Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays

PintSized6

Theater Pub is thrilled to announce that our Pint-Sized Play Festival returns this August for FIVE performances at PianoFight — August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29. That’s right, we’ve added a fifth performance by popular demand!

The Pint-Sized Plays – short plays by Bay Area playwrights that take place in a bar and involve characters drinking beer – have been Theater Pub’s flagship event since 2010. This year, producer Marissa Skudlarek and deputy producer Alejandro Emmanuel Torres are pleased to present 11 new plays by a mix of Theater Pub veterans and new faces.

Many of the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays deal with endings and beginnings. A man and woman meet to sign their divorce papers in “No Fault,” by Christian Simonsen. In Marissa Skudlarek’s “Cemetery Gates,” two moody and self-dramatizing teenagers sneak into the bar, while in Shirley Issel’s “Angel of Darkness,” Death himself comes to the bar and targets an unsuspecting patron.

Two one-woman shows depict women on the brink of major life changes: “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky features a 36-year-old woman who has finally become an adult according to Judaism, while Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go With Olivia” is about a woman who’s ready to put her old life behind her and start anew.

National and world politics are on everyone’s mind this summer, so some of this year’s Pint-Sized Plays have a political bent. “Polling Place,” by Gabriel Bellman, satirizes the anxieties and rhetoric of the 2016 election, while in “Don’t I Know You,” by Elizabeth Gjelten, a woman confronts the trauma of her past in a war-torn country.

On the lighter side of things, “Beer Culture” by James Nelson satirizes just how snobby San Francisco millennials can be about microbrews, and “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove pays tribute to Shakespeare in this #Shakespeare400 year by imagining his visit to a modern-day bar. Alan Coyne’s “Bar Spies” presents a dizzying array of false identities and double-crossings in a spy-fiction pastiche

As always, Pint-Sized Plays’ mascot, the drunken llama played by PianoFight’s Rob Ready, will return with a new “Llamalogue,” written by Stuart Bousel.

Full lineup of plays, with a quote from each, is as follows:

“Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah,” written and directed by Jake Arky—“After the bar mitzvah…it’s just the bar. Okay, so technically this is a bat mitzvah, but let’s not split hairs, yeah?”

“Polling Place” by Gabriel Bellman, directed by Megan Briggs—“What if I did choose a candidate based solely on whether they share certain characteristics with me or not, does that mean I’m voting for myself? Because I’m terrified of narcissists.”

“Llama VI” by Stuart Bousel, directed by Emma Rose Shelton—“Look, I hate tradition as much as the next person, okay? But one day, probably, I won’t be here—and you’re gonna miss that.”

“Bar Spies” by Alan Coyne, directed by Juliana Lustenader—“You asked for this meeting. I have what you want. Tell me what I need to know, or there’s no deal.”

“Don’t I Know You?” by Elizabeth Gjelten, directed by Jimmy Moore—“Here I am, a long way from home, and I see this one here, and I swear, we shared a beer. Back home. Maybe at Salim’s?”

“Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, directed by Vince Faso—“Thou thinkest thy sisters arranged a meeting but never had intention of coming hither? Forsooth, wherefore this deception?”

“Angel of Darkness” by Shirley Issel, directed by Jamie Harkin—“He’s probably going to finish that beer; and when he does… Are you listening? You’re gonna die. So, what are you drinking?”

“Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney, directed by Vince Faso—“I have accepted a new job and would like to pursue this without you beginning September 1st. This does not mean I want a long-distance relationship. Or much continued contact at all.”

“Beer Culture” by James Nelson, directed by Neil Higgins—“I’m really not cool about what just happened. He was going to drink a Stella! At my table! What would people say?”

“No Fault” by Christian Simonsen, directed by Alejandro Emmanuel Torres—“Look, if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t sign yet. Nothing’s changed regarding Wendy. Still joint custody.”

“Cemetery Gates” by Marissa Skudlarek, directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin—“Every time you look at someone you love, you know they will never be more beautiful than they are at that moment, because they will never again be so young.”

The Pint-Sized Plays acting company will feature the talents of Layne Austin, Andrew Chung, Lisa Darter, Nick Dickson, Daphne Dorman, Caitlin Evenson, Sailor Galaviz, Jamie Harkin, Colin Hussey, Sarah Leight, Alexander Marr, Kyle McReddie, Brett Mermer, Courtney Merrell, Rob Ready, Paul Rodrigues, James F. Ross, Amitis Rossoukh, Jessica Rudholm, Ron Talbot, and Noemi Zeigler Sanchez. (Additional casting TBA.) Logo designed by Cody Rishell.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform five times: August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, please visit www.sftheaterpub.com.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Age Cannot Wither Her

Marissa Skudlarek, growing old thoughtfully. 

In the two weeks since I turned 29, I completed a draft of my first new full-length play in five years, and discovered a secret place to pick blackberries.

If I’m being honest with myself, the blackberries sometimes feel like an even better achievement than the play.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time passing lately: cycles, parallels, how the present moment feels like a tiny, dainty pinprick caught between the vastness of the past and future. (The main character of the play I just completed does a lot of thinking along those lines too, as the director of my staged reading pointed out. Well, I put a lot of myself into her.) My birthday is in the summer and I moved to San Francisco in the summer too, nearly eight years ago. People are moving away, or moving on to different projects. The election cycle and the news cycle are all-pervasive. The last year of my twenties has commenced.

This month is also the ten-year anniversary of my first major achievement as a playwright, when I won a national contest for writers 18 and under and was awarded with a staged reading of my play in New York, plus a week of theatergoing and workshops.

I found out that I’d won on my 19th birthday. I still remember it: waking up early on a summer morning, wrapping myself in a blanket, sitting on the end of my bed and calling the New York number of the Young Playwrights organization. (They had left me a vague and maddening voice mail a few days earlier and I hadn’t been able to call them back due to the Fourth of July holiday.) The woman who ran the organization, Sheri Goldhirsch, told me that I’d won.

I wish I could say that that was the moment my life changed.

It was a wonderful experience, don’t get me wrong; but it now feels strange and distant, and I hardly ever think about it. I can’t even remember the exact date of the staged reading. When I do think about that week in New York, it is often with regret that I did not keep in better touch with the professional writers and directors to whom the organization introduced me. I was 19 years old and did not know how to network. I was shy and uncertain (some would say I still am). In my blacker moods, I pray that this contest was not the high-water mark of my playwriting career. I know New York is not the end-all and be-all of a theater career, but I haven’t had any plays in New York since then…

I’m still Facebook friends with the other seven contest winners. Some of them still seem to be involved in arts-related pursuits: theater, writing, filmmaking. One has a baby and is divorcing her husband. Nobody is wildly successful. Nobody is anybody you’ve ever read about in a puff piece touting “the latest hot young playwright.” I would be rabidly jealous if they were. There’s a decent chance that out of all of us, I’ve written the most new works for the stage in the last ten years. But I feel weird about comparing myself to the other contest winners; if I’ve kept writing plays while others have given it up, that isn’t necessarily something to be proud of. Maybe it means I am just more set in my ways and resistant to change.

Sheri Goldhirsch is now deceased.

The man who directed my staged reading went on to direct a little play off-Broadway that became a huge hit, and moved to Broadway, and earned him a Tony nomination for his direction. (Now you can see why I wish I’d kept in better touch with him.)

I also can’t shake a feeling of guilt that whenever I take advantage of an opportunity for “young people,” I’ve gamed the system. I skipped first grade and have a summer birthday, so I’ve always been younger than everyone else, or prematurely advanced for my age, depending on how you want to look at it. When I submitted my play to the Young Playwrights competition, I was 18.5 years old and had already completed three semesters of college. It was perfectly fine for me to submit according to the contest’s rules, but I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t the kind of person that the contest was designed for.

Similarly, tonight, a scene from my new play Juana is going to be read at Playwrights Foundation’s Night of New Works, a scene-reading and networking event that the Bay Area Playwrights Festival interns are hosting for theater-makers under 30. Again, when I submitted my work for possible inclusion in this evening, I felt slightly guilty about doing it: I am 29 years old, I am not fresh out of college, I have a long list of indie-theater credits and I write for this blog every two weeks and a lot of people seem to know my name. Is it fair for me to take up a slot in this evening? Am I going to feel like the old lady at the kids’ table?

And furthermore, are these kinds of opportunities for young people fair, or are they blatant age discrimination? What about the people who discover theater and playwriting when they are in their 30s or older? And then, if this is a youth-obsessed industry, shouldn’t I have done even more to try to become a Hot Twentysomething Playwright rather than hanging back?

