Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

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

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Advertisements

Postcards From The Odyssey #5: Discovering the Sleepy Giant

Rebecca Longworth continues to send us postcards from We Players’ production of “The Odyssey on Angel Island”. This one is written by cast-member Maria Leigh, who talks about what it’s like to be a member of the ensemble of this unusual and demanding theater piece.

I woke up early on the first day of rehearsal for The Odyssey on Angel Island. I was nervous and excited and had a long commute to work. In the meetings leading up to our first day a mantra of sorts had emerged and was ringing in my ears, ” Don’t miss the boat. Don’t miss the boat. Don’t miss the boat”. And somehow, none of us did despite traveling from cities across the Bay Area. It was a beautiful day in early March, unseasonably warm, and as the ferry churned through the bluegreengraybrown before it, I realized that it was one of those rare moments in life where I was perfectly balanced between before and after but that the moment of falling from one to the other was imminent. The cast and crew had all signed on to spend a third of the year on Angel Island and while I understood what that meant in a technical sense, I didn’t know anything about Angel Island in a practical sense.

The adventure begins…. Photo Credit: Terry Barnet

At 1.2 square miles in area, 788 feet at its highest point, and only 3 miles from San Francisco, Angel Island dwarfs Alcatraz and, as a state park, is merely the price of a ferry ticket and back. And yet I had only visited the island once before, years ago. When pressed I would have volunteered:

“It was pretty.”
“And?”
“And I think we walked a lot?”

So the first really surprising thing I learned when I arrived on the island was that people live there.

A house on the Northeast side of the island. Photo Credit: Nathaniel Justiniano

There are currently 27 people living on the island (with six more arriving soon), 18 are parks employees and the remainder are family members. There are thirteen residences on the island, although two are currently unoccupied. The youngest inhabitant is six and the oldest is old enough that the person I talked to about it felt awkward about quoting a number.

In partnering with We Players, the residents are not just sharing their space but welcoming us into their home. The number of ways that we intersect as part of this partnership are too numerous to count but the parks and rec staff are always incredible. A case in point: “You need a stake large enough to gouge out a cyclops’ eye? No problem.” The next day a fallen tree weighing 4,500 pounds arrived.

We couldn’t have wished for more generous or knowledgeable hosts. And while during the production you will see the fruits of this beautiful collaboration and will see parks staff greeting you along the way, it’s probably worth a couple of return trips to get to see people like Casey Dexter-Lee in her primary role as State Park Interpreter. In this context you can hear about how park residents are the most recent inhabitants of the island in a chain leading back through Asian immigrants, multiple military eras, European explorers, to the Miwok people.

A mysterious structure. Photo Credit: Terry Barnett

In The Odyssey, Mount Olympus is situated on a spectacular semicircular cliff befitting the gods. Nearby is a rickety wood and metal structure where Telemachus kneels in prayer. While architecturally interesting, I didn’t give the structure much thought given the preponderance of cool abandoned structures that are sprinkled around the isle. But as time went on, I learned that the cliffs were actually the edges of an abandoned serpentine quarry and the structure was a rock crusher. During the period that the serpentine quarry was operational, there was also a sandstone quarry just above the beach that is Calypso’s home in The Odyssey. The flat area where you stand to watch the Olympian gods, was once as tall a hill as the cliffs. But in the years between when the quarries opened in 1850 and when they was last used in 1922, the hill was mined down to the level ground that exists today. Some of the stone from the quarries was used in Angel Island structures but much of it went into military construction in other parts of the Bay Area. Throughout its operation, state and military prisoners provided much of the labor, and in an ironic twist, stone from this operation was used in the construction of a new fortress – on Alcatraz.

As you can imagine (and perhaps have read about in previous posts) there are a tremendous number of logistical concerns in terms of staging The Odyssey. One that is perhaps easily overlooked is how much water travels along the path of the audience in each show. Drinking water, water used in rituals, water used as scenic elements, and more. Each day the production moves approximately 50 gallons of water around the island. Not to mention what individual audience members carry on their person or the end of the day when we line up to take turns in the shower.

A cleansing ritual in Temenos – Photo Credit Tracy Martin

But where does the water come from? On this point the best person to chat with is Rick Ables, Water and Sewage Plant Supervisor, who is very knowledgeable and articulate on every detail of Angel Island’s water supply. All of the water on the island comes from a protected underground aquifer that is remarkably constant even in drought years. To date there has been no salinity or other intrusion problems from the bay into the aquifer. The water is extracted using four wells ranging in depth from 240-325 feet deep. The water is monitored for coliforms and disinfected using sodium hyperchlorite (more commonly known as bleach). The water on the island is of very high quality and is maintained in accordance with the California Department Public Health standards. The water is then kept in three facilities totaling 1,500,000 gallons. Wastewater is processed through a sanitary sewer treatment plan that eventually releases clean water back into the ground and completes the hydrologic cycle.

Another shock for me on the island was seeing spotted fawns bounding delicately through the underbrush on the island. Or standing on Calypso’s beach in the dark and seeing bright eyes peer and a husky gray body hustle out onto the sand. How on earth did deer and raccoons end up on Angel Island?

“We’re not doing anything, honest!” – Photo Credit Jaquie Klose, Angel Island Conservancy

The prevalent theory is that they both walked over when Angel Island was not yet an island. However, as both can swim, it is possible that if the populations died out at any point new animals may have swam out and repopulated. The gap between Tiburon and Ayala Cove is quite narrow and is actually called Raccoon Strait (although this name comes from the HMS Racoon which was the second European ship to visit the island not the adorable swimming bandits). The deer population was also bolstered by the military who repopulated them after overhunting. The deer population currently stands around 60. The raccoons are not tracked. And while you may or may not see deer or raccoons randomly on your travels during the show, they do make a memorable appearance in the company of a certain witch later in the play.

I guess what has surprised me most in my personal odyssey with this show is the attachment that I have come to feel for Angel Island. While I love site specific theatre for many reasons – accessibility, vitality, specificity – I have never spent so much time in a performance site. On the island, I have been able to see different wildflowers come in and out of bloom, watched goslings become geese, learned which patches of grass become swampy when it rains. As a cast we have sung in the pouring rain, run in the sun, watched the fog roll in, and the sun rise and set. Each day my roots have gone deeper into our island home, the sites have become increasingly relevant to the actions that happen within them, and my choices are informed by the landscape I am in.

Every time we visit a site, it becomes more richly layered with memories and experiences from the visits that came before. I think about all of the life that crossed the same places before me and the lives that will come there after. About the simultaneous constancy and dynamism of place. I think of you, the audience, who will come and those who have already come and gone. That we share an experience but that we also have our own perspective. Every show there are moments where I see things that are so beautiful but will never be seen by anyone else. And while part of me is sad that no one else will ever see these perfect instants, I know that each person will find their own private moments. An interaction with a character that only they see, a perfect perspective that chance brings for them alone, a scent on the wind carried on an intake of breath and then gone. And then that moment will pass and we will be together again, sharing the adventure, traveling together, borne aloft by this sleepy giant that is Angel Island and who is ready to speak to those who will listen.

A home away from home. Photo Credit: Annette Goena

Factual information in the article is drawn from interviews with Angel Island State Park employees and the sites for California Parks and Rec and the Angel Island Conservancy.

Maria Leigh is a Bay Area actor, collaborator, and cultural philosopher. She is next appearing in a new work entitled, Dirty Laundry, created by The Collaboratory, August 10 & 11, 2012 at The Exit Theatre. Her next written piece will be a one act, Rhea, premiering as part of The San Francisco Olympians Festival III: Titans vs. Olympians, December 19, 2012 also at The Exit Theatre. For more information, please visit: marialeigh.com.

Postcard from The Odyssey – Post #1, Rehearsing the Odyssey on Angel Island

Rebecca Longworth takes us on a voyage with the cast and crew of We Players’ Odyssey. Keep your eye on our blog for more updates from this unique production. Want to plug another group, artist or project from the Bay Area’s diverse small theater scene? Write us and let us know!

Hello world!

Welcome to Postcards from The Odyssey. This is the first in a biweekly series taking you behind the scenes of We Players’ current production, The Odyssey on Angel Island, playing May 12 – July 1 at Angel Island State Park.

It seems as though whenever I talk about this show, someone asks if there’s an ampitheatre on the island. Nope – this Odyssey uses the entire island as a stage: we actors get plenty of exercise running amongst the spectacular natural environs, historic buildings, and decommissioned military installations of Angel Island. The audience will follow us hither and yon, on foot or bike – or, for those that need it, there’s a special vehicle on selected days. They’ll also interact with the performers in many scenes, so some of our rehearsals seem to consist of chatting with imaginary friends while we eagerly await the addition of audience members!

As you can imagine, staging a play on a 742-acre island is an enormous undertaking. Members of our production team take trips to the island throughout the week, and our site manager, Dave, actually lives there full time. Each weekend the performers (12 actors and 7 to 10 musicians) join the production team and volunteers on the island for two days of rehearsals. We arrive Saturday morning, rehearse during the day, and spend Saturday night so that we can rehearse Sunday starting in the morning. We take ferries from San Francisco or Tiburon to get to the island, and sleep in bunk beds in a dorm or outside in tents. It’s kind of like summer stock meets summer camp, with spectacular views of San Francisco and geeky mythology references. Luckily, we all like each other a whole lot. But life on the island could be a post in itself… (hint).

Right now, I’m excited to share with you some fabulous shots of a recent rehearsal, taken by our most excellent photographers, Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin. They’re some of the most fun and friendly people I can think of to spend a chilly Saturday with, and they take gorgeous photos! We have a production-photo-shoot this weekend, and I’m totally jealous that I’m not one of the lucky ones donning costume and looking artfully intense for the camera.

Image

Here we’re rehearsing a scene in the old military hospital near the East Garrison. Julie Douglas, playing Circe, is talking to our director, Ava Roy, about a ritual her character will perform with Telemachus (James Udom, who’s in the tub). Note the fabulous golden bathtub!

Image

Natty Justiniano looks to be deep in thought in one room of the hospital. Or he could be checking Facebook.

Image</a

Director Ava Roy and actor Caroline Parsons watch members of the ensemble rehearse on the hospital’s upper levels.

Image

Maria Leigh, Libby Kelly and Caroline Parsons – playing sweet-voiced nymphs – rehearse with music director Charlie Gurke in the old Fort MacDowell military chapel. The military used the chapel to offer services of all varieties; we’re creating a shrine to Athena in it.

Image

Actors visible through a window in the hospital.

Image

Caroline as Calypso and James as Telemachus frolic on Quarry Beach while Ross Travis as Hermes determines how best to deliver a message from Zeus. It’s always a beach party with Calypso. And Hermes usually has bad news. Couldn’t you just look at that view forever?

Image

More song rehearsals at Quarry Beach. Here you can barely make out Maria’s arm behind James, and three of Joan Howard’s limbs behind Charlie, who is playing his awesome and very portable melodica. Ava looks like she’s giggling at something; and there’s Claire Slattery and Caroline Parsons laughing as well. In this scene Caroline plays the nymph Calypso, with backup from other Oceanid nymphs, played by the other ladies.

Ticket sales for The Odyssey on Angel Island open TODAY at www.angelislandodyssey.eventbrite.com And please check out www.WePlayers.org, like us on Facebook, and follow @weplayers on Twitter.

–Rebecca Longworth

Rebecca Longworth plays Eurycleia, Hera, and Anticleia – among other roles – in The Odyssey on Angel Island. When not performing, directing, or producing, she creates motion graphics for Truc Designs, Inc. Rebecca recently directedBuried Child for Boxcar Theatre, and occasionally blogs about her goings-on at www.rebeccalongworth.wordpress.comor tweets (more frequently) @directorebeccer.