Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part II

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!


Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.


In For a Penny: Holidaze

Charles Lewis III, just in time for the holidays.

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“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving; nobody’s walking out on this old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no, we’re all in this together! This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on and we’re gonna have the hap-ha-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-dance with Danny-fuckin’-Kaye! And when Santa squeezes his fat White ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!”
– John Hughes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I didn’t plan on starting with that line, but considering that the other options I had for this week’s thread mostly revolved around the US’s supposed predilection for violence and one-upsmanship and my taking a look a lot of “classic American” plays that revolve around the idea that in order for you to be successful, someone else has to fail; adding to that a last-minute commentary about recent national tragedy and scandals and how a play I wrote is currently showing some uncomfortable parallels to allegations recently made in the adult film industry… after contemplating all of that, I decided to take the high road and focus on a subject much more easily digestible, namely Christmas. Specifically how it’s not at all my favorite holiday.

It’s not that I hate it, it’s just that once that I hit age, oh let’s say 20, I developed that Charlie Brown-esque disdain for all that “the Christmas season” represents. I don’t need to be reminded of the economic fundamentals that help us thrive, but that hasn’t improved my impression of shameless materialism. That may have more to do with the fact that the same economy has yet to provide me with a full-time job over the past few years, but that’s another story. I had to pinpoint one specific aspect I despise, it’s the idea that you have to be happy this time of year; you don’t have a choice in the matter. If this cold-as-a-witch’s-teat season doesn’t naturally fill you with skull-exploding merriment, then it means you’ve fired shots in the imaginary culture war that rages around you, because Communism or something.

As a theatre person, getting me to see a Christmas-themed play is akin to pulling my teeth. Since I’ll likely be spending most of the day emptying my bank for the sake of my family and friends (although I’m proud of my “shop local” ethic), the last thing I want to throw away two hours consciously ingesting the very “merriment” I’m trying to avoid. That’s why I’m less likely to head out to see A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker as I would a piece that consciously subverts the forced happiness of this cold month.

It breaks my heart that our colleagues at PianoFight won’t be staging their annual production of Dan Heath’s Merry Forking Christmas. The play, which originated at PF as a spin-off of the original Forking, hilariously skewers SF consumers, drug dealers, and mall Santas – in other words, right up my alley. And Theater Pub itself has originated a couple of Christmas-crushing productions that put a smile on my face just thinking about them. I’m still kicking myself for having never seen the Gentiles’ Crappy Holidays live, especially since two of the ‘Pub’s columnists acted in it. Thankfully the internet has preserved it for the ages.

Even before that, I myself took part in the ‘Pub’s first-ever Xmas-themed show, Code Red, a collection of monologues and shorts – mostly presented in the form of an AA meeting – from adults who are traumatized to learn that Santa isn’t real. My piece isn’t very well-written, but it’s presented alongside a lot of pieces that really are and they all have fun slaughtering the sacred cow that is Christmas’ most famous mascot.

After that first year, the ‘Pub started a tradition of doing musicals for their December entries. You might think that means a more upbeat story, but given that the two musical selections revolved around public crucifixion and AIDS, respectively, it was keeping in the tradition of recognizing this season as the downer it really is. Just look up “Christmas” on the ‘Pub’s YouTube channel and soak in all the seasonal sardonic satire. Hell, the next one revolves around a kid who gets traumatized for life after his father is killed. Good times.

As I said above, I don’t hate Christmas. What I hate is the idea that one is required to put on a specific emotion for the benefit everyone else. That’s outright fascist when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean that more traditional productions are inherently bad. I happen to like the clichéd morality tale of A Christmas Carol, love the music of The Nutcracker, and hold a reverence for The Black Nativity. I certainly won’t fault anyone for love these or any other holiday work, just don’t force me to do so. That’s all I ask.

So as we mix our egg nog with enough high-grade liquor that the punch bowl might just catch fire, let’s raise a glass to the storytellers who love to set traps for Santa ever year. There are plenty of Christmas Storys and Miracle on 34th Streets to keep the masses happy; give me the gore of Gremlins from a boozy Bad Santa if you want me to call this the happiest time of the year.

Charles Lewis III thinks you should all come see Theater Pub’s next Xmas musical, Guess Who on Monday – Dec. 14 at PianoFight. And not just because Charles himself is singing in it, but he does get to sing one of the most recognizable lyrics in music history.

Cowan Palace: Crappy Holidays From Our Dysfunctional Family To Yours!

Ashley’s enjoying the crap out of Crappy Holidays.

Hi gang! Well, it’s been quite the month in the new working mom/actress/writer sitcom that is my life in San Francisco. So this week I’m keeping with our themes “breaking the rules” and exploring the Fringe Festival with a blog comprised of some images of my experience being back on stage… instead of you know, writing about them. Such a rebel, I know.

Will Leschber, Warden Lawlor, and Ashley Cowan in Crappy Holidays

Will Leschber, Warden Lawlor, and Ashley Cowan in Crappy Holidays

But first, let me plug the show!

Crappy Holidays was written by the eternally funny and wonderfully wicked, Nick Gentile and Lisa Gentile. Warden Lawlor is our fearless director and completing the bad ass team is the cast; featuring, Eden Davis, Kat Bushnell, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammett, and Will Leschber. Oh, and Cowan Palace Queen herself, me.

Tavis Kammet, Ashley Cowan, and Will Leschber in the first scene of Crappy Holidays.

Tavis Kammet, Ashley Cowan, and Will Leschber in the first scene of Crappy Holidays.

As our Facebook invite explains, “Crappy Holidays is a trio of dark comedies showcasing the cynical side of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. “Death is My Bitch” features the Grim Reaper making friends in the wrong places. “Ma’s Thanksgiving Pie” depicts a quasi-sane mother locked in a battle of wits with her offspring. “Bobby’s Letter to Santa” delivers a drunken, disgruntled holiday icon facing a career change. Don’t need to see “A Christmas Carol” again? Then this show is for you!” (Guys, this show is seriously for you.)

Eden Davis puts the elf back into Christmas.

Eden Davis puts the elf back into Christmas.

The production has been endlessly fun to work on for so many reasons. Everyone is hilarious and brings so much to the table (sometimes in the form of pie!). You have three more chances to see us:

September 19 (1 PM),
September 20 (9 PM), and
September 22 (9 PM).

Katrina Bushnell and Tavis Kammet backstage at the Fringe.

Katrina Bushnell and Tavis Kammet backstage at the Fringe.

Also, The San Francisco Fringe Festival is in its 24th year! That means it can almost rent a car! It’s full of all the fun, adventurous stuff that defines the scene. So if you can, come see our show! Or go see one of the many other offerings of this year’s lineup. And if it helps to convince you, here are some pictures from our dressing room and from our show last night!

Dan Kurtz, approving of the editor's decision to scatter the pictures throughout the article.

Dan Kurtz, approving of the editor’s decision to scatter the pictures throughout the article.

Find out more about Crappy Holidays and all the other shows the Fringe has to offer at

Working Title: I Love the Smell of Crappy Holidays in the Morning

This week Will Leschber talks madness and holidays with Lisa and Nick Gentiles…the holidays…the holidays.

Apocalypse Wow. I’m sure everyone has their own story about trying to wrestle greatness. Was it an occasion where you had a single solitary moment to shine? Where the spotlight was on you and the play has built to this? When the coach called your play? What careful words did you choose as your child had a their first emotional crisis? Was it just surviving the holidays? Was it a season long slog towards a a project that may have been bigger than you? Were your limits tested? Did you emerge fractured or more sane that you ever thought before?

I used to see these moment of grasping towards greatness as single defining tests: the moment you had the lead; the moment you walked across that stage, shook his hand and took your diploma; the moment that culminated after arduous wedding planning; the moment of moving away; the moment you faced Death; the moment they gave you the award; the moment she took her first step. Now I think wrestling greatness may just be closer to an endurance test that a moment of strength.

How long can you rage unphased through the chaos? Some people thrive in havoc. It’s a bit extreme for my taste but to each his own. My god, how many people do you know who just gel when the chips are down, the curtain is up and the final dress is now? I feel like we must be a little mad to want to be constantly part of the process of tumultuous creation and destruction.

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One beautiful mad event that pull together variant strings of creation and chaos is the San Francisco Fringe Festival. 150 performances by 34 Indie theater companies. I was lucky enough to bend the ear of two great writers who are returning to the Fringe this year with another set of short plays. Nick and Lisa Gentile are the warped, beautiful minds behind Crappy Holidays. Crappy Holidays is a trio of dark comedies showcasing the cynical side of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Nothing sounds more like a warzone than holidays with Death, your family and a cursing Santa Claus, am I right?!

Since I have an incessant need to know what film pairing would perfectly with their play, I asked them. What film would send you up the thematic river and get you in the perfect unsound mindset to enjoy their play, I asked. Here’s what they had to say:

There are a lot of holiday movies, but we have a different recommendation: Apocalypse Now. We think this movie can be seen as a kind of twisted metaphor for what a lot of us go through during the holiday season.

We feel obligated to enjoy the holidays, as if it’s a mission. But a family gathering can feel like a journey into a heart of darkness. We often end up face to face with someone who’s methods have become … unsound. Sometimes, you eat that green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, or unwrap that Christmas sweater and you can only say “the horror…the horror.”

I can think of nothing that fits better on top of the yule log than a big ol’ helping of the horror…the horror. Makes me want to sing Carol of the Bells immediately. Yeeesh. Apocalypse Now, more like Apocalypse Wow. Am I right?

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If you are looking to cut through the chaos and get an early serving of holiday fruitcake, go see Crappy Holidays and any number of the other SF Fringe Festival shows. Greatness…and pumpkin pie…await.

The 2015 San Francisco Fringe Festival, 150 performances by 34 Indie theater companies,
September 11 through September 26. For more info visit: Apocalypse Now can be found for rent on many of the usual platforms (iTunes, Vudu, ect)

Cowan Palace: Five Festive Factors and How To Survive this Season

In honor of “Crappy Holidays”, Ashley Cowan explores the holiday season divide.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, for like half of us.

I, for one, bust out the holiday music as soon as I put my Halloween costume away and begin openly singing my praises. Though honestly, I watch Love Actually and sing “All I Want for Christmas” all year round. But even Mariah’s sweet jam can’t help that the holidays are also notoriously linked to the highest number of reported incidences of depression. Whether it’s the darker weather conditions, the excessive commercialism, or just the Grinch getting his Grinch on, it can be a hard time of year. The National Institute of Health sadly states that this is the season when suicides and attempted suicides skyrocket and one American survey found that 45% of those they interviewed claimed to dread and despise the holidays all together.


Following that sentiment, Theater Pub is preparing for its November offering with Nick and Lisa Gentile’s “Crappy Holidays”. An evening showcasing three new plays taking place during the fall and winter festivities. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas will each take their turn exploring some dark comedic colors in the rainbow that is the holiday season. And considering the mixed reviews that this time of year can bring in from the general public, Saturday’s show may be a perfect way to both celebrate and commiserate over them.

But why is there such a divide? These next few months present an array of challenges some seem to revel in and others yearn to avoid. From my research and understanding, I found the reasoning to surround five major factors. Consider me your Rudolf and I’ll guide this sleigh through them:

1.) The Food!

It starts during Halloween. And then it’s a few solid months of delicious edible opportunities. 90 million pounds of chocolate are sold during Halloween week and nearly $2 billion dollars is spent each year preparing for an evening of candy sharing. Next it’s November when we set aside a day to stay inside and eat a whopping 535 million pounds of turkey. Followed by trays of December holiday cookies and endless pumpkin inspired delicacies. For some it’s the excuse to overindulge (that’s what resolutions are for, am I right?) while the other half tries to slam the door and stay away from the temptation. My advice? Don’t let it overwhelm you! Rest assured that the latest studies show that in reality, people don’t tend to gain all the weight they fear they will; the average is only one pound! If you allow yourself to sample a few of your favorite treats in moderation, you should be just fine. Why not consider walking to get your next peppermint mocha and taking the long way home?

2.) The Family!

Whether it’s the trick-or-treaters, the guests sitting around your dining table, or the expecting recipients of a wrapped gift, chances are, you’ll find yourself faced with families. Be it your own or the crowds of others. And it can be overwhelming for anyone. If you spend these next few months surrounded by close loved ones or hiding from them, this time of year encourages the examination of family relationships. Try being patient with those you come in contact with and be gentle with yourself regarding your feelings. Families have the power to both push every button until you want to burst into flames and keep you warm on those chilly winter nights. You’re allowed to take a moment for yourself if you need it and return to the family festivities at your own pace.

