The Pub From Another World Arrives Tonight!

Tonight, for one night only, Cafe Royale transforms into THE PUB FROM ANOTHER WORLD, an inter-dimensional crossroads where theater is not bound by the constraints of reality! It’s a world where time travel is possible, where unicorns exist! From the minds of eight Bay Area playwrights—including a four-year-old girl featured on Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/2013/03/02/horrorsf-play-by-a-four-year.html)—come imaginative tales of everything from superheroes to surrogates, monsters to mad scientists, and other flights of fancy. This night of staged readings will be talked about for all eternity by those afflicted with immortality, so don’t miss it!

This strange brew of stories was concocted by Timothy Kay, Audrey Kessinger, Sang Kim, Allison Page, Sunil Patel, Bridgette Dutta Portman, Kirk Shimano, and Marissa Skudlarek. The intrepid troupe of actors includes Giovanna Arietta, Sam Bertken, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Caitlin Evenson, Paul Jennings, Timothy Kay, Dan Kurtz, Meg O’Connor, Sunil Patel, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers.

The wormhole will be open for one night only: Monday, May 20, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Admission is free and no reservations are required for this journey, but we recommend you come early for the best seats. Hyde Away Blues BBQ will provide food for all human guests.

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The Cast of “Brainkill” Tells All

In the latest of our series of articles on “Brainkill”, this year’s Theater Pub contribution to the annual Bay One Acts Festival, we chat with the cast about what it takes to put together a new work, what makes them tick and how many eggs you have to crack to get an omelet.

All right cast of “Brainkill”. Who are you?

Dave Levine: I am a San Francisco native, a big fan of puns, and love spending time in the sunshine. I love good jokes and if you ask nicely, I’ll tell you one, or five.

Theresa Miller: I love cooking, acting and watching squirrels in Golden Gate Park. I grew up in Santa Monica, went to school at Sonoma State and now happily live in SF. By day, I act as a patient for medical students where I get to have babies, weird infections and hang out in hospital gowns.

Travis Howse: I’m a recent graduate of SFSU, an actor, a puppeteer, a techie, a clown, and at the moment, a professional grilled cheese maker.

Kate Jones: I’m a Chicagoan who moved to SF based on a gut instinct 4 1/2 years ago.  I love acting more than candy (and I really love candy) and have been involved with theater – improv, sketch, drama, etc., since I could talk. Oh, and during the day I manage travel industry sales at the amazing California Academy of Sciences!

Giovanna Arieta: I’m an ultra-sensitive, laughter enthusiast who flosses twice a day. Seriously.

Dave Levine plays Bobby.

And have you ever worked with Theater Pub before, or been a part of the Bay One Acts Festival? Or both?

Giovanna Arieta: This is my first time working with Theatre Pub and BOA.  I’ve worked with Sara Staley in NCTC’s Youth Aware program and Sheherezade X.  She’s a fabulous director so I know if she’s involved in a project, it must be amazing.

Travis Howse: I haven’t worked with either group before. I have worked with Stuart Bousel before, on Juno En Victoria and last year’s Olympians Festival. I’m very excited to begin what I’m hoping is a long relationship with both the BOA festival and Theater Pub.

Theresa Miller: For Theater Pub, I was in the Greek plays The Congresswomen and Helen. I suspect that Stuart just likes dressing me in sheets. This is my fourth BOA. Our fabulous director, Sara Staley, directed me in BOA ’08, where I was proud to play Object #1. Last year in the festival I was a God freak and three years ago I played a devil.

Kate Jones: I just did Theater Pub for the first time this year (January’s Occupy Theater Pub!), which was such a fun experience, and this is my very first BOA!

Dave Levine: This is my first time acting with both Theater Pub and BOA.

What’s got you excited about being in this year’s BOA Festival?

Travis Howse: I love working with new people. New directors, new actors, and new writers all add to a person’s growth. It is always fantastic to work with such a large group of people on so many different projects and new scripts.

Theresa Miller: Getting to collaborate with a bunch of talented and creative artists has got me pretty pumped too! We had a big table read back in March, and there was this excited energy in the air. I’m thrilled to see how it all comes together.  I also LOVE Brainkill and working with Sara, Dave, Kate, Giovanna, Travis and Stuart. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is received.

Dave Levine: All of the acts are bringing something so new to the table. They’ve all got such style and flavor, their own blend of spices, so I’m excited to see the delicious contrast between the pieces. From what I’ve seen so far, I can’t wait for a taste!

Kate Jones: Ohmigosh, I am so thrilled to be in BOA.  So excited in fact that I am taking a night off from performing in my own show (PianoFight’s ForePlays) that I produce so that I could be involved.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful than being surrounded by so many talented writers, directors and actors, and I feel very lucky to be included in this group.  Hopefully this is my first of many BOAs!  Also, I really loved this piece, Brainkill, and after reading my characters monologue I couldn’t wait to perform it on stage.

Giovanna Arieta: Being in the original cast of any show is an honor, but with Brainkill it is particularly so because the characters give breath to such a raw depiction of human kind.  The script says the characters can be any race, age or sex, so it is exciting to create character that that could have been cast in a completely different way.  Every Carmen will be different.  I am excited to introduce the audience to MY Carmen.

Giovanna Arieta plays Carmen.

So what is this play about?

Dave Levine: Brainkill is a bit of an onion. From the get go, you meet characters that are pressed by their incredible wants and needs as well as the world they live in. We can see what drives people at a very basic level, and sometimes, the terrible places they go because of it. In the end, we all have to come to face up to who we are and what we’ve done. But more than anything, Brainkill is about eggs.

Travis Howse: I think it’s a play of extremes. It’s about extreme bad and extreme good, extreme chaotic and extreme lawful. It’s about being trapped by those extremes. And it follows one character as he tries to find a balance between those extremes, and we get to see those struggles play out.

Giovanna Arieta: Brainkill shows, in a very sassy and fun way (if I do say so myself), the potential that we all have to be greedy, vulnerable, evil and hyper-sexual, especially in desperate situations.  One person might see the show and relate it to their social circle and someone else might relate it to the world as a whole.

Kate Jones: I really think it speaks to the greed and need for material items in today’s world.  We are all at fault – myself definitely included – but it is important to remember what we should really value and hopefully that is not just “stuff.”  I think this is an extreme way of looking at what the world could become if you take a high contrast, without the grey, and look at society.

Theresa Miller: It’s about different value systems and moral codes, friendship, power, choices, understanding ourselves, what drives us… and Eggs.

Theresa Miller plays Alex.

And who do you play in this show?

Giovanna Arieta: I play Carmen.  She (Or “it,” perhaps?) is objective, steady and without opinion.

Travis Howse: I play Elliot, and Elliot falls into that extreme good category. He is optimistic to the point of delusion, and has a constant desire to help everyone around him. He is like that friend we all have that constantly says, “no worries man, its a beautiful day”. He is attracted to Bobby because Bobby is struggling. Elliot feels that not only can he help Bobby, but he has to help Bobby.

Dave Levine: I play Bobby. He is sweet, unfortunately for him not the sharpest knife but unexpectedly strong in his determination to escape from a life he didn’t mean to fall into. I look at Bobby as a personification of something we all wish we could have done over again and done right.

Theresa Miller: I’m Alex and Alex is Terrifyingly Awesome. She’s powerful, aggressive, manipulative, violent, impulsive and super hot.

Kate Jones: I play Darcy and  I really feel for Darcy. Her character is one that I think people can relate to though they may not want to admit it.  She wants to be wanted and she thinks that having stuff makes her desirable so she will do anything to get it and must constantly have more.  The unfortunate result is that she looses her own values and who she is in order to become what she thinks other people want.

Got a favorite line?

Travis Howse: “I am free”. The line doesn’t make much sense out of context, but it is such a powerful statement in the realm of this play.

Kate Jones: Oh gosh, I have several.  Out of my character’s lines, I really like “”I have never had an ulcer but I know it feels like an empty hole in your gut where other people’s stuff is supposed to be.”  It really shows how much people in this society have lost their own sense of self and who they are is defined by their material items.

Theresa Miller: Too many favorites! Top 3: “I want a fucking omelet. Don’t you want an omelet Bobby? “So put Darcy out of Darcy’s misery” and “Let’s fuck”, which is still kinda scary to say, but I love it!

Dave Levine: I love ‘We’re carrying guns!’ It’s such a delicious verbal joust.

Giovanna Arieta: “Why doesn’t my character have more lines?”

Kate Jones plays Darcy.

So when you’re playing a part, how do you go about getting into the character’s head?

Dave Levine: After I read the script, I go back and sift through trying to find any major or defining moments for the character. What was their motivation and why did they make those choices? It’s important to understand what type of person would choose to live that way. Once I have an understanding for those moments, I can expand on who that character is and step into their skin.

Travis Howse: Honestly, the first thing I do is say all of my lines out-loud. Before a first read through, I’ll sit in my room and speak. Reading the words is one thing, but saying them gives you the feeling of being the character. It starts to train your mouth to talk like the character, and familiarizes your mind with the character’s. It’s difficult to explain without sounding pretentious.

Giovanna Arieta: I define the character’s point of view.  I believe a person’s perspective of the world is the most revealing thing about her.

Kate Jones: I try to understand what the character wants and then why the character wants whatever it is they want.  I can usually find something to identify with based on my own personal wants and needs.  We are all willing to go to different extents to get something that we feel is necessary to our being.

Theresa Miller: I ask why is this person saying this? If the script is well-written, the answers are there in the text. I understand who they are and what motivates them by looking at what the writer gives me.

So in light of THAT, what’s the greatest challenge with playing this character?

Kate Jones: How she can seem one dimensional at points.  But if you look deeper, you can see the sadness, see how she is breaking down and see how she is a little part in all of us.

Giovanna Arieta: Carmen lacks emotional connection to any of the other characters, which makes her very different from any other role I have ever played.

Dave Levine: Bobby is a ton of fun. I don’t really see anything at the level of ‘greatest challenge’, but I did spend a fair amount of time memorizing the repeating and reflexive lines, as well as all the ‘but’ and ‘what’ lines. Those were pretty tricky.

Theresa Miller: I’m enjoying the challenge of making Alex relatable. Her ideas are so out there that she could easily be written off as an evil lunatic. My challenge has been to find the humanity in her and make her real.

Travis Howse: I tend to have a more cynical view of the world and of people, so I’m constantly looking for the negative aspects of any character. In Elliot, I am naturally looking for the ways in which he is a bad person. But after talking with Stuart and Sara and really dissecting the script it is clear to me that Elliot really is the embodiment of a good person. Even though some of the things he does are for somewhat selfish reasons, his heart is always in the right place and his actions are always helping someone else. So the biggest challenge I’m having so far is trying to keep my own prejudice out of Elliot’s personality.

What’s a part you’ve always wanted to play, or an actor whose career you’ve always admired?

Kate Jones: Wow, great question!  I tend to steer on the comedic side. My dream would be to star on a comedy TV series so this might not be very theatery but I would love to take the path of Julia Louis Drefus – SNL, Seinfeld, New Adventures of Old Christine – yes, yes, yes!

Giovanna Arieta: Karen Walker from Will & Grace.  Cam from Modern Family.  Veronica Corningstone from Anchorman.

Dave Levine: I don’t have my sights set on anything specific right now, but I would like to play a character like Gene Wilder’s in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, or Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. Something along those lines.

Travis Howse: I’ve always wanted to play the Emcee from Cabaret, which is unfortunate because I can’t sing very well.

Theresa Miller: My dream is to play Portia from Merchant of Venice in rep with Pantalone- the commedia character who’s the ultimate crotchety, sex-starved, miserly old man.  I love how they’re opposites!

Travis Howse plays Elliot.

What’s something else going on in this year’s festival you’re really looking forward to seeing?

Theresa Miller: I’m especially excited to see A Game and I.S.O. Explosive Possibility, which are both in Program 2.

Travis Howse: I’m looking forward to I.S.O. Explosive Possibility, because I’m a huge Claire Rice fan, absurdly huge, and she’s directing it. I’m also really excited for The Seagull Project. I went to school with a lot of the performers and creators of that piece and it is always great to see classmates doing so well.

Kate Jones: Of course the PianoFight piece (In Bed) because I do love my theater group and our material and also those 3 Dumplings because I just get giddy at the thought of peaking inside Megan Cohen’s head.

Dave Levine: It’s my first BOA, so naturally, I’m a bit like a kid in a candy shop. If I had to choose, I can’t wait to see In Bed by Sam Leichter. I watched the reading and was totally blown away. It’s raw and very touching. I’m also really excited to see Three Little Dumplings Go Bananas by Megan Cohen for its unhinged hilarity as well as the ukulele playing in The Seagull Project by 11th Hour Ensemble.

Giovanna Arieta: Everything!  I know our show has come a long way since the first staged reading so I’m excited to see how all the other plays have evolved.

To find out more about the Bay One Acts, check out http://www.bayoneacts.org.

Writer Stuart Bousel on “Brainkill”, Theater, Celebrity Guests, and His Mental Health

At the end of this month, the Bay One Acts Festival will be premiering a number of new works by local writers and performances groups. San Francisco Theater Pub will be producing one of these works, a new short play, “Brainkill”, by Stuart Bousel, one of the founding artistic directors. We’ve already spoken with “Brainkill” director Sara Staley, so this week we thought we’d check in with the writer but (and now the secret is out), the website interviews have predominantly been conducted by Stuart Bousel, and having him interview himself seemed a little bit ridiculous. Ever resourceful, we asked Megan Cohen, frequent Pub collaborator and fellow BOA writer, to pick the brain behind “Brainkill”. Keep reading to see the results.

Meg: If you could make any three people in the world come to see “Brainkill”, who would they be and why?

Stuart:  Okay… let’s limit this to living people. Because the dead… I mean, there are a lot of dead people I’d love to get feedback from. But as for the living… well, Hal Hartley is the first that comes to mind. He’s my favorite film-maker and in many ways my favorite living American artist. His writing and his films have been very influential on me over the years and his way of making art- his absolute commitment to making his work on his own terms and maintaining his artistic integrity- have been really inspiring to me as a person. I met him years ago at a screening of a movie of his and I was so tongue-tied it was probably very socially awkward. I suspect he probably wondered if I was mentally stable, but he was still a really nice guy to me. And I’d love to have him watch something of mine, even though I don’t know if he’d like it. But I’d love that chance to have five minutes afterwards to ask, “What did you think?” and hear what he had to say, whatever he had to say. The other two are Stephen Sondheim and Sally Potter and the reasons are essentially the same- they’re just artists I have an endless amount of respect for and it would be deeply humbling to have a chance to learn directly from people whose work I have been following and learning from for years.

Meg: You wear almost every conceivable hat in the Bay Area theater scene: writer, artistic director, producer, director, actor, one-man publicity machine, ad-hoc casting director, diplomat, nemesis, cheerleader, and goodness knows what else.  How, if at all, do you think these different perspectives on this art form have informed your work as a writer?

Stuart: I think that the more hats someone has worn in the theater community, the better in general they are at everything and more importantly, the more considerate and aware they are of what it takes to make a play happen. Directors who have been actors have a better understanding of what actors are going through; designers who also direct learn to think more efficiently, etc. Walking in the shoes of another role usually results in learning to work as a team rather than thinking a show is all about you and your vision. As a writer, I think having been an actor has resulted in me always striving to make sure that characters I create are genuinely interesting to play- not just a set of quirks or a stand-in for an archetype or symbol, but rather a personality with something to say and a reason to be there beyond “advances the plot.” Though it’s always important to advance the plot. All the other hats I have worn have taught me to never limit my imagination as a writer. No matter what your crazy vision, the fact is the right director and designers can make it happen. They may have to dance-theater that shit, but there’s always a way. So don’t limit yourself- just also make sure you don’t limit them. Don’t insist your show only be done with real helicopters or life-size elephants or whatever. Your job as the writer is to plant the seed, not tend the leaves, you know? My life as a producer has taught me a lot, but the big thing is to always create with passion. Because we’re definitely not in it for the money or the love of our peers. As a writer, that means write what’s important to you because if your work isn’t important to you, why should it be worth someone else’s time and money?

Meg:What’s the creative history of Brainkill?  Has it had previous stagings or readings, and when did you write it?

Stuart: I wrote it in March of 2011, in about three hours, during a moment of deep frustration and disappointment with… the world. I wrote it by hand in a spiral notebook, while sitting at a table in Caffe Trieste on Market Street. I did some re-drafting over the next couple of weeks, but I’d say it’s about 85% exactly the same as the first draft. I actually only heard it aloud for the first time at the BOA reading this past March. Which was terrifying, because I had no idea how it would come off.

Meg: The dialogue in BRAINKILL is mostly very terse, fast, and streamlined; the world of the play is intense, and pretty much breathless.  What’s your writing process like when you’re crafting such a crisp, curt script?

Stuart: Almost every play I have written has a different process it seems. In this particular case it was just sitting at the table and scratching away till my hand hurt and then scratching away some more because I had something I felt I really needed to say and it was now or never. The breathlessness of the script reflects my own mind at the time, which was just exploding with rage. I was having some chai, and thinking intensely about things, and suddenly I heard Alex and Bobby’s opening dialogue and I thought, “Oh, I need to write this down right now” and I just kept writing… one scene led to another. And then it led to the end. I remember afterwards going to a rehearsal for M. Butterfly and saying to Rik Lopes, “I just wrote a play.” And it was like I had just woken up. Sometimes you get possessed like that and there isn’t much to really say about how it happened. I was inspired and I followed that inspiration until I got out what I needed to say.

Meg: At least one of the roles in the play, Alex, could have been cast with either a male or female actor.  What kind of conversation did you and director Sara Staley have about who to cast, and how much of a factor was gender?

Stuart: Actually, all five roles in the show can be cast with either men or women. The names are intentionally non-gender specific and there are no pronouns in the play. Alex ended up as a woman in this first production because Theresa Miller auditioned for the play and Sara and I both love Theresa and both really love it when Theresa, who is a lovely person, plays evil. And so we had her read the role at auditions and she was just super funny, but she also made all of Alex’s lines really work- on the first read. They were simultaneously very outrageous and totally believable coming out of her mouth. The rest of the casting went from there: Dave Levine had a kind of feckless sweetness that made him a good Bobby, who needs to be easy to dupe but also easy to root for; Kate Jones has a sexiness combined with a certain edge that screamed Darcy; and Travis Howse is one of those actors who is just immediately likable, which is ideal for Elliot, who needs to be trust-worth from his first entrance. The only time gender really entered the decision making process was when we realized that if Alex AND Darcy, were both women, as the less sympathetic characters, we would need a female Carmen to balance out the gender portrayals in the play. Otherwise, it would potentially come off as “Women evil, Men good”, which is not what either of us wanted the play to be construed as. Luckily, a very strong actress named Giovanna Arieta auditioned and seemed like the perfect foil for Theresa, so she rounds out the cast. I’m excited about them all, but I won’t lie, I also look forward to someday seeing a production with, say a female Bobby and a male Darcy. Or where everybody is female, or everybody is male. An all male cast, with only Carmen as female, strikes me as potentially very interesting.

Meg: The characters in BRAINKILL spend a lot of time at and/or near the psychological breaking point.  Stuart, are you okay?

Stuart: Um… no. No I’m not. I’m getting better, but the truth is, I’m exhausted, I’m frustrated, and I’m angry at a world that is too many parts apathy and too many parts unfocused rage. I feel like we’re progressively living in a society that doesn’t value teaching its kids to think for themselves and be creative, be forgiving, be honest, and understand that it’s not all about status or material gains or physical pleasure or being told you’re special all the time. There are people I know who claim to be my friends but really aren’t, and from what I can tell have nobody else’s lives in mind but their own. I often feel like I’m struggling with a local art scene that has a ton of potential but perpetually shoots itself in the foot, or its best people in the face. I love San Francisco, but I also recognize it’s a city that is becoming impossible for people of diverse incomes to live in and it often seems indifferent to cultivating and preserving those things that make a city great- like a great art scene, and a variety of industries and professions. I’m angry at how little we, as individuals, say and how often we’re encouraged to keep our dissenting thoughts to ourselves for fear of saying what isn’t popular or what people don’t want to hear. I’m scared by how, when we finally do say these things, it’s usually in a forum or manner that makes it dismissible or violent or impossible to be argued and reasoned with- either because we’re driven past the point of reason, or because the real goal has been to just lash out rather than reform. The death of critical thinking, the animosity with which intellectual and artistic integrity are met, sometimes within the artistic community itself, really tortures me. The extremes of everything terrifies me. I don’t want to live in a world of flag waving mediocrity and I don’t want to live in a world of chaotic anarchy. But I may have to. And I may have to accept that speaking my mind and telling the truth and living by example will mean losing some friends and half my votes for prom king. Actually, accepting that is pretty much what it’s going to take to be okay. And I’m working on that. Actually, writing this play was the beginning of accepting that.

Meg: How did you and Sara Staley, who is directing the production, find each other as collaborators?

Stuart: Theater Pub, as a group, made a decision to be a producing partner in the Bay One Acts Festival this year, but one of our requests was that we produce a play by someone who had worked at the Pub previously, and that it be directed by someone who had worked at the Pub. Sara Staley had worked on three pub shows and so Jessica matched her up with us. Sara was then free to choose any play she wanted from the writers who had submitted work, though preferably one who had worked with Theater Pub already. She picked me from the pile, which was deeply flattering of her, and that’s how it happened. Though we’ve both done a lot at Theater Pub, this is actually our first time working together.

Meg: As a busy theatermaker, you spend a lot of time in rehearsals, in performance spaces, and at shows.  It’s easy to get lost in the black box and forget about the outside world; what’s a non-theater-related activity that enlivens your work?

Stuart: I read a lot. I go on long walks. My boyfriend and I recently re-watched the entirety of the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows. I have a lot of friends around the country and world I try to keep up. Some aren’t even involved with or like the theater, which can be truly refreshing. I also have a semi-secret hobby of hand-drawing street-maps of cities and floorplans of medieval castles. I’ve been generating a massive fictional world, a la J.R.R. Tolkien since I was in high school. It’s very calming.

Meg: What’s next on the docket for you?

Stuart: I’m directing The Merchant of Venice for Custom Made, which I’m very excited about. It’s my second time working there and I think they’re really emerging as a company so it’s a good time to be there and feel like you’re helping good people better realize their dream of having a diverse and accomplished company. Plus I love that play. After that, there’s a bunch of things, but the big thing is the third installment of the Olympians Festival. You can find out more about that here: http://www.sfolympians.com.

Meg: What are you looking forward to seeing onstage in the coming months, besides the hundred-and-one projects that you’re involved in?

Stuart: There are some other shows in BOA that I’m looking forward to. Namely, yours, actually, and Claire Rice directing Erin Bregman’s play (which I’m also producing). In both instances, the scripts are kind of out of left field and I’m just, frankly, waiting to see how they are realized onstage because I can’t envision them myself, particularly Erin’s. It’s a very clever script and I feel like I “get it”, I’m just also sort of boggled by it on a practical level but those scripts are my favorite to see Claire wrestle with because she’s a super astute director and an innovative thinker. I’m looking forward to the new Sleepwalker’s show, Down To This. I like Tore Ingersoll-Thorpe a lot as a director. Even when I don’t particularly like the plays he’s chosen to direct, I admire his aesthetic and his approach and I like that he chooses challenging work. I actually know very little about the show, I just know I’ll walk out having something to talk about with my boyfriend. I look forward to seeing what Pint Sized looks like this year. We have a ton of submissions, more than ever and many from people I’ve never heard of, and even though I’m part of Theater Pub, Julia Heitner runs that festival, currently, and she brought in a bunch of surprises last year that really elevated the evening. I’m excited to see what she does and to continue to see our pool of writers expanding. Claire Rice’s full length, Waterline, is also slated to be directed by John Caldon over at Geurilla Rep, later this year. I went to a reading of it the other night and it’s a great script. John, like Claire, is a theater artist whose mind I just really admire and so seeing them work together basically gives me hope for the future. Which clearly I need a strong dose of.

Meg: In five words or less, what do you hope you’ll overhear someone in the lobby say after seeing this production of Brainkill?

Stuart: “What did you think?”

For more information about the BOA Festival and all the great shows included in this year’s line up, including “The Bird Trap” by Founding Artstic Director Bennett Fisher, head over to http://www.bayoneacts.org.