Follow the Vodka: Everyday Theatricality!

Robert Estes, theater’s super-tailgater.

White Chapel copy

Ah, the dedication of the night columnist! Late on a Monday night, I’m still diligently laboring at the newest gin joint in the city, White Chapel (600 Polk Street). This place is a fantastical recreation of an abandoned tube station in London; well, except that the station in question, White Chapel is actually still operating. Here, though, the imaginary abandoned station has become a lovingly rendered 1890s gin palace.

When I first looked at White Chapel’s extensive drink menu, I fell in love with the two page listing of twenty-two drinks under the heading “The Martini Family.” Who knows if the dates and descriptions given to all the drinks are academically accurate; I’m not interested in fact-checking the menu, only drink-checking it. So, tonight I began my ginventure by having the first drink on the list, the Pink Gin (dated 1840s), composed of Plymouth Gin and angostura bitters.

I love that the early reviews for this place kept mentioning all the “fake” things about the recreation, such as fake water damage. My theater self couldn’t help but say, it’s not fake, it’s distressed, it’s Theater!

Indeed, it’s fascinating to realize how many bars in the city have become insanely popular by creating an immersive theatrical experience for their drinkers, I mean patrons. An entity called Future Bars now owns nine different local bars, all theatrically presented, ranging from the just opened Pagan Idol tiki bar to the old-standby Bourbon and Branch speakeasy.

It makes me think that so often in theater we wonder how to attract an audience, yet somehow people outside of us, use our rough magic to create very popular events. Even real estate agents know in their bones how important it is to the sale price of a property for it to be properly “staged” at the open house.

On a much greater scale, the mass popularity of sports rests on a ham-handed strict adherence to the principle of dramatic conflict. The “classic matchup” between this team and that one or this player and that one sells all! And franchises encourage theatricality on the part of their fans. One of the joys of going to a sporting event in person is to experience the unconscious theatricality of everyday people as they come to cheer on their team.

I always laugh to myself when I happen to be on a Sunday morning BART train on the day of a Oakland Raiders home game. Raiders fans are legendary for their elaborate costumes, intricate makeup, and outlandish accessories! I would love to compliment them on their detailed and beautiful theatricality, but I also wish to retain my front teeth, so I just smile to myself. But if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend surreptitiously checking out the character-specific costuming choices of the rebel/pirate/Star Wars/Hells’s Angel’s Raider Nation.

And on a smaller, humbler, yet just as faithful way, please notice the down-scale yet touching outfits of the long-suffering A’s fan. They still wear player jerseys from the 1970s. Being the team of my single-digit -year days (oh the love of an 8 -and-a-half-year-old for his team), I still am, on the inside, a fan wearing my Dad’s San Francisco Giants cap inside-out in shame in the bleachers in 1969, when that area was known as Reggie’s Regiment. It was a cold night and my dad would not let me go bare-headed.

Just the other day, after spending the last ten months indoors in rehearsal and performance for five consecutive shows, I happily returned to the Coliseum for a day game. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel the connection in so many ways between baseball and theater. Both are places of memories. There are ghosts on the playing field just as on the playing stage. Looking out at the infield where the shortstop plays, I see Campy Campaneris, Rob Picciolo, Alfredo Griffin, Walt Weiss, just as when I look at various Bay Area stages, I see Tony Amedola, Lorri Holt, John Bellucci, Michelle Morain, Sarah Moser.

I still remember the first that I saw James Carpenter. He was a young man in Otherwise Engaged at the Berkeley Rep in 1984. Like most theatergoers, I’ve seen him so many times since then, all the way from his nervous comic performance in Paint it Red at the Rep to a slithery Stanley in The Birthday Party at the Aurora. It was kind of a shock when he started playing the older, patriarchal “ravenous Earls” in Shakespeare. (Maybe we’ve both gotten older!) Still, it’s been fun to follow his career. Just like it’s been fun to follow my favorite baseball players as a fan.

kind of wish that theater had more of the “true fans” just like baseball. The true fan attends the game even if their team isn’t doing very well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a devoted group of people who rooted for us! Let’s go, PianoFight! Three-peat! Well, maybe PF does have those fans! Seriously, though, as my previous night column touched on, it would be great if we could support theater without it always having to be (allegedly) amazing.

Yet we’re kind of lucky in theater when compared to athletes, because everything we do is subjective. Pity the poor baseball player who’s having a bad year! Could you see your worst review being highlighted every day by the theater company where you perform? In baseball, every team shows the player’s statistics before every at-bat. “Now standing at the plate to deliver To Be or Not to Be, the actor with the .198 batting average for the season!” Shudder.

Perhaps perversely, I admit that I actually enjoy going to baseball games when my team isn’t doing as well. It’s almost like going to an audition as the marginal players engage in a Darwinian struggle to remain alive in the show (major leagues). I remember one actor saying that he thought certain audience members deliberately chose to attend the first preview of every show because they wanted to see a trainwreck. Of course, life-long humiliation is one of darker sides to sports…who will ever forget the name of the Boston Red Sox’s first baseman who let the ground ball go through his legs in a World Series game thirty years ago?

In the make-believe of theater, where every corpse arises for a joyful linking of hands for the curtain call, we all live for another day, I hope without humiliation. Still, it takes bravery for actors to be absolutely vulnerable in front of so many people. The nerves of the athlete under pressure must surely be like the nerves of the actor. And for the fans, it is their personal nerves in watching that bind them to the emotional event of the game or the play.

Personally, baseball has influenced my work in theater. Last summer, I directed an adapted version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 called Falstaff! in which the great rogue was played by six different women. The women would also play other roles and the men changed roles as well, so Prince Hal could be Poins and vice versa. The first performance or two was kind of confusing as we worked out the switches, but as the production moved forward, I was pleased that the show developed a great feeling of generosity as everyone had an equal part in carrying the whole play. By the end it was actually like a baseball game where everyone gets their turn at the plate. And for the audience, it was exciting because they weren’t quite sure who they would see playing what role next.

I’ve often thought that the advantage of sports over theater is that we don’t know what will happen in sports. Why couldn’t we, just one time, with no announcement, alter the ending to one of Shakespeare’s plays? Wouldn’t it be great if Emilia said, “Hey, wait a minute, I gave that handkerchief to my husband”? Could you imagine the gasps from the audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival if they did that? There could be riots!

Perhaps the appeal of the Shotgun Players’ current Hamlet (running for the next year!), where everyone in the cast learned the entire show and each actor is assigned their part for a particular performance only 5 minutes before show time, comes from each show being part theater and part sports. You really don’t know what will happen each night. And, being honest, there’s a higher chance of a trainwreck on stage each night, which again, is part of the appeal of sports. I wonder if each show seems to the actors like an athletic game, where nightly success or failure is a more open question than in a conventional production.

