In For a Penny: You Can’t take it With You

Image via Universal Pictures

Image via Universal Pictures

“[I]t’s a form of alchemy, of magic. It’s very appealing. I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated because the very earliest people who made film were magicians.”
– Francis Ford Coppola, Academy of Achievement interview, 17 June 1994

When I think of Aaron Sorkin, I’m reminded of Christopher Buckley’s address to Yale’s 2009 graduating class. In a self-deprecating speech, the author and former George HW Bush speech-writer implores these supposedly-future-captains-of-industry to reject the very shameless materialism they’d supposedly been encouraged to embrace. “[Do] you really want to model your lives on characters in a Tom Wolfe novel?” he asks. “I always wanted to be Tom Wolfe, but I never wanted to be Sherman McCoy.” I’d rather be Aaron Sorkin than Will McAvoy, but that may have less to do with wanting to be a celebrated writer and more to with my wanting to date Kristin Chenoweth.

As regular readers of Theater Pub know, Sorkin is a polarizing figure, partly by design. His instantly recognizable prose adds an electric energy to his story and characters. Still, the subjects he covers are filtered through his own unapologetically myopic bias. He began as a playwright, but he’s become the polar opposite of the Coen Brothers’ eponymous Barton Fink: he’s somehow gotten the Hollywood machine to bend to his will, rather than the other way around. That’s why I found it fascinating when he first announced his screenplay for Steve Jobs would essentially be a three-act play on film.

I’m not here to review the film (which I saw back in October), but I will say that I can see why it’s been recently nominated for several awards. Having said that, I watched the film wondering if maybe Sorkin’s approach was, well, too successful? Is it possible for a film to somehow be “too theatrical”?

Allow me to explain: as I watched the film, I was fully focused by Sorkin’s story and characters, but I didn’t find the film to be inherently cinematic. I know director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Alwin Küchler shot the three acts in three different formats (16mm celluloid, 35mm celluloid, and 24-frame digital, respectively), but there was still little about the film that made it, well, a film. With the exception of a few short flashback scenes, the staging and transitions – particularly those depicting the passing of years – were all the sort of thing one could see in a local black box production. Rather than thinking it was like a play, I asked myself why they didn’t just make it into a play.

I’m not saying that it needed wall-to-wall special F/X, blinding explosions, and seizure-inducing editing, but film is a visual medium first and foremost. Theatre is, on a rudimentary level, about standing in front of people and commanding their unwavering attention. Film is a technology that just happened to be eventually adopted by storytellers, most of whom came from theatre. As much as writers like to believe their words are sacrosanct, a screenwriter knows that his/her words should always be in service to the manipulated visuals rather than the visuals adhering to the words on the page.

Those horrible visuals.

Those migraine-inducing visuals.

Which isn’t to say the two things are mutually exclusive, just that you should know what works best for the medium you’ve chosen for your story. Nearly every actor who’s appeared in a Terrence Malick has described his scripts as the best they’ve ever read; those same actors lament how Malick himself will toss aside those scripts just to capture a shot of a butterfly landing on a flower. At least with the Qatsi films, you know they’re montages without anyone being mislead into thinking there’s a traditional narrative.

Similarly, I’m all for theatre productions incorporating various technologies, such as projectors. Yet there are some productions that rely so heavily on projection technology that you get the impression the creators are just frustrated film-makers pissed off that they had to “settle” for doing theatre instead of the format they wanted. (And the tiny violin orchestra begins.)

When all is said and done, I have an appreciation for playwright who made his voice so prominent in a production (and format) where said voice is a secondary concern, if at all. He made his words the central focus of a project that included award-winning visual stylists and recognizable extras. As I said, I’m not here to review the film – and I have plenty of positive and negative things to say in that regard – but it may be the best compliment I can give to say that I’d rather see this performed live than as a collection of flickering images.

But I say that as someone who, to put it one way, goes to a restaurant to enjoy the meal, not because the chef is a celebrity.

Charles Lewis III is currently compiling his list of the best films and plays he saw in 2015. He promises not to include the ones he was in.

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Cowan Palace: Ten Times I Broke The Rules And It Ruled!

Ashley’s not always much of a rule breaker but when she is… it’s something!

When we last met as a Theater Pub unit to talk about the rest of the year, the bloggers decided to use September as a way to explore “breaking the rules” in theatre. So, to get things going, here are ten times I broke the rules:

1.) Cat Improv

Closing night of Godspell (the last play I did before leaving New York) I decided it’d be funny if I changed my normal, expected “adlib” line about being too busy to being too busy because I had to wax my cat. (Looking back, I think I was trying to impress some boy I had a crush on who had miraculously traveled all the way out to Queens to see the show after months of my begging.) Sure, some of the cast wanted to kill me because the random weird new line made them break but the audience LOLed and I thought I was a bad ass. As I always say, it’s the cat’s pajamas when you can improv a line about a feline.

2.) The Switch

It was a double show day a few months into Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding (the interactive, Italian wedding show!). We hadn’t brought on many swings or understudies yet and almost of of the cast had been playing the same part each night. After one performance as “the dorky” bridesmaid my castmate, who was scheduled to play “the sexy singer” bridesmaid, mentioned she didn’t feel like wearing her character’s heels for the next show. I tried them on for fun in the ladies dressing room and we started joking about switching parts. (Considering we both had the same dress on anyway, it would only take a few different accessories to become the other character.) But this was at the beginning of the run when we had a pretty strict and regimented production team who absolutely would have said no to the request. We decided to just do it without telling anyone figuring they wouldn’t stop the show and make us switch back. (So sneaky, right?!) The new role I was covering required me to sing four songs and make out with a groomsman without having practiced either activity. Whoa, baby, it was quite the show! And even though we got a stern talking to about our switch, it opened the door to being able to play more of the parts in the show. I then went on to sing many more songs and stage kiss many more groomsmen.

3.) Dating My Co-Star

Not sure if it’s really a rule but it’s certainly not always the best idea. Lucky for me it worked out. And we made a baby. A beautiful theater baby and actual child. Boom. Thanks, fellow actor/blogger Will Leschber!

4.) Getting Too Into Character

It was my first weekend playing Tina (in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding) and I took the whole “in your face, interactive Italian bride” role pretty seriously. Near the end of the show, Tony and Tina have a big fight where they break up (spoiler alert: they get back together) and I grabbed a glass from someone’s table and threw it at my Tony. The glass shattered and water spilled on a couple attending the show. After the performance I was asked to never do that again by our stage manager. But then a guy who had been at the show (and drank way too much) came up to us and told me I was so fierce that I “must have real balls”. He then spelled “balls” incorrectly and missed a high five. It was rad and totally worth it.

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

5.) Turning On My Phone

While rehearsing God Satan Beer (part of Theater Pub’s second Pint-Sized Festival) I had the instinct during one rehearsal to play God as a real dick and just start taking selfies of myself during Satan’s smart and poignant monologue. We ended up keeping the bit (after cleaning it up and better defining it) and I got treasured show pictures every night!

A tale of two dresses…

A tale of two dresses…

6.) Sewing A Wedding Dress

When I first got to play Tina in TNT they costumed me in a dress that had long sleeves (though they were too short to fully cover my arms). It was also slightly too wide and too short. And, covered in random sequins and lace. Then our show switched venues and a bunch of our clothes never made it to the new location. Including that dress. (Perhaps it returned to the magical Lisa Frank world from once it came). I knew I couldn’t fit into the dress worn by some of the other Tinas but I didn’t want to tell our production team because I knew they’d take away my chance to play the part. So I found the backup dress that I could almost fit into. Then I stole it from our collection and brought it home (huge no no). Next, I cut it apart and sewed it together to fit me better. Keep in mind, I can barely dress myself sometimes and I really don’t know much about sewing. But somehow after hours of effort, I pulled it off! I had a dress I could wear. When I put it on for my first show back in the role, one of my castmates told me she hoped I could wear that dress in my own wedding because it seemed “made for me”. I did not wear it for my own wedding but that comment still makes me laugh.

7.) An Unconventional Headshot

Before I auditioned for Terrorama, I sent the production team a picture from a film I did in NYC as my headshot and resume. It’s just me screaming in a nightgown. Awesome (Theatre), right?

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

8.) Male Monologues

For two years whenever I was asked to have a monologue ready, I went in with a male Shakespearean selection. For some reason, I always felt free to make bigger choices with them. Now this tactic did not always result in getting into the show but I like to think it helped with playing Viola in Twelfth Night.

9.) Auditioning With A TLC Song

Not a whole lot more to say other than I sang an acapella version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” at an audition that asked us to have a more classically driven song prepared. I did not get cast. But I have no regrets! One step closer to achieving my solo TLC cover band dream.

10.) Drinking On The Job

Now, I’m pretty strict about not drinking during a show. Even when I’ve played characters who were drunk and suppose to be drinking AND the director allowed me to have a real drink, I’ve always asked for the non alcoholic stuff. I have way too many butterflies before and during a show and booze doesn’t lend itself well to that (for me). But during one TNT show, when I was back to playing “the dorky bridesmaid”, a table ordered me and one of the groomsmen a shot and demanded we take it together. We tried to talk our way out of it but they insisted. Plus, the drinks were expensive! So in the nature of the “yes, and” style of the show, we took them. Even though it was just one drink, it felt a little dangerous and reckless (again, for me). Enough to say, alright, I did that but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Even if it’s just my own silly rules, sometimes it’s cool not to break them.

Everything Is Already Something Week 54: The Most Waiting For Guffman Things That Have Ever Happened To Me

Allison Page is still waiting.

“You’re bastard people. That’s what you are, you’re bastard people!”

Even humans with a passing interest in theatre are probably familiar with the magnificent mockumentary Waiting for Guffman. I saw Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer in conversation with Adam Savage a couple months ago and my brain was squealing with delight the entire time.

97799

In honor of that, and of general shenanigans and absurdity, here are some of the most Waiting for Guffman-esque things that have ever actually happened to me in real life:

1) An actor didn’t show up to a performance because he was playing softball, so I had to go around and tell the audience to go home…luckily I knew all of them. ALL OF THEM. It was dinner theater so they still got to eat some rolls and an iceberg lettuce salad.