When I moved to the Bay Area, it felt like my twenties would last forever. The first play I saw here was Yellowjackets, at Berkeley Rep, on one of their half-price tickets for people under 30. The time when I would age out of that benefit seemed a long way off. I was startled to realize last week that I’m now in my last year of eligibility for Berkeley Rep’s half-price tickets. I feel, simultaneously, like I haven’t done enough with my twenties and like they have gone on for an unbelievably long time.

I have a lot of work still to do this summer. Producing the Pint-Sized Plays, revising a play for Custom Made’s new-works development program, completing a new one-act play for the Olympians Festival. But despite it all, I’m going to try to go to the secret blackberry patch at sunset every chance I get. You know that you should never force a blackberry off its stem; if you have to pull too hard on the berry, it isn’t ripe. You need to pick only the berries that have hung in the sun a good long while, the ones that are on the verge of turning jammy and falling apart. I need to remember to let the berries take their time, and not regret the ones that went unplucked.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Renaissance Woman

Marissa Skudlarek, on weaving a tale in another time, another place. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been living with half my head in the 21st century and half of it in the Renaissance. I’ve been hard at work readying my new full-length play Juana, or the Greater Glory for a staged reading on Saturday night as part of the Loud and Unladylike Festival, and therefore I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mad queens, scheming dukes, and sickly princes.

Juana tells the incredible true story of a young Spanish Habsburg princess in the mid-1550s, who is the only woman ever to become a Jesuit. This is an earlier era of history than I’ve ever really tackled in writing before: I’ve written full-length plays that take place in 20th-century America, and at least one of my short Olympians Festival plays takes place in vaguely defined “classical” times, but never a full-length play that takes place in such a different time and country.

The 1550s in Spain and Portugal are well-documented enough for us to know what happened and who was involved with it (at least when it comes to royal and aristocratic families), but not necessarily enough for us to know the reasons why certain things happened or why people made the decisions they did. Maybe this would be different if I’d improved my ability to read Renaissance Spanish, gone to Madrid, and sought out old documents in obscure archives; but from the perspective of a 21st-century Californian with passable but not expert Spanish, doing most of my research on the Internet, I’ve been able to put together a timeline of the key events of Juana’s life, but not to read her words or understand more than the bare facts about her. But, as a playwright, this is what I love: the historical facts give me a structure, but I get to flesh out my characters’ psychology and motivations, and make them my own. In a way, this is similar to what I’ve done when writing mythology-based plays for the Olympians Festival: Greek myths provide a vivid cast of characters and the outlines of a plot, but not necessarily an explanation for why the gods and mortals behave as they do. Writing mythology-based plays prepared me for writing a play based on a distant, dramatic era of history that (from my perspective) might as well be myth.

I feel like the 1550s setting also forces me to be a stronger writer, since I cannot fall back on appeals to persons, places, or things that the audience will find familiar. Many young writers, having seen too many episodes of The Simpsons or 30 Rock, think that cleverness in writing is merely a matter of making endless pop culture allusions. Writing a play that takes place in the Renaissance strips you of that crutch. You can allude to the Bible, to Greco-Roman mythology and history, to certain folk tales, and that’s about it. I do have to be clever – especially because I am writing about a person and a period of history that are pretty obscure to American audiences – in order to convey the necessary backstory without boring or confusing the audience. But it is not the superficial glittering cleverness of pop culture allusion and snark.

 Portrait of Princess Juana by Sofonisba Anguissola, via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Princess Juana by Sofonisba Anguissola, via Wikimedia Commons

While drafting Juana, I motivated myself with thoughts of “What would Shakespeare do?” If you are writing historical drama about medieval or Renaissance-era royalty, it makes sense to look at how Shakespeare did it, and especially, how he wasn’t afraid to combine characters, ignore facts, and invent encounters out of whole cloth, as long as they made for better drama. “What would Shakespeare do?” therefore is my way of justifying my own elisions, inventions, and places where I deliberately ignore the facts. I haven’t done too much of that in Juana: the main examples I can think of are that I’ve aged up a child from about 9 to about 14, for both plot and produceability reasons; and I’m saying that a certain Spanish nobleman was in Spain during this time when really he was in England. But frankly, this is nothing compared to what Shakespeare did. I want to honor Princess Juana’s amazing true story – I’ve really come to love and admire her through writing this play – but I do not feel an obligation to fact-check every line I write.

