Theater Around the Bay: Marissa Skudlarek and Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”

We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Marissa Skudlarek and director Adam Odsess-Rubin of “Cemetery Gates”!

Inspired by the classic Smiths song, “Cemetery Gates” is a vignette about two moody, pretentious high-school seniors who have snuck into a bar with fake IDs in order to try overpriced cocktails, quote poetry, and imagine a world in which they could be happy. Sailor Galaviz plays Theo and Amitis Rossoukh plays Flora.

Skudlarek photo

Writer Marissa Skudlarek goes for a moody-rainy-day aesthetic.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Marissa: I have a long history with Pint-Sized. The first edition of the festival, in 2010, was also the first time any theater in San Francisco had produced my work. I had a play in the 2012 festival as well, and then last year, I came back to serve as Tsarina (producer) of the entire festival, the first time that it was at PianoFight. I can’t resist the lure of an imperial title and a rhinestone tiara, so I signed on as Tsarina again for the 2016 festival. Meanwhile, I had originally written “Cemetery Gates” as a submission for The Morrissey Plays, Theater Pub’s January 2016 show. The producer of The Morrissey Plays, Stuart Bousel, didn’t end up picking my script, but he said “This is a good play, you should produce it in Pint-Sized this year.” And, well, the Tsarina gets to make those decisions for herself. It’s good to be the Queen!

Adam: I had been an actor at PianoFight in The SHIT Show and Oreo Carrot Danger with Faultline Theater, but I really wanted to break into directing. I studied directing at UC Santa Cruz, but no companies in the Bay Area seem to want to hire a 24-year-old to direct. I sent my resume to Theater Pub and I’m so grateful they are taking a chance on me.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Marissa: I feel like I allow myself to indulge my idiosyncrasies more because, hey, it’s only 10 minutes, right? Last night I was talking to Neil Higgins (a frequent Theater Pub collaborator who directed “Beer Culture” in this year’s Pint-Sized Plays), and he pointed out that both “Cemetery Gates” and my 2012 Pint-Sized Play “Beer Theory” are very “Marissa” plays. They are plays that I could show to people and say “This is what it’s like to live inside my head.” Writing a full-length often means seeking to understand the perspectives of people who don’t think or behave like me; writing a short play lets me burrow into my own obsessions.

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

Adam: I love creating theater outside of conventional theater spaces. I’ve worked with Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in Yosemite and taken Shakespeare to senior-citizen centers, but never done a play in a bar. PianoFight is my favorite bar in the Bay Area, so I’m thrilled to be creating theater in their cabaret space.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Marissa: Sometimes it can be complying with the length-limit, though that wasn’t a problem with “Cemetery Gates.” Creating vivid and complex characters while only having a limited space to define them.

What’s been most troublesome?

Adam: My script is six pages. Trying to create a full theatrical experience in under 10 minutes is a really creative challenge for a director. You want a full dramatic arc while also fleshing out your characters, which isn’t easy to do in such a short period of time. And yes, scheduling too. The actors in my piece are both very busy with other projects, so our rehearsal time was limited.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Marissa: Ooh, that’s a daunting question, so I’m going to re-frame it as “What are the biggest artistic influences on ‘Cemetery Gates’?” Well, there’s the Smiths song, obviously, and the fact that I wish I’d discovered it when I was a teenager rather than when I was about 25. There’s my weird obsession with a clutch of Tumblr blogs run by teenage or early-twentysomething girls who post about what they call “The Aesthetic,” which seems to mean pictures of old buildings in moody light, marble statues, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, modern witchcraft, dried flowers, the idea of being this vaguely wistful girl writing in her journal in a coffee shop, etc. And, while I didn’t consciously realize it when I was writing the play, I think it’s probably influenced by one of my favorite recent films, Xavier Dolan’s HeartbeatsHeartbeats is the story of two very pretentious Montreal twentysomethings — a gay guy and a straight girl, like the characters in “Cemetery Gates” — who both fall in love with the same man. The movie is aesthetically lush and painfully funny. Dolan obviously loves his characters while at the same time acknowledging that they are completely ridiculous — which is exactly how I feel about the characters in “Cemetery Gates.”

