Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Colin Johnson

In honor of STICKY ICKY, opening May 23rd, we’re interviewing writer/director Colin Johnson about this latest joint.

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Give us your elevator pitch for yourself- WHO IS Colin Johnson?

CJ: It depends on how long I had in the elevator. If we went all the way to the top floor, I feel I’d have enough time to do an interpretative dance displaying my many passions for film, theater, storytelling, writing, directing, performing and editing, and my experience with many notable enterprises, including SF Olympians, SF Playground, SF Fringe, SF Shotz, San Diego and New York Comic-Con, Image Comics and Awesome Theater. The dance would be tasteful but provocative; informative but challenging. If we were only going up one floor, I’d just reach my hand out and say, “come with me if you wanna have a great time making some weird art”

And this isn’t your first time at Theater Pub, is it?

CJ: I have been playing with the good folks at TP for the past three years or so. Or maybe 4. When was the last Pint-Sized at Cafe Royale? That was when I started. I’ve done like 5 or 6 shows in various capacities.

What keeps you coming back?

CJ: The challenge of setting a piece of theater amidst an open, functioning, busy bar. It’s harder than it looks, and a great many types of shows that would flourish in a traditional venue have struggled with the format. It forces you to be blunt, loud, fast and not rely on tech elements or, to a degree, audience engagement. I tend to go into a show as if I’m entering a combat field with my platoon, but like in elementary school, where the imagination was running wild and role-playing was cool (because that’s what we essentially still do, we are the role-playing holdouts from childhood). X factors will be flung at you left and right and you have to duck and dodge to pull it together. Theater Pub harkens back to the days without polite theater etiquette, where performers and crew members need to be on their toes to overcome any and every obstacle that the outside world will throw at them, from passing sirens to drunk idiots at the bar. It keeps them present and focused, but also flexible. They also let me do pretty much anything I want.

Tell us more about Sticky Icky- what can we expect?

CJ: You can expect a loud, fast, funny romp through classical zombie-film tropes and tireless research from my years of being a high-functioning pothead. We got the archetypes, we got the paranoia, the in-fighting, the snacks, the doomsday radio broadcasts, the external menace, and even a couple original songs.

What’s got you most excited about this project?

CJ: The idea of uncoordinated, easily-distracted-yet-dangerous and relentless antagonists was too funny to pass up. It was actually developed as a feature-film several years ago in Eastern Washington State, a place where you either smoked or you HATED THOSE DIRTBAG HIPPIE NO-GOODNICKS. It was originally much more violent and dealt with marijuana legislation and its respective sides. Over the years, it has remained on the back burner, mutating into whatever avenue suited it best. When I was asked to come back to Theater Pub this year, I wanted to make a serious, intense play. But then I remembered my dormant idea for Sticky Icky and giggled the way a selfish blowhard laughs at his own shit.
Needless to say, it’s a play now, and although it doesn’t try to take itself seriously anymore, the overriding themes of both sides of the debate being equally stupid for different reasons is still very much there.

Marijuana has a colorful history as a subject in film and theater- any influences you wanna point to?

CJ: Most of the direct references come from the horror genre — John Carpenter (The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness) and, of course, George A. Romero were major influences, as were numerous smaller, stranger zombie movies (Shaun of the Dead, Pontypool, 28 Days Later, Undead). In our play the weed is used more as a catalyst in the style of Danny Boyle’s genre-busting classic, only instead of blood or saliva transmission, it’s second-hand smoke (invisible of course due to indoor smoking laws). That said, it’s much closer in tone to Reefer Madness or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (I love idiots screaming over each other). The plot is horror, the dialogue and performances are comedy.

Should or should not people show up to this stoned?

CJ: It definitely wouldn’t hurt if folks got a bit blazed. Unfortunately, there won’t be an intermission to “freshen up”. I promise no one will be bored. We want to create the illusion of chaos, so stoned lightweights should maybe sit a bit farther back from the action.

Let’s say they do- what food served at the bar do you most recommend?

CJ: I’m a devoted pulled-pork guy. And the fries are perfect to keep you going when you’re rocking a long day.

And for the non-stoners in the house- what beverage?

CJ: I’m a pretty no-frills drinker. I like beer and whiskey. My little brother turned me onto whiskey-gingers, those are good. If I’m working I’ll drink the Kolsch or Tecate (the classy stuff). If my wits are not needed as much, I’ll usually go for an IPA.

Any shout-outs for stuff going on in the Bay Area?

