Theater Around The Bay: Year-End Round-Up Act 2, The Best of the Blog 2014

2014 was another year of change on multiple fronts and our website was no exception. We lost Claire Rice but gained Charles Lewis III, as well as bringing on Anthony Miller, making us a team of nine now. Everyone, including our lengthy list of occasional contributors, gets to share in the success of the blog, which has continued to increase its traffic over this past year. With 51,112 hits and counting in 2014 (compared to 45,819 in 2013, 27,998 in 2012, 11,716 in 2011, 8,435 in 2010), 228 subscribers, and 2814 Facebook followers, there can be no doubt that the San Francisco Theater Public (as we’ve taken to calling the blog amongst ourselves) continues to be “kind of a thing.” With our current all time total at 145,024 hits, we wanted to use the next to last blog entry of this year to celebrate the different voices that make our blog unique, while also paying homage to the vast and diverse world of online theater discussion. To everyone who makes our blog a success, a gigantic thank you for making 2014 the best year so far! Here’s hoping that 2015 is even better!

STUART BOUSEL by Dave Sikula 

I’ll admit I don’t know Stuart all that well. He’s directed me in one show, and is about to direct me in another, and we cross paths reasonably frequently, but if you work in Bay Area theatre at all, it’s almost impossible to escape him. He’s everywhere, and that’s something I really admire about him (despite his own admiration for the fatally-flawed Into the Woods). If I may indulge myself for just a moment, I’ll confess to massive inertia and procrastination in my personal and professional lives. It takes an external stimulus just short of an earthquake to get me out of my easy chair and into action. (For example, I’m using the writing of this as an excuse to not work on my translation of The Imaginary Invalid.) But Stuart should be studied by the people at the Department of Energy: He’s as close to a perpetual motion machine as I can think of. He is constantly either coming up with an idea for something, or writing it, or producing it, or all three simultaneously.

Stuart Bousel, alone at work... in the 40s. That's how dedicated he is.

Stuart Bousel, alone at work… in the 40s. That’s how dedicated he is.

Most of us are more comfortable sitting in a bar or a living room bitching about the lack of opportunity or parts or shows in the city, but Stuart isn’t there. He’s off writing yet another script or arranging a venue to produce it in or creating spaces for other people to be creative or seeing shows or directing someone else’s script or holding meetings or readings. If you haven’t worked with him yet, you will. He’s the Tasmanian Devil of Bay Area theatre. Meanwhile, this is my favorite of Stuart’s posts of the last year. It’s not particularly analytical or insightful, but is, perhaps more importantly, a reminder of a very pleasant occasion; the wedding of two good friends.

From the outside world I’d like highlight something from Mark Evanier’s blog. Mark is a writer who’s worked in comics, sitcoms, variety shows, animation, and any number of other areas. It’s not, strictly speaking, about the theatre or the arts, but is about the effect that a creative artist can have on others, how that creation is received, and (probably of most importance to me), the vital need for artists to know history and what has gone before them in order to have a foundation upon which to either build the future or knock the past down in an informed way.

ASHLEY COWAN by Stuart Bousel

My boyfriend and I often refer to Ashley, with tremendous affection, as “the cool babysitter you always wanted as a kid.” This is because Ashley is uniquely gifted with seemingly endless patience, bottomless love and forgiveness, incredible creativity, and a plethora of cookie recipes. Seriously, invite her over to stuff at your house, and make sure she knows she’s supposed to bring treats. She’s like a fairy tale princess who conquers through kindness and she sets a sterling example for anyone looking to be just a little bit sweeter, a little bit nicer, a little bit more understanding. Like all incredibly good people, she also struggles not to be a doormat, cause the truth is, we live in a world of witches, wolves, and humans, and those of us who aspire to be a force for light often radiate “I Will Help You!” and “Come Fuck With Me!” at the same time, whether we intend to or not. Learning to draw lines with others, learning to stand up for ourselves, learning to speak up even when it’s not polite, is just as important as setting a good example and taking the higher road. This year Ashley took a tremendous step as a human being and risked her “nice girl” reputation to stand by a statement she felt she had to make, something I wish I had the courage to do more often, and in typical Ashley fashion she both learned a lot from that action and shared it with the rest of us. This blog entry is like a song from Into The Woods, Ashley’s “I Know Things Now” and just like Little Red, I love how Ashley celebrates her knew understanding of herself, while at the same time admitting how it weirds her out. So real, so human. So Ashley.

