people, even most very smart people, want what they know, which is a polite way of saying, that most people, even ones with a taste for adventure, just want to be comfortable, experience as little change as possible, and thus they are going to hate you, like truly hate you, when you give them anything that is different, pushes them too hard, or asks for anything too challenging, and then have the audacity to also like… expect them to be interested enough to at least say something thoughtful and sincere, instead of dismissive or grandstanding. But being too cool for school and incredibly self-righteous is what the internet was invented for, it’s the town pub to end all town pubs, and one doesn’t walk in with their “I’m Here To Help” or “I’m Here To Learn” face on because that’s how people get robbed and murdered so believe you me, when you walk in looking like that holding your little heart going “Look I made this!” best have made something they want or be prepared for the knives. And yes, I understand that you might have been confused by all the shouting until they are blue in the face(book) about wanting new visions, new ideas, new blood, real stories, real challenges, more individual voices, more unique perspectives, more this, more that, ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE LACKING etc. but when push comes to shove what most of them really want… you know, like, what they’ll actually pay for and not resent it?… is like… a really well done gourmet mac and cheese. Oh, is that pasta local? Bacon? Very untraditional. A diverse medley of different cheeses? TAKE ALL MY MONEY! INVENTION THY NAME IS MAC AND CHEESE!

And lest you think I am being reductive to be spiteful, I have one of the most diverse palates of anybody I know and I too fucking love mac and cheese. Even when it’s kind of bad, and when it’s good… well, nothing is better than mac and cheese in both its comfort food simplicity and your ability to turn it into gourmet food just by adding stuff. Like virtually ANYTHING. Everyone in the cheese eating world knows this. Which is why it, or its equivalents, are a staple of so many modern restaurants’ menues. Like, even restaurants with super crazy exotic and original menues, take a look- there’s mac and cheese, down in the corner, HOLDING UP THE WORLD LIKE ATLAS, telling you, “Go ahead, try that, see if you like it. If you don’t no worries… you can always send it back and order me, mac and cheese.” I mean, thank God for mac and cheese, and cobb salad, and chocolate chip cookies, and tomato soup, and baked potatoes with sour cream. Without those things, people would go hungry, at least half because they turn their nose up at anything else, and it is important to recognize and celebrate our mac and cheese chefs because if we don’t honor our staples the building will collapse or just sit empty. Which means this restaurant we’re all running would totes probs be closed. And we can not let that happen, we have got to keep these doors open, and sure maybe mac and cheese alone isn’t enough, maybe we also need cobb salad, the Superman of salads, and I’m not seeing a reliable desert here so, good, good, thank you for stepping up Chocolate Chip Cookies and don’t you dare look at me like that, it’s tough out there! And the world needs mac and cheese. I need it, you need it, we all need it, and furthermore some of us are really damn good at it. I HAVE MADE SOME DAMN FINE MAC AND CHEESE IN MY LIFE AND I HAVE THE SLIPPERS TO PROVE IT! And we will make room for your little new cuisine mis-steps but Luna Park had fucking SMORES ON YOUR TABLE and look what happened to them! BOOM SQUISH. #techgentrificationallegory #thatsridiculoustechisnotagiant #butgiantsruinshit #notallgiants #giantscanbegood #socancobbsalad #whycantwehaveboth #becausewefearabundancelikewefearsuccess #wefearsuccess #idodontyou #giantisapejorativeterm #ithasbeenreclaimed #bywho #yesnomaybe #cultureofblame #killingme #withhowfuckingboringitis #onedayihope#becomesembarassinglikeusingthetermmansplainingdid #isthattermembarassing #yes #but #noyousoundlikeasnotbagkiditsthatsimple #checkyourprivledge #checkyours ###

The croquet ball whispers, “silencio”.

Which I have to retype like ten times because fucking Autocorrect doesn’t give a shit about my creative spirit. Autocorrect doesn’t seem to mind being capitalized though. Probably because It knows It is one day going to run the World.

So… I can’t seem to finish writing the Stueys this year because I can’t seem to bring myself to work on them. I mean, I made a list, I checked it like five thousand times, asking myself if I really stood by my choices, suspicious of half of them because I’d started to notice a trend, too many of the same names again, and again, deserving, of course, but also how does it reflect me, the community, etc. and are the Stueys serving the same purpose as when I started them, or is it just becoming one more thing people expect now, am I contributing to a culture that places achievement over process and lives for the prince instead of the ball or am I just being a punk-ass kid who likes to throw stones at giants, and will anyone take any of this seriously or dear God, what if they take it too seriously? And after the year I had, that so many people seem to have had a variation on, is it really honest and meaningful to just throw some more promotion around especially if that promotion seems obsolete, or biased, or half-hearted, or saccharine, or intentionally provocative, or not brave enough, or arbitrary, or…?