CJ: Be sure to check out the SF Shotz shows, performed (usually) the second Wednesday of each month at Pianofight. Six new five minute plays, fully produced. Good rowdy fun. Also Loud and Unladylike has a great lineup this year! As does Olympians! And Best of Playground! Also Saturday Write Fever is always a good bit of creative cardio! The Circus Center is doing crazy cool stuff in their Cabaret Series and various showcases. Jaw-dropping. So much good stuff. All the freakin’ time. Very alive and well. (insert uplifting San Francisco song. Maybe the Foxygen one)

And what’s next for you?

CJ: I got a full slate coming up. I wrote a new show for Longshotz (the one-act offshoot of Shotz) that’s opening in early June. I will also be guest-producing the regular Shotz performance on June 8th. I have a few original short plays being published in August. In October I’ll be directing Terror-Rama 2: Prom Night for Awesome Theater at Pianofight. And I’m lobbying for a big directing gig in December that would expose me to a whole new style of performance. Fingers crossed. I’m also currently producing a web series in collaboration with the new Clown Conservatory. My partner in that endeavor and Director of the Conservatory, the immensely talented Sara Moore, is featured in Sticky Icky as the salty barfly Donelda.

Don’t miss STICKY ICKY- opening at Theater Pub on Monday May 23rd!

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Working Title: Don’t Fall Asleep

This week Will Leschber remembers Wes Craven, a master passed, and also remembers why you should catch Don’t Fall Asleep before it’s too late!

So I was never much of a horror guy. Sure, I love the classic line from Heart of Darkness/ Apocalypse Now where general Kurtz reaches the end of his exquisite journey into madness and on the very brink of death utters the oh so prescient words…”the horror…the horror.” But that’s not what I mean! I mean the horror genre; Of film or theater for that matter…albeit the latter is much less prevalent. While I loved late night, Elvira showcases of old horror films as a adolescent, or even the endless slasher franchises of sleepless sleepovers growing up, the horror genre seemed to stuffed full of empty, bloody, redundant, cliche, low rent, low quality black holes of cinema more interested in making a sequel and a quick profit rather than anything resembling cinema substance.

Elvira

Oh course, like most tweenagers, I was wrong. Although horror is still not my preferred genre, I have come around to recognize the pillars of the genre for being quite remarkable with innovation and craft: Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds, Frenzy) Tod Browning (Freaks), James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein), Toby Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners), Dario Argento (Suspiria), George Romero (Night of the LIving Dead), John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween)…and of course the late, great Wes Craven, who passed at age 76 on August 30th.

wes-craven B&W

So many of these directors defined the period and genre they worked in. Many transcended the confines of a singular genre to branch into further cinematic influence. Craven wasn’t the first to set and break the mold for this, yet he continued the legacy like great filmmakers before him. Wes Craven not only made his mark in film; he set the lacerating edges and vicious tone of what a period horror film was decade after decade.

In the 70’s the brutal, all too realistic, edge of snuff film quality that defined 70’s horror was cemented by Craven’s directorial debut, The Last House on the Left.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W9KPhmYYtg (1972)

Watching the punishing film felt like looking at something secret and awful that we should not be privy to. The 80’s ushered in an era of slasher personalities the likes of Jason Voohees, Michael Myers and none other than the the dream-demon himself, Freddy Krueger. In A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), there was no escaping the slumbering boogeyman that lay dormant at the edge of your eye lids. Then again as time flowed forward and the 90’s opened up the meta-horror narrative, Scream (1996) flipped the genre tropes upside down, dissecting them and disemboweling them to the delight and horror of a new generation. We’d moved into a new era of horror and Wes Craven again was at the forefront. Scream proved a intelligent beast able to tear apart what we’d come to expect from a horror film, while finding new ways to terrify. Who better than a master craftsman to reinvent and redefine what it means to be an influential and lasting horror film. Craven knew how to turn the knife.

wes-craven-a-tribute

If all this talk of night terrors and horror sleep-scapes has whet your appetite, you should pair these gruesome film offerings with tonight’s Theater Pub: Explore the Trope: Don’t Fall Asleep.

Wes Craven’s influence spans far and wide and while this theater offering may not be slasher fare, the unsettling nature of life on the other side of slumbering consciousness is cut from the same vein. Freddy Krueger used dream-logic and childhood fears as daggers in his arsenal and Christine Keating, author of Don’t Fall Asleep three part showcase, uses these things with a little extra helping of abduction, witch-ridden folklore, and the paralyzing shadows know only to our sleeping selves.

Don't Fall Asleep

I’ll check in tomorrow with Christine Keating about her frightful film recommendations to pair with her show, Don’t Fall Asleep. Until then come see tonight’s show and if you get too scared, repeat after me …It’s only movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie…It’s only play. It’s only a play. It’s only a play…don’t fall asleep!