2) Overheard from one of the other actors in a Shakespeare play: “I feel like as long as I get the gist of the line, that’s close enough.”

3) An actor got drunk, put an audience member in a head lock, and then fell through a window. HE FELL THROUGH A WINDOW. An actual window. Glass and everything. We kept going. Also he broke that guy’s glasses.

4) I was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo broke up with me right before opening night and I shouted, in absolute sincerity, “YOU CAN’T BREAK UP WITH ME I’M FUCKING JULIET!” I mean…I was like 19. So. What do you expect?

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

Like this Juliet except fatter, with brown hair and lots and lots of anger.

5) An actor couldn’t remember, like, ANY of his lines. And in the middle of the show I had to crawl across the stage and off to look at the script and mouth the lines to him. (I did this maybe a dozen times) And then I crawled back on again, mumbling about my contact lenses.

6) I ate Little Caesar’s Pizza before the show and threw up offstage several times, then got dizzy and sprained my ankle from running back and forth, meaning the other actor in the scene who started the show alone, had to improvise fake phone conversation until I stumbled in.

7) Cast mate chased me with a knife “in character” because I stole her boyfriend. Listen, I know, WE’RE BOTH WRONG HERE.

8) I owed someone a favor and they decided to cash it in by asking me to do lights for Bye, Bye, Birdie. (Birdie couldn’t sing, BTW) Which I did, and then they demanded that I come down FROM THE LIGHT BOOTH at the end of the show so I could bow and wave at the audience. It’s a fairly large theater, so I had to descend a ladder and run from the back of the room onto the stage.

9) The fog machine set off the smoke alarm and a bunch of firemen arrived with axes so we had to evacuate the theater and stand out on the sidewalk for 30 minutes. I was wearing a blue helmet and dystopian future clothes.

10) Nuns wearing eyeliner and lipstick and having nose piercings.

11) Being 150lbs and saying the line “I’m 106lbs!”

12) Actors literally saying “Peas and carrots, peas and carrots” in the background, probably loud enough that people could understand it.

13) My character was being assaulted onstage and my assailants were supposed to be tearing at my clothes. I was wearing a corseted dress with more layers under it so they could rip my costume off. The problem was that one of the two actors who was supposed to be disrobing me was my boyfriend and he was terrified some bit of flesh would pop out, so the other guy would grab a piece of fabric and pull it, and my boyfriend would put it back on.

14) Older men with bad eyes doing their own stage makeup and applying a LOT of eyeliner. And blush. Lots and lots of blush.

15) The costumer REALLY wanted to be on stage. Every time an actor was a couple minutes late to the theater, she’d start asking if she should get ready because she TOTALLY knew the part — she didn’t, but I guess she thought she could make it up.

16) The only Equity actor in the show is the one who doesn’t know their lines. Extra points because this has happened half a dozen times.

17) Lead actress fell down and chipped a tooth mid-show.

18) I saw a production of Little Shop where Seymour was 17 years old and Audrey was 50 years old. And he didn’t know any of the words to the songs. Made ‘em up.

19) An actor casting actual spells backstage on the actors she didn’t like. Ya know, because she’s a witch.

Wicked_witch

20) A bunch of the actors hanging out in the men’s dressing room with a bag of coke. The women had no idea what was going on. But it made a lot of sense when we heard about it later.

21) Two actors went out drinking the previous night and got in a fist fight so one of them wore sunglasses through the entire next performance because he had two black eyes.

22) The bed backstage broke in the middle of the show with a giant CRRRAAAACK! so when the bedroom scene happened, it was just a mattress on the floor. I guess the Capulets were on a budget.

23) Oberon WOULD NOT stop smoking stogies in rehearsal. Indoors. He also had two girlfriends and they stood around kissing each other and giggling while we all just waited for them to not be doing that so we could start rehearsal.

24) I was playing an 8 year old but I lost my voice and then sounded like Brian Doyle Murray for the duration of the run.

25) There was a trapdoor on an elevated flat in Scrooge’s house, so that the ghosts (I was Christmas Present and Christmas Past) could just “appear” in the middle of the room. But the flat was only raised about a foot off the stage, and the opening was in the center of it, so we had to get down on our bellies and slither like snakes to get there, and then miraculously do a 90 degree backbend in order to go through the opening. Visions of it collapsing in on me attacked my brain as I scraped several layers of skin of my back each night. But at least I didn’t fall through the trapdoor during a blackout. Someone else did that. “AahhhTHUD.”

Now, go home and bite your pillow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian in San Francisco. She’s currently producing a sketch comedy show written by 8 year olds. Learn more and be afraid, at killingmylobster.com

Working Title: Life is Short Lived. Take a Chance and Get Lucky

On this Saint Patrick’s Day, Will Leschber beckons and reckons with the Saint of Fortune.

Luck and Chance.

As a younger man, I felt that luck took a back seat to drive and effort. It’s possible that the surrounding culture I grew up in silently instilled Manifest Destiny in my bones: that every thing was possible if you travelled far enough, worked hard enough, pulled your boot straps up enough. You could create, you could perform, you could do it all. The world could be in the palm of your hand if you just reached out and grabbed it.

While I think this is boldly true, as a now older man, I also think chance plays a greater part in our lives than I would have liked to believe.

Do+You+Feel+Lucky%2C+Punk+HP

Maybe it’s easy to feel this way when we are youthful and so much is ahead. Everything is possible and all doors stand open.

Only now am I starting to feel like an adult! (Sidebar, it’s about damn time! You’re no Peter Pan, kiddo! You are 33 and are a week away from being a new Dad! Grow up already!!) As part of the theatre community, we revel in make believe and truth and principles and emotional and challenge and risk. Getting on that stage can be beautifully scary. It harnesses what it means to be alive. Edging further into my 30’s, I have become acquainted with the dark side of chance and find myself lucky to have remained less scathed. I’ve held close friends who passed too early, seen others who have fought cancer, known many who wrestled with their own kind of addiction; plus there’s been loss and love and madness and the rest. I’m not here to say that it’s all darkness. Far from it. I find that there is more light bridging the gaps in our hours. What I am saying is that chance is at play and the wheel spins both ways through your days.

Just recently, I had a friend who went in for a routine ACL surgery. Everything went fine. He was home in recovery and all seemed to be improving. Until it wasn’t. He started loosing feeling below his knee and couldn’t move his toes. When he got back to the hospital the doctors had no idea why the circulation had stopped in his lower leg. How could they not know!? Within a day the news went from “Oh he’s back in the hospital with complications” to “he might lose his leg”. I had no words. I could not believe it. Things are better than ever in the medical field and outliers still run to the edge of the bell curve. Shit happens. Crazy, unexpected wildcard cases still happen. It’s baffling. It’s scary. It feels like the Wild West. It feels like the point where your youthful, live-forever, invulnerability cracks.

Perhaps instead of a cheery lesson, focusing on the light, I’d say drink it all. Hold close the shadow, feel it fully and then let is pass. Life’s shadowy milestones will fuel your appreciation for everything else. The spectrum of experience turns with the wheel of chance and fortune.

What does this all have to do with theater and film, you say? Ah, Will, you old man. Did you forget that’s the point of your blog? Whoopsie Daisy!

Whoopsie+Daisy

There are few other careers or pastimes that function from a foundation of chance the way the performing arts do; Or creative endeavors of any kind for that matter. We build glorious microcosmic worlds; create them, paint them, clothe them, live them… and let them close and drift into memory. Any play or film that comes to be is riddled and rippling with good luck and favorable chance. It’s a crap shoot often with tons of expended effort and finger crossing. No one needs to be reminded of the concept “life is theater and Theater is life.” BUT what has been overwhelming my mind of late, is how much the concept of “you never know” actually influences our lives. We all know this. Sure, I’ve known everything since I was a teenager! But, as we age, we actually learn it. We don’t know if this rough-as-hell final dress performance will pull together for opening night or if we will get hit by a bus crossing the street to work. Chances are you aren’t gonna see it coming. So get lucky if you can.

Okay, back to this current life. Well, nothing says luck and chance like a popularity contest, right? PianoFight is in the midst of their ShortLived play competition (Round Three starts up again on Thursday). Each week, this madness has a way of showcasing the eclectic, the funny, the dark, the lovely and the rest. Life is short. See ShortLived.

Also, while you are in the market for short lived artistic experiences, look up the this year’s Oscar winning animated short film, Feast. It’ll remind you that luck can save you from eating off the street, chance has a way of shining through the dark and dogged effort can balance your plate.

feast

Until then, this new-Dad-to-be hopes luck has the chance to find you on this Saint Patrick’s Day.

Working Title: Seasonal Bird(man): Or the Unexpected Virtue of Complex Entertainment

This week Will Leschber gets meta.

Winter is upon us and the end of the year almost proves a curious time. Dense with transition, this final month of the year somehow seamlessly fuses welcomed endings, the promise of new beginnings, outward reflection, routine introspection, feelings of seasonal loneliness, the joy of drawing close to one’s family, cold winter winds, warm gifts of friendship, thoughts of all that has come and gone, and all that lies ahead. The past and the future seem alight with the kinetic energy of being so close to one another. Everyone individually knows the contrasting tones and their own personal ingredients that fall into and color the holidays. It runs the spectrum. Depending on who you ask holiday feelings can run from celebratory to brooding. While a simple, straightforward, feel-good Christmas film or seasonal play can be satisfying for this time of year (Love, Actually always hits the spot for me around Christmas), I also appreciate something a bit more varied with complexity and frayed edges. Maybe some seasonal Birdman is on the menu.

birdman_San_Francisco

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?”

“I did.”

“And what did you want?”