But then in baseball, we see success and failure in every game. We also see practice. Yes, go the park two hours before game time and you can see batting practice. I wonder if it would be possible to open our theater houses early and let our fans (oh again, how I would love to have fans) see the vocal warm-ups or fight call. For the true fans that would really make attending theater like attending a baseball game!

Well, how much of all of this found synchronicity between baseball and theater is just fine Plymouth gin speaking? This 1840s-era drink is fiery and it’s numbing my tongue! Now as the bar closes and my rambling thoughts on the connections between baseball and theater grow ever more tenuous, I’ll just say Play Theater!

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It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Let’s Talk About Shakespeare, Shall We?

In Which the Author (ever-ready Dave Sikula) Saves His Outrage for More Important Matters.

Okay, even though I said in our last meeting that I wasn’t going to talk about this whole “Let’s Update Shakespeare” thing, I guess the time has come to do so.
In what may strike some of my constant readers as surprising, this plan doesn’t bother me in the least.

I do think that, in its current form, it’s incredibly stupid and yet another step down to the road a complete illiterate society – particularly in regard to cultural literacy – but it’s hardly worth getting outraged over.

(Sidenote: In 2006, I was in Los Angeles for … something … and spent a pleasant evening at the Arclight Cinemas. On the program? Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. I’m sure many – if not most – of you have seen it by now, so I won’t bother to recap the plot. Suffice it to say, it was that rare movie that, when I came out of it, had altered my perceptions of the world in which I live. From that day to this, everywhere I look, I see evidence of its predictions coming true.)

But I digress …

Part of this dumbing down (if I may call it that) is the way media companies insist on repackaging, rebooting, and remaking old properties, movies, TV shows, comics – whatever. Inevitably, when one of these projects is announced, folks all around the Internet get their proverbial knickers in a proverbial twist and bitch about how something they loved in their childhood is about to be irretrievably ruined. While it usually is (has any remake ever worked?), I don’t understand why people get themselves upset by it.

I’ll admit I used to get upset about this stuff myself until I had the epiphany that, while the new version was inevitably going to suck, the original was still around and unlikely to go away, so the inferior version could be happily ignored. (Just today, I saw some outrage over remakes of both Mary Poppins and The Wild Bunch. Reasonable minds can disagree over whether these were done correctly the first time (hint: one was, one is not so good), but why get upset over the idea at all?

Interestingly, I think the theatre is the only place where “reboots” are not only encouraged, but the norm. While we all want to do new work, more often than not, we’re working on a script that someone else has done somewhere else. With very, very rare exceptions, multiple movies or television shows are not shot from the same scripts; nor are books or comics redone from the same texts; they’re just reprinted. But how often do we do productions from an existing script? And how many times does that script get done in the same area over and over? I think there must have been about 20 Addams Familys, Chicagos, August: Osage Countys, and Glengarry Glen Rosses over the past year – each of them presenting the same characters speaking the same words. If something like that happened on multiple television networks or at the movies, people would be astounded, but when it comes to plays, we don’t even blink.

Let's see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

Let’s see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

This is particularly true for poor old Shakespeare. The canon is relatively small (36? 37 plays?), so you’re going to see the same plays over and over (and in some cases, over and over and over and over; nothing against the folks who want to do them, but I really don’t need to see Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet or a couple of others again; I’ve seen them, I got them, I’m done with them).

Because of the limited tunestack and the multiple productions of them, it’s only logical that directors are going to screw around with them in terms of setting, “concept,” textual cuts, and even scene order. As much Shakespeare as I’ve seen (and it’s a lot), I can count on the fingers of one hand the ones that didn’t cut the text. (I’d offer a link to that tired Onion article about “Director does Shakespeare production in setting author intended;” but you’ve all seen it … ). Why do we do it? Two reasons. One, they can be pretty damn long (even when done well), and there’s stuff that just doesn’t translate from 17th century England. (Especially the clowns. My gosh; is there anything less funny than a Shakespearean clown?)

Even with that, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any production of any Shakespeare play that I didn’t zone out of at least once. It happens. But that – and one other reason I’ll deal with in a minute – has never been a barrier. To say the most obvious thing ever, as long as the actors know the intentions of what they’re saying are, you don’t need to understand every word. Sit back and they’ll get you through it.

So it’s not just that the language doesn’t need translating, though, it’s that, in many cases, the people who’ve been hired to do it shouldn’t be allowed to write a grocery list, let alone rewrite Shakespeare. (I’m not going to mention names, but suffice it to say when I saw some of the names either writing or dramaturging, I rolled these tired old eyes at the usual suspects.)

Will gets the news.

Will gets the news.

Lemme give you a for instance. NPR covered the story and cited this translation by Kenneth Cavender from Timon of Athens.

The original:

Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’ the instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast; rather
Than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal;
Large handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law.

Cavender’s improvement:

Servants

And clowns, kick the grizzled old senators
Out of their offices and legislate in their place …
Innocent virgins, turn sluttish now – why wait? –
And do it while your parents watch … Bankrupt?
Keep your money, and if your creditors demand
Payment, pick up a knife and cut their throats.
Workers, steal – your bosses are crooks

In fine suits, bandits raking in their loot,
Legalized pirates.

I can only speak for myself here, but I find the original perfectly comprehensible. Granted, I had to read it more than once and have read and acted in a lot of Shakespeare on my own, but I understand what it’s saying – as would any actor who’s playing the role and who should be able to convey the meaning. The “translation” is easier for a modern American audience to understand, but loses everything in terms of poetry and flow of language. Basically, it sucks.

In spite of my antipathy toward the project, I totally understand the motivation behind it. The variety of voices, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds of the writers is only to be welcomed in terms of telling the stories, but where I think Ashland went wrong was in not going far enough. The writers are limited to keeping the originals as intact as possible while clearing up only occasional moments of potential confusion. If there’s anything we know about Shakespeare, though (and we know quite a lot – and more than enough to tell the Oxfordians to shut the hell up because Shakespeare wrote the damn plays), is that he did nothing so much as steal plots and characters from other writers and (mostly) improve them.

Given the choice of seeing someone ruin Timon of Athens by making it more “accessible” or seeing someone take the plot and ideas and make something new out of it – I know which option I’d take. The original is always going to be there, so why not take a damn chance?

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview with Marisela Treviño Orta

Barbara Jwanouskos chats up the playwright behind Shotgun’s Heart Shaped Nebula.

How fortunate to have a chance to interview Marisela before she departs for the Iowa Playwrights Workshop later this summer. I met Marisela at a going away party for Amy Clare Tasker (a wonderful director who is missed!) and was struck by how precisely she captured my feelings about a life in theater. A couple years later and I still feel as though she has that precision of insight that gives a sense of relief when talking about playwriting, inspiration, and navigating the many paths artists have to realize their potential.

Marisela Treviño Orta

Marisela Treviño Orta

Barbara: I’m curious about your playwriting background. How did you get into theater?

Marisela: It was all happenstance. I’m a poet turned playwright. And I’ve only been writing plays for about 10 years now.

I came to San Francisco to study poetry. I was in my first semester for my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of San Francisco (USF) when I found my way to theatre. USF is a Jesuit institution and Jesuits are very big on social justice. My on-campus job’s first assignment was to produce a video on the work students and professors were doing in the community. That’s how I was introduced to El Teatro Jornalero!, a theatre company made up of Latino immigrants devising original work on social justice issues.

I was a poet in search of inspiration. And as an imagist I was drawn to the visuals of the movement exercises the actors would do. So I joined ETJ! as its resident poet. After a year with them I became curious about playwriting. I ended up taking an introductory course in playwriting with playwright Christine Evans—she was a visiting professor/artist one semester.

So my final semester in my MFA program I began writing my first play BRAIDED SORROW. That play is what brought me fully into this genre. It was accepted into the 2005 Bay Area Playwrights Festival and the rest is history—in that, I realized this was the genre I’d been searching for all my life.

Barbara: Perhaps related to that, I know you have a background in poetry as well, does this influence your style as a writer?

Marisela: My poetics are very present in my playwriting.

Poets attend to line breaks (breath), word choice, imagery, lyricism, space on the page. Everything I learned as a poet is applicable to playwriting. I mentioned earlier that I’m an imagist. I’m inspired by images, drawn to them, and use them as a way to construct narratives. When I write, I think about the visual language in the play—symbolism and also what the audience hears. While a sound designer will realize that soundscape, I think playwrights can create a whole world on stage using dialog, images, and sound.

Barbara: How would you describe your voice?

Marisela: I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe it’s because it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. Perhaps it’s easier for others to articulate what it is we’re doing as artists.

Barbara: What brought you out to the Bay Area? How have you found the theater scene here? Anything that was particularly influential or inspiring (or both)?

Marisela: It was my MFA at USF that brought me out to the Bay Area. I actually never intended to stay after I finished it. But it was theatre that kept me out here. I found the theatre community exciting and welcoming.

I find our theatre scene to be very supportive, as opposed to cut throat. Playwrights share information, go see one another’s shows, recommend one another for opportunities.

Barbara: And I hear you’re headed to Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop – Congrats! How did you make the decision to apply, and then subsequently once you were accepted, attend this program? Any special considerations you were mulling over?

Marisela: For 9 of the 10 years I’ve been a playwright I was adamant that I wasn’t going to get another MFA (one in playwriting). I didn’t want to incur more debt, but I also disliked the idea that you had to go get an MFA in order to tap into the production pipeline. I didn’t want to go get an MFA because it would be “good” for my career.

Instead, I’ve spent the past 10 years developing a network of theatre friends, peers and advocates. I also spent that time writing, improving my craft, and seeing shows. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I decided I would apply to grad school.

It was my bad back that started it all. I have chronic back issues and the past 3 years it was really bad. I decided to apply to grad school when I was lying on my office floor at my day job. I realized that if I had limited time to sit in front of a computer, I didn’t want to use that time for my day job. I wanted to spend that time writing.

I decided that I wanted to go to grad school so I could have time to just write. Because for the past 10 years, as I’ve perused playwriting, I’ve had a full time job. It’s been a grind. Like having two full time jobs. So grad school is about having time just to write and to improve my craft. Someone recently said it’s like me going on a 3 year writing retreat. And since I didn’t want any more debt I looked at programs like Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop.

When I got the news about my acceptance I then had to grapple with the fact that I had an unexpected development—a world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And OSF production is a game changer. And since most MFA programs only let you go away to work on outside productions for a limited amount of time, I had to ask a lot of questions since I wanted to really be there for the entire rehearsal process.

I knew Iowa was the place for me when their response was to immediately brainstorm ways to help me make the most of my OSF experience and still enroll in the program.

I can’t wait to begin my MFA at Iowa. I can’t wait to see how productive I can be when playwriting is my sole focus. Though…I will have 13 hours of classes. So there will be homework. But I welcome it all with open arms.

Barbara: Many writers and artists have the debate on whether to go to school or not – what influenced your decision?

Marisela: My reasons for going to grad school are personal now. It’s not just “to advance my career.” It took some time for me to realize what I wanted from a grad school experience. That felt empowering in a way.

I applied because I had juggled my playwriting with a day job for a long time and I was not only tired of it, I knew that in order to go from good to great as a playwright you have to really pour a lot of time and energy into your work. I knew the juggling wasn’t just unsustainable—it would hold me back as a playwright.

Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Marilet Martinez and Hugo Carbajal rehearsing a scene from HEART SHAPED NEBULA with Shotgun Players

Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. Marilet Martinez and Hugo Carbajal rehearsing a scene from HEART SHAPED NEBULA with Shotgun Players

Barbara: Tell me about creating theater in the Bay Area vs. other regions – is there anything different about it here? What do you wish would change in theater both here and nationally?

Marisela: I don’t actually have a lot of experience in either of these areas. My upcoming production at Shotgun is only my third production.

I have had a few readings in Chicago and really like that scene. The people are very friendly, similar to the Bay Area.

As for changing something in theatre…Obviously we need more diversity and gender parity both on stage and behind the scenes. I think I’d like to see more self-reflection and intention when it comes to addressing these issues. Sure there are people like Valerie Weak (thank goodness) who are gathering stats on productions, but it would be great to see more theatre intentionally put together a season with parity and diversity.

Barbara: Will you miss/not miss anything in particular about the Bay Area while in Iowa? Do you think you’ll come back?

Marisela: What will I miss? EVERYTHING!

But I also know that I’m nostalgic for the Bay Area of 13 years ago when I first moved here. When the fog rolled in like clockwork every three days.

It may sound silly to reminisce, but the changes in the past 4 years have been so dramatic. I don’t know that I could afford to return.

I came into my own as an artist here in the Bay Area. I think of myself as a San Franciscan. I don’t know what I’ll tell people when they ask me where I’m from. Well….originally from Texas. But I’m a San Francisco gal.

Barbara: Any advice that was paramount to your development as a writer and artist? Anything you wish you hadn’t listened to?

Marisela: Join Twitter.

HA!

I’m serious though. And I hated Twitter when it first came on the scene. But Twitter has led to multiple opportunities for me…including that production at OSF.

There’s a vibrant theatre community on Twitter. When I said I’ve spent the past 10 years building a network of peers and advocates—I’ve done most of my networking building nationally on Twitter. So get on it. But don’t just promote yourself. That’s like going to a cocktail party and meeting someone who only talks about themselves the entire time. Listen to the conversations happening online. Share information. Ask questions. Get to know people. It’s so true that theatre is about relationships. And Twitter is a great way of building relationships with people from all over.

Barbara: I’d love to know more about your upcoming productions in the Bay Area – THE RIVER BRIDE will be running until May 16 at Santa Clara University and HEART SHAPED NEBULA is premiering at Shotgun Players May 21. Tell me about the process – what was your involvement? Did anything for you change in either (or both productions) – perhaps your relationship to the play, the script itself, the subject matter?

Marisela: I went down last weekend to see THE RIVER BRIDE at Santa Clara. It was really great to meet the students and faculty. I wasn’t able to be actively involved in their production because its process was concurrent with HEART SHAPED NEBULA.

The production process for HEART SHAPED NEBULA began last fall when I began rewrites. It’s been an intense process, but I wanted to do all the rewrites before we went into rehearsals. All the work paid off as there was only one minor rewrite needed during our rehearsal process. The rest was just edits and adjustments.

As for what’s changed, well one of the characters evolved in a really interesting way. The old draft had two big competing narrative arcs. It was weighing the play down a bit. The rewrites have resolved that issue. I still miss the old version of my character. I’ll have to save her for another play.

Barbara: What are you drawn to exploring next?

Marisela: I’m currently working on finishing my fairy tale cycle. THE RIVER BRIDE was the first of three plays, all fairy tales, inspired by Latino mythology and folklore.

Also in the queue is a play I’ve had on the back burner for years. GHOST LIMB is a riff on the Persephone and Demeter myth. It takes place during the Dirty War in Argentina and focuses on a mother whose son is disappeared by the military dictatorship.

Barbara: May is our month for “Will and Perseverance”. In a lot of ways I feel this an essential component to having a rich life with writing and arts. Is there an anecdote or story from your own journey as a writer/artist that you could share with us where you had to draw upon this trait?

Marisela: Early on I read some advice by playwright Adam Szymkowicz where he said you have to work for at least 10 years at playwriting before things begin to take off. That was helpful to know. It gives you some idea of how long you have to keep working, how long it takes to develop relationships that turn into opportunities.

I’ll also add that I’ve been working on HEART SHAPED NEBULA since 2008. That’s seven years. And in those seven years I’ve grown a lot as a person and an artist—both of which deeply inform the rewrites of the play.

Know that we don’t always see the full journey of a play or production. We only see the tip of the iceberg. Often those journeys can take years.

I think knowing all this can help you persevere. Not that I’m there, but overnight success actually takes years in the making.

Barbara: Any words of wisdom for writers out there that would like to write new plays?

Marisela: I make a point to wait until I’ve gotten a play into several drafts before sharing the script with anyone. I need that time to really get to know what the story so that when people have notes for me I’m able to determine if those notes help me realize the narrative I’m trying to write or if they are going in another direction.

Often in a first draft we’re still trying to figure out what the narrative is. Give yourself some time and space to really get to know your characters and play before inviting feedback.

Also, trust your gut. I find it doesn’t often lie. Even if you can’t articulate why, if something makes you uncomfortable there’s a reason why.

Barbara: Any recommendations to local plays, shows, or events happening around the Bay Area?

Marisela: I’ve been in production for the past few months, so I haven’t seen anything in a while. So I can’t recommend anything.

But there plenty of amazing theatre companies here in the Bay Area. I try to see shows as often as I can because I consider it part of my development as an artist. There’s always something you can learn when you go see a show. I often leave buoyed by the experience. And inspiration is always helpful when you’re a writer.

So get thee to the theatre!

THE RIVER BRIDE is playing at Santa Clara University until May 16. More information is available at http://scupresents.org/performances/mainstage-theatre-river-bride. HEART SHAPED NEBULA is playing with Shotgun Players on The Ashby Stage May 21-June 14. For more information, check out their website at
https://shotgunplayers.org/Online/heartshapednebula. And you can follow Marisela on twitter @MariselaTOrta.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Tears, Idle Tears

Marissa Skudlarek packs a hankie for the acapella bridge.

Here’s a fun game you can play with me: ask me to read W. H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening” aloud, and see how long I can hold out without bursting into tears. Or play me a recording of “Make Our Garden Grow,” the finale of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, and see how long it takes me to start crying. This past weekend, seeing a live performance of Candide for the first time, my heart started to beat faster and my face grew hot as Candide and Cunegonde sang their solo verses… and when the chorus started singing in soaring harmony and the orchestra dropped out, the tears predictably sprang to my eyes.

I’ve loved the score of Candide since I was in high school, so that song has been making me burst into tears for over ten years. I am both surprised and pleased that its power has not diminished for me. While I love art that makes me feel intense emotions, I always worry that over-indulging in it will ruin it. Besides, is it quite healthy to wallow in melancholy, to become an emotional thrill-seeker? Basically, I feel torn between the Enlightenment and Romantic definitions of art: is it meant to be experienced rationally, or irrationally? Should we value it more for how it makes us think, or how it makes us feel? (Maybe this is one reason I love Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia so much: it deals with the conflict between Enlightenment and Romantic values. And its final scene has the power to make me cry in much the same way as the finale of Candide does: both feature the moral that we must strive to “do the best we know” in a harsh and unforgiving world.)

Still, I’m enough of a Romantic that plenty of works of art make my eyes well up. This might come as a surprise, since people don’t tend to think of me as a weepy person. When, a few months ago, I wrote about a staged reading that left me sobbing in the back courtyard of the EXIT Theatre, several friends expressed surprise that it was me who had cried. I have always admired my blog-colleague Ashley Cowan Leschber for so openly admitting that she is an emotional person, easily moved to laughter and tears. Me, I keep my emotions closer to my chest. When I read or watch Sense and Sensibility (there’s that Enlightenment-versus-Romanticism conflict again!), it is stoic Elinor whom I identify with, not the passionate Marianne.

When it comes to tears, though, no work of art has ever made me cry as much as the movie of The King and I did, when I saw it as a five-year-old. I’d seen death in movies before, but it was the simplified, Disney kind of death, where Gaston dies by falling off a tower and Belle’s love heals and transforms the Beast. Come to think of it, The King and I plays like a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast for most of its running time – but its final scene offers no such salvation.

Consider the parallels: in both movies, a gruff and moody nobleman shuts a woman up in his luxurious palace, where she quickly befriends the other inhabitants. Though the man dislikes the woman’s feistiness at first, he eventually warms to her and gives her property (a house for Anna; a library for Belle) as a token of his esteem. Then comes a gorgeous scene where the man and woman dance together in an otherwise empty ballroom, his big hands on her narrowly corseted waist.

Even as a five-year-old, I had seen enough movies to assume that this indicated that Anna and the King were falling in love and were destined to end up together. Instead, jarringly, the next scene shows the King on his deathbed, and nothing can save him: not Anna’s love, not the love of his wives and children and subjects, not medical science, not the rule that Rodgers and Hammerstein musical comedies need to have uplifting endings. For perhaps the first time, I was witnessing a character die onscreen whom I desperately wanted to live… and when the movie ended, I was inconsolable. Never have I cried so much at a film, and I doubt any film will ever make me cry so much again.

Nowadays, the playwright in me thinks that the ending of The King and I is just bad dramaturgy – sure, Oscar Hammerstein hints that the King is internally tormented, but this foreshadowing wasn’t strong enough for a child to pick up on. (Besides, lots of people are anguished; very few of them die from it.) I cried so hard at the King’s death because it came as such a shock; but now I feel like this shock is a cheap and manipulative way of ending the story.

All the same, The King and I made me cry even though I had never experienced the death of a loved one (or even a beloved pet) in real life. Somehow, this seems like more of an accomplishment than making someone cry who is already susceptible to pain. They say that when you have a child, it means that forevermore you will have a part of your heart walking around outside of your body – and the grief of losing a child may be the worst grief of all. Such is the theme of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole. When I saw this play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I think I was the only person in the audience who wasn’t crying by the end. I could tell it was a good play, the actors were skillful, the story was certainly sad… but it did not touch me at a profound, tear-jerking level. With the arrogance of youth, I decided that you probably have to be a parent in order to cry at Rabbit Hole – and that this indicated a certain weakness in Lindsay-Abaire’s writing. If he were a great playwright instead of a good one, I thought, he’d have been able to make me cry even though I did not have a child.

But these thoughts reflect an ultra-Romantic ideal: that the only real emotions are universal, and anything else is selfishness. If Rabbit Hole makes parents cry because it makes them imagine what they’d do if their own child died, but (because I am not a parent) it does not make me cry, is that so bad? Which are better: the tears we cry for rational reasons, or the tears that arise from emotions we do not understand?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and emotional thrill-seeker. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Theater Around The Bay: Year-End Round-Up Act 1

Well, we’ve made it- the end of 2014! It’s been a tremendous year of learning and change, tragedy and triumph, and our eight staff bloggers are here to share with you some of their own highlights from a year of working, writing and watching in the Bay Area Theater scene (and beyond)! Enjoy! We’ll have more highlights from 2014 tomorrow and Wednesday! 

Ashley Cowan’s Top 5 Actors I Met This Year (in random order!)

1) Heather Kellogg: I had seen Heather at auditions in the past but she always intimidated me with her talent, pretty looks, and bangin’ bangs. Luckily for me, I had the chance to meet her at a reading early in the year and I immediately started my campaign to be friends. She also just amazed me in Rat Girl.

2) Justin Gillman: I feel like I saw Justin in more roles than any other actor in 2014 but I was completely blown away by his performance in Pastorella. What I appreciated so much about his time on stage was that underneath an incredible, honest portrayal was an energy that simply longed to be; there’s something so beautiful about watching someone do what they love to do and do it so well.

3) Kitty Torres: I absolutely loved The Crucible at Custom Made and while so many of the actors deserve recognition for their work, I really wanted to commend Kitty for her part in an awesome show. She had to walk the fine line of being captivating, but still and silent, while also not taking attention away from the action and dialogue happening around her in the play’s opening scene. And she nailed it. I met her in person weeks later in person and my goodness, she’s also just delightful.

4) Vince Faso: I knew of Vince but we officially met at a party in February of this year. I enjoyed getting to know him both in person and on stage but it was his roles in Terror-Rama that made me realize that Vince is like a firework; while the sky may be beautiful on its own, when he walks on stage, he naturally lights it up in a new way.

5) Terry Bamberger: I met Terry at an audition and she’s the opposite of someone you’d expect to meet in such an environment. She was incredibly kind, supportive, and while you’re hoping you get into the play, you start to equally root for her to be in it too. And after seeing Terry in Three Tall Women, it’s clear that she’s also someone who deserves to be cast from her range and skills alone.

Barbara Jwanouskos’s Top 5 Moments in Bay Area Theater Where I Admired the Writer

This year has been one of momentous changes. I spent the first five months completing the last semester of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and receiving my MFA. I moved back to Bay Area and since then, have tried to become enmeshed in the theater scene once again. I haven’t had the resources to see all the performances I would have liked, but this list puts together the top five moments since being back that I’ve not only enjoyed the performance, but I found myself stuck with an element of the show that made me appreciate what the playwright had put together. In no particular order…

1) The Late Wedding by Christopher Chen at Crowded Fire Theater: Chris is known for his meta-theatrical style and elements – often with great effect. I have admired the intricacy of Chris’s plays and how he is able to weave together a satisfying experience using untraditional narrative structures. While watching The Late Wedding, I found myself at first chuckling at the lines (I’m paraphrasing, but…), “You think to yourself, is this really how the whole play is going to be?” and then finding a deeper meaning beyond what was being said that revolved around the constructs we build around relationships and how we arbitrarily abdicate power to these structures. Then, of course, I noticed that thought and noted, “Man, that was some good writing…”

2) Superheroes by Sean San José at Cutting Ball Theater with Campo Santo: I was talking with another playwright friend once who said, “Sean can take anything and make it good – he’s a phenomenal editor,” and in the back of my head, I wondered what types of plays he would create if behind the wheel as playwright. In Superheroes, there is a moment where the mystery of how the government was involved in the distribution of crack unfolds and you’re suddenly in the druggy, sordid, deep personal space of actual lives affected by these shady undertakings. Seeing the powerlessness against addiction and the yearning to gain some kind of way out – I sat back and was just thinking, “Wow, I want to write with that kind of intense emotional rawness because that is striking.” I left that play with butterflies in my stomach that lasted at least two hours.

3) Fucked Up Chronicles of CIA Satan and Prison Industry Peter and Never Ending Story by Brit Frazier at the One Minute Play Festival (Playwrights Foundation): Clocking in at under a minute each – these two plays that opened the One Minute Play Festival’s Clump 6 after Intermission were among the most striking images and moments for me of that festival. Brit’s two plays were hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, extremely timely works that I just remember thinking, “Now that is how to tell a whole story in just one minute.” I was talking to a friend about the festival and he said, “Even though they were only a minute, it’s funny how you can tell who really knows how to write.” I totally agree, and the first plays that I thought of when he said that were Brit’s.

4) Millicent Scowlworthy by Rob Handel at 99 Stock Productions:
I was only familiar with Aphrodisiac and 13P on a most basic level when I decided to apply to Carnegie Mellon, but, of course, training with a working playwright and librettist, you can’t help but be curious about his other work. Though I hadn’t read Millicent Scowlworthy, the title alone was something that I figured I’d enjoy. Seeing the production this summer, I had another “So grateful I got to train with this guy” moment as I watched the plot swirl around the looming question that the characters kept on attacking, addressing, backing away from at every moment. The desperate need for the kids to act out the traumatic event from their past and from their community felt so powerfully moving. I understood, but didn’t know why – it was more of a feeling of “I know this. This is somewhere I’ve been.” And to me, what could be a better feeling to inspire out your audience with your writing?

5)
Year of the Rooster by Eric Dufault at Impact Theater: I’d met Eric at a La MaMa E.T.C. playwriting symposium in Italy a number of years ago. We all were working on group projects so you got less of a sense of what types of plays each person wrote and more of their sources of inspiration. I have to say, going to Impact to see Year of the Rooster was probably THE most enjoyable experience I’ve had in theater this year – just everything about it came together: the writing, the directing, the space, the performances… There was pizza and beer… But I was profoundly engaged in the story and also how Eric chose to tell it and it was another moment where I reflected, “where are the moments I can really grab my key audience and give them something meaty and fun?”

Will Leschber’s Top 5 Outlets That Brought You Bay Area Theater (outside of a theater)

5) Kickstarter: The Facebook account of everyone you know who crowd-funded a project this year. Sure, it got old being asked to donate once every other week to another mounting production or budding theater project. BUT, the great news is, with this new avenue of financial backing, many Bay Area theater projects that might have otherwise gone unproduced got their time in the sun. This could be viewed as equally positive or negative… I like to look on the bright side of this phenomenon.

4) Blogging: San Francisco Theater Pub Blog- I know, I know. It’s tacky to include this blog on our own top 5 list. But hey, just remember this isn’t a ranking of importance. It’s just a reminder of how Bay Area theater branches out in ways other than the stage. And I’m proud to say this is a decent example. There, I said it.

3) YouTube: A good number of independent theater performances are recorded for posterity. Theater Pub productions of yesteryear and past Olympians festival readings are no exception. I’d like to highlight Paul Anderson who tirelessly recorded this year’s Olympians Festival: Monsters Ball. Due to his efforts and the efforts of all involved, the wider community can access these readings. For a festival that highlights a springboard-process towards playwriting improvement, that can be a very valuable tool.

2) Hashtags: #Theater, #HowElseWouldWeFollowEachOther, #MyNewPlay, #YourNewPlay, #Hashtags, #KeywordsSellTickets

1) The Born Ready podcast: Each week Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs tear into the San Francisco theater scene with jokes and, dare I say it, thoughtful commentary. Looking for a wide spanning podcast that touches on the myriad levels of theater creation, production, performance and all things in between? Crack a beer and listen up! This is for you.

Charles Lewis III’s Top 5 Invaluable Lessons I Learned

This past year was a wild one; not fully good or bad. I achieved some career milestones AND failed to meet some goals. I got 86’d from some prominent companies AND formed new connections with others. With it all said and done, what have I got to show for it? Well, here are five things that stand out to me:

1) “Be mindful of what I say, but stand by every word.” I said in my very first official column piece that I had no intention of trolling – and I don’t – but when I start calling people “asshole” (no matter how accurate), it can run the risk of personal attack rather than constructive criticism. I’m trying to stick to the latter. And believe me, I have no shortage of criticism.

2) “Lucid dreams are the only way to go.” There are some projects, mostly dream roles, that I now know I’ll never do. What’s occurred to me recently is that I shouldn’t limit the creation of my dream projects to just acting. Lots of venues opened up to me recently, and they’ve set off cavalcade of ideas in my head. They might not be what I originally wanted, but it’s great to know I have more options than I first thought.

3) “It’s only ‘too late’ if you’ve decided to give up.” I don’t believe in destiny (“everything is preordained”), but I do believe in fate (the perfect alignment of seemingly random circumstance). I kinda took it for granted that the chances of me making a living at performance art had passed me by, then this year I was offered several more chances. Which ones I take is still in flux, it’s made me reassess what’s important to me about this art form.

4) “Burn a bridge or two. It’s nice to see a kingdom burn without you.” This year someone (whom I shall call “Hobgoblin”) tried to put a curse on me. Nothing magical, but more along the lines of a “You’ll never work in this town again” kinda curse. Years ago I might have been worried, but I knew his words were just that. Instead I threw back my head, started laughing, and said “Oh, Hobgoblin…”

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5) “If you EVER have the chance to work with Alisha Ehrlich, take it.” If I had to pick a “Person of The Year” for Bay Area Theatre, she’d be it. I acted alongside her in The Crucible this year and when some of us were losing focus, she brought her A-game Every. Single. Night. Most of us can only hope to be as dedicated to our work.

Anthony Miller’s Top 5 People I Loved Working With This Year

There were way more than 5, but I just wanted these people to know how much I appreciated everything they did this year!

1) Colin Johnson: This fucking guy, he was a huge part of my year and the success of Terror-Rama. He’s a fantastic Director, resourceful as hell a never ending source of positivity and enthusiasm and a swell guy .

2) Alandra Hileman: The courageous Production Stage Manager of Terror-Rama. Smart, unafraid to give an opinion or tell an actor, designer director or producer “no”, in fact she’s fantastic at “No”.

3) Brendan West: Brendan is the Composer of Zombie! The Musical!, we had our first conversation about writing the show in 2007. Since then, it’s been produced a few times, but never with live music. Working with Brendan again to finally showcase the score live in concert was incredible.

4) Robin Bradford:  In the last 3 years, when no one believed in me, Robin Bradford believed in me. This year, I was lucky enough to direct staged readings of her plays, The Ghosts of Route 66 (Co-Written by Joe Wolff) and Low Hanging Fruit. I love getting to work with the amazing actors she wrangles and incredible work she trusts me with.

5) Natalie Ashodian: My partner in life, devoted cat mother and so much more, this year, she has been my Producer, Costume Designer, Graphic Designer, Film Crew Supervisor, Zombie Wrangler and Copy Editor. She is the best. The. Best.

Allison Page’s Top 5 Moments That Made Me Love Being A Theater Maker In The Bay Area

1) The Return Of Theater Pub: I just have to say it – I’m thrilled that Theater Pub’s monthly shows are starting up again in January. It’s such a unique theater-going experience and encourages a different type of relationship to theater which is essential to new audience bases who maybe think that it isn’t for them. It infuses life and a casual feel to our beloved dramatics and welcomes any and all to have a beer and take in some art. I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring for TPub and its artistic team! And obviously, we’ll be here with ye olde blog.

2) Adventures At The TBA Conference: That sounds more thrilling and wild than it actually is. What happened is that I found I had a bunch of opinions about things! WHO KNEW?! Opinions about things and shows and companies and ideals and art and the conference itself. Conferences aren’t a perfect thing – never will be, because they’re conferences – but it does shine a light on what it is we’re doing, and that’s a biggie. Also I had a lot of whiskey with some new and old theater faces before the final session so that was cool.

3) The Opening Of The New PianoFight Venue: This is clearly getting a lot of mention from bay area theater people, because it’s exciting. No, it’s not the first theater to open up in the Tenderloin (HEYYYY EXIT Theatre!) but another multi-stage space is really encouraging. This next year will be a big one for them. Any time you’re doing something big and new, that first year is a doozy. Here’s hopin’ people get out to see things in the TL and support this giant venture. I will most definitely be there – both as an audience member and as a theater maker. It’s poised to be a real theatrical hub if enough people get on board. GET SOME!

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4) Seeing The Crucible: Seeing Custom Made’s production of The Crucible was exciting for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that I’ve never seen a production of it filled with actors instead of high school students. IT WAS GREAT. Yes, surprise, it’s not a boring old standard. It can be vital and thrilling and new but somehow not new at the same time. It was so full of great performances in both the larger roles and the not so large ones, and it really felt like everyone was invested in this big wrenching story they believed in – thus getting the audience to believe in it, too. Maybe that sounds like it should be common, but it’s not as much as it should be.

5) Everything That Happens At SF Sketchfest: Man, I love Sketchfest. Not just participating in it, but seeing everything I can (you can’t see all the things because there are so many, but I do what I can do). It’s this great combination of local and national stand up, improv, sketch, tributes, talkbacks, and indefinable stuff which takes over the city and points to the bay area as a place able to sustain a gigantic festival of funny people. And audiences go bonkers for the big name acts who come to town. The performers themselves get in prime mingling time with each other – something funny people can be pretty awkward about, but in this case we all know it’s going to be weird and we just go for it.

Dave Sikula’s Five Theatre Events That Defined 2014 for Me

1) Slaughterhouse Five, Custom Made Theatre Company: I’ve previously mentioned the night we had to abort our performance because of an actor injury. (I insisted at the time that it was the first time that it had happened to me in 40 years of doing theatre. I’ve since been informed that, not only had it happened to me before, it happened at the same theatre only two years ago.) Regardless, it marked for me a lesson about the magic, and hazards, of live performance. The idea that, not only can anything happen on stage, but that, if the worst comes to the worst, a company of performers will do all they can to come together and make a show work even in the most altered of circumstances.

2) The Suit, ACT: A touring production, but one that provided an invaluable reminder about simplicity. In the 80s, I’d seen Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabrarata, and what struck me at that time was how stunningly simple it was. Brook’s faith and trust in cutting away pretense and bullshit and concentrating on simple storytelling – in a manner that is unique to a live performance; that is to say, acknowledging that we’re in the theatre, and not watching television or a movie, was a lesson in stripping things down to their essence and letting the audience use their imaginations to fill in and intensify the story.

3) The Farnsworth Invention, Palo Alto Players: I’ve written at extreme length about the controversy over our production. I’m not going to rehash it again, but I mention it as another lesson; that, in the best circumstances, theatre should provoke our audiences. Not to anger them, but to challenge and defend their preconceptions; to make them defend and/or change their opinions.

4) The Nance, Century at Tanforan: Something else I’ve written about is my frustration at how, even though we’re finally getting “televised” presentations of plays in movie theatres, they’re almost always from London. I have nothing against British theatre (well, actually, I have plenty against it, but nothing I want to get into here …) I realize American producers don’t want to cut into their profits if they can help it, but not only did film versions of Phantom and Les Mis not seem to hurt their theatrical box office receipts, is there any reason to believe that shows like The Bridges of Madison County or even Side Show wouldn’t have benefitted from either the extra publicity or extra cash that national exposure would have given them? Similarly, would broadcasts of the Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellen Waiting for Godot or the Nathan Lane/Brian Dennehy The Iceman Cometh do any harm? I’ll stipulate they don’t have a lot of title recognition, but did The Nance or Company other than their star leading performers? And let’s not limit it to New York. I’d like to see what’s happening in Chicago or Denver or Ashland or San Diego or Dallas or DC or Atlanta or Charlotte or Louisville or Portland or Seattle or Boston or Cleveland – or even San Francisco. The shortsightedness of producers in not wanting to grow their audiences at the expense of some mythical boost to the road box office (and even that, only in major cities) is nothing short of idiotic.

5) The Cocoanuts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Another one I wrote about at the time. One of those frustratingly rare occasions when a production not only met my high expectations, but wildly surpassed them. Hilarious and spontaneous, it was another reminder of why a live theatrical performance is so exciting when the actors are willing to take chances in the moment and do anything and are skilled enough to pull them off.

Marissa Skudlarek’s Top 5 Design Moments in Bay Area Theater

1) Liz Ryder’s sound design for The Crucible at Custom Made Theatre Company: Mixing Baroque harpsichord sounds with the frightening laughter of teenage girls, it created an appropriately spooky atmosphere. The friend who I saw The Crucible with went from “What does a sound designer do, anyway?” to “Now I see what sound design can do!” thanks to this show. I also want to honor Liz for the work she did on my own show, Pleiades, composing delicate finger-picked guitar music for scene transitions and putting together a rockin’ pre-show/intermission mix.

2) The Time magazine prop in The Pain and the Itch at Custom Made Theatre Company:

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This play takes place on Thanksgiving 2006, and the subtle but real differences between 2006 and 2014 can be tricky to convey (after all, clothing and furniture haven’t changed much in these eight years). But the November 6, 2006 issue of Time, with President Bush on the cover, takes you right back to the middle of the last decade. Even better, actor Peter Townley flipped through the magazine and paused at an article about Borat. Since Townley’s character was dating a broadly accented, bigoted Russian, it felt just too perfect.

3) Eric Sinkkonen’s set design for Wittenberg at the Aurora Theatre: This clever comedy takes place in the 1500s, but features puns and allusions of a more recent vintage. The set design perfectly captured the play’s tone: sure, Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door, but the door’s already covered with flyers advertising lute lessons, meetings of Wittenberg University’s Fencing Club, etc. — just like any bulletin board at any contemporary university.

4) The whirring fan in Hir, at the Magic Theatre: I am, somewhat notoriously, on record as disliking this show. But the holidays are a time for generosity, so let me highlight an element of Hir that I found very effective: at the start of the play, the sound design incorporates a whirring fan. (The monstrous mother, Paige, runs the air conditioning constantly because her disabled husband hates it.) You don’t necessarily notice the white noise at first, but the whole tone of the play changes when another character turns the AC off at a dramatic moment.

5) Whitehands’ costume in Tristan and Yseult, at Berkeley Rep:

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Technically, I saw this show in late 2013, but it ran into 2014, so I’m including it. Whitehands (played by Carly Bawden) is Tristan’s other, less-famous lover. Her little white gloves were a clever nod to her name – and, crooning “Perfidia” in a yellow Fifties suit, pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and handbag hanging perfectly in the crook of her arm, she made heartbreak look impossibly chic.

What are your top choices, picks, experiences from the last year? Let us know! 

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: What Theatre Needs

Claire Rice gives us a list of wishes…

You don’t have to tell me that if wishes were fishes we’d all be very good at making our own sushi. Still, there are things I wish existed that I really think would be awesome. And I know that some of these things are in my grasp. Like a bike, for example. I could make that happen. Black Widow getting her own Avenger’s movie, on the other hand, is not exactly in my control. I mean, I can write the screenplay and I can film it and I can hire the lawyers to protect me from Disney and Marvel…but it just wouldn’t be as satisfying as if Mark Boal wrote it and Catherine Bigelow directed it. Sometimes I think it’s OK to just send things out into the universe and wish.

But none of these wishes are going to be for more money. All of the wishes I have below can be gotten for more money, but “more money” as an answer is boring. You will always want there to be more money. You will always want things to be more equal. You will always want things to be more fair or to work in your favor.

This isn’t that kind of list.

So, I wish…

1 – Ashland Everywhere
This past Monday I was sitting in the lobby of Berkeley Rep listening to a pre-show discussion with a few of the playwrights featured in this week’s Monday Night Playground. When, as part of a general discussion about the arts and funding, Jonathan Luskin asked “Why can’t every state have an Ashland?”. I’m sure I’m among the many who, after returning from their first trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, felt a deep longing for the utter immersive theatrical environment that is OSF. The dream of spending nine months living and breathing live theatre. It’s hard not to romanticize it. But, before OSF alumni comment on the thrills of seclusion in Ashland and the joys of months upon months of self important tourists, let me say that I know that it can’t be perfect. But, I also agree with Jonathan, why can’t every state have it’s version of Ashland? I don’t mean the paint-by-numbers three month runs of Oklahoma!, or the unscrupulous and shady touring productions (like a certain production of Peter Pan that blew through a few years ago.) No, I mean forward thinking, risk taking, creative, invested caretakers of the American theatrical ambition. A place where the artists and craftsmen are treated as both employees and artists. A place to be introduced to theatre for the first time, a place to live theatre for a week, a place to relive favorites, and a place to discover new voices. And, yes, employers. Great behemoth employers where the young train, the up and coming to hone their craft, and the established relax into 401k plans.

2 – Nerdy Trade Magazines
Oddly specific and full of the best and most up to date information on trends, topics and news. How many theatre companies prefer to use Meisner Technique in their rehearsal rooms? Meisner Today knows (or it would if it existed.) I know, I know. Print media is dead!!! We’re playing a wishing game here. I want to open my mail box and have piles of glossy news items fall out. Yes, I get American Theatre Magazine and Theatre Bay Area and both are great. I don’t know about you, it get’s exhausting looking at all the ads for graduate schools in American Theatre Magazine, surely there is someone else willing to advertise in there that will make reading it feel more adult. There will never be a day when Howl Round or 2amT will come monthly and glossy, and I don’t think it should…oh but I kind of wish it did. I’m not going to lie. I want a theatre version of Rollingstone. I want it to be that stupid, that gossipy, that hero worshipping, that controversial and that entertaining in itself.

3 – Legitimate coverage
I don’t want to wait for Vanity Fair to cover Tracy Letts because Meryl Streep is in an adaptation of his play. I want every entertainment magazine, newspaper and entertainment broadcast to devote a little space to theatre. Not just major catastrophes like Spiderman, but the fact that cool stuff and terrible stuff is happening all over the country all the time. I want Vanity Fair to talk about theatre so much that around the time of the Tony’s they have a big Annie Leibovitz theatre spread where they name everyone and give little descriptions (I love those!) I want AV Club and Jezebel to roll their eyes at Vanity Fair and write article after article about “real” theatre stars, accomplishments and pitfalls.

4 – Conventions and Trade Shows
We never called it cosplay – we called it costuming. And,no, it isn’t fun to dress up as the family from Death of a Salesman, but you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a million Rent heads there all to see the panel with the original cast. Vender booths, sneak previews of Broadway hits before they open, tech fairs with the latest in lighting and sound and projection equipment, costume parades from our favorite designers (LIKE FASHION WEEK!), season announcements from big regional theatres and…oh goodness. It would be terrrible and wonderful and fun.

5 – Comfortable Seats
The older I get the more I dread going to see theatre at certain venues. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good the show is. If my ass has fallen asleep, my spine has started to tingle from bad lumbar support, and my hips (my lovely wide American hips) have finally had enough of being squished beneath the arm rests I may just walk out.

6 – More Broadway in Las Vegas
This is like the Ashland wish, only this theatre is way more commercial. Yup. Hoaky, touristy, loud show offy and commercial commercial commercial. I want more of it. I want a Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre on the strip doing shows in rep. I want brilliant musical directors, singers, actors, set designers and crew to cut their teeth and earn retirement fund there. I want the type of people who wrote Urinetown to have an edgy big theatre there too that does crazy new works with big budgets. I want a sketch comedy troupe with multi-media know-how to do their thing there.

7 – More Poaching from the Lower Ranks
I want the big regional companies to look below them and think about moving whole shows up from the small independent companies. When I see a cool show at Crowded Fire, I want to get excited when I see that the next season it’s at Marin Theatre Company.

8 – Less Excitement about Seeing it First, More Excitement about Seeing it Next
I want a new play to premiere at Kitchen Dog Theatre and I want to know for sure that in the next few months I’ll get the opportunity to see it too. I want there to be a ripple of excitement spreading across the country. The New Play Network and it’s rolling premiers are doing a good job and I want more! I want little black box theatre franchises all over that will open a show all in the same season. I want a big broadway show to open on Broadway AND in Los Angeles. I want previews for shows just like movies. I want them all in a single place so I can watch them all. I want to share them on Facebook and I want to say: “Man, I can’t go to Dallas right now but I hear that Playhouse will do the show in June!”

9 – Away with Curtain Call
I just don’t think they are necessary. It’s a false kind of pageantry that isn’t necessary. It’s hoaky. It breaks the mood. It wastes time. It’s a form of begging. I want the audience to feel like it’s a special treat to see the actors without the makeup or the character. The curtain call has become pro forma. It’s lost it’s magic. I don’t need it any more.

10 – A Powerful Politician and The Owner of a Media Outlet
I want friends in high places for theatre. Loud ones.