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Adam: I’d love to see Harry Styles from One Direction play Theo in Cemetery Gates. What can I say? He’s just so cute and pouty. It’d be great to see him play an alienated gay teen sneaking into a bar to wax poetic about Oscar Wilde. Molly Ringwald would be an excellent Flora — the ultimate angsty teenager who longs for something better in a world full of constant disappointments.

Marissa: Hmm, the trouble here is that both of my characters are 18 and I feel like I don’t know enough about who the good teenage actors are these days. Maybe Kiernan Shipka as the girl? I loved her as Sally Draper on Mad Men.

12419339_10207300099435145_385063855741125253_o

Director Adam Odsess-Rubin is also looking very aesthetic here.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Adam: I’m very jealous of anyone who has had the opportunity to be on stage with Radhika Rao. She blows me away as an actor and teacher. She’s such a light in the Bay Area theater community, and such a talented artist. Her passion to create change through her art is what every theater artist in the Bay Area should strive for.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Adam: I’ll be directing three pieces for the SF Olympians Festival this year, which I am so excited about. My parents gave me a picture book of Greek mythology when I was very little, and so I can’t wait to bring some of these tales to life in a new way on stage. Anne Bogart talks about the importance of mythology in theater, and Anne Washburn touches on this in a big way in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, which I assistant-directed at A.C.T. and the Guthrie Theater under the late, great Mark Rucker. I was so moved by Washburn’s unique argument for theater as this invincible storytelling form.

Beyond that, I’d love to direct a full-length show next year at a theater company in the area. Artistic Directors, you’ll be hearing from me soon.

Marissa: Revising my long one-act play You’ll Not Feel the Drowning for a staged reading on September 13, part of Custom Made Theatre’s Undiscovered Works program. Finishing a one-act play based on the story of Macaria, Hades and Persephone’s daughter, for an Olympians Festival staged reading on October 14. Planning and hosting a celebration of the Romantic era to take place over Labor Day Weekend. Attending a friend’s wedding in Oregon in mid-September. Trying to keep my sanity in the midst of all this (seriously, it’s a lot right now).

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Adam: I saw Eric Ting’s production of We Are Proud to Present… at SoHo Rep in NYC in 2012 and it was the single greatest production I’ve seen, period. I can’t wait to see his production of An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep next season. I love Annie Baker and am looking forward to John at A.C.T. And Hamilton – my God! I’m not original in saying this, but that show is brilliant.  I’m so glad SHN is bringing it to SF. I don’t know what the smaller theaters have planned for next season yet, but Campo Santo and Z Space produce great work. New Conservatory Theatre Center is an artistic home for me. I’ll see anything they produce.

Marissa: The Olympians Festival, of course! The theme this year is myths of death and the underworld, and I’ve been writing a lot of weird death-haunted plays this year (including “Cemetery Gates”) so that fits right in. Also, a bunch of my friends and I read or reread Pride and Prejudice this year, so I want to plan a field trip to see Lauren Gunderson’s P&P sequel play, Miss Bennet, at Marin Theatre Co. this Christmas.

What’s your favorite beer?

Adam: Moscow mule.

Marissa: The Goldrush at PianoFight — bourbon, honey, and lemon, good for what ails ya.

“Cemetery Gates” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 3 performances remaining: August 22, 23, and 29 at PianoFight! 

Advertisements

Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life: How Theater Became a Good-Girl Pursuit

Marissa Skudlarek, always ahead of her time.

Last Saturday, I read a New York Times story about how the Ziegfeld Club is transitioning from an institution that will support down-on-their-luck aging showgirls to one that will support women who are creating new works of musical theater. It’s a fun story, mixing human interest, glamorous New York theater history, and upbeat modern-day feminism. But it also seems to epitomize something I was talking about earlier that day with my editor, Stuart Bousel: the way that theater went from being perceived as disreputable, to being a hobby that “nice girls” could participate in.

This point came up in a larger conversation that Stuart and I were having about the lack of roles for actresses. We know that there are more male roles than female ones in theater and yet, per anecdotal evidence, many more women show up to auditions than men do. Also, though there are always exceptions, severely male-heavy casts seem more prevalent in older (but still post-Renaissance) plays than in newer ones. Stuart and I wondered if perhaps, back in the day, there weren’t more women than men auditioning. Is the oversupply of women in theater a contemporary phenomenon?

