In For A Penny: Oh yeah, THAT thing

Charles Lewis III, getting his audition on. 

WhatMeWorry copy

“Don’t worry about the future… or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.”
– Baz Luhrmann & Lee Perry, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”

It always sneaks up on you. Between jotting down ideas for personal projects, prepping for this year’s Olympians, doing numerous on-camera jobs, jumping from one job interview to the next, and waiting for rehearsal schedules on a few major projects later in the year, it came as a bit of a surprise to remember I have an audition this Saturday.

When I did recall, it was almost as if I’d been handed someone else’s schedule and I wanted to find them to let them know they have an important appointment coming up. But, sure enough, it’s my appointment and a subtle reminder that I’m not yet high enough on the proverbial ladder to skip over this circus act. If you hit the “audition” tag at the bottom of this article, you’ll find countless examples of we ‘Pub folk lamenting the necessary evil of the whole process.

Yet the most surprising thing to me wasn’t that this audition reminder seemed to pop up out of nowhere, it was how I wasn’t the least bit worried about it.

I knew I’d need new copies of my headshot and resume, but I’ve been printing those on my home printer for years. (I should spring for a new set of headshots soon, but that’s for another day.)

I knew I’d have to memorize a monologue in a few days, but I’ve done that in a couple of hours. Besides, as I’ve written about before, I’m fortunate enough to be acquainted with a number of fantastic writers whose words I often use in auditions. This gives their work more exposure and lets me say a piece I know the auditors haven’t heard a million times that day. (Someday I’ll send Megan Cohen a gift basket as thanks for the number of roles her monologues have won me.)

I knew I’d have to get up pretty damn early in the morning to make this audition on time. Not only because it’s one of those early bird auditions that seem to happen often in the East Bay (as will another audition I have two weeks later), but also because several BART tracks are scheduled for repairs, which will make my commute even longer. The longer it takes me to travel to an audition, the more I tend to fret over trivial details that I’m sure will lose me the role.

So why am I not worried now? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I’ve been through all of this before. I’ve been through so many auditions over the years that I think it’s finally clicked that worrying won’t bring me any closer to the role. I could spend an entire week dedicated to tearing my hair out trying to find the right shirt to wear (then another four days angry about how it doesn’t work with the clumps of hair I’ve just torn out), but I know that it’s a moot point. The director’s idea for the character is so solidly locked into his or her brain that it’s ridiculous to that you five-minute reading of sides will lead them to restructure the whole production just for you. I mean… it’s possible, but not very probable.

Not that I’m suggesting one should audition unprepared, far from it. Memorize your monologue and sides, if you’ve gotten them beforehand; if your character’s the more upscale sort, then maybe a collared shirt would help; it’s good that you (think you can) do accents, but don’t try them unless explicitly asked to do so. Preparation will always help you.

What I’m saying is to not worry. I used to get really pissed at fellow actors who attended the same auditions I did and they eventually got cast with the company. It especially pissed me off that they all had the same excuse as to why: “I just stopped caring at auditions.” Whether they meant it or not, that statement always felt like a slap in the face, a humble brag that they were able to pull off the magic trick we’d both been working on for the same amount of time.

Knowing these folks for a long time, it finally started to hit me that they weren’t (consciously) trying to be dickish, they were just trying to illustrate that they’d found their own comfort levels. They’d each found a way to walk into an audition and tell themselves “I might get this role, I might not – it’s not the end of the world.”

As I write this, I have newly-printed copies of my resume next to me and I’m skimming through short monologues (written by folks I know, naturally) that would each be perfect for me. After the audition, I’ll probably have brunch before meeting up with another Olympians writer, and then, hopefully, attending this week’s Elvis-inspired Saturday Write Fever. By then the audition will be done and the world will still be here. Hopefully.

Charles Lewis III says that if you’d like to rant about auditions with him, meet him for drinks at SWF or one of the upcoming performances of the Pint Sized Plays, which start Monday at PianoFight.

In For a Penny: Dead Men tell No Tales

Charles Lewis contemplates the Great Beyond.

“Death Found an Author Writing His Life” (1827) by E. Hull

“Death Found an Author Writing His Life” (1827) by E. Hull

“I’ve got my own life to live
I’m the one that’s going to have to die
When it’s time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to”
– Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 was 9”, Axis: Bold as Love

Funny thing about writing a play about death: it makes you think a lot about dying. Who knew? And if you want to get technical, the play in question isn’t actually about death, but the lack thereof. Let me explain…

I’m writing the Opening Night Party play for this year’s SF Olympians Festival. You may or may not recall that last year I occasionally dedicated this column to exploring the development process of said festival. If so, you may also recall that my final entry, “A Pre-Post-Mortem”, attempted to take an optimistic look at death, a frequent topic in a festival revolving around Greek mythology. Many Greek myths look at death not as the end of the journey, but rather the beginning of the next journey. For them, death wasn’t something to be dwelt upon – for lack of a better term – as it is today. Still, they acknowledged it as an inevitability and possibly one step closer to achieving greatness.

The Egyptians are a different story all together: everything was about death. EVERYTHING. Perhaps that’s not fair – it may be more accurate to say that they were about life, which they felt continued after death. But that doesn’t change the fact that quite a lot of those lives were spent in preparation for their inevitable deaths. And when they did die, everyone took notice.

Remember, these were once decked out in shiny Tura Limestone.

Remember, these were once decked out in shiny Tura Limestone.

So when writing for a Greek mythos fest that’s now added Egyptian gods for good measure, it’s no surprise to find death at every turn.

Except, of course, in my play. The script (working title: It’s a Fucking Dylan Thomas Poem!) is about characters for whom, shall we say, death is not a problem. No matter how much harm they inflict on themselves or each other, they never need to worry about shuffling off this mortal coil. It’s not quite a Tuck Everlasting situation, but they live lives (that they believe are) without consequence. Well, when you live your life knowing you can get away with anything, you’ll eventually ask yourself what the point of living is. And what’s the point of asking that question if you’re never going to die?

Naturally I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about dying. Not taking my own life – when you’ve known as many people as I have who attempted suicide right in front of you, it kinda puts you off the idea – but just what will or won’t be said when I’m gone. It’ll be completely out of my control, but that doesn’t stop me from contemplating what would be said, if anything at all. As I’ve been tinkering with this script over the past few months, I began to notice that whenever I’d seriously start to write notes or dialogue, a celebrity would die. (Not my fault, I swear!)

Such high-profile deaths inevitably lead to a lot of fawning eulogies, as well as some scathing posthumous criticisms. For me, the most interesting comment came after Prince’s death. With no legal will specifying the division of his $300m estate, Time asked Snoop Dogg if he’d made preparations for his family. He doesn’t. “I don’t give a fuck when I’m dead.”

As much as I disagree with the callous way a multi-millionaire refuses to make sure his family is protected once he’s gone, I have to say that I admire his response. He seems to understand the way the futility of worrying about something that will be completely out of his control. Though I don’t agree with how he does it, I like how he accepts the fact that he only has control for a finite amount of time, then everyone will be on their own.

Of course, it’s still Snoop Dogg, so he was probably high off his ass when he said it.

The problem with never wanting to talk about death is that it makes you unprepared for it. What both confounds and fascinates me about the characters I’m writing is that they’re unprepared for what life has in store when death never comes. They have to find reasons to keep living because it’s the one thing they’ll always do. What does that do to a person’s sense of health, spirituality, or ability to form lasting relationships?

I’m not quite sure, but as I keep writing, they’ll find out or attempt to die trying.

Charles Lewis III want you to celebrate life and art by contributing to this year’s Olympians Festival Indiegogo campaign. His script will be read during the Opening Night party on Sunday, October 2nd.

In For a Penny: Playground Rules

Charles Lewis III, a perspective on perspective.

Stop sign copy

“[W]hat is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself?”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

I think it’s safe to say at this point that every theatre person I know took some time out last week to read the Chicago Reader’s exposé on Profiles Theatre. (In the days that followed, Profiles’ AD Darrell Cox released a response statement on the theatre’s official Facebook page, but as of this writing, all of the theatre’s social media channels are shut down. Their official site contains only a statement that the theatre has permanently closed its doors.) If you’re anything like me, the article probably got you thinking. Not just about the stories of the people mentioned in the article, but thinking about your own theatre history.

I thought about my first professional theatre job nearly a decade ago. It was a staged reading with movement for a major theatre and I was (I think) the only non-union person involved. I was very eager to please and didn’t want to look like a fool – or a wuss – in front of all these seasoned pros. So when the director decided that my scene partner and I would perform two kisses described in the script, I kept my apprehension to myself. Stage kisses are fucking terrifying and the only one I’d done before was on a girl’s cheek. Thankfully, my scene partner was a good guy and made it a comfortable learning experience for me. Considering the unspeakable stage acts I would later perform (playing The Soldier in Sarah Kane’s Blasted comes to mind), it now seems kinda silly that I got all choked up over a kiss. Still, it was a decision made about me without my input and I just sat there and said nothing.

