The Real World – Theater Edition: Interview with Christine Keating

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us an inside look at this year’s Olympians Festival. 

This week, since the San Francisco Olympians Festival Indiegogo is at 8 days left, I thought I’d focus on one of the writers in this year’s festival, Harvest of Mysteries. The festival brings together a myriad of different people to create new work – this year, it’s inspired by the Greek and Egyptian gods of the dead. One of the best parts of the festival, from my perspective, is that you don’t need to have an extensive background or know someone in order for your proposal(s) to be seriously considered. All you need is a great idea. From there, the festival builds in small but manageable check-ins with writers, where you share what you’ve been working on and get feedback and encouragement from other writers in the room.

Operating on a very small budget yet still managing to acknowledge that everyone should be paid SOMETHING for their artistic work, this festival builds in a raffle whose proceeds are shared by the poster artists on the night of readings. By doing this, they give artists exposure and recognize that hard work goes into creating art.

As a writer for the festival this year, I’ve had the opportunity to hear short bursts of what Christine Keating is working on and I’m always excited to hear what she’s developed next. So, I thought I’d chat with her a bit more about her creative process and what she’s been up to.



Colorful Christine


Barbara: What attracted you to theater? How did you get your start?

Christine: I’ve always been attracted to theatre because I am fascinated by the idea that a group of people can all be made to feel a feeling because of how words are put together by someone else.

I started by writing my own plays when I was about 7 years old, and they were all re-enactments of various horrible tortures people put other people through throughout history. I performed them for my horrified but supportive parents in my living room with my best friends. I acted in high school at the all-boys school in my town because I figured it was a great way to meet boys, and then I realized I actually like the theatre part better. I then realized I was a much better writer and director once I got to college, and have since then been attracted to the new-works scene because I love watching and being a part of the births of creative projects.

Barbara: This is a question borrowed from Mac Wellman – what is the first performance you remember seeing?

Christine: The first show I remember going to was Beauty and the Beast on Broadway – but I remember zero percent about the show, I only remember getting a cool sparkle wand afterwards. The first play I really remember seeing was Measure for Measure in London with my grandparents when I was about 7.

Barbara: How did you get involved in SF Olympians? What do you like?

Christine: I got involved when I wrote for The Sirens (The Sisters Sirene) with my friend Amelia Bethel two years ago. I was attracted to a Greek mythology festival, being someone who likes gore and torture and gossip. But I also was excited by the Olympians because it is a commission-based festival that really commits to nurturing its writers and their ideas.

Barbara: Tell me about how the festival nurtures writers. How is its model helpful for creating new work?

Christine: The writers’ meetings are a built-in community for people to make new connections and build on existing friendships. They’re so supportive of wherever you are in the process, and it’s nice to feel like we’re all struggling for the same thing. The whole festival also connects writers and directors and actors in this huge swirl of “wow this is my community, these are my people” which is such an invigorating experience for artists.

Barbara: Who’s your character and what’s your play about?

Christine: My play is about The River Styx, and while I’m still figuring out my play, I know it’s about being stuck and needing to cross something terrifying and not knowing how, or being afraid of it. It’s got a character who is forced to face all the things she’s messed up in her life, as well as all the things she’ll never get to do.

Barbara: What interesting challenges and/or opportunities have come up in the writing process?

Christine: I have never had writer’s block like I’ve had with this play. I’m normally one of those people who can shut myself up in a room and come out five hours later with the script I was supposed to write, plus 35 pages of another play I wrote by accident. Figuring out what Styx is about has taken me into doing a lot of really fascinating research, and immersing myself in the ideas I want to talk about in a way I haven’t done with other scripts.

Barbara: What stage is your script in currently and what are you excited to hear on the night of the reading?

Christine: It’s in the “I’ve had 15 versions of my first 15 pages” stage right now. I’m really excited to see what comes out of this struggle, and the audience reaction – the best part of theatre is being with other people when it happens!

Barbara: What writing/development do you anticipate having to do between now and the reading?

Christine: I love living-room readings, but I live in under 200 square feet, so I can really only have one if my cast is under 3 people and they’re willing to get cozy, or if someone else has a living room to donate…

Barbara: I’d love to hear your take on Bay Area theater. Why do it here and not in NY or someplace else? What do we have going for us? What could we stand to learn/put into practice?

Christine: Well, first off, I don’t like NYC because within ten seconds of getting into it, I become a huge jerk to everyone. It’s something in the air. I think what San Francisco has is many small groups of people who find that they need to work together and support each other in order to have a thriving arts scene, which means we come up with a lot of different kinds of performance, and new people are always discovering it. We’re also a community that recognises when someone is talented and then nurtures and encourages them to grow in a way I don’t hear my friends in New York talking about.

Barbara: What words of wisdom do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Christine: I think the best words of wisdom I ever received were just someone looking me in the eye and saying “You can do this. This is a hat, among many, that you can wear.”

Barbara: Any plugs for your work or friends’ work happening soon?

Christine: Of course! You should check out the Bay Area Playwrights Festival this weekend – my friend Logan Ellis directed Non-Player Character by Walt McGough. Also, Portal: The Musical is playing next week at Theater Pub, written by Kirk Shimano, whose play for Olympians I will be directing this year! I saw it this week and I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt the overwhelming urge to dedicate the next month of my life to re-playing Portals 1 and 2. And finally, my boyfriend Adam Magill will be in The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made Theatre coming up next month, and having read the script a few years ago, I am really excited to see what the excellent creative team does with it.


For more about Christine Keating, check out her website. Her play, STYX, commissioned by the San Francisco Olympians Festival, will be read on Wednesday, October 12 at EXIT Theatre in San Francisco.

The Real World – Theater Edition: Putting It Out There

Barbara Jwanouskos need your help to make 2016 the best year yet!

This past year and some change, I shifted “The Real World –Theater Edition” to be mainly interview based. The idea was to focus on the creative process by interviewing mainly playwrights, but also theater and performance creators of all kinds, to get their informal thoughts on something they’d been working on. I asked questions about moments of inspiration and obstacles that came up and listened to their words of wisdom for like-minded artists. I probed into what their thoughts on theater were – the current state, what they would change if they could, and where they see opportunities for growth.

Now it’s time to expand the circuit out and hear from artists of all kinds, but still with a focus on mainly new work.

I’m interested in interviewing the people who run companies – new and long-established. The people who develop local playwrights – I want to know why this is important to you and hear about your passion. The directors that work with living playwrights – how do you work together? How do you see your role? Actors involved in the development process – is this an interesting part of the creative process? Local theater makers – are there ways we can collaborate? Bring even more enthusiasm back to going to theater? And playwrights. Playwrights. Playwrights!

So, please send us (or comment below!) your thoughts. Whether they be points to particular artists or companies or questions you’d love to hear from artists interviewed about the creative process. Looming curiosities and things you’ve always wondered. Now’s the chance to look forward and learn more about our local theater community. Feel free to tweet @bjwany too! I’m listening.

Theater Around The Bay: Conversations With Hannah

Stuart Bousel shares snippets of a conversation with Hannah Gliksten, a British theater scholar who interviewed him for a piece she is writing on mythology, new work, and American Theater.

Hannah: What are the most major changes you see taking place in theater practices here and what might explain them?

Stuart: The biggest shift I am seeing is a shift from the current regional theater model to the more localized, boutique theater model, or what I call Farmer’s Market Theater. Essentially, everything is made locally, using local writers and casts, directors and designers, etc. generally performed on smaller stages, in black boxes, etc. all in an attempt to create a more sustainable theater scene and one that feels vital to the community it’s taking place in. To me, this is both where theater is headed and the best future for theater. I don’t think we’ll lose theater as a national presence or cease to have a national theater voice, but as such a large country with such a diverse populace, the importance of creating and cultivating a local theater scene is absolutely increasing with every day, and my hope is that the national presence and voice will soon reflect and honor that- which would actually be a return to the roots of what the regional theater system was supposed to be.

