Everything Is Already Something Week 12: How The Grinch Stole Beermas

Someone let Allison Page out of her cage again.

Clearly, you have seen “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” right? I mean, you are a person, aren’t you? Whether it’s the cartoon version or the Jim Carrey version, or a version you’ve dreamed up with Tom Hardy as a super hot muscular Grinch who just needs me to ease his woes – whatever – you know the story. The Grinch is a grumpy green guy who lives on top of a mountain away from society and is generally kind of a miserable bastard. By the end, a little girl comes along and the Grinch’s previously tiny black heart grows three sizes and he acquires a love of Christmas and the Whoville community. And they all lived happily ever after or something.

Maybe I don’t live on the top of Mt. Crumpit, but I do live on the 11th floor of an apartment building in the tenderloin. I’ve always been a strange combination of “exuberant people person” and “absolute loner grump”, even as a child. I hate communities. Ugh. I don’t even like the word. In high school, my mother gave me a letterman’s jacket, and I refused to wear it for fear it would put forth the notion that I had team spirit lurking inside me somewhere, which I did not. She still wears it. It says “Allison” on it. Her name is Sherry. All through my teens I spent my time either at rehearsal – obsessing over my part – or at home watching movies older than my grandparents or writing what I thought was the next piece of great American drama. My mother actually used to call me Daria, because she saw the show and it reminded her of my general demeanor. I feel like I was probably a contender for “Child Who Displayed Sarcasm at the Earliest Age”. I guess what I’m trying to say is – a lot of the time I was a miserable bastard and I just really wanted those damn kids to get off my lawn.

Allison's Yearbook Photo

Allison’s Yearbook Photo

My demeanor changed after moving to the Bay Area, because through comedy I was able to, ya know, become a person. But that didn’t make me more group oriented. Back when I did a lot of improv a few years ago, it made me achingly aware of how much I just can’t do the community thing. I didn’t want to go hang out with a bunch of zany whackos until 2am, just…bonding. I hate bonding. GET OFF MY LAWN, ZANY WHACKOS. I liked the art of improvising, and it’s made me a better performer. I think every actor should take a stellar improv class. I even taught it for a while. But there’s this group mentality that has to exist for a team to be able to really perform successfully together over time, and I just couldn’t commit to that. And stand up is a very solo act, obviously, but there’s a community there, too – which is  hard for some people in that it’s very intimidating because you’re dealing with some rapid-fire human minds – but that didn’t bother me because I love competition. I just didn’t have the desire to be around for it.

Last night, I threw on my “I’M WITH BEAR” t-shirt and headed out to Theater Pub’s very last Pint Sized Plays festival at the Café Royale. The Royale has been the home of Theater Pub since it began, and we won’t be there anymore after…wait a minute…hold on…did I just say “we”?

Theater Pub doesn’t really have company members that I’m aware of. There are the founders of the Pub, and then there are all the actors, directors, artists, producers etc. that have worked with them in the last few years. Which by Stuart’s count last night was 307 people…which is pretty fucking astounding. I know that most of us (oh lord, now I said “us”) feel some proud ownership over the things that have been created there. Though I just participated for the first time a year ago, I feel like the Pub understands me. Café Royale is sort of dark and moody, which always makes me feel more comfortable, and the “anything can happen” vibe pleases my inner angsty rebel. I feel like the Beer Bear of last year’s Pint Sized has been mentioned a million times already, but I can’t stress enough the impact that performance has had. It really was the beginning of my re-entry into the theater…community (EWWW!), it’s been the string that has connected me to so many opportunities, and so many people who are important to my career, and…to…my…life (EWWW!). Not to mention the fact that it created the fantastic/tragic ongoing inter-species love story for the ages between a Llama and a Bear (that I in no way think is over).

The Llama/Bear future offspring, almost certainly equipped with a hereditary drinking problem.

The Llama/Bear future offspring, almost certainly equipped with a hereditary drinking problem.

Theater Pub is sort of like the Island of Misfit Toys – yes, that’s another Christmas reference. We’re all so different, new people are added all the time and we don’t all even know each other, but we have this common throw-caution-to-the-wind-let’s-do-something-ambitious-and-awesome-let’s-be-inventive-fuck-the-maintsream thing goin’ on. Who knows what will happen next. We (there’s that word again) could end up anywhere. Pub on the moon? I’m all for it. Someone start that fucking Kickstarter. I look really good in a space suit. Whatever happens with the Pub, I will probably be following very close behind. Maybe in the cast, maybe as a writer, maybe just in the audience – wearing the Bear shirt, of course – cheering until I lose my voice. And I’m fine with losing my voice for that reason, especially being that San Francisco Theater Pub helped me find that voice in the first place. Hell, I wouldn’t have written any of these blogs without it. This blog wouldn’t even exist.

Whatever the reason, I found my tiny black Grinch heart growing three sizes last night as I drank my beer and watched Rob Ready deliver Stuart Bousel’s Llamalogue with all of the required intensity and feeling in the world, and saunter off into the silent night. Because, it seems, here is my community. Here are my people. Hear us RRROOOOAAAARRRRR…into our beers.

Hey, nothing creates a community like booze, right?

But seriously, if those kids don’t get off my lawn, I am just going to lose it.

See Allison get chatty and brassy in The Age of Beauty at The Exit Studio opening tomorrow! Find out more at http://www.theexit.org/age/. 

Cowan Palace: Rob Ready, The Man Behind the Llama

Ashley Cowan talks with a Llama.

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with a fictional fiancé from four years ago; a Pint Sized regular, the infamous Rob Ready.

He’s certainly a leader among the San Francisco theater community and he’s become a bit of a local legend. As a llama. Oh, and other things, sure. But today we’re here to talk about all things llama! Rob has taken on what has become a mascot for Theater Pub and as the past four years have changed us all, the Llama has gone through his own transformations as well.

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

What has been your favorite Llama development as he’s grown throughout the years?

When Stuart (Bousel) started writing the Llama pieces he made the character this sad, drunk, funny, bumbling, lovable ass and he just nailed it. Also, having the Llama on the Theater Pub t-shirt is pretty cool. And the fact that we’re actually doing a blog post with questions and answers about a sad drunk Llama. All of those things are awesome.

Yes, Rob. I am totally awesome. Thank you for that. These past few years have been busy for you outside your Llama persona; if you could tell the Rob of four years ago one piece of advice, what would it be?

Go grocery shopping you fat drunken idiot.

Sure. Food is important. So what has been your process taking on this role? And has it changed from year to year?

Yes. These past two years I’ve actually had to prep and memorize and rehearse a little. The first two years the Llama just walked on like an ass hole and pounded a beer while shouting something about pigs and left. Given my personal experience behaving in a similar way, those first two years were pretty simple.

What’s the most challenging part of being a Llama?

I really want to spit a lot more than I do, but I’m afraid it’ll land on people’s shoes.

Where do you find the best inspiration?

Friends.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Drink a beer. Run through the lines. Talk to whoever is bartending and let them know I’ll be screaming at them for booze later on.

What’s your favorite memory from working on this festival since it began? Is it pretending to be engaged to me in Queen Mab in Drag? Is it?!

Queen Mab was awesome, though despite appearances, I’m still a little uneasy wearing a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Playing the Llama opposite Alison Page as the Bear last year was a blast. She was lights out hilarious. Like, she had the audience giggle farting in joy. So every night I just went out and tried to be as funny as she was and also make her laugh.

The script called for the Llama to resuscitate the lifeless Bear and it was so fun. Alison’s trying to stay dead while I’m working overtime to get her to break. One night, the CPR bit turned into me just blowing spittle on her face. She lost it, I lost it and then the audience really lost it.

Having her be so good really motivated me and that bit of competitiveness ended up pushing the whole piece a lot further. (Megan) Cohen and Stuart had written these amazing characters and then Alison and I got just go be goofballs together and by the fifth show we’d added in all manner of physical bits, audience interaction and some new text and were just having way too much fun on stage.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Where do you hope the Llama goes next?

Broadway, baby.

If the Llama could share a pint with one person, who would it be?

Probably himself. He’s a loner. Or a random stranger. Or that fucking Bear.

What’s next for you? What fun project is on the horizon?

GET RIGHT ALL NIGHT is PianoFight’s first ever hybrid music music – comedy – dance party featuring live surf and soul music from the PianoFight Music Department and the show features ForePlays, Imaginary Radio, Anna & The Annadroids, The Lazy Susans, DJ Short Shorts and a big sweaty dance party. It’s this Saturday, July 27 at 8pm at Inner Mission and it’s gonna be awesome.

Then BOA is coming up in September which is always rad.

And PianoFight has been building a space for a thousand years but it’s actually going to open this year. So that’s exciting.

It is exciting. I think your fans will be happy to keep the party going. So, in five words, how would you capture this year’s Pint Sized Festival?

Bittersweet end of an era.

Ah, poetic. Okay, on a different note, if you could set up characters from the last four Pint Sized productions on a date, which two folks would you put together?

Deb O Rah the dildo saleswoman (from Tom Bruett’s play) and a character Sunil Patel played a couple years ago in Nancy Cooper Frank’s play. That would be hilarious.

And just for the record, people can find out about PianoFight at http://www.PianoFight.com or follow us on Twitter @pianofight or on Facebook.

Thank you to Rob Ready for not only being an incredible Llama Hero but for taking the time to talk about Theater Pub. Cheers to you! You can buy Rob a beer next Monday and Tuesday at Cafe Royale as Pint Sized takes over for two more evenings. Get those Llama snuggles while you can!

You can catch Ashley on Twitter @ashcows posting a lot of pictures of her dog or on stage with Custom Made Theatre’s production of Book of Liz playing every weekend until August 18.

Theater Around The Bay: Llamalogue

Stuart Bousel will not be changing names to protect the innocent.

Last night at Theater Pub, the fourth installment of The Pint Sized Plays opened and you should make it a point not to miss this production because it will be our last show at the Cafe Royale.

Also, it’s a very enjoyable evening. After a magical prelude by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers you will be induced to much laughter by volley after volley of razor wit interspersed with life lessons and dramatic moments. At the end of the 80 minutes of drinking themed shorts we bring out the Llama, the un-official (who are we kidding- he’s official- we made t-shirts) mascot of the San Francisco Theater Pub, originally created for the Pub by Elana McKelahan, played for the fourth year in a row by Rob Ready and written, for the second year in a row, by me.

I have often said the Llama is the spirit of the Pub and this year he delivers a bittersweet speech. It’s part ode to Megan Cohen’s dancing bear (played, last year, by Allison Page) and part rumination on the nature of loss, milked as much for laughs as possible but with perhaps a bit more sting than in the past. He concludes the speech (and the evening) valiantly trying to bolster himself (and the audience) with some pop music, before wandering off into the night and the lights go out on the silent, empty space. It’s funny and sad and a fitting end to our time at the Cafe Royale, if perhaps a bit melancholy.

“My bear would never betray the Llama like he does in your play,” Megan Cohen said to me.

“This isn’t about your bear,” I replied, with a wink, “it’s about the idea the llama has attached to the bear.”

Here is my goal in life as a writer and as an artist: to make fun of shit, and to get you to think about and appreciate yourself and the world around you. For years I have been trying to create a new breed of romantic satire where I validate the meaning of it all, even as I validate the likelihood that everything is meaningless. On an individual basis, I want you to laugh, and then I want to rip your heart out and hand it back to you with tears in my eyes and a kiss on my lips, leaving you intact and healing but with a lot to think about. I love you painfully and I want you to know that. Also, I absolutely believe theater is a transformative art (otherwise, why bother), and I want to transform you, if not in the theater than sometime later when you’re sitting by yourself and suddenly it hits you what this was really all about. I have faith that this happens because I have seen it happen, I have had it reported back to me by people it’s happened to, and I have experienced it myself. And I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t gone through this at least once in their life. It’s the same sadness I feel for people who tell me they don’t believe in Love. I always think “how gray the world must be for you,” and then I think, “but it will happen some day- and how exciting that will be for you too.” That’s me, putting the romance back into romantic satire. I want you to have your big moment even when you adamantly refuse to accept such a thing could occur. It almost matters more when it happens to people like you.

Speaking of big moments, today is the 16th anniversary of my older brother, Edwin, dying. This is not, generally speaking, something I advertise, but it’s never been something I hide either. I just find that it tends to make people uncomfortable, so I don’t bring it up unless I need to, and it happened so long ago now that many people who currently occupy my life don’t know I ever had a brother named Edwin, let alone that he died, tragically, at the age of 23. When I get asked by new friends, or even older friends who have never asked before, “Do you have any brothers and sisters?” I tend to reply that I do, indeed, have siblings, and leave it at that. Only if asked where they live, or what they do, do I ever mention that one is dead. At which point most people get very crestfallen, tell me how sorry they are, and then suddenly it’s my job to comfort them and let them know that it’s okay: it was a long time ago, and I dealt with it (therapy, an HIV scare, some really colorful drug experimentation) and there is nothing else they need to say or do. He’s gone and it’s sad because I was only 18 and never really got to know him, but it’s also life. Everything ends, including other people. Including you. Including me.

I recently told the cast of my new play, Age of Beauty, that I worship the idea of Light and I do, but it’s partly because I need something to balance a dark world view and aesthetic. And I don’t mean that kind of recent college graduate, post-modern, “I-totally-threw-in-a-rape-scene-following-a-baby-eating-scene-to-shock-you” type of dark. I’m dark like the Bronte Sisters, Arthurian legends and the Shakespeare comedies are all really dark and if you’re intrepid and open to it you can see it, but I also employ lots of little tricks to mitigate my darkness because I’m fundamentally a gentleman and I don’t enjoy awkward silences with people who would rather just glide on the surface. Humor, particularly self-depricating humor, is very present in my work and daily conversation as a way for me to say, “don’t take this too seriously” for fear of you doing so and we all suddenly end up on Intervention together (which I would just find amazingly tasteless). Symbolism is also a very big thing for me: I often say things very openly in my shows but in ways that make sense to virtually nobody else (in the form of, say, a character who constantly cuts black paper into strips, or a certain song that plays behind a monologue spoken by a character who can turn the lights on and off at will) so that the choice can be dismissed as weird instead of the quiet revelation of my inner turmoil that you’re actually seeing. I love the idea of “hidden in plain sight” emotions because I feel that most pain is like that: constantly surrounding us, but we’re blind to it, sometimes accidentally, but often willfully, often because it would just take too much work to understand it, so we’re better off just pretending it’s not there or not significant. Sometimes I revel in being misunderstood as much as I revel in being perceived clearly. Both states have their advantages.

It is no secret that I love the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and there are a number of reasons why but if I had to pick one thing, above all others, that I love, it would have to be his dark aesthetic of loss. The right people know what I’m talking about, how he threads through his encylopedic histories and silly hobbit antics a miasma of sorrow over the slow disintegration of a world that can never be gotten back, only glimpsed from a distance or heard in echoes. The great irony of the War of the Ring, which in Middle Earth marks the end of The Age of The Elves just as the Trojan War marked the end of The Age of Heroes in Greek mythology, is that it will be won by people who will come out of the dust only to find that they have lost the world they fought to preserve. This is because it either no longer exists, or because they have become different people in the course of the war, and even once restored to where they began they no longer fit in with the larger puzzle they were knocked out of. The Lord of the Rings is not so much a fantasy novel as it is an epitaph for Middle Earth and all that Middle Earth stood for in Tolkein’s mind. It is an epic rumination on the excruciating pain of moving from one era of your life into the next, the “painful progress” that Harper, in her final scene in Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, would so eloquently embrace as the only way for her to move on from her disaster marriage. For all it’s adventure and romance and humor and joy, Lord of the Rings remains one of the saddest books I know and yet also one of the most life affirmative because in the end of one age does lie the birth of another and at some point, like Samwise “I’m Back” Gamgee (or Harper Pitt if you prefer), if you’re lucky enough to survive the shit that happens to you there comes a moment you suck it up, shake off the remnants of shadow, say goodbye to the past and embrace where you are now because your only other choice is to lay down and die and that’s not really an option.

Though it is a temptation.

If the Llama is the spirit of the Pub then I think the reason this year’s speech is so bittersweet is because the Llama, like the Pub, has grown from a brash and confident celebrant staking his territory into a tired and battle-worn survivor of a long war who isn’t sure if he either lost or won, only that he has survived to see the end of an age. An age that was, for San Francisco Theater Pub, The First Age, and thus will always be truly significant, no matter what happens next. If my words, through the Llama, seem bittersweet it’s because the process of ending this age is both bitter and sweet, as almost any necessary process is. We have so much to be proud of, and so much to look forward to, and so much to mourn, all at the same time. I tried to capture that with the Llama, couching it in much symbolism and self-deprecating humor to make the pill easier to swallow, but yes, I also hope it sits uneasy in your stomach for some time after. We had something real, a home that was often times as much a curse as it was a gift but always an integral part of what we were doing, and for a while there will be a hole where it used to be, the same kind of hole left by an ended love affair or a lost object. Or a dead person.

Everything ends, including other people. Including you. Including me. Including projects we really care about, sanctuaries we’ve found, experiences we’ve cherished. That’s why it’s important to sing and dance while we can, even as we know it won’t be forever, because we know the singing and dancing must end, if only because both are very tiring activities. Only when we embrace the fundamental brevity and meaninglessness of life and all that life encompasses does it become meaningful and we transcend to something eternal: the recognition that nothing ends, it just changes. My brother was only here for a short time, but he made an impact on me I’ll have until I die, and through whatever I leave behind and the people I impact, he continues to influence the world and so in many ways I have never thought of him as gone even though I hardly ever talk about him now. I’m starting to sort of see the Pub’s time at the Cafe Royale the same way: as something slipping into the chronicle of my life, bound to influence me for many years to come, but also relegated to the past. Like my brother. Like the first theater company I ever ran. Like my youth, frankly. Which I really miss sometimes. But fairly certain I wouldn’t go back to, even if I could. But you can’t. Life only moves forward, and not everyone, or everything, is there for the whole ride. Something worth mourning, the value of which I get because I have a dark aesthetic that recognizes life is all about loss. Amongst other things.

“You had a really good, really impressive run of it,” Les Cowan, without whose patronage Theater Pub never would have existed, said to me last night, the two of us talking about Pub’s time at Cafe Royale like we were at a wake.

I couldn’t agree more, but I replied, “I kind of can’t wait to be done,” because that’s true too and that’s the angle I’m starting to focus on these days. Because I’ve reached the point where I kind of just want to sing one last song and then head off into the night looking for the next thing- knowing that there will be a next thing. Because there is always a next thing. Because having a dark aesthetic often means worshiping the Light, and believing very much that the end of one age is the birth of another.

And because I am a Llama, and that’s true wherever I go.

Stuart Bousel is one of the Founding Artistic Directors of the San Francisco Theater Pub and was recently named by the SF Weekly as “Best Ringmaster” of the San Francisco indie theater scene. His short play, Llamalogue, will be performed by Rob Ready four more times at Pint Sized Plays IV, which plays tonight and July 22, 29, and 30 at the Cafe Royale, always at 8 PM. Don’t miss it!

Bear With Me

Esteemed director and long-time Theater Pub collaborator Meg O’Connor talks about collaborating with Allison Page on this year’s best play about a dancing bear.

Allison Page in the now iconic Bear with a Beer photo. (Photo by Erin Maxon.)

I have had the esteem privilege – nay! the HONOR- to direct Megan Cohen’s BEEEEEEEAAR! for this year’s Pint Sized Plays III. I was a little apprehensive to take on this piece – Megan delivers another inspired, hilarious, thoughtful play, and I was worried I couldn’t do it justice. I knew casting was everything, and I wondered at my luck that the talented genius Allison Page agreed to take on the role. I learned a lot about bears, beers, but most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. Mainly, that Allison kicks my ass at bear-puns.

Here are some typical text conversations between the two of us:

Meg: Hey Bear – what time is good for you tmw?
Allison: Oooh…how’s 3PMbears? Where shall we go?
Meg: BEARpm it is. My apartment: I have beeeeeeeeeeeer.
Allison: CoolBEARS!

This bear is always looking for beer. Always. (Photo by Erin Maxon.)

Allison: Ich bin ein Bearliner
Meg: Sorry, don’t know what you’re saying – I only speak Bearlish.
Allison: hahahahahahabearhahahahabear

Play it again, Bear. (Photo by Erin Maxon.)

Meg: Ah bears, I double beared myself tonight.
Allison: Ah bearshit!
Meg: Can we meet on Saturday? Is that bear-k with you?
Allison: That’s bearcceptable. I will find someone to be on bear book for me.
Meg: I’m emBEARassed to have to flake. Hope you can beargive me.
Allison: It’s going to be hard…just…let me get my bearings.
Allison: Bearsome!
Meg: Bear beary bears bears!

I Dreamed A Bear In Time Gone By…. (Photo by Erin Maxon.)

It has been an absolute blast working with Allison on BEEEEEEAAR, and with Rob Ready on the epic return of Llama, the mascot of Pint Sized Plays, written by Stuart Bousel, around characters created by Megan Cohen and Elana McKernan. Whenever you make it out to the show, come say hi. I’ll be the giggling idiot on a bearstool, trying to think of more puns.

Bear For Now! (Photo by Erin Maxon.)

The title of this post donated by Allison Page. Don’t miss her in action, only at this month’s Pint Sized Plays III, playing tonight at The Plough and the Stars and July 23, 30 and 31 at the Cafe Royale!