Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Pet Peeves in Arts Journalism

Marissa Skudlarek pens her penultimate column.

We’re winding down Theater Pub and winding down the blog, so as the longest-serving blog contributor, I thought I would use my next-to-last column to complain about my biggest arts-journalism pet peeves.

(This is not meant as an indictment of anyone who has written for this blog, just of general trends and irksome phrases that bother me.)

“The Bard” — This nickname is just so corny, promotes a false idea of Shakespeare as some kind of Merrie England wandering minstrel, and contributes to the problematic belief that Shakespeare is the greatest genius who ever lived and we mere mortals are unworthy of him. (There’s a reason that overzealous admiration of Shakespeare is called “Bardolatry.”) And yet I feel like the use of this phrase is only becoming more common because “The Bard” is 8 characters while “Shakespeare” is 11. (Thanks, Twitter!) Can’t we just agree to call him “Shax”?

“Penned” — This is a pretentious, cutesy word to use as a synonym for “wrote.” When I hear the word “wrote,” with its grinding r and hard t, I picture someone laboring over a messy notebook with a sputtering pen, forcing the words out. When I hear “penned,” I picture a lady in a negligee, sitting at a dainty writing table with a quill pen poised in her hand. Authoresses pen. Writers write.

“The play’s the thing” — I have seen countless theater-related articles headlined “The Play’s the Thing” and if this was ever clever or funny, it no longer is. As a child, my parents once convinced me to use “The Play’s the Thing” as the title for some book report or essay that I wrote about theater. I am still ashamed of having done that.

“Unbelievable” — In slang, “unbelievable” is a compliment and a synonym for “amazing,” but I always find it ludicrous when it is used in theater reviews as a compliment. The goal of mainstream, realist theater is believability, so when a critic writes something like “John Doe was unbelievable in the role of Willy Loman!” and means it as praise, the critic just ends up sounding like an idiot.

“Kinetic,” “melodic” — Writing about theater really means writing about many different art forms that combine to create a show. A critic reviewing a new musical may find herself evaluating the story, the dialogue, the music, the lyrics, the singing, the acting, the dancing, the direction, the sets, the costumes, and the lighting. It’s hard to write about abstract art forms like dance and music, though, and many theater critics have no special training in those disciplines. (In his book, Sondheim complains that music critics never review Broadway scores and theater critics often know nothing about music.) So in order to say something and sound knowledgeable, critics often fall back on phrases like “kinetic choreography” or “melodic songs.” But do those phrases really tell you anything?

“Stoppard/Sondheim has a heart after all” — This has been a staple of theater criticism since the 1980s. Both of these writers (whom I admire immensely, if it wasn’t obvious) came to prominence in the ’60s with works of clever, glittering wit; then, in the ’80s, critics started to perceive a new emotional depth in their work. You can quibble with this reductive description of their careers, but, more to the point, it’s no longer news to point out that the men who wrote Arcadia or “Not A Day Goes By” are perfectly capable of breaking your heart.

Lack of knowledge of the past — Over the past year, I’ve read articles claiming that “the Schuyler Sisters are the best female musical-theater characters ever” and “Rey from Star Wars is the best movie heroine ever.” I like the Schuyler Sisters and Rey just fine, I am pleased at the increased attention paid to female representation in art, but to claim that these are the “best characters ever” is appallingly shortsighted. Yeah, yeah, the Internet demands hyperbole and most people could afford to be more wide-ranging in the art that they consume, but wanting to write about how much you love a recent work of art is no reason to put down all the art that came before it.

Too much knowledge of the past — At the same time, it really annoys me when older critics spend the bulk of their theater reviews reminiscing about how the original production did it. I feel like this reinforces the belief that theater is for old, rich people who’d rather look to past glories than attempt to push the art form forward. I was fortunate enough to see The Producers in 2001 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but when it’s revived in 2036 starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Justin Bieber, I hope I can take their performances on their own merits.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If she has ever committed any of these sins in her own writing, please feel free to point it out in the comments.

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Theater Around the Bay: Marissa Skudlarek and Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”

We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Marissa Skudlarek and director Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”!

Inspired by the classic Smiths song, “Cemetery Gates” is a vignette about two moody, pretentious high-school seniors who have snuck into a bar with fake IDs in order to try overpriced cocktails, quote poetry, and imagine a world in which they could be happy. Sailor Galaviz plays Theo and Amitis Rossoukh plays Flora.

