Theater Around The Bay: In Defense Of Stirring Shit Up

Co-founding Artistic Director Stuart Bousel talks about why he stirs shit up, why this blog exists, and why any of us do anything besides sit at home and watch TV.

So last week I had reached a saturation point with the seemingly endless status updates about how people couldn’t wait to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in a production of No Man’s Land, by Harold Pinter, that was playing over at Berkeley Rep. I am sure you’ve heard of it, if you follow Bay Area theater at all. The production, I mean, not my saturation point with the fans. Though maybe you’ve heard about that too, by now. As usual, you can’t have an opinion here without somebody objecting to it as loudly as possible. Which is exactly how I like it, for the record. More on that later.

Without begrudging anyone their idea of a good time (I am the first to admit that pretty much everything I like and am willing to spend money and time on is, put in the right light, utterly ridiculous), I was surprised to see how much of the language my community was expressing itself with, really centered around unqualified adoration of the stars of the show (both actors I admire greatly myself), with very little excitement ever seeming to be in regards to the play itself, the roles they were in, the production, the writer, etc. Additionally, a lot of the status updates were leading up to the show, often times coming from within the theater itself, moments before the show began, but there was noticeably a lack of discussion AFTER the show, or if there were more updates they tended to remain centered around the stars, pictures of people meeting the stars, excited reports of how close they had come to meeting the stars, etc. Again, very little about the show itself, about the production, the script, the writer, the experience of the work as theater and not just as a star vehicle. You know, very little discussion of the art that these fine actors had ostensibly come here share. Without meaning to be too accusatory, but coming from a genuine stance of simply observing, it was like a whole lot of people were working for a hype machine, the pervasiveness of which rarely seems to manifest itself in the Bay Area theater community, and to my knowledge has never done so around specific actors with little to no regard to the actual work those actors were engaged in. I mean, I certainly don’t recall this level of excitement over Rita Moreno in The Glass Menagerie, you know? But then again, Rita Moreno hasn’t had a string of massive blockbuster movies keeping her in the public eye, has she? Come to think of it, I don’t remember this much hooplah around Kevin Spacey in Richard III either. Which is a show I totally made a point to see, by the way, and loved.  No one ever said I was innocent here.

Anyway, as an active and deeply invested member of this theater community for 11 years, I found the whole thing rather surprising… and progressively grating. I mean, I had no idea we were this obsessed with famous actors, and yes, I was a bit disappointed that a number of individuals I frequently see touting their rigid anti-establishment ideals were amongst the most twitter-pated by the chance to bask in the radius of famous people (and believe me when I say no, no they weren’t phrasing it as “these are skilled people who I am looking forward to watching use those skills in a challenging play I have always been fascinated by”, they were screaming “OMG- CELEBRITIES!”), and then to also crow about it as loudly as possible (this last part is the part I actually found grating). Though I fervidly applaud Berkeley Rep for a brilliant marketing move and I have heard from people genuinely interested in the work as a whole (famous actors included), that it was quite good, the fact remains there were a number of people who chose to make it a point to let everyone else know THEY WERE THERE and because they made that choice, I got to make my own about whether or not I was going make snarky comments about it.

You have to understand, I have roughly 700 “friends” in the local theater community, and so it’s rare that a day goes by I don’t find myself staring at a screen full of people bemoaning (often times quite understandably) one thing or another about the theater community, local and national, that they feel should be improved, changed or ejected as quickly as possible- including star vehicles and plays by white men that feature exclusively white male casts. I, personally, have nothing against either of these things, but I do find it sort of suspicious when you tell me on Tuesday you hate something but seem to have forgotten that by Wednesday after you heard someone you personally like is involved. I don’t think my surprise or stance that it smelled a little strongly of hypocrisy (in some corners) is unreasonable or unfounded, so I ultimately decided it was worth calling people on, knowing full well some people would find that obnoxious- and rightfully so. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. That my conclusions may ultimately be wrong, or short-changing the community, is one thing, but they weren’t coming from an unprecedented place, they were coming from a “methinks the lady doth protest too much” place, and so the idea that they shouldn’t be shared would have been wrong. It’s only by making assertions, right or wrong, that we have any chance of eventually discovering “the truth.”

So here is what I posted:

God, I had no idea how many rabid PINTER fans were in the Bay Area until this recent production of No Man’s Land. You crazy kids- I hope all of us producers are taking note and planning next season accordingly. Stop with the original works and the female playwrights and the Stoppard and the Becketts and the what-have-you, everybody! Hey- kick that Billy Shakespeare to the curb, even he’s out because, didn’t you hear? It’s PINTER! The people want PINTER! They can’t get enough PINTER!

Pretty obviously (or at least I think it’s pretty obvious), I’m poking fun (in a dry, glib manner that is pretty characteristic of who I am) at what I perceive as a community, often proudly defined by its inclination to tub-thump for various causes and ideals, having succumbed to a rather unprecedented and amusing spasm of un-abashed celebrity worship. Not everyone, of course, but a noticeable enough trend that I alone hadn’t noticed it: something that became quickly evident by the number of people (over 100 responses) who either agreed, disagreed, or were just amused enough by the witticism to reflect that it wasn’t exactly hard to get (and thus not without validity). Whether or not my conclusions were correct (and I still think they are, albeit with caveats, including the perfectly viable question “Is there anything wrong with celebrity worship?”), clearly I had fired a shot directly into a point of contention that had been waiting to erupt. Since I had made my pointedly barbed post with the intention it would get an interesting array of responses, I consider the endeavor successful, and yes I do think it would have been less successful if I had been less arch in my observation and so I stand by my method as much as I celebrate the results. Some good conversation was had, even despite a personal drama that unfolded on the thread, and the far too expected attempt by the local thought police to shame me for “shaming people” even though calling people on their public, self-published conduct isn’t exactly shaming them so much as giving them the attention they wanted, albeit perhaps not as they intended. Oh well, get used to it. If you didn’t want a reaction then you shouldn’t have said anything, and if you think you get to just say whatever you want in public and not have people react to it (including critically) then you are horribly naive or horribly self-absorbed. The constant possibility of reactions beyond your control are just the nature of a life where you have elected to live big and loud over quietly tending your own garden and being satisfied with that.

To be honest, if you are “shamed” by someone making a snarky but incredibly general, non-individualized comment about a community in which you self-identify it may be worthwhile to ask yourself what insecurity within yourself causes that immediate self- identification (“I know he’s talking about me!”) and that obviously guilty reaction that lashes out and tries to suppress the critique (“How dare you suggest this!”) rather than confront it and challenge it back with the truth as you see it (“Fuck you dude, I do what I want, for any reason I want, suck it!”). The fact is, I didn’t finger point anyone (though I could have), but made an intentionally broad observation, in pointed jest, and then sat back and watched the guilty creatures sitting at the play do all the work for me. Well, sat back isn’t exactly true: I definitely kept inserting my two cents into the conversation, but that’s because I say the things I say expressly for that reason: to start a conversation. A conversation that I feel usually needs to be had, but isn’t being had. Pushing that conversation via the Internet, where it is incredibly easy to ignore any conversation you don’t want to be a part of, is about the least hostile way I can think of to get what needs to be done done, but more and more I’m aware of a certain perspective that maintains that questioning of any kind is akin to a personal attack and I have also noticed that the people most likely to try and shut down any line of questioning they don’t approve of are usually the people most vocally and pervasively expounding their opinions on a regular basis. The caveat there being that they tend to think of their opinions as facts, when in fact they are opinions.

And what’s wrong with that?

Well… honestly… nothing. I mean, I do the same thing. Which is my point. There is nothing wrong with expressing your opinions, and there is nothing wrong with taking your opinions seriously if you feel you have been given substantial reason to believe what you believe to be true (and ideally, so long as you are also open to being challenged, but I recognize that could be asking too much from humans as a species). From my perspective, debate is absolutely necessary if we are to retain the most important freedom of any community that seeks to grow and improve, let alone a community that is supposed to be centered around expression: the freedom of ideas, both the freedom to think them and the freedom to express them as best we see fit, so long as it’s not with violence and threats. With an acceptance of this basic premise (and if you don’t accept it, that’s fine, feel free to add it to the debate list) needs to come an understanding that provocative ideas and provocative expression of those ideas are not only to be tolerated, but also expected and to some extent encouraged.

Why?

Because it’s our jobs as intellectuals and artists and creators and fonts of inspiration to stir shit up and the beauty of it all is, we get a variety of ways to do that and all of them are good so long as nobody’s human rights are compromised and nobody gets physically hurt (your feelings, contrary to much of what society is telling you, are not anybody’s responsibility but your own- and yes, I say that as somebody who is constantly wondering why nobody cares about my feelings), or stands up in the middle of your show and starts the debate then. The best thing about the Internet (and maybe the worst thing too, but there is no free lunch) is that it has created a field of battle onto which anyone can step, at any given time. Or step off of. Or chose to ignore entirely. If only real war was as easily managed as a flame war, right?

But really, why is it important to have any kind of debate or war or whatever at all?

Because it stops us from becoming drones, that’s why. Because as lovely as it is that so many people are publishing essays, books, articles and blog upon blog telling us how to run our companies, and how to make our art, and how to conduct ourselves as actors, producers, writers, directors, and general applicants for a life in “professional theater”, and because as genuinely helpful as some of this information is, there is a noticeable dearth of material encouraging us to be truly engaged as artists and audience members, perpetuators and participants who are all part of a lively and active conversation, and there is even less telling us to say what we really think and feel, even though there seems to be an awful lot out there telling us what we’re doing wrong and basically trying to scare us into SAYING NOTHING. Something which isn’t hard to do because hell yes, it’s a scary world out there and as soon as you step up to the mic to address it you have opened yourself up to endless possible showers of feces and I can’t change that. All I can do is encourage you to get up there and do it anyway.

I could not be a louder tub-thumper for a community that works together and cares about one another and is invested in each other’s projects and prosperity, but if you think that means I’m looking for us to be intellectually and aesthetically homogenous then you are missing the point of why there’s supposed to be more than one of us doing this or why, for instance, this blog has more than one person writing for it, and why everyone who does write for it are pretty much given the freedom to write whatever they want and are certainly under no obligation to agree with me or anyone else about anything. Case in point, Dave Sikula, in regards to the last paragraph of your 8/30 blog, calling people on why they go see No Man’s Land is not about convincing anyone anything or perpetuating the idea that one motivation for going to see a show is any more pure than any other; it’s not about me saying I’m right: it’s about getting people to just think about why they do anything at all, let alone why they go to the theater. And yeah, I hope they’re thinking about that when they chose to come to my shows. Or chose not to.

The point of art and the reason why artists are necessary is to challenge the world, whether it’s by showing it a mirror, or showing it a window, or showing it the middle finger. We’re here to keep the conversation going in a battle against apathy, conformity, cowardice, intellectual laziness and intellectual tyranny and everyone is welcome because seriously, we’re going to need everyone or the battle is sure to be lost.

Which is why, even as you rush off (whoever you are) to write your scathing response to all of this and what an evil, tyrannical, intellectually lazy, self-serving, self-obsessed, self-righteous bastard I am, I just want you to pause for one moment so I can say, “Thank you. Thank you for listening and thank you for caring and thank you for engaging and thank you for contributing whatever ridiculous bullshit or certified gold is about to come spilling out of your mouth. If I hadn’t wanted to hear it, I wouldn’t have said anything in the first place, but I truly do believe the world is better for both of us being in it.”

Emphasis on “both.”

Stuart Bousel is a founding artistic director of the San Francisco Theater Pub, a prolific Bay Area writer, producer, director and actor, and loves hearing what you have to say. No, for real. Find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

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It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: “Right,” “Wrong,” and All Points In-Between

Dave Sikula pulls a double feature.

A couple of topics this time around.

Recently, I’ve read advice from various people about how actors should approach the audition process and the protocol thereof. At the time, that advice struck me as odd and unnecessary. Were actors really that clueless? I’ve seen (and done) a lot of auditions and the vast majority were perfectly fine. There were occasional odd ducks, but I’ve always seen those folks. I mean, the procedure should be perfectly simple: an actor comes in, says hello, gives their name and the play their piece is from, takes a moment to prepare, and delivers the goods. (As a side note, I almost always try to talk to the people who audition for me. I like to ask them about their monologue or song; their past credits or a director they’ve listed on their resume; where they’re from or went to school; anything to get more of a sense of the person than just listening to them do a monologue for two minutes. I know how nervous the audition process makes some people, and they’re usually more relaxed and “themselves” after they get it over with.)

All of those impressions changed a couple of weeks ago.

I was part of a group of directors who were holding general auditions for a local company. We were scheduled to see about 25 people, but of course four never showed up (I’ve never understood why you’d go to all the trouble of making an audition appointment and just not show, without even a phone call or email. Maybe you’ve gotten another gig in the meantime, but still, don’t leave us hanging. Personally, I wouldn’t hold being a no-show against an actor, but I’m sure there are some directors who would. But I digress …).

Of the folks who did show, the majority were very good. There were, of course, odd ducks: one person didn’t do a monologue so much as tell us a story about an occurrence in their past, and another just stood there and read a speech off a sheet of paper. (I mean, you can’t even be bothered to partially memorize it?)

But, almost to a person, the actors came in, kind of looked at us, walked to center stage, and just launched into their pieces without so much as a “hello.” Granted, they’d been introduced by the person running the audition, and we had their names on a sheet, but it’s a couple of weeks later, and I still have no idea what some of those monologues were.

Is there a reason for this? Nerves? Poor training? Lack of confidence? Something else? I’ve been genuinely baffled. I know I’d rather see a mediocre monologue by someone who has a personality, and who seems friendly and someone I’d like to work with than a brilliant piece by someone who comes in and seems embarrassed by the whole process. (They’ll probably both get callbacks, though, I have to admit.)

My advice? (And remember, this is worth the price you’re paying for it …) Come in, be as friendly as your nerves will allow, introduce yourself and your piece, prepare, deliver it boldly and with your own spin on it (let me see what you can do), don’t look the auditors in the eye (you’d be amazed how many people try to make eye contact), and thank us at the end. Do that and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Moving on …

The landlord here recently wrote a post on Facebook (and this is my impression of his post) lamenting the way he felt people were overreacting to “No Man’s Land” at Berkeley Rep (and, by the way, to pick up a thread from last time, I did indeed stand at the end of the show – and did so willingly and happily. It was a marvelous experience to see the performance in close-up and really pick up on the nuances in the performances).

A lively discussion ensued – and is probably still going on – and I wanted to throw my two cents in. Personally, I was thrilled when I heard the production was coming to town; not because Stewart and McKellen have been in big budget movies (for example, I haven’t seen any of the “Lord of the Rings” movies and have no desire to), but because they’re world class actors (as are Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley) doing an interesting and difficult play. (Would I have seen the show if it were being done by local actors? Unless I knew them, probably not, so I’ll cop to that.)

But, for me, anyway, it’s not a matter of “ooh, someone I’ve seen in a movie is doing a play!” For example,  John Malkovich – a fine actor who’s starred in some wonderful (and terrible) films – is doing a show in Berkeley next year, and I have no interest in that, but I am looking forward to a number of shows at local companies this fall. It’s the potential combination of actors and script that attract me, not the idea of seeing a “star.” I’ve seen moving and profound performances in postage-stamp sized theatres by actors who will never become “famous” (some of which were in languages I couldn’t even understand – Georges Bigot’s quadruple-header of Richard II, Toby Belch, Orsino, and Prince Hal may be the greatest things I’ve ever seen, and they were all in French) and lousy performances by major names (if I never see performances as bad as Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” I’ll consider myself very lucky).

And if people do go to see “No Man’s Land” because of the chance to see Jean-Luc Picard and Magneto, why is that a bad thing? Their exposure to a play that dense may baffle them, but it may also open whole new vistas for them and get them to see something for the “right” reasons, whatever those may be. Why is one experience more pure or legitimate than another? People are going to enjoy – or not enjoy – whatever they want and no amount of telling them they’re seeing a play for the “wrong” reasons is going to convince them otherwise.

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: On Applause

Dave Sikula ponders Standing Ovations and other ways we tell the artists that we like their work.

Like many of you, I’ve seen “No Man’s Land” at Berkeley Rep. Unlike many of you, I’ll be seeing it again this week. My wife and I were originally scheduled to see it for her birthday, but family matters took her out of town early. She was able to catch it last week, though, and of course, once she’d seen it, I had to go.

I was struck by a few things about the performance. The first was, while it’s a fine, fine production of an enigmatic play, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “revelatory” as have some. Years ago, I was lucky enough to see Pinter himself (with Liv Ullmann, of all people) in a production of “Old Times.” That production was revelatory. After years of reading how Pinter should be played, it was fascinating to watch the man himself practice what he preached. It was a superb production – and would have been so even if he hadn’t been Harold Pinter. Pauses were just that; brief hiatuses just calling attention to themselves before moving on, rather than import-filled breaks in the dialogue. As with so much of Pinter, it was creepy and atmospheric, but in just the right amounts. (And let me hasten to add, so is the current offering. It’s just I’ve already been there …)

But the two things that interested me most were these:

As the curtain rose with both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen on stage, there was no entrance applause. I don’t know if it was because the former was wearing a toupe and the latter was facing upstage (and by the time they were more or less recognizable, the show was well underway) or if the Berkeley audience has just achieved a gratifying level of sophistication. Regardless, I was glad to not be met with that most interruptive of rituals.

In my time (he said, sounding like his grandfather – who never talked like that anyway), I’ve been lucky enough to see a goodly number of important stage actors – Katharine Hepburn (even met her backstage), Christopher Plummer, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Rex Harrison, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, Ben Kingsley, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Alan Bates, Frank Langella, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline – but I can’t think of more than a handful of people I’d want to give entrance applause to. Why people do it at all puzzles me. Sure, they’re great artists, but you’re basically applauding them because you recognize them and they’ve shown up for work. Unless directors and writers have anticipated the situation, you’ve placed everyone on stage in the awkward position of stopping the show cold, holding, and waiting until things die down. (In a way, it strikes me as the same thing as people applauding a singer when they hear a hit song they recognize. I’m reminded of a story I heard about Tony Bennett rehearsing in an empty auditorium. He started singing the verse of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and it went like this: “The loveliness of Pari – thank you for remembering.” He knew that’s where the inexplicable applause would come.)

Now here’s where I make sure you realize I think all of these people are more than deserving of applause, accolades, and any laurels that come their way. It just strikes me as an odd ritual that, in America at least (I hear they don’t do it in London), people start clapping the second they see a big name on stage.

Similarly, at the end of the show, people leaped to their feet to give the show a standing ovation. (That is, most everyone; the older woman next to me could barely wait for the lights to come down before bounding from her seat and getting out of the theatre.) Now, I understand how, when people are profoundly moved, they want to give a standing O. I’ve done it on many occasions, but I’m more interested in the peer pressure of the act – not to mention the unintentional standing ovation. In the former case, as with “No Man’s Land,” while I felt it was an excellent production, I wasn’t moved by it. As much as I enjoyed it (which was significantly), I didn’t feel compelled to stand to show that enjoyment. A good portion of that, though, can be chalked up to my having a seat that was in an inconspicuous location. No one would see if I stood or sat. On my next viewing, though, I’ll be in the front row, visible to both the cast and the house as a whole, and will feel the need to stand, whether I feel the performance deserved it or not. I’ll admit it will neither be a strain nor a compromise to do so, but the impetus will come more from a desire to avoid “what’s wrong with him?” than a genuine expression of being deeply touched. Actually, last week, I was nearly forced into standing by the latter occurrence, the unintentional standing O; that is to say, when during the applause, poor sightlines force one to stand simply to see who’s on stage. I may not have even liked the show, but circumstances have made me stand just so I can find out what’s happening up there.

Stephen Sondheim (for whom I have given both entrance applause and a standing ovation) has speculated that it’s high ticket prices that have created the automatic standing O; that audiences have spent so much money on tickets, parking, babysitters, meals, souvenirs, etc., that standing at the end of the performance is a way to convince themselves that the expense was worth it. “I may have spent a lot, but look at what I got!” There may be something in that, but I’ve seen shows in venues ranging from community theatres to some of our better-known professional houses that got standers even when the results were neither particularly expensive nor good. Even when I’ve been on the receiving end of them, I’m grateful, but (more often than not) think “We were good, but we weren’t that good.” Conversely, I’ve seen shows that were deeply moving and/or entertaining that no one has risen for. (And on one occasion on Broadway – “The Pirates of Penzance” – I was the only one standing. One of the single-most entertaining evenings of my life, and I was determined to show it.)

Ultimately, I don’t know what my point in raising this is. Maybe it’s just an expression of my observation; maybe it’s just my contrary psychology. All I know is, come Saturday, I will rise to my feet at the end of the performance, but it may not be because I want to, but just because I ought to.

Dave Sikula has been acting and directing in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for more than 30 years. He’s worked with such companies as American Conservatory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, the Grove Shakespeare Festival, Dragon Productions, Palo Alto Players, and 42nd Street Moon. As a writer and dramaturg, he’s translated the plays of Anton Chekhov and had work produced by ANTA West.

Falling With Style: Five Bay Area Shows I’m Excited About This Season

Helen Laroche is excited about what’s to come. 

As I become less and less inclined to audition these days, I’m happy to find that I’m still interested in the thing that got me to theater and storytelling in the first place — watching it. Because really, isn’t the best part of being an artist (nay, a person!) getting to share in a well-told story, whether you’re telling it or hearing it?

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of shows I’m excited to see this upcoming season. For fairness’ sake, I didn’t put any shows that Theater Pub People(TM) are directly involved with (although you should know that they are the nonpareil of quality, and you should definitely check out The Age of Beauty which closes this Saturday at the EXIT; the SF Fringe Festival which runs the month of September 2013 at the EXIT; and the SF Olympians Festival, which goes up in November 2013 at … any wild guesses? The EXIT.)

So without further ado, here is the completely-personal, your-own-opinion-is-totally-valued-but-will-not-sway-me list of 5 Bay Area shows I’m looking forward to this season.

1. No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep (Berkeley), by Harold Pinter; runs now through August 31, 2013.

Yeah, let’s get this one out of the way. I’m excited, and I think it will ruffle some small-theater feathers to put this first on the list, but here it is. Berkeley Rep’s marketing ploy worked perfectly on my household: I bought season tickets to Berkeley Rep just to get tickets to this show. My husband, the non-theatre guy of our household, is excited to see “Dr. Xavier and Magneto be in love.” I’m excited because I’ve never seen a Pinter play, and I’ve never seen these guys live. And it’s just been fun to watch the jolt this has given the whole theater community.

2. Road Show at The Rhino (San Francisco), by Stephen Sondheim; runs January 2 – 19, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre

When I saw the Rhino’s season announcement email, with the last names of all their playwrights, and saw “Sondheim” among them, I high tailed it to their website to learn more. What Sondheim piece would fit into their “queer theater” credo? Turns out it’s a piece I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen — his most recent show, Road Show (formerly Bounce), which was first produced in 2003 and re-mounted with major revisions in 2008. It involves two brothers, one brother’s (male) lover, and their luck as they mine for gold in the Wild West.

3. Silent Sky at TheatreWorks (Mountain View), by Lauren Gunderson; runs January 15—February 9, 2014

Lauren Gunderson has been so hot these past couple seasons, and I have to admit that I haven’t seen a show of hers mounted yet. But I have read one of her plays, and the story is such that I will be a fan of hers for life: I was setting up a Shakespearean parlor reading at my apartment, and when it was clear we weren’t going to have the minimum number of people necessary to read All’s Well That Ends Well, I remembered that Lauren had a series of Shakespeare-inspired plays. (The first, Exit, Pursued By a Bear, had a rolling premiere last season (two seasons ago?) that included a staging at Impact Theater.) I went to her website, saw her list of works, and emailed her to ask if my friends and I could read the fourth in the series, called We Are Denmark. AND SHE SAID YES AND SENT OVER A PDF THAT STILL SAID DRAFT ON IT. It was so freakin’ cool. (And the play was great, to boot.)

So, she’s got a groupie in me now, for a number of reasons. But yeah, We Are Denmark centers in some part around astronomy, which Silent Sky also does. So I expect greatness. Also, TheatreWorks proved themselves to be awesome at night sky stage dressings in their awesome production of Fly By Night. So that’s another point in this production’s favor.

4. Top Girls at Custom Made Theatre Company (San Francisco), by Caryl Churchill; runs March 18 – April 13, 2014

When I first saw the audition notice go out for Custom Made’s upcoming season, I did my homework and read through all their shows. (For someone who calls herself a “theatre person,” I have read a woefully small number of plays in my life. So whenever I hear of a new season, it usually involves a lot of reading.) Top Girls is the one that stood out to me in the season, for two reasons: (1) it not only passes the Bechdel test, it blows it to smithereens; and (2) the amount of overlapping talking in the play makes for very difficult reading, to say nothing of how it’ll be staged and presented. Have you ever read Glengarry Glen Ross? That’s sort of stilted speech, with constant interruption, yet with each character maintaining her own line of thought. I’m interested in seeing this show for intellectual reasons as much as anything else.

5. The Color Purple at Hillbarn Theatre (Foster City), adapted from the book by Alice Walker; runs May 9 – June 1, 2014

When I first saw this musical done professionally, I was so moved I saw it twice. Sure, it had its moments of being over the top (just like any musical should!), but Alice Walker’s story was all still there, and Celie’s transformation into a self-confident woman was mirrored so compellingly in the actress’ soaring gospel voice. (I’ve always been a sucker for gospel.)

Doing this show at the community theatre level is a gamble on many levels, and it’s the first non-Equity presentation I’m aware of, anywhere. And you gotta hand it to Hillbarn for taking the leap and producing this show — I hope it gets the talent turnout they need to cast a 40+ person, nearly all-minority show. (We all know the talent’s out there; it’s just a matter of getting people to Foster City. And hey, they did it with Ragtime last season, to great effect. So if anyone can do it, Hillbarn can.)

(Auditions are early 2014, guys!)

Bonus: Camelot at SF Playhouse (San Francisco), by Lerner and Lowe; runs now through September 21, 2013.

So I lied. Had to tack this one on, playing now through late September. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of this musical. No amount of Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews could save it.

But maybe Angel from RENT could.

That’s right. This production stars Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the Tony Award-winning actor who originated the role of Angel, as Sir Lancelot. HOW is it halfway through the run and I haven’t heard about this?? WHO is running the marketing over there??

Other actors in the cast include a hodge-podge of Bay Area actors, Equity and non-Equity, including Bay Area favorite Monique Hafen as Guenevere. 

So. Now you know which shows (some, guilty pleasures; others, intellectually stimulating) that I’m looking forward to this season. How about you? Are you going to come see these with me? Do you have others on your mental list that you want to share?

Leave it all in the comments!

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area theatre-type, currently doing her thing at www.sayshelen.com

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

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

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

Tracy Held Potter: I’m a writer/director/producer who recently discovered that I have to create inspirational mantras that are the exact opposite of the inspirational mantras that I used in high school. I run All Terrain Theater (www.allterraintheater.org) and Play Cafe (www.playcafe.org) and I’m a co-founder of the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project with Rachel Bublitz (http://31plays31days.com). My biggest projects right now are directing The Fantasy Club by Rachel Bublitz and getting ready to move to the East Coast for a fancy-pants MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Jonathan Carpenter: Formerly a biologist and Bostonian, I’m now a San Francisco-based theater director. I love bold, new plays that sometimes have music and sometimes don’t happen in traditional theater spaces at all.

Colin Johnson: I am Colin and I like telling stories and stuff.

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

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

Tracy Held Potter: I saw several Theater Pub shows in the past year and loved them, especially Pint-Sized Plays, and also got to run sound for Pub from Another World, which was extremely fun. “Audrey Scare People Play?” Whaaaaaat!

Jonathan Carpenter: This is my first time directing for Theater Pub! I met Meg O’Connor at an event for the SF Olympians Festival. She mentioned that her friend Neil (Higgins) was looking for directors for the Pint Sized Festival. A few days later, Neil and I were emailing each other about the line-up for this year’s festival, and not too long after I was on board to be part of the Pint Sized directing team. I had always been really interested in Theater Pub, and so when the opportunity arose to get involved, I jumped on it.

Colin Johnson: I got involved through the fearless producer called Neil, whom I’ve worked with during the last two years on the SF Olympians Festival.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: There’s nothing better than being in the rehearsal room and digging into a script with actors, so I would say that my rehearsal time with Jessica (Chisum), Lara (Gold), and Andrew (Chung) was the most exciting part of the process for me. Multitasking (by Christian Simonsen) is a deceptively tricky play. You have to keep asking yourself, “Wait, what the hell is going on here?!” All three actors were really smart about figuring out what makes these characters tick. I had a blast bringing the play to life with them.

Colin Johnson: Analyzing and then over-directing the crap out of a one page script. Sometimes the greatest challenges come in the smallest packages. Oh, and also practicing a musical number with a drunk llama.

Tracy Held Potter: Getting invited to direct for Pint-Sized plays and then finding out that I was going to direct a piece by Megan Cohen were freaking awesome. I still relive moments from watching Megan’s piece from last year, so this really has been a thrill for me. I also loved rehearsing with Charles Lewis III, Caitlin Evenson, and Jessica Rudholm … and I won’t lie that sewing the knight props and costumes in the middle of the night was pretty special as well.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Tracy Held Potter: Keeping things simple with this brief yet epic play. I tend to work on projects with a minimal amount of props and set design, but there’s a part of me that wants to go all out with this one: more rehearsals in the space and more elaborate costuming. I got to work with a great cast and I we pulled out a lot of interesting material from the script in a very short period, so I can’t really complain, though.

Colin Johnson: Troublesome? I don’t know the meaning of the word, I say! But I suppose rehearsing with a drunk llama can have its setbacks.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting was probably the trickiest piece of the puzzle for me. There are, of course, so many wonderful actors in the Bay Area; the only problem is that they’re so wonderful that they’re always cast in multiple projects! The Theater Pub performance schedule is great because Monday is usually a day off for actors, so it’s possible to do Theater Pub along with other shows. But it doesn’t always work out. I lost a terrific actor that I was really excited to work with because it turned out that she was needed for rehearsals for another project during the final week of Pint Sized performances. And then when I had to find another actress for that role, there were several other wonderful folks that I couldn’t use because we couldn’t find common free times to rehearse! It all worked out beautifully in the end – thanks to Neil’s guidance, persistence, and huge network of actor friends – but there were some moments where I was really banging my head against the wall.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

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

Tracy Held Potter: I would say “seat of your pants” because I have sensitive teeth and the other metaphor makes them hurt.

Jonathan Carpenter: Pint Sized is definitely a seat of your pants kind of endeavor. You’re making theater that’s going to happen in a bar where anything can happen. Someone could walk through your scene to go to the bathroom. A noisy garbage truck could whiz past Cafe Royale. Who knows, an especially drunk audience member might even try to get in on the action. So, you have to stay adaptable and be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. But that’s also what’s so exciting, right? Live theater!

Colin Johnson: I’d say seat of the pants is a better term. When you perform in public, especially a bar, you must be prepared to adapt and circumvent logistical problems at a moment’s notice. Skin of the teeth makes it seem like we’re barely hanging in there, which is untrue. This production has actually been one of the most tightly coordinated and relaxed projects in a while for me.

What’s next for you?

Colin Johnson: Next, I’m writing a full-length adaptation of Aeneas’s tale for SF Olympians: Trojan Requiem (titled Burden of the Witless) in November. I also have a recently-completed independent short film that will hopefully be making festival rounds this year. And most likely directing a Woody Allen One-Act early next year in Berkeley

Tracy Held Potter: I’m directing and producing a HILARIOUS sex comedy by Rachel Bublitz called The Fantasy Club that we’re premiering at The Alcove Theater near Union Square from Aug 2 – Aug 11 (http://fantasyclub.brownpapertickets.com). It’s about a stay-at-home-mom who faces the man she’s been fantasizing about since high school and has to decide between her marriage and making her fantasies come true. I’ve spent a lot more time on Google researching underwear and logo contraceptives for this show than I have for anything else. In August, we’re also relaunching the 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge and rehearsing for Babies, the Ultimate Birth Control: Terrifyingly Hilarious Plays about Parenting for SF Fringe (http://www.sffringe.org), which both Rachel and I wrote pieces for. In the midst of all this, I’m going to finish packing up my family to move to Pennsylvania. You know, taking it easy.

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Jonathan Carpenter: I’m about to begin rehearsals for the west coast premiere of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon, which Do It Live! Productions will be producing in A.C.T.’s Costume Shop theater in September. And after The Golden Dragon, I’ll be directing readings of Jeremy Cole’s On The Plains of Troy and Madeline Puccioni’s The Walls of Troy for the SF Olympians Festival.

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

Tracy Held Potter: I’m looking forward to “A Maze” by Rob Handel and produced by Just Theater at Live Oak Theatre, which just opened. Rob is the theater teacher for my new grad program and I’ve heard great things from people who’ve already seen it (phew!). There are a lot of shows that I’m really sad to be missing because I’ll be out of the state, but I’ll be catching all of Bay One-Acts and at least a couple of SF Olympians shows towards the end of the festival.

Colin Johnson: BOA is always an amazing fun time! As is the Olympians! They’re both a great conglomeration of all the best the Bay indie theatre scene has to offer! And great folks!

Jonathan Carpenter: Oh my gosh. I’m a huge nerd, and I just can’t wait to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep. I mean, it’s Gandalf! And Professor X! AND they’re doing No Man’s Land! I have loved Pinter ever since I first dove into his plays a few years ago while working on a production of The Homecoming. They’re so juicy. So I’m really looking forward to that production. I’m also really excited to check out Rob Handel’s A Maze at Just Theater this summer. I read a draft of the play about three years ago, and I was completely enthralled. It read like a comic book, and I was totally fascinated to imagine how you might stage such an intricate play. I’ve heard great things about the production, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: Woah! It’s way too hard to pick just one artist! Can I say “all of them”?!? Well…actor Reggie White is probably at the top of my list. He’s been a friend of mine for a couple of years now, and it seems criminal that we haven’t done a show together yet.

Tracy Held Potter: I can’t count how many actors, directors, stage managers, writers, and other theater people that I got to work with this year who I really admired. I have so many theater crushes here that it’s crazy. With that said, I would fall out of my chair if I got to work with Desdemona Chiang on one of my plays.

Colin Johnson: I would love to have a rematch of my 2012 Olympians knock-out, drag down fight with Jeremy Cole. But most of my Bay Area dream collaborations have been fulfilled, with hopefully more on the horizon.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: Whatever stout they have on tap.

Colin Johnson: I’m a fan of the Marin Brewing Company IPA. But if I’m expected to be productive, a Cider or a Pilsner.

Tracy Held Potter: I don’t really drink that much so I like to order soda or tea, but last time the bartender made me a limeade which was pretty good. There are photos of me on the Theater Pub Facebook page drinking that, if anyone’s interested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s been the most troublesome?

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

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

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

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

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