Theater Around The Bay: The Best of the Blog

2013 was a year of change on multiple fronts and our website was no exception. Though Marissa Skudlarek, as our first “official” blogger, began her semi-monthly contributions in 2012, the eight-writer line up that currently composes the blog’s core writing team wasn’t solidified until October of this year, when Claire Rice was brought on to replace Helen Laroche, who, along with Eli Diamond, stepped away as a regular contributor earlier this year. Eli and Helen, along with the current eight and our lengthy list of occasional contributors (most notably Annie Paladino), all get to share in the success of the blog, which steadily and dramatically increased its traffic over this past year. With 45,611 hits in 2013 (compared to 27,998 in 2012, 11,716 in 2011, and 8,435 in 2010), there can be no doubt that the San Francisco Theater Public (as we’ve taken to calling the blog amongst ourselves) is “kind of a thing.” With our current all time total just shy of 100,000 hits, we wanted to use the last blog entry of this year to celebrate the different voices that make our blog unique, while also paying homage to the vast and diverse world of online theater discussion. To everyone who makes our blog a success, including our dedicated readers and Julia Heitner, our Twitter-mistress who brings every installment to the Twitter-sphere, a gigantic thank you for making 2013 the best year so far! Here’s hoping that 2014 is even better!

STUART BOUSEL by William Leschber 

Whether it be Shakespeare, Ancient Greece, Celtic Myth, or the plight of the contemporary 30 something, Stuart Bousel always has something intelligent to say about it, and if you’ve read any of  his blogs over the past year you’ll know he has an ample array of in-depth thoughts about these things and so much more. I’m proud to have known Stuart for a number of years and the plentiful hours of intelligent conversation are invaluable to me, but my favorite 2013 blog entry of his is one that offers both a larger social insight and something very personal as well. The Year of the Snake blog isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and offers the perfect mix of two brands of self awareness: the satisfaction that comes at being proud of one’s achievements, juxtaposed with the self doubt that comes whenever we embark on something new and challenging. These traits are heightened by a particularly uncertain year for myself and so many others who have had an odd go of it in 2013, the Year of the Snake, and maybe that is why this particular blog resonated so strongly. Although this year is possibly the most challenging some of us have had in recent memory, what Stuart articulates so well here is that sometimes we have to pass through the fire to come out stronger from the forge. The process of wriggling into new skin in due time…aye, there’s the rub: “…the truth is, the changes tend to kind of happen while you’re not looking, almost as a side result of trying to change.”

There's Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

There’s Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

In other favorites-of-the-year news, I present you the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. For those in constant transit and who have an easier time taking in a podcast over reading articles online, this is for you. Now my favorite podcast surrounding film would fall to Filmspotting where new and old films are discussed weekly with humor and insight. But if I had to choose the single best episode  I heard this year it would be Jeff Goldsmith’s interview with writer/director Ed Burns. In the words of the host, the Q&A podcast aims to “bring you in-depth insight into the creative process of storytelling”. He interviews screenwriters specifically (often writer/directors) about how they go about their personal process. Not only are the insights into the writer’s process wonderful to hear but the peeks into their role in the film industry are also fascinating. The Ed Burns episode ranges in topic from 90’s indie films, to his writing process, then on to making micro budget films, and his thought on how the industry is changing and what he’s doing to work in the grain of the dawn of steaming entertainment. It’s great. And here it is: http://www.theqandapodcast.com/2012/12/edward-burns-fitzgerald-familiy.html

ASHLEY COWAN by Claire Rice

Ashley Cowan’s posts often feel like sitting on the couch with your best friend and chatting late into the night with a mug of hot coco.  Every post  is heartfelt and full of a kind of determined enthusiasm that is infectious.  Her post abouttheatre traditions/ superstitions was very funny (if I had known that thing about peacock feathers I might have made different choices with my life.) And her post about her grandmother and goodbyes was touching and beautiful.  But my favorite post would have to be Why Being A Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best…and the Worst.  She beautifully lays out the complex and heart breaking experience of knowing a “the show must go on” mentality is an imminently transferable job skill, but a skill hard to sell to non-theatre perspective employers.

I read Dear Sugar’s advice column for the first time on September 1, 2013, my thirty second birthday.  The piece I read was Write Like Motherfucker  It was surprising, honest and full of so many of the things I had been thinking and feeling.  It was and is full of all the things I needed to hear. “We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor.  I know it’s hard to write, darling.  But it’s harder not to.”

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar - You've just made two new best friends.  You're welcome.

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar – You’ve just made two new best friends. You’re welcome.