Skudlarek photo

Writer Marissa Skudlarek goes for a moody-rainy-day aesthetic.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Marissa: I have a long history with Pint-Sized. The first edition of the festival, in 2010, was also the first time any theater in San Francisco had produced my work. I had a play in the 2012 festival as well, and then last year, I came back to serve as Tsarina (producer) of the entire festival, the first time that it was at PianoFight. I can’t resist the lure of an imperial title and a rhinestone tiara, so I signed on as Tsarina again for the 2016 festival. Meanwhile, I had originally written “Cemetery Gates” as a submission for The Morrissey Plays, Theater Pub’s January 2016 show. The producer of The Morrissey Plays, Stuart Bousel, didn’t end up picking my script, but he said “This is a good play, you should produce it in Pint-Sized this year.” And, well, the Tsarina gets to make those decisions for herself. It’s good to be the Queen!

Adam: I had been an actor at PianoFight in The SHIT Show and Oreo Carrot Danger with Faultline Theater, but I really wanted to break into directing. I studied directing at UC Santa Cruz, but no companies in the Bay Area seem to want to hire a 24-year-old to direct. I sent my resume to Theater Pub and I’m so grateful they are taking a chance on me.

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

Marissa: I feel like I allow myself to indulge my idiosyncrasies more because, hey, it’s only 10 minutes, right? Last night I was talking to Neil Higgins (a frequent Theater Pub collaborator who directed “Beer Culture” in this year’s Pint-Sized Plays), and he pointed out that both “Cemetery Gates” and my 2012 Pint-Sized Play “Beer Theory” are very “Marissa” plays. They are plays that I could show to people and say “This is what it’s like to live inside my head.” Writing a full-length often means seeking to understand the perspectives of people who don’t think or behave like me; writing a short play lets me burrow into my own obsessions.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Adam: I love creating theater outside of conventional theater spaces. I’ve worked with Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in Yosemite and taken Shakespeare to senior-citizen centers, but never done a play in a bar. PianoFight is my favorite bar in the Bay Area, so I’m thrilled to be creating theater in their cabaret space.

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

Marissa: Sometimes it can be complying with the length-limit, though that wasn’t a problem with “Cemetery Gates.” Creating vivid and complex characters while only having a limited space to define them.

What’s been most troublesome?

Adam: My script is six pages. Trying to create a full theatrical experience in under 10 minutes is a really creative challenge for a director. You want a full dramatic arc while also fleshing out your characters, which isn’t easy to do in such a short period of time. And yes, scheduling too. The actors in my piece are both very busy with other projects, so our rehearsal time was limited.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Marissa: Ooh, that’s a daunting question, so I’m going to re-frame it as “What are the biggest artistic influences on ‘Cemetery Gates’?” Well, there’s the Smiths song, obviously, and the fact that I wish I’d discovered it when I was a teenager rather than when I was about 25. There’s my weird obsession with a clutch of Tumblr blogs run by teenage or early-twentysomething girls who post about what they call “The Aesthetic,” which seems to mean pictures of old buildings in moody light, marble statues, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, modern witchcraft, dried flowers, the idea of being this vaguely wistful girl writing in her journal in a coffee shop, etc. And, while I didn’t consciously realize it when I was writing the play, I think it’s probably influenced by one of my favorite recent films, Xavier Dolan’s HeartbeatsHeartbeats is the story of two very pretentious Montreal twentysomethings — a gay guy and a straight girl, like the characters in “Cemetery Gates” — who both fall in love with the same man. The movie is aesthetically lush and painfully funny. Dolan obviously loves his characters while at the same time acknowledging that they are completely ridiculous — which is exactly how I feel about the characters in “Cemetery Gates.”

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Adam: I’d love to see Harry Styles from One Direction play Theo in Cemetery Gates. What can I say? He’s just so cute and pouty. It’d be great to see him play an alienated gay teen sneaking into a bar to wax poetic about Oscar Wilde. Molly Ringwald would be an excellent Flora — the ultimate angsty teenager who longs for something better in a world full of constant disappointments.

Marissa: Hmm, the trouble here is that both of my characters are 18 and I feel like I don’t know enough about who the good teenage actors are these days. Maybe Kiernan Shipka as the girl? I loved her as Sally Draper on Mad Men.