“To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloverd on the earth”

~Raymond Carver

(This opens the film, misspellings and all)

If you are looking for a sweet-spot of entertainment that melds the space between film and theatre, Birdman is it. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance wistfully unfolds a tale of a washed up former blockbuster star, played by Michael Keaton, and the days leading up to his Broadway debut. Keaton’s character, who blazed across the marquee two decades ago in three mega-hit Birdman films, now find his star faded and wants to do some creative work of significance. Sounds familiar… Batman 1989, anyone? Yeah, it’s meta. The films throws around ideas inherent to creative professions: permanence vs transitory, popularity vs prestige, creativity vs madness, family vs individual, Broadway vs Hollywood, film vs theatre, success vs validation, true art vs zeitgeist, old vs new, importance vs the creative human condition. Everything is at odds, bumping up against one another, pushing for priority. The filmmakers sprinkle on magical realism blurring the lines between what is real and what is imagined.

Birdman_B&W

Furthermore the remarkable cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki presents the film, even though it takes place over a few days, as a seemingly unbroken shot. There are no obvious cuts. This fluidity of visual presentation supplants the idea of division, and instills a unity throughout the film. This technique implies to the audience that everything is connected and fluidly runs together as one. It’s a beautiful way to juxtapose the contrast between the idea of difference and unity that the film is interested in. The space between the boards of Broadway and the film stock of Hollywood is not as vast as we would think. Birdman suggest they are part of the same tangential life that we experience as human creators. It’s a trip. It’s also entertaining as hell.

birdman_poster

This is all heady, conceptual bullcrap that I’m spouting, but regardless of if you are looking to muse over the meanings or just be entertained by the ride of great filmmakers and excellent actors, then treat yourself. Yes, this may not feel like holiday fare film. It isn’t a Christmas classic, but Birdman might have more in common with It’s a Wonderful Life than you think. See it. And get your spectrum mashup of experiences with a little levitation and gun play to top it off. It’s always a good season for that.

Cowan Palace: Drowning Kate and Other Halloween Scares with Morgan Ludlow

This week Ashley talks about scary stuff, plays, and candy with playwright, Morgan Ludlow.

The race to Halloween is on, gang! This is the perfect time to embrace all things scary, am I right? Well, this year, Wily West Productions has taken advantage of this spooky season with a suspenseful new play entitled Drowning Kate and you still have three more chances to see it. But before you do, you can learn a little more about the show and its production courtesy of its playwright, Morgan Ludlow, who kindly answered a few of my questions.

Morgan Ludlow

Morgan Ludlow

AC: So tell us where the idea for Drowning Kate originated.

ML: It actually came from a vivid dream I had about twelve years ago. It’s actually a recurring dream for me. I’m often just an observer in dreams. In this one a man’s wife drowns in a lake. He refuses to let her go. He keeps trying to resuscitate her over and over. Night falls, and finally, she awakens! The husband is overjoyed to have his beloved back. But after a few days he realizes she is different. As they go on he realizes his wife’s spirit actually died in the lake and he is now living with another person in his wife’s body. She looks at him and he knows it is someone or something else…

It’s not quite what my script turned out to be but it was the starting point. Dreams are definitely a source of inspiration for me. I have a notepad by the bed. I often only get fragments that are usable. An image. Sometimes there’s a bit of dialogue. A character. But occasionally an entire story of a dream stays with me and I can write a coherent version of it, and every now and then, I use it as the germinal idea to start a play.

AC: A dream come true! What was the process of getting this show up and running? Did it go through any major changes in the writing process from your first draft to the current script?

ML: This is the oldest script of mine that I have had produced. I wrote it about ten years ago when I took a playwriting class from Gary Graves at the Berkeley Rep School. I was reading Frankenstein at the time, which definitely influenced the play. I found Frankenstein more philosophical than scary. The novel made me think of people who push boundaries and break the rules and that helped me shape my main character for the play. DROWNING KATE started as long monologues with a few scenes. I had several readings in my living room. And the play moved more and more into action scenes. City Lights Theatre in San Jose picked it up for their new play reading series. They gave the play a couple of readings and were very interested in it – they wrote a grant trying to get funding for the play but it didn’t come through. I moved on to other plays. It sat for several years waiting. Then in 2012 we needed a full length for Spooky Cabaret and Wesley Cayabyab really connected with the script and had a lot of ideas for it. The reading for Spooky Cabaret had tremendous potential and made me see new possibilities for the script. Quinn, Wes and I realized that the house was key to presenting both Un-Hinged and Drowning Kate in rep. For one play you are inside the house and for the other you are outside the house. So here we are. The monologues are still there but they are trimmed down and Wes decided to make them into video bites presented on stage. Wes also really got into the wolves (which mysteriously appear after Kate is “revived”) – according to Wes the wolves are trying to lead the trapped souls in Kate’s body into the spirit world. This made a lot of sense to me and adds a great deal to the “spook factor” for the production. Wolves are howling, just outside the door, encouraging Kate’s spirit to cross over.

Colleen Egan and Scott Cox in DROWNING KATE.

Colleen Egan and Scott Cox in DROWNING KATE.

AC: Do you believe in ghosts?