BARBARA JWANOUSKOS by Stuart Bousel 

Barbara Jwanouskos is the kind of theater person who figured out long ago what many of us take much longer to figure out: namely that one can balance theater with the rest of their life (she’s a pretty amazing martial artist in addition to being a playwright, blogger, grad student, and non-profit development expert), and that nothing happens if you sit and wait for it, you have to go after your dreams actively. Smart, generous, good-natured, Barbara’s writing reflects a serious mind and soul you might not immediately pick up on when you first meet her, though her bad-ass-ness is definitely apparent in her punk rock haircuts and straight forward conversation style. Her “calls it as see sees it” voice is still developing in her blog, but with “Young Beautiful Woman” she had a bit of a breakthrough, giving us a story both personally meaningful to her while also showing us where the issue of pigeon-holing women in theater and films begins: that most double-sided of backyards, the fine arts masters’ program. This blog had the greatest reader impact of all the contributions Barbara has made for us this year, and it’s the kind of thing I want to see more of from her. It’s with incredible eagerness I look forward to her 2014 contributions, knowing she plans to really hit our readers, black belt style, with more ideas like these.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Outside of our humble little blog, I have read a number of interesting theater related articles this year, but this one from HowlRound seems to have stayed with me the longest. Though when I first read this I kind of had a reaction of, “Well, duh, it’s just part of the process- stop whining!”, I also admire that what Morgan is saying is that a life in the arts is pretty always a heartbreaking business, even when you do finally find your niche, your project, your collaborators. And it’s heartbreaking not just because of the lack of opportunities, or the difficulty in making a living, or all the other things we also talk about, but just from the sheer fact that if you’re doing it right you’re ALWAYS putting your heart into it and the nature of the business rarely appreciates or honors that- while, of course, still expecting you to throw your whole heart into it every time! I, and most of the theater people I know, spend a lot of time talking about sustainability in the theater community, funding and payroll, audience demographics and marketability, etc. and sometimes I can’t help but wonder when theater started to quantify and qualify itself the way I expect Wal-Mart too. When did it become about numbers and money and conventional ideas of success as represented through big numbers, and not about coming together with people of vision and making cool stuff because the world really needs that? Morgan’s article is a bittersweet plea to remember we’re all artists here and artists are delicate creatures in many ways, even if it’s probably through their strength that, ultimately, the world will be saved.

WILLIAM LESCHBER by Marissa Skudlarek

It has been a pleasure to read Will Leschber’s “Working Title” column since it debuted in September 2013. Theater can sometimes feel like an insular, inward-looking art; it’s not  a part of the mainstream cultural conversation in the way that movies, music or TV are (though we Theater Pub bloggers are doing our best to change that!) Even worse, theater people sometimes take a perverse pride in their own insularity, looking down on movies and TV as lesser, more commercial art forms. So I love Will’s idea of writing a column that places theater in dialogue with film. He acknowledges the virtues of each art form without belittling either of them and, in so doing, seeks to bring theater into the larger cultural conversation. Nowhere is this more evident than in his piece “To Dance Defiant” about one-man dramas Underneath the Lintel and All is Lost. The play is language-based and the film is image-based, says Will, but both confront stark, essential truths: “What decisions in life remain the most important? How do we measure it all? What significant artifacts do we leave behind? Is anything we leave behind significant? Or is the struggle and the suffering and the joyous dance in spite of all the dark, the only significance we are afforded?” Will’s column is about the importance of the art we make, be it on stage or on film — and therefore, is about the importance of our humanity.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

In one of my earliest Theater Pub columns, I wrote about how much I liked local critic Lily Janiak’s willingness to publicly critique her own criticism and question her own assumptions. So it was great news this year that Lily was selected as one of HowlRound’s inaugural NewCrit critics, bringing her work to a national audience and allowing her to write longer, more in-depth pieces. Even better, Lily has continued to question her assumptions and acknowledge her biases, approaching criticism in a spirit of open-minded inquiry. I particularly liked her piece “Our Own Best Judges: Young Female Characters Onstage” because, if I may admit my own biases, Lily and I are both extremely interested in the depiction of young women in plays. And then we ask ourselves: are we right to be so concerned, or does it mean that we are (wrongly) holding female characters to a higher standard than we hold male ones? “Critics are supposed to be objective, to approach a work with no agenda, but in this case, I have one. […] It’s impossible to separate one’s politics from one’s aesthetics (aesthetics are never pure!), but sometimes I worry that my politics have too much control over my critical criteria,” Lily writes. The whole piece is well worth reading for its thoughtfulness and honesty. That it happened to discuss three plays that I saw myself, got my friends’ names published on a national theater website, and spurred a response from Stuart Bousel on our own blog is just icing on the cake.

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

ALLISON PAGE by Dave Sikula

Let me tell you about Allison Page.

I met her this year when I played her father. I had no idea who she was. I had friended her on Facebook and, looking at her posts, thought we might get along. We had some similar interests, and despite her terrible taste in other things (I mean, seriously, “Ghost Dad,” “Daria,” and Kristen Wiig?), there was enough overlap that I thought we might become friends.

Then we met and she instantly drove me crazy.

I have every reason to hate her. There are things she does and writes about that just annoy the bejeezus out of me – BUT, that’s what I love about her. Her pieces for this here blog combine the miracle of being confessional and personal without being self-indulgent. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything she says (she accuses me of not liking anything, but oh, how wrong she is), but even when she irritates me, it’s in a way that makes me need to defend my own positions – and that’s what the best art does for me. If I had to pick one post of hers that really spoke to me, it was this one on how we need and create nemeses. I find you’ve got to have someone or something to fight against or do better than in order to do your own best work.

But don’t tell her I like anything of hers or she’ll just hold that over me.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Moving on to something online that I found of interest was this, Frank Rich’s latest profile of Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is one of those people my feelings for whom, words like “reverence” are far too mild. I know that if I were ever somehow to get a chance to meet him, I’d fall over in a dead faint, or at the very least, be utterly tongue-tied to the point where I’d sound like an episode of “The Chris Farley Show:” “You know when you did ‘Sweeney Todd?’ That was great.” But any chance to read about what he’s really like is fascinating.

CLAIRE RICE by Barbara Jwanouskos

What I love most about reading Claire Rice’s Enemy List is how Claire seems to pick up on an uncanny wave-length of theater topics that happen to be populating my brain (and others), like why there were so many plays dealing with rape this year. The post I particularly enjoyed was her interview with Dave Lankford, Executive Director of The Shelter and author of the internet famous blog post, “Dear Actor”. Claire’s interview gave a clear insight into Lankford, his background as a theater artist (playwright, actor, director, etc.) and what prompted the writing of the post. More so, her interview demonstrated through Lankford’s response, what it is like today to be a theater artist where so many of us are also using the internet as a means of communication, discourse and criticism about theater in general. For whatever reason, “Dear Actor” seemed to resonate with many people in a way that was surprising, but Claire’s interview presented Lankford at a more more meta level, which was fascinating to consider.

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

I love tracking HowlRound essays by some of my favorite playwrights – especially when they write about things I’m actually dealing with… like teaching playwriting! “Teaching in the 21st Century” by Anne García-Romero and Alice Tuan was a blessing to me sent from the heavenly gods of playwriting. I constantly flip back to this essay when I need to recalibrate my goals as a new teacher. García-Romero and Tuan’s approach mirrors what they had learned from the great Maria Irene Fornes. I appreciate their innovative approaches to get writers of all kinds jazzed about writing plays and how they deviate from strict adhearance to teaching structure versus other traits that good plays have – like voice and liveness.

DAVE SIKULA by Ashley Cowan

I met Dave Sikula earlier this year while working on BOOK OF LIZ at Custom Made Theatre. A project that inspired a blog or two on Cowan Palace and also provided a chance to get to know the guy who is now behind the column, “It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review”. After kindly driving me home after numerous performances and being graced with many Broadway songs on his impressive car sound system, I soon got to know Dave as a incredibly smart, insightful, and experienced theatre enthusiast. I’ve come to enjoy his contributions to the Theater Pub blog for the same reason. One of my personal favorites to read was his last piece, The Ritual Business. Ten years ago when I studied in London, I had the chance to see TWELFTH NIGHT starring Mark Rylance at the Globe and it’s a performance that’s forever stuck by me. I loved reading about Dave’s time in New York and his vivid description as an attentive audience member. I felt like I was there again reliving a magical moment of the theatrical experience of my past while also connecting to his observations and reactions.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Aside from Dave’s contributions, it’s been an interesting year for the Internet, huh? I fell for every hoax imaginable and had my spirits crushed when I learned that no, there would not be a new season of Full House or an 8th Harry Potter book to look forward to in 2014. With all that going on, one article that weaseled under my skin came from The Onion, believe it or not, and was entitled: Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life. I found it to be a humorous and honest piece about how many of us (in this artistic community) tend to balance our time. But the thing I truly want to share with you guys is this video, because at the end of the day (or year) sometimes you just need to watch some cute animals do some cute stuff.

MARISSA SKUDLAREK by Allison Page

Marissa Skudlarek and I communicate differently, but we think about a lot of the same things. If I’m a grilled cheese sandwich, she’s duck confit. She has the ability to say things that I know I’m also feeling, but haven’t brought myself to express properly without the use of a lot of F-bombs and references to Murder, She Wrote. Generally speaking, I like to accentuate the positive rather than wallow in a pool of the negative, so when her article “You’re Doing It Wrong, You’re Doing It Wrong” (Technically the second half of a two part article. The first one is also worth reading, but the second really drove it home for me.) The internet, and the world, can be a dark and dismal place. Some days it feels like there’s nothing to be happy about; nothing that’s going right. In a world that seeks to find the worst in everything, Marissa seeks out the subtle nuances of her theatrical experiences, and of the world around her. It’s refreshing and thoughtful, and a big reason I love reading her posts. Not everyone is doing it right wrong. I like to think Marissa is striving to do it right; for women in general and for herself.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she'll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she’ll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Outside of the Theater Pub Blog, there are always a lot of conversations stirring up interest. Every writer, every playwright – hell, every person has a different way they like to work. This last year I’ve been focusing more on writing and I’m always trying to find new ways to keep myself excited about the writing process. That can be hard to do, seeing as you still need to sit down and fuckin’ write at some point. That part is unavoidable. Though this article is actually from the end of 2012, I didn’t read it until this year, so I’m counting it! It’s an interesting collection of the daily routines and writing habits of famous writers. Hemingway wrote standing up? Well, that’s weird.

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Theater Around The Bay: From Theater Pub to the Castro Theater

Another Theater Pub success story, Christian Simonsen describes the journey of his short script “Multi-Tasking” as it went from stage to screen.

In July of this year, my short comedy play “Multitasking” was produced as part of Theatre Pub’s Pint Sized Plays IV at the Café Royale. My play (indeed, the whole festival under producer Neil Higgins’ guidance) was a huge success… although oddly enough, the compliment I heard most often from audience members was: “your play was my father’s favorite!” which is an interesting niche audience to explore.

Pint Sized Plays is a site-specific festival; all of the stories have to take place in a pub. My script was a farce about two strangers, Eric and Kathy, waiting for a blind date and job interviewer, respectively. Just as they start a mild flirtation, a yuppie woman, Tess, bursts in on them, and hilarity ensues.

A coworker from my day job, Michael Laird, had come to see my play. He said he liked it a lot… but then, I thought, that’s what coworkers are supposed to say. Near the end of September, Michael reminded me that he was a part of the local film collective called Scary Cow. He had already paid his dues working on the crews of several films in different capacities, and he now felt ready to make his own. “Would you be interested in letting me produce ‘Multitasking’ as my first film?” I thought about it for a while— who am I trying to kid, I immediately said Yes!

Pre-production begins.

Michael’s plan was to knock the film out real quick: find the easiest location, use the same actors, shoot it in one afternoon “sometime this weekend or the next” while the actors still had their characters (and lines) in their heads, download it to a yet-to-be –determined editor, give the editor three or four days, bing-bang-boom, we have a film we can enter into the Scary Cow Film Festival at the Castro Theater. The deadline to submit was October 19th.

I was hesitant. I told Michael it seemed unlikely we could pull it off that quickly. He shrugged. “Why not try?” If everything doesn’t all come together, he added, we can just regroup, and try again later. “If we miss the Festival, it can still be on YouTube!” He had a point, and I realized, not for the first time, that “hesitant” is too often my natural state. I asked Michael if he planned on directing it, but he said no, he wanted to focus on producing. In other words, he wanted to take on all the unglamorous dirty work, including picking up the tab… really, how could I say no?

I then suggested myself as the director. “Do you have any film directing experience?” my new producer asked. “Sure, I studied filmmaking in college!” I did not bother to mention that back when I made student films, Jimmy Carter was still President, and I had no clue how to access the camera on my cell phone.

So I got the gig (that’s what we used to say back in the ancient ‘70s). But then I thought about what an impressive job the stage director Jonathan Carpenter did with my script in the Pint Sized Plays production. (I was even more impressed when I later found out that Jonathan and his cast only had one rehearsal together before Opening Night!) Did I really want to submit the actors to a brand new director with such a rushed schedule? And where in tarnation would I find the [REC] button on these modern computer chip camera gizmos?

Michael agreed that it would be awesome if we could get Jonathan to direct. So I set about contacting him and the three actors: Andrew Chung (Eric), Lara Gold (Kathy) and Jessica Chisum (Tess). Everyone was excited to do it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one in the Bay Area interested in them; their dance cards were all filling up fast. So we had to find one full day in the next two weeks where the key participants, producer Michael, director Jonathan and the three actors, were all free. (I did not count myself in that lofty group because they already had my script, so really, if I got run over by a bus at that point, the show would still go on).

Via Facebook / email / texting / carrier pigeon, we found the one window where we were all free: Sunday October 13th.

Perfect. Now, where would we shoot? The script’s original setting was a pub, per the Pint Sized Plays script submission rules. But for the film, I rewrote the location as a coffeehouse (it’s the only change in the script I made). Using a real coffeehouse on such short notice was problematic. You never know if business owners are going to get cold feet at the last minute, and renege on their promise to allow you to shoot on their property. Michael, ever the cheerful optimist, said that the living room in his new apartment was fairly large… if he got the right tables and chairs, it could probably pass as a small corner of a coffeehouse.

He had a good point. Michael’s view was always that this film would be more like a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, as opposed to a full blown film with realistic locations, etc. Although it would still be “cinematic” (using camera angles and editing to help convey the story), the main focus would be on the script and the acting, with just enough “production values” to sell the idea of the setting. In other words, we were okay with a living room that sorta kinda looking like a coffeehouse.

So, we had a time, and a location! With those variables locked down, and my script in his hand, our big shot producer Michael could go to the next Scary Cow meeting and pitch our project, and collect a crew. As soon as he recruited Alisha McMutcheon as our Director of Photography and Camera Operator, Michael set up a meeting so Jonathan and I could meet her once before the shoot.

Before the meeting, I asked Jonathan if it would be okay if I story boarded potential shots for the film. Story boards are drawings of the different camera compositions that will be shot; they basically look like a comic book version of the film. My compositions would be suggestions only. But if Jonathan liked them, it would free up his time to coach the actors. He agreed, so I created three sets of shots, four shots each. The first set was the Must Haves: the shots we definitely needed for the film to make any kind of narrative sense. The second set was the Nice to Haves: these shots would add enough variety to keep the film from looking too “stagey”. The third set was the Luxuries: in the unlikely event we were ahead of schedule, we could shoot those to make the film, as Stanley Kubrick would say, all fancy schmancy (okay, only I would say that).

One page of my storyboard artwork. Hey, I never said I was a Renaissance Man.

One page of my storyboard artwork. Hey, I never said I was a Renaissance Man.

We had a great meeting! Alisha obviously knows her stuff, and came across as a real team player. Everyone liked my story boards. I promised to avoid the stereotype of the neurotic scriptwriter by staying in the shadows and letting Jonathon run the shoot. And Michael promised to feed us breakfast and lunch! (Now that’s a producer!)

Michael started bringing more people on board that he had worked with on other films. Before we knew it, we had a film crew.

Then the bad news came from actor Jessica Chisum. In order to secure a major part in a stage production of Macbeth, she had to drop out of our shoot (this is not the first time William Shakespeare has stolen good actors from me. That guy’s a Prima donna!).

We had to find a new actor quick. It was decided that Jonathan alone should recast the part. Since he had the most experience with local actors, he would know which ones would most likely have the best chemistry with Andrew and Lara. Not to mention which candidates could learn their lines the fastest (my script was very dialogue heavy).

There is an invisible point with any theater or film production, where the momentum of everyone involved has taken it past the “what if?” stage, and it becomes its own animal; a living, breathing entity that seems to tangibly exist. At that point, any problem that comes up (such as losing an actor) seems to be one that was made to be solved. This project had reached that stage. That didn’t mean that this film was guaranteed to be made (living creatures can still die at any time). What it meant was that our director could confidently entice top notch actors on short notice with a “real project”.

In just a few days, Jonathan was able to snag Helen LaRoche. I knew the name rang a bell, so I googled her. Sure enough, back in 2012 I saw Helen give a moving performance in Stuart Bousel’s emotionally complex play “Artemis and Apollo or Twins”. I had made a mental note at the time that I wanted to someday work with her. Score!

Three days before the shoot, I meet Jonathan for coffee so we can discuss any issues about the script before his one and only rehearsal with the actors. I would not be at that rehearsal. With such a tight schedule, the actors cannot be subjected to a two-headed dragon; they need just one leader guiding them. The shoot was now Jonathan’s baby.

On the morning before the shoot, Jonathan had his two hour rehearsal with all three actors. He phoned me afterwards. He was very happy.

Production begins.

At 9:00am on the morning of the shoot, Jonathan, Alisha, myself, and the rest of the crew arrived: Tom Morrow the Gaffer, Ben Gallion the Production Assistant and Stuart Goldstein the Still Photographer (we lost our sound guy, so Alisha did triple duty). We did most of the set up before the actors arrive at 9:45am. Michael was the only person who had met everyone before today.

 I believe Michael told his roommates he was "having a few friends over."

I believe Michael told his roommates he was “having a few friends over.”

In the world of live theater, cast and crew work together for a long enough period of time to become a family. Granted, that “family” more often resembles the House of Atreus than the Little House on the Prairie… but whether they are stabbing each other or laughing together, they still know each other. In film production, you are usually thrown together with a group of mostly strangers, with a very narrow period of time to complete the production. Lucky for all of us, Michael chose everyone well. We worked together beautifully.

Director Jonothan Carpenter checks the monitor to frame a shot.

Director Jonothan Carpenter checks the monitor to frame a shot.

I was given the task of maintaining the script log, meaning I took down any notes Jonathan had on all of the shots recorded. What I noticed doing this task was the unique challenges film actors have. I know the common sentiment is that live theater separates the men/women from the boys/girls; while I would generally agree with that, film acting has its own challenges. Films are almost always shot out of order; so every time there is a new camera shot, the actors must realign themselves to a totally new place on their character arch. For instance, the final camera angle covered the characters Eric and Kathy at the first two pages of the script, and then at the very last two pages. After the beginning was shot and the director yelled “cut”, actors Andrew and Lara had to make a drastic change from being cuter than a box of kittens to looking like refugees from a Kafka story. You could see the immediate transition of time in their body language alone.

Our cast!  Andrew Chung, Helen LaRoche, Lara Gold

Our cast! Andrew Chung, Helen LaRoche, Lara Gold

Thanks to everyone’s’ professionalism, we got all twelve shots we wanted, plus one extra, an epilogue we all thought up during our lunch break.

Post-production begins.

Evan Rogers was recruited by Michael to edit our film. Editing is an art form all its own. In fact, it is the creative aspect of filmmaking that most separates cinema from live theater. An editor can make or break a film, so I was a little concerned that the whole post production of “Multitasking” would be in the hands of someone in another city that I never met (to this day I haven’t met him). But Michael vouched for him, and I read an email where Evan said he loved my script (I can be a tad vain).

And besides, Evan had almost four whole days to edit our six minute film before the October 19th deadline. No problem. Until there was a computer glitch, that caused the downloading of the files to take an entire three days. Which meant Evan had one day to edit. With Stuart Goldstein designing the Titles and credits, somehow Evan finished the entire edit in time to burn the DVD and summit it to Scary Cow on October 19th, before the 5:00pm deadline!

“Multitasking” was part of the Scary Cow Film Festival in November. It was a dream come true to hear a full crowd at the Castro Theater laughing at a comedy film I helped create.

So, here is the staged version (starting at the 12:25 mark).

And here is the filmed version.

Thanks to the creative input of all the artists involved, both versions manage to be totally faithful to my script (not a line of dialogue was ever changed).

Yet at the same time, they are distinctly different from each other.

Although I would like to think they are both, you know, funny.

Where are they now?

I feel very lucky that my script was produced in two different mediums, both times with such loving care. Here’s what all of the talented cast and crew members are up to now:

Andrew Chung is currently performing in Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” at the Impact Theatre through December 15th. Lara Gold is developing her own company, Exposure Theater, which will specialize in documentary and autobiographical theater. Helen LaRoche is work shopping Miranda Jones’ new musical, “The Precipice”. Jessica Chisum has joined the cast of Boxcar Theatre’s immersive drama “The Speakeasy” which opens January 10th.

Michael Laird, Alisha McCutcheon, Ben Gallion, Stuart Goldstein and Tom Morrow are donning multiple hats on upcoming Scary Cow films. Evan Rogers is now a VFX artist at Guerrilla Wanderer Films.

Jonathan Carpenter is returning to his hometown of Boston to develop several new projects with old thespian colleagues, but he did promise he would someday return to us.

Both Neil Higgins and yours truly have been commissioned to write new plays, “Echidna” and “Scylla” respectively, for The San Francisco Olympians Festival V: Monster Ball in 2014.

And of course all of us are available for future projects!

It takes a village to make a six minute comedy.

It takes a village to make a six minute comedy.



All photos by Stuart Goldstein.

Falling With Style: My Failed Attempt To Pursue My Dream Was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

In the final installment of her column, Helen puts a bow on her experience of jumping off the corporate ladder to pursue a full-time career in the performing arts.

I started this column a year ago to document my journey towards becoming (in my own words) “employed full-time by the arts.”

Over the course of my investigative process, I did a lot of studying (notably, at ACT’s Summer Training Congress and with Theatre Bay Area’s ATLAS program). I tried a number of styles of performing, from cabaret to children’s theatre, readings to fully-staged productions. I tried my hand at professionally manning other parts of the production: I stage managed; I music directed; I assistant directed. And I even dipped a toe in the waters of arts administration and development at one of the largest Equity theaters in the Bay Area.

Throughout much of this time, I held one or more part-time jobs to ensure a flexible schedule. And to be frank, I would have been financially under water without my partner’s help and encouragement.

Ultimately, I found that the goal I’d set for myself was counter to my true desires. Once my avocation became my vocation, it was more stressful than enjoyable: I could no longer choose projects purely out of enjoyment. I noticed myself wearily considering jobs for their paycheck or resume-boosting potential.

Something was definitely rotten in the state of Denmark, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it better — how to describe what I really wanted. And, wrong as the goal I had in front of me might have been, I didn’t want to give up on it — not after I’d sacrificed so much to go after it.

The answer hit me right in the gut when, at one of the ATLAS sessions I attended, Velina Brown said she practices “heart-centered acting.”

It bopped me on the nose when, through TBA connections, I sat in on TheatreWorks’ auditions and saw sublime work from Equity and non-Equity actors alike.

It goosed me when, thanks to the Theater Pub collective, I finally attended my first Saturday Write Fever and listened to a dozen just-written monologues (and even performed one myself).

And it razzed me right up close in my face when I was asked out of the blue to participate in a reading of The Fourth Messenger with Equity and non-Equity mega-talent all around me.

Now — bruised, sore and one step closer to enlightenment — by George, I think I’ve got it. It seems my ambition is to become a heart-centered actor, and in doing so, create superb art (regardless of my union status, my performance frequency, my ‘type’, or any other malarkey).

My focus for now is on step one of my journey towards heart-centered acting: developing a practice of heart-centered living.

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Now, in these last moments before this column comes to a close and my voice rejoins the continuum, I’d like to thank Stuart Bousel for the many jolts of artistic inspiration and introspection he’s provided me: this column, his own tome-like blog posts (can something be tome-like if it’s only in digital form?), Saturday Write Fever, and SF Olympians, to name a few. Thanks for being a creative catalyst for so many people, Stuart.

Helen Laroche (www.helenlaroche.com) is an artist currently living in San Francisco. She bruises easily; probably a B12 deficiency. You should see the other guy, though. She continues to write at www.sayshelen.com and she always loves a good story.

Falling With Style: The Moment I Stopped Caring, It All Fell Into Place

Helen Laroche shares how the last 6 months of not auditioning has done wonders for her career.

When I started trying to make acting a full-time thing last year, I went whole hog. I went out for every audition I could find, regardless of the distance I’d need to travel, regardless of the content of the show, simply to be seen and be cast.

Eventually, I got tired. And then I started undermining myself. I’d set up auditions and then cancel them soon after. One time, I was halfway to an audition 2 hours from my apartment when I realized I’d never feel good about the commute to rehearsal. I called the group, bowed out, and turned around.

I didn’t like the grind of constantly auditioning, constantly clamoring for roles I didn’t even really buy into, constantly driving all over the Bay Area for the chance to win roles that would hardly pay for gas. And I felt so guilty that I didn’t like it. This is the way to become a real Bay Area actor, I thought. This is what I need to do to succeed, to be seen, to build my career. If I really love performing as much as I say I do, then all of the sacrifices should be worth it.

But they weren’t worth it. After a production in January where I’d get home after performance at midnight, only to wake up at 3:45am for my opening shift at Starbucks and then perform a matinee, I was done.

I stopped auditioning, I moved to San Francisco, and I sold my car. I laid low. And then, a funny thing started to happen.

Every once in a while, totally out of the blue, I’d get an audition invitation or a full-blown offer of a role. A few times now, the opportunities that have come my way seemed to have been divined just for me — stories that I needed to be a part of at that particular moment in my life.

This Tuesday, I started rehearsals for the first time since May, for a read-through of The Fourth Messenger (previously played at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley; this time going up for a one-night reading at the Zen Center of San Francisco). As if on purpose, all of my previous hang-ups about the audition and rehearsal process were bypassed: I was cast without an audition, the rehearsal process is less than a week long, rehearsal is walking distance from my apartment, I’m being paid for my work, and I’m surrounded by wonderful local actors, many of whom I’ve seen in high-level Bay Area productions before. And the content of the musical is eerily on point with the current view on my personal development path.