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Director Adam Odsess-Rubin is also looking very aesthetic here.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Adam: I’m very jealous of anyone who has had the opportunity to be on stage with Radhika Rao. She blows me away as an actor and teacher. She’s such a light in the Bay Area theater community, and such a talented artist. Her passion to create change through her art is what every theater artist in the Bay Area should strive for.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Adam: I’ll be directing three pieces for the SF Olympians Festival this year, which I am so excited about. My parents gave me a picture book of Greek mythology when I was very little, and so I can’t wait to bring some of these tales to life in a new way on stage. Anne Bogart talks about the importance of mythology in theater, and Anne Washburn touches on this in a big way in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, which I assistant-directed at A.C.T. and the Guthrie Theater under the late, great Mark Rucker. I was so moved by Washburn’s unique argument for theater as this invincible storytelling form.

Beyond that, I’d love to direct a full-length show next year at a theater company in the area. Artistic Directors, you’ll be hearing from me soon.

Marissa: Revising my long one-act play You’ll Not Feel the Drowning for a staged reading on September 13, part of Custom Made Theatre’s Undiscovered Works program. Finishing a one-act play based on the story of Macaria, Hades and Persephone’s daughter, for an Olympians Festival staged reading on October 14. Planning and hosting a celebration of the Romantic era to take place over Labor Day Weekend. Attending a friend’s wedding in Oregon in mid-September. Trying to keep my sanity in the midst of all this (seriously, it’s a lot right now).

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

Adam: I saw Eric Ting’s production of We Are Proud to Present… at SoHo Rep in NYC in 2012 and it was the single greatest production I’ve seen, period. I can’t wait to see his production of An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep next season. I love Annie Baker and am looking forward to John at A.C.T. And Hamilton – my God! I’m not original in saying this, but that show is brilliant.  I’m so glad SHN is bringing it to SF. I don’t know what the smaller theaters have planned for next season yet, but Campo Santo and Z Space produce great work. New Conservatory Theatre Center is an artistic home for me. I’ll see anything they produce.

Marissa: The Olympians Festival, of course! The theme this year is myths of death and the underworld, and I’ve been writing a lot of weird death-haunted plays this year (including “Cemetery Gates”) so that fits right in. Also, a bunch of my friends and I read or reread Pride and Prejudice this year, so I want to plan a field trip to see Lauren Gunderson’s P&P sequel play, Miss Bennet, at Marin Theatre Co. this Christmas.

What’s your favorite beer?

Adam: Moscow mule.

Marissa: The Goldrush at PianoFight — bourbon, honey, and lemon, good for what ails ya.

“Cemetery Gates” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 3 performances remaining: August 22, 23, and 29 at PianoFight! 

Theater Around the Bay: Gabriel Bellman and Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”

The Pint-Sized Plays open TONIGHT so we’re bringing you another in our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays. Here are writer Gabriel Bellman and director Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”!

“Polling Place” satirizes the current political climate and the heated rhetoric of the 2016 election. In it, a highly strung woman who’s just cast her ballot goes into a bar and confronts a laconic man with the question “Do you think it’s fair to vote for a candidate based on whether they sit down or stand up when they use the washroom?” Caitlin Evenson plays the woman, Claire, and Ron Talbot is the man, Ian.

Gabriel Bellman

Writer Gabriel Bellman has his eyes on you.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Gabriel: I’m proud to have been in this festival before. I enjoy the challenge of writing something on deadline, so when I saw the call for entries post into the clouds via a proxy-streaming server third-party service that takes encrypted pieces of digital information and converts them into the written language, I decided to write a short play using keystrokes and symbols to make words that were then used as a key to unlock language from digital chunks of electromagnitized green-chip circuit boards.

