Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part III

Our final round of recaps from our core blogging team brings you top five lists from Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek. Enjoy! And join us for our last blog of the year with The Stueys tomorrow.

Five Underwhelming Behind-the-Scenes Job that Deserve Awards for Surviving 2015 by Alandra Hileman

As someone who regularly gets paid to be as invisible as possible in theatre, I wanted to shine a little light on a few of the unsung heroes of 2015 theatre, both local and global.

1) The Ushers
Look, being an usher is such a massively underrated job that, below a certain operating budget, most places either use community volunteers or ask technicians/theatre staff to double-up on their other duties to do it. And true, usually it’s an incredibly boring task of helping patrons remember the alphabet. But sometimes you get weird situations like the infamous incident at Broadway’s Hand to God in July where a patron climbed on stage to attempt to charge a cell phone in the fake scenic outlet. And that is when the ushers, like true theatre-ninjas, swoop in en masse to preserve the sanctity of the show. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I salute you, ushers!

2) The Prompters
I think very few of my fellow stage managers will disagree when I say being on book for actors in that weird nebulous time between “first day with no script in hand” and “opening night” is one of the worst parts of the job. Line notes are tediously painful. But, it’s a necessary part of the process…or at least it was until this year, when apparently everyone just gave up trying and just wore earpieces so they could be prompted when they went up. Guys, what happened? I get that this happens sometimes in previews; I’ve been on book during previews of local shows, but the entire run, folks? Well, regardless on me feelings about the overall practice, my hat is off to the invisible voices on the other end of the earpiece who are, apparently, just as responsible for keeping the show going as the big-name star who graces the marquee.

3) The Managers
Has Rob Ready slept this year? When was the last time Natalie Ashodian saw her house? How long has Stuart Bousel been working his way through Great Expectations? There are hundreds more folks in the SF Bay Area, and all over the country, who I could shout out for taking on the very unsexy titles of administrator, coordinator, production manager, program director, and other boring-sounding things that have to do with Excel spreadsheets and web design and mountains of paperwork, and all so that beautiful, fascinating, innovative art can blossom in spite of everything working against theatre right now, and in so doing have paved the way for the upward swing

4) The Techblr Community
Did you know that there’s a huge community of stage managers, designers, and technicians on Tumblr? While it’s not a “job” per se, one of the things that is the most amazing about the folks who use this tag is how willing they are to dive in and help each other out. Possibly the coolest coming together of the tech theater community I’ve ever seen have been instances where a frantic high school student makes a post begging for help with how to rig a prop, or run a certain kind of light board, and dozens of professional theatre worked have joined forces to offer help and advice.

5) The Bloggers
My 5th award was always going to be to “the guy who films so many of the #Ham4Ham shows,” because those tiny snippets of silliness are full of joy and talent and delight, and the fact that somebody is filming them and putting them on YouTube fills my West Coast grounded heart with warm fuzzies. But then, as I was scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I happened to discover that one of the primary sources of these delightful Broadway nuggets is actually none other than Howard Sherman, currently director of the new Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama, Senior Strategy Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts in New York, and one of the most influential theatre advocates in the country, who is very well known for his blog. And I realized that the theatre bloggers of the world do deserve a shout-out, because most of us will never be as famous as Mr. Sherman, but we do it anyway, just so we can share out thoughts, insights, advice, opinions and love of this crazy world of the stage. Sometimes only one person may read a post…but sometimes our post is the only review a show gets, or serves as a reminder to that one read why they love theatre. And I think that’s pretty cool.

5 Things I Can See From My Couch That Remind Me Of This Year In Theater by Allison Page

It’s the end of the year, and most theaters wrapped something up around Christmas, and will start something new up in January. It’s a time to sit on your couch and think about the past year. And if you’re me, and who says you aren’t, you might be parked in your apartment, looking around at the things you haven’t taken care of. In honor of the theatrical downtime at the end of 2015, here are 5 things I can see from my couch that remind me of my year in theater:

1) A BOTTLE OF SRIRACHA MY BOYFRIEND LEFT ON THE COFFEE TABLE
Sriracha is a hot sauce many people are pretty dedicated to. It goes well on/with a number of things: tacos, pad thai, soup, dips, sandwiches, or if you’re my boyfriend, just slathered on some bread. What does this errant bottle of Sriracha remind me of? Easy. Megan Cohen’s THE HORSE’S ASS & FRIENDS, which I saw just a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it might even remind me of Megan’s work in general: always a good idea, no matter the vehicle.

2) A DIRTY PLATE WHICH USED TO INCLUDE FRENCH TOAST
2015 was, by far, the craziest, busiest year of my theatrical life. I counted myself as a produced playwright for the first time, in March. By the end of the year, I was involved in some way or another with 19 different productions, as producer, director, actor, writer, artistic director, or some combination of those titles. So there have literally been a lot of dirty plates in my apartment, because I didn’t have time to clean them. Worth it.

