Theater Around the Bay: Tanya Grove, Caitlin Kenney, & Vince Faso of “Where There’s a Will” & “Why Go With Olivia?”

The Pint-Sized Plays just got a great review (complete with Clapping Man) from SF Chronicle theater critic Lily Janiak, and they have 1 more performance, next Monday the 29th. In the meantime, here’s another in our interview series with Pint-Sized folks.

Vince Faso is directing 2 shows in Pint-Sized this year: “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, and “Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney. In “Where There’s a Will,” Will Shakespeare  (Nick Dickson) visits a contemporary bar and finds inspiration in an unlikely source: a young woman named Cordelia (Layne Austin), whose dad is about to draw up his will. Meanwhile, Lily’s review aptly describes “Why Go With Olivia?”  as “an epistolary monologue from perhaps the world’s most ruthless email writer, played by Jessica Rudholm.”

Here’s our conversation with Caitlin, Vince, and Tanya!

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Caitlin Kenney at Crater Lake.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized this year?

Caitlin: I live with someone wrapped in the SF theater community, who has attempted submitting before, and thought I had as good a chance as any of piecing something together.

Vince: I’ve been an SF Theater Pub fan for a long time, been in a few productions, directed a little, but Pint-Sized was one I have always been interested in being a part of, and as I seem to be transitioning to more directing, I seized the opportunity, and am excited to be involved.

Tanya: I have two friends who’d had their plays in the festival last year, so I went to support them and had so much fun that I wanted to take part myself!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Caitlin: Drinking several beers while making a verbal list of pie-in-the-sky ideas with no judgement.

Tanya: While I’m writing, I’m also imagining the performance in my head, so it’s like going to the theater all the time, which is my favorite thing to do!

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Vince: I’m probably not alone in saying that the actors I’m working with make it special. I’ve always loved seeing Jessica Rudholm perform, and practically jumped out of my chair at the chance to direct her for a second time. And I’ve worked on several shows with Nick Dickson and Layne Austin, and it doesn’t hurt that they live around the corner and we get to rehearse in my living room. Also, the pieces I’m directing are brilliant in their simplicity, and clever in the flexibility they lend the actors.

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Tanya Grove has a head full of ideas.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Tanya:  I often have lots of ideas going in many directions, and I have to remind myself to simplify. You can usually get across the same message whether you have a cast of two or twenty, ten minutes or two hours, one scene or three acts. Because one of my day jobs is being an editor, I’ve learned to pare ruthlessly to get to the essence of text.

Caitlin: Personally, I think it’s planting the first seed. For me this means to stop poo-pooing every idea I have and actually start typing something.

What’s been most troublesome?

Vince: Finding rehearsal time for a festival like this is always a challenge.

What are your biggest artistic influences?

Tanya: My current playwriting hero is Lauren Gunderson. I think she’s brilliant. But my style is more William Shakespeare meets Tina Fey…

Caitlin: Richard Brautigan, Joni Mitchell, Sense and Sensibility, and Google (to answer my formatting questions).

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Vince: Meryl Streep, because while she is arguably the best around, she seems like she’d be a very giving actor to work with.

Tanya: When I was in high school I had a crush on Richard Dreyfuss, so I guess I would cast 1977 Richard Dreyfuss as my Will. That’s as good a reason as any, right?

Caitlin: Any sparkle-charming person with insecure confidence…how about Zoe Kazan? I’ve been watching the Olive Kitteridge miniseries and she’s hard not to watch.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Vince: Such a hard question! At the risk of straying off topic: I’ve worked with them before, but Scott Baker and Performers Under Stress always give me an intellectual and emotional challenge.

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What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Vince: As an actor I’m excited to get started on a production of King Lear for Theater Pub that goes up in November. As a director, I’m been gearing up for a production of Hamlet with my 7th and 8th graders at Redwood Day in Oakland where I teach. That will also go up in November.

Caitlin: I‘ve got a one-act for middle-schoolers going about a mindfulness-based therapy group with participants vaguely reminiscent of Hamlet characters. I’m finding it really hard to sit down and “crank it out,” but if I do, it will probably be entertaining.

Tanya: In September I begin my fourth season as a playwright for PlayGround, so I’m gearing up to write a short play each month. I’m more productive when I have an assignment and a deadline, so the challenge of writing a play in four days based on a prompt works well for me.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Caitlin: I went to the Oakland BeastLit Crawl and fell hard for spontaneous storytelling, so I am looking forward to one day spitting in the mic at StorySlam.

Tanya: I’m looking forward to seeing what Josh Kornbluth ultimately creates from his time volunteering at Zen Hospice. I’m a Josh fan from way back.

Vince: Events like Pint-Sized and the Olympians Festival that allow original works to be read or staged are a must for keeping the independent theater scene in San Francisco alive.

What’s your favorite beer?

Vince: I’m a sucker for a good IPA, but if a bar is serving Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale then I have to get it.

Caitlin: The Barley Brown Hot Blonde – spiciest, sexiest beer around. Though not around, because it’s brewed in Northeastern Oregon and they don’t distribute anywhere good for me or you.

Tanya: I used to drink a lot of Corona, but I think I’m more of a Hefeweizen gal now. I don’t have a favorite brand, though. Any recommendations?

Your final chance to see “Where There’s a Will,” “Why Go With Olivia?” and the other Pint-Sized Plays is on Monday August 29th at PianoFight at 8 PM! Don’t miss it!

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Everything Is Already Something Week 65: Artist Nightmares

Allison Page: scaredy-pants.

Halloween is approaching, and apart from the fear of being dismembered by a maniac and blended into a soup, my biggest nightmares are the artistic ones. If you’ve ever auditioned for something or watched auditions for something, you’ve probably either performed or had to watch Christopher Durang’s short play The Actor’s Nightmare. Basically a guy is mistaken for an actor’s understudy and has to go on stage not knowing any of his lines. The play was inspired by a real phenomenon that seems like it happens all the time. I have a recurring one. It’s extremely specific.

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I’m in a period drama of some kind. I’m dressed in Victorian servant attire. My face is smeared with dirt. Backstage, I meet up with my co-star (somehow for the first time even though it’s opening night) and it’s MERYL STREEP. She shakes my hand and says, “Miss Page — can I call you Allison? — Allison, I am so thrilled to work with you.” and I’m polite and calm, you know, because she should be sooooo thrilled to be working with me. Dream Allison apparently has quite an ego. The play starts. I walk onstage, alone, surrounded by a set that looks like an old brick building. I strike a fairly absurd pose, and then suddenly realize I have no idea what any of my lines are, or even which play this is. I stand silent. In my peripheral vision, I catch Meryl offstage with her arms crossed. She is shaking her head from side to side and frowning. She makes that all-familiar, neck-cutting, you’re-toast gesture. I frantically run offstage. Meryl taps me on the shoulder and shouts “YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!” I fall to my knees and scream “MERYL, NOOOOOOOO!”…and wake up in a cold sweat.

This has been going on for 15 years. It’s less frequent now than it used to be, but it still pops up from time to time. And it’s always Meryl. Always, always Meryl.

But two days ago I had a new kind of artist’s nightmare…A PLAYWRIGHT NIGHTMARE. It was bloodcurdling.

I invited a lot of people over for a reading of something I had written. All the actors arrived (like 20 of them) and I was in the kitchen making food for them — specifically pizza and fried eggs. All the eggs were over easy so they required real supervision, and the pizza was extremely labor intensive. I had to make the dough fresh for each one, and the toppings were so particular that I had to bake the pizza for only a minute at a time, remove it, add certain toppings, and put it back in over and over again. Hours and hours passed and people were leaving left and right. We didn’t read a single word because I spent all that time in the kitchen. I finally came out with one cold fried egg and a single slice of pizza left for myself, and everyone was gone, except one actor. MERYL STREEP. She shook her head silently, then walked out of the room.

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I guess, now that I’m having nightmares about it, that I must actually be a writer. I look forward to decades of dreams about not finishing things, or being attacked by words carrying machetes.

And Meryl, today I will finish a script, just so I don’t let you down. Your withering glance is really intense.

Or maybe I’ll just never sleep again.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/dreamer in San Francisco. You can see her murder people in Theater Pub’s DICK 3 Oct. 26th and 27th at PianoFight in SF.

Theater Around The Bay: INTO THE WOODS- A Prologue

Starting next week, Theater Pub will be running a three-part commentary panel doing a retrospective on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s INTO THE WOODS, featuring the thoughts of Bay Area theater makers Stuart Bousel, Brian Katz, Marissa Skudlarek, Oren Stevens, Corinne Proctor, and Nick Trengove, each of whom have their own special connection to the seminal Broadway musical. To whet your appetite, we’re running a review (taboo for us, we know, but this is special) of the new film version of the show, from New York based actor/dancer Tommy Stefanek (who, by the way, in 2000 originated the role of Hugo in the very first production of THE EXILED, back in Tucson). Tommy caught an advance screening of the film on Sunday, this is his response. Oh, and *#*SPOILERS*#*. 

Okay, here are my thoughts about Into The Woods and some comments about tonight because it is not often that after seeing an amazing movie I get to hear Rob Marshall, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick talk about the experience of making the film.

So, if you are a fan of the musical Into the Woods I am pretty sure that you will LOVE this movie. The film had me at the edge of my seat from beginning to end. And yes, there are some things that I didn’t like and some numbers that I missed, but overall I thought the movie was fantastic.

And as they brought up in the Q&A they were able to do many things in the film that you can’t do on stage. For example, how they filmed ‘Steps of the Palace’ was brilliant! All the special effects made you feel the magic so much more! I mean you really get to go into the woods.

Huge stands outs are the kids: Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Little Red (Lilla Crawford). They knocked it out of the park. Meryl is even better than you are thinking she will be. And I loved Anna as Cinderella, Emily as the Baker’s Wife, Tracey as Jack’s Mom and Christine Baranski was fantastic as the stepmother. Oh, and the 2 Princes (Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen) singing “Agony” will be a laugh out loud moment for you. We were ‪#‎DYING‬. And yes, both Princes DELIVER. ‪#‎sweetbabyjesus‬

Now, Johnny Depp’s costume is the worst thing in the film. And maybe the second worst thing for me was the fact that I just wanted him to play the wolf but he was playing Johnny Depp as ‘The Wolf’ and I was just like ‪#‎overit‬. But again I am being very picky.

The Baker (James Corden) didn’t connect for me but he had awesome moments and somebody else might really like him so I will leave it at that. I just wanted him to play it more like Chip Zien, the original Baker, but that’s probably just me.

The thing that I mentioned to my partner after the film was that I just feel the original material is so perfect, every lyric, every verse – it is structured so perfectly. And when you trim (which you HAVE to do for film) you lose some of the depth. So, some of the moments near the end don’t have the impact that you need because you had to short change some of the earlier scenes.

And then some of the more “violent” moments were lessened or rather done off screen and I thought that was a poor choice. I think the dark tones of Act 2 really build when you see the Steward hit Jack’s Mom over the head which kills her. The stakes are raised immediately in that unexpectedly violent action and you need to see it. In the film they cheapen the whole moment so it isn’t as dark but I think you need the darkness…

But let me be clear I am being picky right now because the film is that good. We all remember what a piece of shit Les Mis was and this brings us right back to the Chicago days. If you’re a theater person (or not), this movie should be at the top of your list this holiday season and I think you will really love it.

Theater Around The Bay: Shh, I’m Trying to Create Here

The guest posts just keep on rolling in, with today’s coming from actress and cross-stitcher extraordinaire, Tonya Narvaez, who starts her blog off with a quote from no less than Noel Coward.

“I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.” – Sir Noël Peirce Coward

Earlier this month, I heard one too many people be told their opinion is invalid. I hit my threshold. I found that sassy quote and found myself thinking, “You tell ‘em Noël”! Honestly, I don’t know enough about Noël Coward to be sure if he was joking or sincere. I suspect a bit of both. But I see that quote and hear it as sarcastic for my own purposes.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent, kind-hearted, fiery and opinionated people. Obviously, some of those qualities can stir up a bit of trouble from time to time, but I’ve noticed it a lot more frequently this past month. I’ve seen several brave, fair, honest, emotional, and generous pieces of writing this month. And whether it was in a Facebook post, blog, personal exchange, or otherwise, I’ve seen these people be told to shut up. I don’t want to dredge up each situation individually or in any sort of detail. I just want to go over a few opinions that were shared that I find to be incorrect or ridiculous or harmful to our theater community and explain why I feel that way.

1 – You should give a play multiple viewings before forming an opinion on it.

I wholeheartedly believe that if people want to see a play more than once and have the resources and time to do so, they absolutely should. Otherwise, I cannot agree to this. Seeing a play multiple times is something you can’t expect out of an audience member. Firstly, the time commitment is unrealistic. Between the other plays to see in the city, making a living, regular life stuff, and the lure of Netflix, I feel honored if someone sees my work once. Secondly, the financial constraints. If I gave every piece I was unsure about more than one chance, I would need another job to help pay the bills. Thirdly, it just doesn’t make sense! This point will need an example, and the best real life comparison I can think of is my aversion to olives. I love a surprising number of salty and briney foods. They are right up my alley. But every time I eat an olive, I just want to spit it out and tell everyone the olives have gone bad. So I’m not about to go out and buy more olives. If I happen across an olive, and I’m feeling adventurous, sure I’ll try it. I will not go hunting for more olives though. It makes no sense to do that.

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

2 – You should give extra consideration to a work when a person who you admire is involved.

This is called blind favoritism. Even the twinkliest of stars can be dimmed by a foggy night. Can I just cite Johnny Depp in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and move on?

I just try to forget this ever happened.

I just try to forget this ever happened.

3 – You should do research on a show prior to and after seeing it before you can consider yourself a person who is interested in the arts.

I don’t believe anyone should dictate how a person chooses to be involved in the arts. If researching a play before you see it makes you happy, go nuts! Personally, when I see a play (with a few exceptions) I try to know as little as possible about it. I love having as blind an experience as possible at first. Then, if there’s an intermission I’ll thumb through the program. I also try to engage in discourse with my fellow theatergoers afterward. If I liked something enough, or if it spurred an interest in me somehow, I would research it more. If not, I’d move on with my life, feeling no less artistically inclined than anyone else.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

4 – You should stop expressing your opinion because my feelings are hurt. You should probably also apologize.

It’s all well and good to apologize for someone’s feelings being hurt, but if you’re honest and fair, an opinion shouldn’t be silenced or apologized for. Sometimes the truth hurts. I am sorry for that.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

5 – Your opinions are invalid because they come from an emotional place.

When people see your work, you typically want them to have an emotional reaction. When I send a script I’ve written to someone, I want to hear his or her whole reaction to it. I’m not asking them to proof it for mistakes in structure, grammar, and spelling. When artists create and put something out into the world, they have no actual control over how it might affect someone. Viewing art can be a very personal and individual experience, influenced by a number of internal and external factors. It’s what makes art so wonderful, in my opinion. We can’t view and create art without emotion. Okay, we CAN. It’s not impossible, but it has a tendency toward dull and uninfluential. I want to call on Meryl Streep for some backup here. At the January 8th National Board of Reviews Awards, she said some controversial things about Disney, and some poignant things about Emma Thompson. Here is an article with the speech in it’s entirety if you’re interested.

“She has real access to her own tenderness, and it’s one of the most disarming things about her. She works like a stevedore, she drinks like a bloke, and she’s smart and crack and she can be withering in a smack-down of wits, but she leads with her heart.”

These are my opinions. While they are not wrong, it’s very possible some of you out there disagree with me. You are not wrong either. I’d like to engage in a dialogue about this because I don’t really know what the answer is here. Except that it seems if we were all a bit like Emma Thompson, things would probably be better.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Tonya Narvaez is a Bay Area actor and writer. You can see her work at the San Francisco Olympians festival – http://www.sfolympians.com/?page_id=1830

Everything Is Already Something Week 23: 5 Reasons to Self Produce in 2014

Allison Page starts your year off right. 

Unless you’ve been hiding in a mountain and eschewing the passage of time, you know that it’s 2014 now! HOORAY! It’s a new year and you can do new shit! Everyone expects you to try. We’re all waiting…just kidding, do whatever you want.

I do feel a wee bit of pressure because this year I will turn thi…thirrrr…thhhiir…THIRTY. That was hard. Yeah, I’m turning 30. I’m actually mostly okay with it, but I don’t want to head into it feeling regretful. So this year, I’m self-producing. Here are some reasons for it. Let’s get listy.

1. Be a tally mark on the good side.

Gender and racial equality in theater has been a hot topic in the community this year. In some ways, it’s always a hot topic. Not enough female playwrights are having their work produced. Not enough people who aren’t heterosexual white males are having their work produced. There are meetings, research projects, groups and all kinds of things about this issue. I think that’s great, but I’m personally interested in being a positive statistic. If I produce something myself, then that’s one more female playwright whose work has been put up. If I happen to hire a female director (which I have) then that’s one more female director who has an opportunity this year. If my play stars two women (which it does) then there are two more lead female characters in the world (and yes, it passes the Bechdel test).

All this AND a tampon that works?! I LOVE BEING A WOMAN!

All this AND a tampon that works?! I LOVE BEING A WOMAN!

Sure, it won’t count as a positive for a major company whose numbers are being scrutinized, but to be honest, those companies are not relevant to my career right now, so I’m not focused on that. I’d rather be working.

2. It’s the only way to be certain your play will get produced.

You’ve been submitting things all over the place. You’re a good little playwright. You work hard; you follow the protocol. But, here you are, who knows how much later – and there’s at least one play that you just can’t seem to get produced. It’s burning a hole in your head. You can’t move on to other work because you spend so much time thinking about it. You think, “If I could get this up on its feet, I’d finally be able to move on. But no one’s biting!” Well, then how about you bite, Playwright? If it’s something you believe in that strongly, there’s only one way to be absolutely positive that it’s going to happen: do it yourself.

3. Just because it hasn’t been chosen by someone else, doesn’t mean it’s not good.

This feels like it has been reinforced a lot throughout the last year or so. People at the top of the food chain at theater companies have spoken out and said “Hey, brah, it’s not that you’re not good, there are a lot of things to think about when we choose a season and stuff.” Of course, it doesn’t mean that it IS good, either. You’re taking a lot into your own hands if you self produce, and hopefully that means you’ve worked really hard on the material, and that you have people behind you who really believe in it…and hopefully those people are smart. With each company only able to have so many shows in their season, say 6, the odds are not exactly stacked in your favor. So stack ‘em yourself.

4. Work with whomever you want!

Well, almost. You probably don’t have the cash in your pocket to get Meryl Streep to play the part of Snarky Butler #8, but if you’re self producing, you automatically have more creative input.

Okay, I get it, Meryl. I'll ask Cate Blanchett.

Okay, I get it, Meryl. I’ll ask Cate Blanchett.

Maybe you can just see a certain actor in a certain part and it excites you. Well, appeal to that actor yourself. As an actor, it’s pretty damn flattering when a playwright comes to you and says “I have a part just for you!” Whoooooaa – ego parade! Of course, if you choose not to direct your own work you’ll have to find someone else to do it. I was shocked how quickly someone agreed to direct my show for next…oh, God…THIS year! I only asked one person. I got exactly whom I wanted, and she is 100% on board with me. We’re in this together and that is just fantastic. I also believe I snagged someone who will be honest with me, which is pretty important. The last thing you want is someone to stand around and tell you something is amazing if it’s just a nightmare and needs to be fixed. But don’t give up if the first director you asked says no, that’s okay. There are other directors in the sea.

5. The ability to grow and change your project in an instant.

Let’s say a company chooses to produce your play BIG BUTTS, BIG HEARTS at a theater in New Jersey. Oh my gosh, congratulations! I hope Snooki comes to see it!

Is yer play over? Let's get shotz.

Is yer play over? Let’s get shotz.

But…you still live in the bay area. You’re not going to see that cast grapple with it. Maybe there’s a part that just isn’t working. You might not even know about it. Maybe you’re not really even married to the part that’s not working and would gladly change it in an instant. Too bad, you’re really far away. I’m not saying the director won’t contact you to try to work it out but I think you’ll agree that if you could see what’s happening, it might be easier to understand the problems and possible solutions. I’m sure some people would say that they’d rather have the playwright out of the equation by the time it goes into rehearsal to keep them from “meddling”, but if you can keep yourself from being obnoxious, you’re also a great resource. You did write it, after all.

Naturally, when you choose to the do-it-yourself approach, there is a lot more responsibility in store for you – financial and otherwise. It’s probably not for everyone, but it is an important part of the theater world. You’re in good company. My hope is always that theater-makers will be supportive of each other’s work. I try to be. I see shows (I hope to see more this year), donate to Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for local shows, am always up to act in readings for playwrights who need to hear their stuff, and I love drinking beer with people who want to talk about this crazy theatrical world of ours. I look forward to the crazy stuff 2014 has to offer, including my own play HILARITY and whether or not the producing of it will kill me. Here’s to you, self-producing Playwright! You’re lookin’ good this year.

You can spy Allison with your little eye at SF Sketchfest with Killing My Lobster on February 3rd and follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: On Applause

Dave Sikula ponders Standing Ovations and other ways we tell the artists that we like their work.

Like many of you, I’ve seen “No Man’s Land” at Berkeley Rep. Unlike many of you, I’ll be seeing it again this week. My wife and I were originally scheduled to see it for her birthday, but family matters took her out of town early. She was able to catch it last week, though, and of course, once she’d seen it, I had to go.

I was struck by a few things about the performance. The first was, while it’s a fine, fine production of an enigmatic play, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “revelatory” as have some. Years ago, I was lucky enough to see Pinter himself (with Liv Ullmann, of all people) in a production of “Old Times.” That production was revelatory. After years of reading how Pinter should be played, it was fascinating to watch the man himself practice what he preached. It was a superb production – and would have been so even if he hadn’t been Harold Pinter. Pauses were just that; brief hiatuses just calling attention to themselves before moving on, rather than import-filled breaks in the dialogue. As with so much of Pinter, it was creepy and atmospheric, but in just the right amounts. (And let me hasten to add, so is the current offering. It’s just I’ve already been there …)

But the two things that interested me most were these:

As the curtain rose with both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen on stage, there was no entrance applause. I don’t know if it was because the former was wearing a toupe and the latter was facing upstage (and by the time they were more or less recognizable, the show was well underway) or if the Berkeley audience has just achieved a gratifying level of sophistication. Regardless, I was glad to not be met with that most interruptive of rituals.

In my time (he said, sounding like his grandfather – who never talked like that anyway), I’ve been lucky enough to see a goodly number of important stage actors – Katharine Hepburn (even met her backstage), Christopher Plummer, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Rex Harrison, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, Ben Kingsley, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Alan Bates, Frank Langella, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline – but I can’t think of more than a handful of people I’d want to give entrance applause to. Why people do it at all puzzles me. Sure, they’re great artists, but you’re basically applauding them because you recognize them and they’ve shown up for work. Unless directors and writers have anticipated the situation, you’ve placed everyone on stage in the awkward position of stopping the show cold, holding, and waiting until things die down. (In a way, it strikes me as the same thing as people applauding a singer when they hear a hit song they recognize. I’m reminded of a story I heard about Tony Bennett rehearsing in an empty auditorium. He started singing the verse of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and it went like this: “The loveliness of Pari – thank you for remembering.” He knew that’s where the inexplicable applause would come.)

Now here’s where I make sure you realize I think all of these people are more than deserving of applause, accolades, and any laurels that come their way. It just strikes me as an odd ritual that, in America at least (I hear they don’t do it in London), people start clapping the second they see a big name on stage.

Similarly, at the end of the show, people leaped to their feet to give the show a standing ovation. (That is, most everyone; the older woman next to me could barely wait for the lights to come down before bounding from her seat and getting out of the theatre.) Now, I understand how, when people are profoundly moved, they want to give a standing O. I’ve done it on many occasions, but I’m more interested in the peer pressure of the act – not to mention the unintentional standing ovation. In the former case, as with “No Man’s Land,” while I felt it was an excellent production, I wasn’t moved by it. As much as I enjoyed it (which was significantly), I didn’t feel compelled to stand to show that enjoyment. A good portion of that, though, can be chalked up to my having a seat that was in an inconspicuous location. No one would see if I stood or sat. On my next viewing, though, I’ll be in the front row, visible to both the cast and the house as a whole, and will feel the need to stand, whether I feel the performance deserved it or not. I’ll admit it will neither be a strain nor a compromise to do so, but the impetus will come more from a desire to avoid “what’s wrong with him?” than a genuine expression of being deeply touched. Actually, last week, I was nearly forced into standing by the latter occurrence, the unintentional standing O; that is to say, when during the applause, poor sightlines force one to stand simply to see who’s on stage. I may not have even liked the show, but circumstances have made me stand just so I can find out what’s happening up there.

Stephen Sondheim (for whom I have given both entrance applause and a standing ovation) has speculated that it’s high ticket prices that have created the automatic standing O; that audiences have spent so much money on tickets, parking, babysitters, meals, souvenirs, etc., that standing at the end of the performance is a way to convince themselves that the expense was worth it. “I may have spent a lot, but look at what I got!” There may be something in that, but I’ve seen shows in venues ranging from community theatres to some of our better-known professional houses that got standers even when the results were neither particularly expensive nor good. Even when I’ve been on the receiving end of them, I’m grateful, but (more often than not) think “We were good, but we weren’t that good.” Conversely, I’ve seen shows that were deeply moving and/or entertaining that no one has risen for. (And on one occasion on Broadway – “The Pirates of Penzance” – I was the only one standing. One of the single-most entertaining evenings of my life, and I was determined to show it.)

Ultimately, I don’t know what my point in raising this is. Maybe it’s just an expression of my observation; maybe it’s just my contrary psychology. All I know is, come Saturday, I will rise to my feet at the end of the performance, but it may not be because I want to, but just because I ought to.

Dave Sikula has been acting and directing in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for more than 30 years. He’s worked with such companies as American Conservatory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, the Grove Shakespeare Festival, Dragon Productions, Palo Alto Players, and 42nd Street Moon. As a writer and dramaturg, he’s translated the plays of Anton Chekhov and had work produced by ANTA West.

Everything Is Already Something: Who Are You?

Actress/writer/comedienne Allison Page kicks off her new rotating column on the Theater Pub blog, asking the biggest question of all: is that song about boobs at the Oscars really worth getting so worked up about?”

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Who are you?

Man, that’s a toughie. Just like anyone who likes to think they’re varied and interesting, even if they’re not varied and interesting, I find that question difficult to answer, but the short version is my name is Allison and I’m a writer/actor/comedian/former radio announcer/former hair stylist/formerly engaged twice.

Believe me when I say that deciding which thing to list first was a pain in the ass. But you can’t say all that stuff when you meet a new person and they say, “So what do you do?” because they will definitely think you’re pretentious, and they will probably think you’re a lunatic. So when people ask me what I do, I say I’m a comedian. Here’s my own personal distinction: a comic is a person who does stand up exclusively, and a comedian is a person who deals in all things related to comedy. Sometimes I go months at a time without doing stand up, because I’m in a play, or a sketch show, or I have too much writing to do…but I’m always doing something related to comedy.

Dealing in both theatre and comedy is…kind of strange. Comics have a tendency to think that someone who isn’t doing a set every single night, is, among other things, not paying their dues. Ohhh man, that due-paying business will get you every time. And theatre people (directors, actors, producers – really anyone) think that you’re only good for the ha-has, and the more you try to convince them of your various abilities, the more you’re over-selling yourself – the more it seems they’re right. So I don’t try to convince anyone of anything. That’s my big secret. I really don’t care if someone thinks I’m this or that, I do whatever I feel like doing, and that’s worked pretty well so far. It’s like the theory that if you walk into a place you’re not supposed to be in, but you act like you’re supposed to be there, then you will be accepted as a rightful guest. And here’s another thing you should probably know: nothing feels harder because I’m a woman. I don’t feel oppressed by men or by anyone, and I really don’t sit around worrying about it. I live in a man’s world to the max – my “day job” is that I write dialogue for characters in a video game. I work at a large company with thousands of people and there are only about 7 writers, and only 2 female writers apart from me.

I have a tendency to feel frustrated when things are over-analyzed to find oppression, particularly in comedy. Seth MacFarlane (in case you’ve been dead for 100 years) hosted the Oscars the other night, and sang a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”, which was a list of movies in which different actresses breasts were seen. I laughed (I probably laughed extra because I had been drinking), and thought it was absurd and great. Now apparently there are people who are equating this song with him glorifying rape, and rape culture. All I was thinking when I watched it was, “I remember that! I saw those boobs! Remember Winslet in Titanic, ya’ll?  That one’s weird to watch with your parents…what with the boobs!”.

It crossed my mind that perhaps I don’t find it offensive because I’m a degenerate freak, so I brought it up to some friends last night – let’s call them Meryl Streep and Judy Garland – and Meryl immediately piped up and said “That’s so ridiculous, I can’t believe people are mad about that. When I watched it I thought – Wow, Seth MacFarlane is a talented singer and dancer!”. Judy immediately agreed, “Yeah! This is being blown out of proportion!” and then I felt better, because I’m not a degenerate freak (that’s still up for debate.). And I think it might be that it would be really really difficult for me to feel that I’m being oppressed in any way, even though I’m surrounded by men. I don’t think the song took us all back 100 years and now, suddenly, sexual assault is totally cool and we’re fine with it because of his minute and a half of antics. No way, that’s crazy talk. I’m sure my love for comedy over all things keeps me from immediately harshly judging someone’s joke or bit or material or silly musical number, because I find it impossible to believe that he was trying to relay a crazy message –  I think he just found movies with boobs in them and then arranged them in a way that rhymed. I bet it took 30 minutes. I’m happy to say I would totally do that, and I happen to have my own boobs so…that must mean something, right?

There will always be inequalities and injustices in the world, and those inequalities should and will be brought to light, but if you’re reaching so far that you’ve got to site a silly song that meant nothing and hammer meaning into it…then exactly what are you exposing but your own insecurities?

If you don’t believe me, just ask Meryl. See you in two weeks.

*No Streeps were harmed in the making of this blog.