The Producer From Another World

In preparation for this month’s Theater Pub, The Pub From Another World, we interviewed producer Sunil Patel about his vision and process for this show.

Take Me To Your Leader

Take Me To Your Leader

Who are you, in a hundred words or less.

I am a voracious consumer of stories in any medium—television, film, video game, book, comic, music, anecdote—who loves words more than anything. I love to create new stories, but I also love introducing people to stories I love. I’m a pop culture fan, a geek, a nerd, and when I love something, my first instinct is to share it. As of this night, I am a writer/actor/director/producer. By day, I work in drug safety and write about people with explosive diarrhea.

How did you get involved in Theater Pub?

I made my Bay Area theater debut with the Thunderbirds in 2010, and it was my first time onstage in seven years, so I was excited to get back into theater. And lo and behold, Theater Pub was holding auditions for The Theban Chronicles, and they didn’t even need monologues! I had gone to the February Theater Pub (the Valentine’s Day show), and it looked like a fun group to work with. I was in three of the four plays, and I got a death scene, and I’ve become more and more involved since then.

So, where did this idea come from?

At the Theater Pub retreat, we were asked to come up with pitches for the next year of Theater Pub. I was excited to be a producer, as I had previously only produced halftime shows, but I didn’t know what to suggest. I didn’t know any obscure plays I wanted to put on. I’ve had an idea for a murder-mystery Theater Pub for a couple years, but I hadn’t gotten it off the ground and I wasn’t going to pitch it if I didn’t think I could write it in time. We had talked a lot about inclusivity, though, and it suddenly hit me: I could create a space for new work. I’m a genre fan and a theater fan, but I don’t see a lot of genre theater, so why not give genre writers an opportunity to write for theater and playwrights an opportunity to write genre? I had the sense that the plays I wanted to see—whether or not they were being written—were not being produced because people look down on genre, so I was going to stand up say, “I will produce your genre plays! Let your geek flag fly!”

What defines something as “genre” and specific to these genres, what defines something as Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

I am by no means an expert and trying to define “genre” will result in hours of heated conversation in the company I keep, but I see “genre” work as work that uses or is informed by established tropes—which is sort of saying that genre is genre. In general, however, when someone refers to “genre” work, they usually mean the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, which are the genres that least resemble the real world. These works tend to take place in a world that is definitely not our own for one reason or another: hence The Pub from Another World.

Defining each genre is just as tricky as defining “genre.” To me, horror is not just about the obvious elements—ghosts, vampires, serial killers, etc.—but about evoking that visceral, primal fear. And in the best horror, the scary thing isn’t just a scary thing but a manifestation of a real, relatable fear. Similarly, sci-fi is not just about spaceships and time travel and aliens but about taking real science and extrapolating the implications. Some people prefer the term “speculative fiction,” which handily eliminates the need for science and brings in more dystopic fiction. These imagined futures can tell us a lot about our present.

Fantasy may be the easiest genre to identify thanks to its long, long history; today, the stories of Greek mythology can seem like fantasy, what with gods transforming into animals and people being magically brought back to life. Fantasy can be speculative as well, but, unlike science fiction, it has less basis in reality. My goal with this project was to tell unreal stories that have real emotion.

We don’t often think of these genres as applying to the theater, but there are many examples of each. What are your favorites in each category?

The first horror play that springs to mind is Nathan Tucker’s Dionysus, which kicked off the first Olympians festival. It really captured that sense of visceral horror. Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman had one of the most horrifying jump-scares I’ve ever experienced in a theater. And, although they’re a bit more comedic, I love Tim Bauer’s Zombie Town and Kirk Shimano’s Love in the Time of Zombies; both are great examples of the sort of genre theater I’d like to see more of.

I haven’t seen a lot of sci-fi theater, but I read a lot of great sci-fi scripts on the reading committee for Cutting Ball’s RISK IS THIS experimental theater festival a couple years ago. Consider for a second the fact that sci-fi theater is considered “experimental”; could that be why we see so little of it? Two of my favorite scripts—which have received readings but no full productions, to my knowledge—were Garret Groenveld’s The Hummingbirds, a wickedly funny Brazil-esque tale set in a bureaucratic dystopia, and Richard Manley’s This Rough Magic, which uses science fiction ideas to examine basic human truths about how we interact with our families and people in general. I also think Josh Costello’s Little Brother (adapted from the Cory Doctorow novel, produced at Custom Made Theater Company)—one of my favorite plays in recent years—counts as near-future dystopian sci-fi.

I also haven’t seen a lot of fantasy theater, although one of my favorite theater experiences was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The best example of the sort of fantasy theater I’d like to see was Stuart Bousel’s Giant Bones (adapted from Peter S. Beagle short stories), as it transported the audience to a fantasy world and told stories as compelling as any in the real world.

As the producer, you have a lot of inside knowledge of this event- what are some things you’re really looking forward to sharing with the audience.

Personally, I’m just looking forward to sharing all eight plays with the audience, since they’re all very different and I think there’s something for everyone. I’m also very excited about my cast, since most actors play multiple roles, and I think it will be a real treat for the audience. AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers all play three roles, no two alike. But with regards to inside knowledge…in Audrey Scare People Play, the monster, Scare People, is described as being “an octopus monster with wings,” and Meg O’Connor is attempting to make that costume. So I can’t wait to see it myself.

Did the unusual subject matter pose any particular challenges to the process?

See above re: octopus monster with wings. For the most part, however, no one wrote anything too outrageous because they were conscious of the limitations of theater and Cafe Royale specifically. You can do genre theater without a lot of special effects!

This show has a teaser at a bookstore. Tell us more about that and how you made that happen.

I have a good relationship with the people at Borderlands, and my original pitch included the preview reading because people who shop at a genre bookstore are more likely to see a night of genre theater, and vice-versa. It was a way to benefit my favorite bookstore and my favorite theater-in-a-bar. I floated the idea past Alan Beatts, the owner, and he was very receptive. And, to my surprise, he immediately suggested using microphones to broadcast throughout the store and draw people toward the reading and recording the reading as a podcast, which I hadn’t even considered. He wanted to make this the event it deserved to be.

We know you don’t drink, so what’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale on Theater Pub nights?

Coke. It’s the nectar of the gods. Not the Elder Gods, just the regular gods.

Don’t miss The Pub From Another World, playing one night only on May 20th, at 8 PM, for FREE, at the Cafe Royale!

Next Up At Theater Pub!

Something is Rotten at the Café Royale!

A one night only event celebrating all things HAMLET, “Hamlet and Cheese on Post” combines the Hamlet we’ve come to know and love with a riotous dose of comedy and fun.The evening features a staged reading of Richard Curtis’ “Skinhead Hamlet” and Shel Silverstein’s “Hamlet: As Told on the Street”, (famously penned for Playboy Magazine back in 1998), plus original songs from dynamic duo McPuzo & Trotsky and other musical surprises.

To be there or not to be there? That is the question.

We think you know the answer!

Directed by: Molly Benson and Karen Offereins, starring: Mikka Bonel, Jaime Lee Currier, Nick Dickson, Michelle Jasso, Rik Lopes, Nathan Tucker and Geoffrey Nolan as Hamlet.

The show starts at 8 PM on Monday, September 17th, only at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, San Francisco), and as usual the event is FREE, with a five dollar suggested donation. Our friends at Hideaway BBQ will be serving up plenty of southern style treats starting at 6:30, so get there early as we expect to fill up and it’s the best way to ensure a seat.

Theater Around The Bay: The Kurt Weill Project

Happy Friday the Thirteenth Everyone!

Today seemed like a good day (a lucky day!) for us to launch our new project- which is essentially a digital form of the Pub where we give you another look into the diverse and exciting theater scene that defines the Bay Area performance community. Like all Pub projects, this is an experiment and we’ll see how it goes, but the goal is to create an online stomping ground for the small theater scene, eventually bringing you a blog a day, profiling a group here, an actor there, a project or perspective to generate a collage of what’s going on, who is doing it, and what it’s like to make this theater scene happen. Think of it as a lifestyle mag for the black box, storefront, rear-bar crew- which can include you! Have a story to tell? Let us know. We’ll be constantly on the lookout for new material and just like the live portion of Theater Pub, the best way to get involved is to drop us a line and tell us what you want to do.

In the meantime, check-out this profile of The Kurt Weill Project, brought to you by Theater Pub veteran (and Kurt Weill diva) Michelle Jasso. 

The Kurt Weill Project, clockwise: Zoltan DiBartolo, Allison Lovejoy, Harriet March Page, Martha Cooper, Alexis Lane Jensen, Nathan Tucker, Michelle Jasso, Sibel Demirmen.

German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950), son of a cantor, was working as a theatre accompanist by the age of 15.  Eventually reigning as the leading composer for the German stage, Weill enjoyed many fantastic collaborations.  Two of note were Bertolt Brecht, with whom he composed his most (in)famous Threepenny Opera, a “biblical parable” actually serving as a Marxist-inspired critique of Capitalist values, and famed diseuse Lotte Lenya, who would become Weill’s wife and a champion of his compositions.  Shanghaied into childhood prostitution in Imperial Vienna, Lenya had many a story about the complicated lives and hearts of “Ladies of the Night,” and Weill wrote stacks of songs for her based upon her experience.  The couple split and separately fled Nazi Germany, only to re-meet and reunite in the US.  Shortly thereafter, the couple attended the final dress rehearsal of George Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess.  After the curtain descended, Weill allegedly turned to Lenya and said “So jazz-influenced American opera does exist — and I’m going to write it.”  His next project was Street Scene, a massive, complex, beautiful piece of heartbreaking theatre for which Weill won the inaugural Tony Award for Best Original Score.  Sixty years after his death, the music of Kurt Weill continues to be performed regularly in classical, jazz, cabaret and even pop and rock settings.  Songs of Weill have been covered by artists like Nina Simone, David Bowie, The Doors and Tom Waits, to name a (very) few.

The true genesis of The Kurt Weill Project (KWP) would be in the San Francisco Concert Chorale, which Harriet March Page, now Artistic Director of Goat Hall Productions, joined in 1987.  In SFCC’s annual variety show in 1988, Page and Miriam Lewis (now a sought-after SF theatre costume designer) performed a rendition of the “Jealousy Duet” from Threepneny in which they ended up on the floor entangled in the curtains at the SF Community Music Center.  All the Kurt Weill-loving singers soon stepped up and, later that year, had their first Weill performance as Salvation Army-Turned-Whore at Hotel Utah, and later in 1988 performed a concept piece written by Page called The Sea Is Blue at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a fully staged production with chamber orchestra.  Weill later fell by the wayside as the group evolved into Goat Hall Productions and began producing full seasons of opera, but Weill has never left Page’s heart.  Approximately a year ago Page decided to resurrect the KWP, stating simply “I want to sing this music until I die.”  A small handful of us got to work, reading through the mountain of Weill’s opus; the ensuing months brought about vicissitudes of personnel and therefore creative direction, but the goal has remained steadfast: to learn and perform as much of Weill’s rich repertory as humanly possible.   

This new incarnation of KWP had its debut performance as part of StageWerx’s Underground Sound series in July 2011, and has been going strong ever since.  Essentially a cabaret group, there’s always a theme: Moon Floating on Water; Songs of Ships and the Sea; Berlin, Broadway and Beyond, etc.  We’ve done something special for the month of April and are showcasing the work of KWP member and local pianist/composer/treasure Allison Lovejoy.  A second performance of this program of her original cabaret tunes will happen at The Red Poppy Art House in the Mission on Saturday, April 14th at 8pm.  The KWP appears every 2nd Monday at StageWerx (also in the Mission), and our next theme is Brecht!  

More about all this, as well as Goat Hall’s full season may be found here: