Theater Around The Bay: Cowan Palace Goes Portal

Ashley may be 3000 miles away but it’s like she’s right next to you, singing in your ear about her interview with Kirk Shimano and Sang Kim, who prepare to rock San Francisco Theater Pub with Portal: The Musical!

Hello there, my San Francisco friends! Wow, what a few weeks it’s been, huh? Lots going on all over the world but I have to say getting the chance to interview writer Kirk Shimano and director Sang Kim was a real treat. This dynamic duo is currently working on San Francisco Theater Pub’s latest show, Portal: The Musical.

The cast features Alan Coyne, Jamie Lee Currier, Dan Kurtz, Courtney Merrell, and Karen Offereins with musical direction by Liz Baker, voice direction and production design by Renee LeVesque, and Paul Anderson and Spencer Bainbridge rounding out this rockin’ team as the band. The show is set to the music of Jonathan Coulton and this theatrical piece is sure to be unlike any other production you’ve seen this millennium.

Kirk Laughing!

AC: So firstly, what are audiences in store for when they sit down for Portal: The Musical?

KS: I think the experience will be pretty different based on what the audience member is bringing in. Fans of the video game are going to get to see the story they love brought to life in a totally different way. Jonathan Coulton fans will get to hear their favorite songs for the first time again when they’re sung by our characters. And people who don’t know anything about either are going to discover a whole new world that they never knew they were missing.

SK: A lot more feeling and earnestness than you’d expect for a video game based on dimensional rifts and psychotic artificial intelligence. Also – this show passed the Bechdel Test with extra credit! Good Job sticker for us!

AC: So, how did this project come to be?

KS: I played through the original Portal in one sitting and it’s been a favorite ever since. And when I found out the guy who wrote “Still Alive” had a whole repertoire of other work, I got my hands on all the Jonathan Coulton music I could find. But this all really gelled for me when I heard the song “Code Monkey” on the Best. Concert. Ever. album. As soon as I heard that, I immediately knew there was a character behind this song and wanted to bring it to life in a full musical.

SK: Kirk emailed me back in June 2013 after he punched out a first draft during his stay-cation. I replied back and said yes to working on this. I wish it was more dramatic and suspenseful, but there it is. How about we just pretend Kirk threw the script into a Thunderdome death pit and I emerged the victor and claimed the musical as my prize.

Sang Directing!

AC: What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced while rehearsing a musical about a video game?

KS: I’d say it’s just seeing all the passion that people have for this source material. There’s always a great level of support among other members of the theater community, but it’s been wonderful to also see friends who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves “theater people” get really excited about this project because of their connection to the source material.

SK: Agree with Kirk. It’s gotten to the point where rehearsals are going long because there’s too many ideas and too much fun being had. And, oh Lord, the spontaneous singing. Always with the spontaneous singing. People singing and making up lyrics and breaking into song. It’s like witnessing a karaoke playlist for ADHD show choir students on meth.

AC: What’s been your favorite moment so far while working on the show?

KS: I’d have to say it’s those moments in rehearsal where we’ve had everyone sing along together. Our cast and creative team has been wonderful to work with in general, but that’s the moment when I just feel we’re all the most connected.

SK: Yes. This.

I played viola in the orchestra so the power of group singing has never made an impact on me until this show. I finally understand why the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.

AC: What drink do you think would pair best with the production?

KS: Maybe one of those novelty drinks that comes in a beaker and has some dry ice to make fog spill out over the sides? Because something that is fun and a little creepy with a chance of killing you is basically the character of GLaDOS.

SK: Anything garnished with olives – just one olive so your drink is looking back at you which reminds me of all our little robot friends from the game.

The Creative Portal  Team

AC: What’s been the hardest challenge you and the cast/crew have faced while bringing this story to life (and song!)?

KS: I feel very fortunate in that Sang has been taking on the HUGE task of all the scheduling and coordination of bringing together all of the talent need to bring this together, and I just get to watch. But one challenge that comes to mind was having to cut a couple songs from the script that I really like but that weren’t serving the story (sorry “I Crush Everything”).

SK: Kirk is gracious but having this specific group of talent has been worth all the wrangling. The hardest thing is to pull the show back for a staged musical setting at Theater Pub. I think a lot of past contributors have excelled in presenting fantastic shows in such an unconventional setting. But the scope and creativity of Kirk’s musical, the Portal universe, Coulton’s songs,along with the talent involved have actually been an embarrassment of riches. Having limited time and resources means picking and discarding your darlings.

AC: Tell us more about what you’re up to after this show! Any fun new projects on deck?

KS: Next up for me will be the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which I’m happy to be returning to for the sixth year in a row. I’m looking forward to sharing a night with three other playwrights (Barbara Jwanouskos, Julianne Jigour, and Alan Coyne) as we present three very stylistically different approaches to the gods of sleep and dreams.

SK: After some rest, I’ll be helping co-write Thunderbird Theatre’s next original play. It’ll be a creative collaboration with The Mess sketch comedy, which also has a show up this November.

AC: What Bay Area show (other than this) are you most excited to see this summer?

KS: I’m a big fan of musicals in general, so I can’t wait to see City of Angels at the San Francisco Playhouse and Chess at the Custom Made Theatre Company. I’ve been a big fan of the cast albums of both and neither is a show that you see performed all the time.