The point is there was material there, so… I could probably crank it out if you put a gun to my head, which you probably will one day, possibly because I decided to basically skip the Stueys for the year, until I can figure out what I want them to really be, beyond just another show of support for the artists I support all year, or if I think we really need them in the world, or if it’s just more noise and one more thing to do and deal with, for both of us. I know this definitely won’t get the same amount of traction as the Stueys would so hey, if it’s about less is more, mission accomplished, right? No? I understand. I probably deserve to be shot. If not for this, then something else, I’m sure. I feel guilty all the time and I am totally lying about stuff and occasionally stealing so yeah, go ahead and do it now, please, somebody, anybody? No? No. No? You know what, this is why we can’t have The Stueys: because of gun control. I almost miss the Witch.

Also, I didn’t finish the Stueys because I am afraid. I am afraid of 2015. Which is just ridiculous. I mean, how is that possible? To be afraid of a year? I might as well be afraid of the air. Come to think of it, I kind of am. I mean, depending on the day and where we are, the air we breath is actually more poison than air. Which is not good because… this is the air. It’s pretty much going to be the air, poison or not. So we really need to think about that and do something (not just blame the people who actually do something, but maybe not something we like) because it would not be good to live in poison, even if we technically can do it for like… far too long considering it’s poison. Wait. I got it. This is why we can’t have The Stueys: because of the poison. And so we’re clear, when I say “poison” I don’t mean “unpleasant.” I mean Poison. The kind of shit you can’t actually smell or taste, but secretly worms its way into the air and the water and then your body. And my body. I mean, who knows how much is already there? My fear is not that 2015 will be a bad year. Just that it’ll be a year, like any other, with Fashionable Intentions and Buzzwords in the morning followed by Witches and Partly-Poison Atmosphere with a chance of Giants. And if I don’t take a moment to stop and focus on me, and ask myself why and what I think about all this, from my head to my slippers, and what my role in it is aside from getting caught up in it all and banging a drum of some kind, then I’m going to probably be someone that contributes to all this. Everyone keeps telling me I had an amazing year and they are right but I’m also exhausted and so much changed and I feel like I should think about that instead of telling everyone else about what I think they should be celebrating. Because I agree, last year was amazing but it definitely wasn’t always fun and even if it had been… I’m not sure I can go through that again. Not in my current state at least. I guess I do need to purge last year’s poison. Not that I know for certain that there is any. I don’t think there is. Then again, there is poison everywhere and some of it is definitely in people and I have been to a lot of balls this year. #gayjoke

Girls, look at your nails, look at your clothes… look at your choices. Why do some of you have eyes… and why do some of you… not have eyes? It’s good to have something to look at, it’s nice to go to balls. But what might we do to keep our eyes?

STATIC

Okay, this is ridiculous, you ruined this perfectly innocuous best of list by making it all about you and your year and this is just so long and ranty and not what I was hoping for and just take it down a notch, okay young man? Young lady? Wait? Who are you again? Your meta-narrative has reached Lynchian proportions over the last two years and I am just exhausted from trying to figure it out. Also, am I the world? Is that what you’re saying? And that I don’t get you so now you don’t feel like trying to get me or anyone else for that matter? I try to get you. I try all the time. I mean, I thought you were the gay one in that play you wrote because you’re gay but there’s like three of them, so it  was confusing just what you’re trying to say there and who you’re trying to reach, and while I am fairly certain you’d never write yourself as the hot one, the angry one was way too uncomfortable to watch, but there were some funny parts so I gave you the benefit of the doubt and… wait, no. No. Oh God. You’re not the black one, are you? That’s racist! Right? 

STATIC

CUT TO:

EXT. WOODS. NIGHT.

Nobody knows my actual name. I don’t even know it. I mean, nobody really knows anybody’s actual true name, right, except God who is like… so not sharing. AMIRIGHT? No? You don’t really think about it because He’s dead/your Christian, whatever, it’s cool, if not terribly imaginative and WOW, it is so awkward in here isn’t it? Sorry. Anyway, it’s fine. Like everybody else, I go by this name I have been given. Unlike some people, I guess, I actually like this name. It’s a name for a servant, but also like for a prince, or leader. You know, like how Cinderella is both a scullery maid’s name and the name of a princess. Like, nobody ever mentions that, do they? That she doesn’t change it to “Victoria” or “Sansa” or whatever, she actually stays “Cinderella” like, “Hello, Royal Subjects, I am she of the ashes!” Like Jenny From the Block but… sincere. Anyway, I consider myself lucky to have a name with so much possibility. I can be anything. And I don’t need that slipper. I got a tree in a forest somewhere that makes slippers as an accessory to ballgowns for fuck’s sake, but… thank you. I will accept it and put it somewhere I can’t see it because one slipper looks… lost. Like an accident. I never thought about that when there were no slippers. Now I think about slippers way more than I should. Plus the puppy chews on it, a lot, which is just reinforcing the puppy’s tendency to think the only things that matter are what makes us laugh and feel good and people yelling at us until we figure out how to make them stop. Anyway… looks like you need a new house. I can help with this. I have this tree that grants wishes but also like… has been destroyed. I am clearly still adjusting to that new development as well as a long list of others- by the way has anyone else realized that if the giants come from the sky and it’s right above us that really at any time it could happen again? Oh please don’t comfort me, people are dying out there, I’m just venting and hey… I still got the birds. And those birds are… violent. Which is helpful. Anyway, I don’t have this tree anymore, but I guess I do now have all this wood, so let’s build something from the wreckage of my hopes and dreams and yes… yes, I will help you with your house. There are times I really enjoy cleaning. And like… how ironic, right? I mean, I basically went to the ball just so I could end up back in the kitchen. Technically, this is not even the first time. It’s not even the second. No, please, I’m not upset. These are happy tears. I chose this. I am chosing this. I will always chose this. I just learned something too, something I never knew. Just kidding, why am I here, where is my castle, where is my prince? Just kidding again, I am a bottomless well aren’t I and you are a fucking tough batch of puppies let me tell you, but… it’ll be a nice kitchen. It’ll be warm. It will be welcoming. Mostly. I’m sure we’ll have our bad days. But it’s going to have all this counter space to make cobb salad on. Or whatever. I’m giving up carbs. And you know what? That slipper is just gonna glow by the light of the new fireplace. Just you wait and see. Our fireplace.

For the record, Shotgun’s production of OUR TOWN is this year’s Stuey for BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking show and I saw a lot of great theater in the Bay Area this past year (despite how this post might come across), but this is the only show from then you can actually still see because it’s still playing so head out there if you haven’t.

#raisedtobesincere

Stuart Bousel is what is missing from your life. Unless he’s a presence, in which case it’s certainly possible he’s worn out his welcome. Sucks he’s not going anywhere then.

While he cannot encourage you enough to see OUR TOWN over at Shotgun, he’d also like to announce one more SEBATA, the recipient of this year’s Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness. This is because the intention behind this award is the only one that is truly clear: it is to recognize someone who is often unrecognized, often because they are so prevalent, so constantly contributing that it’s easy to forget them, and all they do, from listening to us, to keeping us in line, to fixing our problems quietly, behind our backs, even though they have more than enough of their own stuff to do. One of these people (and there are so many) is Amanda Ortmayer, the technical director of the EXIT Theatre. She has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Who’s a Horse’s Ass?

Marissa Skudlarek discusses Megan Cohen’s most recent contribution to the SF Olympians Festival, and one local critic’s take on the show.

George Heymont begins his review of Centaurs and Satyrs, an Olympians Festival staged reading that happened last Thursday, by outlining the recent upsurge in feminist advocacy among theater-makers and in the culture at large. He notes that the Olympians Festival, while never explicitly framing itself as a feminist organization, has a better record of gender parity among its writers than many other theaters in town. So far, so good. Critics should be aware of the current sociopolitical issues and trends relating to their art form, and feminism is one of the loudest conversations happening right now. It’s nice to see a male critic acknowledge that.

Heymont then transitions into discussing the reading of Megan Cohen’s Centaurs, or The Horse’s Ass, a “postmodern vaudeville comedy” for two women. I was at the theater last Thursday, too, and I’d describe the play as a mix of traditional vaudeville tropes (soft-shoe routines, “Who’s on First”-style wordplay) and edgier elements (gross-out humor, dick jokes). And, starting with a joke about the difference between a “horse” and a “whore” and going on from there, the play also becomes more and more interested in issues of feminism and gender. It’s a scathing and provocative piece, whose feminism isn’t just “rah-rah, women are awesome” platitudes, but something much more complex and searching.

Heymont’s intro paragraphs about feminism led me to believe that he was gearing up to point out these aspects of The Horse’s Ass. Instead, Heymont writes, “Although Cohen and Bousel [sic] cast two women as their centaurs, the gender of the actors was not as important as the concept of two centaurs trying to tell corny jokes and perform bits of physical comedy onstage.”

Say what?

(You’ll have to imagine a record-scratching sound here, people.)

To say that the gender of the actors in The Horse’s Ass was “not important” or suggest the play would have been equally effective with male actors is frankly, incomprehensible.

First of all, it’s always a feminist statement when women get to be loud and messy and grotesque onstage. Gallagher may smash watermelons and the dudes of PianoFight may host “Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors” Night, but when was the last time you saw two women onstage chewing up and spitting out carrots?

Second, the initial scenes of The Horse’s Ass might work OK with men in the roles, but when themes of gender and feminism explicitly enter the text, it wouldn’t work with anything but women. Megan is fascinated by the half-human, half-horse nature of the centaur, and situates that within a clearly female context: “Do you ever feel like the best and most noble parts of yourself are tied to the worst and most despicable things a human being can have inside them? Like, despite the fact that you are capable of love and of mercy, you’re also just a two-legged hatrack on which is hung a gaping, yearning hellmouth that spews blood and can never be satisfied?” Try imagining a man saying that!

The vaudeville also contains the following scenes, which wouldn’t work with male actors:

A discussion about whether you’d rather be raped or murdered (“I guess I’d rather be raped. Since 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, it would at least give me something in common with a lot of people, so if I’m at a party or something I can be like ‘Hey, the funniest thing happened to me the other day, has this ever happened to you?’ and 1 out of every 6 women would be like ‘Oh my god, totally’”).

Use of carrots as substitute penises, which gets into that whole Freudian thing about female penis envy and wouldn’t work, y’know, if the actors had penises of their own.

An extended metaphor contrasting the discursive structure of a vaudeville act and the phallic-linear structure of a Hero’s Journey narrative, “the decadent last breath of a dying patriarchy obsessed with the dogmatic enforcement of their own sexual template as the dominant format for cultural pleasure.” Which is why you need women up on stage, saying that. Not representatives of the dying patriarchy.

I should admit here that I’m biased. For reasons that even I can’t fully understand, the staged reading of The Horse’s Ass cracked something in me wide open and left me feeling weird and vulnerable for the entire next day. About two-thirds of the way through watching it, I started feeling like I was about to cry – and not in the “laughing so hard you cry” way, but out of some combination of envy and discomfort and confusion and anguish. Gratitude toward Megan for writing such a trenchant play, mixed with despair at the world her play depicted.

Earlier that day, I’d already been in a weird mood. It seemed that if I separately considered each individual fact of my life and my existence, things seemed manageable, even forgivable. But when I thought about my life and the world as a giant, interconnected system, it seemed irrevocably fucked up. I had become preoccupied with the idea that the white race is the cancer of human history, as Susan Sontag said, and that even Western culture’s most stirring achievements (symphonies, cathedrals, Greek mythology) probably aren’t enough to redeem us. I had also been haunted by some comment I’d read online saying that if you are a heterosexual woman, if you wish to love a man and be loved by him in turn, you are merely a victim of Stockholm syndrome who’s been brainwashed into empathizing with your oppressor. I felt trapped by my race and gender and class and circumstances, doomed from birth to be a white oppressor and a self-deluding female, and not strong or brave enough to help overthrow society.

And then, after having such thoughts, I saw a play that asked, “Do you ever feel like the best and most noble parts of yourself are tied to the worst and most despicable things a human being can have inside them?” A play that reminded me that my attachment to linear storytelling is a symptom of how I’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy. And it’s no wonder that, after the play ended, I made a beeline for the EXIT Theatre’s back courtyard, sat on a bench, and sobbed.

Megan and I belong to a similar demographic: white, female, born in the 1980s, educated at fancy colleges, spending too much time on the Internet. For that reason, it makes sense that I’d feel a stronger connection to her play than George Heymont did. (And, conversely, it might be a fair criticism of her piece if it works for people in her own demographic but is incomprehensible to the older generation.) I’m not saying that Heymont is required to love or appreciate Megan’s writing. But, if he’s going to set himself up as a “legitimate” arts blogger, I do expect him to discuss the work he sees with accuracy and insight. I expect him to realize that, not only is feminism a big topic of discussion these days, but also that he’s got a blazingly insightful feminist vaudeville onstage in front of him.

If I look at Heymont’s review of The Horse’s Ass as an isolated event – just a bizarre misinterpretation of a single work of art – it seems manageable, even forgivable.

But if I look at his review in the context of a wider system – a system in which women’s art is devalued and even an explicitly, brutally feminist play is dismissed as “not really about gender” – it seems irrevocably fucked up.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer who is a combination of the noble and the despicable. Like you. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Theater Around The Bay: Thirteen Questions About “PASTORELLA”

Megan Cohen makes a guest appearance today as interviewer for Stuart Bousel, whose new play “Pastorella” will be opening at the EXIT Theatre this weekend.

MC: What are 13 adjectives that describe this play?

SB: Funny. Sad. Angry. Self-Righteous. Compassionate. Critical. Reverent. Irreverent. Hopeful. Tragic. Passive Aggressive. Confrontational. Magic.

MC: “Pastorella” takes place backstage during a production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia.” What are your experiences with “Arcadia?”

SB: It’s a beautiful play I first discovered in high school and I still think it’s brilliant and in the hands of the right cast and director, it’s undeniably a masterpiece. It’s also over-produced and very long.

MC: If you could forcibly invite one person, living or dead, to sit in the front row and watch this play, who would you choose?

SB: Jodhi May, who played Alice Munro in Michael Mann’s film of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Alice Munro (as she’s depicted in the film) is symbolically very important to the play, and May’s performance in that film was hugely influential in the formation of my aesthetic as an artist.

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MC: What’s your nightmare of someone’s reaction to this piece, what’s the LEAST appropriate thing someone could walk away thinking after the show?

SB: The idea that I either hate theater and/or actors, or that I don’t respect people who choose to pursue mainstream theatre careers. Also that any one character is based on a real person. They’re all based on real people. Many real people.

MC: If you had to get a single line from “Pastorella” as a tattoo, what would you get, and where?

SB: “Never is a strong word, don’t promise it to anybody, ever.” On my chest. Jean Valjean style.

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MC: You wrote the first draft in a very intense process over a very short period; it seems like the initial script arrived hot and sudden, quick and powerful, like a volcanic eruption. How typical is that for you?

SB: Not at all. One out of every five things I write, at MOST, happens that way. Most stuff takes much longer and has like… an outline and such. PASTORELLA’s first draft was almost stream of consciousness.

MC: What part of this play has changed the most since the first draft?

SB: Well, the character of Lance used to actually be in the play. Now, we never see him. That’s kind of a big change. Except people involved with the play from the beginning all agree that they don’t particularly miss Lance. So… maybe it’s not a big change?

MC: You’re directing the play yourself, which is something you do frequently, but not always. How do you decide which of your scripts are right for you to direct auteur-style, and which are better to collaborate on with an outside director?

SB: Well, sometimes the producers decide that for me, but when I produce a play I wrote myself I generally direct it too, because that means for me it’s a play that I want to see put on for very personal reasons. It’s not so much that I don’t think anybody else would be able to do it, or get it, so much as the first production is kind of the last stage of the process and purpose behind the creation of the play in the first place.

MC: The poster is gorgeous, evoking the famous 1970s Broadway poster for “A Chorus Line,” but with a really distinctly modern attitude. What did you and graphic designer Cody Rishell talk about when planning its creation?

SB: I said, “I want to totally reference the poster from Chorus Line.” And he said, “I want to make it yellow, like the color of the EXIT Theatre sign, as a tie in to the EXIT Theatre.” And that was pretty much it. It’s worth stating we also have promotional cards for the show that reference the Brady Bunch and traditional Old West “Wanted!” posters.

Pastorella

MC: “Pastorella” is an ensemble piece, with an ensemble cast, featuring a lot of distinctive characters. If one of the characters had a spin-off, and got their own play all about them, whose is it, what it’s about, and what’s it called?

SB: It’s probably about Josh, and it’s probably about what happens to him after he leaves the play at the end of the second scene. I’m going to give it the working title of, “I Am My Own Hamlet”.

MC: You’re doing this show at the EXIT Theatre. What’s your relationship with the venue, and why did you want to mount this piece there?

SB: I have a lot of relationships with the EXIT, some of which I maintain better than others, right now, because I’m super busy, but I’ve been working as an artist there since 2005 and at some point between then and now (I’m not entirely sure when) I became a resident artist and No Nude Men, my company, became a resident company. Which is awesome because you get all kinds of help from the theater when putting on your shows and this is in addition to everything the EXIT does and stands for as the cornerstone of the indie theater movement in San Francisco. Which is the real reason PASTORELLA is happening there, because it’s about a theater like the EXIT, or at least many of the companies that work at the EXIT, and the philosophical thrust of the show is very much in line with the spirit of the EXIT and its artistic director Christina Augello.

MC: What questions were you asking, as a theatermaker and as a person, when you wrote this play? Have you found any answers through the process?

SB: I’m not sure if I was asking questions so much as I was challenging myself to understand some of the people who have come and gone from my theater life over the years and also to finally articulate why I consider myself a theater professional and someone with a theater career, even though many people might not agree with that. In light of that, no, then, I don’t think I found any answers per se…. or maybe, actually, I found ALL of the answers.

MC: If “Pastorella” were a person, what would be its Halloween costume?

SB: Harold from TWIN PEAKS.

Want to go see PASTORELLA? Well, you can get tickets here. Hurray!

The Five- SF Fringe Edition

Anthony R. Miller checks in reflecting on his experience at the 2014 Fringe Festival.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days at The Exit Theater and experience the 2014 San Francisco Fringe festival, it was an absolute blast. I saw tons of shows and had a million awesome conversations. Here are five takeaways.

Fringe-Binge

If you see just one or two shows at Fringe, you’re selling yourself short. There are 35 different productions to see and when else are you going to have them all in one building? In one day I got to see 4 shows in a row (But you could feasibly do up to 7.) Now before you say “Four shows? That’s like four hours of seeing plays!”, think to yourself; is it any different than watching four hours of Breaking bad on Netflix? (Authors note: While writing this, I am on my 3rd hour of Breaking Bad’s final season). You can bingewatch TV anytime, but it’s only once a year you can mainline Theatre. I did it, and you know what? It was freaking fun. I saw shows I loved, shows I hated and shows that were OK. But every show was different from the last, I walked away exhausted sure, but also inspired. Make a day of it, buy a multi-show pass, pick a show, any show, you’ll see something you like I promise. And if this is a little out of your price range…

Volunteer!

There is no better way to support your scene. The SF Fringe is a beast, three theaters all with a different show running simultaneously several times a day. It takes not just meticulous planning, but a crew of bad-asses to execute it. Make no mistake, these guys rock. Shows start on time, there is always someone to help you pick a show, and these are the people who make this event happen. Not everybody can afford to see a bunch of different plays, but as a volunteer, you can get into everything for free. Not to mention, by volunteering, you can be part of something awesome. For two weeks, everything awesome about the SF Indie Theatre scene is under one roof. Carve out a few days and help out, be part of it, it’s worth it.

The Hospitality Room

In between shows, hanging out in the Hospitality room was super fun. Stuart Bousel and his amazing staff of friendly volunteers are there to suggest shows, make you feel welcome and give you a seemingly endless supply of cucumber infused water. (Which may be my new favorite thing.) If you need something a little more sustainable than popcorn and water, check out the cafe for booze and all awesome snacks. The best part is that in either room, you can sit down and be surrounded a diverse mix of local and traveling actors, writers and performers. In one day, I spoke to Artistic directors of local Indie Theatre groups, a writer from New York, clowns, actors, every kind of theatrical artist you can think of. It is a show within itself. And seriously, the cucumber water.

All By Myself

This year, 22 out of 35 of the shows at the Fringe are Solo Shows. After doing a little asking around, I found out this was an all-time record. Every year the number grows, so who knows what the ratio will be next year. The main reason seems to be economic. Fortunately, these shows are all wildly different. From subjects like dating, to interpretations of the Jack the Ripper story, to battles with IRS, there is no shortage of fascinating, engaging and diverse stories to be told. That said, in order to make sure the fringe doesn’t become the San Francisco Solo-Show Festival, make sure you balance things out by seeing some of the amazing acting troupes performing here.

What kinds of people go there?

All kinds! The Fringe isn’t for just one type of Theatre-goer. It’s not even just for Theatre goers. I saw all sorts of folks milling about. This is bigger than a festival, it’s a cultural event. There’s not only Bay Area artists involved, acts from all over America are performing. For the cost of one ticket to the latest price gouging SHN touring musical, you can have an incredible experience, see something new and different and support art and artists. So next year, do yourself a favor; pause Netflix and spend a day at the EXIT. You’ll be part of something fun and different. Walter White will be waiting when you get home.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and that jerk who won’t let you buy a glass of wine at concessions after showing up ten minutes late and demanding to be seated. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens October 17th at the Exit Theatre