All the same, I’ve done a lot of research for this project. I’ve read 400 pages of writings by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. I’ve nearly driven myself nuts trying to calculate how long it would take letters to get from Lisbon to Madrid, and Madrid to Rome, circa 1550. I’ve learned the symptoms of juvenile diabetes, the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and the rules for what was and wasn’t permitted during Lent in the 1550s. I’ve looked up the names of all of the Catholic kings of Europe at the time and whether they had sons of marriageable age (this information is now in a document on my computer titled “Possible second husbands” and I giggle every time I see it). More than anything else, I’ve tried my best to get into that death-haunted, Catholic, hierarchical worldview that characterizes Renaissance-era Spain. Before the invention of modern medicine, people by necessity thought about death more than we do. That awareness of and conscious preparation for death is present in writers of the period, like Shakespeare, and also in modern pieces of historical fiction and drama. (I joke that I’m going to turn Juana into a rap musical so that she can proclaim “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory” and “See, I never thought I’d live past twenty.”)

Yet there is also the danger of too much research, of writing something that would be better as a novel or nonfiction piece than as a play. Juana, or The Greater Glory covers about two years of Juana’s life (the most eventful and dramatic years, IMO) – and it’s been a bit of a challenge to compress two years of events into a two-hour play. But the problem would have been even more acute if I’d tried to cover an even longer period of time. Juana’s son Sebastian, for instance, who appears in my play only as an infant, grew up to have a short but fascinating life as the King of Portugal. He would be a great subject for a play. Someone else’s play.

See the staged reading of Marissa Skudlarek’s play Juana, or the Greater Glory at PianoFight on Saturday, July 16 at 7:30 PM. (Note the start time!) Tickets here.

Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Play Selections

We are proud to announce the lineup for the 2016 edition of Pint-Sized Plays, our annual bar-specific short plays festival!

From over 45 submissions from Bay Area playwrights, we’ve chosen the following scripts:

Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah by Jake Arky

Polling Place by Gabriel Bellman

Bar Spies by Alan Coyne

Don’t I Know You by Elizabeth Gjelten

Where There’s a Will by Tanya Grove

Angel of Darkness by Shirley Issel

Why Go With Olivia by Caitlin Kenney

Beer Culture by James Nelson

No Fault by Christian Simonsen

Cemetery Gates by Marissa Skudlarek

In addition, we are pleased to say that Pint-Sized 2016 will see the return of Rob Ready as the Llama (in a new “Llamalogue” by Stuart Bousel), and that due to popular demand, we have added a fifth performance!

 

See the Pint-Sized Plays on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 in the PianoFight bar space!

Theater Around The Bay: Get Ready For Better Than Television!

Our next show, Better Than Television, is going to turn your world upside down! Before the adventure begins, we figured it was time to check in with regular TP contributor, Megan Cohen, who is the brains behind this crazy new show!

TP: Megan Cohen- you’re back again! What keeps you coming back to Theater Pub?

MC: Every mad scientist needs a lab.

TP: Every show you do is different, but how is this show particularly unique?

MC: As a swirling “live channel” programmed with serial shows and commercials, Better Than Television is bigger AND smaller than anything I’ve done at Pub. The plays are tiny; micro-episodes of just a few minutes each, for short attention spans. The evening is huge, with lots of characters, genres, theme songs, commercials. I’ve got about 25 artists on the team: writers, actors, musicians. That’s a lot of talent for a free show in a bar.

TP: Explain your process behind this one- there was some kind of writing party?

MC: Over a weekend, 17 writers came to my house. We drank 2 flats of Diet Coke, I made 16 pizzas, and between us all, on that Saturday and Sunday we wrote 59 brand new micro-plays. We created the soap opera All My Feels, the sci-fi adventure Space Bitch, and everything else you’ll see onstage.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

I love to do things myself; I’ll write a whole show and mix the soundtrack and make the props with a glue gun; heck, as a performance artist, I’m working on a 12-hour durational solo show right now. I love doing things myself, but I wanted Better Than Television to be about teamwork, friendship, and celebrating the incredible wealth of talent in our community. I built a structure, gave some prompts, gave a format, and then the crew of writers really made the episodes and commercials their own! A fabulous array of voices. I am surprised, thrilled, delighted, and definitely entertained by what people wrote in this format, and I hope you will be too.

TP: What is it about television that makes it a suitable topic for its perceived nemesis- The Theater?

MC: I’m part of The Broadcast Television Generation. The generation before me didn’t have TV on all the time in the house growing up, and the generation after me has everything online and on-demand, where they can curate it themselves. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, tuning in for “Nick at Night” and “TGIF,” at the blissful mercy of a machine that fed me dreams on its own schedule. Going to theater is not so different from trusting a Broadcast Network. You show up, and it takes you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go. You just stay tuned. I think we all need that. We all make a lot of decisions every day, and sometimes you want to relax and let someone you trust take the reins. That’s what I’m planning for these shows to do. People want to be entertained, and I think they want to be a bit surprised.

TP: So, ideally someone comes to all four nights of this, yes?

MC: Better Than Television is a different show each night! New episodes of each micro-serial, a rotating cast of actors, twists and turns all the time; I hope that if you come once, you’ll get hooked, and will want to come back and see what happens next. If you get addicted to the channel and binge-watch the whole 4-night series, you’ll have a lot of fun. More fun than a cat in a banana.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

TP: And what if someone can only come one night? How does it change their experience?

MC: Each night stands alone. If you tune in with us at Theater Pub for one night, you won’t see the complete run of any series, but you will see enough episodes of each micro-show to get the gist, so you can fall in love briefly with the characters and the story. Especially Space Bitch. Everyone loves Space Bitch.

TP: If you could work on any real-life TV show, what it would be and what would you bring to the table?

MC: Any TV show ever? Deadwood. Any current TV show? Orphan Black. What would I bring to the table? Wit, courage, small pores, and the chops I’ve built in an energetic and dedicated writing career where, at age 32, I’ve shared almost 100 of my scripts with audiences around the world.

TP: What if a network approached you and said, “Anything you want?” What does your ideal TV show look like?

MC: It’s kind of a Deadwood-meets-Orphan-Black mashup in a comic vein with a supernatural slant, where everyone in a small frontier town is played by the ghost of Madeline Khan.

(For real, though, if anyone wants to rep me, I can send you an hour-long TV pilot that’s not that.)

TP: Any shout outs for other stuff going on in the community?

MC: Along with Theater Pub, KML and Faultline are 2 resident companies at PianoFight that are having strong seasons this year, with lots of good artists involved. See them, see everything, see Theater Pub every month. See anything by any of the artists who are part of making Better Than Television: Paul Anderson, Scott Baker, Sam Bertken, Stuart Bousel, Jeremy Cole, Barry Eitel, Valerie Fachman, Fenner Fenner, Danielle Gray, Kenneth Heaton, Paul Jennings, Colin Johnson, Dan Kurtz, Rebecca Longworth, Carl Lucania, Becky Raeta, Samantha Ricci, Cassie Rosenbrock, Heather Shaw, Jeunee Simon, Marissa Skudlarek, Peter Townley, Steven Westdahl, Indiia Wilmott, Marlene Yarosh, wow that’s a mouthful. Keep an eye on those people. Also, of course you should see everything that I personally am doing everywhere always.

TP: What’s next for you?

MC: On the closing day of this show, I’m heading for the “Ground Floor” new works program at Berkeley Rep. We’re doing some development there on my new full-length play Truest. It’s about a pair of sisters who love and fight each other, kind of a Thelma-and-Louise-meets-Sam-Shepard vibe. For news on that and other projects, keep in touch with me on Twitter: @WayBetterThanTV or on my website www.MeganCohen.com.

Better than Television starts on June 20 and plays through June 28, only at San Francisco Theater Pub! 

The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us a double interview with one of San Francisco’s most exciting writing teams.

When I heard about Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song’s idea for a play inspired by the god Oceanus, for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, I was very excited because it seemed like this really interesting meld of Greek mythology, technology and environmental issues. So when I heard that Dan and Siyu’s play had been selected for the New Play Development Program and the Undiscovered Works Series by Custom Made Theatre, I was jazzed for the play to get a further life at other Bay Area theaters. I’ve always been fascinated by writing collaboratively and have started to venture to do this myself as well. When I had the chance to ask Dan and Siyu how they came together, I couldn’t pass it up. Below is an interview with Dan and Siyu about their process and what to expect next Tuesday at the Gallery Cafe.

BJ: Could you each tell me about your artistic background/trajectory? How did you get into writing?

DH: I’ve been a theatre nerd since I had the ability to throw a towel around my shoulders and call it a cape— but veered towards prose and journalism in college. It was after I graduated that my longtime interest in writing, specifically nonfiction, and theater came together when I started to write plays. It’s my hope that my dramatic work has a journalistic quality and the journalism has a dramatic flair.

SS: I studied computer science in school and worked for a few animation/visual effects studios. I was always very interested in stories and storytelling but coming from a technical background, I was always intimidated by the “creative” side of storytelling. But, I took an improv class four years ago on a whim and haven’t looked back. With improv, I found ways to break down stories and characters to patterns and logic that was very conducive to my brain and the way I was trained to approach problems. After doing improv for a few years, the desire to tell more specific and nuanced stories led me naturally to want to do more writing.

BJ: Tell me how you came together to work on Oceanus — what was the idea?

DH: Siyu and I have been friends since we took a sketch comedy writing class way back when. And we’re both alums of the SF Olympians — a one of a kind new works festival that I’m sure your readers are familiar with. When a call for pitches for the 2015 “Wine Dark Sea” iteration of Olympians came around, we were talking and somehow decided that working together would be more fun than working alone. In discussing the possible prompt of Oceanus, a primordial sea god that controlled an underground river that circles the earth, we somehow got on the topic of underwater internet fiber optics cables. And we’re like, let’s write a play about that. Let’s write a play about what happens when a line gets cut and is somehow inspired by a Greek god. Is that how you remember it, Siyu?

SS: Yea that’s about right. When we were going through the topics for pitches, Oceanus stuck out to me because earlier that year my work had suffered a similar internet outage when a fiber optic line got cut and our provider had to send a boat out to the middle of the ocean to fix it. I am a classically trained engineer, so for me it was a nice reminder that while we regard the internet and “the cloud” as ephemeral, they are things that exist in the physical world and have tangible manifestations. We ran through many iterations of what the play would be, but the fiber optic line being cut was the central idea that we developed around.

BJ: How have you worked together to create the piece?

SS: We met in person in the beginning while we were figuring out how to build a play around the idea of a disconnect in the internet infrastructure. Those meetings were mostly just us hanging out and talking about things we wanted to write about. Data, relationships, talking sharks. There was a lot of agreeing. Partly because Dan and I are very polite humans but (hopefully?) more because we are very similar people with a lot of the same interests but we approach the world from slightly different perspectives so it’s always interesting for me to get Dan’s take on something.

DH: Also, lots of g-chatting! We’re actually both answering these questions via a Google Doc right now. One funny life imitating art thing about this process has been that while we were writing this play about people trying and failing to connect across great distances I moved a great distance— to Pittsburgh where I’m currently working on an MFA in dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon. So as we’ve been working together writing scenes about friends trying to see each other on a video chat we too have been trying to video chat.

BJ: Any interesting discoveries along the way?

DH: I’ve learned a lot about collaborating and how you can share authorship with someone. I think we’re still figuring out our process and how we make collective decisions that reflect both people’s sensibilities. And I’m such an overbearing control freak, so that’s hard. Siyu, I hope I haven’t been a total pain in the ass to work with this whole time.

SS: Ha! No it’s great. I think for me when we landed on a sort of anthology piece with lots of vignettes that was when everything clicked. To Dan’s point about sharing authorship- there are threads that feel very much like Dan’s personality and threads that are very much Siyu’s but my feeling after the SF Olympians reading in November was that the ways the threads connected and the structure felt like something we created together.

BJ: Has the piece changed substantially since the SF Olympians reading? And what are you aiming for developmentally?

DH: It’s about 20 minutes longer. We’ve added several additional scenes to really flesh out the cast of characters we have and to make sure each vignette gets something like a full arc. I also think when we first started working on this we really only envisioned it as something that would be a staged reading. Now, as part of Custom Made’s Undiscovered Works series, we’re trying to envision this thing more as an actual play.

dansiyu copy

BJ: What are you hoping to hear at the Custom Made reading next Tuesday?

DH: This play has so many different characters and plotlines, I’m just hoping to see if the audience can follow it all and that each of the vignettes lands in some fundamental way.

SS: We talked a lot about the world we were building to tell all the disparate stories. I’m interested in hearing about what worked for the audience and which characters or scenes didn’t quite sit in the world.

BJ: I’m curious about your creative process and artistic development personally– what do you do (or not do) to keep yourself, or at least feel, a forward momentum?

DH: Spreadsheets. Specifically, I keep a spreadsheet of all the plays I’m working on and where I’ve sent them out, where I’ve been rejected, etc… Accumulation of material feels like momentum.

SS: HA! I’m impressed and mortified at “spreadsheets”. I’m nowhere near that organized (but also not as prolific as Dan) I’m lucky to be an ensemble member with the SF Neo-Futurists, part of that means being in a weekly show for months at a time where we write/direct/perform pieces.

BJ: Tell me about the theater scene either here or more broadly — is there anything you are seeing/not seeing that makes you excited?

DH: All the current dialogue that’s happening about diversity and inclusivity in theatre feels positive. We could see a lot more representation of underrepresented communities out in the world and on our stages, but I’m glad there’s a sense of urgency about getting there.

SS: I echo all of what Dan said. I’m also acutely aware of how difficult it is to be an art maker in San Francisco. Hopefully I’m not setting the bar too low here, but seeing anyone put up original work these days, my reaction is “Yes. Please. More.”

BJ: Any advice that you have for others that would like to do what you do?

DH: Don’t take advice from people who aren’t qualified to give advice? Well, actually, the best piece of advice I heard recently from someone else is: finish things. I think that’s true for writing and life. You don’t know what you’ve got on your hands until you written— figuratively or literally— the words “the end.”

SS: Again, I echo everything Dan says. Just to be different though – I’ll say pursue lots of endeavors and don’t get bogged down in a specific form or medium. Sketch writing isn’t so different from dramatic plays isn’t so different from improv. Trying different forms will expose you to new ideas, new people, and new opportunities.

BJ: Any plugs and shout-outs for other work you have coming down the pike or friends’ work we should check out?

DH: Everyone should keep an eye on the rest of Custom Made’s Undiscovered Works series. On the second Tuesday of every month you can hear new plays by the talented likes of Marissa Skudlarek, Kirk Shimano, and Alina Trowbridge and us (we’re coming back in October with a new draft!). Also, Siyu is one of the members of the totally bad-ass SF Neo Futurists that perform weekly, you should check out their extra special Pride Show, Wednesday, June 15. I’m positive it will be exciting and surprising and very fun.

SS: Dan’s play Subtenant is premiering on June 17th at the Asylum Theater in Las Vegas. I got to see a reading of it a while back and it was so good it made me angry, it was like when Salieri hears Motzart’s symphony and goes into a fugue state. I haven’t tried to poison Dan yet, but it is that good. It will be playing until July 3rd so if you’re in Las Vegas you should definitely make an effort to see it.

DH: Salieri to my Mozart? More like Romy to my Michelle! By the way, rest in peace Peter Shaffer…

You can catch Oceanus this coming Tuesday, June 14th, at the Gallery Cafe at 1200 Mason Street in San Francisco. For more, click here.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: #Glam4Ham: A Review of the Hamiltome

Marissa Skudlarek had some pressing (but glamorous) business yesterday so her column is coming to you on Friday this week!

I used to think that those accounts of how crazed people became over theater in the olden days — you know, stories about how hit plays created new stars, launched trends and fads, had their tickets become the hottest commodity in New York — were overstated, but then Hamilton came along. Hamilton mania is everywhere: Lin-Manuel Miranda is on the cover of Rolling Stone, half of the people I know have a crush on a Hamilton cast member, the show has won nearly every possible award and is about to take its victory lap at the Tony Awards (or, as we must call them, the #Hamiltonys).

tumblr_o53lhilMng1v93l42o2_1280

It’s the Hamiltome! Work!

I’m kicking myself for not having bought Hamilton tickets and planned a NYC trip to see it as soon as I felt the beginnings of this mania happening, so in the meantime, like thousands of other Americans, I’ve had to experience the Hamilton craze from afar. First by listening to the cast album, then by teaching myself how to play “You’ll Be Back” on the ukulele (try it, you guys, it is a GREAT ukulele song), then by reading the Hamiltome, the new behind-the-scenes coffee-table book. (Yeah, its official title is Hamilton: The Revolution, but no one is calling it that.)

So let’s discuss the Hamiltome. First of all, know that it’s a beautiful object, with a design inspired by Revolutionary-era pamphlets and typography. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda is a huge nerd, there are even occasional images of the historical documents that formed part of his research. And there is a rich supply of photos from the show itself, depicting just about every scene, unafraid of spoilers. I was absolutely mesmerized by a shot of Eliza (Phillipa Soo) at Philip Hamilton’s deathbed, with a single perfect tear trembling on her lower eyelid. There are handsome black-and-white daguerreotype-style photos of all the lead actors. There’s a candid shot of Daveed Diggs in his underwear (Page 151).

In terms of content, the book features the full text of the show, with annotations in the margins from Lin-Manuel Miranda, interspersed with chapters by Jeremy McCarter describing Hamilton’s creation, collaborators, and the first months of its impact on the world. One of the nicest aspects of this is how much attention the authors pay to Hamilton‘s design elements, praising the contributions of the behind-the-scenes personnel just as effusively as they praise the work of Hamilton’s iconic original Broadway cast. Clearly, the creative team has considered every detail and gesture and prop, and their meticulousness gives us all something to aspire to.

For those of us who downloaded Hamilton‘s cast album and still appreciate physical media, it’s great to have a full copy of the show’s lyrics, instead of having to look them up on Genius.com. Miranda’s annotations are full of enthusiasm, gratitude, and good humor. He’s open about the parts of the show that make him cry, the lines he’s proudest of, the parts that are challenging to perform. Additionally, if you are interested in writing stories based on historical events, the Hamiltome provides a lot of food for thought about how to shape history into a rich and thrilling drama.

Indeed, Hamilton is intimately concerned with historiography and the process by which facts become legends: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” As such, it’s important to look at what the Hamiltome is trying to do, how it is trying to shape the narrative that surrounds this already-legendary show. Really, Hamilton’s reputation doesn’t need any more burnishing, but the Hamiltome tries to do that anyway. It’s a blatant piece of historical myth-making that tips into hagiography. Jeremy McCarter’s chapters try to put Hamilton‘s achievements into a historic context, but sometimes overreach. Describing how Alex Lacamoire listens to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s demo recordings, creates orchestrations, and then discusses what he’s done with Miranda, McCarter writes “It’s a very American pastime, this interpreting and discussing. Our musical culture is built on standards, songs meant to be reworked endlessly, such as ‘Blue Skies’ or ‘Summertime.’ And it’s not just our music: Think of the blood we’ve spilled looking for the best expression of ‘All men are created equal’ or ‘Congress shall make no law…'” Lacamoire is a very skilled orchestrator, but this seems like a ridiculously overblown way of describing what he does in his job.

Lin-Manuel Miranda obviously loves and admires and identifies with Alexander Hamilton, but because he is a talented dramatist, he also knows that 2.5 hours of a show that goes “This historical figure was so awesome!” is really boring to watch. Therefore, he is careful to give Hamilton flaws that balance his virtues; many of the other characters in the show think of Hamilton as an annoying, hot-headed motormouth. Jeremy McCarter’s Hamiltome chapters lack this kind of nuance; they’re the equivalent of a musical that just wants to tell you how awesome its hero is, a Hamilton without flaws. Their hyperbole becomes predictable. I found myself growing less and less interested in them, and more and more interested in the lyrics and Miranda’s annotations.

Act One of Hamilton is about war, Act Two is about politics, and the show explicitly states that “winning is easy, governing is harder.” It wasn’t easy to create Hamilton; it took six years of effort and the contributions of a lot of talented people. (NB: the battles of the Revolutionary War also lasted for six years, 1775-1781. I’m surprised that Jeremy McCarter doesn’t think to make that comparison.) But what will be even more difficult, and complicated, and interesting, is the effect that Hamilton will have on the American theatrical landscape, and how Lin-Manuel Miranda will possibly follow it up, now that “history has its eyes on him.” I wonder how we’ll be talking about Hamilton in twenty years. With King George, I wonder: “What Comes Next?”

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her favorite Schuyler Sister is Angelica. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.