The Real World Theatre Edition: An Interview With Dhaya Lakshminarayanan

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews someone with an even more intimidating last name.

This week, I had the chance to chat with Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, a comedian, storyteller and self-described nerd, who created a one person show influenced by some of her experiences called Nerd Nation. If you haven’t already checked out her website, http://dhayacomedy.com/, it has a lot of great clips that will get you pumped to see Dhaya in action. Here’s a little interview we did where I got to ask Dhaya about her influences, creative process and hopes for the future of theater and comedy.

Photo by Diana LiDhaya Lakshminarayanan. Photo credit: Diana Li.

Photo by Diana LiDhaya Lakshminarayanan. Photo credit: Diana Li.

BJ: Okay, so I’m reading here from your bio that before this you were a venture capitalist and have two degrees from MIT – first of all, what??! How did you make this turn? Or do you lead a double-life?

DL: My solo show, “Nerd Nation” draws on all aspects of my life: the nerdy, the humorous, the socially awkward, the feminine, even the hardcore gangsta (ok well, only in my imagination).  For a long time on stage as a stand-up comedian, I could not talk about being a nerdy smart person. I felt like I was distancing myself and audiences wouldn’t like that. I slowly started to find a way to be more ME.  But I still felt I was hiding.  And this show allows me to be 100% me: laughs, jokes, and even painful to talk about stuff. And you don’t have to be a hardcore physics nerd (like my dad) to love the show.  Anyone who has ever hid who they were to fit in will enjoy it.

BJ: Was there a turning point in your growth as an artist and comedian that compelled you to begin working on a one person show?

DL: What I love about stand-up is I am always learning: from my comics I respect, from audiences, from socio-political trends.  And I am always learning how to be honest and myself on stage.  But stand-up is fundamentally about eliciting laughter.  There were things I wanted to talk about on stage that weren’t “ha ha” so I started becoming involved in storytelling.  I have been on NPR’s Snap Judgment several times.  I host the Moth StorySLAMs in SF (always sold out at Public Works). I have performed storytelling to sold out theater crowds (Nourse Theater, Castro Theater etc.).  Those experiences allowed me to sit with the more serious or painful parts of the human experience.  And “Nerd Nation” brings my wit and sarcasm of my stand up, the emotion of storytelling, and also multimedia elements. Yes because I AM A NERD there is multimedia.

BJ: What was the process of creating it like? Any snafus or interesting challenges along the way?

DL: It took years of asking myself questions that two-year olds might ask of their parents: Why? How come? But why not?. I first started reflecting on why I was hiding being a smart nerd.  Was it social acceptance? Did I feel bullied even as an adult?  Would being smart be a detriment in the entertainment industry?  Then I started asking my nerdy friends, “Have you ever hid who you are, your intelligence, in a social situation or to get something?”  And these fellow nerds didn’t just respond yes.  They could recall vivid moments: purposely getting lower scores to avoid being bullied.  Failing at sports. Getting dates by hiding their college degrees in math. Lying about awards even well into adulthood.  That’s when I knew I had to interview “subjects” and be very faithful to telling their stories word for word on stage.  So there are parts of Nerd Nation which are directly from the mouths of other nerds.  I disguise their identity.  But I am glad they are with me on stage. They help me tell my story.
 
BJ: What are you most excited for people to see in the show?

DL: I’m excited for people to laugh and be lively! A solo show is an evolving process.  I talk about contemporary issues in some parts.  The next time people see the show it will be different again. I want folks to feel like they get to see something weird and new being created that is also entertaining and hopefully moving and informative.
 
BJ: Was there a particular part that you really loved writing? Is it the same as a part you really love performing? (And if different, tell me more!)

DL: Most of my “writing” was done on stage.  I took pieces of the show and would perform them in front of an audience at storytelling shows, solo performance one nighters, even nerdy lecture series.  Marga Gomez in particular gave me stage time at her shows.  So writing was performing. And that comes from my stand up background. Creating was awesome.  It’s editing that is hard!
 
BJ: Any elements of the performance/theater/comedy world you would change for the better? If so, what and how so?

DL: Oh definitely.  I come from a nerdy business background.  My parents are immigrants and they literally came from third world poverty and became middle class because of hard work and pragmatism.  I bring my pragmatism and my business sense to every endeavor. Each workshop version I did of this was sold out.  I made money. That is how art can meet commerce.  I believe artists should be paid better and if we could unionize or have some set rate we would not undercut each other for gigs.  I spent a few years as a management consultant and sometimes I can’t turn off the part of my nerd brain that says “OMG, I could definitely help this person with the business side of things.” In order for American Theater to survive we have to start embracing new ways of monetizing, social media, and bringing in more diverse audiences (age, race, identity). But never ever ever have cell phones on during a performance.  That is my old skool values coming through. A guy’s cell phone went off in one of the workshop versions of the show and I stepped out of character to school him. Nerds need to be taught social skills sometime. And I feel like I have to cred to do it.
 
BJ: Any words of wisdom for those of us who would love to do something similar?

DL: Speaking of business-savvy, I teach and coach.  So hit me up on my website for advice
http://dhayacomedy.com/teaching-coaching.html
 
BJ: Shout-outs for shows around the Bay (or anything else cool) we should check out?

DL: I will be doing a ton of stand up after my run of solo shows is over.  I’m opening for Greg Proops (Whose Line is it Anyway) at the San Francisco Punch Line on New Year’s Eve (and then two shows on January 2nd).  I will also have a show I produce focused on socio political issues.  Check out my website: www.dhayacomedy.com because shows are always added.  

“Nerd Nation at the EXIT Theatre

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Sense and Sensitivity

Marissa Skudlarek, commenting on comments.

There was a piece posted on the theater website Howlround earlier this week that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In it, Erin Butcher, a young woman who runs a theater company called Maiden Phoenix in the Boston area, talks about the harassment her all-female cast experienced when putting on a Shakespeare play in a public park, and vows never to make the same mistake again.

If you’re a young woman, nothing about Butcher’s piece is particularly surprising — not the fact that an all-female group experienced harassment that a mixed-gender group wouldn’t, nor the long and sometimes antagonistic comment thread that sprung up below the article. But as I said, something about this piece has stuck with me. I was even moved to post a comment on it on the Howlround site — which is not something I usually do.

Maybe it’s because I produced a play last year where the writer (me), the stage manager, and eight of the nine actors were women under the age of 30, and I remember taking that into account when choosing a venue for the production. I rejected a theater on Sixth Street in favor of one near Union Square, and one reason was because that neighborhood is safer. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking nine young women to walk down Sixth Street every evening to get to the theater.

It’s because, in a little while, I will leave the café where I am writing and go to the EXIT Theatre for the Olympians Festival, and I know I will need to keep my wits about me and my bitch-face on as I walk down Eddy Street.

It’s because, this summer, when I told a guy that I put my bitch-face on when I walk to the EXIT, he thought I was being kind of funny, and teased me about it in a good-natured way, and only later did he realize that I was entirely serious.

It’s because I resent the idea (inherent in some of the ugly comments on Erin Butcher’s piece) that you have to suck up and deal with whatever unfair shit life throws at you, or else you are a thin-skinned, spoiled Millennial who overreacts to everything.

Certainly, a large part of what is meant by “maturity” is learning how to suck it up and deal with it. A mature person knows how to pick her battles. But that’s not the same thing as saying that mature people never battle or protest. Sometimes the only way to deal with something is to mount a spirited objection to it. The amount of outrage and overreaction in the culture these days can be both fatiguing and depressing — but I don’t think the solution is to suggest that people should stop reacting entirely. Mature people know how to manage their sensitivity, but they do not disown their sensitivity.

Erin Butcher’s essay is certainly a reaction to what happened to her theater company in the park, but (apart from the click-baity headline) I don’t believe it’s an overreaction. She’s not demanding that the men who harassed her be jailed or even punished; her proposed solution is that she will change her behavior and never again produce an all-female outdoor show. She implies that the alternatives proposed in the comments — namely, to hire security, or to suck it up and deal with it — would cost her too much, either in money or in emotional distress.

Above all, the comments implying that women who object to being leered at and harassed by men just need to grow a thicker skin, piss me off because I believe that a world full of thick-skinned, emotionally hardened people is a world without artists. It’s also a world where problems fester and the pace of progress is slow.

Certainly, we do need a skin. Our skin is the boundary between us and the world, and we need boundaries. But if you have strong boundaries, you also have a strong sense of right and wrong; of what you will tolerate, and what you will find intolerable. And I don’t think we should tolerate the idea that every complaint is a sign of hypersensitivity — nor should we tolerate it when women are required to pay extra in order to exist in the world and make art.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She’s involved in two Olympians Festival shows at the EXIT Theatre next week: she’s playing an intense French lady in Delphin, or Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party on Wednesday the 18th, and she wrote & directed Tethys, or You’ll Not Feel the Drowning on Friday the 20th.

Cowan Palace: Olympian Doughnuts With Sam Bertken

This week Ashley chats with Sam Bertken about tonight’s reading with the San Francisco Olympians Festival.

It’s night five of the San Francisco Olympians Festival! Can you feel the magic? Well, I certainly can because tonight’s the night my short will be taking its first breath in front of an audience. This evening’s performance, THE CREW, features eight shorts by Steven Westdahl, Megan Cohen, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, Alandra Hileman, Seanan Palmero, Alan Olejniczak, and me! Wearing an additional hat, the pieces are being directed by Steven Westdahl who has assembled a fearless group of eight actors including, Sam Bertken, Matt Gunnison, Layne Austin, Heather Kellogg, Wayne Wong, Tom Cokenias, Katharine Otis, and Kim Saunders.

To give me a little additional insight into the acting process, Sam agreed to help answer a few questions. So wahoo! Here we go:

Ashley: First, tell us who you are playing in this evening’s performance.

Sam: I am playing such a fun breadth of different characters! One half of a foul-mouthed duo on a segway tour of Atlanta, an actor who reads stage directions, one half of a Canadian air rescue team, one half of a Marina bro pair celebrating the holidays at their wives’ OBGYN clinic, and the hammiest narrator I’ve ever had the honor of portraying.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

Ashley: If you took one of those online “Which Greek God Are You”? quizzes, who do you think you would get?

Sam: Ideally, it would be someone ultra-cool and talented like Hephaestus, who is my personal favorite out of the entire pantheon, but it’s more likely I’d get someone spry like Hermes or something more confusing like Hestia.

Ashley: What’s your favorite line you get to say in tonight’s show?

Sam: It’s a tough choice, but simply because it is so close to my personal interests, “Bring on the fucking doughnuts!” definitely ranks up there with the best of ’em.

Ashley: What’s the most challenging thing about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: As someone who has written for the festival previously, I think it’s actually remarkably easy to be an actor in the Olympians Festival. Just show up to the right rehearsals, and go with the flow. Be ready to go with the flow.

Ashley: What’s the best part about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: The auditions! And probably the performance night, but I can’t be 100% sure yet. 🙂

Ashley: If you could only use emoticons to describe tonight’s show, which ones would you use?

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

Ashley: Where can we see you next? Are you acting in any upcoming productions?

Sam: Well, I’m going to the TBA Awards! And then I’m going to be part of the comedy maelstrom that will be KMLZ, Killing My Lobster’s end-of-year show, which you should totally come see!

Awesome, Sam! Well, gang, you can see Sam, me, and the rest of “the crew” tonight at The Exit. We hope you’ll be there with doughnuts.

The 2015 festival will play 12 nights, November 4-21, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show, or in advance for $12 at Brown Paper Tickets. All shows begin at 8 PM. Audience members who attend more than four nights get the fifth free!

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!

pintsized-01-4 copy

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!