3.) The Money!

Businesses can expect to see a rise of 25-40% in their sales during the holiday season. Last year alone, consumers spent $579.8 billion dollars! And to prepare for 2013, $9.6 billion dollars worth of toys have already been shipped from China to the United States. That’s a lot of money, y’all! It’s easy to get caught up in the commercials, online ads, or your own finances and wake up in January with a huge credit card balance. Take it easy. Consider organizing your shopping needs early and slowly checking them off your list. Pay attention to your buying habits and it may not seem so bad. If you can avoid the waves of endless shoppers it may help to make it all a bit more manageable.

4.) The Entertainment!

The music, the movies, the games, the parades, the decorations – you get it. There’s no lack of stimuli during the holidays. If you’re like me, you love dancing along to it all but so many people out there just hate it. You’re not alone! If you don’t like the music, put your headphones on and drown it out. If you can’t stand another Hallmark made-for-TV-movie, re-watch Breaking Bad. Yes, the entertainment may feel like it’s all around you but you can avoid it. That’s the beauty of DVR or a non-holiday themed book.

5.) The Reflection!

It’s hard to escape the mirror following you like a shadow during this time. It’s everywhere. You can’t help but reflect back on your year and compare yourself to those around you. It can be a painful reminder of challenges you faced or the sweet song of treasured memories. My suggestion is to treat yourself and each other with a little extra kindness and keep some reasonable expectations. 2013 wasn’t an easy year for a lot of us; why not use these remaining days to pat ourselves on the back for surviving it. Yes, there’s always room for improvement and maybe 2014 will help inspire that but you got through this year, kid, and that’s something! So try and let that mirror show you some of the good things as well.


The holiday season may have only just begun but as I’m sure you can see, it’s everywhere. And this week, it’s taking over Theater Pub with plays that are both naughty and nice. So before you get taken over by these five major powers of the season, come join the fun on Saturday at 8:30pm at the Exit Theatre’s Cafe (156 Eddy Street, San Francisco).

You can come listen to more of Ashley’s work tonight (November 13) at the Olympian Festival’s evening of plays surrounding the Trojan Women, see her perform in “Crappy Holidays” on November 16, or in a reading of SEE ALSO ALL on November 23rd. All of which will be happening by the Exit Theatre. See you there!

Off-Kilter And Off-Key: An Interview With Lisa and Nick Gentile

In anticipation of “Crappy Holidays”, our anti-celebration of the holiday season coming at you this Saturday, November 16 at 8:30 at the Exit Cafe, we took a moment to chat up Lisa and Nick Gentile, the creators behind the show and a unique husband and wife team in the San Francisco playwrighting scene.


So, level with us: what have you got against the holidays?

Nick: I always enjoyed the holidays because we got time off from school, so I appreciate the original purpose of the holidays – permission to behave irresponsibly. It’s all the dreary repetitive ritual stuff that got grafted onto the holidays that bothers me.

Lisa: Holidays are Petri dishes of angst, resentment, fear, expectation, hope, and love. It’s rich material for human drama. Some people take holidays so seriously, they need to be soothed when we handle an occasion with anything less than absolute reverence. Everything is fair game for us. I think that’s all there is to it.

Where did these plays come from? Real life experience? Horror stories of others? Your own twisted minds?

Nick: “Death Is My Bitch” came from real life. Lisa was driving on Highway 17 in the rain, and I started talking about how dangerous the road is, and she told me to shut up. We made up the part about dying, though.

Lisa: That’s not all that we made up.

Nick: “Ma’s Thanksgiving Pie” grew as we work-shopped it at Play Café. Doing readings at workshops helps a lot. When you hear it read, you realize what parts are thin. We realized that the first version of the play had only one plot twist, and that we needed to add a few more to make it worth the audience’s while.

Lisa: The empathy that helps us define a character’s wants and pains comes from real life. We like to riff on real world events and archetypes. Maybe we live closer to our shadow selves than some. It’s always high noon!

Nick: Neither of us can remember where “Bobby’s Letter to Santa” came from.

Lisa: Someone asked whether “Bobby” is autobiographical. I didn’t know how to respond.

Your work in general tends to have a bit of an off-kilter quality to it. What do you credit as the source for that?

Lisa: Real life is off-kilter.

Nick: Tell them about your background in psychology.

Lisa: At an early age, long before my formal education, I wanted to see what people would do in various situations. And what moves me more than anything else is the expression of human potential. In our writing I enjoy looking at creativity free of right or wrong. I like to explore how characters see and reach for what they want. I like that we don’t burden them with any codes of conduct other than what makes sense for the story. We get to cut loose, too.

Nick: My Pookie is like the Nietzschean Ubermehsch, beyond good and evil! As for me, I just listen to the voices in my head…the screaming ones…

What’s the best thing about writing as a team? What’s the worst?

Nick: The best part is that, when you run out of ideas, you can get help.

Lisa: The worst part is debating whose take is better for a given scene. We exhaust each other.

Many of the actors are ones you have worked with before. Do you generally write for certain actors?

Nick: We don’t write for specific actors. It’s only afterwards that we realize that this person would be perfect for that role, etc. But perhaps these actors have subconsciously educated us to write for them.

Lisa: We were lucky to meet most of this cast through Theater Pub. We know as a fact that Warden Lawlor, Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, Dan Kurtz, and Tavis Kammet will totally commit to these characters no questions asked.

Nick: At least one of them has actually said, “I’m your bitch. Anything you want.” It’s too much fun to give up.

Editor’s note: we’re fairly certain the actor in question is Warden.

Lisa: We’re excited to add Stefanie Geerlings, Eden Davis, and Doug Miller to the mix for this show.

You’ve formed your own production company recently- tell us more about that.

Lisa: When we started writing and submitting plays together it was easy to just be two authors. Someone else produced them. But then we started writing and producing short films with other collaborators and a loosely structured network of mix-and-match teams developed. Then we went on to produce films for our niece and nephews. We didn’t want our names to interfere with their credit. Now we also produce stage works. We needed a way to package our various contributions so we picked a name. Our mission is to generate smartly twisted comedy. Studio Banal+ is about to celebrate 10 years of letting the shadow shine.

What’s on the horizon for you after this show?

Nick: We’ve been trying to do a longer work for a while. It involves a producer, a director, and a screenwriter discussing a bad science fiction movie that they are trying to make, with nuns taken over by alien brains and pregnant androids. The three are arguing about changes they want to amok, and whether these are driven by artistic merit or hidden ulterior motives.

Lisa: Someday I want to set one at sea so that we can have those fake waves moving back and forth on stage. But I what I know about being at sea I can’t yet put to paper.

So really, come on… what is your favorite holiday?

Lisa: The ones where the whole family gets together are good fun. It’s nonstop storytelling, playing music, and laughing. But we can’t always make it happen around a holiday. Sometimes it’s a summer weekend at the beach or in the woods. Last year we scheduled our Christmas gift exchange for 30 minutes in the café at Bass Outdoor World in Manteca, even though none of us lives there.

Nick: The ancient roman holiday of Saturnalia. This occurred in December, and involved banquets, gift-giving, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned social norms. I think the Christians stole it and turned it into Christmas, and got rid of that carnival part, which was the best part. That Council of Nicea – they were jerks!

Don’t miss Crappy Holidays, this Saturday at 8:30 PM at the Exit Cafe (156 Eddy Street, San Francisco). Admission is free, with a five dollar suggested donation!

Only Two Weeks Till Our Next Show!

And now we have this killer image…


Deck the halls with irreverence!

San Francisco Theatre Pub is proud to present Crappy Holidays, three short plays about the holidays and their discontents, for one night only on November 16, 2013 at the EXIT Theatre Café at 8:30 PM!

Crappy Holidays, written by Nick Gentile and Lisa Gentile, includes Death is My Bitch, Ma’s Thanksgiving Pie, and Bobby’s Letter to Santa. The trio of dark comedies offers a grim reaper making friends in the wrong places, a quasi-sane mother outwitting her offspring, and a disgruntled holiday icon facing a career change. The cast includes Ashley Cowan, Eden Davis, Stephanie Geerlings, Dan Kurtz, B. Warden Lawlor, William Leschber, and Tavis Kammet.

Says director Nick Gentile: “If you don’t need to see another production of A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, this show is for you! Oh, and the cast rocks!”

Admission will be free, with a suggested donation, at the door!

The EXIT Theatre Café is located at 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA.