The Five- Final Thoughts

Anthony R. Miller checks in one last time.

Hey you guys, so here we are, my final post for Theater Pub. Some posts have been good, some not so much. But let’s not mire ourselves in introductions, I have some final thoughts to share with you, and as a surprise to no one, there are five.

For God’s Sake, Go See TERROR-RAMA 2

Of course I’m starting with one last shot of shameless self-promotion. Promoting this show has been my obsession for weeks, and since we open THIS FRIDAY, why stop now? So here’s the deal, I want to tell you exactly why I think you should see this show, call it my final plea. We have spent the last 2 years preparing this show. After the success of the first Terror-Rama, we knew we wanted to do it again. In part because it was really fun and we were super proud of it, but also because there were things we knew we could do better. So now we’re back, we have two brand new shows, a super cool venue and a team of crazy-talented people that have been working their asses off. And you know what? It’ll all be worth it, because the show is great.

Purity is going to mess you up. Claire Rice has written a freaky-ass play, and it will make your skin crawl. Not to mention, it features two brilliant performances by Adam Niemann and Laura Peterson. As for Sexy Vampire Academy, I’m biased, because I wrote it. But this fantastic cast has done amazing things with it; I have been brought to tears in rehearsal by how funny this play is. You may even find a few poignant moments (maybe).

As I spend my day staring at box office reports, sweating, drinking, and praying, I take comfort in the fact that this show has been blessed by some many happy accidents, whether it was the random conversation that led to hiring Jess Thomas (who has been killing it as SM), or finding out we had unwittingly cast a great props person, a licensed fight choreographer and dance choreographer whom have all added so much to the show. All led by Colin Johnson, my Artistic Soul Mate, my man fifty grand, my brother from another mother, I could not be prouder of his work as a director. So there you go, Terror-Rama 2 is the culmination of some really brilliant people working their asses off. When we first sat down to plan this show, we didn’t want to just put on a good show, we wanted to put on a great show. I think we’ve done that. So go to www.awesometheatre.org and get your tickets for opening weekend. It’ll be a bloody good time.

Like Whatever You Want To Like

So if I have any parting words to my 6 or 7 loyal readers, it is this: Like Things. And unless you like things that are hateful and cruel, feel no shame for liking it. There are people who want to judge you for liking something they don’t, because they are miserable people. (More on them later.) Life is too short, our times are too troubled and empathy is in short supply. So like things, like the shit out of them, squeeze every ounce of happiness from those things and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for liking them. There are no guilty pleasures, if something in this godforsaken world makes you happy, do your thing. Whether it’s super popular or you feel like you are the only one who has heard of it, it is equally special, because it is special to you. Any time you spend worrying about what other people might think of you for liking something is just time you could have spent liking it. So like things, like them pieces, like them like you have the freedom to like them, because you do.

Don’t Define Yourself By The Things You Don’t Like

We’ve all been there, our early 20s, sitting at a coffee shop, judging people into the ground for their taste, feeling a sense of superiority because you have the high-minded taste to dislike something. “Of course I don’t like (insert thing here), I’m not a plebeian.” Here’s the thing, it makes you sound like a dick. It’s OK to have an opinion, it’s OK to dislike something, but when disliking something becomes as much of a part of your personality as the things you do like, you’re defining yourself with negativity. You’re not a smarter person for disliking something, or a better person, there’s just this thing that you don’t care for, that’s all. Maybe it’s something super popular and the fact it’s not your thing makes you feel alienated, so you lash out, you say snooty shit like, “Well, that’s fine for the masses.” Or “I wouldn’t be caught dead seeing that show.” What’s really being said here is, “Everyone else is part of something and I’m not, and it makes me feel left out.” That is an honest, normal way to feel, and I think sometimes we get “snobby” because were too scared to admit we feel left out. Let the things that bring you joy in life define you, not the things that just aren’t your cup of tea. You’re a good person because you are kind, empathetic and generous. Not because you think something sucks, and certainly not because you shame people for liking something you don’t. It is the things you love that make you interesting, not the things you detest.

I Am Full Of Shit

Over the years in this blog, I have made some bold statements, and I’ve also bit my tongue a lot. I try to stay away from “bomb-throwy” articles, despite the fact that they get lots of hits and stir things up. That is because of one simple fact; I am nobody. I am not famous, or crazy successful or seen as an expert in anything. I’ve done OK in my life and I’ve had some great adventures and wonderful experiences. Sure, I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’m to share them, because they worked for me. But if you ever find yourself reading something I said and you think “Oh, who does this guy thinks he is?” I’m nobody, just a dude with a day job, a great daughter, two cats and a wonderful partner. But by no means an expert. I am “that guy” just as often (if not more so) as I am not. So if you disagree with me, that’s fine, because it’s just my opinion, an opinion no more valid than any other. We are all full of shit in our own special way.

So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish

This blog is not always good. For every insightful reflection of why I do theatre, there is a photo essay featuring my cat. For every cool rundown of an event I attended, there is some random list of whatever was on my mind. My favorites? Well, I will always cherish the two stories I co-wrote with Allison Page, whether it was drinking cheap whiskey and watching beefcake wrasslers pick up Allison at Hoodslam, or singing Blink 182 songs while a greasy muscly dude in a G-string dances 4 feet away from us at “Thunder From Down Under.” Those were adventures, a total pain in the ass to write about, but adventures. I’ll always remember my semi-existential crisis at the first TBA awards, which became one of my favorite articles. But I am thankful for the opportunity to write all of them. 5 years ago I left a job I thought would be my future, but it wasn’t. It was a horrible, depressing, and disillusioning experience that made me spend a year questioning whether or not I wanted to do theatre. But it is the Theater Pub world that helped me get up and brush myself off and get back to what I loved. The Olympians Festival, Theater Pub shows and meetings, play readings at Stuart Bousel’s mountain chalet, are so important to where I am in life. Surrounded by people with the same passions I have, people with hustle, and people with ideas. Theater Pub gave me a foundation to stand on, a place to rebuild, and great people to work with. I am so excited to see what everyone goes on to do because I know it’s this crazy thing called Theater Pub that helped make it possible. It’s sad when a band breaks up, but sometimes the solo albums are the best work they ever do. So thank you to Stuart for hiring me (twice) and thank you to all my fellow T-Pub writers.

Tl;dr Go see Terror-Rama, Don’t Be a Dick, and I’ll miss you T-Pub, thank you for everything.

Be Excellent to Each other,

ARM

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Producer and Educator, keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Savannah Reich

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Savannah Reich about her upcoming Bay Area production.

Savannah Reich is the type of playwright that when you read and hear and see her work, you’re like, “I want to do that! That’s so cool! Theater’s so cool!” I met her while in the second year of the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University, headed by Rob Handel, and was blown away by her humor, theatricality, and the moving moments of human connection and confusion she creates within her writing. So, of course, I was very happy to learn that her play, Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play was being produced by All Terrain Theater in the summer of 2015.

The show opens next Thursday, July 30th at 8:00 PM and runs on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until August 8th at the EXIT Theatre in downtown San Francisco. I had a chance to chat with Savannah about playwriting, the inspiration behind Six Monsters, and her creative impulses.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Babs: Very excited to interview you!

Savannah: Thank you! I am so excited to be interviewed!

Babs: To begin, could you tell me about your background? How did you get involved with theater and writing?

Savannah: I wrote my first play in the second grade. I’m not sure where I got the idea. My parents were both doing theater when I was a kid, as a prop-master and scenic artist at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, so I’m sure I had already seen plays? I am counting this as “my first play” because it was more elaborate than a show I did with friends in the basement or whatever- it had a typed script, which went through several drafts, and I think I forced my entire second grade class to be in it, although I don’t remember that part.

So as long as I can remember I had this incredibly specific compulsion to write plays. I briefly went to NYU for the undergraduate playwriting program, which I was not really prepared for at eighteen. I dropped out after a year and decided I would never write a play again- I was just going to be wild and free and be in punk bands and experience real life. But then I started writing plays again probably six months after that.

I recently found the script for my first play in a box at my parent’s house; it was about two witches who turn people into chickens and serve them to children at an orphanage, which actually sounds like something that I might be working on now.

Babs: How would you describe your style and what interests you?

Savannah: The way I’m thinking about it these days is that I am interested in taking inexplicable emotional processes and making them into something concrete and mechanical. I am obsessed with the Charlie Kaufman movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because it does this so nicely- it takes this very gooey personal feeling, the grief about losing a shared past when you end a relationship, and makes it into this action story. It literally ends with a chase scene. So that’s a really nice way to create ways to talk about things that maybe don’t fall into the cultural shorthand.

More concretely, my plays tend to be removed from true-to-life situations- as Sarah Ruhl says, “my characters have no last names.” They are animals or ghosts or subhuman beasts. They tend to be suffering greatly in some neurotic, cyclical way and they all talk on rotary dial telephones.

Also, I am interested in structure because it is the essential relationship between the play and the audience, which for me is at least as interesting as the relationships between the characters.

Babs: I think Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play has an interesting origin story – do you mind sharing and then how it developed from its inception?

Savannah: Yes! You were there! It was very early on in my first year at CMU, maybe the second or third week, and Rob Handel had us do a writing exercise that involved beginning a 60 page play at nine am and finishing it by midnight. The exercise was so great, but I feel like I don’t want to give it away in case he is going to do it again next year- part of what was great about it for me was the surprise. I had all these ideas for plays that had been percolating for a long time, and I was fussing over them and trying to make them “good”, and then we got this exercise that said, “Okay, forget about all those plays- here’s a prompt, now write this play. Write this play today.” It was totally liberating for me.

Before grad school, I had been writing plays and producing them myself, so I think that I had gotten into this trap of keeping my producer’s hat on while I was writing. I would think about making props affordable, stuff like that. It was dumb. This exercise broke me out of that. The original opening stage direction for “Six Monsters” was something like, “There are six audience members seated on a wooden cart. The wooden cart rolls through an infinite darkness.”

I also think I put a bunch of things that felt really vulnerable and revealing to me in this play, and maybe I wouldn’t have if I had been imagining that it would ever be performed. I write much better when I am able to convince myself that no one I know will ever see it.

After I finished the play, I co-produced a one night workshop performance of it with our fellow MFA writer Dan Giles, with him directing, me as the skeleton, and six amazing CMU undergrad acting students as the chorus, which I will get to brag about when they are all famous in like twenty-five minutes.

Babs: When I last saw this piece, you were actually performing in it as the Skeleton. How do you think performing/not performing in your own work influences how you see the play, what to develop/not develop next?

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah: I’m not sure how I feel about this anymore! I am worrying about it a lot in a neurotic and cyclical way! I have performed in my own work a fair amount, and sometimes I think I don’t want to do it anymore, because probably it would be better with real actors who are good at acting. But then I recently saw the performance artist Dynasty Handbag in New York, and I love her, and I thought that maybe I should always perform my own work. Not that I am a performer like she is- I tend to be visibly thinking on stage in that way that playwrights do when they try to act- but I do think there is something special about seeing someone perform their own words, there is a kind of specificity to it.

But I’m not going to be a performance artist because I love actors so much. They are my favorite thing to look at, especially when they are in my plays being hilarious. It’s great to be a playwright because we get to see all these very attractive people pretending to be us, pretending to have our same anxieties about capitalism or intimacy or whatever, which feels deeply healing in some probably very messed up way. Also good collaboration makes the show better, of course. The actor can see a lot of things about the show that I can’t.

I don’t know that I learn anything much from being in my own plays. I played the part of the skeleton in the workshop mostly because it felt too personal to turn it over to an actor. But now I have a little more distance, and I’m so excited to see what Laura Peterson does with it.

Babs: In the San Francisco production, is there anything that you are most looking forward to seeing or experiencing?

Savannah: I was just talking about how much variability actors bring to the table but of course that’s also very much true of directors. I haven’t worked with Sydney Painter before, and seeing her take on the piece is probably what I’m the most excited about. I haven’t been in town for rehearsals yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this crew has interpreted the show in different ways than I would have imagined.

Babs: Any advice for playwrights in creating new work or getting it produced?

Savannah: 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.

Babs: Any shout-outs for shows, events, or other things going on around the Bay Area that you might check out while you’re here?

Savannah: If you come to Six Monsters; A Seven Monster Play you will also get to see a short play by the fabulous Tracy Held Potter called Texting. And we should probably all get on a plane to New York to see Dan Giles’ play How You Kiss Me is Not How I Like To Be Kissed at the New York Fringe Festival.

Also, this.

Learn more about Savannah Reich, her screenplays, plays, and upcoming artistic projects from her website, http://savannahreich.com/.