Theater Around The Bay: Theater Pub Evolution

Co-Founding Artistic Director Stuart Bousel confirms, denies and imparts the future of Theater Pub.

So, by now, you may or may not have heard that San Francisco Theater Pub is about to go through some major changes.

If you’ve been a part of Theater Pub from the beginning, you may know that we’re pretty much always changing, that few constants exist in Theater Pub-land. As the lead line of this recent article about us suggests, One Bourbon One Scotch and One Bard, part of the appeal of Theater Pub has always lain in its unpredictability, and that’s not just on stage. It’s always an adventure to be in one of our shows, or to put one together, just as much or more so than it is to watch one. True, a hapless audience member may have a glass dropped on them (or be pulled onto a pool table for impromptu romance with another audience member), but from day one of Theater Pub (and only myself and co-Founding Artistic Director Brian Markley remain from Day One) there has always been an undercurrent of “this could end at any time”. Truth be told, when myself, Brian, Ben Fisher and Victor Carrion first came together to create Theater Pub, we planned no farther than three months in advance and habitually said, “In six months, when this is all over, we’ll be glad we did it.” The fact that we’ve lasted 43 months is, all things considered, pretty amazing, and entirely unexpected.

And no, Theater Pub is not ending. Let’s just kill that rumor first. But yes, we are leaving the Cafe Royale at the end of July. That is true. Our last performance there will be the closing night of this year’s Pint Sized plays, on Tuesday, July 30.

“But no!” you cry and “Why?!?”

Why we’re leaving the bar is a complex conversation and can probably best be summed up by Brian Markley’s recent statement that “bars have souls” and the soul of this bar, the Cafe Royale, is changing. The soul of any business develops as a combination of who is running that business and what their vision for it is, and who is regularly patronizing it and what their expectations are. We were brought into the Cafe Royale at the invitation of Les Cowan, who had a vision for his bar as a cornerstone of local culture and a fixture in the arts scene, but he left the Cafe Royale in March of last year to pursue other ventures. The new owners took us on but from the beginning made it clear they wanted to make the bar their own and honestly you can’t blame them for that: it’s their bar. To their credit, they recognized that we were an invested entity that was very successful, both financially and in our  ability to attract a robust and loyal audience and press following, but we were never part of their vision when they as a group of friends first got together and made plans to purchase and open a bar. We were inherited with the place, and something they had to adjust their vision for. We agreed to give it a year and it’s a testimony to them and us that we not only got through it and all the changes that came with the new ownership, but that both Theater Pub and the bar continued to succeed together. When the decision was made, earlier this year, to leave the Cafe Royale, it was entirely on mine and Brian’s end, and comes down to the fact that every theater company also has a soul. And our soul feels progressively headed in a different direction than the Cafe Royale.

These things happen. Things change. But in addition to unpredictability, part of Theater Pub’s appeal has also always been its flexibility and adaptability. As Julia Heitner, Artistic Director At Large, aptly demonstrated last year when she took a number of our shows to other locales, and as Sunil Patel recently continued to demonstrate with the Borderlands Bookstore preview of “The Pub From Another World”, Theater Pub doesn’t have to happen in a bar- or the same bar- to be Theater Pub. True, it’s not the same thing seeing, say, Measure For Measure, in the Plough And Stars as opposed to the Cafe Royale, but progressively the Cafe Royale (which is scheduled to be heavily renovated this fall) isn’t going to be “the same” either, and the truth is no matter how good our shows are or how exciting it’s been to have balconies to stage Shakespeare in, the real reason I, at least, have stayed with Theater Pub so long is because of the people we get to work with and the people who come to see us, again and again, and love us so much.

As current Cafe Royale co-owner Will Weston recently said to me in a phone call, “You guys are cool. You’re a thing,” and I agree. We are A Thing. I’d even go so far as to say we’re A Scene or A Movement even. We’re most definitely A Community, and we have every confidence we can continue to serve and foster that Community in a variety of ways for a long time yet to come. The real point of Theater Pub was never to put on monthly shows at the Cafe Royale; the true core of why we existed was to bolster the San Francisco Theater Community by making it more accessible, to audiences and artists, and more fun. The word “Pub” comes from “Public House”, being a place where a community gathers to be a community. Usually with beer. Going forward we plan to be more of a Public House than ever, frequently, but not always, with beer.

In concrete terms we can absolutely tell you what the rest of 2013 looks like, and we hope you’ll support us in this transition by continuing to attend and participate in our events. Saturday Write Fever, our monthly event at the Exit Cafe, will continue as scheduled and we love that so many of our regulars at the Pub have turned up there- we hope to see more of you! Additionally, our November event, which will be produced by previous collaborators Nick and Lisa Gentile, will happen at the Exit Cafe as scheduled. Between now and then we will be returning to the Bay One Acts Festival for a third time this September/October, with Brian Markley producing the event and frequent Pub contributor Rik Lopes directing a piece of their choosing. Kat Bushnell and James Grady, who have been the driving force behind our holiday musical theater concerts of Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent, are already busy planning this December’s show, and seeking a venue. We’re even talking of touring a couple bars this time around.

Which may be the future of Theater Pub in general. After all, from the beginning we’ve basically operated out of a box in the basement of the Cafe Royal: why not move the box from venue to venue, like theater companies of old, putting on a show wherever they let us and people are willing to watch and throw some money in the pot? Though it’s true we’re taking a partial hiatus from regular productions (shows will happen, just much more sporadically), we do hope to return to our monthly format further down the road in 2014, and being nomadic may be the way to go as it certainly has its advantages. That said it’s also really nice to have a home, as the Cafe Royale was for us for over three years, and we’re definitely interested in finding new hosts if they’re out there. So if you know of a bar, or if you run a bar that wants to take on the unique, Award-Winning, Critically Praised, Frequently-Packed-Beyond-Standing-Room San Francisco Theater Pub, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’d love to meet with you and see your space and find out how we can be part of your vision. But in the end it will come down, once again, to a soul thing, as Brian and I agree that our soul is far more important, and far richer than putting on a show each month. But of course, we’re theater people and we love a show, so fingers crossed for 2014 and we look forward to being there with our community in whatever capacity presents itself at the time.

Finally, the digital form of Theater Pub, this website, will continue to exist and grow. Since this became “more than just a website” starting in February of 2012, we have literally tripled our output and quadrupled our traffic and the fun is only just beginning. Like the Cafe Royale, we have plans for some major overhaul in the next few months. New look, new writers, new features all intended to continue the conversation we get to have on the website not just with the Bay Area, but the world as a whole.

That conversation is, in the end, what this is all about and what any artistic endeavor should be about. We are truly, madly, deeply invested in making sure that conversation continues, and we’re looking forward to being surprised and delighted by wherever and whenever it pops up next- on the internet, in a bar or a coffee shop, a bookstore, a park. The possibilities are limitless and the truth is, by stepping away from the bar and our obligations there, we can truly explore those possibilities. We’re using this break with the structure of the past as an opportunity to be more flexible in both what we do and what kinds of projects fall under our umbrella so as usual if you have ideas, let us know: maybe there’s a one-off or a site specific production only an e-mail or two away from happening at a bar near you. The future is wide open and that’s scary, and bittersweet, but also very exciting.

Stuart Bousel is a Co-founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. He has a soul and you’re soaking in it. 

Kim Creates Kate

Last week we got to know Paul Jennings, the actor playing Petruchio in our up-coming production of Taming of the Shrew. This week, we’re checking in with Kim Saunders, who will be playing Katherina and making her San Francisco Theater Pub debut.

LCK_9107

So, who are you in a hundred words or less!