Well, we Anglophones do come from a tradition that didn’t even allow women onstage till the late 1600s, and for hundreds of years after that, considered actresses one step above prostitutes. (For a play that deals with many of these themes, see Compleat Female Stage Beauty, opening this weekend at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.) If Shakespeare had had adult women in his company, if acting had been a more respectable pursuit in the centuries that followed, would classic plays feature more gender-balanced casts?

And then, Stuart and I continued our speculations, what happened to change the perceived respectability of being an actress? It’s reasonable to suppose that in the past, many women who might have been interested in theater were dissuaded from pursuing it, due to the stigma it might bring upon them and their families. Theater represented a step up in fame and prestige for women from poor families (Sarah Bernhardt was the daughter of a prostitute), but bourgeois women would see it as a comedown. In older plays and novels there’s a frequent trope where a respectable family’s playboy son brings home his new wife to meet the parents and – gasp! horror! – she is an actress!

That’s all in the past, though. Now, American bourgeois families might dissuade their daughters from pursuing theater because it’s not a lucrative profession, but not because they consider theater immoral. If anything, girls who do high-school theater these days are considered a bit nerdy and uncool (viz. the term “theater geek”), not as temptresses and home-wreckers in training. As Stuart put it, “Theater went from being considered on par with prostitution, to being considered on par with the chess club.”

What’s less clear to us is exactly when, and why, this shift occurred. When did actresses become respectable; when did theater become something that middle-class “good girls” could freely pursue? Can it, along with so much else about modern society, be traced to the sexual revolution? Perhaps one reason that actresses were not considered respectable is that, in the past, very few women other than actresses earned their own money and dictated the terms of their own lives. But when it became socially acceptable for women to join the workforce, earn money, live alone in the big city, date multiple people, etc., one could no longer condemn actresses for doing those things.

I realize that there’s still something inherently misogynistic about dividing women into “good girls” and “bad girls.” And that there are still many problems with the way that women are represented in theater, both onstage and offstage. At the same time, I do think it’s a sign of progress that we’ve gotten rid of the association between actresses and immorality.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote “The only thing worth loving is an actress,” and I can’t help hearing that as another one of Wilde’s famous paradoxes, turning the conventional wisdom of Victorian society on its head. Wilde wrote “The only thing worth loving is an actress” because that idea affronted the mores of his day. But even Wilde, progressive and defiant though he was, was still somewhat stuck in the Victorian era: his actress character, Sibyl Vane, primarily functions as a love interest. She is virtuous, but she is also tragic and doomed, in a melodramatic fashion. Again, I don’t dispute that there are still problems with gender parity and misogyny in theater, and in the world at large. But I’m glad we’ve reached a point where the conversation about actresses has expanded to include far more than just whether they are “worth loving.”

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She’s pretty sure that if theater were still popularly associated with prostitution, she’d never have had the courage to pursue it. Find Marissa at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Russell Blackwood’s Parisian Thrills

Marissa Skudlarek, our resident Francophile, reports on a new Paris-themed musical revue. And no, she isn’t moving to Fridays, our Editor in Chief just started rehearsals for his next show this week, and so everything’s a little behind right now.

The Thrillpeddlers have been peddling thrills – in the form of outrageous, only-in-San-Francisco theater – for over 20 years. They love the tattered, tawdry glamour of the stage, and have made a name for themselves by reviving older performance styles like Grand Guignol and Theatre of the Ridiculous. That attitude shines through in their new show, Jewels of Paris, as well. It’s a musical revue that celebrates the City of Light and its legacy of beauty, art, and revolution. Under the direction of Russell Blackwood (who is also Thrillpeddlers’ Producing Artistic Director), the cast sings Scrumbly Koldewyn’s catchy songs, sports gaudy barely-there costumes, celebrates freaks and innovators, and does their best to épater les bourgeois.

One sketch in Jewels of Paris features Jean Cocteau saying (as he did in real life), “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture,” but fortunately for us, Russell Blackwood doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. After seeing Jewels of Paris on Friday night, I got to interview him about how he brought bygone Paris to life onstage in 2015.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: Thrillpeddlers have met with great success reviving other Scrumbly Koldewyn musicals in recent years, but I believe this is the first new show of his that you’ve produced. Who had the original idea to create a Paris-themed musical revue and what was Thrillpeddlers’ role in the development process?

