The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2013

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2013 list. 

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to start my own Bay Area Theater Awards, because my opinions are just as legitimate as anyone else’s, the awards I give out are as valuable as any other critical awards, (recipients of the SEBATA, or the Stuey, if you prefer, get nothing but my admiration and some free publicity), and also because there’s a fairly good chance that I’ve seen a lot of theater the usual award givers haven’t seen. 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. No one 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.

Also, there are some people who think I don’t like anything, and I feel a need to not only prove them wrong, but to do so by expressing how much of the local color I do love and admire, as opposed to just pointing out that the reason they think I don’t like anything is because I generally don’t like *their* work (oh… I guess I did just point that out, didn’t I?). Normally I post these “awards” on my Facebook page, but this year I decided to bring them to the blog because the mission statement of the SEBATA is pretty in-line with the mission statement of Theater Pub, and having come to the close of an amazing year of growth for the blog, it now has a much farther reach than my Facebook page could ever hope to have. Congratulations SF Theater Pub Blog- you just won a Stuey.

Anyway, because I am a product of the generation that grew up with the MTV Movie Awards- and, because I’m the only person on the voting committee and thus can do what I like- I have decided that my categories are purely arbitrary and can be stretched to allow me to write about anyone I feel like. The two limits are 1) I can’t give myself an award (though I can have been involved in the show on a limited level) and 2) I won’t go over thirteen (though there may be ties for some awards). Because seriously, how (more) self indulgent would this be without either of those rules? Oh, 3) I won’t give out awards for how bad something was. I’m here to be positive. And chances are those people were punished enough.

To all my friends and frenemies in the Bay Area Theater Scene… it’s been a great year. Let’s you and me do it again sometime. Well… most of you.

And now, presenting the Fourth Annual Stuey Awards…

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
“Pint Sized IV” (San Francisco Theater Pub)
Pint Sized Plays gets better each year, and it’s honestly one of two things I actually miss about working at the Cafe Royale (the other is the uniqueness of doing Shakespeare there, which for some reason works in a completely magical way I wish it worked more often on traditional stages). This year the festival was put together by Neil Higgins, who did an amazing job, and I think we had some of the best material yet. The evening as a whole felt incredibly cohesive, with a theme of forgiveness and letting go, archly reflective of our decision to leave the Cafe Royale, and I think incredibly relevant to a lot of our audience. We knew Pint Sized could be very funny, and very socially pointed, but I’m not sure we had ever conceived of it as moving and this year it was, thanks in no small part to our writers (Megan Cohen, Peter Hsieh, Sang S. Kim, Carl Lucania, Daniel Ng, Kirk Shimano and Christian Simonsen), directors (Jonathan Carpenter, Colin Johnson, Tracy Held Potter, Neil Higgins, Charles Lewis III, Meghan O’Connor, Adam L. Sussman) and actors (Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Melissa Keith, Charles Lewis III, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, Jessica Rudholm). The evening would start off with a magical performance by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers, whose combination of skill and spectacle got our audiences excited for what was to come. As we moved through the pieces, each by turns funny and poignant, each in some way or another about finding something, losing it, letting it go, and then coming back stronger, you could feel the audience grow warmer and closer each night. By the time Rob Ready gave the closing monologue, fixing each audience member in turn with a smile, you could feel everyone really listening and you could hear a pin drop in the room, and that’s saying something for the noisy by nature Cafe Royale. I think a lot of love went into the festival this year, and not just because it might be the last, and the product of that love was real magic and like the best theater- you had to be there. And if you weren’t, you really missed out.

BEST SHOW
“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” (San Francisco Playhouse)
I saw a lot of decent, solid, well done theater this year but I had a hard time connecting to a lot of it, which was rarely a flaw with the show and probably had more to do with where I was/am as a person (lots of change this year). Then again, something about really good theater is that it can get you out of your own head and into some other world, for a while. Towards the end of the year, I saw three shows I really really liked: “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake” at Bigger Than A Bread Box Theater Company, “Peter/Wendy” at Custom Made Theater Company, and “First” at Stage Werx, produced by Altair Productions/The Aluminous Collective and Playground. Still, San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, directed by Bill English, was probably my favorite show of the year. Who knows why it has an edge on the others? Maybe because as someone who spent most of their childhood weekends in New York it seemed oddly familiar, or maybe it was the deft handling by the universally excellent cast (Carl Lumbly, Gabriel Marin, Rudy Guerrero, Margo Hall, Isabelle Ortega) of the complex relationships and dialogue that Guirgis does so well, or maybe it was just refreshing to see such a simple, honest play in what, for me, was a year characterized by a lot of stylistically interesting but emotionally cold theater. There is something very passionate, scathing, bombastic and yet also humble and forgiving about Guirgis’ work that I think makes him such an important voice in modern American drama and English’s production brought all that out with an easy grace. The show really worked, and got me out of my head, and when I went back to my life I felt much better for the journey. What more can you ask of a theater experience?

BEST READING
“Paris/Hector” (San Francisco Olympians Festival)
I attend a lot of readings every year, and run a reading festival myself, so I’ve come to greatly value a really well done reading. This year, the award goes to director Katja Rivera and writers Kirk Shimano and Bridgette Dutta Portman, whose pair of one acts about the pair of Trojan princes Paris and Hector made for one of the best nights of this past year’s San Francisco Olympians Festival. Part of what I loved about it was that in one evening we saw the amazing variety the festival can offer: Kirk’s play was a comedy with a poignant moment or two, while Bridgette’s was a faux-classical drama- written in verse no less. Though the writers are the center of attention at the festival, credit really has to be given to Katja Rivera, who as the director of both pieces, made many simple but effective choices to highlight the best elements of both works and utilize the talents of her excellent cast: Yael Aranoff, Molly Benson, Jeremy Cole, Mackenszie Drae, Allison Fenner, Dana Goldberg, John Lennon Harrison, Michelle Talgarow, Alaric Toy. With the combined excellent story-telling of the performers (including beautiful and surprising singing from Yael, Molly and Dana), the thoughtfulness of the scripts, and the cohesiveness of the whole, this night of the festival stood out best in what was a consistently strong year at the Olympians.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“My Year” by Megan Cohen (Bay One Acts Festival)
Megan Cohen’s “My Year” is the kind of thing I wish more short plays would be: dynamic, personal, and complete. In a sea of short plays that are really fragments, or meet-cute plays, it’s always lovely to see something with a beginning, a middle, and end, and full-formed characters having actual interactions and not just feeling like Girl A and Guy B, thrown together by the whimsy of the playwright to make a point (though of course, the right playwright can pull that off- which is why so many people try to ape it). A friend of mine described “My Year” as “A fun little 90s indie film on stage” and my reaction when watching it was “Oh, Dear God, convince Meg to let me write a companion piece to this!” because let’s face it: at least a third of what I write is a 90s film on stage. My own vanity aside, what I loved about this play (directed by Siobhan Doherty, starring Emma Rose Shelton, Theresa Miller, Nkechi Live, Allene Hebert, Jaime Lee Currier, and Luna Malbroux) was that it felt constantly on the move, while still being mostly composed of intimate moments between a group of women at a birthday party. Like a lot of the theater that I really loved this year, it also just struck a personal chord, watching this young woman (Emma Rose Shelton) trying to enjoy the party her friends have thrown for her (though she doesn’t like surprise parties) despite there being no food and a random stranger (Theresa Miller) who worms her way in only to turn out to be the troublemaker she’s originally pegged for. Megan’s writing had its usual combination of smart and sentimental, but whereas a lot of her other work heads into absurdity and/or extreme quirkiness (not that this is bad), “My Year” stayed very grounded and found its meaning in that effort to stay grounded, making what might be a quiet little play in anyone else’s oeuvre, a nice change of pace in Cohen’s. The final moment, where the characters howl at the moon because what else are you going to do after a shitty birthday, felt like a communal sigh even the audience was in on, probably because we could all relate to Shelton’s character, and while having always loved and admired Meg’s work, this is probably the first time I related to it so wholeheartedly.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Linda Huang (Stage Manager, Tech, Box Office, Everything)
You know how the Oscars and Tonys give out Lifetime Achievement Awards for people whose contribution is so massive that it would kind of be criminal to pick one work or contribution so instead they just get an award for basically being themselves? You know, like how Peter O’Toole got that award because at some point somebody realized that he was pervasively brilliant and always in fashion and therefore easily forgotten because things like “Oh, well, he’ll win next year” often times factors in to who we recognize, meaning things like reliability and consistency do not? Well, for the first time ever in the history of the SEBATAs, I’m creating The Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness and giving it to Linda Huang, without whom, in all seriousness, I believe that small theater in San Francisco would probably grind to a halt. Earlier this year, I got recognized by the Weekly as a “Ringmaster” of the theater scene, but frankly I (and people like me) could not do what we do without having Linda (and people like her) constantly coming to our aid despite being paid a fraction of what they’re worth and half the time being forgotten because what they do isn’t in the immediate eye of the audience. Linda is a total gem of the theater scene. She wears many hats, though she’s probably best known for running light boards, and one of my favorite things when attending the theater is running into her, usually working in some capacity I previously was unaware she was qualified to do (note: Linda is qualified to do everything). What I love best about Linda (aside from her cutting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor) is her incredible generosity: she does so much for local theater and rarely gets paid, and even when she does get paid she often says, “Pay me last.” A true team player, and one we don’t thank enough, especially as she’s the only person who seems to know how to get the air conditioning in the Exit Theatre to work.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Atticus Rex, Open Mic Night In Support of the Lemonade Fund (SF Theater Pub/Theater Bay Area Individual Services Committee)
I never expected to include a note about someone who performed at an open mic/variety show, but I wanted to shout out to Atticus Rex, a young performer who literally made his performance debut at the San Francisco Theater Pub/ISC fundraiser for the Lemonade Fund this year. A last minute replacement, Atticus and a friend performed some original hip-hop for our audience of mostly performance professionals and their friends, and despite the formidable crowd and the first time nerves, he basically killed it. Even when he made a mistake it worked: he’d call himself out, apologize, and start again, somehow without ever missing a beat. His lyrics are very tight and poetic, and the contrast between the power in his words and his humbleness at approaching and leaving the stage works so well you’d almost think it was an act- except he later confessed he’d never performed live before, and it couldn’t have been more sincere. With genuine hope he never loses his sincerity, while also continuing to grow his confidence and experience, I wanted to take a moment to say congratulations once again, and thank you for reminding us all what it looks like to really take a risk onstage.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola (Genie and Audrey’s Dream Show, SF Fringe Festival)
What’s potentially cuter than “Clyde the Cyclops?” Very little, but these two ladies and their breathless, funny, and surreal little clown show come dangerously close to giving Clyde a run for his money, and it’s the only show I saw at the Fringe this year that I wished my boyfriend had also seen. Bravely straddling the bridge between performance artists and acrobats, this collage of monologues, poems, jokes, mime, clowning, puppetry, stunts, music, and children’s games, is like watching two hyper-articulate kids on pixie sticks go nuts in a club house, but only if those kids had an incredible sense of timing and arch senses of humor (not to mention very flexible bodies). I’ve never been a huge fan of circus stuff (I like it as an accent, sometimes, but as entertainment on its own it doesn’t tend to hold my interest long), but I think I’d be a fan of anything that had these two women in it. Their ability to play off each other is the key to making their show work, and when you watch it you have that sense of being let into the private make-believe world of people who have found kindred spirits in one another. It’s an utterly magic combination and from what I know of other people who saw it, it basically charmed the pants off everyone. Or at least, everyone who has a soul.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Ben Calabrese (Apartment in “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”)
I saw a lot of great performances by men this year (Sam Bertken in “Peter/Wendy”, Tim Green and Gregory Knotts in “First”, Paul Rodrigues “Pint Sized Plays IV”, Will Hand “Dark Play”, Casey Robbins “Oh Best Beloved!”), but this one really took my breath away (though since Sam Bertken actually got me to sincerely clap for fairies in Peter/Wendy, he gets a second shout out). Ben’s role, which is to literally embody the voice of a neglected apartment, is the kind of role that could either be the best thing about the show, or the worst. Luckily for Bigger Than A Breadbox’s production of “Crumble, or Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake (written by Sheila Callaghan), Ben rocked it. Bouncing around the stage, dive bombing the furniture, all the while spouting, eloquently, Callaghan’s beautiful and complex monologues, Ben was so utterly watchable it was impossible not to buy the conceit of the role, and so moments when he has an orgasm from having the radiator turned on, or turns his fingers into loose electrical wires, don’t seem ridiculous, but made immediate and total sense. It’s usually not a compliment to tell an actor they did a tremendous job being an inanimate object, but what Ben did so well was illustrate that a home, while not “alive”, does indeed have a life to it. And if that life occasionally fixes the audience with Ben’s particular brand of “scary actor stare” why… all the better.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Brandice Marie Thompson (Georgia Potts in “First”)
Oh, this was a tough one. As usual, the actresses of the Bay Area are kicking ass and taking names no matter what their role, and my decision to pick Brandice above the rest is because I think she best exemplified that thing which so many actresses have to do, which is take a relatively underwritten role in a play about men and turn it into a rich, believable character who somehow manages to steal the show. Evelyn Jean Pine, who wrote “First”, is a fantastic writer and she writes women and men equitably well, and due credit must go to her for the creation and inclusion of this character in a story mostly about male egos, but in a lesser capable actresses hands, this role could have been annoying, or forgettable, or purely comical, and Brandice avoided all of these traps while making the character utterly charming at the same time. The truth is, her arc became much more interesting to me than that of the main character, and I think a strong argument could be made that “First” was just as much about Georgia as it was about Bill Gates. Director Michael French no doubt had a hand in this too, but in the end it’s a performer who makes or breaks a role and Brandice’s ability to combine mousy with spunky with unexpected and yet thoroughly authentic character turns was deeply satisfying to watch. Georgia kicked ass and took names, because Brandice does. Runners up: Melissa Carter (“Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”, Bigger Than A Breadbox), Allison Jean White (“Abigail’s Party”, SF Playhouse), Sam Jackson (“Oh Best Beloved!”, SF Fringe Festival), Courtney Merril (“Into the Woods”, Ray of Light), Elissa Beth Stebbins (“Peter/Wendy”, Custom Made Theatre Company).

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
“Nightingale” (Davis Shakespeare Ensemble/SF Fringe Festival)
This little gem at this year’s fringe festival was adapted from the myth of Philomel by Gia Battista, with music by Richard Chowenhill, directed by Rob Sals (with Battista), and staring Gabby Battista, April Fritz and Tracy Hazas as three remarkably similar looking women who each take a turn playing the heroine of a bizarre fairy tale (all the other characters in the story are played by them as well). Dance, pantomime, narration, song and traditional theater techniques all came together in a way that was astonishingly clean and charming in its simplicity. The black and white aesthetic used to unify the look of the show and performers gave the whole thing a quality both modern and timeless, and in its gentle, dreamy tone the sharp elements of social commentary and satire often seemed more brutal and impactful. Of everything I saw at the Fringe this past year, which included a number of excellent works, this piece has stayed with me the longest.

BEST SOLO SHOW
“Steve Seabrook: Better Than You” by Kurt Bodden (The Marsh)
I saw a lot more solo performance than usual this year (including works by Annette Roman, Laura Austin Wiley, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Jenny Newbry Waters, Rene Pena), and realizing how good it can be is, in and of itself, kind of a miracle because I used to say things like, “Theater begins with two people” and “If Aeschylus had wanted to write sermons he wouldn’t have added Electra”. Kurt’s show was not created this past year, it has a long history, but I only saw it in its most recent Marsh incarnation and I’m hoping he’s been able to find ways to keep it going (his Facebook feeds indicate this is so). A satire of motivational speakers and the cult of self-improvement, “Steve Seabrook” manages to be so much more by combining satirical fiction with moments of the kind of personal monologue (still fiction) that permeates solo shows. The result is a sense of development, of a story (Steve’s) unfolding in real time while another story, (Steve’s Seminar) plays itself out over the course of a weekend. Playing off the convention of a backstage comedy (we see the seminar, then we see Steve when he’s not “on”), Kurt’s brilliance as a performer is evident in the seamless transition from one to the other, again and again, carrying a throughline that shows us not only why Steve buys into his mantras, but why any of us buy into anything we’ve come up with (or adopted from someone else) to keep us moving through life’s ups and downs. At once very funny and cutting, while also moving and real (and yes, fuck it, kind of inspirational), Kurt’s show also gets a nod for its fantastic takeaway schwag: a keychain light with Steve’s name on it, with which every audience member is encouraged to shine their light in a dark world.

BEST DIRECTOR
Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, “Oh Best Beloved” (SF Fringe Festival)
“Oh Best Beloved” got a lot of attention and deservedly so- well acted, well designed, it was a genuinely fun piece of theater. Perhaps most deserving of being singled out in the project, however, are director Rebecca Longworth and partner Joan Howard, who share credit for conceptualizing the show (in which Joan also played a part and had, in my opinion, the single best moment in the show), and who lead the rest of the company in adapting the material from Ruyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Anyone who saw the show could easily see that it had about a million moving parts, and Longworth and Howard’s ability to keep all those plates spinning on a small budget and under the strict conditions of the San Francisco Fringe Festival (they literally put up and pulled down a full set with each performance) is worthy of award in and of itself, but the level of commitment and craft they were able to pull from their design team and performers was equally as impressive. Everything about the show, even the parts that didn’t work as well as others, felt thought through and done with panache, making this ambitious and unique experience a delightful jewel in the SF Fringe Festival’s crown.

