The Five: Believing in TheatreFirst

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a recap of TheatreFIRST’s grand unveiling.

Hey you guys, about a week ago I was lucky enough to attend the season kickoff party for TheatreFirst in Berkeley. There were cool people, a giant platter of lunch meat, and some exciting announcements. If you weren’t there or had too much free wine and can’t remember the details, I’m here with some highlights. Predictably, there are five.

The Mandate
While TheatreFIRST is not a new company, they taking a step in a bold new direction: with a new Artistic Director, a season of commissioned plays, and a mandate that most of us in Bay Area theatre have talked about, had endless diversity forums on and said needed to happen. This mandate is to do theatre that reflects the actual world. TheatreFIRST is committing to aggressive diversity. At least half of all board members, admins and artistic staff MUST be women and two-thirds must be people of color. What makes this so exciting is that they aren’t planning to do it by 2025, or calling it a goal to strive for. It’s a mandate; it’s happening. Instead of saying it, they’re doing it.

The Location
The Live Oak Theater is tucked away in one of the fancier parts of Berkley, nestled in a pretty neighborhood and next to a pretty park. Yes, it’s the Berkeley we’re thinking of when we make fun of Berkeley. Make no mistake: this is a community theater that is not only dedicated to serving members of the theatergoing community, but also the theatre-making community. Subscriptions are super affordable and special $60 “Full Circle” Subscriptions are being made available to theatrical artists, which is pretty darn reasonable. Another big nod to the community is that beginning this summer, the Live Oak Theater will be made available FOR FREE during the day to all community theatrical artists. The idea is to have a group working in one corner, another on stage, another having a meeting in the new café. In a time where facilities are a big expense for any group, this is an incredibly generous thing. It is clear that T1’s goal is to make their venue a hub for art and community.

The Season
TheatreFIRST’S new season will consist of 4 brand-new commissioned pieces, all created by local theatrical artists. The first is Bagyo, by Rob Dario, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and giving a startling vision of the culture wars in Southeast Asia. Next up is VS., an exciting new musical written by Cleavon Smith, Stephanie Prentice and Reggie White, telling the story of Colonel Tye, a black man who escaped slavery and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. Beneath the Tall Tree by Adrienne Walters and Jeffrey Lo tells the story of one woman’s quest to literally dig up her grandfather’s history and with it, a connection to her culture. The season ends in May 2017 with Hela by Lauren Gunderson, which explores the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks. Want more info ? Go to www.theatrefirst.com and learn all about it.

The Party
I am not much of a party person, but I must admit, I had a swell time. Maybe it was the super welcoming vibe, the feeling of something very exciting and real happening, maybe it was realizing I have some really cool neighbors, or maybe it was the free wine. But when we left that night, we couldn’t wait to come back.

The Guy
One of the more exciting moments of the night was to see the staff and board of TheatreFIRST standing together on stage with their new Artistic Director, Jon Tracy, at the helm. Jon is one of the most creative, kind, hardworking, community-minded people in the entire Bay Area. I have been a friend and fan of his work for a very long time and not only does he deserve this, but you just know he’s going to foster something special and exciting. So jump on the website, head out to wooded glen of North Berkeley, and get ready to see an exciting new voice in Bay Area theatre. They’re presenting a season of shows that at its core are great stories and committing to the diversity we all want to see on stage.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

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The Five: Salon is a Fancy Word For Meeting

Anthony R. Miller checks in with his thoughts on Berkeley Rep’s Writers Salon.

Hey you guys, I attended Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor Writers Salon last night. I’m still not sure the what difference between a “salon” and ann “informational meeting” is, but it was essentially a chance to hear what exactly Berkeley Rep looks for in applications for its new play development program. I have some thoughts, and wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

Toast.
There was a self-serve toast bar. This is a thing. I had no idea.

What They’re Looking For
From what I gathered, what they’re looking for is an interesting person with an interesting idea, who has a really strong sense of what they want from their piece and the experience. So really think about what you’re trying to get out of the program. What questions about your play are you trying to answer? The application asks seven questions, and it was stressed that most important question is “Why this play right now?” Also, there’s an “is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” question. Answer it, take the opportunity to say something about your play you haven’t already.

What’s Not As Important
Don’t get too stressed out about a synopsis. A short description is fine and they expect things to change anyways. Write about the process, not the product. They’re not looking for a sales pitch. Also, first-time writers have been accepted in the past, so don’t be too worried about your resume. Also, don’t be intimidated by your lack of an MFA in writing. In this situation, it’s considered a plus because people with MFAs are considered to already have a network of folks and this program is considered another way to build that network.

Writers Are Weird
One thing I think people were hoping the Salon (still not sure what that means) would be that it wasn’t, was a meet and greet, an opportunity to meet other playwrights in the Bay Area. Now, it only took about 2 minutes to figure out this is OK. Writers are weird, at least most of us. Not all of us are sterling conversationalists. That’s why we have imaginary people talk for us using lines we put a lot of thought into. Admittedly, I’m probably more on the introvert side of the writer spectrum. So maybe not all writers are weird and socially awkward, but I sure am. So I’m not exactly falling over myself to meet other writers to disprove my own theory.

A Show Of Hands
Now if there is one thing from last night that I was critical of, it’s this: at the beginning, the woman in charge of the program asked how many people attended the last Salon. There were three, which was clearly not what they expected. The last salon had 40+ people and so did this one. They clearly didn’t expect such a turnout. Her exact words were “We had no idea there were so many people locally who identified as playwrights,” and my snarky inner voice said “Yeah, we know.” It was if she accidentally confirmed what a lot of independent artists in the Bay Area already feel: that large Bay Area theatre companies have no idea we exist and really weren’t looking anyways. But that’s not entirely true, the whole purpose of these Salons are for local writers to make themselves known. We were told this is part of a larger effort to engage local artists and that there would be other events that would be more about play development and meet and greets. So sure, we would all love it if Berkeley Rep and ACT had talent scouts at every indie theatre show, looking for writers within the massive community that already exists. But this should also be seen as a call to playwrights and all theatre makers to make sure we are doing everything to make ourselves known. There is a level of self-promotion that a writer needs to be successful. We can’t sit around waiting to be found; we have to put ourselves out there, leave calling cards, and let them know we exist. So while it’s great that larger companies are finally creating programs that reach out to the community at large, we need to reach back. Seek out the opportunity as opposed to waiting the opportunity to seek you out.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer; you can keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Libby Emmons

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Libby Emmons.

Kicking off the first interview of 2016 is Libby Emmons who starts us off right by talking about indie theater and the importance of creating your own opportunities. Libby is a playwright as well as a producer and has a similar theater in pubs type of play series going with others in NYC.

We talked a bit about the current state of theater and what are some things people could do that would make a significant difference in changing it for the better. And we talked about Morrissey. Because Morrissey.

So, here it is! The interview for you to enjoy!

In Peggy Guggenheim's garden in Venice, Italy, where I took a trip with my mom in 2013. A life-long dream was realized when we went to the Venice Bienniale.

In Peggy Guggenheim’s garden in Venice, Italy, where I took a trip with my mom in 2013. A life-long dream was realized when we went to the Venice Bienniale.

Barbara: Could you tell me about your background– what kind of position(s) do you inhabit in the theater world?

Libby: I make theatre because whenever I try to switch and do something else I find myself writing a new play or planning a new show, and I think “alright, let’s give this thing another go.” I studied playwriting and producing in undergrad (Sarah Lawrence) and grad (Columbia), and that’s mostly what I do now, write and produce.

Barbara: How did you get your theater company started? Was there an opportunity you saw?

Libby: I started a theatre company (Blue Box World) not because I saw an opportunity but because I saw a lack of them. I got a lot of rejections from existing theatre production companies and organizations, so I was like “fuck it, I’ll just do it myself.”

Barbara: Do you have a website for your theater company? Would love to check it out!

Libby: blueboxworld.com is the original, but for a few years now we’ve been focusing on the short bar play series Sticky, www.stickyseries.live.

Barbara: What was the first show you produced through them?

Libby: Our first show was two one acts of mine on one bill, Firetop and Overnight, and we produced them at Second Stage at The Adrienne on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. As luck would have it, I also had a short piece going up at InterAct Theater Co. on the mainstage in the same theater building, running at the same time, so that was fun.

During this process we met loads of great artists, and wanted to keep working with them. But we’d blown all our cash on that big show. Our next show was Sticky, 10-minute plays set in Bar Noir, where we were regulars anyway. Sticky has been our main show now for years, even though we do other stuff here and there.

Barbara: How do you get people to come out for shows?

Libby: Every time we do a show I think “how the hell are we gonna get people to come out for this thing?” Our first show was before everyone had communicators in their hands at all times, so what we did was actually call everyone we know on the actual telephone and ask them to come, in addition to postcards, flyers, etc. I think the best approach is personal, but honestly marketing and how to keeps me up at night. Audiences always come, but I don’t know where they come from or why.

Barbara: Do you do theater around the country or mainly in NYC? I was curious if you thought there were differences in the way theater is engaged in within the different regions/places, if so.

My grandfather and I have never been close, and now he's very sick, so I went to visit him at his home in Florida. I surprised myself in that I really treasure the time spent. It's never too late to know someone.

My grandfather and I have never been close, and now he’s very sick, so I went to visit him at his home in Florida. I surprised myself in that I really treasure the time spent. It’s never too late to know someone.

Libby: We worked in Philly when we lived there, but have been in NYC since 2002. I always want to do theatre around the country, but short of getting an RV and winning the lotto, that plan has not been manifest. If I were to tour a show, my top choice would be How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts, which is a two-hander that I wrote for my friend Ali and I, where we play office workers who plan to sell the intern’s gang rape baby at a steep profit, and when that plan goes awry, come up with even crazier ideas. It runs 40 minutes; big laughs.

Barbara: What is one thing you’d like to change about theater currently?

Libby: I would like to change the funding and producing models for theatre. What we’ve got going now are these models:

  • commercial producer who has or gets the funding, the most traditional model
  • not-for-profit producer who gets donations and grants then operates at a loss
  • indie producer who has to get money from friends/family/credit cards
  • festival producer who charges the participating artists for every small detail

I hate all of these, and the kind of theatre they create is the kind of theatre where the audience is in their chairs and the lights go down and the actors step onto the stage and it’s this ‘sacred’ experience. I prefer the profane. I want the audience onstage with me; I want them to sit on my lap while I whisper my stories in their ears. I want them to support the show by buying a cheap ticket to that show. I want us all to experience these moments together, and not in our own separate spaces. I want them to let me love them.

Barbara: Do you see any low-hanging fruit opportunities that would make a difference?

Libby: Yes. The shows I make create budgets entirely from projected ticket sales. Then we try to surpass that, in order to pay artists more than the initial offer. I believe fully that the only low-hanging fruit opportunities are the ones we make for ourselves. There’s no waiting around to ask permission, there’s just making art.

Barbara: What advice would you give to people who want to do what you do?

Libby: Do it. There’s no trick but to get your friends together and ask them to make brand new art with you. The ones who feel as much ownership over the work as you do will stick around, and it will be awesome. I’ve had a day job this whole time, and I’ve been producing my own work, and I stay up real late and wake up too early. I once got the advice from Suzan-Lori Parks that I should quit my day job and focus on making work full time. I was too freaked by finances to do that, and still am. Maybe it was advice I should have taken, or maybe it wasn’t, but it’s the advice I wish I’d tried out.

Barbara: And I hear you are in the Morrissey play fest! How cool is that? Want to give any hint about what to expect from your play or what your inspiration was?

Libby: Interestingly I was asked by Stuart Bousel to write a Morrissey monologue for a man. The initial submission guidelines talked about extra points for plays that could justify any song on Kill Uncle, and I love that album! So I went with “Sing Your Life,” which is what my man does, without singing.

Barbara: Anything to say about Morrissey and a play festival inspired by him?

Libby: I was so turned on by this idea. First off: bar plays, which come on, I’ve been making and loving the bar play for over a decade. And Morrissey, please. The man got me through my teenage years as unscathed as possible, although still with enough sublime contusions for me to have a true understanding of the word. When I listen to Morrissey it’s like the air outside my body suddenly matches the emotions and whimsies on the inside. It’s like listening to Morrissey makes me feel big enough to inhabit the air that I breathe.

Barbara: Plugs for shows in (or out of) the area or other art we should take a look at?

Libby: First off: The Morrissey Plays. If I were anywhere near I would be there every night.

After that I have two projects coming up that I am jumping out of my chair about I’m so excited. I Am Not an Allegory (these are people i know) is a full length coming up at Under Saint Marks in NYC, running from March 10-26.

The Sticky series is coming to Lovecraft Bar in NYC from with 4 new shows from April 7-May 26, www.stickyseries.live, and our Normal, IL offshoot, under impresario J. Michael Grey, runs at the Firehouse Brew Pub.

Barbara: And a Morrissey song to leave us with?

Libby: Sing Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6BOZ8gcT6c

This is me and my son who is almost 6 and the best ever. I never wanted to have children, but when it came down to it, I couldn't say no, and I'm so glad I said yes to life.

This is me and my son who is almost 6 and the best ever. I never wanted to have children, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t say no, and I’m so glad I said yes to life.

You can catch Libby Emmons’ short play in The Morrissey Plays on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 25-26. And as always, tweet @bjwany or email us for interview suggestions!

The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rachel Bublitz

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rachel Bublitz.

Rachel Bublitz is one of those amazing people that you exemplifies what it means to be a supportive theater artist who is furthering her own artistic journey for theater and writing. I first met Rachel when she came to a performance of my first full length production by All Terrain Theater, It’s All in the Mix. Right away from her positive energy and enthusiastic attitude, you can tell that she is a playwright who will go far. She has a natural tenacity that some struggle to master, others just exude.

I was very excited to interview her about Loud and Unladylike, the new festival presented in partnership with DIVAfest, which highlights unknown, yet influential women in history by exploring their stories through a new works series. The festival started yesterday, June 25th, with Tracy Held Potter’s A is for Adeline (also showing on July 9th), continues with Claire Ann Rice’s The Effects of Ultravioliet Light on June 26th and July 11th, and Rachel’s own new work, Code Name: Brass Rose, presented on June 27th and July 10th. For more information, you can also check out the website at http://loudandunladylike.com/.

Babs: Tell me about Loud and Unladylike. How did it come about?

Rachel: One of my classes at State last Spring – I’m currently going for the MFA and MA combo from SFSU – had a final involving writing a script inspired from an outside source, and a classmate of mine did hers on a historical woman that I had never heard of. And I got a little mad, why hadn’t I heard of this kick-ass woman? That night I met Tracy and Claire to see a play, and I told them all about it and said there should be more plays about historical women, and they agreed, and so we did it. Something I love about having Claire and Tracy as close friends and collaborators is that we all agree that seeing a problem is only part of it, you have to then do something. This is our response to the lack of women’s plays being produced, and the lack of complex female characters in so many plays and films.

Claire then brought the idea to DIVAfest’s Artistic Director, Christina Augello, and she thought it would be a great addition DIVAfest’s season, and that was the start of Loud & Unladylike.

Babs: How did you choose your figure – Nancy Wake? When did you first learn about her?

Rachel: So we decided on the festival and that we’d be the guinea pigs and write for the first year. After that we had a meeting with lists and summaries of all the interesting lesser-known historical women we could find. Most of the women I had researched had been soldiers or spies; I’m drawn to the juxtaposition of war and what society tells us femininity should mean. Nancy was on a few different blogs that I came across, posts with titles like: “25 Badass Women You Don’t Know About.” That sent me off to Wikipedia, and before I knew it I was ordering her autobiography from Australia.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins, and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins,
and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

I spent most of that meeting trying to convince Tracy and Claire that one of them should write about Nancy Wake, and finally, I think it was Claire, said to me, “Ya know, if you like her so much, maybe you should write about her.” And this blew my mind, how could anyone not want to write about this powerhouse? After they both assured me it was okay, I never looked back. We were meant to be, Nancy and me.

Babs: What has it been like collaborating with Claire and Tracy on building the festival?

Rachel: Collaborating has been a challenge, it’s not that it’s hard for the three of us to be on the same page, we are just all very busy ladies. Tracy just finished up her MFA from CMU and has her two boys, Claire directed Allison Page’s fantastic show HILARITY earlier this year and is working on a commission from Terror-Rama, and I have my rug-rats and school as well, and so finding time to get together has been hard to say the least. Somehow it’s worked so far. I think we owe a lot to the other ladies in Loud & Unladylike who support us so well; the very talented Tonya Narvaez and Roxana Sorooshian, our production manager and literary manager respectively.

This year has also found us to be on a very slow learning curve, well me at least. Running a festival is tricky. So many complications pop up every day! And there are also so many cool things you’d like to do but aren’t worth the trouble, especially in the first year when keeping things as simple as possible is key. Even the simple gets hard, trust me. But we are kicking around some exciting ideas for the 2017 festival, and we’re in the midst of selecting the plays for 2016, so a lot of exciting things are on the horizon.

Babs: I’m also curious to learn about the development process – how have you supported each other in the research and writing or has it been mostly solo? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?

Rachel: We’ve shared pages at meetings, and talked about the themes and questions we’d like to bring up in each of our plays. Something that surprised me, that I think we’ve all had to deal with, is getting over the reverence for the person the play is inspired by, so that you can actually get something written. Knowing that this was a real person and that you’ll be informing some amount of the population about them is a heavy task, and having Claire and Tracy wrestling with this same challenge all year has been a comfort.

Also, one of my most favorite parts of the festival, is that we each will have two readings with about two weeks in between to rewrite. We’ll be hosting talkbacks after each play, and Claire and I will be running those in week one. I’m excited to play that role and engage with my fellow writers and the audience in order to develop the plays further. The second week, which might have three totally different plays based on what happens in week one, will have talkbacks lead by our literary manager, Roxana.

Babs: What do you love about the Bay Area theater scene and what would you change?

Rachel: One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area theater scene is that I’m constantly discovering more of it. I’ll be out at a show, chatting with someone brand-new, and they’ll mention so-and-so theater that they work for, and more often than you’d think, it’s a theater company I’d never heard of. I’ll think, oh they must be new, but no! Usually they’ve been around 10 or 15 years. It’s insanity. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a theater company here and that’s pretty special. BUT, in a way that’s something that I’d like to change too. Not that I’d like to see less companies, I just wish there was more collaboration among them. I love seeing companies joining forces and I think everyone could stand a little more of that. If a project is too big for one company to take on, find another to duel produce it with! Let’s do big things and stretch ourselves, and help one another.

Babs: Any advice you have for aspiring playwrights and producers of new work?

Rachel: I think the most important thing you can do, other than of course the writing or the producing, is to go see shows. I have kids which makes it hard, but I try to make it out to as many plays as possible. Not only can you learn just from seeing other work, and all other work, good, bad, mediocre, all of it has lessons for those who are looking, but you go and see the work and then you talk to people after. Say hi to the director, the actors, the playwright. Tell them what you enjoyed (only of course, if you actually did), ask them about their inspiration, ask how you could get involved. Theaters take on a risk when producing local work, but if we all went out and saw one another’s work, that risk would be much less, so I especially try to make it out when a new work of a local playwright is being produced. We can’t demand it if we don’t ourselves support it.

Also, and this is what I think is the second most important thing, share your work. Submit plays to theaters, yes, but also have your friends over to read your drafts. Ask actors and directors you know to read what you’re working on, ask advice on where your work would fit best, and then reach out to them. You’re going to be ignored a lot, but I’ve found that if you keep it up, and you keep everything positive, they don’t ignore you forever. Also, true story, I’m still being ignored by plenty of folks, that’s just part of the business. Try not to take it personally, though I know that can be hard.

Babs: Plugs for upcoming work and shout-out for other plays to check out around the area?

Rachel: Yes! My full-length play Of Serpents & Sea Spray is getting a week-long workshop with a staged reading this July (the reading is on July 24th) and will be produced in Custom Made’s 2015/16 season this coming January, with Ariel Craft as the director.

As for other shows, I don’t think anyone here in the Bay Area is allowed to miss Desk Set presented by No Nude Men, it’s a power-house cast, and is being directed by Stuart Bousel, who might just be the most generous member of the Bay Area theater community and an all around excellent theater maker. It’s running July 9-25, and will probably fill up quick, so I’d jump on those tickets ASAP, if you know what’s good for you. And, the show I’m most excited for this summer, other than Loud & Unladylike of course, has to be SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays this August! Megan Cohen’s “BEEEEEAAR!”, performed by Allison Page back in 2012, is still at the top of my all-time-favorite theater experiences, and I have a hope we’ll see more of that beer loving bear this time around.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who can be found on twitter as well @bjwany. Tweet at her to point her to theater happenings around town!

Theatre Around The Bay: Announcing A Wake!

Our next show, A Wake, is already in rehearsals and we’re excited to bring another world premiere play to you this season! You can find out more about the show here, but in the meantime, we thought we’d let our playwright, Rory Strahan-Mauk tell you all about it in this very honest interview he gave us over the weekend.

Who are you, in 100 words or less.

Rory: Some kid from the Bay Area and Minneapolis, if that makes sense. Does that make sense? As in I was born here but spent a good amount of time in both places through my childhood. I like cheeseburgers and fruity drinks. Looking up at the moon. Watching airplanes take off and land. Progressive rock. Speeding. I also hate. I hate so, so much.

Rory Strahan-Mauk: Here to hate.

Rory Strahan-Mauk: Here to hate.

What is A Wake, and why did you want to bring this to Theater Pub?

Rory: A Wake is, for me, an experiment in audience mechanics. All my personal projects revolve around that study- researching how the audience fits into theater beyond observing. I see the theater scene reaching into this danger zone and not knowing what to do with it. Maybe by bringing it to Theater Pub, the right folks will learn from whatever the hell happens here, and use that knowledge in the future.

The cast is part of the creative process here- how so?

Rory: With a new work, I see the actors as having invaluable input into their characters, so much so that past a certain point they will understand their roles far better than I will. Because of this, the script develops with them- dialogue, cadence, certain actions. And with certain aspects of the show, there are scenes where what happens is determined entirely by the actor’s choices, far past my own suggestions or control.

Would you label this as devised work? Why or why not?

Rory: No, God no. This piece is a written play that provides room for the actors to have agency (or rather, more agency than a standard play). Devised work is when a bunch of folks create something from scratch together, leading to all sorts of problems, such as lifelong regret and poor art. It’s one of those things that works well as an exercise at say a college, but shouldn’t be performed as a final product. Like movement pieces, or Shakespeare.

What is the potential appeal of working in a bar? And what is the challenge?

Rory: It’s a real location. The stage either exists or doesn’t, depending on whatever theory you subscribe to. It allows a certain immersion that does not remove the self from the situation. The story is happening, and so are you, still watching, still aware of yourself. I don’t know if the bar provides any challenge other than dealing with logistics. Any obstacle I might imagine seems miniscule.

Do you see yourself creating something that can live beyond Theater Pub?

Rory: Not the story, but the structure. This style I can easily see utilizing and evolving over time. The play itself can either linger or not, I don’t care. The story’s important now, maybe. It’s made for now; if someone wants to reuse it in the future, whatever, but there’s no drive for that. Not with the story. The structure, the style, that’s the long game.

Commissions are hard to come by, even with smaller companies like this one. What advice do you have for other playwrights out there?

Rory: Don’t pitch what you think they want to hear, pitch what you want to do. Write about what fascinates you. Alternatively, schmooze the fuck out of everyone- that’s probably more important. Sure, work hard, don’t be a cunt about it, realize you can always be better and listen to people when they criticize you. But, shit, there’s no real specific advice here. The world doesn’t offer certainty, to try for it would be futile. Figure out what works for you and do it. Also, quitting is a completely viable option.

What else is going on in the local theater scene that interests or excites you?

Rory: Not much. There’s some cool site specific work going on, but the stories tend to be aristocratic in nature, thus inaccessible. There are interesting stories and new plays, yet they’re stuck in an awkward performative style meant for those already in love with it. For what would interest me, all the parts exist, they’re just scattered across a desolate scene that’s striving to remain relevant while refusing to acknowledge its fundamental issues. The parts will never come together as long as old ways of thinking control the future. There is some hope, perhaps, but not here. Not for me.

What’s next for you?

Rory: Chicago.

The Real World, Theater Edition: Final Girl

Barbara Jwanouskos, determined to survive the night.

So, you know that ole trope in horror movies where there’s one final young woman who has to confront the killer and tell the story? Lately, what with all the playwright deadlines and opportunities, I’ve been feeling like that person – well, that is, I’m actually not sure if I’m the Final Girl or, maybe more likely, perhaps I’m the Penultimate Girl. What a way to go! You’re in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film and then bam. Axe. In your brain. Awh, man!

final_girl_meme.jpg copy

There was a great article I read recently about one playwright’s attempt to analyze all the rejection letters he had received over the years. By including a stamped postcard to the theaters he submitted his work to asking them to complete a postcard-sized survey and send it back, he found that:

“The likelihood that your unsolicited script will be rejected or totally ignored by a theater is 99.57 percent. That means no production, no showcase, no staged readings. Zip.”

-“How The World’s Most Frequently Rejected Playwright Survives” by Donald Drake

Granted, from a scientific perspective, there are a couple things with his methodology for data gleaning that are bit problematic, but even using this informal way of tracking play submissions, how dismal is that? It’s probably comparable to your odds of surviving a serial killer in a horror movie if you’ve had sex somewhere else in the film.

Like many other writers and artists of all kinds, I spend most of my days sending stuff off, crossing my fingers, and hearing, “No”. It can be a daunting task to continually pick yourself back up after each rejection, and if I could figure out a way to be a productive person without facing rejection or humiliation, I would choose that path. Unfortunately, with the odds ever not in my favor, I actually end up buying into the whole competitive spirit that maybe, just maybe this time, it’s gonna happen. Maybe it’s the drive for artistic survival?

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I will say that once it has been determined that I’ve received an opportunity, an award, or been accepted somehow by someone else, there’s a whole big element of my personality that finds that success hard to deal with and wants to discount the work I put in to do it. When I don’t get something it’s “But I worked so hard!” and when I do get something, it’s “WTF?! I guess I must have been lucky!” This is actually a whole phenomenon apparently, called “Impostor Syndrome”.

Impostor Syndrome basically says that you’re may be a highly successful/high achieving person, but you’re feelings around your achievements don’t match – that there’s an element of low self-esteem that makes you question whether you are “worthy” or “deserving” of receiving such accolades. I encountered this recently when I learned that I was accepted into Just Theater’s New Play Lab for 2014-2015. I saw the posts going up on people’s walls about a rejection and was able to put two and two together that there must have been some crossover with the news I had just received. I mean this is a local theater company I greatly respect who has produced playwrights that I look up to and want to emulate like Anne Washburn, Rob Handel, Erin Bregman, and Glen Berger to name just a few. Why would they want to work with me? And immediately the only reason I could justify it is that I must be good at proposal-writing (not playwriting) since I’ve made a career for myself in that.

It’s so not nearly like this because I would never want to diminish the suffering of another person who has gone through such trauma, but I think of the guilt survivors of horrible events feel that they alone are left standing. I look around at my playwriting buddies and feel a little guilty that I’ve been fortunate to be given an opportunity. But then this amazing thing happened that made me think, “Yes, this is what a community of artists is all about!” I got so many personal messages from people that were genuinely happy that I had been chosen for this role. I did that thing where you post your accomplishment on facebook and twitter, but those messages I received meant a lot. It was if it was saying, it’s okay to have a moment of success every so often.

If you’re gonna be the Final Girl, you might as well try and honor the people who didn’t make it this time around. Because more often we’re the Penultimate Girls and Boys. We’re close, but no cigar. We’re way off the mark. We’re the rejects. And we’re a community where both individual success and failure is completely okay, because as a group we’re still moving things forward.

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Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who was recently welcomed to the Just Theater 2014-15 New Play Lab. She is a graduate of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University under Rob Handel’s direction. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.