ML: Well, just because I wrote a ghost story doesn’t necessarily mean I believe in ghosts. But in all truth I’m like a multiple personality on that question. Totally and furiously split. My logical “you must go to work” side says, “absolutely not.” The other, more spiritual side of myself that believes in the collective human consciousness, Edgar Cayce, and space aliens says, “not everything is known.” But I think it would be wonderful if the atheists were right. That this is the only dance we dance. That all the events that make up our lives is just random coincidence and not “fate.” Lovely. However I was reading that scientists are discovering patterns in our brains at the quantum level. Apparently this pattern could hold even after death. Is this pattern the soul?

AC: While horror movies continue to dominate the box office and generate millions of dollars, the genre isn’t very popular in the theatre world. Any thoughts about why you think that is? And did it push you to write a “scary” play?

ML: Well, we are all drawn to what scares us. Fear is one of those thrilling and immediate emotions – we are never more aware of being alive than when we are afraid. This is as obvious to Hollywood as it is to newspapers and the media that feed our culture’s addiction to fear. It seems like everything we read is based on some element meant to scare the bejesus out of us. But I don’t think it is just cultural. It is human nature to seek out the thrill of fear. To ride along the edge of death. It’s why we love roller coasters and rock climbing and nuclear power plants.

However that was not the driving force for me in writing the play. I’m well aware of the pitfalls of trying to do a ghost story on stage. There is something about live theatre that makes it extremely difficult to scare an audience. To be honest I’m not sure I can quite articulate why this is so. Perhaps it is that theatre is too immediate – and while we can get into the story – attempts at horror just seem “fake” as we know there are inherent limitations to what can happen on stage. Whereas in movies anything can happen, people can transform into bloodsucking monsters and destroy the city, there’s a lot of uncertainty in horror movies, and the uncertainty is part of the fun. Whatever the case it is extremely hard to scare people with a play. In theatre you can surprise, maybe startle people but that’s about it. So, that wasn’t even a goal of mine. I was working toward the mystery of my story. What happened to Kate? Did she drown herself to prove their methods of resuscitation would work? Did Harry do something to Kate? And what is happening to Kate? Is she brain damaged? Is she a zombie or ghost? Who is in her body now? I was more focused on peeling out the story of these two failed scientists than I was in scaring people. I think as a writer what I learned with this play is that I am not required to answer all questions or find explanation for every mystery. In fact it is better in some cases to leave some interpretations to the audience.

DROWNING KATE after the drowning.

DROWNING KATE after the drowning.

AC: Speaking of scary movies, are you a fan? Do you have a favorite Halloween film?

ML: Yes, I do like scary movies. When I was six years old my Dad took me to ALIEN and I loved it. It seemed like for years afterwards I loved seeing things explode out of other things. ALIENS is one my favorite movies. There is something very compelling about motherhood in that film that has always fascinated me. But recently I saw, THE OTHERS, with Nicole Kidman, which I think is one of my all time favorites.

AC: So what was your favorite part about watching this story performed in front of an audience?

ML: I only got to see one performance of the play but the production has the promise to be quite wonderful. Jason Jeremy created some chilling sounds for the show, the sound of ice slowly breaking apart starts the show, and the set designed by Wesley is amazing. There are always surprises for me as the writer because often the actors and director will see my story in an entirely different way than I do. In this case I think everything is aligned. What I love is that everyone is taking risks along with me and giving the show everything they have. Colleen Egan is giving a wonderful performance as Kate – you really feel like there is something eerie going on with her. It’s keeping the suspense up. And Scott Cox and Genevieve Perdue give really heartfelt performances. This gives the play a real emotional punch at the end.

Colleen Egan and Genevieve Perdue in DROWNING KATE

Colleen Egan and Genevieve Perdue in DROWNING KATE

AC: Along with the relationship of a husband and wife, we also get the chance to watch a relationship between two siblings in an extreme situation. Do you have any siblings of your own? And did they inspire any dynamics that made it into the play?

ML: I do have an older brother, Rhys, but I don’t think any of that came through this play. I think a lot of Harry and Shelley are more my parents dynamic actually. They were both ballet dancers in the New York City Ballet – at the top of their field. And they worked together throughout their careers of being teachers and artistic directors of ballet companies all over the U.S. My father was the dreamer, the experimenter, the choreographer and chaos-creator, the one who would come up with crazy ideas and my mother generally accurately assessed the consequences of those ideas – as she often had to implement them. And I also think I was influenced by my father being a professor at the University of Utah for 25 years. He thought he was going to be working with colleagues who understood his work. Instead there was nothing but in-fighting and petty personal agendas. Apparently it is not at all unusual for faculty within a department to have colleagues who despise one another. Much more so than other work places. It’s complex (and of course dependent on the situation) but generally there is something about the set-up in academia that pits professors against each other – the betrayals, lies and back stabbings are ghastly – to the point that many brilliant ideas and successful programs are destroyed because of politics. I think that is where some of Harry’s bitterness comes from – is that his ideas were never fully considered because of political reasons. But isn’t that what every scientist and great creative thinker is up against? Sometimes it is hard to know when to stop.

AC: The play centers around characters who are very committed to their work; did you find that you had a similar type of focus while you were writing?