In other words, I couldn’t have written a better story for myself if I tried. Thanks, chaos/God/destiny/FSM.

Helen is a writer and fun-time facilitator (read: event planner). You can read more about her escapades at www.sayshelen.com.

Falling With Style: Five Bay Area Shows I’m Excited About This Season

Helen Laroche is excited about what’s to come. 

As I become less and less inclined to audition these days, I’m happy to find that I’m still interested in the thing that got me to theater and storytelling in the first place — watching it. Because really, isn’t the best part of being an artist (nay, a person!) getting to share in a well-told story, whether you’re telling it or hearing it?

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of shows I’m excited to see this upcoming season. For fairness’ sake, I didn’t put any shows that Theater Pub People(TM) are directly involved with (although you should know that they are the nonpareil of quality, and you should definitely check out The Age of Beauty which closes this Saturday at the EXIT; the SF Fringe Festival which runs the month of September 2013 at the EXIT; and the SF Olympians Festival, which goes up in November 2013 at … any wild guesses? The EXIT.)

So without further ado, here is the completely-personal, your-own-opinion-is-totally-valued-but-will-not-sway-me list of 5 Bay Area shows I’m looking forward to this season.

1. No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep (Berkeley), by Harold Pinter; runs now through August 31, 2013.

Yeah, let’s get this one out of the way. I’m excited, and I think it will ruffle some small-theater feathers to put this first on the list, but here it is. Berkeley Rep’s marketing ploy worked perfectly on my household: I bought season tickets to Berkeley Rep just to get tickets to this show. My husband, the non-theatre guy of our household, is excited to see “Dr. Xavier and Magneto be in love.” I’m excited because I’ve never seen a Pinter play, and I’ve never seen these guys live. And it’s just been fun to watch the jolt this has given the whole theater community.

2. Road Show at The Rhino (San Francisco), by Stephen Sondheim; runs January 2 – 19, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre

When I saw the Rhino’s season announcement email, with the last names of all their playwrights, and saw “Sondheim” among them, I high tailed it to their website to learn more. What Sondheim piece would fit into their “queer theater” credo? Turns out it’s a piece I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen — his most recent show, Road Show (formerly Bounce), which was first produced in 2003 and re-mounted with major revisions in 2008. It involves two brothers, one brother’s (male) lover, and their luck as they mine for gold in the Wild West.

3. Silent Sky at TheatreWorks (Mountain View), by Lauren Gunderson; runs January 15—February 9, 2014

Lauren Gunderson has been so hot these past couple seasons, and I have to admit that I haven’t seen a show of hers mounted yet. But I have read one of her plays, and the story is such that I will be a fan of hers for life: I was setting up a Shakespearean parlor reading at my apartment, and when it was clear we weren’t going to have the minimum number of people necessary to read All’s Well That Ends Well, I remembered that Lauren had a series of Shakespeare-inspired plays. (The first, Exit, Pursued By a Bear, had a rolling premiere last season (two seasons ago?) that included a staging at Impact Theater.) I went to her website, saw her list of works, and emailed her to ask if my friends and I could read the fourth in the series, called We Are Denmark. AND SHE SAID YES AND SENT OVER A PDF THAT STILL SAID DRAFT ON IT. It was so freakin’ cool. (And the play was great, to boot.)

So, she’s got a groupie in me now, for a number of reasons. But yeah, We Are Denmark centers in some part around astronomy, which Silent Sky also does. So I expect greatness. Also, TheatreWorks proved themselves to be awesome at night sky stage dressings in their awesome production of Fly By Night. So that’s another point in this production’s favor.

4. Top Girls at Custom Made Theatre Company (San Francisco), by Caryl Churchill; runs March 18 – April 13, 2014

When I first saw the audition notice go out for Custom Made’s upcoming season, I did my homework and read through all their shows. (For someone who calls herself a “theatre person,” I have read a woefully small number of plays in my life. So whenever I hear of a new season, it usually involves a lot of reading.) Top Girls is the one that stood out to me in the season, for two reasons: (1) it not only passes the Bechdel test, it blows it to smithereens; and (2) the amount of overlapping talking in the play makes for very difficult reading, to say nothing of how it’ll be staged and presented. Have you ever read Glengarry Glen Ross? That’s sort of stilted speech, with constant interruption, yet with each character maintaining her own line of thought. I’m interested in seeing this show for intellectual reasons as much as anything else.

5. The Color Purple at Hillbarn Theatre (Foster City), adapted from the book by Alice Walker; runs May 9 – June 1, 2014

When I first saw this musical done professionally, I was so moved I saw it twice. Sure, it had its moments of being over the top (just like any musical should!), but Alice Walker’s story was all still there, and Celie’s transformation into a self-confident woman was mirrored so compellingly in the actress’ soaring gospel voice. (I’ve always been a sucker for gospel.)

Doing this show at the community theatre level is a gamble on many levels, and it’s the first non-Equity presentation I’m aware of, anywhere. And you gotta hand it to Hillbarn for taking the leap and producing this show — I hope it gets the talent turnout they need to cast a 40+ person, nearly all-minority show. (We all know the talent’s out there; it’s just a matter of getting people to Foster City. And hey, they did it with Ragtime last season, to great effect. So if anyone can do it, Hillbarn can.)

(Auditions are early 2014, guys!)

Bonus: Camelot at SF Playhouse (San Francisco), by Lerner and Lowe; runs now through September 21, 2013.

So I lied. Had to tack this one on, playing now through late September. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of this musical. No amount of Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews could save it.

But maybe Angel from RENT could.

That’s right. This production stars Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the Tony Award-winning actor who originated the role of Angel, as Sir Lancelot. HOW is it halfway through the run and I haven’t heard about this?? WHO is running the marketing over there??

Other actors in the cast include a hodge-podge of Bay Area actors, Equity and non-Equity, including Bay Area favorite Monique Hafen as Guenevere. 

So. Now you know which shows (some, guilty pleasures; others, intellectually stimulating) that I’m looking forward to this season. How about you? Are you going to come see these with me? Do you have others on your mental list that you want to share?

Leave it all in the comments!

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area theatre-type, currently doing her thing at www.sayshelen.com

Falling With Style: All Art Is Equal (But Some Is More Equal Than Others)

Helen Laroche is making art… or is she?

A few years ago, when I quit my job in sales because I was burned out, I set an intention for myself: I’d mentally finger-paint for a while, listen to whatever interests came my way, and build on those until I became an artist. Simple.

At the time, I thought I was going to become a writer. (I still have goals of publishing a book — no particular thoughts on the content.) But in this early period of unemployment, still far too grateful for the free time to be freaking out about money, I didn’t navigate towards writing.

I navigated towards baking bread.

Really. I spent my a month or so testing bread recipes — loaf bread, dinner rolls, pizza dough; white, wheat, cornmeal. With all the free time at my disposal, I could let them leisurely rise for a few hours before punching them back down. I could, for the first time in my life, afford to make little errors in my cooking in the name of experimentation, swapping out one ingredient for another to see what happened. I came from a pretty processed-food kind of home, and in comparison to anything you can get at the store, homemade sandwich bread is the shit.

I was puzzled — or more accurately, troubled — with my change in vocation. Sure, I wanted to be an artist, but that meant performing arts. Always had. That’s what I quit that high-paying, low-rewards job for, right? I felt the grip of guilt close around my throat: I jumped off the cliff so I could follow my bliss. And now I’m not even following through! Isn’t a career in the performing arts what I’ve always wanted? How could I give that up?

Cut to the past few weeks.

I haven’t been auditioning, haven’t been singing much outside of the shower, which the guilt grip continues to give me a little pressure for. But I have been doing a lot of event management for the company I’ve recently started working for. And it’s intense, and it’s stressful, and I love it. And I think I’m good at it, too. It’s definitely a creative outlet. (Today the whole company is recording a music video in Golden Gate Park. Mullet wigs, inflatable guitars, airbrush tattoos — guess who thought that up?) But is it art?

And this is where I start to go cross-eyed: if I sit and admit to myself, yeah, maybe the whole singing-and-dancing thing isn’t for me right now, am I being honest or am I just weaseling out of a life goal? How do I honor the goals and aspirations of my youth (“When I grow up, I’m going to be on Broadway!”) while also recognizing what feels good — not just hedonist-avoidance good, but truly in-my-soul good — right now?

And if I am drawn to what feels good and right in this moment, flitting every which way my bliss takes me, how will I ever achieve success, which I assume is a state that takes years of single-mindedness?

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Helen is a sentient multi-cellular organism with the ability to convey thoughts through mutually-agreed upon symbols, which if you think about it, is pretty bad-ass. She strings together symbols elsewhere at <a href=”http://www.sayshelen.com“>SaysHelen.com</a>.

Falling With Style: It’s Been a Dry, Dry Summer

This week, Helen shares with us her continued creative nigredo. Y’know, light stuff.

This is my first column in a few weeks, after an unannounced hiatus. I wasn’t anywhere special; I just couldn’t get the words to flow.

It’s been happening for the last few columns. My writing “process,” such as it is, ideally goes something like this:

1. Notice that a deadline is coming up.
2. Think to myself, “what’s important enough to me right now, that I want to
write about it?”
3. Choose 1-3 answers that seem right and set them aside to grow in my subconscious.
4. Return to those answers at some later point in time (a time that is still before the deadline) and see what my subconscious has done with them.
5. Write, edit, publish.

But you know this tune. Those steps don’t always happen, and when they don’t, I still have a column to write. And the feeling of performing (in any sense of the word: acting, writing, presenting) when the mojo isn’t there is excruciating to me.

The show must go on, of course — theatre-types know that better than most. Sometimes I don’t do my best work; sometimes I have to fake it; sometimes my well runs dry and I just have to perform anyway. It’s a bummer, but I skate by and hope that next time it’ll be better.

So here’s the scene as it stands today: my well is heart-wrenchingly empty, and I am deliriously thirsty. I have licked the walls dry. I am sitting at the bottom of the well and I’ve been waving my arms in a half-hearted rain dance attempt for days. I’m afraid to stop moving, because I know my eyes will close — to sleep or to die, I’m not sure. And because I can’t be sure which one it is, I’m torn. At this point, the sleep would be almost as refreshing as the water. But the idea of my creative self dying and leaving me forever is too terrible to face.

So I continue the rain dance.

Helen is a person who sometimes writes, sings, dances, cooks and breathes. She lives on the web at www.helenlaroche.com.