Russell: During the past seven years, Thrillpeddlers have worked with Scrumbly to revive and reinvent his musicals from the repertoire of the fabulous Cockettes, the queer counterculture theatre troupe from early 1970s San Francisco. The Cockettes created two Parisian-themed musical revues back in the day. They were comprised largely of published music that is not in the public domain, but included a few original numbers by Scrumbly and lyricist Martin Worman. Our title song “The Jewels of Paris” is among these. When Scrumbly began working with Cockette “Sweet Pam” Tent on a new show for Thrillpeddlers last year, the idea of a Parisian-themed musical revue excited the whole company into a flurry of group creation. Not unlike Shocktoberfest, Thrillpeddlers’ annual Grand Guignol horror theatre festival, I wanted our revue to have several playwrights contribute to the bill and use Parisian-born revolutions as our raw material.

Marissa: Revues and vaudeville shows often have acts written to showcase specific performers, and I know the Thrillpeddlers are a tight-knit troupe. Were any of the songs or sketches in Jewels of Paris created with a specific actor in mind?

Russell: Oh yes, about half the material was written after the production was cast. Then, once we were in rehearsal, group discussions led to more musical numbers like the “Quasihomo & Lesmerelda” duet for J Iness and Bruna Palmeiro. The song “Chic and Tragic” was definitely penned for the show’s Pierrot, Birdie-Bob Watt, well in advance; whereas the ballad “At the Sideshow” was written overnight for Roxanne RedMeat to sing as a precursor to a one-act sex farce about a bearded lady and her lover.

Marissa: You’re known for your impeccable research into historical theater and performance styles. For instance, just from a choreographic standpoint, Jewels of Paris features avant-garde ballet, a flirty cancan, a pugnacious Apache dance, and Josephine Baker’s Charleston Sauvage. As a director, what is your approach to bringing older performance traditions to 21st-century actors and audiences, who may not be so familiar with them?

Russell: Our long-time choreographer Noah Haydon did a fabulous job fulfilling Scrumbly’s and my desire to include French dance forms. YouTube, of course, came into play. Scrumbly and Roxanne RedMeat took their inspiration for our avant-garde ballet Façade from a video recreation of the 1916 choreography of the Ballets Russes’ Parade. Alex Kinney became our dramaturg and took on creating a 13-minute homage to neoclassical drama, Molière comedy and Jean de La Fontaine’s classic folk hero Renard the Fox, all in three short acts. We’re not slavishly recreating any of these performance genres. It’s more that we’re saying “What might that have been like?” and then spinning those elements that turn us on the most. We’ve got gusto and the best of our abilities going for us. We’ve also got a missionary’s zeal to save performance forms ending up forgotten footnotes.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: If I was describing Jewels of Paris to a friend, I’d call it a bawdy burlesque romp. But the show also has several torchy ballads and confronts some more serious issues: French racism and imperialism in the Josephine Baker sequence; gentrification and the passing of time in “Oh What a World.” What was your approach to handling this material so that these serious themes were given their due, yet would not overshadow the fundamentally upbeat nature of the show?

Russell: That is the very nature of revue. Music, dance, spectacle and satire play off one another to their mutual benefit. It makes the funny stuff funnier and the poignant stuff more poignant. Both of the ballads you mention, “But Underneath” and “Oh What a World” directly follow comic sketches written by Rob Keefe on related subjects. Pierrot’s tortured tune “Chic and Tragic” is witnessed by two Americans, in a sketch by Andy Wenger that tries to define what’s so funny about a sad clown. Answer: “He’s sad and you’re not.” These are examples of Scrumbly writing songs to be paired with playwrights’ companion pieces.

Marissa: Fantasy dinner party time: if you could have dinner with any 3 Paris-related historical figures, who would you choose and why?

Russell: Oscar Wilde for wit, Sarah Bernhardt for melodrama, and Jean Genet for filth.

Marissa: The finale of Jewels of Paris invokes San Francisco as the “Paris of the West” and exhorts the audience to express their creativity and individuality. In recent years, there have been countless articles fretting that all the artists are fleeing San Francisco and that we are becoming a stale, conformist city. Having led a niche-y theater company in San Francisco for over 20 years, do you agree with this characterization of S.F.? Do you have any advice for younger artists who want to keep San Francisco weird?