Megan: I directed a Pint-Sized show several years ago and had such a blast! Pint-Sized is one of my favorite SF Theater Pub events so I’m excited to be a part of it again this year 🙂

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

Gabriel: I think it’s to avoid thinking of it as a short play. When you envision a three-inch photograph, for example, you might be thinking of only a corner of a mouth, but (possibly) a better photograph is a three-inch square-size photo of the planet Earth, as cliched and trite as that photo may be at this point (unless of course an alien is in the corner snapping a selfie and it isn’t a blatantly poor Photoshop-job). So if you set out to capture a micro-cosmonaut, then you can still explore heaven and earth, right? A small version of the entire experience of humanity, I guess is the goal, and that’s hard to fit into anything. I feel like I didn’t answer the question. The hardest thing about writing a short play is the constant comparisons to William Shakespeare from strangers on the street.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Megan: The show I’m directing is absolutely delightful! Gabriel has written thoughtful and intelligent characters whose lives intersect in an unexpected way on Election Day. We had a fabulous time unpacking these characters and discovering the humor that comes when you mix politics with uncertainty. I also adore my cast. Caitlin Evenson and Ron Talbot are two fantastic performers and I’m very excited this show marks the first time they are working together on stage!

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

Gabriel: Getting to see different human minds, each encapsulated in uniquely shaped skulls, interpreting and engaging in the process of making art in live performance. Writing is such a solitary act that it can be a form of self-flagellation or affliction, but when actors come along, that all changes. Actors are a jovial bunch, on balance, and are attuned to human emotion to such a way that they can call it upon demand with strangers looking at them — it’s pretty amazing. So the best thing is to play in creative space with other artists — it can seem too good to be true.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is, what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Megan: I think Stacy Ross is an incredible performer! She excels at both comedy and drama and by all accounts she is a dream to work with.

Megan Briggs

Megan Briggs is a frequent Theater Pub performer and now, a Pint-Sized director!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Gabriel: There are a lot of different ways to answer that. For one, I could say parents, teachers, other artists, I could point to the times we live in, I could recount a midnight screening of Gremlins, or a Bob Dylan concert, or a Shaquille O’Neal dunk, or a Pop-Tart. Let me say something more guided: here are a few writers I felt impressed by as an adult. Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Mary Shelley, Seamus Heaney. Allen Ginsburg’s Howl is still the best poem ever written (although not as good as Whitman’s Song of Myself – which is basically a rip-off of William Blake). Is that an answer? My biggest influences are gangsta rap, existentialism, Atari 2600, and Indian food.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Megan: I would have to say Emily Blunt because I would really love to see how this play would change if we had a British actress playing the part of Claire. It would bring up a series of entirely new questions about her character and why she is so intrigued by the political process.

Gabriel: Penelope Cruz because I have loved her since I was 19 and saw Belle Epoque. Actually, I wouldn’t want it to be weird, so maybe a better answer is Magic Johnson, since i have loved him since I was 15. Wait, was that a trick question? The answer is Madonna.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Gabriel: I’m working on a feature play about a historical figure from New York at the turn of the century. I would say who and what it is about, but I’m too excited about it because I don’t think anybody else has done it yet, and it’s a good idea, and when you share those ideas early on, it bursts the bubble. What’s also next for me is a bubble tea. Very, very soon.

Megan: I’m very excited to be performing in Theater Pub’s production of King Lear this fall! I like my Shakespeare to be fast paced with high drama, and I think Theater Pub is the perfect venue for presenting Shakespeare that’s anything but boring and stuffy.

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

Megan: I’m excited about seeing the musical Chess for the first time at Custom Made Theatre Company this fall. I’m also super pumped for Hamilton next spring (although I have to be willing to wait for it).

Gabriel: I’m looking forward to the Lit Crawl, I believe I’ll be performing in that, and also seeing Hamilton, and plays that actors and playwrights from Pint-Sized are doing. It’s a talented group, excluding myself, since that sounds weird.

Finally, what’s your favorite beer?

Megan: I’m more of a cider girl myself, and Stella Cidre is my absolute favorite!

Gabriel: For anybody who was raised in the shadows of the Willamette Valley, it’s Black Butte Porter. But honestly, I love a nice Jamaican ginger beer.

See “Polling Place” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!

In For a Penny: You Won’t be Namin’ no Buildings after Me

Charles Lewis casts his vote from the front row.

US presidents don't have the best history with theatre.

US presidents don’t have the best history with theatre.

“To live means to finesse the processes to which one is subjugated.”
– Bertolt Brecht, On Politics and Society (1941)

I needed a distraction.

It wasn’t just my incessant hunt for a “real people” job, it wasn’t just my putting serious attention towards my Olympians script, it wasn’t just my anger over Alton Sterling and Philando Castile winding up the latest casualties of racist White cops when their only “crime” was being Black in public. It wasn’t just any of those things, it was all of that and more.

I needed something to clear my head yesterday, so my attempt to escape politics lead me to the Playbill site. Incidentally, my eye was caught by a quick mention of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton attending her second performance of the now-Pulitzer-and-Tony-winning musical Hamilton. I’ve still neither seen nor heard the musical and glancing over piece just made me shrug and think “That’s a nice way to earn ‘cool’ points, but her constituency can’t even afford to see the goddamn show.”

Then I started thinking about the history of presidents attending theatre and what it did or didn’t say about them. As is often the case, so much preferential attention is placed on a politician’s film choices (Woodrow Wilson watching Birth of a Nation, Reagan laughing through Back to the Future, Bill Clinton hosting a screening of Three Kings) that their theatre selections often risk being lost to history. The only US presidential theatre trip everyone knows is the one where President Lincoln didn’t come back. (That, and fact that he was killed by an actor, of all things.)

Still, my mind had something on which to focus and began researching.

Unable to procure a copy of Thomas Bogar’s American Presidents Attend Theatre on such short notice (plus the police activity yesterday made travelling into The City next-to-impossible), I still perused the preview pages on Amazon. It was interesting to see that George Washington had a life-changing moment after watching George Lillo’s The London Merchant and then drew great inspiration from Joseph Addison’s Cato about a man who stands up against the tyranny of Julius Caesar. Neither the playwrights, actors, or fellow audience members knew they were inspiring one of the most powerful political revolutions of all time, but every artist dreams of having such a lasting impact.

Just as I’ve never experienced Hamilton – other than knowing of its ubiquitous popularity – so too have I never experienced a play once just as popular: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. At the risk of turning in my lifetime membership to Theatre Geeks United, my only knowledge of the TS Eliot-based musical is just that people hate it. I’ve never even heard “Memory” past the lyrics “…all alone in the moonlight,” so I couldn’t tell you if it’s worthy of Jack Black and Kevin Smith’s scorn (the latter of whom called the musical “the second-worst thing to ever happen to New York”) or if it’s actually a moving piece of musical theatre that’s remained just in my periphery. I know that Cats’ smashing success is attributed to pandering to the populace without actually challenging them intellectually.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that Cats was also the favorite musical of George W. Bush, also known for pandering rather than raising the intellectual bar. (His favorite film was said to be Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Make of that what you will.)

Every choice paints an interesting – if only partial – portrait of who each politician is as a person. Although the Kennedy Center galas get live press coverage, there’s something about the artistic choices a president makes out of pure leisure that gives us just a glimpse into the gears that move in their minds. Neither of the aforementioned theatrical excursions will be remembered as much as Lincoln’s infamous trip to Ford’s or Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK in Madison Square Garden, but they give enough of a glimpse to create a picture of how each will be perceived in the years to come. In other words: they give artists something to work with.

Pondering this got me thinkin’ about the guy currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He's the one on the right.

He’s the one on the right.

Before the Clintons saw Hamilton, President Barack Obama and his family caught the show during previews in July of 2015. He then famously hosted the entire cast at the White House earlier this year. The first bi-racial President of the United States hosted the multi-racial cast of a play dramatizing the Founding Fathers. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever write.

I can only wonder what said Founders would have thought of the musical, had they seen it. With all the advances in technology and evolution in musical tastes, I dare say the fact that it’s a theatrical production is probably the one element to which they’d directly relate.

So it begs the question as to what sort of plays we’ll see about Barack Obama one day? There’s been at least one major attempt in Germany, but no such high-profile productions in the US. As I began pondering what I expected to see in a play about Barack Obama, I suddenly remember that I’m a playwright and started wondering how I’d write a play about Barack Obama.

It would most likely be about how everyone considers him “not quite” or “not at all”. He’s the first Black man to take office, but his father wasn’t descended from the slaves who spawned the rest of us. Despite conspiracy theories, he was born in the United States, but he’s the first to not be born on the mainland. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize soon after he took office, but also oversaw some of the bloodiest US attacks on foreign citizens. He’s Commander-in-Chief of all US armed forces and law enforcement, but he’s also the first president who could speak first-hand about being the victim of racial profiling and police harassment. Electing him was one of the most progressive acts ever carried out by a first-world nation, yet racial tensions in the US are as high as they’ve been in decades. He passed bold legislative changes despite facing a level of opposition not shown to a sitting president in most of our lifetimes.

Barack: You Can’t Please… well, Anyone, a play by Charles Lewis III. Coming as soon as I finish my Terence adaptations (that part’s actually true).

As I settled my mind down from running in several opposite directions, I thought less about how our presidents are perceived in plays and more about how they feel giving their citizens access to those plays. Obama’s hosting of the cast of Hamilton was to emphasize the importance of arts in America; the paradox being – as my Thursday column predecessor frequently pointed out – that funding for those arts is harder and harder to come by. The way a nation treats the arts is often a reflection of what they think of their citizens: if arts are funded well, it suggests the people have a voice and are encouraged to use it; if the arts are underfunded, it suggests the people are merely cogs in the machine.

That’s what I’d like to see more than anything. No matter what’s eventually about a president in book, film, or even a play, I’d like to know they worked their hardest to ensure future artists had the means and the venues with which to perfect their craft. I’d like to see fewer politicians and dignitaries attending shows they know the public can’t afford and more of them attempting to venture out into the mysterious land of black boxes (we’ll make room for the Secret Service, we promise). I’d like to see them go beyond mere campaign promises and actually prove that art matters.

The catch is that art, like politics, can just as easily split people down the middle as it can bring them together. But hey, “I’d rather be divisive than indecisive,” right?

That’s from a musical, isn’t it?

Charles Lewis III thinks that if you care about art and politics, you should donate to this year’s SF Olympians Fest IndieGoGo. Why? ‘Cause the Greeks invented democracy, Olympians is one of the best theatre fests in Northern Cali, and the plays frequently inspire heated debate.

The Five: The Hamilton-Free Tony Wrap Up

Anthony R. Miller checks in with everything else that happened at the Tony Awards.

Hey you guys, so while watching the Tony Awards last Sunday, there were moments where I felt kinda bad for everyone in a musical that wasn’t Hamilton. I mean, yay for Hamilton, but there’s no need to expound on its brilliance any further (many have done it for me). The fact is, there was some really interesting stuff that I think got a bit overshadowed by History’s Greatest Musical. I mean seriously, when THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES introduces the show you’re competing against, you lost. So today, let’s chat about some of the overlooked gems at this year’s Tony Awards, and yeah, there are five.

James Corden Is A Big Sack Of Sugar
From the pitch-perfect tribute to the lives lost in Orlando, to his self-deprecating humor, to his just lovable demeanor, I loved Corden as host, and my daughter was very excited the Baker from Into the Woods was hosting. It was then I decided this was not the time to discuss the finer points of Chip Zien, but I really wanted to, cause like seriously, Chip Zien, people.

That Waitress Musical Tho
When a famous person writes a musical, the results can be mixed. (I’m looking at you, Bright Star.) Sometimes, the songs are fine, but the storytelling isn’t strong, sometimes the songs aren’t good. So imagine my surprise when the cast of Waitress came on and it was…pretty great actually. Sara Bareilles should be given all the credit in the world. And while I’m here, I was also totally blown away by the revival of Spring Awakening, and School of Rock was really flippin’ charming. It’s a shame that they were practically afterthoughts.

Oh Wow, Chicago Has Been Running A Long Time
Bebe Neuwirth and the cast of Chicago came out to remind us that the current revival has been going for 20 years and is now the longest-running American musical (note the qualifier) on Broadway. Which is cool until you realize you were 18 when that show opened…

Apparently Only Actors Get To Make Speeches
Am I the only one that gets bummed out when the speeches by designers and choreographers are shown in clip form as opposed to all the “Best Actor” speeches? Am I the only one that would love to hear what the lighting designer has to say?

The Fact That Long Day’s Journey Into Night Still Gets Revived Gives Me Hope For the World
I will fight anybody that doesn’t put this play in their top 3, cause it’s brilliant. My hackles go up when someone says “Four hours?! Who would sit through that?” I’ll tell you who, anybody with a soul. In this day and age it’s hard to feel empathy for white people who own a summer home and drink too much. But Eugene O’Neill makes it happen. So the very idea that somewhere a couple of Broadway producers got together and said “You know what would make a truckful of money? A revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night!” Although I’m sure there was at least one smart-ass intern who sneered and said “Ugh, this totally could have been 90 minutes, no intermission. Like, we get it, the Tyrone family is sad. You know what show doesn’t feel long at all? Hamilton, you’ve seen it, right?”

And that’s when I shot my intern, your honor.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer. Keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and his smart-ass comments on Twitter @armiller78

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: #Glam4Ham: A Review of the Hamiltome

Marissa Skudlarek had some pressing (but glamorous) business yesterday so her column is coming to you on Friday this week!

I used to think that those accounts of how crazed people became over theater in the olden days — you know, stories about how hit plays created new stars, launched trends and fads, had their tickets become the hottest commodity in New York — were overstated, but then Hamilton came along. Hamilton mania is everywhere: Lin-Manuel Miranda is on the cover of Rolling Stone, half of the people I know have a crush on a Hamilton cast member, the show has won nearly every possible award and is about to take its victory lap at the Tony Awards (or, as we must call them, the #Hamiltonys).

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It’s the Hamiltome! Work!

I’m kicking myself for not having bought Hamilton tickets and planned a NYC trip to see it as soon as I felt the beginnings of this mania happening, so in the meantime, like thousands of other Americans, I’ve had to experience the Hamilton craze from afar. First by listening to the cast album, then by teaching myself how to play “You’ll Be Back” on the ukulele (try it, you guys, it is a GREAT ukulele song), then by reading the Hamiltome, the new behind-the-scenes coffee-table book. (Yeah, its official title is Hamilton: The Revolution, but no one is calling it that.)

So let’s discuss the Hamiltome. First of all, know that it’s a beautiful object, with a design inspired by Revolutionary-era pamphlets and typography. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda is a huge nerd, there are even occasional images of the historical documents that formed part of his research. And there is a rich supply of photos from the show itself, depicting just about every scene, unafraid of spoilers. I was absolutely mesmerized by a shot of Eliza (Phillipa Soo) at Philip Hamilton’s deathbed, with a single perfect tear trembling on her lower eyelid. There are handsome black-and-white daguerreotype-style photos of all the lead actors. There’s a candid shot of Daveed Diggs in his underwear (Page 151).

In terms of content, the book features the full text of the show, with annotations in the margins from Lin-Manuel Miranda, interspersed with chapters by Jeremy McCarter describing Hamilton’s creation, collaborators, and the first months of its impact on the world. One of the nicest aspects of this is how much attention the authors pay to Hamilton‘s design elements, praising the contributions of the behind-the-scenes personnel just as effusively as they praise the work of Hamilton’s iconic original Broadway cast. Clearly, the creative team has considered every detail and gesture and prop, and their meticulousness gives us all something to aspire to.

For those of us who downloaded Hamilton‘s cast album and still appreciate physical media, it’s great to have a full copy of the show’s lyrics, instead of having to look them up on Genius.com. Miranda’s annotations are full of enthusiasm, gratitude, and good humor. He’s open about the parts of the show that make him cry, the lines he’s proudest of, the parts that are challenging to perform. Additionally, if you are interested in writing stories based on historical events, the Hamiltome provides a lot of food for thought about how to shape history into a rich and thrilling drama.

Indeed, Hamilton is intimately concerned with historiography and the process by which facts become legends: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” As such, it’s important to look at what the Hamiltome is trying to do, how it is trying to shape the narrative that surrounds this already-legendary show. Really, Hamilton’s reputation doesn’t need any more burnishing, but the Hamiltome tries to do that anyway. It’s a blatant piece of historical myth-making that tips into hagiography. Jeremy McCarter’s chapters try to put Hamilton‘s achievements into a historic context, but sometimes overreach. Describing how Alex Lacamoire listens to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s demo recordings, creates orchestrations, and then discusses what he’s done with Miranda, McCarter writes “It’s a very American pastime, this interpreting and discussing. Our musical culture is built on standards, songs meant to be reworked endlessly, such as ‘Blue Skies’ or ‘Summertime.’ And it’s not just our music: Think of the blood we’ve spilled looking for the best expression of ‘All men are created equal’ or ‘Congress shall make no law…'” Lacamoire is a very skilled orchestrator, but this seems like a ridiculously overblown way of describing what he does in his job.

Lin-Manuel Miranda obviously loves and admires and identifies with Alexander Hamilton, but because he is a talented dramatist, he also knows that 2.5 hours of a show that goes “This historical figure was so awesome!” is really boring to watch. Therefore, he is careful to give Hamilton flaws that balance his virtues; many of the other characters in the show think of Hamilton as an annoying, hot-headed motormouth. Jeremy McCarter’s Hamiltome chapters lack this kind of nuance; they’re the equivalent of a musical that just wants to tell you how awesome its hero is, a Hamilton without flaws. Their hyperbole becomes predictable. I found myself growing less and less interested in them, and more and more interested in the lyrics and Miranda’s annotations.

Act One of Hamilton is about war, Act Two is about politics, and the show explicitly states that “winning is easy, governing is harder.” It wasn’t easy to create Hamilton; it took six years of effort and the contributions of a lot of talented people. (NB: the battles of the Revolutionary War also lasted for six years, 1775-1781. I’m surprised that Jeremy McCarter doesn’t think to make that comparison.) But what will be even more difficult, and complicated, and interesting, is the effect that Hamilton will have on the American theatrical landscape, and how Lin-Manuel Miranda will possibly follow it up, now that “history has its eyes on him.” I wonder how we’ll be talking about Hamilton in twenty years. With King George, I wonder: “What Comes Next?”

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her favorite Schuyler Sister is Angelica. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.

The Five- 5 Horrible Imaginary Plays I Would Rather Watch Than Hear One More Word About This Godforsaken Election

Anthony R. Miller checks in with crappy imaginary options to crappy reality.

Hey you guys, I used to really get into elections. There was a time in my life where I almost double-majored in Political Science. But there are so many aspects of our current presidential election that have beaten the ability to care right out of me. So for those who share my sentiment and would rather be slapped in the face with a dead trout than hear one more thing about this dumpster fire of an election, here are some theatrical equivalents to trout-based assault. Remarkably, there are five.

White Hamilton

Also known as 1776. (I kid, I kid.) I swear to god, you could recast this show with Macklemore, Snow, Everlast, The Lordz of Brooklyn, Princess Superstar and Artie from Glee and I would rather see that than have one more conversation that invalidates my opinion because I am stupid, or being lied to, or haven’t read this article, or watched this video, or care about people in other countries. I would rather watch the walking corpse of Corey Montieth take over for Lin-Manuel Miranda than see one more article from a totally unaccredited source be shoved in my face and considered true because it validates your worst fears.

The More Similar Than Not Couple

Neil Simon’s comedy reimagined as a 90-minute play where two adults have a quiet respectful conversation. At the end they realize they agree on more than they disagree on. The both enjoy a sandwich and watch Daredevil on Netflix. This would be boring, and refreshing — refreshing in the saddest way possible.

The Last Five Years

No joke here, I just find this show painful to even be near. Yet I would prefer to hear “Yeah, I’m a douchebag, but I’m a douchebag because you didn’t love me enough” than one more conversation between a Bernie supporter digging their heels in the ground about not voting if he isn’t the nominee and a red-faced Hillary supporter screaming “SO YOU’D RATHER HAVE TRUMP?!?!”

Long Days Journey Into Night In Real Time

I would rather watch 15 hours straight of sad, broken people drinking and telling each other how they really feel and talking in insightful drunken monologues than hearing two drunk liberals argue that Bernie Sanders is in fact a unicorn that poops ice cream and Hillary Clinton is the Winter Solider.

Noises Off: Fury Road

Taking Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy and setting it in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where water is the greatest currency of all sounds better than watching CNN and thinking “Oh crap, the apocalypse might actually happen.” I would rather see Lloyd make Poppy and Brooke his sister-wives than hear one more conversation about super delegates. I would rather imagine Poppy with a really sweet robotic arm, and a set that doesn’t just revolve in between acts, it REVOLVES FOR THE WHOLE SHOW. I would rather see Timothy Allgood play a guitar that shoots fire than spend one more moment watching friends shame each other for their political views. Freddy Fellows, wearing a crimson mask of his own nose blood while having the blood of virgins intravenously transferred in to his veins, is a more preferable image than the one I’ve been seeing for months. An image of people without empathy, loathing compromise, holding on to a “we’re right, you’re wrong, fuck you” attitude and just generally being crappy and condescending to each other. Cut it out, take a breath, please vote, and remember we all need to be friends after this election. Now if anyone needs me, I have a guitar that shoots fire to create.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer and will vote for a Cat Dressed As A Shark Riding A Roomba before he votes for Donald Trump. Keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org or on twitter at @armiller78.