In For a Penny: Not a Family Matter

Charles Lewis III, on family.

seal of approval

“The last collaborator is your audience, and so you’ve got to wait ’til the last collaborator comes in before you can complete the collaboration.”
– Stephen Sondheim, interview with Academy of Achievement

I’m one of those actors who will sneak a peek out at the audience. Not just from backstage through a hole in the curtain, but also on stage in the middle of a performance. Mind you, I’m not Jimmy Fallon – I’m not doing full-blown character-breaks that ruin it for the rest the cast. But when my character isn’t the focus of the scene and two actors are having their big melodramatic moment, I’ll do a half-second scan of the audience to see if I know anyone.

Even for a half-second, I’m usually good at picking out faces. A normal crowd will often consist of former castmates (the one and only time I came close to “corpsing” was when my former Crucible castmates came to see me in Pastorella, which jokingly references the former play. The Salem folk laughed their asses off and nearly broke me.), tech people, maybe the occasional non-theatre friend, the woman I’m dating (if she can make it that night), and a healthy collection of complete strangers.

The people you’re least likely to see are members of my family.

I’m used to meeting family members of my castmates, directors, etc. In fact, there are many whom I’ve seen so often that I’m on a first-name basis with them. And anyone who’s ever tried their hand at any art form will tell you that family members can easily be your biggest cheerleaders or the most vicious trolls you’ll ever encounter. They can talk up your most minor accomplishment with world-changing importance or they’ll lament the fact that you’re still “doing plays like a little kid instead of getting real work”. Everything is either too much or not enough.

I tend to avoid the whole mishegoss of family all together. I never tell them when I’m acting, directing, or writing something that an audience will see. They haven’t seen a play I’ve been in since high school. This helps me avoid the backstage anxiety you’ll see on an actor’s face when they suddenly realise “My parents are in the audience tonight”. I’m all for an actor taking their role as seriously as possible, but when the thought of performing in front of one’s family suddenly turns the role into an unnecessary tightrope walk, then it’s a distraction. I’m someone who believes you should do your best every performance, no matter if it’s an audience of critics, kings, or your third-cousin, twice removed.

This policy doesn’t arise out of animosity so much as a means to protect my privacy. I know, I know: performing in public is the antithesis of “private”. Still, time to myself has always been a luxury for me where my family was concerned. I grew up around people who would barge into my room unannounced, go through all of my journals & bags, make important decisions (to which I objected) on my behalf, and generally feel that every intimate thought that went through my head was meant to be a matter of public record. Before anyone reading this chimes in with “Be glad they wanted to be such a part of your life,” let me stop you right there and say that your life experience is not my life experience, so don’t assume you know me.

The funny thing is that not only has the Information Age made it easier for my work to be found on-line, at times it will be my family who finds it before I do. As a longtime fan of the Golden State Warriors (SF-borne native here), I’ve been following the progress of our boys as they inch their way to a possible championship. I’ve kept up with Monty Williams (New Orleans coach) bitching about the Oakland Coliseum being too damn loud, and I’ve watched as Steph Curry dunk his way towards a well-earned MVP title. Y’know what I haven’t seen? Me.

I’m not kidding. Last year I shot a tv spot outside of the Coliseum wearing a Warriors hat and grinning like an idiot. It was a quick shoot that paid well and I completely forgot about it as soon as it was over. Cut to this past November when my shit-eating grin is apparently showing up on tv screens all over the Bay Area. Friends saw it. Colleagues saw it. And yes, my family saw it. I can’t find the damn thing on tv or the internet for the life of me, but my family has seen it multiple times. Mind you, I’m not ashamed of it or anything, I just don’t want to talk about it.

I almost never like to talk about my acting. My original idea for this week’s entry was for it to lament the necessary evil that is making an actor write their own bio. I’m proud of a good percentage of the work I’ve acted in (meet me for a drink and I’ll tell you which ones I’m not), and usually even prouder of what I’ve written and directed. But getting me to talk about it is akin to pulling teeth: I see how it’s necessary, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable for me. That’s true for me whether you’re a relation or not.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible that I’ll one day invite family to one of my shows. Some would argue that it might be inevitable. But as someone who’s spent a lot of time trying to hold onto something all his own like a squirrel hoarding for the winter I don’t like the idea of being forced to share with someone who’s often never honored my privacy to begin with.

Practically every acting school and coach will tell you to never make eye contact with the audience. Well, I do. I do during auditions, I do during curtain call, and – for that fleeting half-second – I do during the show proper. The only way it’s possible for me to do my best is for me to look out and not see someone whose mere presence reminds me that I’m walking a tightrope.

Charles hasn’t acted in anything since last November. As such, he has nothing to talk about.

Working Title: The Bottom 7 Reasons Why Furious 7 Is Just like Bay Area Theater

What’s this? Working Title on a Wednesday? Look, we’ve got a lot going on, people… but yeah… here you go. This week Will Leschber plays with NOS and Nostalgia.

I don’t fully understand how it happened. And I know after I say this, I’ll have to turn in my creative, artistic, critical integrity card…but I enjoyed the hell out of seeing Furious 7. I know I’m not the only one, considering the box office returns and the positive critical response. I used to rail against this trash. Street-racing? Duuuuumb. Inflated earnest machismo?! Pass. I’m good on that.

Street+Racer copy

I felt the first films in the series were flat, flashy, empty and bolstered by style over substance and bad acting to boot. When The Fast and the Furious came out in June of 2001, I had just completed my first year of college studying theater, of course. So I wasn’t really interested in NOS-powered street-racing cars and their criminal counterparts. I couldn’t been seen enjoying this lazy filmmaking. And I didn’t for like 5 films. Then something happened. A NOS switch was flipped and the hollow style of this franchise became a playful aspect that informed the substance. That’s a wordy way to say that as the franchise became aware of itself, it gained depth. It’s something that know what it is and does its job. Just like any professional: Theater or International Super Human, Car-Flying Do-Gooder.

It’s kind of odd how something as originally vapid as The Fast and the Furious can come to be an instrument of such strong NOS-talgia. As the franchise remarks on (and handles beautifully) the passing of Paul Walker, it also remind general audiences how much has passed in the near 14 years since the original. Nothing helps remind like a new chapter in an old book.

Below is the list you never knew you always wanted:

The bottom 7 reasons why Furious 7 is just like Bay Area Theater

#7- It’s not. (But it’s fun to reach for internet lists…COME ON!)

FastFurious1Pic2 copy

#6- Both know how to play with genre: Is it drama? Is it action? Is it romance? Is it bromance? Is it melodrama? It’s it self referential parody while somehow ridiculously, hugely entertaining? Has it now matured into all of these things at once? Yeah.

#5- It’s a bro’s club. I’m looking at you, PianoFight. But the good news is the longer the franchise goes on, the better the action scenes get for the awesome female characters. (I’m looking at you, Michelle Rodriguez.)

Michele+Rodrigues copy

#4- Often we think we are saving the world and in reality we are just being self-indulgent and having fun being ridiculous. If you don’t know of any instance where this has happened in your creative life, look to your left, find the first theater person and ask them if their new play is important. I bet it is really really really important.

#3- It’s a drag race.

#2- General audiences agree: these are better when seen in large groups and or intoxicated.

#1- It’s all about family. As ridiculous as it sounds, part of the reason the Fast & the Furious franchise has continued and is more successful than ever, is because we’ve grown to care for the characters. That should go without saying for any long-running franchise. Yes, the action set pieces are well executed. And, sure, we may have shown up for the scantily clad drag-race, but, hey, we stayed because of the personal connections we made along the way.

After we were done living life a quarter-mile at a time, we realized that the connections we make and the bonds we forge are what keep us going when things get hard. My favorite part of being apart of the San Francisco indie theater scene is just that: being a part of a larger community. At times it feels like a dysfunctional family, but at times it reminds us how the small acts of kindness and the large acts of loyalty makes you feel like you are in the arms of family.

BwTwpvsIUAAJadu copy

Working Title: Thankful for Thanksgiving Violence…?

This week Will Leschber gives thanks.

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


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


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


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