Russell: While some aspects of life here have become more difficult, we have new outrages to respond to and flames to keep burning. Thrillpeddlers is a multi-generational freak theatre. Man, that makes me proud! On our stage now are some of the hottest acts I’ve seen in a quarter century in this town. If you want to see what makes San Francisco theatre exciting – come see this show!

Jewels of Paris performs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St in San Francisco, through May 2. Tickets here.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Greet Me with Cries of Hate

Marissa Skudlarek ponders the idea that if a bad review is a good sign that good art is going on, does this mean Dan Brown is a genius?

“Melissa Fall has such an interesting perspective on things,” Megan Briggs said to me the other night. (Megan is currently starring in DIVAfest’s production of Melissa’s play You’re Going to Bleed.) “When she was here for the premiere, do you know what she told me? She said, ‘I hope that at least one critic hates this show — really hates it — because that’d mean that the play was effective. We’re trying to do something controversial here, and not everyone should like it.’ Isn’t that an interesting way of looking at things?”

It is, but it’s not a completely unique viewpoint. I’ve heard other artists make that claim; I’ve even thought it myself. In our culture, there’s an idea that great art should shock or unsettle its audiences, rather than appealing to their sense of contentment and complacency. I also think it this has something to do with the idea of the artist being a lonely prophet, a Cassandra, a teller of inconvenient truths. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde saying “Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong,” or Groucho Marx saying “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Or Meursault, at the end of The Stranger, wishing for the crowd on the day of his execution to “greet me with cries of hate.” If you started making art because you felt like a misfit or an outcast, and then people actually like and accept what you make, you must not be doing it right. You must’ve betrayed yourself; you must’ve sold out. At least, that’s how the thinking goes.

But one of the problems with the idea that “great art arouses controversy and gets negative reviews” is that badartists can lay claim to this as a convenient excuse to justify their own mediocrity. This week, I heard a BBC radio news item about Dan Brown’s reaction to the bad reviews for Inferno, his latest potboiler novel. “All you’re hoping to do, as a writer, when you put something out, is make people care about it, make people react to it. I kind of believe if there aren’t people angry, then you really haven’t said much. So, you know what, on some level, I guess I need to welcome those sorts of comments,” Brown said in a clip.

But reviewers are angry at Brown precisely because they think that he hasn’t said much; they think that his novels are trashy, the literary equivalent of empty calories or worse. Still, how can Melissa Fall (a writer I respect, and know to have serious ambitions) and Dan Brown (a writer of airport thrillers who finds himself in a place of undeserved cultural prominence) both say the same thing about their art? How can they both claim that a negative review is the greatest proof of the value of their writing?

I’m also tired of the related idea that art that wallows in nihilistic or degrading sentiments — what is traditionally meant by the term “shock value” — is more valuable than art that expresses something more positive or uplifting. (Perhaps Allison Page and I are on the same wavelength here.) To that end, I was fascinated and intrigued to learn that the most controversial play in New York this past season was The Flick, by Annie Baker. From what I gather,The Flick is a quiet, slow-paced, three-hour drama about three disappointed people who work at a small-town movie theater. Sounds innocuous enough, but evidently droves of people walked out of the play, wrote angry letters to Playwrights Horizons (the producer), and threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Playwrights Horizons eventually published an open letter defending their decision to produce The Flick and explaining why they supported Baker’s artistic vision.

So The Flick was controversial, but not for the usual reasons of sex or violence or political content or other forms of shock value. It made people uncomfortable because it was too quiet, too subtle, dare I say, too feminine. I hope that Annie Baker took a perverse pride in the controversy she raised. While I haven’t seen or read The Flick, I have to feel that Baker is doing something right.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you wish to give her bad reviews (or good ones) you can see more of her writing at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life: You’re Doing It Wrong, You’re Doing It Wrong

Marissa Skudlarek brings us Part II of her article about the internet and its discontents.

In my last column, I wrote about the anxiety that “the endless stream of information on Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general” makes me feel. In this column, I want to focus on one particularly prevalent form of Internet writing, which I have come to think of as the “You’re Doing It Wrong” essay.

According to KnowYourMeme.com, “You’re Doing It Wrong” became a catchphrase circa 2007-2008, and has remained popular ever since. It was originally just a fun, slightly snarky photo-meme (“Running: You’re Doing It Wrong” above a photo of Italian race-walkers; “Governing: You’re Doing It Wrong” above a photo of George W. Bush), but it has become the guiding principle of a slew of online writings. The Internet is crawling with self-styled experts who just love to tell you what’s the matter with the pop culture you’re consuming and the sociocultural habits you’re unconsciously falling into.

That’s right: if my previous column was a 600-word piece freaking out about the sheer amount of stuff published online each day, this column is about how writers of You’re Doing It Wrong columns are, indeed, doing it wrong. I get the irony, OK?

Because condemnation and hyperbole generate more pageviews than praise or subtlety, a You’re Doing It Wrong essay frames its thesis as contentiously as possible – and thus goes viral. More reasonable voices, which point out nuances, or observe without condemning, get drowned out by louder, shriller voices. In this overheated Internet climate, it feels refreshing to read celebrations of people who are Doing It Right, rather than criticisms of people who are Doing It Wrong. Consider this a public plea to my editor, Stuart Bousel, to publish his crowd-sourced list of male playwrights who write good roles for women.

Of course, even if you do write a paean to someone you think is Doing It Right, be prepared for the backlash: someone will come along the next day and write a piece about how that person is Doing It Wrong after all. If Stuart publishes the list of male playwrights who write good female characters, I fully expect that it will generate a lively debate in the comments section. I also expect that someone will write a response saying that we shouldn’t celebrate male playwrights who write good female roles, because that simply reinforces the patriarchal structure of society, keeps women out of the spotlight, etc. It feels like we’re getting to the point where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; where no matter what choice you make, someone will tell you that it exemplifies everything that’s wrong with modern society.

I keep bringing up gender because it’s something I think about a lot and feel qualified to discuss. But, in addition, our culture’s overwhelming anxiety about feminism and gender roles means that many You’re Doing It Wrong pieces are targeted toward women. There was another meme going around Twitter yesterday – the #EdgyHeadlines hashtag, which generated humor and social commentary by flipping the gender of magazine-type headlines. I recall examples like “Men, Do You Dress Too Provocatively at Work?” and “Do Male CEOs Spend Too Little Time With their Babies?” Of course, the point of #EdgyHeadlines is that we never actually see headlines like these. It’s women who get told they dress wrong for the office, women who are told to fret about work-life balance. Women bear the brunt of You’re Doing It Wrong attacks, and suffer the most anxiety from them.

I’ve witnessed this happening in our own community. A couple of months ago, local theater director/producer Melissa Hillman wrote a “You’re Doing it Wrong” blog post directed at young female playwrights, whom she claims are writing too many passive protagonists and focusing too much on heterosexual romantic relationships. Her stated intent was to encourage women to “own” their own stories and thereby write better, stronger plays. But I spoke to several women who said that this essay gave them anxiety and made them want to throw in the towel, instead of making them want to write more and better.

Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure that my play Pleiades is one of the plays that prompted Hillman to write her blog post. I’d submitted Pleiades to Impact Theatre last year, and received a kind but firm rejection from Hillman only a few days before she published her piece. And I’d always thought of Pleiades as a play that might be too feminist for mainstream American theaters – it has eight roles for women, after all – yet, evidently, it wasn’t feminist enough for Hillman. This made me feel a little bit trapped and discouraged, rather than empowered. I know very well that you can’t please everybody, but read enough “You’re Doing It Wrong” essays and you’ll start to feel like you can never please anybody.

At the same time, though, I felt kind of flattered that Hillman might’ve been thinking of one of my plays as she wrote her blog post. If so, it’s the first time anyone has written about my work in a serious, critical way, and it did prompt me to think harder about what messages I’m sending in the plays that I write. These days (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), perhaps the only thing worse than being criticized is not being criticized. The Internet is an endless cycle of creation, reaction, backlash, and outrage. It can make your head dizzy — but don’t you want to go for a spin?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. So, come on, then, have at her in the comments section. She also welcomes additional criticisms on her blog at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.