Higher Education: Kicking Self-Doubt’s… Booty

Barbara Jwanouskos is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And she’s all out of bubble gum.

Summer’s winding down for me. I head back to Pittsburgh in just under two weeks and classes start just five days after that. I’ve been concentrating on finishing the projects that I’ve committed to finishing and starting to cultivate the former good habits that used to be a part of my every day.

Non-sequitur here! I’ve been thinking a lot about tai chi because once I go back, I will be directing my own practice again. I won’t have regular classes to attend. I won’t have guidance from senior students or my instructor anymore. It’s actually a lot like how I went into summer – only with the writing being the activity upon which I had to be more self-directed.

I’m not exactly nervous that I’ll fail to practice. Even though last year was difficult, tai chi was a great way for me to calm down, get centered and move around a little bit. I think the hang-up comes from some kind of thought that goes a little something like this, (HIT IT!) What if when I’m practicing on my own, I end up letting myself off the hook too much and my practice becomes lazy?

I worry about this with writing too. I worry that even my sometimes minimal attempts to work on my play or do free-writing are not enough. But then I read this blog article, “Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art” by Chuck Wendig and I had sort of a huh, how ‘bout that? moment because I totally agree with him about the idea that when you have a daily practice goal – length of time, words, pages, etc. – cranking out those last couple of words, minutes, fractions of pages do make a difference in the long run. Even if you do end up throwing out all of it. I feel like more often, I have the same experience that Wendig describes, where you read over the what you wrote, and realize, hey, this isn’t nearly as awful as I thought it was…

I had a thought while teaching tai chi to the cast of Nancy Frank’s Inexpressibly Blue directed by Robert Estes for the Bay Area One-Acts Festival. Robert asked me to go through some tai chi and qi gong postures with the cast since I practice and assistant teach tai chi at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi (over in Chinatown). I went through the beginning section of the Yang Family tai chi form up in a beautiful, sunny park yesterday. It was interesting for me to go through the postures and the philosophy behind tai chi with them because you can really go deep down the rabbit hole.

The cast was mostly fixated on the postures of the form because of the blocking they would need to figure out for the performance of the play. Beyond the choreography and memorization of movements, there’s a whole endless string of other considerations to put into the practice. I think writing has been the same way for me this summer. Whenever I get stuck or frustrated with one piece of the play, I just go to another section I think I know about. Sometimes I try to power through a section I’m working on, and just have faith that something might pop up or that I could throw it away if it really sucks.

Tai chi is the same way. I think any practice is. Ultimately, you do have to have faith in yourself that you can go further than you think you can. You have to have faith that you’ll come up with something if you don’t remember what to do next or if you can’t think of where the story goes to. And, you know, tomorrow is another day. Every sucky thing that happened yesterday when you were writing or tai chi-ing just is a total wash the next time you decide to give it time.

There’s this book I’m reading right now about tai chi energetics called Juice: Radical Taiji Energetics, which probably sounds like fake magic BS to a lot of people, but the thing is, even with a feat that seems impossible, the two things he says that you have to do in order to reach these advanced levels are practice every day and believe that it will happen. There’s something to that. I don’t care if it’s radical or if it’s common sense. They work together too. Maybe you don’t always believe in what you’re doing but, ef it! You’re gonna practice anyway. And maybe you don’t always feel like you have time to practice, but hey, if you don’t, then how will you ever develop?

One of the screenwriting books Save The Cat Strikes Back! says basically the same thing that in order for him to find success with his writing, he had to be disciplined, focused and positive with his work. Those are hard things to remember to do sometimes, but it sure beats kicking your own booty with self-doubt. I’m trying to remember these small ideas that count when I come back to my thesis play to write, as I prepare to teach a whole group of students creative writing for the first time, and as I try to keep my tai chi practice this year. I’m confident something will come out of it if I can just wade through the muck. Did anyone ever regret taking the time to put a few more crappy sentences upon the screen? Probably not… Who knows where they will lead!

Cowan Palace: Rob Ready, The Man Behind the Llama

Ashley Cowan talks with a Llama.

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with a fictional fiancé from four years ago; a Pint Sized regular, the infamous Rob Ready.

He’s certainly a leader among the San Francisco theater community and he’s become a bit of a local legend. As a llama. Oh, and other things, sure. But today we’re here to talk about all things llama! Rob has taken on what has become a mascot for Theater Pub and as the past four years have changed us all, the Llama has gone through his own transformations as well.

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

Rob Ready, Putting The Charm Back Into Charming

What has been your favorite Llama development as he’s grown throughout the years?

When Stuart (Bousel) started writing the Llama pieces he made the character this sad, drunk, funny, bumbling, lovable ass and he just nailed it. Also, having the Llama on the Theater Pub t-shirt is pretty cool. And the fact that we’re actually doing a blog post with questions and answers about a sad drunk Llama. All of those things are awesome.

Yes, Rob. I am totally awesome. Thank you for that. These past few years have been busy for you outside your Llama persona; if you could tell the Rob of four years ago one piece of advice, what would it be?

Go grocery shopping you fat drunken idiot.

Sure. Food is important. So what has been your process taking on this role? And has it changed from year to year?

Yes. These past two years I’ve actually had to prep and memorize and rehearse a little. The first two years the Llama just walked on like an ass hole and pounded a beer while shouting something about pigs and left. Given my personal experience behaving in a similar way, those first two years were pretty simple.

What’s the most challenging part of being a Llama?

I really want to spit a lot more than I do, but I’m afraid it’ll land on people’s shoes.

Where do you find the best inspiration?


Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Drink a beer. Run through the lines. Talk to whoever is bartending and let them know I’ll be screaming at them for booze later on.

What’s your favorite memory from working on this festival since it began? Is it pretending to be engaged to me in Queen Mab in Drag? Is it?!

Queen Mab was awesome, though despite appearances, I’m still a little uneasy wearing a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Rob Ready (with Ashley Cowan) in Queen Mab In Drag, proving that a true man knows how to wear a dress.

Playing the Llama opposite Alison Page as the Bear last year was a blast. She was lights out hilarious. Like, she had the audience giggle farting in joy. So every night I just went out and tried to be as funny as she was and also make her laugh.

The script called for the Llama to resuscitate the lifeless Bear and it was so fun. Alison’s trying to stay dead while I’m working overtime to get her to break. One night, the CPR bit turned into me just blowing spittle on her face. She lost it, I lost it and then the audience really lost it.

Having her be so good really motivated me and that bit of competitiveness ended up pushing the whole piece a lot further. (Megan) Cohen and Stuart had written these amazing characters and then Alison and I got just go be goofballs together and by the fifth show we’d added in all manner of physical bits, audience interaction and some new text and were just having way too much fun on stage.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Rob and Allison Page, making history together.

Where do you hope the Llama goes next?

Broadway, baby.

If the Llama could share a pint with one person, who would it be?

Probably himself. He’s a loner. Or a random stranger. Or that fucking Bear.

What’s next for you? What fun project is on the horizon?

GET RIGHT ALL NIGHT is PianoFight’s first ever hybrid music music – comedy – dance party featuring live surf and soul music from the PianoFight Music Department and the show features ForePlays, Imaginary Radio, Anna & The Annadroids, The Lazy Susans, DJ Short Shorts and a big sweaty dance party. It’s this Saturday, July 27 at 8pm at Inner Mission and it’s gonna be awesome.

Then BOA is coming up in September which is always rad.

And PianoFight has been building a space for a thousand years but it’s actually going to open this year. So that’s exciting.

It is exciting. I think your fans will be happy to keep the party going. So, in five words, how would you capture this year’s Pint Sized Festival?

Bittersweet end of an era.

Ah, poetic. Okay, on a different note, if you could set up characters from the last four Pint Sized productions on a date, which two folks would you put together?

Deb O Rah the dildo saleswoman (from Tom Bruett’s play) and a character Sunil Patel played a couple years ago in Nancy Cooper Frank’s play. That would be hilarious.

And just for the record, people can find out about PianoFight at http://www.PianoFight.com or follow us on Twitter @pianofight or on Facebook.

Thank you to Rob Ready for not only being an incredible Llama Hero but for taking the time to talk about Theater Pub. Cheers to you! You can buy Rob a beer next Monday and Tuesday at Cafe Royale as Pint Sized takes over for two more evenings. Get those Llama snuggles while you can!

You can catch Ashley on Twitter @ashcows posting a lot of pictures of her dog or on stage with Custom Made Theatre’s production of Book of Liz playing every weekend until August 18.

Pint Sized Interview 7: Sylvia Hathaway vs. Katja Rivera

Pint Sized III opened last night to a packed bar and tumultuous laughter and applause. Did you miss it? Well, no worries, you can see it tonight or tomorrow (at the Plough and the Stars), or next Monday, or the Monday and Tuesday after that! But hey, why not see it tonight so that you can come see it again… and again… and again! Meanwhile, we’ve got two of our directors, Katja Rivera and Sylvia Hathaway, comparing notes on what it’s like to be a part of this year’s Pint Sized Plays!

Who are you, in fifty words or less.

Katja Rivera: Mexican-Irish actor, director, mommy, massage therapist, yoga gal, severe optimist, born and raised in LA, Dodger and Jimmy Cagney fan, keen purveyor of free boxes.

Sylvia Hathaway: I’m a theatre maker and teaching artist with a passion for creating positive change through arts learning. I’m native to the country’s rust belt, growing up in Cleveland and then living near Pittsburgh before moving to SF. I have a background in dance, music, acting and baking with chocolate.

What’s the play you’re directing about?

Katja Rivera: Beer Theory, by Marissa Skudlarek, is about how we can use our mental constructs to say no to opportunity.

Sylvia Hathaway: Circling, by Nancy Cooper Frank, is a comedy of errors that explores one woman’s frustration at what is well-known to be the “scarcest resource in San Francisco”.

What drew you to this kick-ass show?  

Katja Rivera: I like the intelligence of this play, and how the playwright doesn’t go for the easy answer.

Sylvia Hathaway: The script was so open and waiting to be brought to life. I added elements of commedia and farce to the production that complemented the snappy humor really well.

What are you discovering is the challenge of working at Theater Pub?

Katja Rivera: Opening this show 2 days after another show opening/rehearsal space.

Sylvia Hathaway: The challenge is always the audience for me. I sometimes wish I could just rehearse a play forever and never get the audience involved. And yet, it’s such a joy to see them enjoying the show on opening night! Anyway, not knowing where the audience is going to be–whether they are in your playing space or not–that has been the main challenge.

What has you most excited to be there?

Katja Rivera: The fevered talent.

Sylvia Hathaway: Absolutely everyone involved is there because they love doing it. There is no sense of drudgery or heavy responsibility. It’s fast, furious and fun!

What’s been your biggest, craziest, most HA! I PULLED THAT OFF, BITCHES! moment as a director?

Katja Rivera: I think it might be the play I open July 14, An Evening With The Great Zamboni.  Come see it and tell me if I did.

Sylvia Hathaway: This was my first time directing, so I suppose actually getting to opening night with a fantastic piece is my moment!

If you could direct anything, with limitless budget and stars, what would it be and why?

Katja Rivera: Transformations–a book of poems by Anne Sexton.  I love her way of twisting the classic fairy tales.

Sylvia Hathaway: I have always wanted to stage Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas for the theatre as an entirely masked musical production.

What’s up next for you?

Katja Rivera: Casting Eurydice, opening April 2013 at Custom Made, and a well deserved break until December.

Sylvia Hathaway: I’m performing in “You Need to Read Poetry” with Performers Under Stress this Fall.

What else in the SF Theater scene has you excited?

Katja Rivera: Marat Sade at Thrillpeddlars

Sylvia Hathaway: I’m most excited about Crowded Fire’s upcoming season. You just can’t miss with that company!

What is your favorite beer?

Katja Rivera: Bunderberg Ginger Beer.

Sylvia Hathaway: My favorite beer is a glass of red wine. But in the spirit of opening night at Cafe Royale, I enjoyed a local brew called Triple Vodoo Inception, which was delicious.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays III, tonight, tomorrow and July 23, 30 and 31!

Pint Sized Plays Interviews 3: Marissa Skudlarek and Nancy Cooper Frank

We thought we’d start your weekend off right with a pair of interviews from two returning Pint-Sized playwrights. Marissa Skudlarek was part of Pint Sized 1 and Nancy Cooper Frank was part of Pint Sized 2. Now they’re both back for more!

How did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Marissa Skudlarek: I’m a longtime friend of Theater Pub and had a play, Drinking for Two, in the inaugural Pint-Sized Play Festival in August 2010. (Otherwise known as “the play about the pregnant lady.”) This year, as the submission deadline for Pint-Sized approached, I had a cluster of ideas in my head that seemed to want to coalesce into a short play, and I realized that this play could easily take place in a bar. So I sat down and wrote Beer Theory.

Nancy Cooper Frank: This is my third collaboration with Theater Pub. The first was way back in 2010, so I can’t remember how I first heard of this creative bunch of people. I’m tickled by the way the action in a Theater Pub production can move from table to table, through the audience, across the pool table, along the bar, up to the balcony.

Nancy Cooper Frank

What is the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Nancy Cooper Frank: You can’t waste time setting things up. You have to dive right in.

Marissa Skudlarek: Because short plays have to be so concise, so precise, they live or die by their initial concept. Even more than a full-length play, a short play needs a zesty or sparky or intriguing idea behind it. I have written so many bad short plays for school assignments — plays that were doomed from birth with no hope of salvage, because the ideas behind them were so weak. (Which is why I doubt that the best way to teach someone playwriting is to make her write a lot of short plays… but that’s another story.)

What is the best thing about writing a short play?

Marissa Skudlarek: The freedom to experiment and to be as weird as you want to be. For instance, I could never see how to make direct-address monologues work in my plays, and thus hated and feared direct address. But in “Beer Theory,” my characters talk to the audience and I’m OK with it! Moreover, the whole time I was writing this play, I was thinking “This is weird, it’s bizarre, it probably won’t make sense to anyone but me.” But I was willing to take the risk and write it because, hey, it’s a short play, it’s not a full-length.

Nancy Cooper Frank:
See answer to question 2.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Marissa Skudlarek:
The answer to this question might be more apparent after you see “Beer Theory,” which is in a sense my attempt to articulate my artistic credo in the form of a seven-minute quasi-romantic comedy… so I’ll just say, I have always felt far more affinity with Apollonian modes of art than with Dionysian. In particular, this year I have been paying special attention to the dictum “content dictates form,” recently popularized (though not coined) by my hero Stephen Sondheim.

Nancy Cooper Frank: My Uncle Albert, whose stash of ’60s era Mad magazines I discovered as a six year old. It’s pretty much my first memory of myself reading. Of course, it meant I was reading parodies of books and movies I’d never read or seen, or even heard of.

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Marissa Skudlarek: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I think he would be a good fit as the male character in my play, a guy in his late 20s who loves indie rock but hates going to concerts. And, more to the point, I’ve had a crush on him ever since I saw that insanely charming YouTube video of him singing in French.

Nancy Cooper Frank: Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench. Because they’re great and if they were cast in my show, I would not be the Oldest Living Collaborator with Theater Pub. (Oh, you said pick one.)

Marissa Skudlarek

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Marissa Skudlarek: This is going to be a busy and Olympians-focused summer for me. I will be revising my 2011 Olympians play, Pleiades, for publication in the upcoming anthology. Plus, I will be writing my 2012 Olympians contribution, The Love Goddess, based on the Aphrodite myth — it will be my first screenplay!

Nancy Cooper Frank: I’m revising my Daniil Kharms: A Life in One Act and Several Dozen Eggs. (based on the life and work of the Russian experimental writer) and also working on a longer play with fairy tale elements set in Russia.

What’s next for you?

Nancy Cooper Frank: I guess I’ll just keep on writing and reading plays and going to plays.

Marissa Skudlarek: Other than “Pleiades” and “The Love Goddess”? Well, I’ll also continue to write my “Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” column for the San Francisco Theater Pub blog every two weeks… watch this space!

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

Marissa Skudlarek: I’m looking forward to Shotgun Players’ next two shows. They reliably do strong and interesting work, and this summer they are offering Truffaldino Says No, a world premiere by witty local playwright Ken Slattery, and Precious Little, a script that I have heard amazing things about (it’s had some productions on the East Coast) but didn’t know if I would ever get to see staged.

Nancy Cooper Frank: Circle Mirror Transformation at Marin. Custom Made Theater’s Merchant of Venice.

What’s your favorite beer?

Nancy Cooper Frank: Any decent Pilsner. Love those hops.

Marissa Skudlarek: I don’t drink beer — that’s why they kicked me out of Portland, Oregon when I turned 21. OK, I do love Belgian fruit beer (Lindemans Framboise) but that doesn’t really count as beer, does it? I stick to wine when I’m at the Cafe Royale… and cocktails or cider at other bars.

Don’t miss the Pint Sized plays, opening July 16 and playing July 17, 23, 30 and 31 with a special performance at the Plough and the Stars on July 18. All the rest are at our usual stomping grounds, Cafe Royale, located at the corner of Post and Leavenworth in San Francisco’s lovely Tendernob neighborhood. Performances are free, no reservations necessary, but show up early and stay late- we’re bound to be sold out and the crowd is always the best part of Theater Pub!

Artistic Director Julia Heitner Announces This Year’s Pint-Sized Plays!

I spent a marathon day on Monday getting inspired at the Theatre Bay Area annual conference, gathering information about interactive experience from Burning Man founders and tips from site-specific mavens, Kim Epifano (Epiphany Productions/Trolley Dances) and Lauren Chavez & Ava Roy (We Players.) With this knowledge fresh in my mind, I am so pleased to announce the line-up for our annual bar-specific play festival, The Pint Sized Plays!

We have 10 new plays by 10 fantastic local playwrights. For Pint Sized III I plan to include everything our audiences love about the festival: entertaining theatre, great acting and direction, live music, beer drinking, and of course, our resident llama! For the first time this year, we are also taking the show on tour to other bars around San Francisco. First stop, the fantastic Irish Pub, The Plough and Stars on Clement Street!

The Line-up:

by Megan Cohen
Third time Pint-Sized fest playwright, Megan Cohen continues to surprise us with this play about a beer-drinking bear.

Beer Theory by Marissa Skudlarek
Boy meets Girl. Dionysian meets Apollonian.

Celia Sh*ts by William Bivins
What happens when all the mystery is lost from a relationship?

Circles by Seanan Palmero
Watching a Nascar race brings up philosophical questions from the bar patrons. Are we all just going in circles?

Circling by Nancy Cooper Frank
Don’t we all deserve… a parking place right out front?

To Deborah by Leah M. Winery
Friends and family reveal their true feelings about the dearly departed.

Llama by Stuart Bousel
The llama is back!!!

Man vs. Beer
by Sunil Patel
A Teetotaler is peer pressured by a talking beer.

Play it Again, Friend
 by Tim Bauer
Man contemplates life through the music of the bar pianist.

Put it on Vibrate
by Tom Bruett
Pleasure party + Mother-in-Law = Hilariously Uncomfortable

The festival runs July 16,17, 23, 30 & 31, 8pm @ Café Royale, (800 Post St @ Leavenworth in San Francisco) with a special touring performance, July 18, at Plough and the Stars, (188 Clement St. @ 2nd Ave in the Richmond District), SF. Additional dates for the festival TBA.