Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Re-Cap Of 2015 Part I

Today is the first of our three installments of 2015 recaps from each of our nine staff bloggers. Each has their own unique angle on this past year, so make sure you come back for the rest tomorrow and Wednesday. The Stueys will post on New Year’s Eve.

Top Five “Words of Wisdom” From Folks I’ve Interviewed by Barbara Jwanouskos

2015 marked the first year of shifting “The Real World – Theater Edition” to a mostly interview-based column mainly focused on generative theater artists, new work, and playwrights. As I reflected on the year, five “words of wisdom” moments sprung to mind that I would love to set as an intention moving forward into 2016. They resonated with me when I initially interviewed each of the people below and then again as I reviewed the interviews of the past year.

I think it’s best to let these words stand alone without any framing or reasons why I chose them. After all, when something resonates for you personally, it just does. There’s not much more to it than that. Hopefully, though, highlighting these five artists will also bring new ideas and wonder to the forefront of everyone reading too!
In no particular order, here are their words again:

1) Ariel Craft, director
“Don’t be afraid of not knowing, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know. You can’t be expected to have all the answers in the beginning and, if you think that you do, be cautious of those answers.”

2) Donald E. Lacy, Jr., comedian, radio DJ, performer, writer, director, and community leader
“For other writers and artists I can’t tell them what to write or how they should address social ills, but the first advice I would give is to say you have to feel passionately about what you are writing about, whatever that may be. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but for me, I have to care. Especially as it relates to social issues and or injustices. I despise injustice. I despise racism, so having such strong feelings about those issues, it makes it easy for me to tap into what I want to say about those particular issues. But for me, I like to support my point of view with facts.”

3) Alan Olejniczak, playwright, librettist
“You must also really love the subject of your play as it may take years to develop.”

4) Savannah Reich, playwright, performer, and producer
“For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.”

5) Marisela Treviño Orta, playwright
“I make a point to wait until I’ve gotten a play into several drafts before sharing the script with anyone. I need that time to really get to know what the story so that when people have notes for me I’m able to determine if those notes help me realize the narrative I’m trying to write or if they are going in another direction.”

The 5 Most Surprising Things that Happened to Me This Year by Charles Lewis III

I wouldn’t call 2015 my favorite year, but it was an interesting one theatrically. Some of it was by design, some of it was happenstance, but all of it taught me something. With all the moments I now recall, here are five that came out of left-field.

1) I sang. I’ve auditioned for so many musicals over the years that I’d long-since stopped holding my breath about actually being cast in one, let alone two in one year (one of which also required me to dance). But between appearing in a brand new musical and singing “Pinball Wizard” at the top of my lungs, I finally got over a stage-based fear that’s been with me since high school.

2) I saw the Red Planet. I was part of the writers’ pool for this year’s two rep shows by Wily West Productions. It was my first time being part of a group, this one led by Jennifer Roberts. One of the two scripts, Zero Hour: The Mars Experiment, had a performance attended by actual candidates of the Mars One project and got a reading at the Otherworld Theatre in Chicago.

3) I learned to like costumes. Not that I ever hated them (although I’ve worn a few horrendous ones in my time), I just didn’t ever want to be the one making the decisions about them. But a director kinda has to make those decisions and I wound up directing a lot this year. To my pleasant surprise, I wound up liking the things my actors wore: I created a cartoonish burger-place cap for On the Spot; I got my Olympians cast to look like a pack of scented markers; and as for Texting

4) I made a skimpy man-thong into a prop. A proud moment for me. Nothing I put on my resume will ever top it. Speaking of which…

5) I gave up my reluctance in calling myself a director. I only acted in two projects, which would normally lead me to calling this a slow year. But I felt envigorated after doing them. This occurred in the same year that I found myself at the proverbial “helm” of so many projects that I finally felt confident enough to put “Director” on my theatrical CV and told people to consider me for projects – which they have.

Oh yeah – I also ran into Colin Firth on the streets of San Francisco, but no one wants to hear about that, do they?

The Top Five Venues of 2015 by Anthony Miller

Hey you guys, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, when my Top 5 format becomes everyone’s format. It’s much like the 90’s, when what I already wore became fashionable. At the beginning of the year I made 2 resolutions, 1) Read The Great Gatsby and 2) Leave the house more often. As we come to the end of the year, only one of those really worked out. As it stands, I have read 17 pages of The Great Gatsby, it took all of 2014 just to finish the introduction. So we’ll table this one again. However, I did manage to get out more, consequently I got to see a lot of different shows in a whole bunch of places. So let’s look at my five favorite venues of 2015.

1) Pianofight
Wasn’t this everyone’s favorite venue of 2015? I’m not the first person to say it, but what Rob Ready and everyone at Pianofight has accomplished is amazing. It’s always fun to be there, the bar is great, the fried chicken sandwiches are the best, and it’s provided a clubhouse of sorts for SF theatre. With three stages, it’s hosting shows from every facet of the Bay Area performing arts scene. All the mini-scenes in the bay are getting together in one place and it’s resulting in more shows and bigger audiences. Whether I’m seeing a show or producing a show there, it’s always fun. I see a huge 2016 for this place, and they deserve it.

2) The Curran
While the 100 year-old Curran Theater is going under renovations, it has been hosting an exciting new series of plays called Curran: Under Construction. I was lucky enough to see a lot of these this year, and because I knew most of the house staff, I got to see not only a lot of cool theatre; I got to explore the place like crazy. By putting the audience on stage with the show, it turns the historic Curran stage into an intimate 150 seat venue that just happens to overlook a 1600 seat theatre and a giant chandelier. The sheer variety of shows I saw was vast There were immersive theater pieces like The Object Lesson, one man tributes to Lenny Bruce, and the Theatre Rock awesomeness of Ghost Quartet and Stew’s Notes of A Native Song. Add that to hanging out on a stage that has hosted hundreds of theatre legends, exploring their basement, fly rails and sneaking into a box seat and drinking a beer, and it makes for an awesome experience every time. And entering through the star door is pretty fun; It’s a really nice stage door.

3) Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater
For purely sentimental reasons, The ol’ Roda Theater makes my list. After roughly 3 years of House Managing for them, I left for greener pastures. Sure, the Roda can be aptly described much like Ferris Beuller described Cameron’s house; “It’s like a museum it’s very beautiful and very cold, and you not allowed to touch anything”. But I did have a lot of fun there. My co-workers were great, and as nerdy as it sounds, there is something absolutely thrilling about getting 600 people seated and giving the house away on time. Not to mention, I saw Tartuffe there, which was easily my favorite show of 2015.

4) The Grand Lake Theater
OK, this is a movie theater, but it is noteworthy. The historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland is my favorite movie theater in the world. I saw Star Wars Episode 7 in classic 2 projector 3D there and whenever I can see a movie here, I do. It’s a beautiful old fashioned theater that still raises a curtain when the movie starts; an organist plays before the show, and it’s got a pretty ceiling. Not to mention the fiercely liberal views that are often displayed on the marquee. Let me be clear, this is best movie theater in the Bay Area. They’re currently hosting the “Roadshow” Version of The Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm, You’re doing it no justice by seeing it at the Kabuki AMC, Go to Oakland, see a movie there. You won’t be sorry

5) The EXIT
I just can’t quit you EXIT Theater, I love you and your pee-pee smelling sidewalk. I don’t see a world where I don’t see shows here. It still remains a place where independent theatre artists can find a home or just get started. It’s the home of SF Fringe, The Olympians Festival, DivaFest and everybody’s first show in San Francisco. With great new venues like Pianofight and the Strand opening up, the Exit is still the Exit, the CBGB’s of SF Indie Theater.

Charles Lewis is an actor and a director and a writer. Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright. Anthony R. Miller is writer and producer, he’s a got a very busy 2016 coming up, keep up with it at http://www.awesometheatre.org.

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Cowan Palace: Olympian Doughnuts With Sam Bertken

This week Ashley chats with Sam Bertken about tonight’s reading with the San Francisco Olympians Festival.

It’s night five of the San Francisco Olympians Festival! Can you feel the magic? Well, I certainly can because tonight’s the night my short will be taking its first breath in front of an audience. This evening’s performance, THE CREW, features eight shorts by Steven Westdahl, Megan Cohen, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, Alandra Hileman, Seanan Palmero, Alan Olejniczak, and me! Wearing an additional hat, the pieces are being directed by Steven Westdahl who has assembled a fearless group of eight actors including, Sam Bertken, Matt Gunnison, Layne Austin, Heather Kellogg, Wayne Wong, Tom Cokenias, Katharine Otis, and Kim Saunders.

To give me a little additional insight into the acting process, Sam agreed to help answer a few questions. So wahoo! Here we go:

Ashley: First, tell us who you are playing in this evening’s performance.

Sam: I am playing such a fun breadth of different characters! One half of a foul-mouthed duo on a segway tour of Atlanta, an actor who reads stage directions, one half of a Canadian air rescue team, one half of a Marina bro pair celebrating the holidays at their wives’ OBGYN clinic, and the hammiest narrator I’ve ever had the honor of portraying.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

Ashley: If you took one of those online “Which Greek God Are You”? quizzes, who do you think you would get?

Sam: Ideally, it would be someone ultra-cool and talented like Hephaestus, who is my personal favorite out of the entire pantheon, but it’s more likely I’d get someone spry like Hermes or something more confusing like Hestia.

Ashley: What’s your favorite line you get to say in tonight’s show?

Sam: It’s a tough choice, but simply because it is so close to my personal interests, “Bring on the fucking doughnuts!” definitely ranks up there with the best of ’em.

Ashley: What’s the most challenging thing about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: As someone who has written for the festival previously, I think it’s actually remarkably easy to be an actor in the Olympians Festival. Just show up to the right rehearsals, and go with the flow. Be ready to go with the flow.

Ashley: What’s the best part about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: The auditions! And probably the performance night, but I can’t be 100% sure yet. 🙂

Ashley: If you could only use emoticons to describe tonight’s show, which ones would you use?

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

Ashley: Where can we see you next? Are you acting in any upcoming productions?

Sam: Well, I’m going to the TBA Awards! And then I’m going to be part of the comedy maelstrom that will be KMLZ, Killing My Lobster’s end-of-year show, which you should totally come see!

Awesome, Sam! Well, gang, you can see Sam, me, and the rest of “the crew” tonight at The Exit. We hope you’ll be there with doughnuts.

The 2015 festival will play 12 nights, November 4-21, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show, or in advance for $12 at Brown Paper Tickets. All shows begin at 8 PM. Audience members who attend more than four nights get the fifth free!

Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part One)

Pint Sized V begins its four performance run tonight at PianoFight at 8 PM! We’ve got an amazing line of up of writers this year, and check back next week when we introduce you to our directing team! Meanwhile, here’s Christina Augello, Stuart Bousel, Megan Cohen, Alan Coyne, Elizabeth Flanagan, Jeremy Geist, Christine Keating, Juliana Lustenader, Lorraine Midanik, and Daniel Ng telling you all about what it takes to bring you this year’s collection!

pintsized-01-4 copy

How did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Stuart Bousel: Well, as one of the founders of Theater Pub, and the current Executive Director, I knew the festival was around because I’m the guy who puts it on the schedule. That said, I have had a piece in every Pint Sized except Pint Sized II. The first year was a short called Queen Mab in Drag. All the other years, including this one, have been a monologue written for our mascot, the Llama, who was created by Elana McKernan for the first Pint-Sized, and has been played by Rob Ready ever since. No, I don’t have to go through the submission process- I’m grandfathered in every year. Executive Directorship has its privileges.

Stuart Bousel

Stuart Bousel

Christine Keating: I heard about Pint-Sized when it happened in 2013, but I wasn’t able to see it. It sounded fun and exciting, and I enjoy short storytelling in many forms: flash fiction, web shorts, podcasts. I had written my plays a few months ago to get the idea onto paper, and then Pint-Sized seemed like the perfect venue for them!

Lorraine Midanik: I heard about the Festival from a fellow playwright who thought I might be interested. In March, one of my plays was produced at PianoFight’s Shortlived Festival, and I am excited to have another play presented in that terrific venue. I have always been fascinated by the names of beers and thought it would be fun to play with it in my writing.

Elizabeth Flanagan: General stalking of the SF Theater Pub website. I wasn’t fortunate enough to make any of the Pint-Sized performances at the Café Royale but I have seen most of the videos of the plays. Good stuff. I feel privileged to be part of this history. It‘s also pretty special to be included in the first Pint-Sized festival to be performed at PianoFight. My dad lived in the tenderloin and used to take us to Original Joe’s on occasion. It’s very cool to be back at the old stomping grounds in a new way.

Alan Coyne: I almost certainly heard about this iteration of Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival through Facebook, and from there, Theater Pub’s website. And I’d heard about previous versions of it from folks who’d been involved in them. I’ve had the idea of Einstein as a bartender in a scene for a long, long time. There’s something about the image of him as a silent observer in a bar, a place where the rules of space-time so clearly intersect with the rules of human behaviour, that I find engaging. And so this festival presented the perfect opportunity to try and explore that notion in my own clumsy way.

Christina Augello: I am very familiar with Theatre Pub and knew it was coming up and got an email reminder and followed the link and there it was and I have been wanting to write and the limited parameters seemed perfect to get me started. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Christina’s first play ever!)

Daniel Ng: It was a great experience having my piece, Mark +/-, in Pint-Sized IV, so I’ve been looking forward to submitting again since then.

Jeremy Geist: I found out about it from one of the Theatre Pub people I’m friends with on Facebook. It was only a two-page play submission, and I already had an idea, so I felt it was worth the effort.

Juliana Lustenader: After seeing the call for submissions on the SF Theatre Pub blog, I decided to do some research and found old YouTube videos of past Pint-Sized performances. The plays I watched were all so creative and funny. I knew I had to be involved with the process somehow. Usually I would audition as an actor for these sort of things, but watching those old videos inspired me to write what I think is the silliest five pages I’ve ever written. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Juliana’s Bay Area debut as a playwright!)

Megan Cohen: I watched the very first night of Theater Pub ever, years ago, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front row, then I joined the family immediately, writing a piece for the very next monthly event. The community that’s found each other at Theater Pub is diverse in artistic style, and you never know what you’ll see, but I find that the theatermakers gathered under this banner tend to be reliably open and generous, with each other and with the audience. Pint-Sized feels like a flagship festival to me, because it pulls together so many of us, with our unique voices and approaches, and I just can’t miss it. I’ve written for Pint-Sized every year. I keep coming back here because of happy history, and because we get an unusual crowd. Since the shows are free, people come who otherwise wouldn’t take a chance on a night at the theater, and I love the responsibility of that; it means I better give them something worthwhile to watch, so they’ll come back!

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

Elizabeth Flanagan: Getting it done. I think the big misconception would be that shorts are quicker to write. Not for me they aren’t. I’m always amazed at the amount of time I can spend on a short. I can bang out a rough draft fairly quickly, but the rewrites are tricky. I tend to put just as much work into a short as a full length.

Lorraine Midanik: For me, it’s making sure the turn happens at the right time (not too early, not too late…sort of like Goldilocks!). In a short play, there isn’t much time to develop the characters and have an engaging plot so it’s really a challenge.

Juliana Lustenader: Fitting your 50 page idea into a 10 page limit.

Christine Keating: Crafting characters who are real and relatable in a short conversation.

Jeremy Geist: Creating something meaningful. With a play this short it’s really easy to just write a few pages of filler and call it a day.

Daniel Ng: The hardest thing is crafting a satisfying ending. Compelling concepts/scenarios/gags are relatively easy. Sometimes that’s all you need or have time for in a short piece, but delivering a definitive punchline or reaching a pithy denouement takes a piece to the next level. But it’s hard to get there in a short time in a way that feels organic, that isn’t just tacked on.

Megan Cohen: Short plays can be mistaken for “a little something,” as though their length means they are inherently small, in importance or in impact. The hardest thing is to not fall for that trap. As any poet will tell you, short isn’t the same as small. Keep the play big, and the words few.

Megan Cohen

Megan Cohen

Alan Coyne: The hardest thing about writing any play is the foreknowledge that the brilliant, dazzling dialogue in my head is going to come out all lumpy and misshapen when I start using actual words. And then once you start, it takes on a life of its own, and spawns a million new tangents, and you could spend the rest of your life rewriting it, and so finishing it is practically impossible. Thank goodness for deadlines!

Stuart Bousel: These days I don’t really write short plays any more, and the Llamalogues are really speeches, which I’ve always found rather easy to write, actually. That said, there is always all the usual challenges of any writing- which is to keep it interesting, and striking that balance between challenging and accessible- not always easy when your only character is a sort of emotionally unbalanced alcoholic anthropomorphic animal.

Christina Augello: Actually I liked writing a short play and it wasn’t hard at all.

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

Megan Cohen: Audiences love short work, and that’s enough for me; I just checked, and Pint-Sized will feature the 72nd short of mine produced onstage since 2008. (Wow, just reading that sentence makes me tired.) I like the immediacy of shorts; the way this industry works, a full-length play can take years to develop and find a home onstage, but the turnaround time to production with a short is often a journey of just a month or two. An audience is there almost immediately, showing you how your play works, and what it is. You see what makes them laugh, where they get upset, what they connect with, and you get the goodies now, not later, which is an obvious priority for me as an impatient American.

Lorraine Midanik: I like the opportunity to tell a story in a confined timeframe. It forces me to edit out unnecessary words and actions and focuses me on moving the play along in a fun way.

Daniel Ng: The best thing is bringing something to fruition in a short period of time. This is especially true when working with Pint-Sized, where pieces are quickly produced and performed. It’s like the immediate satisfaction from cooking and then enjoying a great meal.

Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng

Elizabeth Flanagan: Going deep quick. Often a short will feel like a throw away piece or it seems a little more frivolous, than say a heavy drama in two acts. But, because you have limited space and time, that entire world, those characters need to be created in a matter of words. When it works it’s fantastic. Also with shorts there is great freedom to experiment. With Magic Trick I had a lot of fun playing with a mix of language and genre.

Jeremy Geist: Being able to pursue weird ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work in longer formats. I read a lot of weird/gross things on the Internet and like working them into my writing, but they aren’t substantial enough for a full-length. It’s nice to use short formats to vent some of my more indulgent projects.

Juliana Lustenader: When writing a short play, I feel like I can “get away with” more things. Mainly because it’s over before anyone can go “Hey…”

Stuart Bousel: It’s definitely true that, aside from the length restriction, all other bets are off- and that is liberating.

Christine Keating: Not wasting any time getting to the point. Also, throwing an audience into the deep end of the world of the play is fun.

Christina Augello: You get it done quickly.

Alan Coyne: The best thing about writing a short play, or having it performed, is seeing how much better everyone else involved makes it.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Christina Augello: The theatre artists I know and work with influence my work as well as over 60 years experience in the theatre and life in general.

Christina Augello

Christina Augello

Megan Cohen: The character of the BEEEEAAR, that is, the character in the monodrama I wrote for this year’s festival, specifically owes a lot to the influence of playwright Charles Ludlam, a leader of the “Ridiculous” aesthetic movement Off-Off Broadway in the 1970s and 80s. His work has taught me a lot about foolishness and dignity, and the entertainment value of earning a good laugh with a bad joke.

Lorraine Midanik: Because I often write about strong, funny women, my mother is my major influence. She passed away in 2008, but her strength and humor always permeate my work and live within me. My writing has also been influenced by Anthony Clarvoe from whom I have taken playwriting classes at Stagebridge for the last 3 years. I am very lucky to have a wonderful husband and two amazing daughters from whom I draw my inspiration.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Depends on the time of day. Thinking of the short form, Alice Munro is one of my favorite short story writers. Maybe I’m not so much influenced by her as I admire her ability to write a near perfect sentence, and I don’t mean grammatically. She’s one of those writers where a line cuts you to your core. You finish the last line, the last word, and you sit, you just sit with it, thinking there was no other ending because it’s so utterly complete.

Stuart Bousel: My influences are all over the place, I’m very intertextual, read a lot, see a lot of movies and theater, and I listen to a great deal of music. John Guare and Marsha Norman are my favorite playwrights, but their plays are sort of non-traditionally structured and my plays often follow a structure closer to film or musicals. My monologues, particularly the direct address ones like Llamalogue, are often structured like songs, with choruses repeated and builds and codas. So, for this one I’m going to say Sondheim, who is always an influence, really, for me. Sondheim, and some Shakespeare too. And Dostoyevsky. And Morrissey. All the greats.

Christine Keating: On these plays, probably comedians like Amy Schumer. In general, my favourite playwrights are Sarah Kane and Martin McDonagh.

Daniel Ng: The past couple of years, I’ve filled in some of my gaps in Vonnegut and Phillip K. Dick. As I get older, I like their ideas (and personal experiences) about persevering in the search for meaning in the face of a bewildering and uncaring, or worse, openly antagonistic world. Like maybe you can be world-weary, yet, at the same time, remain stubbornly human and humane.

Jeremy Geist: This question is hard for me because I can’t point at specific mechanisms I use and say exactly who it came from. In terms of my comedy, I will say I’ve been heavily influenced by a sportswriter named Jon Bois lately. His stuff is some of the best out there these days – check out his Breaking Madden series.

Juliana Lustenader: A major influence on my comedy writing is David Sedaris. I love the way he can spin an average and innocent encounter with another human being into a ridiculous farce using his wit and seemingly endless vocabulary. I didn’t use much wit or vocab in To Be Blue, but it is definitely ridiculous.

Alan Coyne: I’d like to imagine that Douglas Adams is a major influence on my work. I owe at least some of my interest in cosmology to the Hitchhikers’ Guide series, which I encountered early on thanks to my father. And if I could write like anyone, I would want it to be him. Adams, that is, not my father. Although for all I know, my father could also be a brilliant writer. I mean, he could also be a brilliant writer like Adams, not me, I wasn’t saying I was a brilliant writer. Er, let’s move on.

Alan Coyne

Alan Coyne

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Elizabeth Flanagan: Because it’s noir I’m tempted to say Bogart or Bacall obviously. But I’d probably lean more towards Cary Grant. He has a better mix of comedy and suspense.

Juliana Lustenader: Kit Harington, so I can selfishly stare at him during rehearsals.

Stuart Bousel: I mean, it’s hard to think of anyone but Rob Ready playing the Llama, but if I had to go with someone else I’m going to say Derek Walcott, who I once heard read and has the like… sexiest voice. Also he’s a brilliant poet and he’d probably be able to do all sorts of exciting line readings a traditional actor wouldn’t necessarily think of.

Megan Cohen: All the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn; if you’re wondering why, just watch this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTXsec9rvw4M

Lorraine Midanik: That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say Anna Deveare Smith. She is extraordinary in how she takes on the persona of her characters. She is magical on stage by combining advocacy with her outstanding acting and writing.

Daniel Ng: Uzo Aduba. In Orange is the New Black, she perfectly rides that edge between mad fool and truth-teller, comedy and tragedy. And have you heard her story about learning to be proud of her name? Look it up–she’s a hero.

Christina Augello: Ian McKellen….he is a superb actor who’s performances invite you to share in his skill, fun and joy.

Christine Keating: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson for Part 3, definitely.

Alan Coyne: If I could cast one celebrity in my show, it would be Albert Einstein. But not as himself.

Jeremy Geist: I think Ice-T could do a pretty good job.

Jeremy Geist

Jeremy Geist

What’s a writing project you are currently working on and/or what’s next for you?

Christina Augello: Working on a personal story to present as a solo show and looking forward to performing in a couple of upcoming plays in 2016.

Christine Keating: I’m directing two plays in Those Women Productions’ In Plain Sight night of one acts (September 4-20) as well as writing a full night of plays on horror tropes about sleep for September’s Theater Pub (September 21-29!).

Elizabeth Flanagan: I’m nearly finished with a new full-length that I affectionately call “the meth play”. I look forward to setting up a reading for that play and hearing it in its entirety. I’m also a cofounder of Ex Nihilo Theater, a new playwright group with Jennifer Lynn Roberts and Bridgette Dutta Portman. We’ll have a reading of short plays on Aug 20 at The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland and in October we will present the first installment of a new serial play that we will be writing and presenting over the following twelve months. We would love to see you all there!

Elizabeth Flanagan

Elizabeth Flanagan

Megan Cohen: I’m writing a big ol’ two-act play about a pair of sisters, where the two actresses switch roles every night, and I’m trying to make the dynamic really taut, elastic just totally pulled to the limit between them; it’s so tense in the draft right now, and I hope it stays that way. I’m getting out of the house a little, too, acting in a show for SF Fringe Festival that runs in September. I’ve taken the role of the photographer Man Ray in the DADA spectacle Zurich Plays, so I’ll be going full trouser-drag for that which, as a 4’11” woman with serious hips, should be a glorious challenge. (http://www.sffringe.org/zurich/) Looking ahead, Repurposed Theatre (http://www.repurposedtheatre.com/) is doing a whole program of my short works and one-acts in December. All world premieres, all written by me, the show has this really fun vaudeville frame and is called The Horse’s Ass and Friends! That’s December 2015 at the EXIT Theater, directed by Ellery Schaar, a fabulously fearless partner who seems able to handle anything that comes out of my mind.

Daniel Ng: I’m trying to finish a short story that has now grown to a novella. There is an end in sight, though it’s merely vague and barely visible. My goal is to beat George R. R. Martin to the finish line.

Juliana Lustenader: Instead of finishing any of my scripts, I distract myself by auditioning for other people’s projects. You can see me as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew at Curtain Theatre through September and Sister Leo in Nunsense at Altarena Playhouse starting in October.

Alan Coyne: I’ve been working off and on (mostly off) on a musical involving astrophysicists that will never see the light of day. But more relevantly, I’m playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Curtain Theatre in Mill Valley through Sep. 13, and Stevie in Good People at the Waterfront Playhouse and Conservatory in Berkeley through Sep. 6 (yes, simultaneously; no, I didn’t think that through).

Jeremy Geist: Nowadays I’m mostly working on my board game company, follow me at @pknightgames. My flagship release is a Shakespeare-themed combat game called Happy Daggers!

Lorraine Midanik: I’m in the process of revising one of my full length plays after having worked with a dramaturg. The play is entitled Y Women and it focuses on the three very different women who meet in a behavior change program at a local gym. I have been fortunate enough to have had productions or staged readings of three scenes from this play. I’m also a playwright in the Theatre Bay Area’s 2015 ATLAS program (Advanced Training Leading to Artists’ Success) which begins this month. I am very excited to move my work to the next level.

Lorraine Midanik

Lorraine Midanik

Stuart Bousel: I’m working on a whole bunch of stuff I kind of can’t talk about. What I can talk about is that I’ll be going to Seattle in Septmeber to see the Seattle premiere of my play Everybody Here Says Hello! I’ll also be directing the October Theater Pub, which will be a short and furious version of Richard III. There’s a billion other things going on, but that’s all I can say… for now.

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

Megan Cohen: My own, of course! Anyone who says they care more about someone else’s shows than about their own is probably L-Y-I-N-G. That said, I’m really feeling Will Eno these days and am excited about The Realistic Joneses finally coming to SF (March 2016); I’ll follow actress Megan Trout to the ends of the earth, even if it means seeing Eurydice AGAIN (at Shotgun Players this time, Sept-Aug 2015); and you’ll certainly see me in Theater Pub audiences a lot in the coming months.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Aside from all the amazing Pint-Sized shorts you mean? I’ve never seen Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice so I definitely want to catch Shotgun’s production later this month.

Juliana Lustenader: I am looking forward to the Theatre Bay Area Awards this fall. I wasn’t able to attend last year, but many of my friends and colleagues were celebrated. Bay Area theatre companies stepped up their game this year and produced some spectacular shows, so I’m interested to see what the adjudicators enjoyed most. But more honestly, I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone.

Juliana Lustenader

Juliana Lustenader

Christina Augello: The 24th San Francisco Fringe Festival coming September 11-26th and of course Theatre Pub’s Pint-Sized Festival!

Alan Coyne: Other than my own, I’m looking forward to seeing Eat the Runt at Altarena Playhouse, and SF Olympians this November.

Daniel Ng: SF Olympians. It’s such a varied showcase of ideas and talent and 100% local.

Christine Keating: I’m looking forward to Disclosure from Those Women Productions at PianoFight, as well as the upcoming seasons at Custom Made, Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company. Also, all the shows that are happening soon that I’m exciting about but won’t remember until closing weekend, and then rearrange everything to catch them!

Christine Keating

Christine Keating

Lorraine Midanik: I am particularly excited by venues that feature plays by women and include strong roles for women. 3Girls Theater immediately comes to mind as well as Shotgun Players that is producing an entire season of plays written by women.

Jeremy Geist: I haven’t really been paying attention to anything.

What’s your favorite beer?

Megan Cohen: Free!

Christine Keating: I’m more a cider person, I mostly drink Angry Orchard.

Alan Coyne: Smithwick’s, for purely patriotic reasons.

Christina Augello: I don’t like beer, sorry!

Juliana Lustenader: Hoegaarden, ‘cause day drinking.

Stuart Bousel: Bass. Harp. In my 20s I would frequently two-fist both.

Lorraine Midanik: I know this is going to sound odd, but I don’t drink beer. (Please don’t throw me out of the Festival!). I am actually a cocktail (whiskey sour) and wine person. When I find myself in a pub where cocktails and wine are unavailable or possibly frowned upon, I either order a hard cider (hopefully fruit flavored) or a shandy (beer mixed with lemonade or ginger ale). Forgive me!

Jeremy Geist: Anything from this bracket http://www.sbnation.com/2015/3/23/8277455/jon-and-spencers-beer-bracket-its-the-great-beer-bracket-challenge-so

Daniel Ng: Still Guinness. Always Guinness. They say you can drink it straight out of the new bottles, but they’re lying. Use a glass, you savages.

Elizabeth: Feels like I’m obligated to say Guinness. Which may or may not be true. You’ll have to catch me at SF Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Fest to find out for sure!

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform four times: August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, click HERE!

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – With a li’l Help from your Friends

Charles Lewis III checking in from the most recent Olympians meeting.

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

“I had been alone more than I could have been, had I gone by myself.”
– The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

In all of the year’s I’ve been involved in the active production of the Olympians Fest (Years 3, 4, and now 6), I think I’ve only ever missed a single meeting. I believe it was during Year 4. I actually had planned on attending, but as the day wore on, I got so ridiculously sick that I eventually expected a CDC “Quarantine” tent to go up over the house. I’m pretty sure that once one agrees to write for the festival, the only excuse for missing a meeting is to be dead – at least that’s the impression we get from Jeremy’s e-mails. He’ll only accept actual death because being “on the brink of death” means you’re still alive and therefore should be at the meeting.

Granted, the folks who missed out on the most recent meeting had pretty good reasons: one was rehearsing his new show; one was acting, producing, and hosting this month’s Theater Pub; and one was actually having a baby. I… guess those are valid-sounding reasons, what do you think?

So as we all settle in, stuff our faces, and gossip about actors who have burned too many bridges, I really begin to notice that the meetings for this year’s fest carry a significance that wasn’t there in meetings for previous years. I don’t just mean the fact that Rachel Kessinger’s veggie lasagna has raised the bar on the food we bring, or that an entire cantaloupe-sized bottle of wine was finished off before the meeting proper even started. No, what I’m noticing is that this year’s meetings really do point toward a shift in the way that the festival is put together. There are fewer meetings this year than there were in previous years. As such, a lot has been packed into each one, so if you miss it, you’re missing something significant about how this year’s festival will differ from the last five.

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

We cover the normal bases: stating how much of the play has been written so far, if at all; mentioning how the premise has changed from the original pitch, if at all; finding a director, if you haven’t yet; and the reading of pages from the script-in-progress. As before, I pass my pages off to other writers in the room, tilt my head to the side, and try to just listen. I hear flaws, lots of them. Not in the way it’s read, per se, but the readings give the characters a different interpretations that what I’d conceived. One joke I wrote crashes and burns like the toilet seat of a Russian space station, so I know it’s not likely to be in the next draft. I will say that the back-and-forth aspect I wrote for this scene sounds better spoken than it did as I wrote it, so that’s good. All in all, I’m not entirely pleased, but I have an idea of what to work on.

That was a major topic of the meeting. Not my shitty pages, but the topic of collaboration. The simultaneous gift and curse of writing is its solitary nature: it often requires you to block out the white noise of the outside world so as to let your Id run free, but doing intentionally requires cutting yourself off from those to whom you look for support, solace, or even a few quick laughs. Writing means translating billions of mental synapses into finger movements that will somehow paint a verbal picture meant to be interpreted by someone other than you. But although the writing process can be solitary, it doesn’t mean that means to get the wheels moving have to be.

This meeting was about asking everyone in the room “What do you need?” and trying our best to make sure they got it. Maybe they have writer’s block, maybe they forgot the dates, maybe they wrote for a specific actor whom they now know they won’t get (FYI: pre-casting in the festival is frowned upon, and with damn good reason). As such, we threw out not only our frustrations, but also our solutions – particularly those of us who have done the festival before. A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of having the scripts read aloud. You might think this was a no-brainer – what with it being the entire point of the festival – but it’s how past entries that were meant to 10-15 min. shorts wound up being around 30 min. or more; it’s how a festival that starts every night at 8pm and expects to be out by 10pm (if not earlier) winds up having nights that go as late as 11:30pm. To this conversation I contribute “Just remember that it’ll always sound different out loud than it does in your head, ‘cause the voice in your head will lie to you. Every. Single. Time.”

Suggestions are thrown out for setting up writing sessions and readings. It reminds me of when I went to such a meeting with fellow Olympians writers during Year 3. I wrote the first full draft of my one-act about Atlas longhand in that café. I wound up drastically rewriting it when I finally typed it up, but that session in the café really got the ball rolling.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

Before we conclude for the evening, we touch on the other major necessary evil of art: funding. The fundraising template for the festival will be one of the most notable changes from years past. It’s a bit too early to say what it will be exactly, but it seems assured that it won’t resemble the campaigns from previous years. Of course, once your fundraiser video features creepy photo-bombing by Allison Page – 9:35 in the video – where else is there to go with it?

But the one thing of which we are sure is that it will require the effort of every single person who was in the room that night, as well as many more who weren’t there. If there was an overall message of this last meeting, it was that it only works when all of the pieces are in sync. Those of us who have been part of it from the beginning (in one capacity or another) know this to be absolutely true. Writers must communicate with directors, directors with actors, everyone with friends and family to see this new work and others like it. Once someone gets in their head that their way – and ONLY their way – is what will happen… well, there’s a reason each year’s festival has That One Play. Hell, it’s usually not even one – I tend to count two or three, depending on the year. It’s the play or plays that clearly had a communication breakdown and wind up being complete and utter train wrecks. Not even the good kind with some redeeming element of camp; no, they’re the ones that make audiences want to chew off their own limbs in an attempt to escape. There’s at least one every year. I sure as hell hope it isn’t mine.

So as we began to leave for the evening, encouraging all present to see this month’s ‘Pub show (that includes you reading this, it runs again this coming Monday and Tuesday), I dare say the one word on everyone’s lips is “collaboration”. That and Rachel’s lasagna.

Charles Lewis III is planning to once again direct his own Olympians piece on Poseidon this year. As to how that’s still collaborative, he plans to elaborate in the next “Of Olympic Proportions” entry. To read his and every writer’s proposal, and to learn more about the festival’s past and present, please visit the official SF Olympians Fest website.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up, Act 4, The Stueys (Again)

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2014 list. Finally. We know it’s long, but read the whole thing. Seriously. If he was Tony Kushner you’d do it.

So if there is anything I learned last week it’s that one can have spent too much time thinking about Into The Woods.

No, but seriously, in the time since I published last week’s avante garde explanation for why I wasn’t going to do the Stueys, ironically, as these things often happen, I rediscovered why I want to do the Stueys. Blame it on a couple of supportive emails I got, a text of a friend reading my blog from inside a security fort and identifying too much, and a chat on a bay-side bench with a young, hopeful playwright, but my heart started to heal from the poison I was bleeding out of it and then one night, quite spontaneously, I just sat down and wrote them. And it just felt dumb not to share them. Before I do though, I wanted to briefly (for me) revisit the three things I wanted to get across in last week’s article. In 2015 it’s my goal to create space both for what I want to say, and what I need to say.

1) I kind of hate the Internet. But seriously, after the last year or so, does anybody not? I mean, I love what it can do but I’m starting to truly hate what it brings out in people, including myself. To be honest, while I am still quick with the quippy comments on Facebook and such, you may have noticed I am much quieter on the debates and controversy front than I once was and this is because I’ve just reached my limit of getting into fights that started out as conversations but then devolved into people just trying to outshout one another. It’s amazing to realize that a silent medium requires a volume dial but it really does, and the truth is, there are days I fear to be anything but funny on the internet, or ubiquitously positive, and so I ironically don’t want to talk in what is supposed to be a forum, not because I fear critique or debate, but because I’m not looking to start any wars. Too bad the Internet is pretty much a 24/7 war zone.

2) I kind of hate awards. I always kind of have, but this became more apparent to me after I won a TBA Award this year and I know that sounds ungrateful but believe me, I am honored and flattered to have received it, and I understand why awards are important, or at least necessary, and I can’t state enough, especially as someone who got to discuss the process and purpose behind the awards extensively with the folks running them, that I do believe the TBA awards are both well intentioned and super inclusive in their attempt to create an even playing field for theater makers coming from a diverse level of resources. What I dislike so strongly about awards is how many people, in the broader sense, use them as shorthand to designate the value of art, artists, and organizations. And no, they’re not supposed to do this, I know, but they do, and we as artists are not supposed to internalize this, I know, but we do. And I became really aware of that standing in a room with my fellow nominees that night, who didn’t win an award, all of whom were good sports about it but I could tell it made them sad. Which made me feel kind of miserable. And now my award lives in the back of my closet because as proud as I am of it, I’m also weirded out about it, and what it might mean to people, the expectations it might create about me or my work. And awards are nice but they can’t be why we’re in this, and I know that sounds kind of bullshit from somebody who has a few but it’s true and we have to remember that.

3) I kind of hate theater. Okay, that is an exaggeration but I am going through a phase of being sort of disenchanted with theater and some of the theater community. I know this is hardly a first for anybody in the community, and I suspect it’s a particularly common feeling when you’re feeling overworked- which I definitely was in 2014. 2015, however, doesn’t promise to be any less work, in fact the opposite, and so that’s got me down. And yes, I know it’s my choice to work as much as I do, but it’s also kind of not. A lot of what I do won’t happen without me and that makes me want to keep working because I believe in it and all the people it serves or creates opportunities for, but my inability to really escape the theater scene for more than a day or two before my inbox fills and my phone rings reached epic proportions in 2014 and lead to some intense moments of resenting the thing I love for needing me so very much while not always feeling like it needs me, Stuart, so much as anybody dumb enough to work this hard for this little pay. Which is a nasty thing to say but sometimes… sometimes it’s also kind of the truth. Feeling taken for granted sucks; feeling enslaved to passion has a dark side. So it goes. It balances out all the times I feel rescued and redeemed by it.

So, hopefully, you can see how all this could make for a mood not suited for creating the Stueys. Considering my general ambivalence/anxiety about awards, but recognizing that some people take the Stueys seriously enough to put them on resumes and websites, I really have been struggling with how ethical, not to mention hypocritical, it is for me, as an artist, to be handing out awards, no matter how playfully, to my fellow artists, when the only thing determining those awards is… me. Who no one should take seriously. But who apparently some people really do. Cue paralysis inducing terror and suddenly I couldn’t remember why I was doing this or what it was all about, but I felt I had to say something because I had all this stuff to say. But it can be hard for me to talk about myself, what I’m personally going through, and even harder for me to advocate for myself. I hate disappointing people. But I hate being insincere more. And I wanted to begin to understand why I was feeling all this dread.

Anyway, without more ado, and much, much later than intended, here they are, 14 awards for the 2014 Stueys.

BEST ADDITION TO THE BAY AREA THEATRE SCENE
The Bay Area Theatre Awards

The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with, and when we celebrate that whole community, regardless of budget or house size, Equity relationship or ticket price, we are celebrating our Art, ourselves as Artists, and Artists as contributors to and saviors of the World. Of course, no one organization or person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff. No matter how far we cast our net, there is always more to see and more to explore and we’re fortunate to have it that way, so for a moment, let’s just celebrate what an incredible delight it is to now have an official awards system for our community that appears to be on the same page as that sentiment of inclusivity and casting a wide net, regardless of whatever other kinks may still need to be ironed out. And for those of you who feel the TBA Awards are not enough, or still missing the boat in some regards, you are correct. And you should do something about it, whatever that means to you. To me, it means keeping the SEBATAs going, because in my mind, Heaven is a place where at last we are all recognized for what we bring to the table, and I dream of a Bay Area filled with organizations and individuals proudly recognizing one another at every possible turn, for as many reasons as can be found, as many times as it pleases us to do so. And so I am giving the first Stuey this year to TBA, and specifically Robert Sokol, for having completed a Herculean task that they will now have to complete all over again. And then again. And then again. And again. Good luck everybody!

BEST NEW VENUE
PianoFight

Is there anyone who isn’t excited about all the potential here? Rob Ready and company have been building this space for years now, and walking into it you see why it has taken so long- it is just beautiful. From the mural by Molly Benson to the floors and the furniture, they have been seeking to create not just another black box or just another dive bar, but something truly magnificent, welcoming, inspiring, and everything a venue dedicated to a community art should be. Best thing of all? They’ve asked Theater Pub to perform there, and so we will be performing there, starting in January, at least twice a month going forward. Which makes us excited and scared. Something we’re sure they understand. This whole year looks to be exciting and scary.

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
San Francisco Fringe Festival (EXIT Theatre)

Dear San Francisco: this amazing thing happens right in the middle of you every year and not enough of you know about it and not enough of you make the time to visit it. And like… really visit it, not just duck in to see your friend’s show and then run out. And I understand why you do that because I used to do the same thing but now, having worked there for three years, I have to say, you are robbing yourself of an amazing opportunity to see theater from all over the country and the world, and to meet and talk with the most diverse collection of artists any one event assembles at any given point in the year, and to be a part of something bigger than you and bigger than just this venue or this theater scene for that matter. Do yourself a favor, serious theater goer, serious theater maker, and commit to seeing at least three shows at the Fringe this next year. Pick one by someone you know, one by someone you have heard of, and one by a total stranger. See them all, bring a friend, hang out in the Café and the Green Room between shows (on almost any night of the Fringe you can see 2-3 shows in one visit to the venue, and all the tickets are super cheap), introduce yourself to the staff and artists, tip the Fringe, and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to see more, know more, do more. If the Bay Area Theatre scene is a garden, this is one of our most vital vegetable beds. Tend this garden, and then come get fed.

BEST SHOW
“Our Town” (Shotgun Players)

Won’t lie… it kind of kills me that this was my favorite show of the year. But it was, so much so that my boyfriend, afterwards, said, “Let’s not see anything else this year- let’s let this be where we stop” and he was right and I agreed, but that’s part of what worries me: for far too many people I think theater starts and stops with “Our Town”, or its equivalent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good theater because it is, and I have long defended Thornton Wilder as being one of the great playwrights whose work is often undermined by having been overdone. This production, directed by Susannah Martin with assistance from Katja Rivera, was anything but overdone, it was subtle and lovely and elegantly realized, from the costumes and lighting, to the music and the performances, and it all came together in a way that, while nostalgic and dramatically safe (which aren’t necessarily bad things, but important to recognize), still felt fresh and sincere, like the gesture of laying down in the rain on the grave of a loved one. There was really nothing I didn’t love. Though if I had to pick favorites I’ll say very little is more entertaining than watching Michelle Talgarow and Don Wood play off each other, even during the intermission raffle. The night I was there they got some very chatty audience feedback and they handled it Grover’s Corners style: graciously and politely and in a way that warmed your heart.

BEST READING
“Hydra” by Tonya Narvaez (SF Olympians Festival)

God, there is very little better in life than a really good reading, and possibly nothing more frustrating than watching people shoot themselves in the foot on what should be the simplest, easiest theatrical event to pull off. And yet… again and again we see it at the SF Olympians Festival, the full range of dramatic readings, from the simple but impafctful, to the overdone and done to death. This year we had a number of excellent readings, but my favorite standout was “Hydra”, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez. A ghost story, a comedy, a conundrum, the piece was elevated to a new level by Tonya shrouding the stage in total darkness except for reading lights for her cast who, illuminated in the stark and eerie glow, were uniformly excellent- not in the least because they were relieved of having to worry about blocking and forced by the light to focus only on the text. Such a simple, elegant choice, but so effective. She won that night of the festival, and wins this Stuey for Best Reading.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“Mars One Project” by Jennifer Roberts (part of “Super Heroes” at Wily West Productions)

Jennifer Robert’s play, about a female astronaut who is denied her chance to go to Mars because she has a daughter and the Powers That Be don’t think the world can stomach or root for a woman who would leave her child, even in an attempt to create a role model for that child, was by far the best piece in this evening of shorts. There was plenty of fine writing, but this is the one that transcended its own subject matter to present that ever elusive thing: an issue play in which both sides of the argument are presented with pathos. The tragedy of the piece is less that “we’re not there yet” and more, “is what it will take to be there always going to require sacrifice on this level”, to me a much more interesting, more human question. In an evening of mostly sketches, it was the one piece that could not only stand on its own, but really stood for something, and it’s a near perfect short play- which as an author of short plays, I assure you, is a near impossibility.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Amanda Ortmayer (EXIT Theatre Technical Director)

Amanda Ortmayer has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome. If you haven’t had a chance to work with her, I hope, one day, you do. It’ll remind you why we’re all in this, or at least, why we should all be in this: for the people.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Marissa Skudlarek, “Pleiades”

One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to people complain about how there are not enough opportunities, while refusing to ever create those opportunities themselves. For the record I agree, there aren’t enough opportunities, but at some point we need to realize that if we have our health and a clear sense of our dreams, we’ve already been given more than most people get so it’s really just about figuring out how to see your dream materialize. Watching Marissa Skudlarek as she put together her first production as a producer (she wrote the script too, but we’re giving her recognition for the producer hat here), I was blown away by how organized and focused she was, how determined she was to do it as best she could even the first time out. Which is more than I can say for me. Even now, I feel like I mostly just take a deep breath, pick up my sword, and rush into battle blindly, while Marissa strategized and planned, gathered information, raised funds, and was just in general super smart about it all. Was anyone surprised? Not really. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take one more moment to tell her she did an amazing job. Everyone looking to produce a show in 2015- call Marissa. She knows what she’s doing.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Michaela Greeley, Katherine Otis, Terry Bamberger (“Three Tall Women”, Custom Made Theater Company)

It is not easy to play three versions of the same woman but this trio of ladies, under the direction of Custom Made veteran Katjia Rivera, brought so much magic to the stage that the leap of faith required for Act Two of Edward Albee’s classic was not only easy to make, you made it with a song in your heart! This is a lovely show, but one I rarely feel enthusiastic about, energized by, and these three performers, working so well together, in such total tandem with one another, sold me on this show in a way it’s never been sold to me before. Michaela Greeley was uncomfortably good at playing the frailty of her character in Act One and the fierce stubborn vitality in Act Two; while Terry Bamberger was an edgy warmth in Act One that ballooned into an explosion of heat and fire in Act Two; Katherine Otis, in the part with the least to work with in both acts, managed to strike the aloof brittleness required in the first act while still laying the foundations for the insecure idealist the second act tears to pieces. But what I may have loved the most was the way these ladies moved, always circling one another, always creating triangles on the stage, each one so aware of the other, having to fill the space one vacated, or rushing to claim a spot before the other could. It was like a dance, like a motorized portrait of the Three Fates and they wove a spell together that was frightening and enchanting all at once.

BEST RISK
Kat Evasco, “Mommie Queerest” (Guerilla Rep/DIVAfest)

Kat Evasco knows how to work an audience, but the audience at her show might not have been ready to get worked so hard. Bravely darting in and out of us, throwing herself around the stage in gleeful and breathless abandon, Kat unravels a personal story about the struggle to discover not only who she is- but who her mother is. And why she needs her mother to know who she is before she can finally accept herself. Co-written with John Caldon, who also directed, the show avoids the bulk of solo show clichés, feeling more like a play where Kat has just been tasked with playing all the roles to the best of her ability, and the audience isn’t really asked to come along so long as commandeered by her at the beginning and let go only when she sees fit. The piece is courageously risky, not only because of the controversial elements within it, but because Kat leaves no fourth wall standing between herself and the audience, and if they don’t run with her on it, her show is kind of screwed. Both times I saw this though, that wasn’t a problem; it’s hard not to jump in both feet at a time with a performer who is so ready and eager to do it.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Justin Gillman (“The Pain And The Itch”, Custom Made Theater Company; “Blood Wedding” Bigger Than A Breadbox Theatre Company; “Pastorella” No Nude Men; and like a billion other things)

So… how many plays was Justin Gillman in this past year? It seemed like every time you turned around he was being cast in something, including by me, and every time he was pretty amazing in it. I don’t know how he does it. Like seriously, I don’t know how he memorizes all his lines, let alone doesn’t burn out from the constant rehearsal and yet somehow he shows up every night, fresh and ready to perform. Generous with everyone, onstage and off, it’s rare I don’t find him the highlight of a cast, usually finding a way to balance being a somewhat over-the-top character with a deeply human core that is achingly vulnerable when not just a tiny bit scary. In each of the three roles highlighted above, this was the common thread- men at first dismissable, who at sudden turns revealled their fangs, and then wept as they ripped your throat out. Delicious.

The ladies have gotten a lot of attention on this year’s list, which is great, but we like to keep things balanced here at the Stueys so we’re giving two more nods out: Kenny Toll (“Dracula Inquest”, Central Works) and Sam Tillis (“Slaughterhouse Five”, Custom Made Theater Company). In my opinion, both of these gentlemen were the best thing about these two shows, which were solid enough theatrical productions but elevated by fully committed actors. In both cases, both men also played characters who were… well, committed. As in insane. Though the insanity characterizations couldn’t have been more night and day than the plays were (Toll’s was of the by turns wimpering, by turns screeching Bedlam variety, Tillis was the diamond hard, lethally cold, slow burn sociopath kind), both managed to be believable and unsettling without being melodramatic or over-the-top. Toll even managed to be sympathetic, while Tillis managed to be mesmerizing. Either way, it was endlessly watchable, haunting, and impressive.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Cat Luedtke in Anything

Seriously, once upon a time there was no Cat Leudtke and then one morning we woke up and she was everywhere. I think I might have seen her in like six shows this year and in each case she was the walk away discovery, the revelation performance. The tremendous skill of this woman is matched only by her tremendous range, as every role I saw her in this year was different, though perhaps none so piercing and breathtaking as her role in Custom Made’s “Top Girls” as England’s most done-with-it-but-not-lying-down-about-it mother. I’ve also seen her sing and dance, act Lorca, play the 19th century adventurer, the dutiful wife, and more (probably helps that one of the things I saw her in was a collection of one-acts), bringing to each role a personal touch and a universal power, a sincerity and openness of heart that made you feel like you were watching a real person. She’s very much a “real actress”, whatever we mean by that when we say it. I know that what I tend to mean is somebody so good at throwing themselves into something, they transcend and turn into someone else, each and every time.

There is always an embarrassment of brilliant female performances in the Bay Area, so I feel a few other honorable mentions are in order: Mikka Bonel in “At The White Rabbit Burlesque” (DIVAfest), giving a performance as a rabbit that was unlike any performance of anything I’ve ever seen; Ariel Irula in “Blood Wedding” (Bigger Than A Breadbox), whose deeply passionate performance was matched only by the soul of her singing voice; Jean Forsman in “The Pain And The Itch” (Custom Made Theater Company), nailing well-meaning but vapid liberal mom as only someone like Jean could, walking perfectly that line of endearing and annoying; Stephanie Ann Foster in “Slaughterhouse Five” (Custom Made Theater Company), who played both a woman and a man in the show, and was lovely, heartbreaking, deeply sympathetic in each role.

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
Now And At The Hour (Christian Cagigal, H.P. Mendoza)

The fusion of theater and film is a tricky one, and I can only imagine how filming a stage show without destroying the magic of live theater must require an excellent understanding of both mediums. Now make that live theater a magic show too and you are truly setting yourself up to fall flat on your face, but H.P. Mendoza’s film of Christian Cagigal’s “Now And At The Hour” flies, it is magical and touching, the decision to interrupt the narrative of the stage show with the narrative of Christian’s life and the important players in it only adding to the emotional punch of this unique variation on “the artist and his work” formula. Beautifully shot, entertaining, unexpectedly poignant, this is a stellar example of a collaboration between artists and mediums.

BEST SOLO SHOW
Kevin Rolston, “Deal With The Dragon” (SF Fringe Festival)

Remember my earlier bit about the Fringe? Here is a glowing example of why going into something blind at the Fringe can sometimes result in stumbling across something truly excellent. I didn’t know anything about this show. It had a fun premise in the Fringe guide (Man moves in with Dragon) and a bad flier design (sorry, it can’t all be hugs and snuggles here) and while I had no expectations what I wasn’t expecting was to be so thoroughly moved and entertained. It does not hurt that Kevin Rolston is an incredibly talented performer with an ability to switch between his three narrators with glass-like smoothness, or that each of the three stories he tells, each with a different take on the idea of a “dragon”, are all funny and unsettling portraits of our tenous relationship with self-control and those things inside us that scare us. An unsettling fable about how our potential for violence and indulgence can also be our potential for strength and transformation, Rolston’s notes in the program claimed the piece is unfinished, but it could actually already stand as is. Here’s hoping the final product is as good as the draft.

And as for Me…

So Usually I end the awards with something about the show I personally worked on that affected me the most, but in all honesty I got so much out of all of them it would be hard to pick one so I kind of just want to take a final look at last year as a whole so I can both make sense of it and kiss it goodbye.

For me, it was an incredible year, but that doesn’t mean I loved every second of it. Far from it. It was as demanding as it was rewarding and at times it also seemed… endless. Like there was just always one more thing to do, to get through and then… two more. And then nine. I got to work with material by the incredible Kristin Hersh this year and that will forever be a highlight of my life but the production itself was a rough process, and the reception was rough, it all kind of placed too much strain on an important relationship in my life and I walked away feeling very differently than I had when I walked in- which was hopeful and desirous to bring a project that meant a lot to me to people I loved who I thought could benefit from it, but by the end I was wondering if I had ultimately done more harm than good by bringing such tremendous attention to something so natal. Then I directed a stellar production of “The Crucible” that made me acutely aware of how resistant critics and audiences can be to seeing a familiar play in a new way, and also how embracing they can be, but by that point I was having a hard time hearing the love and found it easier to focus on the detrimental views. I worked to let it all go, focused on feeling proud of the work my actors and designers had done, which was stupendous, and then just as I was feeling more balanced again, Wily West’s production of my play “Everybody Here Says Hello!”, after a whirlwind of a production process, opened to unexpectedly and ubiquitously positive reception. Suddenly, I was a guy with a hit show on my hands- technically my third this year since “Rat Girl” and “The Crucible”, despite whatever misgivings critics were having, were also big audience successes. For the first time in my career though my writing was the center of attention (I often feel I am mostly known as a director who writes, though I am actually a writer who directs), partly because Rik Lopes, not I, had directed “EHSH”, and so critics had to speak about our separate contributions separately, and that was wonderful but the moment was short-lived: we ended up having two performances canceled and the show only ran 7 times and it became my play everybody “really wished they had made it out to see.” Me too! Though one should never shake a stick at houses full of strangers. But oh… we do this partly because of the friends we hope to show something personal to, don’t we? And, again, I was having a year where it was hard not to keep adding things up in the negative, no matter how well they were actually going.

Anyway, this was then followed by the Fringe, as rewarding and as demanding as ever, which was then followed by the fast and furious (yet incredibly smooth) rehearsal process for my play “Pastorella”, which was the only piece I both wrote and directed last year, and which was well received, actually pretty much adored by audiences, but played to 2/3rds full houses or less its entire run after opening to an audience of 11- my second smallest audience in the history of my theater life in San Francisco (not my whole life- I once played to an audience of 2 in Tucson). The result was a show that, though very economically produced, still ended in the red, something which shouldn’t affect one personally as much as it does. But if you haven’t gathered yet, I’m being truthful here, even if it makes me seem a little petty. So yeah, my final passion project of the year was probably my personal favorite artistic accomplishment but it also cleaned out my bank account, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that 2014 was the year I went freelance/contractor and believe me- it’s been an adjustment. One I’m still adjusting to. Finally we had the fifth installment of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which was wonderful if perhaps more draining than usual, and fraught with an abnormal amount of backstage drama, from some diva moves on the part of some of our participants, to a failure to meet our fundraising goals (first time ever), and then the pique of which, of course, was having our dressing room robbed on, naturally, the night of my reading, which was successful in that it was well done by my trooper cast, but again, sort of middling attended, and a bit anti-climactic as an artist considering it had taken me all year to write it. And did I mention that some of my favorite actors kind of hated the script? Disappointing, but less so than having a “colleague” tell me that working with me was basically bad for businesses because of my strong opinions and tendency to carve my own way, nonsense that nobody who was actually a friend would have bothered to bring up- especially not when I was in the midst of trying to find a way to help them realize their own plans for the local theater scene. But I have occasionally been told my Achilles heel is caring about the band as much as I care about myself.

And somewhere in there I won a TBA Award for “EHSH”, had two works of mine garner bids for film adaptations, threw a delightful birthday party and another successful Easter brunch, but had to cancel a major social event because I got pink eye. Which is only worth mentioning again because in retrospect, it really is kind of funny. I wanted to get more reading done and much more writing, but it just didn’t happen. Best laid plans of mice and men…

So yes, 2014 was amazing but it was also, definitely, a mixed bag. Rewarding to no end, but unforgiving in many ways, most of all in that I had a hard time forgiving myself for just… well… doing my best but not always getting everything the way I wanted it or hoped for. The problem is, when you’re burnt out, stuff that you’d normally brush off or accept as the breaks of the business or just how life is get harder to be blasé about, and I found myself at the end of 2014 feeling accomplished but bruised, lucky but kind of cursed, exhausted and not excited so much as terrified about the future and yet… hopeful. Cause I am hopeful. And I want to stress that and more or less end there, and tell you it was amazing to have 800+ people applaud me for winning an award (even if it was for a play I always considered a bit of a “minor work” and never guessed would be so defining), and it was incredible to walk up those stairs that night, all alone, and think, even as my thoughts came crashing down around me, “Well, you certainly don’t do anything half-assed, do you Stuart?” (even if that means sometimes I paint myself into an intellectual corner with the same gusto I pull myself out of it). Though I definitely experienced a lot in 2014, I often felt like I wasn’t actually learning so much as surviving, and oh, by the way, I had massive writer’s block, and it was writing all that out last Monday that finally cured it… and got us here. And here is not a bad place to be: hopeful, and weirdly confident that whatever happens next, I can probably handle it. I just kind of wish I had a clearer idea of what “it” was. But then we all wish that, don’t we?

Ah well. C’est la vie.

Deep breath.

Happy New Year.


Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Swell. Thanks!

We gave Barbara the day off and instead bring you local playwright Jennifer Roberts, reflecting on being thankful for that ever elusive animal… good critical feedback.

Two and a half weeks after Death Of A River in 3/4 Time was staged for the 2014 San Francisco Olympians Festival, I received a thoughtful email from an audience member. Her email came during a writing retreat and I couldn’t take it all in at that moment as my focus was on The Killing Jar (and hot tub), but I keep going back to it and becoming more and more grateful that she had been thinking about the play for this long and took the time to write me. Her letter was kind. She was interested in what the play had to say, but she was also blunt. She pointed out what hadn’t resonated with her and why. Typically, when an audience member writes to me I have one of two reactions: “Who asked you?” or “Swell. Thanks!” Usually critiques fall into the former and compliments in the latter. Hey, I’m human. My ego has an ego. But her letter of critique was swell. Here’s one reason why: she was right.

Her criticism was exactly what I knew already wasn’t working in the play (basically, I brought a hammer). Okay, now it sounds like if you agree with me, swell. If not, buh-bye. But that’s not entirely true. Not all emails that fall into the “Swell. Thanks,” reception are there because they align with my own awareness or are complimentary. In fact, I’m not always open to random emails from folks telling me what would have made my play better. If I’ve invited you to give feedback, that’s one thing, right? If I hadn’t, then I probably don’t want to hear it. “Who asked you?”

So why did I take this particular email well? I can’t say for sure. Maybe it’s because it was careful and considerate. I could tell she wanted to like the play. Maybe it’s because I know her. Maybe it’s because she, too, is a playwright, but avoided telling me how to write my play. She simply stated what hadn’t resonated and why. She didn’t offer fixes or suggestions. I respected her for that. A lot.

I wrote back and thanked her for critique.

I also let her know that I was challenging myself with this play and hadn’t gotten it to where I had hoped it would be, but was proud of it. (actually, I’m more proud of myself for attempting it). The play was problematic for me in many ways, so I decided, in the end, to let it be what it was for it’s first reading. I let her know that I doubt I’ll revise or revisit it. She responded that she was disappointed because, the subject is an important one and “one worthy of fuller treatment in your hands.”

And I agree.

However, sometimes you have to acknowledge when you don’t yet have the skills to pull off something. That’s what I learned with Death of A River. But also, if you don’t try, you’ll never acquire the skills.

I have to say, finding myself in a place of acceptance over not achieving the perfect play hasn’t been easy. I’ve always been a little embarrassed of the ones that didn’t quite hit the mark. But something has shifted for me. Perhaps it’s growth as a writer or growth as a person. Perhaps it was a blog post (I believe it was a SF Theater Pub post written by Allison Page, but I can’t locate it) that was about embracing your failures because of what they can teach you. Or, at least, that’s what I recall it saying. And I whole-heartily agree. Now.

A shift.

I still want to write a language play (on a subject I’m passionate about, while leaving my soapbox at home–it’s too heavy to lug around, anyway), and I will. Anyone who knows me knows if I set out to so something, I will do it. Eventually. I’ve already made the first step.

Jennifer Lynne Roberts is a playwright and producer and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from California College of Arts. She’s a past president of The Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco and an Associate Artist with Wily West Productions. Her latest full length play, THE KILLING JAR, was a 2014 finalist for Dayton Playhouse’s FutureFest. Find out more at http://www.jenniferlynneroberts.typepad.com</em>