I read the article and thought about how years after the above reading I was part of a full production that also required a kiss. The director was insistent that my scene partner and I kiss early into rehearsal, but I wasn’t ready. I want to read and develop a deeper understanding of my character before physical work is done, and it didn’t make much sense to me for physical intimacy to blocked when the entire cast is still on-book. The development I was discovering with my character got me lots of compliments from the cast and playwright, but the director wanted me to hurry up and kiss already; I wanted to find the motivation behind the kiss. This, combined with several other mitigating factors, lead to my leaving the show – a decision I don’t at all regret.

I read the article and thought of a production in which a female scene partner decided to ignore the director’s choreography and got uncomfortably physical with me. The longer the play ran, the more “grabby” she got, to the point where I – in character – would push her away from me. During one show in the penultimate week, as my character was walking away from hers, she grabbed my ass. I stood motionless on stage for a good second-and-a-half (brief, I know) before I regained my faculties and went through with the scene, glad to make my eventual exit. I remember my first instinct being to turn to her on stage, shout “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”, collect my things, and quit right then and there. Instead I finished the run and added names to my list of people with whom I’ll never work again.

I’ll be the first to say that the experiences described above pale in comparison to those described in the Reader article. By and large, I’ve been privileged to have worked with some of the most courteous and professional directors, trainers, and choreographers the Bay Area has to offer. I’ve had the personal comfort of I and my scenes partners given as high priority as that of our personal safety. Although I’m rarely part of union productions, I can usually place good faith in the thought that above scenarios were exceptions for me rather than the standard.

But, as the above proves, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for those things to happen. I don’t mean accidents, because only so much is our control (an on-stage misstep during last month’s ‘Pub show left me with knee pain that’s only now almost fully subsided). No, I mean situations that could – and should – be prevented but aren’t. Whether it’s an actor being “so into” his/her character that they make their fellow cast uncomfortable, or the director whose “artistic vision” requires bully tactics meant to reduce cast members to tears – none of these acts should be ignored, let alone encouraged.

Artistic collaboration relies on trust – between the creators, collaborators, and even the audience. Violating that trust for one’s own personal interest isn’t a healthy way to make great art, it’s a warning sign for disturbing behavior. People don’t listen to the playground bully because he has something invaluable to say, they do it because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t do what the bully says.

And the best way to push back against that is for voices to be heard – on both sides.

Far too often the onus of continued abuse is place on the abused rather than the abuser. I don’t think any theatre or company wants to hurt their collaborators, but they should be transparent in regards to those collaborators. Sure, this director’s last show was extended three times, but how many cast & crew would willingly work with that director again? And when a company sends out casting notices, they should ALWAYS be clear about the fact that the show has material (nudity, violence, etc.) that would make an actor uncomfortable to perform. The company’s job is to make their collaborators as safe and comfortable as possible at all times. Barring extenuating circumstances, failure to do so is the company’s fault.

And yes, actors can and should deeply research a company before auditioning. (Not doing so is a mistake I’ve made before.) The Information Age has thankfully made this much easier than it would have been years before. Is this your first production since graduating? Ask friends on social media what it’s like to work for this company. Look up reviews of shows. See how the season is programmed and if you’d want to do any of the shows in the first place. And always know what your comfort levels are, because you’re the only one who will. Peer pressure was tough on the playground and it’s tough in the real world, but you ALWAYS have the ability to say “No”.

It always breaks my heart when I read stories like these related to theatre. I feel bad for those hurt, in no short part because one of their favorite activities has turned into an absolute nightmare for them. I then feel angry at those who hurt them because it’s often a result of the latter forgetting the one indisputable truth about what we do: this is all make-believe. The sets, the costumes, the make-up, the dialogue – all of it is for the illusions; getting people who watch us to wholeheartedly believe something they know for a fact is not real. Our job is to find the underlying truth of our illusion, but it will remain an illusion. It’s a game that everyone should feel comfortable playing. If you can’t see that, then the problem isn’t everyone else.

Charles Lewis III likes to keep his characters ground by repeating the old Stella Adler quote: “To play dead, darling, you needn’t actually die.”

In For a Penny: Mid-Year Intermission

Charles Lewis III, keeping it together and taking stock.

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“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

So far this isn’t necessarily my favorite year, but it’s been busy nonetheless. Between a full-length show in which my character had the most dialogue, a stint in ShortLived, acting in two Theater Pub shows, and lots of on-camera work I can’t even remember, I should be relaxing. Instead I’m thinking about this evening’s rehearsal for a show that opens in just over a week. Besides, my way of decompressing at the start of summer is to just let my mind run in a million different directions at once. Like so:

Free Lunch

Over the weekend I took advantage of having some time off to see a great show before it closed. It was a last-minute decision and thankfully there were a few seats available. Unfortunately, their Square reader wasn’t working and I had no cash on me. Just as I was about to leave to find an ATM, the director showed up and insisted I be his comp for the evening.

I accepted, but I admit that I felt guilty about getting in free for an indie show. I have no problem taking advantage of comps or discounts from big houses, but I always feel a bit uneasy doing so for smaller venues and companies; I’m far too conscious of the fact that the money I’m saving is being denied to people in the production. Even using Goldstar or discount codes can make me feel like I’m shoplifting at a store struggling to pay property fees.

But I’m less adamant about this than I’ve been in years past. Back then, I thought taking advantage of a discount or comp from an indie theatre company was me giving the finger to said company; “Goldstar spite” I called it. (Some shows I only saw because I knew someone in production who’d comp me.) But I also don’t have endless money to throw around, so now I think of comps and discounts less a commentary on the theatre and more me not worrying about my account balance all the time.

Besides, I like that even before I began writing for this site I’ve been offered industry comps. It allows me to simultaneously take an active part in the local theatre scene AND make sure all of my bills are paid at the end of the month.

Field of Streams

If you read Playbill as often as I, then you probably saw the news that Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening, American Psycho) is creating a new musical that will be made available exclusively through a mobile app created by Verizon. The musical, Pulse, will feature a libretto by Kyle Jarrow and “[follow] a group of American expatriates living in Berlin who find themselves immersed in the city’s vibrant, kinetic dance scene. The series tracks one year of the characters’ lives telling the story as a lush and provocative EDM musical.”

Synopsis aside, the internet-first approach reminded me of Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, which debuted on the internet in 2008. It also reminded me Alyssa Rosenberg’s recent Washington Post piece about how the price of Hamilton has become so prohibitively expensive that perhaps a film adaptation is now in order.

Ah, the age-old question of how to get audiences to the theatre. We indie folk often have to drag them kicking and screaming, but shows like Hamilton and Spring Awakening have to turn people away at the door. The question for both is how to get the show to people who won’t be there. As I’ve mentioned before, technology can be our friend in times like this. Streaming apps – Periscope in particular – have grown in popularity over the past year and it’s brought the live performance to new audiences. Just last year, I was part of a PianoFight audience as they livestreamed a production of Don’t Be Evil over YouTube. I remain convinced that it’s a great way to share theatre work with those who can’t be there in person. Whereas “Tweet Seats” still strike me as distracting to live performance, livestreaming is integrative and the very type of incorporation more live venues and companies – indies in particular – should research.

Turd Blossom

Recently I agreed to direct the staged reading for another writer of this year’s Olympians Fest. I then went to look over the material I currently have for my own script. As it continues to both shrink and expand, I found one particular verse that I knew would be the first to go. I’d written a pretty off-color joke that was unnecessary to the story proper and would definitely be taken as offensive to audiences that heard it (hell, it offended me).

I immediately 86’d the joke for the latest draft, but I was left wondering what corner of my subconscious spawned it to begin with? I’m not fond of shock value and don’t think highly of those who rely on it too much, but I also wondered if I was needlessly self-censoring my own work so as to not offend an audience that exists only in my mind? Would it be so bad if I occasionally embraced the more “uncouth” areas of my psyche during the creative process? I remember attending Tourettes Without Regrets a year or two back and watching this brilliant routine about how the Game of Thrones franchise is really just George R.R. Martin doing an extended version of “The Aristocrats”.

I actually liked writing the joke originally – done more or less during a stream of consciousness writing session – but editing is just as important to creativity. The joke didn’t add anything to script, so it was excised. Sorry, Dead Baby Joke – maybe some other play.

A few other theatre-related thoughts crossed my mind, but I decided to silence them with a nice jog. As this is my 35th year (yes, midyear of my mid-30s), I find it healthy to take a little mental inventory. I recently got news that I might not even be living in the Bay Area this time next year, so I’ll try to make the most of it while I am here. First-half of the year was busy, second-half looks intriguing. Let’s see what’s in store.

Charles Lewis III would like to assure you all that he does NOT have a collection of discarded death jokes just lying around. He’s much more of a “Knock-Knock” guy.

In For A Penny: Vices I Admire

Charles Lewis III, on why vice can be nice.

Yes, I own this shirt.

Yes, I own this shirt.

“The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights — I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.”
– Carl Sagan, Mr. X (1969)

I never smoked weed until I did theatre. For that matter, I never ate sushi until I did theatre. Yes, I was one of those boring teens who never drank, smoked, or went to parties. (Well, I did try smoking cigarettes several times, but it never caught on.) Part of that was due to just being an awkward teen who never hung with The Cool Kids, but another part was by choice. I studied religion as a kid and took the concept of “pure body, pure mind, pure soul” to heart. And to be honest, I was pretty damn content with myself.

It wasn’t until I was 27 – an age at which I’d put the “pure body, et. al” bullshit behind me – that I’d decided to see what weed was all about. I’d just finished a show with a local theatre company and we were having our closing night celebration. Turns out these folks had a closing night tradition of rechristening the dressing room as “The Green Room” for reasons that should be obvious. After awkwardly making my way in and patiently waiting for the bowl to come around to me, I took my first toke.

Nothing happened, really. It’d be a later incident at 4/20 in Golden Gate Park before I finally actually got high. Still, it worked in as much as being a socially-inclusive gateway to fellow theatre-folk. And even when I was a clean-living teen/upcoming artist, I was always fascinated by the idea of an intoxicating substance enhancing the creative process.

“Write drunk, edit sober” is a phrase we’ve all heard thrown around willy-nilly. (It’s often misattributed to Hemingway when it’s more likely from Peter de Vries.) Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda were notorious for it. Mary Shelley got smashed on absinthe with her husband and Lord Byron, then wrote her masterpiece Frankenstein. Hell, scientists believe even Shakespeare may have smoked weed between writing sonnets. It all contributes to the idea that when inspiration is out of reach, it can be found within your poison of choice.

I personally wouldn’t know. I rarely drink outside of social gatherings (I’ve been drunk exactly five times my entire life) and do so as a method of decompression rather than inspiration. The only times I smoke weed are when I’m around someone who prefers not to smoke alone, and it’s never made want to start writing. I’ve never had the chance to do mushrooms, though I’m not opposed to the idea. And despite knowing many people who love it, I will never do cocaine. (Before we found out how terrible he was, Bill Cosby had stand-up routine that sums up my thoughts perfectly: “I said to a guy, ‘Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful,’ and he said, ‘Because it intensifies your personality.’ I said, ‘Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?’”) I’m not on any moral high horse – I like weed, beer, and the friends who share in them with me – but they’ve never worked for me in terms of electrifying my creativity.

But that’s just me. In addition to the aforementioned authors above, I can cite countless works of art created under the influence which I hold dear: the weed-inspired illustrations Salvador Dalí or Mœbius; the coke-fueled ‘70s films of Martin Scorsese; hell, damn-near anything from the Harlem Renaissance. Without those substances, those great works might never have been possible and I might not have been inspired by them to become an artist.

The real problem is when an artist sees a mind-altering substance as their ONLY form of inspiration; when the supply gets low or empty, working with someone having withdrawal can be annoying, if not dangerous. I don’t even drink coffee, so I can’t really imagine what someone’s head must feel like when they’ve suddenly decided to teetotal.

The reason I bring all this up is because this month’s ‘Pub show, of which I’m a part, is an hilariously over-the-top satire about “the dangers of the demon weed”. Each character is based on a classic horror film trope, but with enough humanity to make them relatable. Incidentally, my character is a collegiate weed dealer, someone who uses the substance as the means to an end in order to do the art he truly loves. Yeah.

Before anyone asks: No, we don’t perform the show high. I’m sure that’d be hilarious (I’ve done Beer Theatre before and it was a fuckin’ blast), but I assure you that Colin’s script is plenty funny without the actors being baked. Plus, there’s probably some kinda law or somethin’ ‘bout smokin’ weed indoors with the public, right? I dunno…

But as I sit here with my script by my side and my soon-to-be-used typewriter in the corner, I tried to think of what it is that fuels me to write, act, direct, and explore other avenues of creativity. I’m still not really sure, but I hope I don’t run out of it anytime soon.

Charles Lewis III plays the world’s most lovable weed dealer in Colin Johnson’s “Sticky Icky”, starting this coming Monday at PianoFight. Admission is FREE, donations of $10 or more appreciated.

In For a Penny: Of the People, By the People, For the People

Charles Lewis III, giving us another look at Paul Flores.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

Paul Flores in character, in public.

“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down Brothas on the Instant Replay”
– Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not be Televised

On-site theatre is a risky proposition, both for the performers as well as the audience. One the one hand, you’ve freed yourself from the rigid constraints of a typical performance space; on the other hand, you’re subject to the elements and limited as to what you can openly display in public. I’ve done Shakespeare in the woods, Sarah Kane’s Blasted in an actual hotel room, and – as the name of this website may have told you – pub-set plays in actual pubs. I can’t recall any one of those being preceded by the advisory that the show could be “shut down by the police at any moment.”

Such was the case yesterday at 2pm outside the SFPD Mission station. I’d seen on Twitter that Theater MadCap would be staging a special performance of You’re Gonna Cry for the so-called “Frisco 5”, so I decided to check it out. For those who don’t know, the Frisco 5 are five SF activists and politicians (Edwin Lindo is running for District 9 Supervisor) who are staging a hunger strike in front of the Mission station in protest of police-related killings by the SFPD. They plan to continue their strike until Police Chief Greg Suhr resigns from his post. Despite the word “Frisco” rubbing me the wrong way, I sympathized with their cause and am always interested in the intersection of art and social justice. The very idea that art can be used for genuine social change is one that still gets my blood pumping.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

Theater MadCap’s Eric Reid, also the show’s director, shares a laugh with hunger-striker Edwin Lindo.

The “early bird” audience consisted of the strikers themselves, reporters from various news outlets and websites (one cameraman from KTVU was captured everything), twenty-or-so students from Mission High who took the day off to witness protest first-hand. Given that Flores’ one-man show begins in 1995, I was struck by the fact that none of these kids were even alive when this all took place.

I remember clearly what San Francisco was like that year (I was 14) just as I remember that dot-com bubble that followed. I also remember that it as being the first time I took a theatre class and the first time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I wanted to perform, I wanted to get in touch with my Blackness, I wanted to fully embrace every part of this great, big world that had now been opened up to me. All of those memories came flooding back as Flores put on many hats – literally and figuratively – and I scribbled down notes as traffic occasionally drowned him out.

Most of it was the business-as-usual collection of garbage trucks and mail carriers, but there were also the occasional pointed honks of solidarity from motorists who held their raised fists out their windows. Several folks stood across the street to take photos and get a better look, though they couldn’t hear what was said. Since the performance was in the street’s bike lane, quite a few Schwinn-enabled hipsters swerved around the crowd with bewildered looks on their faces. About 15 or 20min. into the performance, another motorist drove by to show neither curiosity or support. A White man over 40, he began using his horn as a punching bag and angrily shouting “Go home! Go HOME!!!” to all gathered. Since he drove by during a green light, he was as gone as quick as he’d appeared.

Through all of this, Flores never missed a beat. Sliding from one persona to the next, it makes sense that a play about the colorful characters who used to inhabit the Mission be staged amongst and for the colorful character who inhabit the Mission now. Jumping from Spanish to English and back again, the high schoolers in attendance seemed most receptive of all. As much as it pisses me off when people call to “kill off Shakespeare” – claiming that he’s obsolete in contemporary theatre and curricula – I get equally pissed by people who say that youngsters couldn’t possibly take an interest in theatre, given their supposedly short attention spans. The teens gathered yesterday contradicted that theory.

We were told that the SFPD could shut down the performance at any minute. This gave the show an air of uncertainty and unease when uniformed officers gathered at the corner of 17th &Valencia. Flores made it a good 50-or-so minutes through his performance without fail before he finally had to stop. To our surprise, it wasn’t the SFPD that stopped him.

Through a chorus of drum beats and chants heard from a block away, the 20-some-odd Mission High students were joined by a massive crowd of students from Everett Junior High School. Flores kindly relinquished his “stage” to these young supporters as they took turns extolling words of encouragement to the strikers.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

Maria Cristina Gutierrez and Edwin Lindo meets students from Everett Middle School.

It was then that I had another one of those moments. You know the ones. I’ve occasionally mentioned them during my column posts this year. It’s a moment that happens in spite of people saying “No one goes to theatre”. It happens in spite of my being told that my generation “is fucked and the next generation is double-fucked.” It happens in spite of everyone telling me “SF is so over”.

It’s the moment when I know they’re all wrong and I remember why I do what I do. I watched an effective peaceful protest in my hometown, punctuated by a moving performance, interrupted by a show of support from active youth. That’s almost everything I could want out of theatre.

On the BART ride home I just happened to see Barbara’s interview with Paul Flores get posted as I was already planning to write this very piece. I had no idea she’d interviewed him, so don’t mistake this for a two-part advertisement for his show. Still, I find it appropriate that both pieces run so close together, as they both present two important parts of the artistic process. The interview represented the artist’s intentions, this piece sees it in practice. Whether or not they’ve succeeded is up to you (this isn’t a review of the show), but I’m glad I got to observe it with the usual restrictions removed.

Charles Lewis III is in a show this weekend, but will definitely see You’re Gonna Cry during its run, which begins tomorrow and runs until May 28th. The “Frisco 5” protest has no end date in sight.

In For a Penny: The Early Bird

Charles Lewis III, getting the worm.

Free wine – the only reason I do theatre.

Free wine – the only reason I do theatre.

“I am glad I was up so late; for that’s the reason I was up so early.”
– William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act II, Sc. 3

As I continue my contemplation about the theatrical “ecosystem,” I recently took a moment to ponder the act of seeing something early. What does the audience think when they see a preview performance for a play or early screening of a film – are they hoping to see the next great masterpiece? Do they want to be ahead of the curve in bashing the next great disaster? Or are they like me in that they just want to escape from the world and were persuaded to do so by the discounted (or free) price?

Previews are a necessary evil: they’re billed as being works in progress; a peek behind the curtain of artistic evolution. This reasoning is meant to excuse what ever stumbles the production encounters in this performance (“It’ll be better in the show proper; we promise!”), but simultaneously sell the bright spots as on the verge of growing brighter (“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, folks!”). Notorious Broadway debacle Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark had the longest preview period in history with 182 pre-opening performances. You could argue that audiences and critics had their daggers out before the first curtain rose, but the show apparently showed little – if any – improvement during its run.

I opened a play last week after two preview performances. After months of memorizing lines and contemplating character motivation, I don’t have a damn clue what the audiences have thought of us so far.

With that show occupying much of my life of late, I took advantage of the rare opportunity to be part of an audience this week. This past Tuesday, I attended the Industry Night (so cool to be thought of a part of “the industry”) performance of Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners at the Magic Theatre. I knew practically nothing about the play going in, but I’d heard that Udofia is a resident playwright at the Magic and that Rotimi Agbabiaka – one of the best working actors in the Bay Area – would playing an important role. Free ticket, free wine, rub elbows with local theatre bigwigs – how could I resist?

I didn’t see the playwright herself that night, but the pre-show speech mentioned that the show is intended to be the first chapter of a nine-play cycle (Ch. 2, runboyrun, opens at the Magic on April 28) of Nigerian characters in the United States. An ambitious venture to be sure. In the “Blood and Brain” interview inside the program, Udofia explains that she “started with one play and thought [she] was done.” That one play became a trilogy which soon proved not enough.

So was I watching the start of the next theatrical story cycle – a la August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” or Tom Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia”? I don’t know. Hell, I didn’t even consider the multi-chapter angle until the very end of the play. I doubt anyone else did either. All I can say for sure was that I know how I reacted to what I saw then and there. That’s what’s most important about previews: not what they represent for the future, but what effect they have right here and now.

I play to see runboyrun in early May, and my own play continues performances tonight. Just yesterday I had my costume fitting for the SF Opera (it’s a cool costume that I’d honestly wear in public, if I could). I’m tinkering over pages for my Olympians script as I mull over upcoming auditions. I’ve also recently been offered a directing opportunity that I’m seriously pondering.

In short, I have a pretty good idea as to what my theatrical future holds. That’s not going to stop me from living fully in the present.

Charles Lewis III is a writer, director, actor, and creator of the Flux Capacitor. No, you can’t see it.