Hannah: Do audiences expect something different from the theater today?

Stuart: I always hesitate to speak for the audience in general, as I tend to believe the audience is kind of hard to predict and artists aren’t really supposed to try because when they do it tends towards pandering to the audience, and that almost always backfires. That said all artists operate to some degree on the premise that they know what “the audience wants” and I do think audiences expect to see something interesting, and don’t like to be alienated, that these are the basic principals of being entertaining (which granted, not all art seeks to be, or needs to be, or should be). This doesn’t mean you have to dumb things down or avoid challenging your audience, it just means I think they like to be treated like human beings, not talked down to, but also not talked over, and they like to see stuff which they perceive as relevant to them and their experience, or an insight into someone else’s experience or some other world. Mostly, I think audiences today, like audiences of every era, want to be stimulated, to feel like they are getting something out of their time and money, even if that something isn’t what they expected. For me, as an audience member, I actually probably love being surprised, more than anything else. Surprised and/or inspired. But I’ve been told I’m not a typical audience member. The problem with that is nobody seems to agree on just what or who the typical audience member is. Between you and me, I think I am the typical audience member.

Hannah: What are the most exciting movements (or writing) in your opinion, taking place in the USA?

Stuart: I mean, I love the fringe movement and I love the small theater movement, so that’s exciting to me. I think it’s cool that so many people are still making theater and studying theater (it’s more popular than ever as a major in college) even though it’s basically indisputably impractical as a career in the traditional definition of that (like, you’re almost assuredly never going to make a steady living at it no matter how good you are or where you live). There are a lot of writers around I really like, on the local and national and international level, far too many to name and feel like I was doing that list justice, but if I was to name ten working American stage-writers off the top of my head whose work I find consistently compelling: John Guare, Marsha Norman, Megan Cohen, Nat Cassidy, Sheila Callaghan, Kirk Shimano, Michael John LaChiusa, Claire Rice, Evelyn Jean Pine, and Robert Schenkkan. It excites me to no end that Stephen Sondheim is apparently working on a new show. I love that big cast shows are coming back, and all kinds of different genres like horror and fantasy and melodrama are returning, because the small cast American kitchen sink drama was really getting old and was rarely very good. I like all the interest in nontraditional and site specific venues, and alternative performance styles and hybrid/fusions of theater, dance, art, circus, etc. I’m excited that people keep trying to push the established forms and I think it actually keeps the established forms established, but also relevant.

Hannah: Is the digital culture a threat to theater in its traditional form?

Stuart: Nope. Lazy audiences and lazy artists are a threat to Art in any medium or form. Repressive governments and bad public education is a threat to Art. Lack of funding and lack of recognition and lack of opportunities for new and established artists are a threat to Art. Lots of things are a threat to Art but more people owning computers and using cellphones isn’t.

Hannah: Is there an ‘American myth’ and if so, how is it changing?

Stuart: An American myth of theater? Or life? You need to be more specific here, because of course there is an American myth and of course it’s changing, all the time, and that’s true of any culture. In any culture there are a whole bunch of myths, always at work, because the human psyche creates myths constantly and human personality latches onto them faster than they can be created or refuted. And anyone who tells you otherwise is either buying into a myth of their own or selling you one.

Hannah: Do we need a ‘modern mythology’ to accommodate our changing imaginations? Is Classical myth limited in its capacity to engage modern audiences?

Stuart: Classical myth is only limited if you take a purist approach, which I do not, or an antiquarian approach- which is useful as a point of reference or in research, but should never be thought of as the final word. Speaking of word, I tend to believe that mythology is the “first language” of the human race and just as language changes over time, meanings and definitions, relevance and frequency of usage, myths do too. The beauty of mythology is its ability to shift and change with time and cultural shift and change, because the imagination doesn’t change, not really, so much as it progressively expands. Even classical mythology was one more stop on a continuum of human consciousness, the ends of which we can’t see. We may think of classical mythology as a frozen, static thing, but it wasn’t in “classical times” and it has never been since and it’s not now, as can be demonstrated simply by reading three mythology treasuries in a row- I can promise, they will all be different from one another, to one degree or another. We absolutely need and have a modern mythology, and it’s composed of the mythology of the past, and honors it, but it’s also always informed by the needs and fears of the present, and the hopes and trepidations of the future. By the time I am able to really tell you what the modern mythology is, it will already have changed and that’s exactly as it should be: imagination should always move faster than the speed of life.

Cowan Palace: Casting Makes Me Itchy

…and scratching it makes it worse.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Ashley Cowan brings you this blog.

Casting is the worst. Yes, I know I have tendency to say a lot of stuff is the worst but sometimes, putting a cast together can be tricky. If you’ve been in the Bay Area theater scene for more than a minute, I’m sure you have a story of some casting nightmare. Either as an actor, director, writer, producer, WHATEVER, we’ve all been there at some point.

Yet even as I sit down to put this blog together, my heart starts to race and I get itchy. (I have a bad habit of breaking out into hives when I’m uncomfortable or nervous. Sexy, right?) Because I don’t want to go publicly airing all my theatrical horror stories out and about! This is a small community and I want to be able to work again!

It never seems like the right time to be honest with these types of experiences. They’re better saved for tipsy parties and whispered secrets in the back. Or passive aggressive blog entries and tears in dream journals. But when we can’t openly talk about these things as they’re unfolding, how do they have any chance to improve?

I’m sorry, guys. I think we can do better! This can be a brutal business and I think there’s some room for improvement. In my experience, too often across a range of theatre companies, I’ve found an unfortunate lack of communication throughout a production’s development. Maybe it’s just one too many callbacks because the “right” people weren’t there during an earlier audition or perhaps it’s hearing that the producer loves you but the director wanted to go for someone with a different look. Sometimes casting can really put the “itch” in bitch (am I right?!). And even once your group is set and you high five those involved, the production process and run can be a whole different beast.

Okay. Calm down, Ashley. No one wants to work with a Debbie Downer (waaaaahh waaaahhh). You have to understand that I come from a place of love. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be. I love being involved in as many capacities as possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to wear a few different hats during my time in this community. And I love hats. But each one certainly comes with its own set of challenges.

I’ve directed pieces and made strong casting choices that the writer did not envision. I’ve written work and seen it played by characters I didn’t expect. As an actor, I’ve watched writers undermine a director’s creative power by interjecting themselves deep into the rehearsal process. I’ve observed directors ignore a playwright’s opinion in lieu of their own. And I’ve struggled to honor the true intent of the play without the right guidance. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

One thing about San Francisco these days is that there’s lots of new stuff being done. Which means, often, the writer is very much a part of the production process. And while I haven’t had a ton of plays produced here, I still tend to have a hard time letting the grasp around my words go and allowing someone else to come in and direct them. Often, when I’m writing, I’m envisioning very specific details that don’t always come across in my stage directions or character descriptions. So when a director and I don’t see eye to eye on who should play a role, it opens up an interesting discussion. Who should get the final say? At what point does a writer have to step back and allow their story to come to life through the collaboration of others? Who ultimately takes ownership for the words once they’ve been sent out into the world?


Like anything else, I suppose it’s a delicate balance. We all (hopefully) want what’s best for the show. Our communication could be stronger. We need to be able to talk about these weaknesses and struggles for the sake of the art. Roles need to be defined and agreed upon. Writers need to trust their words and their directors, actors need to be confident to take risks and strong enough to stick to the text, and producers need to encourage these types of instincts and conversations.

When I’m not being Debbie Downer, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by words gaining new input and vision. I’ve witnessed the positive effects of a strong collaboration matched by earnest communication. And I like being a part of something with purpose. While casting and putting a show on its feet may never be the easiest thing in the world, we can each strive to be more aware of our place and how we can best move forward together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some Calamine lotion.