Working Title: Politics Not Often Politic & Diplomats Thrown in the Duck Soup

This week Will Leschber talks Dark Porch Theater’s The Diplomats and tosses in a little, Clue & Duck Soup for seasoning…

Politics! How much longer do we have to hear the constant barrage of political rummaging, commentary, jokes, lampooning, diatribes and all too serious sidebars? What’s that now? At least until November? Sheeeesh! Oh wait…what’s that you say? Political complaining and satire actually will continue long after that? Sheit. Ah yes, I forgot, we live in the age of the 24 hour news cycle and 24/7 social media update. So it’ll never end. But this is nothing new. Social commentary and criticism has existed as long as we’ve had civilization to criticize. I should be used to it by now. And I guess it’s not all bad… after all the rhetoric and all the online rants, I still get a 1 a.m. chuckle when a dumb Trump Meme arrives in the news feed. Feed me meme!

Trump toupee pun meme

It turns out strangers online actually do not care about your individual political opinions. Who knew! But, if you turn that political bent into a performance, a play or a film (maybe one that still gets play 80 odd years after it was made), well, you could be on to something there. I’m not sure what the true distinctions are between real news and fake news and comedy news and The Onion news anymore, but I will say if I can get my nightly news with a side of satire and a garnish of hilarity, I’ll take it! Political talk trickles into every aspect of our adult lives. Especially our art.

Dark Porch Theater is premiering a new play, The Diplomats, at the EXIT Theater early next month and if you are looking for a political landscape littered with jokes, this may be your jam.

The Diplomats

The Diplomats, written and directed by Martin Schwartz, is described by Dark Porch as a play which “… showcases the ways in which politics are theatrical and laughter is political.” Sounds exactly like the best way to enjoy political bumbling!

L-R Karen Offereins, Tavis Kammet, Dan Kurtz, Ryan Hayes, Margery Fairchild, Courtney Merrell. Photo by Basil Glew-Galloway.

L-R Karen Offereins, Tavis Kammet, Dan Kurtz, Ryan Hayes, Margery Fairchild, Courtney Merrell. Photo by Basil Glew-Galloway.

I had the pleasure of speaking with two fine actors featured in the show, Karen Offereins & Tavis Kammet, and wouldn’t you know, they had two excellent film suggestions to get you in the headspace of The Diplomats. Let us start with the wondrous Karen Offereins. She had this 80 plus year old classic film suggestion that remains hilarious after all these years:

I would say that that Duck Soup would be a great movie pairing with The Diplomats. The Marx Brothers type of humor and nutso situations are very much up the alley and tone of The Diplomats. Their brand of humor in general is a good fit. The farce element is a major driving force of the play, along with random acts by random characters at random times, to underline the very real and bizarre nature of diplomatic proceedings. This play is based on a true incident, and it is all at once ridiculous and frightening.

Those Marx Brothers never get old. Harpo and his evil face might be my favorite.

Those Marx Brothers never get old. Harpo and his evil face might be my favorite.

Rolling along to the next great suggestion; Bay Area actor and favorite middle school Theater teacher of all time, Tavis Kammet, had this to say for his film pairing suggestion:

“Clue…Fast paced, lots of crazy characters, an ending that’s up for interpretation…Clue”

Clue_What_do_You_mean_Murder

Always with the brevity, Tavis. I dig it. With these two comedic gold film recommendations, you can assume The Diplomats will be a pretty raucous time. Check it out!

The Diplomats runs at the EXIT Theater Thursday, May 12, 2016 to Saturday, May 28, 2016. The Marx Brothers Duck Soup, 1933, is available to rent on all the usual platforms (Google play, itunes, Vudu, etc) and Clue, 1985, can be found to rent in the same haunts…unless it’s found by Colonel Mustard in the study with the Candlestick!! …or God forbid, Mrs. Blanche White with the flames!!

madeline-kahn-clue

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Cowan Palace: Drowning in Beauty Beyond a Grand Victorian Soap Opera and Other Chats With Margery Fairchild

This week, Ashley’s talking to Margery Fairchild about her new production!