BEST DESIGNER
Bill English, “Abigail’s Party” (SF Playhouse)
Scenery in general doesn’t do much for me. I enjoy good scenery, but the best scenery should kind of vanish into the background, in my opinion, and be something you barely pay attention to. As a result, I’m often just as happy with a blank stage, or really well thought out minimal set, as I am with a full one, so long as the play I’m watching is good. That said, every now and then I will see a set I just adore, and this year it was Bill English’s set for SF Playhouse’s “Abigail’s Party”, by Mike Leigh, directed by Amy Glazer. Basically a living room/dining room/kitchenet combo, this fully realized “home” was very well crafted as a place, but more importantly, it really worked as a place where people lived. The 70s style was at once present without being overwhelming, evoking the time period without looking like it was a homage to the time period, or a museum dedicated to 70s kitch. I mean, it honestly reminded me of numerous homes I’d played in as a child (I was born in 1978) and all the wallpaper looked like wallpaper in my parents’ home before my mother completely re-did the house in 1990 because “we can admit this is ugly… now”. The amazing thing about English’s set is that it didn’t seem ugly, in spite of being made up entirely of patterns and colors we now find appalling. He made it all work together, the way people once did, and the final result was simultaneously comfortable and dazzling. I remember thinking, waiting for the play to begin, “I could live here.”

And last, but not least, every year I pick…

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE EXPERIENCE TO WORK ON
“The Age of Beauty” (No Nude Men Productions/The Exit Theatre)
I had taken a break from directing my own work, but with this nine performance workshop I allowed myself to re-discover that, as much as I like directing plays by others, there is nothing quite as satisfying as feeling like I’m telling a very personal story of my own and having the final say on how that happens. Of course, such experiences are only rewarding when you get to work with great actors, and I was lucky to have four amazing women (Megan Briggs, Emma Rose Shelton, Allison Page, Sylvia Hathaway) who were willing to go on this adventure with me, always keeping stride as I made cuts and changed lines, memorizing a mountain of material in Emma and Sylvia’s case, and crafting subtle characters who had to be both different from each other and relatively interchangeable at the same time. When I had a hard time articulating what I was going for, they would nod and smile and then show me what I meant by doing it better than I could describe it. When the show opened by the skin of its teeth it had one of those minor miracle opening nights, where even though you’re just a tiny bit unprepared (all my fault, I kept changing the script), it somehow all comes together and really works. Over the course of the show, as their performances grew and refined (our final two nights were simply perfect), I was able to see what flaws still remained in the script (two pages, middle of scene of scene two were cut the day after we closed), and any writer of new work will tell you that’s the best experience you can hope for on a first production. Shout outs to my awesome design team Cody Rishell, Jim Lively and Wil Turner IV! “The Age of Beauty” helped restore some of my lagging faith in the theater process, and made me commit to doing more of my own work in the coming 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.

Opening Tonight!

Pint Sized Plays returns for a fourth fabulous engagement this July!

Produced by the one and only Neil Higgins, this year’s line up of beer-themed short plays features the return of some of our favorite long-time collaborators (some of whom will be wearing new hats for the first time) as well as some fresh faces! In no particular order, the plays are:

Multitasking by Christian Simonsen, directed by Jonathan Carpenter

The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin by Sang Kim, directed by Charles Lewis III

200-Proof Robot by Kirk Shimano, directed by Neil Higgins

Tree by Peter Hsieh, directed by Colin Johnson

All Our Fathers by Carl Lucania, directed by Meghan O’Connor

The Last Beer in the World by Megan Cohen, directed by Tracy Held Potter

Mark +/- by Dan Ng, directed by Adam Sussman

Llama IV by Stuart Bousel, directed by Colin Johnson

Starring the acting talents of Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Charles Lewis III, Melissa Keith, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, and Jessica Rudholm.

The show plays five times: July 15th, 16th, 22nd, 29th, 30th, always at 8 PM, but get there early, because we will be packed to the gills every night! As usual, the show is free with a $5.00 suggested donation at the door.

Introducing The Writers Of Pint Sized Plays IV! (Part Two)

With Pint Sized plays just around the corner, we’re continuing our series of profiles of this year’s writers. This time we have one Theater Pub first-timer, Daniel Ng, one writer who has developed his piece with Theater Pub, Christian Simonsen, and a returning collaborator, Kirk Shimano, who authored last year’s world premiere production of Love In A Time Of Zombies, but makes his Pint Sized Plays debut this year. 

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

Kirk Shimano: I’ve been fortunate to work with Theater Pub in the past and have seen previous iterations of the Pint-Sized Play Festival, so it’s something that’s been on my radar for awhile. I happened upon an NPR story about a robot that vomits…for science! (his name is “Vomiting Larry”, in case you’re curious) and suddenly I had the perfect beer drinking robot play idea to submit.

Christian Simonsen: My short script “Last Man Sitting” was part of “Occupy Theater Pub!” back in 2012, and that was an awesome experience. So I always have wanted to work with this group again.

Daniel Ng: I was introduced to Theater Pub by friends Karen Offereins and Brian Markley and have enjoyed many Pint-Sized and other Theater Pub performances. Pint-Sized is the perfect venue for newcomers like me, so I’ve wanted to submit something for a while.

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

Kirk Shimano: It’s a challenge to get the audience up to speed and ready to start the story in as short a time as possible. If you’ve spent a page in exposition you’ve already wasted too much of your audience’s time.

Daniel Ng: I mainly write short fiction and memoir, so everything about playwriting is a new challenge. The hardest part is envisioning the physical interactions of the actors and then giving the director and actors enough information to make it work, while allowing them freedom to bring it to life in their own way.

Christian Simonsen: The tangible limitations. The script’s length, obviously, and most short play festivals also limit the number the actors, props, etc. You are forced to get to the point, both intellectually and dramatically, as quickly as possible. The monologue you write in the first draft will often be replaced by one well-chosen word or gesture. Sometimes I pass the medium’s limitations on to my characters: If my script can only be five minutes long, It helps to make it clear right away to my protagonist that the Sea Monster or Jealous Boyfriend is ON HIS WAY!

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

Christian Simonsen: The best thing is also the hardest thing… the limitations! They keep me focused, and force me to decide what my script is really, truly about. Also, modern audiences tend to respond well to short plays. Perhaps they reflect our fast-paced society; Drama-On-The-Run.

Daniel Ng: The short length forces you to get to the point and stick to it–there’s no room for fat or fluff.

Daniel Ng: More Matter, Less Art

Daniel Ng: More Matter, Less Art

Kirk Shimano: I think that you really just need one strong idea to sustain a short play. It makes for a very immediate writing experience, where I just need to find one exciting concept and then run with it.

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

Daniel Ng: My major influences are from sci-fi and speculative fiction–J. G. Ballard and Borges for their abstract, metaphorical psychodrama. Also Samuel Delaney for combining poetic narration and earthy dialogue.

Kirk Shimano: I have a much thumbed through copy of David Ives’s “Time Flies and Other Short Plays” that taught me a lot about how imaginative you can be in a very short time. I always find myself thinking about Stephen Sondheim songs as well, because a lot of his best songs are as deep as any short play I could hope to write.

Christian Simonsen: Sadly, one of the writers who influenced me the most died recently: Richard Matheson. He was a crowd-pleaser, so academics ignored him. But his fiction exposed my own fears of mortality, alienation and loneliness far better than many so-called High Brow authors ever could.

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

Daniel Ng: Simon Pegg, no question. He does nerdy, manic, and exasperated so well and he has perfect comedic timing.

Christian Simonsen: Amy Poehler; there’s a darkness underneath her comic energy that’s often unsettling. In a previous era, I would have gone with Madeline Kahn.

Christian Simonsen, carrying the torch for Mad.

Christian Simonsen, carrying the torch for Mad.

Kirk Shimano: This is going to be a bit of here-and-now bandwagon jumping, but I’m going to say Melissa McCarthy because she just makes anything she’s in ten times better to watch.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Kirk Shimano: For a few years, I’ve been working on a full length play that uses Japanese fairy tales as a way of exploring online dating, Japanese-American history, and a bunch of other topics that I’m not yet sure are connected, but that I think might work together. I’ve been letting it marinate for a few months and I’m eager to return to that world soon.

Christian Simonsen: I’m finishing up another short stage play, and I’m co-writing a multi-media project. Then I plan on writing my second feature length screenplay, which will be in my favorite genre, Horror.

Daniel Ng: A short story, but *stage whisper* it’s top secret. The idea is so original that I am worried someone from Hollywood might steal it from me. It’s about zombies. Okay, not so original there. But seriously, it’s a zombie story, but with a twist that I don’t think has been done before.

What’s next for you?

Kirk Shimano: I have a short play in “Lawfully Wedded” by Wily West Productions. Morgan Ludlow has interwoven work by Alina Trowbridge and me with his own stories about the state of marriage equality. It runs from July 25 to August 17, in repertory with “Gorgeous Hussy.”

Kirk Shimano, just gorgeous.

Kirk Shimano, just gorgeous.

Christian Simonsen: I’ll be acting in “The Twilight Zone Live: Season X” at The Darkroom in San Francisco on July 12th and 13th.

Daniel Ng: I’m planning some pieces for my friend Martin Azevedo’s next Musical Emergency in September. He puts on these brilliant musical theater events that are a combination of open-mic and collaborative musical potlatch. They are wildly creative and just a ton of fun.

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Christian Simonsen: Many, including The SF Olympians Festival, and All Terrain Theater’s “Babies: The Ultimate Birth Control”.

Kirk Shimano: I’m always excited about the San Francisco Olympians festival – and not just because I have a play about drag queens to present this year. It’s always great to see how much of the community supports it and I can’t wait to see the final versions of the bits and pieces that I’ve already gotten to hear.

Daniel Ng: It’s a little ways off, but I’m really looking forward to Custom Made Theatre’s production of “The Pain and the Itch” opening January 2014. The Gough Street Playhouse is such a wonderful space.

What’s your favorite beer?

Daniel Ng: Guinness–at some bars it’s the only thing to eat.

Krik Shimano: I wasn’t really a beer drinker until I spent a semester studying overseas in Japan, so I always enjoy sipping a Sapporo and thinking of that time.

Christian Simonsen: Corona, but don’t tell my British friends.

You may have heard it’s our last show at Cafe Royale. What do you look forward to for the future of Theater Pub? 

Christian Simonsen: I will miss Café Royale; it has been a near perfect setting for a large variety of productions. But I’m sure there are a lot of odd nooks and crannies in the city that can be transformed into live theater!

Daniel Ng: I hope that a new venue or even multiple venues will attract new people to join Theater Pub’s loyal fans. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of different kinds of spaces that will allow Theater Pub to evolve and expand in unpredictable ways, not unlike a slime mold or exotic parasite.

Kirk Shimano: I’ve always enjoyed the freedom and innovation of Theater Pub, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the change of venue opens up the possibility of even more new opportunities.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full! 

Announcing Pint Sized IV!

Pint Sized plays returns for a fourth fabulous engagement this July!

Produced by the one and only Neil Higgins, this year’s line up of beer-themed short plays features the return of some of our favorite long-time collaborators (some of whom will be wearing new hats for the first time) as well as some fresh faces! In no particular order, the plays are:

Multitasking by Christian Simonsen, directed by Jonathan Carpenter

The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin by Sang Kim, directed by TBA

200-Proof Robot by Kirk Shimano, directed by Neil Higgins

Tree by Peter Hsieh, directed by Colin Johnson

All Our Fathers by Carl Lucania, directed by Meghan O’Connor

The Last Beer in the World by Megan Cohen, directed by Tracy Held Potter

Mark +/- by Dan Ng, directed by Adam Sussman

Llama IV by Stuart Bousel, directed by Colin Johnson

The show plays five times: July 15th, 16th, 22nd, 29th, 30th, always at 8 PM, but get there early, because we will be packed to the gills every night! As usual, the show is free with a $5.00 suggested donation at the door.

The Pub From Another World Arrives Tonight!

Tonight, for one night only, Cafe Royale transforms into THE PUB FROM ANOTHER WORLD, an inter-dimensional crossroads where theater is not bound by the constraints of reality! It’s a world where time travel is possible, where unicorns exist! From the minds of eight Bay Area playwrights—including a four-year-old girl featured on Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/2013/03/02/horrorsf-play-by-a-four-year.html)—come imaginative tales of everything from superheroes to surrogates, monsters to mad scientists, and other flights of fancy. This night of staged readings will be talked about for all eternity by those afflicted with immortality, so don’t miss it!

This strange brew of stories was concocted by Timothy Kay, Audrey Kessinger, Sang Kim, Allison Page, Sunil Patel, Bridgette Dutta Portman, Kirk Shimano, and Marissa Skudlarek. The intrepid troupe of actors includes Giovanna Arietta, Sam Bertken, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Caitlin Evenson, Paul Jennings, Timothy Kay, Dan Kurtz, Meg O’Connor, Sunil Patel, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers.

The wormhole will be open for one night only: Monday, May 20, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Admission is free and no reservations are required for this journey, but we recommend you come early for the best seats. Hyde Away Blues BBQ will provide food for all human guests.

The Producer From Another World

In preparation for this month’s Theater Pub, The Pub From Another World, we interviewed producer Sunil Patel about his vision and process for this show.

Take Me To Your Leader

Take Me To Your Leader

Who are you, in a hundred words or less.

I am a voracious consumer of stories in any medium—television, film, video game, book, comic, music, anecdote—who loves words more than anything. I love to create new stories, but I also love introducing people to stories I love. I’m a pop culture fan, a geek, a nerd, and when I love something, my first instinct is to share it. As of this night, I am a writer/actor/director/producer. By day, I work in drug safety and write about people with explosive diarrhea.

How did you get involved in Theater Pub?

I made my Bay Area theater debut with the Thunderbirds in 2010, and it was my first time onstage in seven years, so I was excited to get back into theater. And lo and behold, Theater Pub was holding auditions for The Theban Chronicles, and they didn’t even need monologues! I had gone to the February Theater Pub (the Valentine’s Day show), and it looked like a fun group to work with. I was in three of the four plays, and I got a death scene, and I’ve become more and more involved since then.

So, where did this idea come from?

At the Theater Pub retreat, we were asked to come up with pitches for the next year of Theater Pub. I was excited to be a producer, as I had previously only produced halftime shows, but I didn’t know what to suggest. I didn’t know any obscure plays I wanted to put on. I’ve had an idea for a murder-mystery Theater Pub for a couple years, but I hadn’t gotten it off the ground and I wasn’t going to pitch it if I didn’t think I could write it in time. We had talked a lot about inclusivity, though, and it suddenly hit me: I could create a space for new work. I’m a genre fan and a theater fan, but I don’t see a lot of genre theater, so why not give genre writers an opportunity to write for theater and playwrights an opportunity to write genre? I had the sense that the plays I wanted to see—whether or not they were being written—were not being produced because people look down on genre, so I was going to stand up say, “I will produce your genre plays! Let your geek flag fly!”

What defines something as “genre” and specific to these genres, what defines something as Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

I am by no means an expert and trying to define “genre” will result in hours of heated conversation in the company I keep, but I see “genre” work as work that uses or is informed by established tropes—which is sort of saying that genre is genre. In general, however, when someone refers to “genre” work, they usually mean the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, which are the genres that least resemble the real world. These works tend to take place in a world that is definitely not our own for one reason or another: hence The Pub from Another World.

Defining each genre is just as tricky as defining “genre.” To me, horror is not just about the obvious elements—ghosts, vampires, serial killers, etc.—but about evoking that visceral, primal fear. And in the best horror, the scary thing isn’t just a scary thing but a manifestation of a real, relatable fear. Similarly, sci-fi is not just about spaceships and time travel and aliens but about taking real science and extrapolating the implications. Some people prefer the term “speculative fiction,” which handily eliminates the need for science and brings in more dystopic fiction. These imagined futures can tell us a lot about our present.

Fantasy may be the easiest genre to identify thanks to its long, long history; today, the stories of Greek mythology can seem like fantasy, what with gods transforming into animals and people being magically brought back to life. Fantasy can be speculative as well, but, unlike science fiction, it has less basis in reality. My goal with this project was to tell unreal stories that have real emotion.

We don’t often think of these genres as applying to the theater, but there are many examples of each. What are your favorites in each category?

The first horror play that springs to mind is Nathan Tucker’s Dionysus, which kicked off the first Olympians festival. It really captured that sense of visceral horror. Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman had one of the most horrifying jump-scares I’ve ever experienced in a theater. And, although they’re a bit more comedic, I love Tim Bauer’s Zombie Town and Kirk Shimano’s Love in the Time of Zombies; both are great examples of the sort of genre theater I’d like to see more of.

I haven’t seen a lot of sci-fi theater, but I read a lot of great sci-fi scripts on the reading committee for Cutting Ball’s RISK IS THIS experimental theater festival a couple years ago. Consider for a second the fact that sci-fi theater is considered “experimental”; could that be why we see so little of it? Two of my favorite scripts—which have received readings but no full productions, to my knowledge—were Garret Groenveld’s The Hummingbirds, a wickedly funny Brazil-esque tale set in a bureaucratic dystopia, and Richard Manley’s This Rough Magic, which uses science fiction ideas to examine basic human truths about how we interact with our families and people in general. I also think Josh Costello’s Little Brother (adapted from the Cory Doctorow novel, produced at Custom Made Theater Company)—one of my favorite plays in recent years—counts as near-future dystopian sci-fi.