Ashley Cowan: my favorite fairy tale bride.

Ashley Cowan: my favorite fairy tale bride.

Outside of Theater Pub, the article that gave me the most pause this year was this interview with Marsha Norman. I have long been a fan of Norman’s work: ‘Night Mother was the first really serious, non-musical play I saw as an adolescent and connected to, and The Secret Garden remains one of my top five musicals of all time, so it was wonderful to get Norman’s analysis of her own process as a writer. On the other hand, while I respect her opinions on new play development I found them to be suspiciously New York/Ivy-Leage Institution centric, out-of-touch with the larger reality of most playwright’s lives and the indie theater scene that I personally work in and advocate for. Additionally, while I respect and share her desire to advocate for more women playwrights and more exposure for their work, as a man it was disappointing to read that she thinks the formation of women-only teams is the solution, as I am more and more adamantly of the belief that mixed-gender teams are the key to a future that achieves actual progress instead of just recreating the problems of the past with a new mask. That said, I love that she recognizes the value of male allies, and that they often need to be invited in, rather than expected to show up of their own accord. So why am I sharing this article when I don’t agree with half of it? Because in the end, to me, our principal job as artists, writers, intellectuals, is to share ideas, including and especially ones we don’t entirely agree with. Comparing our beliefs is how we figure out who we are, how we form bonds with others, and how we continue our quest, as human beings, for meaning and truth. When an experienced and thoughtful practitioner of something (in this case playwrighting) speaks, you listen, because you will certainly hear something you want to respond to. Listen to Marsha. And then respond. The worst conversation is almost always the one you don’t have.

BARBARA JWANOUSKOS by Marissa Skudlarek

Barbara Jwanouskos has had quite a year! She finished up her MFA in Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon, returned to the Bay Area, re-branded her Theater Pub column from “Higher Education” to “The Real World, Theater Edition,” got accepted into Just Theater’s New Play Lab, and discovered quite the talent for interviewing local theater-makers about how they develop new works. She’s also been admirably open about her own writing process and her doubts, fears, and struggles throughout this eventful year.

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” It’s great to have Barbara back in the Bay Area!

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” It’s great to have Barbara back in the Bay Area!

I especially want to highlight Barbara’s piece “Meeting the Fear Barrier,” from toward the end of her time at Carnegie Mellon. In the past few years, Barbara has committed herself to two very different, but intense and disciplined, pursuits: playwriting and kung fu. She combined these two passions in her thesis play this year, The Imaginary Opponent (which deals with violence at a kung fu studio), and some of her Theater Pub columns also draw on the way that these two activities often teach her complementary lessons. In writing about how kung fu can seem “completely masochistic and insane” to someone who doesn’t practice it, she allows us to draw the inference that producing indie theater can also seem like a masochistic, insane pursuit to outsiders. She also makes a connection that theater and kung fu require both vulnerability and strength, and can bring up unexpected emotions. I’m pretty much a couch potato, but I admire Barbara’s physical courage and drive. And even if I never learn how to break a board with my bare hand, I can at least try to emulate the way she strives to break through the mental barriers that can hold us back from making great art.

Favorite article elsewhere online: Frank Rich on Moss Hart, New York magazine, April 11, 2014. I’m recommending this partly because the absolute best theater-related thing I read this year was Moss Hart’s memoir Act One, but it was published in 1959, so I can’t exactly put it on this list. But I can tell you to read Rich’s article about Hart’s book! Act One is a tale of struggle that ends in triumph: Hart’s first Broadway production, at the age of 25. It’s glamorous and romantic and engaging and funny and inspirational. (My mother very thoughtfully gave it to me for my birthday this summer as I was producing Pleiades, and I intend to reread it every time I produce a play.) But Rich’s article reveals what Hart left out of his autobiography: he was bipolar and bisexual in an era when both of those things were considered shameful secrets. “The more we learn about the truth of Moss Hart, the more powerful Act One becomes, not just as a book but as a heroic act of generosity from a man whose heart and mind were breaking down even as he was writing it,” Rich writes.

2014 was a hard year for a lot of us. The headlines were alternately depressing and rage-inducing. In the span of two months (August-September), I produced a play, had a health crisis, and got dumped. I don’t understand people who are cheerful all the time, but I have the utmost respect and sympathy for people who are acquainted with the darker side of life and will themselves not to give into despair. They create joy and hope that is all the more profound for its proximity to sorrow. That’s what Moss Hart did in Act One, and what I strive to do in 2015.

WILL LESCHBER by Allison Page

It’s time to talk about Will Leschber, my friends. Yes, he is a writer here at the blog, but I knew him before that. We acted together in Prelude To A Kiss last year, where we spent the one chunk of the show where neither of us had anything to do chatting backstage on the couch every night, talking about life. That’s also where he told me about his plan to propose to his now wife, who also happens to be a close friend of mine. INTERTWINED, YA’LL. He’s a gentleman if there ever was one, manages to be the only dude I know who can pull off wearing a vest, and laughs all the time. These are solid, solid qualities.

Focus on Will Leschber. Literally.

Focus on Will Leschber. Literally.

He’s a thoughtful guy with thoughtful thoughts. And my favorite blog of his this year is on a topic ever-so-close to my tiny black heart: sad clowns. I’m caught up in my first full length production as a playwright and it’s about that very thing, so it’s crazy relevant to me right now (and let’s face it, always).

As for the rest of the internet, I’m having my own personal HOLY SHIT I’M FALLING IN LOVE WITH CHRIS ROCK AGAIN moment right now. I had heard about his new movie TOP FIVE and was interested but didn’t think much about it. Then this Vulture interview with him came out and I was then obsessed with seeing it and having more Chris Rock in my life. He didn’t/doesn’t shy away from talking about difficult, uneasy stuff (Ferguson, Cosby, etc) and still manages to be hilarious and personable. Also Top Five was magnificent and you should see it, but here’s the article.

CHARLES LEWIS III by Anthony Miller

As we were all assigned to write about a fellow T-Pub (That’s what I’m calling it now) Blogger, I am here to tell you all about our newest regular writer; Charles Lewis. Here’s why I like Charles, better yet, here’s why I think his existence is pivotal to the Indie Theatre Community; he is indisputably this scene’s flag bearer. His belief and passion for the SF Indie Theatre World is undeniable. He has the ability to talk about the people and the work involved with such reverence, he simply elevates the importance of it all. When you read Charles’ posts about the Olympians Festival it’s as if you’re getting a backstage look at The Humana Festival. His interview with Marissa Skudlarek reads like a New York Times in depth look at the career of Dame Judi Dench. He embodies the very feeling that we all have as we struggle to self-produce our work in Black Box Theatres in neighborhoods that smell like pee, the feeling that what we are doing is important. Nobody can articulate the importance we all place on our work as Charles does. He speaks about our work and experiences as we would speak of them, but he is also reverent, critical, and observant and unites the scene by saying “What we are doing counts, and here’s why”.

Easily my favorite quality about Charles is that he believes what he believes and worked real hard in figuring out why he believes it. So his thoughts and opinions are devoid of bullshit. His own confidence in what he thinks is immeasurably valuable. After the first reading of Terror-Rama, Charles quickly left the building. As I saw him leave, I thought; “Oh man, Charles must have HATED it, I gotta talk to him”. So I chase him down out front and ask him about the show. He takes a breath and says, “The first one has potential but the other is a misogynist piece of shit.” Boom. Honest, critical and to the point. It was my favorite comment the whole night because it gave me a clear notion of what I had to do in developing those two plays over the next year. It was a simple, no bullshit, State of the Union.

So the post by Charles I want to recommend is part of his ongoing series about the SF Olympians Festival. See how he paints such a clear picture of everything that goes on behind the scene. Most importantly, see how he so perfectly embodies the excitement we all have for this festival . The way he tells it shows just how important and special it is without just saying “This is very Important and Special to us”. That’s why Charles is a kick ass dude, he believes in the work we do, and he takes it seriously. He successfully embodies the collective excitement and passion the people in this scene feel for every project they do.

Here’s the link. Oh and read this one too, it’s awesome.

Charles Lewis III. What else is there to say?

Charles Lewis III. What else is there to say?

OK Part 2, here’s where I recommend a Theatre blog that isn’t T-Pub. A task in which I will fail miserably because I just don’t read a lot of theatre blogs that aren’t T-Pub. But I do listen to a shitload of podcasts. So go and check out the Podcast of Bret Easton Ellis (Ok not a theatre guy, but go with me.) What makes this show a must-listen for anyone who does something creative is the interviews he does with guests are fascinating explorations of how artists think. He doesn’t ask boilerplate questions, asking about their new project or their background. Usually he starts the show, with a monologue about whatever is on his mind that day, be it a play, film book or a celebrity (His observations on Miley Cyrus are fucking brilliant.) and then he engages the guest in a conversation about it. We get to know how artists we admire feel about their work, others work and their own feelings on their respective mediums. They feel like Master Class Lectures on the creation of art and those who create it. Check out the show here: And go to the interview with Michael Ian Black. Do it.

ANTHONY MILLER by Will Leschber

Anthony R Miller- With his brazen wit and ah-fuck-it attitude, Anthony weaves his endearing yet self-depreciating voice around many Bay Area theater issues in his column The Five. One of my particular favorites was his internal discussion surrounding his experience at the TBA Awards. The ragged thoughts he displays, sweetly gets to the heart of what many artistic folk and theater-makers have to balance: The opposing desire to turn inwards to replenish and the need to turn on social extroversion. Get out of my head Anthony! You see my pain! Also this article uses one subheading entitled, “I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel”. Anyone who uses a Get Up Kids song as a subheading just made my short list of bloggers I have to read. You the man, Anthony. You the man.

Anthony Miller: ah-fuck-it attitude

Anthony Miller: ah-fuck-it attitude

This was the year podcasts reached a new level of cultural awareness and breached the bubble of relevant pop culture. This mainly had to do with the runaway success of the Serial podcast. More importantly, the new attention paid to the medium of podcasting has ushered in a time where podcasting can be taken seriously as a creative / media outlet. The quality is higher than ever, the variety available is more diverse than before and the a la carte funding “from listeners like you” signals a shift in radio that looks something akin to the Netflix revolution. This all boils down to: there are a lot of great audio selections out there and it’s time to listen up. One of my favorites this year was the 99% Invisible podcast episode entitled “Three Records from Sundown“. It’s an award winning radio piece rebroadcast, that chronicles the music of Nick Drake. It reminds me why I love music, why I love good storytelling and why I love great radio.

ALLISON PAGE by Charles Lewis III

The thing that always gets me about Allison’s column is that it (often) eschews the normal “tears of a clown” shit. Oh, she’ll get personal and it can be heartbreaking, make no mistake, but what I love is that she doesn’t go for the easy route of “Yes, I want you to laugh, but more than that I want you to cry at the pain – oh, the pain – that my laughter covers up. Oh, the pain! The pain of it all!” No, Allison’s spiel is more of a “Remember we said someday we’ll look back on this and laugh? Today’s that day.” By taking the latter route, she earns our sympathy because she isn’t fishing for it. Her scars are no less prominent or legitimate, but she doesn’t feel the need to be solely defined by them. And yet the blog of hers I’m highlighting today is one of the less intimate: “How to Make Actors Never want to Work with You Again”. Sure, an argument can be made for the other side (and other blogs did just that), but she said things that needed saying in that piece. Just as performers are not above reproach, neither are the backstage folks who keep the wheels moving. Someday we’ll all look back on That One Bad Production and laugh…

Allison Page, one second away from flinging yet another brilliant witticism your way.

Allison Page, one second away from flinging yet another brilliant witticism your way.

This was a funny years for me, in terms of thinking of my “career” as a performer. When I wasn’t being rejected after auditions and – as I mentioned yesterday – burning bridges, I was acting in Sundance films, taking the stage at prominent Bay Area theatres, and being forced to seriously consider whether or not to join SAG and/or the AEA. I mean, union reps were mailing me paperwork. It got me thinking that maybe I actually could make a living out of this, but would it be a living I want? In the middle of all this, Theatre Bay Area re-tweeted this NY Post article about Broadway actors who have done the same role for over a decade. Normally the Post is only good for the bottom of a birdcage, but this article – combined with the fact that I acted in a play, Pastorella, about theatre-folk coming to terms with their careers – stuck with me. It would require major changes (most notably the geographical kind), but I’m certain I could make a living at this, and a comfortable living at that. But would I be happy if I wound up just another cog in the theatrical machine rather than the corporate one? Is it worth giving up all the control I’ve gotten for the guarantee of having rent on time? I haven’t stopped asking myself these questions, nor have I found any wholly satisfying answers. But I’m comforted by the fact that it wasn’t too late for me to consider that kind of life.

DAVE SIKULA by Barbara Jwanouskos

I don’t know Dave as well as the other TPub bloggers and was a little nervous when I selected his name at our last meeting because he always struck me as a more serious theater person than I was. In reading “It’s a Suggestion, Not a Review” however, I’m struck by Dave’s continuing discussion about very relevant themes in theater like censorship, copyright issues, controversy plays, and creator’s rights. It’s actually surprising his articles don’t illicit further discussion in the comments section because he brings up some very valid points in a direct, comprehensive way. With Dave, I always feel like I’m learning something – the way you would listening to your well-traveled uncle give his observations of what he’s seen out there. Beyond his series on directing choices vs. playwright intent using fascinating stories of productions of Endgame, Oleanna, and Hands on a Hardbody (which is extremely informative and worth a read), Dave is a phenomenal storyteller. It’s easy to get sucked in by his wit. One of his most recent posts, “Boo!” was particularly engaging for its discussion of theater ghosts and the other worldly nature of being in spaces that many, many others have passed through. I had goosebumps at the end because of Dave’s knack for turning a casual activity into something much more dramatically interesting.

Dave Sikula, not a man to mess with on Jeopardy or on stage

Dave Sikula, not a man to mess with on Jeopardy or on stage

There have been a lot of great blog articles and podcasts on theater this year, but I very much appreciated a recent article by Lisa Drostova (who is also a co-worker and desk buddy at Ragged Wing Ensemble!) because there is usually a dearth of quality writing on professional playwriting/dramatic writing programs. As someone who was on the other side of this a couple years ago, I found it inspiring and informative when I could find someone lay out what exactly was out there. I tried to write a bit about this back in August too, and would like to continue adding to that on my own blog, but what I appreciated about this article is how it gave an expansive look at the various different playwriting programs specifically in the Bay Area. We have phenomenal resources available to those wishing to sharpen their skills right at our fingertips and this article highlights the ways to find that in universities and community colleges around the Bay.

MARISSA SKUDLAREK by Ashley Cowan

Marissa Skudlarek had a pretty great year in the Theater Pub World. In reviewing her blogs it was nearly impossible to pick just one to celebrate. Should I go with her incredibly popular, https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/hi-ho-the-glamorous-life-whos-a-horses-ass/, or https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/hi-ho-the-glamorous-life-chestnut-tea-with-the-other-me/, which I found to be lovely and creative? Nah. Think outside the blackbox, Ashley. I’m going to go with: https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/hi-ho-the-glamorous-life-things-of-darkness-and-of-light/. Did I love that my husband, unborn baby, and I got a shoutout? Duh. But I also loved reading Marissa’s honest discussion of certain challenges while still choosing to search for stars in seemingly dark skies. For me, I found this to be a relevant theme of this action packed year. We all had some ups and downs throughout the past twelve months, but what a beautiful way to stay positive.

It's always spring time when Marissa is in the room!

It’s always spring time when Marissa is in the room!

I’ll be honest, I’ve read way too many wedding and baby related online articles this year that I didn’t think would be appropriate to share. So the article I picked was one that made me laugh. if you’re involved in any theater community, I think you’ll appreciate this comic take on casting and the strong, critical nature such a group can occasionally possess when a cast list is revealed. My favorite line may be, “…but that at a big-boned 5’9”, she doesn’t exactly present the unique mixture of Dixie elegance and delicate vulnerability that ticket holders will expect to see come opening night.” As a 5’9’’ actress who would love to one day play Blanche Dubois, I found this piece for The Onion to be pretty great.

We’ve got one more act tomorrow! See you then! 

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Theater Around The Bay: Yes To Crowdfunding!

Bay Area actress/director/performer Lisa Drostova recently posted this on her Facebook page. I thought it created some interesting conversation and I liked that it contributed in a positive fashion to the “where’s the money going to come from/is the age of crowdfunding over?” discussion/panic that hit in July (aka “Potato Salad Month”) and seems to have already blown over. Thanks for letting us share this, Lisa, and if you have any thoughts of your own, be sure to leave them in the comments!

I’ve been linking to a lot of crowdfunding campaigns lately, much more now that I’m a blooded Indiegogo warrior myself, and it strikes me that there are different ways of looking at them. For a long time, it just seemed overwhelming and distressing that every artist and arts organization I knew had to go hat in hand. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with a culture where billions will get spent on military equipment that doesn’t even function while people making beautiful, important work that changes lives have to hit up all their friends to pay for their projects. And as several friends have so aptly noted, artists are all just passing what funds we have around to each other.

But the other way to look at the next campaign that shows on your newsfeed–and the one after that, and the one after that–is with defiance of the system as it stands. And as an opportunity to help with something with which you might not otherwise get to be part. Because even the tiny donations actually do make a difference. You get to help build something, even if you don’t have carpentry or singing or animation skills, or time to volunteer.

No, you’re not going to get a room at MoMA named after you, or a massive million-dollar gala thrown in your honor. But I assure you that your contribution will be just as appreciated by the artist(s) bitting their nails behind the campaign, and possibly more. They are throwing you a gala in their heart. When we were fundraising the last $50K for The Flight Deck, as an admin on the campaign I could see all those unspecified donations, and who chose to be anonymous, and every single donation meant the world to me, because it was another person believing in our project. Five thousand bucks is great, of course, don’t hesitate to give that if you have it, but five is also going to make a difference–especially the way the online campaigns and their freaky algorithms and “Gogo Factor” and the rest of it work. Each contribution nudges Indiegogo, or Kickstarter, or Hatch, or GoFundMe, to push the campaign.

Which is the other thing you can do, even when you absolutely can’t donate money. Cross-post the campaigns you believe in. You might not have the moolah, but someone in your network might just be entranced by what your friends are trying to accomplish. I have donated to campaigns for people who I didn’t know from Adam’s housecat because we had a mutual friend who shared the link. And I know how very hard it is for people to ask for that help.

Which is the long answer for, yes, I am going to keep posting other people’s campaigns, whether I can donate myself at the moment or not, because I choose to see the potential for excitement versus exhaustion, and I beg your patience with me for it. I know people who are doing amazing things, and until we live in a world where artists don’t have to struggle to stay afloat, this is one small way I can support them.