Quatre Pic

Featuring, Christy Crowley, Kirsten Dwyer, Katharine Otis, and Courtney Russell; Photo Credit: Basil Galloway

As we get ready to begin The Year Of Monkey and dive deeper into 2016’s second month, Dark Porch Theatre is preparing to kick off their new season! Pas de Quatre, opening at EXIT Studio in just a few days, is the poetic brainchild of Margery Fairchild who has spent years developing this work exploring the relationships between ballet dancers and their art.

Here to bring us further into the world of dancing, is the writer and director herself, Margery!

Please tell us a bit more about Pas de Quatre.

In 1845, Benjamin Lumley, the director at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, had a brilliant idea; to bring together the four reigning Ballerinas of Europe and have them dance together. He also commissioned the famous choreographer Jules Perrot, to create the Divertisment (as it was billed) and the Pas De Quatre was the result of that collaboration. It is considered, along with La Slyphide and Giselle to be one of the seminal works of the Romantic Era in Ballet.

However, the mixing of these powerful celebrities with very distinct styles and personalities, proved somewhat volatile and many historians marvel that it even made it to the stage! Perrot had been married (and divorced) to one of the dancers, partner to two and Ballet Master to all. The dancers themselves had been subjected to incredible public scrutiny and as manufactured as their rivalries were, it still had a distinct impact on their working relationships.

The story has all the makings of a grand Victorian soap opera, but my goal with the project was to dig beyond that temptation.

How has the production evolved since you first began working on it?

I wrote Pas de Quatre as a screenplay in 2002, but it travelled to the back burner. In 2012, I wrote PDQ as a full Two Act play with a cast of 8, which had a staged reading as a part of DIVAfest. In 2014 PDQ morphed into a 50 minute long experimental dance/theatre piece and had a 4 performance workshop at DIVAFest. After several revisions and a new cast, it will debut as part of Dark Porch Theatre’s 2016 residency at Exit Theatre. It’s not a straightforward narrative. The story is deconstructed and organized to parallel the actual music score of the Ballet, a format that allows for greater exploration in the storytelling and character investigation.

As the show focuses on the relationship that forms between ballerinas and ballet, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship and background with ballet?

I studied Ballet for 9 years at The Boston Ballet and I had a love/hate relationship with the experience. Ballet, like all Fine Art studies, created a foundation of discipline and dedication, but it was also incredibly difficult. While putting your body through the transformation needed to achieve the lines and perfection of the craft, one must deal with a lot of pain and disappointment. I never had the right body and feet to continue as a professional, but I still put myself through it out of love. I quit Ballet at 17 after multiple back and neck injuries. It took a couple years before I started studying Modern Dance in college and began to identify myself as a dancer again. Now as an actor and director, I’ve always recognized the edge and vision that as come from my formative training.

While the show may take place in London, 1845, what do you think San Francisco audiences in 2016 will most relate to?

The Dancers, like ghosts, almost appear as if summoned by the audience themselves and once conjured, they must play out their stories. The history is important, but it is not the lesson of the story, it’s about the people themselves. We connect to human stories, in so far as history repeats itself and we find ourselves navigating the same conflicts and trials despite the Age. I suppose that’s why I’m always drawn towards historical re-imaginings, because there’s so much to learn from it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing this show to its feet?

The biggest challenge was casting. Finding actors with the dance/ movement background to pull off the physical requirements. Ballet isn’t something you can fake. I needed to craft the Play in a way that could accommodate different levels of strengths, but ultimately balance them.

What’s been your favorite moment of mounting this production so far?

The question: “Why do we put ourselves through this?”, being answered one night during the tail end of a Monday Night rehearsal, when the cast has had a collective breakthrough despite their exhaustion and you’re left smiling in wonder. The inevitable doubts being answered by the creative process itself. It keeps us coming back again and again!

What’s your favorite local place for a post show drink/snack?

I like to shake it up! PianoFight and the White Horse are the usual destinations these days.

What’s next for Dark Porch?

Dark Porch Theatre will be presenting the darkly hilarious The Diplomats! Written and Directed by DPT’s co-artistic director Martin Schwartz. It will run through the month of May on the EXIT Main Stage.

What’s next for you? Any projects you’ll be working on in the future or shows you’re excited to see?

I’ll be performing in and co producing The Diplomats in May. I’m also involved in the final shooting phase of the feature film, To No Good End, which I’ve co created with my fiancé Kindrid Parker… And then we’re getting married!

As far as shows I’m excited to see? I’m honestly overwhelmed with the wealth of good Indy theatre/dance/performance happening in this town right now, despite the struggles that artists have faced to stay here. Between Exit Theatre, PianoFight, CounterPulse all on the same block, it’s proof that we’re holding our own!

In 160 words characters or less, why do we need to see Pas de Quatre?

This play is only an hour and you will spend the entire 60 minutes drowning in beauty!

And, it gets even better Theater Pub readers! Margery has offered a special discount code for you! To get it, use: Code: DPTdiscount16; Discount: $10 off per ticket ($15 tix)!

Pas de Quatre runs Thursday – Saturday, February 11 – 27 at 8:00 p.m. with an additional matinee performance at 3 p.m. on February 20. For tickets and more information, please visit www.darkporchtheatre.org.

Theater Around The Bay: Save the Empire

Stuart Bousel, subbing for Barbara Jwanouskos.

Is it just me or does the week after Labor Day always kind of suck?

It didn’t in school. But that’s because the week after Labor Day was really the week things started to kick into gear, whether you had started classes that Tuesday or had started the week before in August. Labor Day meant new beginnings, a new year, and the countdown to everything I love in life- the start of autumn, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, the start of winter, Christmas, New Year! Labor Day meant making new friends, catching up with old ones, and taking a bit of a breather after a long summer that, because of its lack of class, was always distinct from the rest of the year. Maybe because I usually hadn’t been working much all summer, Labor Day ironically was like, “Back to work day!” Something I used to love because I used to love the work I was doing (school) and in college that only became a more pronounced and exciting feeling.

As an adult though, progressively, Labor Day has often ended up feeling like a grim reminder that, as the character of Max says in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking And Screaming (one of my favorite movies ever), “What I used to able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life.” It’s not just that it’s become a bit of a mockery of the very people it was supposed to honor and salt in the wound for the many people who are either out of work or struggling to make ends meet with substantially less than they used to have, but for many I think it’s also just a day off thrown in at precisely the right moment to remind you that you didn’t get done a lot of what you wanted to get done, probably never had much of a “real summer” unless you were lucky enough to be able to take a vacation, and ultimately that the year you were convinced was going to be “Your Year” now has a mere four months left to go, and still sort of seems a lot like… well… just another year. Oh, and, of course: you’re not getting any younger either.

The last few weeks seem to have been super tough on a lot of people I know in this theater scene. On this blog alone we’ve had two people lose a dear friend, one lose her gall bladder, one discover a project she’s been working on is a dead end, and another texted me this morning with that “shit is hitting the fan” text that translates to me writing this ad. Me, who blew off his own attempt at taking back Labor Day and hid in his room all weekend because… drum roll… I got pink eye. Yes… pink eye. Something children usually get because there kind of dirty but since I’m a pretty clean guy I can pretty much chalk this one up to some bad decision making somewhere  and/or divine smack down. It’s okay, I’m laughing about it now because it’s mostly gone and I’m no longer contagious but you know what is even more mortifying than calling off your Labor Day event because you’re so hungover you can’t run it? It’s finding out that the reason why your eyes have been hurting and feeling feverish since you woke up that Sunday were because you have Pink Eye.

And this is after what one director friend of mine has dubbbed, “A white knuckle year”. In other words, not a bad year (it certainly hasn’t been a bad year for me) but a year of tremendous shift and change, rarely comfortable, even when good, and so constant one starts to feel less like they are growing so much as holding on for dear life while the roller coaster heads straight for… well, who can say, right? I, for one, have found it to be incredibly up and down, so much so that I become suspicious of things when they start to seem too quiet, (my summer, by the way, had been pretty quiet), and I’ve found it’s also been one of extreme self-scrutiny and re-evaluation, public scrutiny and re-evaluation, new understandings, new ideals, new heights, new lows, new triumphs and new problems. On one level, I can say with sincerity I have felt very alive this year, and like I am moving, generally speaking, in more or less the right direction- certainly compared to last year, and definitely compared to the year before it. But is that momentum not terrifying in its own right? And do I feel like I am in control of it so much as being swept along? And am I actually ready for whatever tomorrow brings, even if it brings flowers and money and wedding bells? These are all entirely different questions. Depending on the day… no, let’s be honest here, depending on the minute… the answer is a resounding and eviscerating “no.” But such is life, so what am I going to do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, actually: for the next two weeks, starting tonight, I’m, going to basically live my non-working hours at the EXIT Theatre, the place that has emerged above all others as my home in this city, in any city, on the planet, really, in this era of my life. It’s the place where I’ve most frequently been allowed to be myself, where the people there before me made room for me too, where I’ve been embraced and challenged and scolded and pushed and rewarded and empowered and it starts with the artistic director (Christina Augello) but the truth is everyone there contributes to that feeling, whether it’s by doing far more than any one person should ever have to do to keep things running (Amanda Ortmayer), or ensuring that someone remans relatively sane (Richard Livingston), or making sure we’re all fed (Donna Fujita), or sitting around the Cafe during off hours gossiping the way we used to hang out in the theater or the humanities buildings at college and just… talk to one another (this list is a long one, but usually includes some combination of Christian Cagigal, Michelle Talgarow, Alexia Staniotes, Mark Weddle, Ariel Craft, Dot Janson, Margery Fairchild, Happy Hyder, Mikka Bonel, Dylan West, and most recently, this year’s Fringe intern, Florian Bdn). Though I love my apartment and I love my friend’s homes, Le Zinc on 24th and the Pilsner on Church, the Sutro Baths for strolling, Jupiter when in Berkeley and the White Horse on Sutter, everything about North Beach and a good deal about the Richmond, I don’t know that anyplace in the Bay Area feels more home to me than sitting in the EXIT Cafe eating Indian Take out or making popcorn in the Green Room microwave.

Earlier this year I made my boyfriend watch “Empire Records“, a movie I loved to hate when it came out because it was an attempt at corporatizing everything I loved… and now I kind of hate to love it, because time has ultimately shown it to be a lasting relic of the fantasy of the mid-90s, and what it lacks in nuance, subtlety, or, to be truthful, quality, it by far makes up for in heart and sincerity, which somehow shine through despite the best efforts of the studio to both destroy the film and then bury it. This amazing article can tell you pretty much everything I would want to say about Empire Records, except this last part, which is unique to me: basically, about halfway through his first viewing, my boyfriend said, “So, if this was a theater instead of a record store, it would basically be the EXIT, wouldn’t it?” and I couldn’t not argue otherwise. And while I’m not saying that my deep desire to create a stage version of “Empire Records” is due to its amazingly similar dynamic and function in our lives, I would say that it’s my continued experience at the EXIT which allows me to fully understand the sentiment screenwriter Carol Heikkinen was attempting to capture in her film when she told the BuzzFeed article linked above that, “I wanted to show how the employees were a family, and how, for some of them, this minimum-wage job would be the best job they ever had.”

This will be my third year running the Hospitality Room at the Fringe and I’ve started looking forward to the Fringe in a way that I once used to look forward to school starting. Just like school, there are people who I never see except at the Fringe- artists, of course, bringing work, but also techs and volunteers, who return year after year, for not much money or no money at all, simply to be a part of this event that is arguably the jewel in the EXIT’s crown and makes indisputable its place at the top of the independent theater scene in San Francisco. For two weeks we form our own little society, gathering around the craft table (did you know there was a craft table?) after hours or during slow times, going on errands together, playing pranks on one another, and of course seeing shows together. And talking about the shows. And talking about shows in general. It’s a ton of work and make no mistake about that, but for two weeks it’s also kind of this crazy vacation in indy theater land, a sort of small town version of theater school and summer camp rolled together and plopped into the Tenderloin for a brief but valiant moment each year when the object of the game is not to compete as artists but to play together, to be a community. And the heart of this is the Hospitality Room, if I say so myself, and this year it’s better than ever, so you should definitely put down whatever that heavy load you’re carrying is and come say hello as we celebrate these last weeks of summer and move into the autumn, a time I’ve personally always found to be more enchanted and generally saner too. There will be snacks, and you can make some crafts, and Clyde the Cyclops is on the walls so the room feels like a hug.

Oh, and, my Pink Eye has totally cleared up. So don’t worry about that.

Come visit Stuart and hang out in the Hospitality Room this Fringe! Make crafts, take photos, eat snacks, and be a part of the community. www.sffringe.org.