I also haven’t seen a lot of fantasy theater, although one of my favorite theater experiences was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The best example of the sort of fantasy theater I’d like to see was Stuart Bousel’s Giant Bones (adapted from Peter S. Beagle short stories), as it transported the audience to a fantasy world and told stories as compelling as any in the real world.

As the producer, you have a lot of inside knowledge of this event- what are some things you’re really looking forward to sharing with the audience.

Personally, I’m just looking forward to sharing all eight plays with the audience, since they’re all very different and I think there’s something for everyone. I’m also very excited about my cast, since most actors play multiple roles, and I think it will be a real treat for the audience. AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers all play three roles, no two alike. But with regards to inside knowledge…in Audrey Scare People Play, the monster, Scare People, is described as being “an octopus monster with wings,” and Meg O’Connor is attempting to make that costume. So I can’t wait to see it myself.

Did the unusual subject matter pose any particular challenges to the process?

See above re: octopus monster with wings. For the most part, however, no one wrote anything too outrageous because they were conscious of the limitations of theater and Cafe Royale specifically. You can do genre theater without a lot of special effects!

This show has a teaser at a bookstore. Tell us more about that and how you made that happen.

I have a good relationship with the people at Borderlands, and my original pitch included the preview reading because people who shop at a genre bookstore are more likely to see a night of genre theater, and vice-versa. It was a way to benefit my favorite bookstore and my favorite theater-in-a-bar. I floated the idea past Alan Beatts, the owner, and he was very receptive. And, to my surprise, he immediately suggested using microphones to broadcast throughout the store and draw people toward the reading and recording the reading as a podcast, which I hadn’t even considered. He wanted to make this the event it deserved to be.

We know you don’t drink, so what’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale on Theater Pub nights?

Coke. It’s the nectar of the gods. Not the Elder Gods, just the regular gods.

Don’t miss The Pub From Another World, playing one night only on May 20th, at 8 PM, for FREE, at the Cafe Royale!

Announcing The Line Up For May’s “Pub From Another World”

Audrey Scare People Play
by Audrey Kessinger
Audrey tries to get Scare People out of her house.

Support Group for the Mortally Challenged
by Bridgette Dutta Portman
Immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Overnight Exchange
by Kirk Shimano
What if you had someone sleep for you? Would you miss your dreams?

Days of Future Whatever
by Sang Kim
Kevin time traveled. Kevin time travels. Kevin will time travel.

Mrs. Youngblood
by Allison Page
One psychotic nanny. One terrified girl. Three knives.

Origin Stories
by Sunil Patel
Two superheroes walk into a bar. Who walks out?

The Progress of Perception
by Timothy Kay
A mad scientist enhances his sight and doesn’t like what he sees.

Horny
by Marissa Skudlarek
You can have a unicorn, or you can have sex.

Don’t miss The Pub From Another World, on May 20th at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale!

Cowan Palace: Zombies: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without (Killing) Them

We’re starting a new dramaturgy column where Ashley Cowan, local actress, director, writer, gets to regularly ruminate on whatever we’re putting on this month. She kicks off her column today with some thoughts on Zombies, what makes them tick, and why we can’t get enough of them.

It’s a zombie paradise these days. From AMC’s “The Walking Dead” to Brad Pitt’s upcoming “World War Z” to Theater Pub’s very own “Love in the Time of Zombies” by Kirk Shimano. The pool of zombie-themed films, books, and games released within the last decade would probably take at least two zombie lifetimes to swim through; in fact, on IMDB alone there are nearly 1,000 zombie titles.

It’s a curious development to harbor such an obsession with creatures that are by definition, brainless. What is it that we feel so connected to these undead little rascals? Where does the fascination come from?

Well, for one thing, zombies are a monster for everyone. They don’t need a full moon to shape-shift or a superhuman thirst for blood matched with impossibly sparkly skin. They’re just ordinary folks who have suffered an unfortunate nibble and developed into hungry, mindless, wanderers. They’re pretty simple.

Simplicity is something of a luxury in these complicated times. Life for us non-zombies hasn’t exactly been a piece of cake. Our economy is like a fifteen year old without a license: prone to crashing. Jobs, money, and even basic survival needs can be a struggle. Somehow, along the way, visions of an idealized future appear to have halted and without that sense of personal development and advancement, a preoccupation with the undead seems almost natural. While our surroundings become complicated by technology advancements, new means of communication and abundant social media there still remains a sense of brutal desolation coinciding with modern emptiness. When you consider the uncertain, politically divided, and frightful mindset that governs most of the world, why wouldn’t you want to escape to land of simple necessities? A Zombieland, perhaps?

But when did the preoccupation begin? Well, some believe things started centuries ago. Derived from African and Haitian folklore surrounding voodoo doctors, the word “zombie” came from those who were thought to have the ability to resurrect the dead into brainless shells so that they could then be sold as slaves. These voodoo-practicing doctors would dispense a potent drug to bring people into a near death state and then after they were thought dead, they would be buried and later dug up to resume a life as a servant. Pretty pleasant, right?

Historically speaking though, one of the oldest documented examples of the undead comes from the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, a 2,000-year old poem. Within this seasoned text, Ishtar travels to the underworld and promises, “I will raise up the dead and they will eat the living.” Ah, a lady ahead of her time.

While colorings of zombie qualities have painted their way throughout the canvas of history, the masses have been acquainted with zombies mostly via film. The first zombie film, Abel Gance’s “J’accuse” graced the silver screen in 1919. Described as an anti-war melodrama, the piece featured soldiers who rose from their graves to invade the lives of the survivors. Political reactions were often reflected in films following “J’accuse” as movies were regularly used as a place to reflect the devastations of war, which progressed the zombie film genre.

George Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead,” released in 1968, became another example of an iconic piece of the zombie history. Things are grim, a sense of claustrophobia haunts each shot, and the undead are looking for a party. And by party, I of course mean human flesh. Like other films of its kind, the concept is basic: kill the cannibals who can only be stopped by a blow to the brain or join the masses.

The wonderful thing about zombie dramas is that they can represent any number of societal nightmares. Worried about atomic weapons? A zombie could help channel that. What about genetic modification? Sure, zombies eat that up. Racism? You, got it. Consumerism, violence, death? Obviously. You get it. Zombies provide a tangible scapegoat: a force to destroy hidden within these apocalyptic shadows.

With zombies comes the promise of a new existence. Life would have the excuse to change. There would be no government or bills to pay. No boss to report to or morality to uphold. Everyone would have the chance to be a hero and change the rules of humanity; even the underdog would have a chance to win. All you have to do is survive the zombies. Fight the fear and forge ahead. Hoping that perhaps we could be one of the select few to survive the impending apocalypse.

Whether it be through film or play, book or comic, video game or fantasy world, there’s something almost romantic about the idea of zombies trying to take over. So embrace this entertainment trend and enjoy “Love in the Time of Zombies”. Because when the zombies attack, it’ll be nice to know that the Theater Pub gang is prepared and ready to make a new paradise of plays and beer for both the living and the undead.

Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at https://twitter.com/AshCows.

They’re coming…

San Francisco Theater Pub
presents

Love in the Time of Zombies by Kirk Shimano

Directed by Claire Rice

Featuring
Tony Cirimele, Alisha Ehrlich, Neil Higgins, Tonya Narvaez,
Paul Rodrigues and Maggie Ziomek

October 15, 16, 22, 29, 30, 2012

Cafe Royale
800 Post St. San Francisco, CA 94109

7pm: Pop-up Kitchen (Mon: BBQ, Tues: Sushi)
8pm: Performance
Cost: Free, $5 Suggested Donation

Playwright Kirk Shimano Talks About Love In The Time Of Zombies

We took a moment to chat up Kirk Shimano, the mastermind behind our October rom-zom-com, Love In The Time Of Zombies. This show is actually a first for Theater Pub: a fully produced full length play that isn’t based on prior material (like Boar’s Head and Measure For Measure were), and it turns out it’s not just a first for us…

Kirk Shimano looks nice enough… but his mind is a twisted play-pen of the Devil.

This your first full length to get produced?

Yes it is!

How does that feel?

It’s hard to know where to start! It’s exciting, for sure, but also intimidating. Watching the cast assembling the story in rehearsal has been a little surreal – watching these scenes that have only existed inside of my head being played out by real people. So in a word, it’s exciturrealidating.

Tell us about this play. Like… what is it about?

It starts with four survivors of a zombie apocalypse piling into an abandoned cabin in the woods. But while they’re prepared for the standard finding-love-while-running-from-zombies scenario, they’re not prepared for a mysterious woman who challenges their whole concept of what it means to be human. Lives are changed and people get eaten, but ultimately it’s about how our strongest emotions can either hold us back or propel us forwards.

How did it end up on the Theater Pub stage?

The first incarnation of this story was a one act that was presented by the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco back in the spring of 2009. I was encouraged by the connection the audience made with the characters, so I decided to expand the story, shifting the focus and adding two more characters to the mix. Two years later, the full length version of this play was presented as a staged reading by Wily West Productions. It was paired with Juno En Victoria, written by Theater Pub artistic director Stuart Bousel. Originally that led to this play being added to the No Nude Men season, but when that fell through the zombies found a new home at Theater Pub.

What’s the process been like so far?

It’s been amazing collaborating with Claire Rice, the director of the piece, and watching her work with the actors. I always find myself surprised by how much there is to fill in – even though all of the dialogue is already on the page, the actors have to construct a convincing reality from moment to moment. I’m fortunate to be working with a director and a cast who see the story in the same way that I do.

Originally, this play isn’t set in a bar, so what have you had to do to make this play doable at Theater Pub?

The biggest change has been to make the audience an active part in the play. The bar environment makes everyone more aware of the other audience members around them and we wanted to use this to help build the atmosphere. We’re having the audience play the part of the zombies surrounding the cabin. It fits right into the story, and hopefully the audience will enjoy the play even more when they get to make zombie noises throughout it!

What is it about zombies that we’re so interested in?

Zombies are the monsters that are closest to humanity. You can tell your friends, “Man, I was a total zombie at work today” and they’ll know exactly what you mean. Try inserting “swamp monster” into that sentence and it just doesn’t work the same. Zombies are people who are just a little more brain-hungry.

I think the closeness is also what makes them terrifying. The person who you trust most in the world could go zombie and turn on you in a second, and you’d understand why they were eating you while being entirely powerless to do anything about it

Can you think of any other zombie plays or movies that might have influenced you?

There wasn’t anything that was a direct influence, but I’ve definitely enjoyed a bunch of zombie things which I’m sure have affected me in one way or another. I like 28 Days Later for proving that there were plenty of new ways to approach zombies and Shaun of the Dead for injecting fun without losing any of the crucial elements of the genre. I really enjoyed The Walking Dead (the comic more than the TV show) for asking the question: “You’ve survived the initial outbreak. So now what?” Also Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive / Braindead for going way over the top and making it work.

What’s your favorite zombie related thing of all time?

I’m going to go with something a little more recent and say the trailer for the video game Dead Island. I never actually played the game it was advertising, but the trailer is really a masterful three minutes of storytelling that provides an emotional wallop. If you haven’t seen it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqrG1bdGtg

Runner up: the dinner scene from Dead Alive.

Who wins in the undead show down- zombies, mummies, vampires or ghosts?

Ghosts are too insubstantial and mummies just don’t want it bad enough. I think a vampire could take down a zombie in a one-on-one cage match, but not being able to go out in the sun is a HUGE handicap. The vampires could pull it off if they have the right leadership, but if even one of the Twilight crew is involved then zombies all the way.

In the event of a zombie outbreak, what is your plan?

Costco.

Don’t miss Kirk Shimano’s Love In The Time Of Zombies, directed by Claire Rice, playing October 15, 16, 22, 29, 30, only at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco.