Megan Cohen makes a guest appearance today as interviewer for Stuart Bousel, whose new play “Pastorella” will be opening at the EXIT Theatre this weekend.
MC: What are 13 adjectives that describe this play?
SB: Funny. Sad. Angry. Self-Righteous. Compassionate. Critical. Reverent. Irreverent. Hopeful. Tragic. Passive Aggressive. Confrontational. Magic.
MC: “Pastorella” takes place backstage during a production of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia.” What are your experiences with “Arcadia?”
SB: It’s a beautiful play I first discovered in high school and I still think it’s brilliant and in the hands of the right cast and director, it’s undeniably a masterpiece. It’s also over-produced and very long.
MC: If you could forcibly invite one person, living or dead, to sit in the front row and watch this play, who would you choose?
SB: Jodhi May, who played Alice Munro in Michael Mann’s film of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Alice Munro (as she’s depicted in the film) is symbolically very important to the play, and May’s performance in that film was hugely influential in the formation of my aesthetic as an artist.
MC: What’s your nightmare of someone’s reaction to this piece, what’s the LEAST appropriate thing someone could walk away thinking after the show?
SB: The idea that I either hate theater and/or actors, or that I don’t respect people who choose to pursue mainstream theatre careers. Also that any one character is based on a real person. They’re all based on real people. Many real people.
MC: If you had to get a single line from “Pastorella” as a tattoo, what would you get, and where?
SB: “Never is a strong word, don’t promise it to anybody, ever.” On my chest. Jean Valjean style.
MC: You wrote the first draft in a very intense process over a very short period; it seems like the initial script arrived hot and sudden, quick and powerful, like a volcanic eruption. How typical is that for you?
SB: Not at all. One out of every five things I write, at MOST, happens that way. Most stuff takes much longer and has like… an outline and such. PASTORELLA’s first draft was almost stream of consciousness.
MC: What part of this play has changed the most since the first draft?
SB: Well, the character of Lance used to actually be in the play. Now, we never see him. That’s kind of a big change. Except people involved with the play from the beginning all agree that they don’t particularly miss Lance. So… maybe it’s not a big change?
MC: You’re directing the play yourself, which is something you do frequently, but not always. How do you decide which of your scripts are right for you to direct auteur-style, and which are better to collaborate on with an outside director?
SB: Well, sometimes the producers decide that for me, but when I produce a play I wrote myself I generally direct it too, because that means for me it’s a play that I want to see put on for very personal reasons. It’s not so much that I don’t think anybody else would be able to do it, or get it, so much as the first production is kind of the last stage of the process and purpose behind the creation of the play in the first place.
MC: The poster is gorgeous, evoking the famous 1970s Broadway poster for “A Chorus Line,” but with a really distinctly modern attitude. What did you and graphic designer Cody Rishell talk about when planning its creation?
SB: I said, “I want to totally reference the poster from Chorus Line.” And he said, “I want to make it yellow, like the color of the EXIT Theatre sign, as a tie in to the EXIT Theatre.” And that was pretty much it. It’s worth stating we also have promotional cards for the show that reference the Brady Bunch and traditional Old West “Wanted!” posters.
MC: “Pastorella” is an ensemble piece, with an ensemble cast, featuring a lot of distinctive characters. If one of the characters had a spin-off, and got their own play all about them, whose is it, what it’s about, and what’s it called?
SB: It’s probably about Josh, and it’s probably about what happens to him after he leaves the play at the end of the second scene. I’m going to give it the working title of, “I Am My Own Hamlet”.
MC: You’re doing this show at the EXIT Theatre. What’s your relationship with the venue, and why did you want to mount this piece there?
SB: I have a lot of relationships with the EXIT, some of which I maintain better than others, right now, because I’m super busy, but I’ve been working as an artist there since 2005 and at some point between then and now (I’m not entirely sure when) I became a resident artist and No Nude Men, my company, became a resident company. Which is awesome because you get all kinds of help from the theater when putting on your shows and this is in addition to everything the EXIT does and stands for as the cornerstone of the indie theater movement in San Francisco. Which is the real reason PASTORELLA is happening there, because it’s about a theater like the EXIT, or at least many of the companies that work at the EXIT, and the philosophical thrust of the show is very much in line with the spirit of the EXIT and its artistic director Christina Augello.
MC: What questions were you asking, as a theatermaker and as a person, when you wrote this play? Have you found any answers through the process?
SB: I’m not sure if I was asking questions so much as I was challenging myself to understand some of the people who have come and gone from my theater life over the years and also to finally articulate why I consider myself a theater professional and someone with a theater career, even though many people might not agree with that. In light of that, no, then, I don’t think I found any answers per se…. or maybe, actually, I found ALL of the answers.
MC: If “Pastorella” were a person, what would be its Halloween costume?
SB: Harold from TWIN PEAKS.
Want to go see PASTORELLA? Well, you can get tickets here. Hurray!