I am a native New Yorker and a city girl. My heart belongs to the theatre and has for as long as I can remember. I adore animals and share my home with a cat named Pyewacket and my wonderful husband Ron Talbot (Ed. Note: Ron is playing Gremio in this production). I love being busy and normally will be directing, choreographing, performing and coaching several projects at the same time

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

I was lucky enough to be cast at Custom Made Theatre Company in a production of Merchant of Venice. Having made friends with several people in the cast they took me to see last year’s production of Measure for Measure and I loved the entire concept of theatre in a bar! It reminded a bit of the NY Renaissance Faire and murder mysteries but with an amazing script.

What’s got you excited about working here?

So many things! The script, the people I am working with, the role I play and performing in an environment where anything can happen.

What’s got you worried?

The final monologue is so well known and can be interpreted in many ways. I hope that I am able to interpret it so the audience can understand Katherine’s point of view.

Have you ever been in this play (Shrew) before?

No.

What’s your history with this show?

I have always loved this show and the witty repartee between Kate and Petruchio. I have auditioned for it several times but have always been called back for Bianca. Having already done Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, this seems like a natural progression and I am excited to take it on!

Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?

The true question is: who tames who? Shakespeare chose to make his heroines remarkable women; if the shrew is truly tamed at the end you have then forced a square peg into a round hole. I don’t think that is what Shakespeare intended. I believe in the end they both have found love and a true partnership. If anything these two are now a force to be reckoned with against the world!

Tell us about your character- what do you love about them?

I love the sparing between my Katherine and Petruchio as well as the ability to use all the physical elements that bring these two to life.

What do you hate about them?

I always want to find the humanity in my characters. How did they become who they are before the play has begun? When playing such a strong character it is sometimes hard for the audience to see the hurt and vulnerability that has brought them to where they are when you (the audience) first meets them.

What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Back to….the final monolgue. Everyone knows it and already has an opinion.

When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago? 

For me listening and working off other actors, as well as the director’s vision are my favorite ways of finding my way into creating a role. Also many hints are in the text and also in the pauses thanks to the verse! I have several acting techniques in my toolbox if I need them as well.

What do you think this play has for a modern audience? 

Hopefully a great deal of laughter and maybe a new take on the show to start a new conversation!

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

“If I be waspish best beware my sting.”

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

They keep adding new ones so I just want to keep trying new ones!

Don’t miss Kim, and the rest of this fantastic cast, in Taming of the Shrew, which plays four nights only- March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. No reservations necessary as admission is free (with a suggested five dollar donation at the door), but get there early as we tend to fill up!

Measure For Measure Has Closed…

…but we wanted to share this fabulous moment from last night’s final performance.

As happens in a bar from time to time, a glass will be dropped or knocked over. What’s always fun to see (assuming no one gets hurt, and so far we’ve been lucky) is how well our cast will handle these awkward moments. Yesterday’s happened mid-way through a scene between Lucio  (played by Neil Higgins) and Vincentio (played by Will Hand), and one of our founding directors, Brian Markley, caught the moment beautifully on video.

Notice in this first still, taken from the video, that no one (including Neil) has yet noticed the glass is on its way to beer stein heaven.

In this next moment, the damage has been done, and there has been a collective gasp, “Dear God! What will the poor actor do?”

Neil, however, is a pro, and without missing a beat in his dialogue, he bends down, collects the shards on the floor, piles them all together, shakes the Crispin cider (which was having a promotional event at the bar that night) from his hand, and just keeps going.

Shortly after this moment, Neil and Will alter their blocking to stand and move over to the bar, so the bartender can slip in, quickly mop the floor, and wipe down the table. What’s impossible to show here (but you can find the video on our YouTube channel) is just how seamless it all was. In fact, you might have never known it happened, except that on Neil’s exit at the end of the scene, he received a huge round of applause from an unquestionably impressed audience. It was one of those truly lovely moments that makes live theater such a great thing.

Join us on September 17th, when we return for a one night only performance of a Hamlet satire that’s been lovingly dubbed, “Hamlet And Cheese on Post”. Hopefully we won’t drop any glasses that night (and you won’t either), but there are bound to be all kinds of unique surprises you won’t want to miss!

Day of Play!

Actress and Theater Pub Artistic Director, Julia Heitner, talks about what it’s been like to bring Measure For Measure from the page, to the stage.

After 3 ½ weeks with just a few rehearsals per week, we’ll be performing an 80-min version of Measure for Measure starting tonight!

Will Hand rehearses like a champ.

I am playing Isabella, a novice about to enter a nunnery, who gets pulled into the plot when her brother Claudio (played by Vince Rodriguez) is condemned to die for knocking up her homegirl, Julietta, and so she has to go save his ass. I love Isabella’s fierceness, eloquence, and that her particular character flaw is never being able to hold her tongue. I also relate to her being a sort of outsider in the play, left to fight her own battles, always speaking her mind (no matter what the consequences, and oh- the consequences!), and clinging to an outdated moral code in a modern world. Plus, I get to say things like,

Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.
Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd:
‘Tis best thou diest quickly.

I am excited and extremely nervous to be performing in this role and intimidated to be in the company of such talented and hilarious actors.

Linda Ruth Cardozo, Tony Cirimele and Neil Higgins intimidate Julia, just for fun.

We’ve been working hard, stress is high and after our tech/dress at Cafe Royale on Saturday, Sunday was our day of play.

Kirsten Broadbear and Tony Cirimele sure do love to play!

It was an unexpectedly sunny and beautiful day in downtown San Francisco, so we took over a space near the Children’s Creativity Carousel in Yerba Buena and started a line through, which quickly turned into an innovative outdoor run-through, turning the area into our stage/playground. Most everyone wore sunglasses, which enhanced the severity of our Provost (Tony Cirimele) and Aeschylus (Carl Lucania) and added to the devilishness of Lucio (Neil Higgins) and Angelo (Nick Dickson). I tossed a shawl over my head to serve as a makeshift nun’s habit and we were off!

As usual, Carl Lucania is asking God why he continues to put up with our nonsense.

A few passersby gathered to watch us circle around a metal globe structure, scurry up and down stairways to the raised walkway above, and, of course, spout the beautiful and hilarious words of Shakespeare. In the final scene, as I let rip at Angelo and called him names, I felt a pang of shame when I screamed out that he was a “virgin violator” while groups of parents and their children wandered past.

Passersby were even more baffled by Will Hand and Tony Cirimele talking about beheading people.

Favorite moments of the run-through include, the moment when Mistress Overdone (Linda Ruth Cardozo), no longer restrained by a tiny rehearsal venue, made a run for it when she was about to be arrested, forcing Escalus and the Provost to chase her down. Marianna (Kirsten Broadbear) put on some extra fabulous attitude as she revealed herself to Angelo during the play’s climactic face-off, and The Duke and Lucio engaged in an imaginary sunglasses-nose-pushing-clown-off.

I turned to Stuart in the middle of the final scene and said, “It’s a comedy!” and he sardonically replied, “FINALLY!”

Linda-Ruth waves while Stuart Bousel passes judgement.

We can now take this show anywhere. All our costumes fit into one trunk. All the actors could squeeze into two cars.  We’ll need this flexibility when we hit up The Plough and Stars on August 22nd, when we have to dive into a space entirely different from Cafe Royale with no rehearsal time.

The Duke Vincentio Curse: when comforting someone just makes them cry harder.

Want to book us for your birthday party? We’re also available for Bachelorette parties! Your BART ride home? You’ll love it, I promise.

Don’t miss the show, August 14, 20, 21 and 27 at the Cafe Royale, and August 22 and Plough and Stars! Showtime is 8 PM, so get there early! Admission is Free!

Give Him A Hand

Start your weekend with an interview with Will Hand, who plays the lead role of Duke Vincentio in this month’s production of Measure For Measure, opening this Tuesday at the Cafe Royale.

Will Hand didn’t provide a headshot, so we’re going with this.

So this is your first Theater Pub, right? What’s got you excited about joining the ranks of Theater Pub’s ever expanding ensemble?

I think its a sweet thing, theater in a bar. But really, while everyone knows the San Francisco Bay Area theater scene is close-knit, sometimes those threads are a little loose. Anything that works to bring us together as a community is a pretty exciting thing to be a part of.

The annual Shakespeare production is becoming a tradition, basically because we will now have done it twice. What do you think is the bee’s knees about doing Shakespeare in a bar?

Well its actually something I’ve always wanted to do. That possibility of a rowdy, raucous audience is so infinitely more desirable for me than the complacent regional theater crowd.  An opportunity to do some Shakespeare, to make it compelling, make it count, and basically do what it takes to get a room full of people interested in the imaginary event happening in the room, is my definition of doing Shakespeare right.

Anything got you worried? Is this your first time doing a show like this?

Well sure. The Duke’s a selfish young man who loves doing good. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time exploring that incongruity.  He is a very complex character, but in a very unexpected way. I want to do right by all that. Now, towards the end of the process, I’m finding the time to focus on more fundamental moment-to-moment work, but in a such a rough, informal rehearsal and performance process I think you always worry if you’ll pull it together in time, and if any of it will translate when it comes down to you running around the bar dressed as a monk.

Speaking of who you play, tell us more about the Duke.

I play Vincentio, the good Duke of Vienna. Everyone has that friend who’s always asking how your relationships are going, who is essentially a bit of a meddler. The Duke is like what would happen if that friend had a kingdom over which he had essentially Godlike authority.

And how is your first Theater Pub experience going?

Its been really great working with the rest of the cast. I did some scene studies from Measure for Measure in college,  and I had no idea what to do with the Duke. Since day one, though, I’ve been really grateful for a cast that offers up so many and such bold choices for us all to play with; every rehearsal has been an explosion of new Duke flavors. Stuart’s also a master of bookwork, which meant that we really hit the ground sprinting.

Measure for Measure is an unusual choice for any theater venue. Why do you think this play is a challenge, good or bad, for any theater company?

We’ve talked a lot in rehearsal about how, invariably, this play is used as a launch-pad for ideological expression. I remember what Stuart Bousel said in one of the early rehearsals, “Everyone wants all of Shakespeare’s comedies to be Midsummer.” Fact is, some of the dude’s plays are about couples who’re just trying to make it work. You’re going to see a lot of hurt feelings before the night is over. Life’s not all cherries, and foursomes in the forest. Sometimes its a sex-comedy between a Nun and a Prince dressed up like a Friar, and you just gotta learn to deal with it.

What do you hope the audience will get from Measure?

I hope they grapple with the capacity for forgiveness demonstrated in the play.

What’s your favorite beer?

Brother Thelonius Ale. Part of the profits go to the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. You can get pie-eyed and be charitable, all on the same tab. How cool is that?

So if they do get a liquor license at the Cafe Royale, what’s the first cocktail you plan to order at Theater Pub?

Love’s Labour’s Lemondrop. Two Gin…tle…men of Verona?

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.

There Are No Small Parts…

This month will feature the Theater Pub debut of three well-known Bay Area actors: Linda-Ruth Cardozo, Tony Cirimele and Vince Rodriguez, playing the three supporting parts in our production of Measure For Measure. Proving there are no small parts, only small actors, Linda-Ruth, Tony and Vince talk about what it’s like to step into their first Pub roles  and breath life into these small but essential character roles.

So this is your first Theater Pub, right? What’s got you excited about joining the ranks of Theater Pub’s ever expanding ensemble?

Linda-Ruth: I’m excited about the community atmosphere coupled with professional level performers. And the nice folks. I feel very welcome.

Vince: Not only is Theater Pub a group that produces work for artists who have an insatiable thirst for cool and relevant projects, but the demographic they reach out to is sexy, young and willing to re-envision classics in a modern way. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

Tony: The most exciting part about joining Theater Pub is that they asked me. No nerve-racking audition, no tension-filled callback, just an email saying, “Tony, we like your style. Bring some of that over to our motley crew of drunken theater-goers.” Also, the opportunity to wear RenFest clothes in public appealed to me greatly.

Tony Cirimele: what a guy!

The annual Shakespeare production is becoming a tradition, basically because we will now have done it twice. What do you think is the bee’s knees about doing Shakespeare in a bar?

Tony: First off, unlike this question, Shakespeare has no unnecessary ’20s jargon. Secondly, Shakespeare in a bar is great because it takes his work back to its roots. Shakespeare was first performed for groundlings, people who were dirt-poor, weren’t paying attention to the show, and would often yell things at the performers, much like your modern day alcoholic theater patron. Shakespeare is not just for the scholars, it’s for the people who can’t afford War Horse tickets.

Vince: It’s funny you bring up “groundlings” because I like to think of the audience as “grinders”: people who take the time to do their work AND appreciate the finer things in life, like exploring the depths of the human soul. Although the majority of people are content dealing with the nine-to-five stress, I think we give people who want it the chance escape the myopic and mundane.

Linda-Ruth:
And when the text is edited effectively, as it is done here, the kernel and bloom (am I mixing metaphors?) of the story become accessible to a modern audience and then the actors make it fun by playing amidst the audience in a comfortable, informal place, so all the pretentious element is stripped away and the potential for genuine enjoyment increases.

Anything got you worried? Is this your first time doing a show like this?

Tony: This is definitely my first time doing a show where the audience is encouraged to drink excessively.

Linda-Ruth: I’ve done dinner theatre before, so I’m okay with it.

Linda-Ruth Cardozo: Everything’s Under Control

So who do you play in Measure for Measure, and what do you like about the part?

Vince: I play Claudio, a character who has sex with a girl he fully intends to marry and gets thrown in jail for it. Kind of wack right? Some say “test the bicycle to make sure it works for you” but back in the day this wasn’t exactly kosher with the law. I’m excited about this role because he’s like any twenty-something trying to do well and then something bad happens. We’ve all been there: desperate for success and trying to make things work but the world is working against us.

Linda-Ruth: I play Mistress Overdone, the bawd. I like that she can be feisty, sexy and funny. We’ll see how I do.

Tony: I play the Provost, who runs the local prison. Provost, by the way, is his occupation, not his name. It’s like having a character named “Officer” or “Warden”. It’s a little demeaning that he is defined by his job and not by who he really is, but such is the laziness that is the Bard. My favorite part about playing the Provost is that he is the only normal character in the show. Everyone else is working in the heightened reality that is a Shakespearean comedy, but the Provost is a just an average guy trying to do his job and get through the day.

Measure for Measure is an unusual choice for any theater venue. Why do you think this play is a challenge, good or bad, for any theater company?

Linda-Ruth: Measure for Measure is a challenge because I think we don’t know what to think of it. The characters are not clear cut bad or good. The Duke is good, but a little perverse. Angelo is a hypocrite, but still sympathetic. Isabella’s attachment to her virtue at the price of her brother’s life seems ridiculous. This, I guess, is why it’s called a “problem play.”

Tony:
I think what throws people is that Measure for Measure is a comedy that deals with dramatic events. Really dramatic. There are executions, broken engagements and bastard children involved, not really “ha-ha” funny. Most productions tend to toss away the comedy in favor of the more dramatic moments, or they just don’t get the jokes (It’s 400 years old, they can’t all hold up.) What we’ve done with this production is really play up the comedy while still respecting the more serious subject matter. After all, the best comedies are the ones with the occasional dramatic moment. We’re also throwing in just a little bit of audience participation. Not too much, but just enough to keep things light.

What do you hope the audience will get from Measure?

Vince: For me, this show is about power, and as the audience sips their drinks and embarks on this journey with us I hope they think about who they relate to and why. Often we find ourselves walking past someone near a BART or Muni exit and think, “Never will I find myself like this” or worse saying something out loud to the effect of: “No I can’t help you today”. Theater allows for one to take themselves out of their set of problems and worries for an hour and a half and feel for people who aren’t related to them. This is empathy y’all! If we were all slightly more empathic imagine how much more pleasant our human-to-human interactions would be. Isn’t that legit? I’m going to answer for all of us and emphatically say “YES.”

Vince Rodriguez: Here To Feel


Linda-Ruth: I just hope they’ll laugh.

Tony:
I would love to see our audience get a newfound appreciation for the play. It’s one people tend to gloss over when discussing Shakespeare and I hope people will walk away from this and say, “Oh Measure for Measure? Great play. I saw Theater Pub do it and it was fantastic.

What’s your favorite beer?

Tony: Finally, something I can answer. A nice cool reasonably priced Guinness in the tallest glass you can find. I did a play a few years back that was set in Ireland, and I got pretty much all the free Guinness I could hope for. Now they got me hooked on the stuff. It’s great tasting, plus you get that great nod of approval from your fellow bar patrons when you order it. A silent nod that says “You drink Guinness, I like that in a man. You’re hired.”

Vince: My favorite beer is Imperial. It’s a Costa Rican pilsner. As a Costa Rican I have to represent properly. If you haven’t tried it-add it to your list! You can buy it at BevMo!

Linda-Ruth: I hate beer.

Do you know the bar is trying to get a liquor license?


Vince:
Say whaaaat? I think that’s super sweet.

Tony: Mazel Tov!

If it happens, what’s the first cocktail you plan to order at Theater Pub?

Linda-Ruth: Scotch and soda.

Vince: I’d have to go with a Makers Mark and Coke. I like my Whiskey.

Tony: Anything you have to set on fire to drink.

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.

From Tripple L to M4M: Stuart Bousel Talks About His Life With The Bard

In preparation for our next production, a scaled down version of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure opening on Tuesday, August 14th, director Stuart Bousel talks about his previous tangles with the world’s most famous dead white male.  

Like many directors, I have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare.

I love him in that he’s an amazing writer who has left us almost forty plays, many of which are masterpieces and all of which are eminently performable, and because these plays are the magical combination of incredibly universal and public domain, his work is a sort of lyrical playground for any director looking to put on a production where he or she can flaunt their innovative choices while still taking advantage of a several centuries long pedigree. Of course, there in lies the problem: these plays have been around for so long and are so well known that it’s somewhat impossible to just put them on as plays, and when you do so, inevitably, half your audience comes in with expectations that can have little to nothing to do with your production.

The first Shakespeare play I ever directed was his lesser-appreciated romantic comedy, Love’s Labors Lost, or as I like to call it, Tripple L, a play I adore, in part because it’s one of the rare, truly “original” plays Shakespeare wrote (most of them come from historical or mythological sources), and also because there’s something youthful and charming about it that makes me think it was, for Shakespeare, what SubUrbia was for Eric Bogosian or This Is Our Youth was for Kenneth Lonergan: that charming, quasi-autobiographical play you write about being good looking, reckless and having nothing to do but get wasted, flirt and act like you know everything about the world. Hence, when I directed my production in 2006, I re-set the show in a modern San Francisco nightclub, scored it with pop-music and costumed it with trendy clothes and an eye towards contemporary realism, making it about the people I knew. At the time, I figured this would be my one and only Shakespeare foray.

The trouble is, Shakespeare is sort of an addiction, and once you find your gateway play, it’s hard not to be tempted to do another one. And then another one. I did Hamlet next because, well, why the hell not, right? And that’s when I first figured out (as many people do on their first production of Hamlet) that there are some shows you do knowing virtually everyone who sees it is going to have “their version” in mind and that in their head it’s going to be superior to whatever you do. Which means you might as well go hog wild and that’s what I did, setting the show in modern times, once again, having actresses play the men and actors play the women and a terrifying seven foot tall ghost in what could best be described as Japanese horror flick drag. To date, it’s actually one of my favorite shows I’ve directed, being almost entirely wrapped in my own particular brand of experimentalism and cloaked in Bousel-ian touches: abrupt acts of violence, monochromatic color schemes, romantic suicides, homo-erotic undertones and surprise redemptions.

My next two Shakespeare productions were A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, both for Atmostheatre’s Theater in The Woods, an annual summer production staged in a Redwood preserve near Woodside, California. Both shows were exercises in charm and period theater, the first staged as a Regency era bittersweet romantic comedy, the second a more experimental foray into tragicomedy set in the early 18th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of the two, I personally think Midsummer was the more successful (you really just can’t beat setting that play in an actual forest) but on some level it’s virtually impossible to mess up that show unless you really try (and that said, I’ve seen it happen) and the fact is I learned more from Twelfth Night, which was a reminder that directors should play with these classics but never lose site of the story they are telling and what that story’s emotional core is for them.

Which set me up for directing Merchant of Venice, a production that, as of this writing, is still playing at the Gough Street Playhouse (home of the Custom Made Theater Company), having just been extended for another two weeks. In some ways a return to form for me, my Merchant is a sprawling commentary about the world of modern business and how its various social dramas of status and exploitation are played out in nightclubs and bars, break rooms and boardrooms. There is a light motif of pop music, drug and alcohol abuse, and retro fashion, setting the play in the 1960’s, 1980’s and contemporary world all at the same time, while preserving many of the antiquities of the text and finding numerous sight gags in the use of current day technology. To me, it’s the best Shakespeare I’ve done yet, using narrative to study the contrasts and comparisons between a time and society we think of as so removed from our own- and yet with which I think we have a lot in common. A lot we probably aren’t terribly proud of.

For the Pub’s Measure for Measure, however, I may be foraying back into the realm of charming, albeit this time with more edge than previously, as Measure packs a dirtier, nastier punch than Midsummer or Twelfth Night. Last year I had the honor of adapting Henry IV and V into The Boar’s Head, in which I also had the honor of playing Ned Poins. Something I loved about the show, directed by Jessica Richards, was how we moved throughout the Bar, which was transformed, through the text alone, into the Boar’s Head tavern from the plays, with only two moments of stepping away from that infamous East cheap locale so that Henry IV could bemoan his vanishing son and later die of unknown causes on the pool table. This time around I knew we shouldn’t do another show set in a pub. There are only so many times that could happen, even in Shakespeare’s vast canon, and the sooner we set a precedent that there were no precedents, the better it would be in the long run if, as it seems we intend to, there was to be an annual Shakespeare play at the Pub. When Measure for Measure was first suggested it seemed like an excellent fit because it would, like all Shakespeare plays, defy expectations even as it created them. Plus, it was an unusual choice, a play not frequently done or particularly well known, and so liberating myself and the cast to do with it what we would. Ironically, it’s going to be the first Shakespeare play I have ever directed that will be costumed in 16th century clothes, but the traditional take ends there.

Something I have discovered while putting together an 80 minute version of this show (that I now affectionately refer to as M4M) is that I’d actually love to do a full production sometime. We cut a lot of material and characters to make this play flow as smoothly and slickly as possible in the bar, and some of that is stuff I’d really like a chance to play with. But I’m also now completely hooked and going through a love phase with Shakespeare, so it may be a while before I allow myself the luxury of directing a second production of any of the shows I’ve done so far, when there are so many left I’d like to sink my teeth into.

In the back of my head, I’ve been considering both King John and Henry VIII for quite some time, and recently it was put into my head by a producer friend of mine to consider Romeo and Juliet. The pre-production phase for a production of The Tempest has been going on for about three years now and some part of me is always fantasizing about Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline. I have no real desire to direct Two Gentlemen of Verona or Much Ado About Nothing and yet if offered the chance, I wouldn’t turn them down because I see how both could be lovely shows and I have ideas. Which is the problem. I have ideas for all the shows. So do most directors.

And once you open that door for us, it can be a really difficult one to close. 

Don’t miss Theater Pub’s Measure for Measure, playing four nights at the Cafe Royale (August 14, 20, 21, 27) and one night at the Plough And Stars (August 22), always at 8 PM, always for free.