ML: This play, for me, is about failure, ego and loss. All things I am intimately familiar with in abundance. I’m drawn to success stories but I’m even more fascinated with stories of failure. As Americans failure makes us uncomfortable. We are geared for ways to “fix things” in our lives, to celebrate only the successful stories. But nothing reveals a character or person more than when they are failing. Especially when they try like hell not to fail. Perhaps that’s why I love Chekov so much. Failure has the ability to completely transform us and says so much about who we are at the core. I wanted to explore how the same elements of success can also lead to failure and loss. In this play our main character, Harry, is basically a failed scientist. He took risks and they didn’t pay off. His colleagues, even his own sister, think he has gone too far. His ego is also telling him to keep going and not give up. That he will find an answer. To take even more risks. It’s sort of Harry’s blind spot in a sense. It throws him off balance. He doesn’t see what is happening right in front of him. His ego kind of engines him through the most horrible consequences – things that make the audience cringe. It isn’t until the very end, when he has lost everything, that Harry can let his wife go.

Genevieve Perdue, Colleen Egan, and Scott Cox: working hard.

Genevieve Perdue, Colleen Egan, and Scott Cox: working hard.

AC: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

ML: Candy corns. By the wee fistful.

AC: What can we look forward to seeing with Wily West Productions in 2015?

ML: We will be having our annual meeting in January so we are still gathering ideas for 2015. We are going to do some “deep theatre exploration” next season – which means we are going to be reaching out to other artists in the community and seeing where we can partner and collaborate with them and what new directions we can take. We have a lot of wonderful plays by local writers in our vaults and we want to do several staged readings and workshops of some of our favorites. We are going to try some more interactive events where the audience has a chance to participate on the outcome of the evening. We are also going to be trading plays by local playwrights from other cities – like Seattle, L.A., Salt Lake and Vancouver. And we will be doing another production of a multi-authored show in the summer possibly in rep with something else. We will keep our audience updated on our website: http://www.wilywestproductions.com

AC: Tell us what’s next for you! And where we can see more of your work.

ML: I’m working on a Holiday show about Edgar Cayce the famous American psychic. I’m also working on a domestic comedy about a man who thinks he’s found his birth mother. And it seems like I’m always working a zillion short one-acts. I’m going to be directing one of my own plays, THE TERRORIST, in Seattle next spring!

AC: And lastly, why should people come see Drowning Kate?

ML: DROWNING KATE is a “horror story with a heart” which only the coldest of hearts wouldn’t find intriguing. Who doesn’t want to see someone try like hell to save his wife from death? And let me tell you: I think we give you that dark ride and we deliver some powerful emotions about loss and grief to boot. Not bad for $9 bucks.

Drowning Kate, starring: Scott Cox, Colleen Egan and Genevieve Perdue and directed by Wesley Cayabyab, plays October 17, 23, and 25.

Drowning Kate, starring: Scott Cox, Colleen Egan and Genevieve Perdue and directed by Wesley Cayabyab, plays October 17, 23, and 25.

Pictures: All pictures provided by Jim Norrena (excluding Morgan’s Halloween inspired headshot)

Cowan Palace: Shut Up And Act

Ashley Cowan has ten auditions for you to sign up for right now. Well, maybe read the blog first. Then get out there, kid! It’s time to be a star!

Fall is coming early, friends. And I’m of course referring to the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks. Which will be available in a mere FIVE DAYS (on August 25)!

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Also, keeping with the Theater Pub trend of looking ahead at autumn offerings and reading about the upcoming theater we all have to look forward to coming this season, I started to wonder how the audition scene was looking for non-AEA San Francisco based actors.

The good news? There’s a scene! The better news? I’m going tell you ten auditions to sign up for right now. They may not all strike your theatrical fancy, sure, but if you’ve been sitting around all summer missing the stage, here’s your chance to get back on it. In between double fisting your pumpkin caffeine juice, of course.

Well, this first audition is for a film and it’s TODAY. But it can’t hurt to try and submit, right? Who knows maybe you’re perfect for it!

1) Banquet Productions’ “Labyrinth in Time” – August 20 (THAT’S TODAY!)

Shakespeare nerds! They’re searching for: actors for short film written in iambic pentameter. 2M (30-40); 1F (30-40).

Writer/Director: Hank Voge; the film will shoot in early October in a variety of Bay Area spots. To book a last minute appointment contact: Producer, Gabriel Brown, gabe@banquetproductions.com.

Looking to break out into well rehearsed song and dance? Here are a few auditions of the musical variety for you to check out!

2) FOGG Theatre’s “The Cable Car Nymphomaniac” – August 24.

Okay, the title alone is intriguing, right? Well, for this sexy piece, you’ll need two contemporary songs (one minute each). They are hoping to find: 3M (20s-30s, tenors, 1 to G, 1 to G & dancer, 1 to B & dancer); 4F (20s-30s, 1 belter & dancer; 1 2nd soprano, low A to high F#, & dancer; 1 belter to high E-flat; 1 low alto, low F to D4, & dancer).

The Playwrights are: Kirsten Guenter and Tony Asaro and the Director is: Terry Berliner. The audition is August 24 from 10AM-6PM (callbacks August 26 from 7-11PM). Salle Pianos, 1632C Market St., San Francisco. Rehearsals start on December 2 and the show performs January 15-February 1 at Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco. And it pays! $600-$1,400 bucks. For more information and to schedule your audition, contact: namnguyen@foggtheatre.org.

3) Indelible Voices Project’s “The Little Match Girl”

If you love puppets like I do, check this out. They’re looking for: performers with strong musical theatre skills for multimedia puppet show. 1M (20-50, baritone); 3F (30-60, soprano/alto), 1F (10-18, soprano); 2 any gender (10-15, soprano/alto).

Playwrights: Marcus Duskin and Katrina Cameron
Send voice recordings via email; those called back will sing samples from score. Stipend available. Callbacks will be middle to late September. Rehearsals begin in November and the show performs December 13-21 in San Francisco and Berkeley. To apply for an audition, send voice recordings and information to: marcusd@igc.org.

4) Steve Silver Productions, Inc.’s – “Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon” – September 13

For this iconic show, you need one ballad and one uptempo number (please be ready with sheet music in your key as an accompanist will be provided) Bonus points if you can imitate some pop culture icons and you come ready with your dancing shoes!

Playwright: Steve Silver. Auditions are September 13 at 2PM at Club Fugazi, 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd., San Francisco and the performances are ongoing. The show also provides a competitive salary and sweet benefits!
Info: auditions@beachblanketbabylon.com; ­beachblanketbabylon.com/auditions/index.shtml

5) General Singer Auditions for High Seas

Sponsored by the St. Francis Yacht Club, this one is just for the ladies! They’re seeking two singers to join their 12-voice, female jazz vocal group. The auditions will take place in early September and they’ll be looking for a first soprano and first alto. For more information and details contact: Auditions Chair, Janet Mansinne: janetmehlhop@yahoo.com

Always wanted to do a play for kids? Awesome. Get out there and audition for this!

6) San Francisco Youth Theatre’s “In and Out of Shadows” – September 4

You’ll need: 16 bars to be sung acapella and clothes to move around in to dance.
They’re looking for: 2M & 3F (18-26, Latino, Filipino or other Asian). Spanish, Chinese &/or Tagalog language facility a+.

The Playwrights are: Soto, Klion and Brooks and the Director is: Cliff Mayotte. Auditions are September 4 from 4:30-7PM (callbacks are September 9) at Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco. Rehearsals begin September 11 and the show performs November 23-December 7 and Brava Theater and Fresno City College with a possible tour to follow. Stipend and travel expenses available! To book an audition slot, send your headshot/resume to: Emily Klion, sfyouththeatre@gmail.com.

Are readings more your thing right now? Who wants to memorize words, anyway? Then you need to check out this audition!

7) San Francisco Olympians Festival – September 28 and 29

They are looking for literally DOZENS of actors for this festival of new plays running November 5-22! Rehearsals will be in October and November and will include a maximum of 3-5 meetups for each show.

For more information about the festival and the plays involved, visit: http://www.sfolympians.com. Auditions are September 28, 2PM-10PM, and September 29, 7-10PM, at the Exit Theater. Please email: sfolympians@gmail.com to schedule an audition slot.

Straight up theater is your jam, huh? These are all for you, actor face!

8) Alma Theatre Company’s “You Are My Sunshine” – September 19

Bring a contemporary monologue and prepare to cold read. They’re looking for: 1M (20s-60s), 1M (20s-50s), 1M (20s-30s); 1F (mid-40s), 1F (20s-50s), 1F (20s).

Playwright/Director: Kelli Colaco, auditions are September 19 with rehearsals beginning in mid November at the San Francisco Playhouse Rehearsal Space, 323 Geary St. Ste. 211, San Francisco. And, yes, there’s pay. To book an appointment, contact Kelli Colaco: kellicolaco@gmail.com. Info: bykennethjones.com.

9) Custom Made Theatre’s “The Braggart Soldier (or Major Blowhard)” – September 2 and 4

Written by Plautus and adapted and directed by Evren Odcikin, they’re looking for: 3M/2W/2 any gender, any ethnicity. Auditions are September 2 and September 4. Callback will be September 6 with rehearsals beginning on February 24. The show performs March 27-April 26 (with a possible extension to May 2) at Custom Made Theatre, 1620 Gough St, San Francisco. There is a stipend available. For more infomation and to sign up for an audition slot visit: http://www.custommade.org/open-auditions-blowhard/

10) No Nude Men Productions’ “Desk Set” – October 20

This one is just for the fellas! Written by William Marchant and directed by Stuart Bousel, they are seeking men of all ages, races, etc. who have evening and weekend availability in June and July of 2015. The show runs for nine performances, July 10-26 at the Exit Theater in San Francisco and there is a $150 stipend available.

To schedule an audition, send those handsome headshots and resumes to Stuart at: sfolympians@gmail.com with “DESK SET” in the subject line.

So whether you submit to all of these auditions or just get inspired to grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Bay Area theater scene is ready for you. Get off your butt, dust off that monologue or song, and act. That’s all you have to do. As always, I’m rooting for you, kid!

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