3) THREE BOTTLES OF CONTACT SOLUTION ON MY TV STAND
I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. A LOT of stuff. Having been an adjudicator for the TBA awards allowed/forced me to see stuff I would never have seen otherwise. I went to a kids’ show. I went to some theatres for the first time EVER. I saw comedies, dramas, shows with expensive sets, shows without any sets, period pieces, modern tales, and it was an eye opening experience because it reminded me of the variety the Bay Area actually has. I think we forget that sometimes. It was a good reminder.

4) A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS TREE
Simple. Humble. Has a button you can push to play Charlie Brown Christmas music. Not big and showy. Not overcomplicated. Flashy though, in its way. Gloriously brilliant when the timing is just right. Gets to the point: HERE IS A SMALL TREE. YOU WILL LOVE THIS SMALL TREE. It does what it does and it does it well. That’s how I feel about the parts of the theater community that sometimes aren’t considered theater, ya know, by idiots. The Bay Area has a steadily growing community of improv and sketch performers and companies. We (yeah, I’m saying we) perform in traditional and non-traditional spaces alike. Great, big, beautiful theaters and teeny tiny stages meant for one person with a guitar. From Endgames to The Mess to BATS to Killing My Lobster (had to) to every small group of people who took one class together and then created their own thing in a basement, there has been significant growth in the last several years, and with the opening of PianoFight, there are more stages to occupy than ever. Here’s to the scrappy people with stick-on mustaches and open hearts, sometimes performing well after everyone’s gone to bed. Keep pushing that button.

5) A STACK OF BIOGRAPHIES ABOUT FAMOUS WOMEN
Ingrid Bergman. Lillian Hellman. Sophie Tucker. Gloria Swanson. Pola Negri. Carole Lombard. Elizabeth Taylor. (Okay, yes, I have a lot of old timey lady biographies) There were a lot of bright moments for women in theater this year. An obvious one is the outcry of theater artists everywhere that we just need MORE WOMEN IN THEATER. It can be hard, sometimes, to not just focus on that problem, instead of taking a minute for game to recognize game and point out people, places, companies, organizations that are doin’ it right. Here are some moments from 2015 that had me pumpin’ my fists in joy for women in theater, some of them shamelessly to do with my own stuff, some more broad: Mina Morita became Artistic Director of Crowded Fire, I saw Phillipa Soo in Hamilton and cried REAL HARD, Marissa Skudlarek produced SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays to PACKED, PACKED, PACKED houses, all the women in SF Playhouse’s Stage Kiss killed it: Carrie Paff, Millie DeBenedet, Taylor Jones (it’s still playing, you can see it!) Lauren Yee’s Hookman at Z Space, Heather Orth’s portrayal of Little Edie in Custom Made’s Grey Gardens: The Musical, Jessica Roux was the best stage manager in the entire world for multiple Killing My Lobster shows, Geneva Carr and Sarah Stiles being absolutely fearless in Hand to God on Broadway, Kaeli Quick became Artistic Director of Endgames Improv, Linda Huang once again stage managed the SF Olympians Festival at the EXIT dealing with just a HUGE quanitity of people and needs, Beth Cockrell’s beautiful lighting of gross things for Hilarity, Shanice Williams in The Wiz Live…I could go on and on but I’ll go way over the character limit.

Top 5 Surprising Performances of 2015 by Marissa Skudlarek
2015 marked my return to the stage after a long absence, in a role that I never expected to play (dizzy blonde secretary), so I’ve been thinking a lot about typecasting versus, shall we say, counter-intuitive casting. Moreover, I’m not always comfortable opining on what’s the absolute “best” acting I saw in a given year, but I do like writing about performances I admire. So here are five skillful performances that each involved something a bit out-of-the-ordinary. They are in chronological order according to when I saw each play.

1) Madeline H.D. Brown as the Stage Manager in Our Town at Shotgun Players

It was a bit of a surprise to hear that Shotgun Players had cast a woman in her 30s as a character that’s typically played by a middle-aged or elderly man, but it’s not at all surprising that Madeline triumphed in the role. She is deeply attuned to the spiritual cycles and undercurrents that run beneath our daily existence (check out her new tarot-reading business, You Are Magick) and she brought this intuition to her role of Our Town‘s narrator and guide. This was the Stage Manager not as folksy patriarch, but as androgynous angel of death: infinitely full of wisdom, with an unearthly tenderness that tempered the harsh truths she revealed to Emily, and to us.

2) Adam Magill as Con in Stupid Fucking Bird at San Francisco Playhouse

I’d hung out with Adam several times at Theater Pub and other events before I ever saw him onstage, which is always a little weird: what would I do if I liked him as a person but didn’t like his acting? Fortunately, I liked him a lot in the role of Con, the Constantine analogue in this postmodern riff on The Seagull. And in the surprising moment where Con breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience what he can do to get Nina to love him again, Adam employed his natural charisma and humor to make friends with the whole audience. The night I saw it, some wiseacre in the balcony shouted “Why don’t you kill a bird and lay it at her feet?” Without missing a beat, Adam retorted, “You know, some people here haven’t seen The Seagull, and you had to go and ruin it for them.” I was amazed at Adam’s ability to think on his feet, creating a moment that can only exist in live performance.

3) Heather Orth as Big Edie and Little Edie in Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre Co.

Heather Orth has made a career of playing musical-theater leading ladies who are several decades older than she actually is. The complex and emotionally demanding role of Big Edie/Little Edie in Grey Gardens is written for a woman of about fifty: in Act One, she plays a demanding socialite mother whose world is shattered; in Act Two, an eccentric daughter still dealing with the fallout from that shatter. Both women are indomitable yet fragile; they must register as separate individuals and also as mirror images. I was a bit surprised that someone as young as Heather would be cast in this role (and the fifty-year-old musical-theater actresses of the Bay Area must be gnashing their teeth that the role went to her) but as she hit every note with her clarion voice, paraded around in Brooke Jennings’ increasingly outlandish costumes, and embodied the two halves of this toxic mother–daughter dyad that has entered into American mythology, her calendar age became totally irrelevant.

4) Thomas Gorrebeeck as Posthumus and Cloten in Cymbeline at Marin Shakespeare

I was intrigued by Marin Shakespeare’s decision to stage the rarely-seen Cymbeline and further intrigued by their choice to have Thomas Gorrebeeck double as noble hero Posthumus and his silly rival Cloten. It didn’t seem to be for economic reasons – they had a big cast with plenty of extras. Instead, the doubling highlights how these characters are foils to one another – and also provides an opportunity for an acting tour de force. (Later, I learned that this is a rather common practice when staging Cymbeline: this year’s Central Park production had Hamish Linklater double as Posthumus and Cloten, and Tom Hiddleston won an Olivier for playing this dual role in London in 2007.) As Posthumus, Gorrebeeck was sincere and anguished; he also made the smart choice to play Posthumus as extremely drunk when he agrees to a wager on his wife’s fidelity — perhaps the only way that a modern audience will accept that plot point. As Cloten, he was a sublimely ridiculous, strutting, preening fool in a silly blond wig. It’s a cliché to praise an actor in a dual role by saying “the audience didn’t realize it was the same guy.” But in this case it would also be true.

As an aside, if any young men out there are interested in playing one of these roles in 2016, I hear Theater of Others is quite desperate for a Posthumus for their upcoming Cymbeline production. Write to sffct@yahoo.com for more info.

5) Siobhan Doherty as Florinda in The Rover at Shotgun Players

Florinda is a tricky role because, especially for modern audiences, she can come across as too nicey-nice and boring when compared with the other female leads of The Rover. Hellena is bold, witty, and sexually forward; Angellica Bianca is an elegant and passionate courtesan; but Florinda is a virginal young lady who wants to marry her true love. With a generic ingénue in the role of Florinda, she’d be a forgettable or even an annoying character, but Siobhan is a quirky ingénue. She played Florinda without overdoing the sweetness and sighs, concentrating on the truth of her situation and the actions she takes to get the man she loves. She was brave and spunky and a heroine in her own right.

Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek are San Francisco Theater Pub bloggers who each wear many many other hats and look good in all of them.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: What’s Playing at the Roxy?*

Dave Sikula, in which the author begins to dissect his recent trip to New York.

As I start writing this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in New York, fully aware of three things:

1) I really should be in bed, since I have to pack up tomorrow morning.
2) I am going to have one hell of a time packing everything.
3) I really should be working on the work assignment I have that I hope to deal with on the plane tomorrow.

While I’m fully aware that I have what has been described as a negative approach to things, I prefer to think of it as both contrarian and snobbish (see here for my previous post on that issue). Yet, despite that rep (which could be easily proven incorrect by doing one of those stupid “here are the words I use most on Facebook” word clouds – something that just reeks to me of intrusive marketing), I found myself having a great time at eight of the ten shows (or ten of twelve, if one counts seeing Colbert and a cabaret show), and even the two misfires weren’t that bad – well, China Doll was, but that’s something to be dealt with later.

While I’m going to deal with this trip on a broader level later in the year (something I know you’ll all be waiting for … ), I wanted to do a post-mortem on what I saw.
When I plan a trip to New York, I’m lucky enough that I can usually schedule it for a long enough period that I can see pretty much everything I want to. In this case, that meant arriving on a Tuesday and leaving on the Thursday of the next week, giving me the opportunity to take advantage of three matinee/two-for-one days.

The festivities began with Stephan Karam’s The Humans. I’d seen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet a few years ago, so I was interested in seeing this follow-up. It’s a very good production of a very interesting script; that is as much about the Thanksgiving dinner that is its center as the previous play was about being Lebanese-American. The family dynamics are incisive and sharply observed, and it’ll probably get produced all over the country once designers work out how to re-invent its two-story set.

Because set designers need challenges, don't they?

Because set designers need challenges, don’t they?

Wednesday matinee: Robert Askins’s Hand to God. Another one that deserves a long shelf-life, but good luck to the actors who’ll be cast in the central role that combines puppetry with playing off one’s self with possible demonic possession and a bunch of swearing and simulated sex. Of particular interest was Bob Saget, new to the cast as a straight-laced pastor, but really quite good, but who paled – as most actors would – in comparison to Stephen Boyer’s work as the lead.

The next show was David Mamet’s China Doll, which I was starting to write about, but quickly realized that it’s going to take a whole post in itself to deal with – and that’s for next time. Suffice it to say that, when we heard about this one, we jumped at the chance to go. Granted, Mamet hasn’t written a good play since the ‘80s and Pacino isn’t what he once was, but still, the possibilities were there – especially since the notoriously phallocentric Mamet was actually allowing a woman – Pam MacKinnon – to direct. It’s a perfect example, though, of how Broadway in the 21st century isn’t what it was even 20 years ago.

This is not a still photo. This is a live feed of the action.

This is not a still photo. This is a live feed of the action.

Friday: Hamilton. We planned the trip around when we could get tickets. Now, unlike many folks, I wanted to go in cold. I had heard a little of the score (it’s next to impossible to avoid), and knew the basics of the conceit and approach. Now, while I kinda wish I’d exposed myself to the cast album (please note: not a soundtrack … ), I was floored. It was that rare occasion where, going in, my expectations were high, and the product not only met them, they left them in the dust. It’s an utterly phenomenal show and I can’t say enough good things about it. Everything you’ve heard? All true.

I was a little iffy about the next three shows; two because of my growing Anglothropism (that is to say, not buying into the idea that, just because a show has a London pedigree, it’s going to be good), and the third because it’s a dumb musical comedy. All three were brilliant though, starting with Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, directed by Ivo Van Hove (whose production of Hedda Gabler – a play I really dislike – was staggeringly good). This is an amazing production, played as the Greek tragedy Miller alluded to, muscular, tough, and no-holds-barred. The production offers on-stage seating, and I was no more than a couple of feet from the actors, so it was even more intense.

Yeah. It's that kind of a show

Yeah. It’s that kind of a show

The second of the three was by John O’Farrell, Karey Kirkpatrick, and Wayne Kirkpatrick’s musical Something Rotten!, which is that rarest of creatures – an original musical that opened directly on Broadway. I was leery, but had been told (by my wife, no less) that it was hysterically funny – and it is. It’s everything “a Broadway musical comedy” should be: smart, funny, and lively; full of allusions to other musicals and cast with actors who really know how to land the material.

The last of this troika was Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, a “future history” play set during the early days of the reign of the next British monarch, written (mostly) in iambic pentameter and blank verse and doing all it can to take on Shakespeare at his own game. It’s a risk, but pays off mightily, with a towering central performance by Tim Pigott-Smith, but the rest of the cast comes close to matching him. A riveting afternoon.

Next was a pair of disappointments, lacking for similar reasons. The first was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, which I was looking forward to. The director, Bartlett Sher, showed an astonishing ability to wring every ounce of drama out of South Pacific, turning a war horse into a thoroughbred, and I had hopes he’d be able to repeat that magic here. While the production itself is everything one might hope – fine performances, beautiful sets and staging – the show itself just can’t match the production. I don’t expect there could be a better version of the show, but – for better or worse – its dramaturgy is locked into the early ‘50s, and musicals just aren’t written that way anymore. (Where I want numbers that delve into psychology, I got “hit tunes,” and characters who have – justifiably – been speaking in pigeon English all evening suddenly become fluently poetic when singing).

The second was Simon Stephens’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which, despite its many admirable qualities and intentions, just didn’t work for me. It’s an outstanding production, but that was the problem. It’s so overwhelming and facile that it covers up that there’s not much of a play underneath. I can’t imagine how another production of it – that doesn’t have a mammoth budget – will be able to tell the story.

Finally, I like to end my trips with something that will leave me with a glow of some sort; usually – but not necessarily – something uplifting, so I decided on Craig Lucas’s adaptation of An American in Paris, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin. From almost the opening moments, the show packed a particular punch. Given the still-fresh attacks on Paris, its start – detailing the German occupation of France and its aftermath (something the show was criticized for when it opened) – set things in a context that give it an immediacy and power that was shocking. The show itself is, well, lovely. One expects a dancy musical full of tap and “Broadway” dancing, and one gets an evening of breathtaking ballet (okay; there is one tap number … ). It’s moving and human in all the best ways – and couldn’t have been a better finale to my trip.

Boy, howdy.

Boy, howdy.

Next time: the dullness that was China Doll.

(*Nothing, actually. The Roxy was a movie theatre, anyway, and was torn down in 1960.)

Everything Is Already Something Week 62: What If Plays Were Like Prom Dresses?

Allison Page is storming the barn.

This year there were three separate productions of Glengarry Glen Ross in the Bay Area meaning the play was running for four months straight: one production in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and one in Alameda. I should say there was one ten day stretch where GGR wasn’t playing, but there was also one ten day stretch wherein two were happening at the same time, 11 miles apart, so they sort of cancel each other out in my non-scientific mind. I wonder if both of those Ricky Romas were looking up at the same moon.

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Eurydice is playing right now in Berkeley, and played earlier this year in Palo Alto, as well as two years ago in both San Francisco and Hayward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were missing some.

There’s a company who does Book of Liz every year in San Francisco, and another company has upcoming auditions for that same show in the East Bay.

Company is playing right now in San Francisco, and auditions were just held for another production of it in the Bay Area.

Where am I going with this? (It isn’t that I’m dying to get hate mail, and it’s not that these productions can’t be good) The point is — why is this happening? I’ve heard many people say that they don’t know what other companies’ seasons are like, and that it happens out of pure coincidence. I’m sure that’s true a lot of times. Though naturally, Samuel French will tell you which other companies have a show like Glengarry Glen Ross in their line-up. Looking at it now, if you manage to miss it here, head on over to Attleboro, Massachusetts to hear some old white men yell “Cunt!” this October or wander into Cincinnati, Ohio in April of 2016 to get your Roma fix!

Now you probably think I hate GGR because I just said that. I don’t. I like it, and I actually saw one of those productions. It’s not like someone’s about to surprise anyone with it, though. “Come see our new and inventive production of Glengarry Glen Ross set in a basement sex dungeon in Quebec!” Okay, maybe I’d be into that, I don’t know.

There’s also that whole thing about how the theater community at large, and definitely the Bay Area theater community, have done much buzzing about gender parity, and clearly having three of those things happening at one time means, uh…well, something not great. I think what it actually means is not willful constant dude-choosing over lady-choosing because SCREW ‘EM, on ANY of those companies’ or directors’ or producers’ parts, but actually just the age old problem that we tend to assume it’s someone else’s job. We’ve all talked about the issue together, and now everyone will do better because we did that…so we’ll just to stick to the old white men yelling “CUNT!” train and wait for someone else to produce Top Girls to balance us out. (Also, there are other plays featuring many women at once that aren’t Top Girls. I just have to say that twice a year to remind myself that it’s true.) And then we’ll hop onto another panel next year and nod our heads while everyone complains about how there aren’t roles for women and how awful that is.

BE it, not talk about it.

BE it, not talk about it.

While I totally understand that super common impulse, it’s also how we keep things exactly the same and never ever change them: by thinking someone else will do it or that we’ll get to it later. That’s why my dad still hasn’t invented any of the weird gadgets he doodles on scratch paper, like the little water-filled windshield dog who turns to look in whatever direction you’re about to turn the car. (Sorry, pops, should’ve gotten a patent.)

At the Theater Bay Area Conference in April of this year, I was struck HARD by something Martha Richards said about parity at the opening panel. (I had to search through the billion #TBACon15 tweets from April to find this — already more research than I’ve ever put into any other blogs.)

“The numbers haven’t budged in years, there’s just more conversation about it.”

Woof. Ouch. We talk about it and then almost 5 months later I’m writing this blog about how it feels like instead of being the change — Be The Change was actually the tagline for TBACon15 — we’re just looking for the change from other people.

Okay, parity is not actually the point of this blog, I’m heading back to my original point.

I’ve heard many times over that the most offensive theater is the boring kind, and — to me — there is nothing more boring than the same shows over and over again. I like a classic as much as the next guy. I like a 90s romcom, or an 80s feminist play, or a 50s drama, or old white guys yelling “CUUUUNT!” but I like them to be mixed in with a representation of NOW. Or at least something I didn’t just see last month. We live in a time of instant entertainment. A movie comes out and it’s up on iTunes nearly immediately…or sometimes even before it’s out in theaters. We want the now, we want the here, there, and everywhere and we want it immediately. Why does Bay Area theater often feel so far behind? New works are being given readings which is…good? Sometimes I’m not sure. I want those FULL productions. I want to see what the new blood has to say before it resigns itself to being produced 25 years from now and buys a warm cardigan to settle in for the cold spell. TV shows and movies take time to make. Movies can take years. Plays take time too, but they can also go up really quickly. So, to me, theater can be the most vital, fast, furious beast around, but it often isn’t. It doesn’t feel like that right now.

And yes, I KNOW PEOPLE LIKED MAD MEN, BUT GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS ISN’T MAD MEN. I’m glad we cleared that up. Also, guys, Mad Men isn’t even on anymore. You’re way fucking behind. If you wanna tap into that vibe, there have got be other plays about businesspeople/assholes so that we don’t all have to do this at one time, but seriously, Mad Men is over. It feels like we’re teaching the emerging voices of what could be a flourishing generation of theater makers that their art isn’t going to matter until they’re either in New York or have been dead for 40 years. Or until our marketing campaigns for said art can align with a TV show. That feels shitty.

What does all this have to do with prom dresses? I don’t know how it was for you, but where I grew up, no one was allowed to buy a prom dress someone else had purchased, for either a certain mile radius, or based on which school they were going to. I’m aware that rights givers could themselves crack down on this the most easily, but I don’t see that happening. I know sometimes companies try to get the rights to a play and they can’t, because that’s the hot new play at the moment and everyone wants it. That’ll happen. But why, then, is the fallback not something equally as new and exciting? I want someone to get a beautiful new prom dress, and the next person in the store is told they can’t have it, and gets an equally beautiful new prom dress — not the dress off the person working the register. There’s more than just one new great play in one hand, and one that’s been done a hundred thousand times and has no parts for women in the other.

Listen, everyone wants to sell tickets. Everyone needs to sell tickets. And get new audiences. Ohhhh the elusive New Audiences moving around in hungry clusters, passing us by. We’re all trying to hook them into our atmosphere and get them to stay there, orbiting with us. It’s not like I’ve cracked the code, but I know what doesn’t crack it. I know what they don’t want — the 21 year old, hip, fun audience members companies are salivating over, the ones you want to hop aboard the theater train — they don’t want to see something they’ve already seen. Or something so far removed from themselves (old white men yelling “CUUUUUUNT!”) that they have no real connection to it. They need to look up there, and connect. I don’t see them connecting to that. This isn’t really about Glengarry, it’s just such a good fucking example I couldn’t not use it. No, I’m not worried about Mamet alienating me. He does not now, nor will he ever know I’m alive, so it’s fine. But if you do try to move GGR into a sex basement in Quebec, I’m sure you’ll hear from him. Meanwhile you could have just commissioned a new play about Quebecois sex dungeon lovers for less than or equal to the royalties of GGR, depending on the writer.

One could argue that those theaters are in different parts of the Bay Area and that their audiences are not necessarily shared. That stance doesn’t really do it for me. I go to all those cities and see theater. And I keep thinking it wouldn’t be terrible if somebody missed something some time. Maybe next time something they want to see is showing a 20 minute drive away, they’ll suck it up and go there because it’s not coming directly to their living room (if it’s interesting enough). Training audiences about what to expect from you is something I think about a lot. If your shows start late, the audience will assume the next show will start late, and they’re not going to be on time. And now you’re starting shows late for the rest of your life because you did it twice. Teach people that theater here can be missed because it’ll just be back 10 miles away next month, and there’s no urgency to see it now. The Bay Area also shares a creative pool. Actors from Vallejo perform in San Francisco, actors in San Jose perform in Berkeley, so at least keep your collaborators excited by offering something that every other town isn’t offering. Because we’re getting paid peanuts anyway, ya might as well create something.

I can’t solve this whole thing, clearly, but I have to put out there that it feels like we’re not taking risks as a community right now, and playing it safe doesn’t work forever. Eventually we’ll play it so safe that everyone will forget we’re here. Hell, maybe they already have. And then they’ll just watch Glengarry Glen Ross on Netflix because Jack Lemmon is in it and he’s the man and theater doesn’t feel like it’s for their generation. There are definitely some groups and companies that are making really interesting, cool, risky stuff. But there are so many more who aren’t doing that. Or are relegating those projects to readings. I often want to take a company’s reading series and swap it with their actual season.

******** UPDATE
So, I started writing this a couple of weeks ago and wanted to sleep on it. Then I went to New York City for a vacation. While I was there I saw two extremely popular shows: HAMILTION, and HAND TO GOD. They were so exciting, unfamiliar, wild, creative, new, unexpected, and VITAL. The houses were packed (Yes, they’re on Broadway so pretty much automatically they’re going to be selling tickets like hotcakes, but there was an excitement there that can’t be explained away with flashing lights.) They felt really risky in a good way, and you could tell that everyone working on them was invested in something they believed in. Maybe that’s what I’m really talking about. I want to see something and say to myself, “These people really believe in this. They really feel they’re doing something here. It feels important and necessary to them.” Even if I don’t like it, even if I think it’s poorly executed or just straight up isn’t to my tastes, I can get behind people who get behind their stuff and feel that it’s got urgency.

When you look at HAMILTON, you see a runaway hit, a game-changing hip hop musical with as diverse a cast as I’ve ever seen on stage at one time, based on Alexander Hamilton of all people. It’s a big idea. It’s a big, seemingly risky idea.

The diverse and talented and good looking and magnificent and swinging-for-the-fences cast of HAMILTON.

The diverse and talented and good looking and magnificent and swinging-for-the-fences cast of HAMILTON.

HAND TO GOD is a comedy about a man with a demonic sock puppet. It’s weird. It’s brash. It takes everything to 11, and knocks it out of the park.

“Yeah,” you’re thinking, “Those are amazing plays. Amazing plays like that don’t come around every day. My company needs to produce good stuff and most new plays aren’t going to be as good as that.” and to that I say, look harder. Or find a writer you believe in and commission something.

What do we want people to think theater IS? I want to ask myself that more often. I want us all to ask ourselves that more often. Because right now I’ll tell you what they think it is: outdated. And we’re not doing enough to show them otherwise. We’re too often giving them what they expect us to give them. And few things are less interesting to me than walking out of a theater saying, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought it’d be.” I’m not shitting on Shakespeare or O’Neill. I’m doing Richard III next month (a cut version in a bar, and as a Sid Vicious-lookin’ murderer named Ham, with an eye patch, but still Richard III.)

Maybe we just need to be more aware of each other. We’re not disparate entities floating in the ocean. We’re part of a larger whole as much as we may try to pretend otherwise. We are all theater, and the choices we make for our companies impact what this person or that person thinks of theater. What message are you sending? Is it the message you want to send?

Is it “CUUUUUUUUNT!”

Allison Page is a writer/actor/creative director of Killing My Lobster, a sketch comedy company with gender parity across both writers and actors with a new show written in two weeks, rehearsed in two weeks, and then performed live, every month at PianoFight in San Francisco. Ya know, in case you were wondering if she sticks to her own nonsense ideals, the answer is that she tries. And sometimes fails, of course.

The Five: The Truth Is, They Don’t Give A Fuck

Anthony R. Miller checks in with some sad facts.

Hey you guys, so there has been a lot of news these days about theatre patrons gone wild. Whether Patti Lupone is drop kicking people texting or people are plugging their phones into sets during the show and taking a selfie, theatre makers of the highest or smallest budgets don’t know what the fuck to do. We want to blame iPhones, social media, millennials, casual theatre goers, but the truth may be easier than that. The truth is, when a theatre patron does something so tacky you could implode, it’s not because they were unaware of the standards, or rules, or theatre etiquette. It’s because they didn’t give a fuck.

As it turns out I have some thoughts expanding on the topic, and it turns out there are five.

Nothing New

About a million years ago, back in the late ’90s, Patrick Stewart performed at my college. Every year he would do a one man version of “A Christmas Carol” as a benefit for Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I got to work the light hang, and as a bonus we got to watch the show from the light booth. Now here’s the part I’ll never forget; an audience member was taking photos and Sir Patrick spots her, and all of a sudden, looks her dead in the eye and says: “We can have a performance, or we can have a photo shoot, it’s your choice”. You bet your bottom dollar that she put it away, and then he snapped right back into the show like nothing happened, like a god damn boss. Now, this was in 1996, long before everyone had a cell phone, much less a phone that took pictures. No, this lady brought a regular old 35mm film camera. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, but she did anyway, because she wanted a picture of Patrick Stewart acting and she didn’t give a fuck if there was rule against it. This of course Is not an isolated incident, because we have a rule about it in curtain speeches. That means, people bringing cameras that were nothing else but cameras was a big enough problem, there’s a rule about it. Which brings me to-

Curtain Speech In Vain

Curtain Speeches, the necessary evil. Often times an unwanted 15 minute live commercial from the Artistic Director or Development Director, going on about subscribing, the theater’s mission statement, and how you can donate (Here’s a secret: the very people you’re trying to reach would really just like to watch the fucking play already), but at its core the curtain speech we all get at the top of the show is the same, and starts with “Turn Off Your Cell Phones”. It also usually includes “Don’t take pictures”. Just so you know, my HM curtain speech is “Best Speech” in three counties and YET, there’s always someone who doesn’t follow it. Did he hear the speech? He did. Was the HM not clear? He was. Is it the patron’s first time here? No, his wife is a subscriber. The fact is, he knows the rules, and he’s not a result of timid curtain speeches or inept ushers or the downfall of western theatre etiquette. He just doesn’t give a fuck. His phone being on is more important (which I suppose it could be if you’re a doctor or have a babysitter who drinks). Taking a cool picture he’s not supposed to take is half the fun. Sneaking some video and posting it on the internet is what life is all about and those rules aren’t THAT important right? Is it that big a deal? Well, we all know one dude who thinks it isn’t…

The Guy in The News

Nick Silvestri is a 19 year-old lacrosse player and junior college student from Long Island. Every year, his family gets together and they see a few shows in New York. While he describes himself as “Not a play guy” he still attends at least once a year. This makes the Silvestri Family the bread and butter of commercial theatre: the casual theatre goer. The Silvestris had a lovely time at a restaurant not far from the theater. At the restaurant, they all had a few too many drinks, including Nick. Now, we can assume that Mrs. Silvestri is well aware of the alcohol laws in the country, prohibiting 19 year olds from drinking. Hell, the restaurant could have gotten in huge trouble for it. Was his mother not aware of the laws? She was. Is she a bad Mother? Of course not. She just didn’t give a fuck. When Nick tried plugging his phone into the USB port of the TV at the restaurant, he “Got yelled at by the manager”. Was Nick raised badly, and never taught to ask first? Assumedly not. Shit, that should have been a big sign to everyone in the group. “Uh hey, you might wanna get your drunk teenager under control”, but it didn’t happen. Because they didn’t give a fuck. This all leads up to the Don’t Give A Fuckery of the century, when he climbed up on stage before a performance of “Hand To God” and plugged in his cell phone, into a fake outlet. Now, for the sake of this article, let’s put away the tin foil hats and assume this was real and not a brilliant marketing ploy. Nick is not a first time patron, he knows the rules. He had a few drinks, “Girls kept calling” and his phone was dying. As they sat down in their orchestra seats (which by the way, are real fucking expensive, this bring us back to “Bread and Butter”), he saw the plug and in his words, “Ran for it”. He just figured “It wasn’t a big deal”. He only made a big public apology after folks tracked him down on Twitter and Facebook and savaged him. In the end Nick knew what he was doing, he just didn’t give a fuck. He wanted something, so he went for it. This embodies the privilege that these trouble making patrons all display. A notion that if they want something that they think is reasonable, they should have it. As Nick said to the wide eyed ushers, “What’s the problem buddy?”

What Do You Mean “No”?

If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you know this face. The face someone makes when they are told “no.” It’s almost dumbfounding. The patron comes ten minutes late and asks if they can get a drink and go to the bathroom before they go in. You say no because it’s your one late seating cue and you need to get them in now. But they don’t get it: “I asked, that’s all I’m supposed to do right?” The thing that unites all these people who make us crazy with their behavior is simply privilege. The notion that someone wanted something, they saw what they wanted, so they took it, because that’s what it’s there for right? The notion that rules are just for suckers who don’t go for the brass ring. The idea that every rule is negotiable, you just gotta ask nice. I can basically spot this patron a mile away, they put a hand on my shoulder and say “Hey Buddy” or “Hey Boss” and then ask to break a rule. They explain why this rule should not apply to them and when you disagree, they just don’t understand. Now I’m not being a dick here, I have busted ass for patrons whenever I can, but when there’s something I can’t do, I’m direct about it. And even then, sometimes the patron does it anyway. Not because you didn’t explain the rule clearly, not because they’ve never seen theatre, it’s because they didn’t give a fuck, they wanted what they wanted, and they’ll be damned if some dickhead in a sweater and nametag who would have to work a year to make what he makes in a day tells them no. For some, a feeling of entitlement beyond seeing the play often accompanies a $150 theatre ticket.

#NotAllPatrons

So here’s where I backtrack a little. Because I don’t think these stories are examples of the downfall of society. I don’t think we need to start hanging up “No Assholes” signs at the lobby (they wouldn’t read it anyway). My point here is this: calm the fuck down. Unruly patrons who only care about themselves are not a new thing. We just have phones to record them now. 98% of patrons I meet are swell people. They’re happy to be there and understand the rules and the behavioral expectations we have of them. And these expectations are not evidence of theatre being a stodgy, old fashioned art form that needs to loosen up. It’s live theatre god dammit, the people entertaining you are real, and are subject to distraction. When a patron pulls out a phone in the front row, it’s offensive, because we know they know the rules, they just don’t give a fuck. It’s offensive to audience members who wanted to see a play and not sports scores from the row in front of them. It is the central idea of the Social Contract: we all behave a certain way for the benefit of everybody else in the room. So while we chastise the 2% of theatre patrons who make us crazy and make us think that accessible theatre is just letting in the riff-raff, (I’d like to note that sometimes disruptions and riff-raff actually have their place, I mean hey, “Hand to God” has gotten huge publicity for it) let’s also remember the other 98% who didn’t give you trouble at all. The Patrick Stewart Fan, Nick Silvestri, and every patron who ignores no re-entry policies all share a “Don’t give a fuck” connection. They knew the rules but a sense of privilege and entitlement led them to ignore it. And they’re never going away, but take heart in the notion that they are a minority. They are targets for shaming and without them we wouldn’t have living examples of what NOT to do. Obviously it’s still a problem, but let’s all agree on the exact problem. This is not solved by tweet seats, or cell phone signal jammers in the theater, or ushers carrying big tacky signs pre-show that say “Turn off your cell phone”. Respecting the human beings performing a play for you is not some stodgy, old fashioned rule. While American Theatre has issues it really needs to catch up on (Women outnumber men in theatre classes almost regularly and yet, we’re still doing 1776) Privilege is a larger cultural problem, and until a smart, effective way to deal with it presents itself, shame them, record them misbehaving, and post it on YouTube, let the fear of public embarrassment override their “I want what I want when I want it” attitude. People are most likely to be an asshole when they feel justified and think they can get away with it. Does that sound insensitive and counterproductive? Probably, but hey, I don’t give a fuck.

Anthony R Miller is a doer of many things, read about them at www.awesometheatre.org