SK: I was glad to see The Rules and the Loud and Unladylike Festival, but they both closed this past weekend. After that, probably my usual summer and fall diet of Pint Sized Plays and the Olympians Festival before I hibernate for the winter.

AC: Using only emoticons, how would you describe Portal?

KIRK: — 0 0– >

SANG: 🍰🤔

AC: If your directing/writing style was a song, what would it be?

SK: For this show? “Bizarre Love Triangle.” You’ll see.

KS: Want to be: “Everything is AWESOME!!!” But, actually: “Still Alive.”

See Portal: The Musical only at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):, July 18, 19, 25, and 26 @ 8 PM.

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Theater Around The Bay: Shh, I’m Trying to Create Here

The guest posts just keep on rolling in, with today’s coming from actress and cross-stitcher extraordinaire, Tonya Narvaez, who starts her blog off with a quote from no less than Noel Coward.

“I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.” – Sir Noël Peirce Coward

Earlier this month, I heard one too many people be told their opinion is invalid. I hit my threshold. I found that sassy quote and found myself thinking, “You tell ‘em Noël”! Honestly, I don’t know enough about Noël Coward to be sure if he was joking or sincere. I suspect a bit of both. But I see that quote and hear it as sarcastic for my own purposes.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent, kind-hearted, fiery and opinionated people. Obviously, some of those qualities can stir up a bit of trouble from time to time, but I’ve noticed it a lot more frequently this past month. I’ve seen several brave, fair, honest, emotional, and generous pieces of writing this month. And whether it was in a Facebook post, blog, personal exchange, or otherwise, I’ve seen these people be told to shut up. I don’t want to dredge up each situation individually or in any sort of detail. I just want to go over a few opinions that were shared that I find to be incorrect or ridiculous or harmful to our theater community and explain why I feel that way.

1 – You should give a play multiple viewings before forming an opinion on it.

I wholeheartedly believe that if people want to see a play more than once and have the resources and time to do so, they absolutely should. Otherwise, I cannot agree to this. Seeing a play multiple times is something you can’t expect out of an audience member. Firstly, the time commitment is unrealistic. Between the other plays to see in the city, making a living, regular life stuff, and the lure of Netflix, I feel honored if someone sees my work once. Secondly, the financial constraints. If I gave every piece I was unsure about more than one chance, I would need another job to help pay the bills. Thirdly, it just doesn’t make sense! This point will need an example, and the best real life comparison I can think of is my aversion to olives. I love a surprising number of salty and briney foods. They are right up my alley. But every time I eat an olive, I just want to spit it out and tell everyone the olives have gone bad. So I’m not about to go out and buy more olives. If I happen across an olive, and I’m feeling adventurous, sure I’ll try it. I will not go hunting for more olives though. It makes no sense to do that.

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

2 – You should give extra consideration to a work when a person who you admire is involved.

This is called blind favoritism. Even the twinkliest of stars can be dimmed by a foggy night. Can I just cite Johnny Depp in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and move on?

I just try to forget this ever happened.

I just try to forget this ever happened.

3 – You should do research on a show prior to and after seeing it before you can consider yourself a person who is interested in the arts.

I don’t believe anyone should dictate how a person chooses to be involved in the arts. If researching a play before you see it makes you happy, go nuts! Personally, when I see a play (with a few exceptions) I try to know as little as possible about it. I love having as blind an experience as possible at first. Then, if there’s an intermission I’ll thumb through the program. I also try to engage in discourse with my fellow theatergoers afterward. If I liked something enough, or if it spurred an interest in me somehow, I would research it more. If not, I’d move on with my life, feeling no less artistically inclined than anyone else.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

4 – You should stop expressing your opinion because my feelings are hurt. You should probably also apologize.

It’s all well and good to apologize for someone’s feelings being hurt, but if you’re honest and fair, an opinion shouldn’t be silenced or apologized for. Sometimes the truth hurts. I am sorry for that.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

5 – Your opinions are invalid because they come from an emotional place.

When people see your work, you typically want them to have an emotional reaction. When I send a script I’ve written to someone, I want to hear his or her whole reaction to it. I’m not asking them to proof it for mistakes in structure, grammar, and spelling. When artists create and put something out into the world, they have no actual control over how it might affect someone. Viewing art can be a very personal and individual experience, influenced by a number of internal and external factors. It’s what makes art so wonderful, in my opinion. We can’t view and create art without emotion. Okay, we CAN. It’s not impossible, but it has a tendency toward dull and uninfluential. I want to call on Meryl Streep for some backup here. At the January 8th National Board of Reviews Awards, she said some controversial things about Disney, and some poignant things about Emma Thompson. Here is an article with the speech in it’s entirety if you’re interested.

“She has real access to her own tenderness, and it’s one of the most disarming things about her. She works like a stevedore, she drinks like a bloke, and she’s smart and crack and she can be withering in a smack-down of wits, but she leads with her heart.”

These are my opinions. While they are not wrong, it’s very possible some of you out there disagree with me. You are not wrong either. I’d like to engage in a dialogue about this because I don’t really know what the answer is here. Except that it seems if we were all a bit like Emma Thompson, things would probably be better.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Tonya Narvaez is a Bay Area actor and writer. You can see her work at the San Francisco Olympians festival – http://www.sfolympians.com/?page_id=1830