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

Our final round of recaps from our core blogging team brings you top five lists from Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek. Enjoy! And join us for our last blog of the year with The Stueys tomorrow.

Five Underwhelming Behind-the-Scenes Job that Deserve Awards for Surviving 2015 by Alandra Hileman

As someone who regularly gets paid to be as invisible as possible in theatre, I wanted to shine a little light on a few of the unsung heroes of 2015 theatre, both local and global.

1) The Ushers
Look, being an usher is such a massively underrated job that, below a certain operating budget, most places either use community volunteers or ask technicians/theatre staff to double-up on their other duties to do it. And true, usually it’s an incredibly boring task of helping patrons remember the alphabet. But sometimes you get weird situations like the infamous incident at Broadway’s Hand to God in July where a patron climbed on stage to attempt to charge a cell phone in the fake scenic outlet. And that is when the ushers, like true theatre-ninjas, swoop in en masse to preserve the sanctity of the show. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I salute you, ushers!

2) The Prompters
I think very few of my fellow stage managers will disagree when I say being on book for actors in that weird nebulous time between “first day with no script in hand” and “opening night” is one of the worst parts of the job. Line notes are tediously painful. But, it’s a necessary part of the process…or at least it was until this year, when apparently everyone just gave up trying and just wore earpieces so they could be prompted when they went up. Guys, what happened? I get that this happens sometimes in previews; I’ve been on book during previews of local shows, but the entire run, folks? Well, regardless on me feelings about the overall practice, my hat is off to the invisible voices on the other end of the earpiece who are, apparently, just as responsible for keeping the show going as the big-name star who graces the marquee.

3) The Managers
Has Rob Ready slept this year? When was the last time Natalie Ashodian saw her house? How long has Stuart Bousel been working his way through Great Expectations? There are hundreds more folks in the SF Bay Area, and all over the country, who I could shout out for taking on the very unsexy titles of administrator, coordinator, production manager, program director, and other boring-sounding things that have to do with Excel spreadsheets and web design and mountains of paperwork, and all so that beautiful, fascinating, innovative art can blossom in spite of everything working against theatre right now, and in so doing have paved the way for the upward swing

4) The Techblr Community
Did you know that there’s a huge community of stage managers, designers, and technicians on Tumblr? While it’s not a “job” per se, one of the things that is the most amazing about the folks who use this tag is how willing they are to dive in and help each other out. Possibly the coolest coming together of the tech theater community I’ve ever seen have been instances where a frantic high school student makes a post begging for help with how to rig a prop, or run a certain kind of light board, and dozens of professional theatre worked have joined forces to offer help and advice.

5) The Bloggers
My 5th award was always going to be to “the guy who films so many of the #Ham4Ham shows,” because those tiny snippets of silliness are full of joy and talent and delight, and the fact that somebody is filming them and putting them on YouTube fills my West Coast grounded heart with warm fuzzies. But then, as I was scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I happened to discover that one of the primary sources of these delightful Broadway nuggets is actually none other than Howard Sherman, currently director of the new Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama, Senior Strategy Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts in New York, and one of the most influential theatre advocates in the country, who is very well known for his blog. And I realized that the theatre bloggers of the world do deserve a shout-out, because most of us will never be as famous as Mr. Sherman, but we do it anyway, just so we can share out thoughts, insights, advice, opinions and love of this crazy world of the stage. Sometimes only one person may read a post…but sometimes our post is the only review a show gets, or serves as a reminder to that one read why they love theatre. And I think that’s pretty cool.

5 Things I Can See From My Couch That Remind Me Of This Year In Theater by Allison Page

It’s the end of the year, and most theaters wrapped something up around Christmas, and will start something new up in January. It’s a time to sit on your couch and think about the past year. And if you’re me, and who says you aren’t, you might be parked in your apartment, looking around at the things you haven’t taken care of. In honor of the theatrical downtime at the end of 2015, here are 5 things I can see from my couch that remind me of my year in theater:

1) A BOTTLE OF SRIRACHA MY BOYFRIEND LEFT ON THE COFFEE TABLE
Sriracha is a hot sauce many people are pretty dedicated to. It goes well on/with a number of things: tacos, pad thai, soup, dips, sandwiches, or if you’re my boyfriend, just slathered on some bread. What does this errant bottle of Sriracha remind me of? Easy. Megan Cohen’s THE HORSE’S ASS & FRIENDS, which I saw just a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it might even remind me of Megan’s work in general: always a good idea, no matter the vehicle.

2) A DIRTY PLATE WHICH USED TO INCLUDE FRENCH TOAST
2015 was, by far, the craziest, busiest year of my theatrical life. I counted myself as a produced playwright for the first time, in March. By the end of the year, I was involved in some way or another with 19 different productions, as producer, director, actor, writer, artistic director, or some combination of those titles. So there have literally been a lot of dirty plates in my apartment, because I didn’t have time to clean them. Worth it.

3) THREE BOTTLES OF CONTACT SOLUTION ON MY TV STAND
I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. A LOT of stuff. Having been an adjudicator for the TBA awards allowed/forced me to see stuff I would never have seen otherwise. I went to a kids’ show. I went to some theatres for the first time EVER. I saw comedies, dramas, shows with expensive sets, shows without any sets, period pieces, modern tales, and it was an eye opening experience because it reminded me of the variety the Bay Area actually has. I think we forget that sometimes. It was a good reminder.

4) A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS TREE
Simple. Humble. Has a button you can push to play Charlie Brown Christmas music. Not big and showy. Not overcomplicated. Flashy though, in its way. Gloriously brilliant when the timing is just right. Gets to the point: HERE IS A SMALL TREE. YOU WILL LOVE THIS SMALL TREE. It does what it does and it does it well. That’s how I feel about the parts of the theater community that sometimes aren’t considered theater, ya know, by idiots. The Bay Area has a steadily growing community of improv and sketch performers and companies. We (yeah, I’m saying we) perform in traditional and non-traditional spaces alike. Great, big, beautiful theaters and teeny tiny stages meant for one person with a guitar. From Endgames to The Mess to BATS to Killing My Lobster (had to) to every small group of people who took one class together and then created their own thing in a basement, there has been significant growth in the last several years, and with the opening of PianoFight, there are more stages to occupy than ever. Here’s to the scrappy people with stick-on mustaches and open hearts, sometimes performing well after everyone’s gone to bed. Keep pushing that button.

5) A STACK OF BIOGRAPHIES ABOUT FAMOUS WOMEN
Ingrid Bergman. Lillian Hellman. Sophie Tucker. Gloria Swanson. Pola Negri. Carole Lombard. Elizabeth Taylor. (Okay, yes, I have a lot of old timey lady biographies) There were a lot of bright moments for women in theater this year. An obvious one is the outcry of theater artists everywhere that we just need MORE WOMEN IN THEATER. It can be hard, sometimes, to not just focus on that problem, instead of taking a minute for game to recognize game and point out people, places, companies, organizations that are doin’ it right. Here are some moments from 2015 that had me pumpin’ my fists in joy for women in theater, some of them shamelessly to do with my own stuff, some more broad: Mina Morita became Artistic Director of Crowded Fire, I saw Phillipa Soo in Hamilton and cried REAL HARD, Marissa Skudlarek produced SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays to PACKED, PACKED, PACKED houses, all the women in SF Playhouse’s Stage Kiss killed it: Carrie Paff, Millie DeBenedet, Taylor Jones (it’s still playing, you can see it!) Lauren Yee’s Hookman at Z Space, Heather Orth’s portrayal of Little Edie in Custom Made’s Grey Gardens: The Musical, Jessica Roux was the best stage manager in the entire world for multiple Killing My Lobster shows, Geneva Carr and Sarah Stiles being absolutely fearless in Hand to God on Broadway, Kaeli Quick became Artistic Director of Endgames Improv, Linda Huang once again stage managed the SF Olympians Festival at the EXIT dealing with just a HUGE quanitity of people and needs, Beth Cockrell’s beautiful lighting of gross things for Hilarity, Shanice Williams in The Wiz Live…I could go on and on but I’ll go way over the character limit.

Top 5 Surprising Performances of 2015 by Marissa Skudlarek
2015 marked my return to the stage after a long absence, in a role that I never expected to play (dizzy blonde secretary), so I’ve been thinking a lot about typecasting versus, shall we say, counter-intuitive casting. Moreover, I’m not always comfortable opining on what’s the absolute “best” acting I saw in a given year, but I do like writing about performances I admire. So here are five skillful performances that each involved something a bit out-of-the-ordinary. They are in chronological order according to when I saw each play.

1) Madeline H.D. Brown as the Stage Manager in Our Town at Shotgun Players

It was a bit of a surprise to hear that Shotgun Players had cast a woman in her 30s as a character that’s typically played by a middle-aged or elderly man, but it’s not at all surprising that Madeline triumphed in the role. She is deeply attuned to the spiritual cycles and undercurrents that run beneath our daily existence (check out her new tarot-reading business, You Are Magick) and she brought this intuition to her role of Our Town‘s narrator and guide. This was the Stage Manager not as folksy patriarch, but as androgynous angel of death: infinitely full of wisdom, with an unearthly tenderness that tempered the harsh truths she revealed to Emily, and to us.

2) Adam Magill as Con in Stupid Fucking Bird at San Francisco Playhouse

I’d hung out with Adam several times at Theater Pub and other events before I ever saw him onstage, which is always a little weird: what would I do if I liked him as a person but didn’t like his acting? Fortunately, I liked him a lot in the role of Con, the Constantine analogue in this postmodern riff on The Seagull. And in the surprising moment where Con breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience what he can do to get Nina to love him again, Adam employed his natural charisma and humor to make friends with the whole audience. The night I saw it, some wiseacre in the balcony shouted “Why don’t you kill a bird and lay it at her feet?” Without missing a beat, Adam retorted, “You know, some people here haven’t seen The Seagull, and you had to go and ruin it for them.” I was amazed at Adam’s ability to think on his feet, creating a moment that can only exist in live performance.

3) Heather Orth as Big Edie and Little Edie in Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre Co.

Heather Orth has made a career of playing musical-theater leading ladies who are several decades older than she actually is. The complex and emotionally demanding role of Big Edie/Little Edie in Grey Gardens is written for a woman of about fifty: in Act One, she plays a demanding socialite mother whose world is shattered; in Act Two, an eccentric daughter still dealing with the fallout from that shatter. Both women are indomitable yet fragile; they must register as separate individuals and also as mirror images. I was a bit surprised that someone as young as Heather would be cast in this role (and the fifty-year-old musical-theater actresses of the Bay Area must be gnashing their teeth that the role went to her) but as she hit every note with her clarion voice, paraded around in Brooke Jennings’ increasingly outlandish costumes, and embodied the two halves of this toxic mother–daughter dyad that has entered into American mythology, her calendar age became totally irrelevant.

4) Thomas Gorrebeeck as Posthumus and Cloten in Cymbeline at Marin Shakespeare

I was intrigued by Marin Shakespeare’s decision to stage the rarely-seen Cymbeline and further intrigued by their choice to have Thomas Gorrebeeck double as noble hero Posthumus and his silly rival Cloten. It didn’t seem to be for economic reasons – they had a big cast with plenty of extras. Instead, the doubling highlights how these characters are foils to one another – and also provides an opportunity for an acting tour de force. (Later, I learned that this is a rather common practice when staging Cymbeline: this year’s Central Park production had Hamish Linklater double as Posthumus and Cloten, and Tom Hiddleston won an Olivier for playing this dual role in London in 2007.) As Posthumus, Gorrebeeck was sincere and anguished; he also made the smart choice to play Posthumus as extremely drunk when he agrees to a wager on his wife’s fidelity — perhaps the only way that a modern audience will accept that plot point. As Cloten, he was a sublimely ridiculous, strutting, preening fool in a silly blond wig. It’s a cliché to praise an actor in a dual role by saying “the audience didn’t realize it was the same guy.” But in this case it would also be true.

As an aside, if any young men out there are interested in playing one of these roles in 2016, I hear Theater of Others is quite desperate for a Posthumus for their upcoming Cymbeline production. Write to sffct@yahoo.com for more info.

5) Siobhan Doherty as Florinda in The Rover at Shotgun Players

Florinda is a tricky role because, especially for modern audiences, she can come across as too nicey-nice and boring when compared with the other female leads of The Rover. Hellena is bold, witty, and sexually forward; Angellica Bianca is an elegant and passionate courtesan; but Florinda is a virginal young lady who wants to marry her true love. With a generic ingénue in the role of Florinda, she’d be a forgettable or even an annoying character, but Siobhan is a quirky ingénue. She played Florinda without overdoing the sweetness and sighs, concentrating on the truth of her situation and the actions she takes to get the man she loves. She was brave and spunky and a heroine in her own right.

Alandra Hileman, Allison Page, and Marissa Skudlarek are San Francisco Theater Pub bloggers who each wear many many other hats and look good in all of them.

Advertisements

In For a Penny: Casual Setting

Charles Lewis III gets set.

PIC BY CATERS NEWS - The amazing art of LIU Bolin, "THE INVISIBLE MAN " In this series called “Hiding in the City” LIU uses his body as an art medium by hiding himself in different city locations from China to the UK. Liu Bolin was born in 1973 in Shandong, China and graduated from the Sculpture Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts with a master degree.....SEE CATERS COPY

PIC BY CATERS NEWS – The amazing art of LIU Bolin, “THE INVISIBLE MAN “
In this series called “Hiding in the City”
LIU uses his body as an art medium by hiding himself in different
city locations from China to the UK.
Liu Bolin was born in 1973 in Shandong, China and graduated from the Sculpture Department of Central
Academy of Fine Arts with a master degree…..SEE CATERS COPY

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

It’s interesting to come across American Theatre’s recent article about the use of video projection on stage when our ‘Pub theme for this month is design. In fact, it was after our most recent show, Explore the Trope: Don’t Fall Asleep!, that I got into a conversation pondering the use of projection with live performance in a small bar venue.

Set design has always interested me because it’s one of the areas of theatre over which I’ve never had any sway. Having performed in stadium-sized theatres, countless black box theatres, a few outdoor venues, and one weeklong stint in a hotel room, I often have a hard enough time finding my bearings for each setting. Sure, I’ll secretly admire (or lament) each stage I’m on, but I’m often grateful that I’m not the one who has to decide what it looks like. I just don’t want to fall off of it.

That all changes when I have to direct, but thankfully the mental real estate that would be saved for remembering lines is taken up by wondering what shade of blue walls would best accentuate the scarf the actress brought from home. Having done the majority of my directing in black boxes, it hasn’t been much of a concern; black really does go with everything. Still, I look at my dream projects and I ponder the possibilities of what could be if I had the rights to certain plays and an unlimited spending account. I’d probably wind up doing a production of The Miracle Worker that would like look Mark Romanek and Hype Williams sharing the same fever-dream until they get trapped in it, Inception-style.

Still, it’s fun to imagine what my personal stamp would be on many productions I’ve seen. The simultaneous blessing and curse of an artistic mind is that it’s always working. So when I go to a show and see the greatest actors spout off the most beautiful words with the greatest of ease, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I can be completely distracted by atrocious set design that might as well be called Playskool presents “Baby’s First German Expressionism Play Set”. I’ve seen sets seemingly designed to try and kill the actors – and a few that nearly have. A set designer is an artist and should be encouraged in their sensibilities as much as any artist in the production, but like those other artists, they have to be reined in from time to time. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a crowd scene that’s ruined by an obtrusive set piece that juts out from CS-Right when the actors are supposed to run as if nothing’s there.

I look at the above article and I wonder if a truly if it’s at all possible to one day have what George Lucas called “The Digital Backlot” on stage. Will hologram and projection technology one day advance to a level of such sophistication that the actual building of sets is no longer needed? Would a marathon of the Coast of Utopia trilogy simply require a few keystrokes to put the actors in 19th Century Russia? Will someone one day do a production of Our Town in which we actually see Grover’s Corner and watch it transition through the years (which would miss the point of staging that play, but still…)? I kinda doubt it, but never say never.

I need to do laundry, so I’ve been wearing the same shirt for the past few days. It’s a black tee with the psychedelic likeness of Jimi Hendrix on the front. The short sleeves are stained with white paint. The paint is from when I was asked help build the set of a local production a few years ago. It was opening night with an 8pm curtain and I was asked to come in around noon to help with… everything. I mean walls needed to be hammered, doors needed to be hinged, and yes, everything needed to be painted. Since I knew the cool tech people in the show, I agreed and we finished juuuuuuust before the House Open. It’s one of those incidents that reminds me of why I love theatre: for an art form based around playing Make Believe, there’s something about the tangible that can’t be replaced.

I’ve seen shows that made subtle-but-effective use of projection and I’ve seen some that were garishly showing off. Like all technology it’s a tool; less defined by its use so much as how it’s used. Off hand, I can’t think of many potential shows were I’d want to use it, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option. ‘Til then, I’ll just admire the countless hours of labor spent building walls to make me believe I’m somewhere other than a theatre.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up, Act 4, The Stueys (Again)

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2014 list. Finally. We know it’s long, but read the whole thing. Seriously. If he was Tony Kushner you’d do it.

So if there is anything I learned last week it’s that one can have spent too much time thinking about Into The Woods.

No, but seriously, in the time since I published last week’s avante garde explanation for why I wasn’t going to do the Stueys, ironically, as these things often happen, I rediscovered why I want to do the Stueys. Blame it on a couple of supportive emails I got, a text of a friend reading my blog from inside a security fort and identifying too much, and a chat on a bay-side bench with a young, hopeful playwright, but my heart started to heal from the poison I was bleeding out of it and then one night, quite spontaneously, I just sat down and wrote them. And it just felt dumb not to share them. Before I do though, I wanted to briefly (for me) revisit the three things I wanted to get across in last week’s article. In 2015 it’s my goal to create space both for what I want to say, and what I need to say.

1) I kind of hate the Internet. But seriously, after the last year or so, does anybody not? I mean, I love what it can do but I’m starting to truly hate what it brings out in people, including myself. To be honest, while I am still quick with the quippy comments on Facebook and such, you may have noticed I am much quieter on the debates and controversy front than I once was and this is because I’ve just reached my limit of getting into fights that started out as conversations but then devolved into people just trying to outshout one another. It’s amazing to realize that a silent medium requires a volume dial but it really does, and the truth is, there are days I fear to be anything but funny on the internet, or ubiquitously positive, and so I ironically don’t want to talk in what is supposed to be a forum, not because I fear critique or debate, but because I’m not looking to start any wars. Too bad the Internet is pretty much a 24/7 war zone.

2) I kind of hate awards. I always kind of have, but this became more apparent to me after I won a TBA Award this year and I know that sounds ungrateful but believe me, I am honored and flattered to have received it, and I understand why awards are important, or at least necessary, and I can’t state enough, especially as someone who got to discuss the process and purpose behind the awards extensively with the folks running them, that I do believe the TBA awards are both well intentioned and super inclusive in their attempt to create an even playing field for theater makers coming from a diverse level of resources. What I dislike so strongly about awards is how many people, in the broader sense, use them as shorthand to designate the value of art, artists, and organizations. And no, they’re not supposed to do this, I know, but they do, and we as artists are not supposed to internalize this, I know, but we do. And I became really aware of that standing in a room with my fellow nominees that night, who didn’t win an award, all of whom were good sports about it but I could tell it made them sad. Which made me feel kind of miserable. And now my award lives in the back of my closet because as proud as I am of it, I’m also weirded out about it, and what it might mean to people, the expectations it might create about me or my work. And awards are nice but they can’t be why we’re in this, and I know that sounds kind of bullshit from somebody who has a few but it’s true and we have to remember that.

3) I kind of hate theater. Okay, that is an exaggeration but I am going through a phase of being sort of disenchanted with theater and some of the theater community. I know this is hardly a first for anybody in the community, and I suspect it’s a particularly common feeling when you’re feeling overworked- which I definitely was in 2014. 2015, however, doesn’t promise to be any less work, in fact the opposite, and so that’s got me down. And yes, I know it’s my choice to work as much as I do, but it’s also kind of not. A lot of what I do won’t happen without me and that makes me want to keep working because I believe in it and all the people it serves or creates opportunities for, but my inability to really escape the theater scene for more than a day or two before my inbox fills and my phone rings reached epic proportions in 2014 and lead to some intense moments of resenting the thing I love for needing me so very much while not always feeling like it needs me, Stuart, so much as anybody dumb enough to work this hard for this little pay. Which is a nasty thing to say but sometimes… sometimes it’s also kind of the truth. Feeling taken for granted sucks; feeling enslaved to passion has a dark side. So it goes. It balances out all the times I feel rescued and redeemed by it.

So, hopefully, you can see how all this could make for a mood not suited for creating the Stueys. Considering my general ambivalence/anxiety about awards, but recognizing that some people take the Stueys seriously enough to put them on resumes and websites, I really have been struggling with how ethical, not to mention hypocritical, it is for me, as an artist, to be handing out awards, no matter how playfully, to my fellow artists, when the only thing determining those awards is… me. Who no one should take seriously. But who apparently some people really do. Cue paralysis inducing terror and suddenly I couldn’t remember why I was doing this or what it was all about, but I felt I had to say something because I had all this stuff to say. But it can be hard for me to talk about myself, what I’m personally going through, and even harder for me to advocate for myself. I hate disappointing people. But I hate being insincere more. And I wanted to begin to understand why I was feeling all this dread.

Anyway, without more ado, and much, much later than intended, here they are, 14 awards for the 2014 Stueys.

BEST ADDITION TO THE BAY AREA THEATRE SCENE
The Bay Area Theatre Awards

The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with, and when we celebrate that whole community, regardless of budget or house size, Equity relationship or ticket price, we are celebrating our Art, ourselves as Artists, and Artists as contributors to and saviors of the World. Of course, no one organization or person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff. No matter how far we cast our net, there is always more to see and more to explore and we’re fortunate to have it that way, so for a moment, let’s just celebrate what an incredible delight it is to now have an official awards system for our community that appears to be on the same page as that sentiment of inclusivity and casting a wide net, regardless of whatever other kinks may still need to be ironed out. And for those of you who feel the TBA Awards are not enough, or still missing the boat in some regards, you are correct. And you should do something about it, whatever that means to you. To me, it means keeping the SEBATAs going, because in my mind, Heaven is a place where at last we are all recognized for what we bring to the table, and I dream of a Bay Area filled with organizations and individuals proudly recognizing one another at every possible turn, for as many reasons as can be found, as many times as it pleases us to do so. And so I am giving the first Stuey this year to TBA, and specifically Robert Sokol, for having completed a Herculean task that they will now have to complete all over again. And then again. And then again. And again. Good luck everybody!

BEST NEW VENUE
PianoFight

Is there anyone who isn’t excited about all the potential here? Rob Ready and company have been building this space for years now, and walking into it you see why it has taken so long- it is just beautiful. From the mural by Molly Benson to the floors and the furniture, they have been seeking to create not just another black box or just another dive bar, but something truly magnificent, welcoming, inspiring, and everything a venue dedicated to a community art should be. Best thing of all? They’ve asked Theater Pub to perform there, and so we will be performing there, starting in January, at least twice a month going forward. Which makes us excited and scared. Something we’re sure they understand. This whole year looks to be exciting and scary.

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
San Francisco Fringe Festival (EXIT Theatre)

Dear San Francisco: this amazing thing happens right in the middle of you every year and not enough of you know about it and not enough of you make the time to visit it. And like… really visit it, not just duck in to see your friend’s show and then run out. And I understand why you do that because I used to do the same thing but now, having worked there for three years, I have to say, you are robbing yourself of an amazing opportunity to see theater from all over the country and the world, and to meet and talk with the most diverse collection of artists any one event assembles at any given point in the year, and to be a part of something bigger than you and bigger than just this venue or this theater scene for that matter. Do yourself a favor, serious theater goer, serious theater maker, and commit to seeing at least three shows at the Fringe this next year. Pick one by someone you know, one by someone you have heard of, and one by a total stranger. See them all, bring a friend, hang out in the Café and the Green Room between shows (on almost any night of the Fringe you can see 2-3 shows in one visit to the venue, and all the tickets are super cheap), introduce yourself to the staff and artists, tip the Fringe, and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to see more, know more, do more. If the Bay Area Theatre scene is a garden, this is one of our most vital vegetable beds. Tend this garden, and then come get fed.

BEST SHOW
“Our Town” (Shotgun Players)

Won’t lie… it kind of kills me that this was my favorite show of the year. But it was, so much so that my boyfriend, afterwards, said, “Let’s not see anything else this year- let’s let this be where we stop” and he was right and I agreed, but that’s part of what worries me: for far too many people I think theater starts and stops with “Our Town”, or its equivalent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good theater because it is, and I have long defended Thornton Wilder as being one of the great playwrights whose work is often undermined by having been overdone. This production, directed by Susannah Martin with assistance from Katja Rivera, was anything but overdone, it was subtle and lovely and elegantly realized, from the costumes and lighting, to the music and the performances, and it all came together in a way that, while nostalgic and dramatically safe (which aren’t necessarily bad things, but important to recognize), still felt fresh and sincere, like the gesture of laying down in the rain on the grave of a loved one. There was really nothing I didn’t love. Though if I had to pick favorites I’ll say very little is more entertaining than watching Michelle Talgarow and Don Wood play off each other, even during the intermission raffle. The night I was there they got some very chatty audience feedback and they handled it Grover’s Corners style: graciously and politely and in a way that warmed your heart.

BEST READING
“Hydra” by Tonya Narvaez (SF Olympians Festival)

God, there is very little better in life than a really good reading, and possibly nothing more frustrating than watching people shoot themselves in the foot on what should be the simplest, easiest theatrical event to pull off. And yet… again and again we see it at the SF Olympians Festival, the full range of dramatic readings, from the simple but impafctful, to the overdone and done to death. This year we had a number of excellent readings, but my favorite standout was “Hydra”, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez. A ghost story, a comedy, a conundrum, the piece was elevated to a new level by Tonya shrouding the stage in total darkness except for reading lights for her cast who, illuminated in the stark and eerie glow, were uniformly excellent- not in the least because they were relieved of having to worry about blocking and forced by the light to focus only on the text. Such a simple, elegant choice, but so effective. She won that night of the festival, and wins this Stuey for Best Reading.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“Mars One Project” by Jennifer Roberts (part of “Super Heroes” at Wily West Productions)

Jennifer Robert’s play, about a female astronaut who is denied her chance to go to Mars because she has a daughter and the Powers That Be don’t think the world can stomach or root for a woman who would leave her child, even in an attempt to create a role model for that child, was by far the best piece in this evening of shorts. There was plenty of fine writing, but this is the one that transcended its own subject matter to present that ever elusive thing: an issue play in which both sides of the argument are presented with pathos. The tragedy of the piece is less that “we’re not there yet” and more, “is what it will take to be there always going to require sacrifice on this level”, to me a much more interesting, more human question. In an evening of mostly sketches, it was the one piece that could not only stand on its own, but really stood for something, and it’s a near perfect short play- which as an author of short plays, I assure you, is a near impossibility.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Amanda Ortmayer (EXIT Theatre Technical Director)

Amanda Ortmayer has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome. If you haven’t had a chance to work with her, I hope, one day, you do. It’ll remind you why we’re all in this, or at least, why we should all be in this: for the people.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Marissa Skudlarek, “Pleiades”

One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to people complain about how there are not enough opportunities, while refusing to ever create those opportunities themselves. For the record I agree, there aren’t enough opportunities, but at some point we need to realize that if we have our health and a clear sense of our dreams, we’ve already been given more than most people get so it’s really just about figuring out how to see your dream materialize. Watching Marissa Skudlarek as she put together her first production as a producer (she wrote the script too, but we’re giving her recognition for the producer hat here), I was blown away by how organized and focused she was, how determined she was to do it as best she could even the first time out. Which is more than I can say for me. Even now, I feel like I mostly just take a deep breath, pick up my sword, and rush into battle blindly, while Marissa strategized and planned, gathered information, raised funds, and was just in general super smart about it all. Was anyone surprised? Not really. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take one more moment to tell her she did an amazing job. Everyone looking to produce a show in 2015- call Marissa. She knows what she’s doing.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Michaela Greeley, Katherine Otis, Terry Bamberger (“Three Tall Women”, Custom Made Theater Company)

It is not easy to play three versions of the same woman but this trio of ladies, under the direction of Custom Made veteran Katjia Rivera, brought so much magic to the stage that the leap of faith required for Act Two of Edward Albee’s classic was not only easy to make, you made it with a song in your heart! This is a lovely show, but one I rarely feel enthusiastic about, energized by, and these three performers, working so well together, in such total tandem with one another, sold me on this show in a way it’s never been sold to me before. Michaela Greeley was uncomfortably good at playing the frailty of her character in Act One and the fierce stubborn vitality in Act Two; while Terry Bamberger was an edgy warmth in Act One that ballooned into an explosion of heat and fire in Act Two; Katherine Otis, in the part with the least to work with in both acts, managed to strike the aloof brittleness required in the first act while still laying the foundations for the insecure idealist the second act tears to pieces. But what I may have loved the most was the way these ladies moved, always circling one another, always creating triangles on the stage, each one so aware of the other, having to fill the space one vacated, or rushing to claim a spot before the other could. It was like a dance, like a motorized portrait of the Three Fates and they wove a spell together that was frightening and enchanting all at once.

BEST RISK
Kat Evasco, “Mommie Queerest” (Guerilla Rep/DIVAfest)

Kat Evasco knows how to work an audience, but the audience at her show might not have been ready to get worked so hard. Bravely darting in and out of us, throwing herself around the stage in gleeful and breathless abandon, Kat unravels a personal story about the struggle to discover not only who she is- but who her mother is. And why she needs her mother to know who she is before she can finally accept herself. Co-written with John Caldon, who also directed, the show avoids the bulk of solo show clichés, feeling more like a play where Kat has just been tasked with playing all the roles to the best of her ability, and the audience isn’t really asked to come along so long as commandeered by her at the beginning and let go only when she sees fit. The piece is courageously risky, not only because of the controversial elements within it, but because Kat leaves no fourth wall standing between herself and the audience, and if they don’t run with her on it, her show is kind of screwed. Both times I saw this though, that wasn’t a problem; it’s hard not to jump in both feet at a time with a performer who is so ready and eager to do it.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Justin Gillman (“The Pain And The Itch”, Custom Made Theater Company; “Blood Wedding” Bigger Than A Breadbox Theatre Company; “Pastorella” No Nude Men; and like a billion other things)

So… how many plays was Justin Gillman in this past year? It seemed like every time you turned around he was being cast in something, including by me, and every time he was pretty amazing in it. I don’t know how he does it. Like seriously, I don’t know how he memorizes all his lines, let alone doesn’t burn out from the constant rehearsal and yet somehow he shows up every night, fresh and ready to perform. Generous with everyone, onstage and off, it’s rare I don’t find him the highlight of a cast, usually finding a way to balance being a somewhat over-the-top character with a deeply human core that is achingly vulnerable when not just a tiny bit scary. In each of the three roles highlighted above, this was the common thread- men at first dismissable, who at sudden turns revealled their fangs, and then wept as they ripped your throat out. Delicious.

The ladies have gotten a lot of attention on this year’s list, which is great, but we like to keep things balanced here at the Stueys so we’re giving two more nods out: Kenny Toll (“Dracula Inquest”, Central Works) and Sam Tillis (“Slaughterhouse Five”, Custom Made Theater Company). In my opinion, both of these gentlemen were the best thing about these two shows, which were solid enough theatrical productions but elevated by fully committed actors. In both cases, both men also played characters who were… well, committed. As in insane. Though the insanity characterizations couldn’t have been more night and day than the plays were (Toll’s was of the by turns wimpering, by turns screeching Bedlam variety, Tillis was the diamond hard, lethally cold, slow burn sociopath kind), both managed to be believable and unsettling without being melodramatic or over-the-top. Toll even managed to be sympathetic, while Tillis managed to be mesmerizing. Either way, it was endlessly watchable, haunting, and impressive.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Cat Luedtke in Anything

Seriously, once upon a time there was no Cat Leudtke and then one morning we woke up and she was everywhere. I think I might have seen her in like six shows this year and in each case she was the walk away discovery, the revelation performance. The tremendous skill of this woman is matched only by her tremendous range, as every role I saw her in this year was different, though perhaps none so piercing and breathtaking as her role in Custom Made’s “Top Girls” as England’s most done-with-it-but-not-lying-down-about-it mother. I’ve also seen her sing and dance, act Lorca, play the 19th century adventurer, the dutiful wife, and more (probably helps that one of the things I saw her in was a collection of one-acts), bringing to each role a personal touch and a universal power, a sincerity and openness of heart that made you feel like you were watching a real person. She’s very much a “real actress”, whatever we mean by that when we say it. I know that what I tend to mean is somebody so good at throwing themselves into something, they transcend and turn into someone else, each and every time.

There is always an embarrassment of brilliant female performances in the Bay Area, so I feel a few other honorable mentions are in order: Mikka Bonel in “At The White Rabbit Burlesque” (DIVAfest), giving a performance as a rabbit that was unlike any performance of anything I’ve ever seen; Ariel Irula in “Blood Wedding” (Bigger Than A Breadbox), whose deeply passionate performance was matched only by the soul of her singing voice; Jean Forsman in “The Pain And The Itch” (Custom Made Theater Company), nailing well-meaning but vapid liberal mom as only someone like Jean could, walking perfectly that line of endearing and annoying; Stephanie Ann Foster in “Slaughterhouse Five” (Custom Made Theater Company), who played both a woman and a man in the show, and was lovely, heartbreaking, deeply sympathetic in each role.

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
Now And At The Hour (Christian Cagigal, H.P. Mendoza)

The fusion of theater and film is a tricky one, and I can only imagine how filming a stage show without destroying the magic of live theater must require an excellent understanding of both mediums. Now make that live theater a magic show too and you are truly setting yourself up to fall flat on your face, but H.P. Mendoza’s film of Christian Cagigal’s “Now And At The Hour” flies, it is magical and touching, the decision to interrupt the narrative of the stage show with the narrative of Christian’s life and the important players in it only adding to the emotional punch of this unique variation on “the artist and his work” formula. Beautifully shot, entertaining, unexpectedly poignant, this is a stellar example of a collaboration between artists and mediums.

BEST SOLO SHOW
Kevin Rolston, “Deal With The Dragon” (SF Fringe Festival)

Remember my earlier bit about the Fringe? Here is a glowing example of why going into something blind at the Fringe can sometimes result in stumbling across something truly excellent. I didn’t know anything about this show. It had a fun premise in the Fringe guide (Man moves in with Dragon) and a bad flier design (sorry, it can’t all be hugs and snuggles here) and while I had no expectations what I wasn’t expecting was to be so thoroughly moved and entertained. It does not hurt that Kevin Rolston is an incredibly talented performer with an ability to switch between his three narrators with glass-like smoothness, or that each of the three stories he tells, each with a different take on the idea of a “dragon”, are all funny and unsettling portraits of our tenous relationship with self-control and those things inside us that scare us. An unsettling fable about how our potential for violence and indulgence can also be our potential for strength and transformation, Rolston’s notes in the program claimed the piece is unfinished, but it could actually already stand as is. Here’s hoping the final product is as good as the draft.

And as for Me…

So Usually I end the awards with something about the show I personally worked on that affected me the most, but in all honesty I got so much out of all of them it would be hard to pick one so I kind of just want to take a final look at last year as a whole so I can both make sense of it and kiss it goodbye.

For me, it was an incredible year, but that doesn’t mean I loved every second of it. Far from it. It was as demanding as it was rewarding and at times it also seemed… endless. Like there was just always one more thing to do, to get through and then… two more. And then nine. I got to work with material by the incredible Kristin Hersh this year and that will forever be a highlight of my life but the production itself was a rough process, and the reception was rough, it all kind of placed too much strain on an important relationship in my life and I walked away feeling very differently than I had when I walked in- which was hopeful and desirous to bring a project that meant a lot to me to people I loved who I thought could benefit from it, but by the end I was wondering if I had ultimately done more harm than good by bringing such tremendous attention to something so natal. Then I directed a stellar production of “The Crucible” that made me acutely aware of how resistant critics and audiences can be to seeing a familiar play in a new way, and also how embracing they can be, but by that point I was having a hard time hearing the love and found it easier to focus on the detrimental views. I worked to let it all go, focused on feeling proud of the work my actors and designers had done, which was stupendous, and then just as I was feeling more balanced again, Wily West’s production of my play “Everybody Here Says Hello!”, after a whirlwind of a production process, opened to unexpectedly and ubiquitously positive reception. Suddenly, I was a guy with a hit show on my hands- technically my third this year since “Rat Girl” and “The Crucible”, despite whatever misgivings critics were having, were also big audience successes. For the first time in my career though my writing was the center of attention (I often feel I am mostly known as a director who writes, though I am actually a writer who directs), partly because Rik Lopes, not I, had directed “EHSH”, and so critics had to speak about our separate contributions separately, and that was wonderful but the moment was short-lived: we ended up having two performances canceled and the show only ran 7 times and it became my play everybody “really wished they had made it out to see.” Me too! Though one should never shake a stick at houses full of strangers. But oh… we do this partly because of the friends we hope to show something personal to, don’t we? And, again, I was having a year where it was hard not to keep adding things up in the negative, no matter how well they were actually going.

Anyway, this was then followed by the Fringe, as rewarding and as demanding as ever, which was then followed by the fast and furious (yet incredibly smooth) rehearsal process for my play “Pastorella”, which was the only piece I both wrote and directed last year, and which was well received, actually pretty much adored by audiences, but played to 2/3rds full houses or less its entire run after opening to an audience of 11- my second smallest audience in the history of my theater life in San Francisco (not my whole life- I once played to an audience of 2 in Tucson). The result was a show that, though very economically produced, still ended in the red, something which shouldn’t affect one personally as much as it does. But if you haven’t gathered yet, I’m being truthful here, even if it makes me seem a little petty. So yeah, my final passion project of the year was probably my personal favorite artistic accomplishment but it also cleaned out my bank account, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that 2014 was the year I went freelance/contractor and believe me- it’s been an adjustment. One I’m still adjusting to. Finally we had the fifth installment of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which was wonderful if perhaps more draining than usual, and fraught with an abnormal amount of backstage drama, from some diva moves on the part of some of our participants, to a failure to meet our fundraising goals (first time ever), and then the pique of which, of course, was having our dressing room robbed on, naturally, the night of my reading, which was successful in that it was well done by my trooper cast, but again, sort of middling attended, and a bit anti-climactic as an artist considering it had taken me all year to write it. And did I mention that some of my favorite actors kind of hated the script? Disappointing, but less so than having a “colleague” tell me that working with me was basically bad for businesses because of my strong opinions and tendency to carve my own way, nonsense that nobody who was actually a friend would have bothered to bring up- especially not when I was in the midst of trying to find a way to help them realize their own plans for the local theater scene. But I have occasionally been told my Achilles heel is caring about the band as much as I care about myself.

And somewhere in there I won a TBA Award for “EHSH”, had two works of mine garner bids for film adaptations, threw a delightful birthday party and another successful Easter brunch, but had to cancel a major social event because I got pink eye. Which is only worth mentioning again because in retrospect, it really is kind of funny. I wanted to get more reading done and much more writing, but it just didn’t happen. Best laid plans of mice and men…

So yes, 2014 was amazing but it was also, definitely, a mixed bag. Rewarding to no end, but unforgiving in many ways, most of all in that I had a hard time forgiving myself for just… well… doing my best but not always getting everything the way I wanted it or hoped for. The problem is, when you’re burnt out, stuff that you’d normally brush off or accept as the breaks of the business or just how life is get harder to be blasé about, and I found myself at the end of 2014 feeling accomplished but bruised, lucky but kind of cursed, exhausted and not excited so much as terrified about the future and yet… hopeful. Cause I am hopeful. And I want to stress that and more or less end there, and tell you it was amazing to have 800+ people applaud me for winning an award (even if it was for a play I always considered a bit of a “minor work” and never guessed would be so defining), and it was incredible to walk up those stairs that night, all alone, and think, even as my thoughts came crashing down around me, “Well, you certainly don’t do anything half-assed, do you Stuart?” (even if that means sometimes I paint myself into an intellectual corner with the same gusto I pull myself out of it). Though I definitely experienced a lot in 2014, I often felt like I wasn’t actually learning so much as surviving, and oh, by the way, I had massive writer’s block, and it was writing all that out last Monday that finally cured it… and got us here. And here is not a bad place to be: hopeful, and weirdly confident that whatever happens next, I can probably handle it. I just kind of wish I had a clearer idea of what “it” was. But then we all wish that, don’t we?

Ah well. C’est la vie.

Deep breath.

Happy New Year.


Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up Act 3, The Stueys

Stuart Bousel was supposed to do his annual best of list, the Stuart Excellence in Bay Area Theater Awards. Instead, he’s giving us this experimental, free-flowing one-man show that may or may not have begun as he was walking up all those stairs between the first floor of the Geary Theatre and the very top balcony where he was seated for the TBA Awards, one of which he’d just picked up for his play, EVERYBODY HERE SAYS HELLO. He took the stairs, and not the elevator, for a reason. It’s worth noting, the stairs were empty the entire way up, despite the theater being full. This is always an interesting place to be. The empty place next to a full one. If you can accept that he began this monologue on the stairs of the Geary, then you can probably also accept he finished it sometime in early January. It took him that long to climb the stairs.

So, I was going to have the last 2014 blog entry for SF Theater Pub be the Stuey’s but the day came and went and the story wasn’t… satisfactory… so I skipped it and said I’d finish it on the 1st. Which I didn’t. Despite telling everyone I was going to. Which is how I blackmail myself into finishing things when I don’t want to. But this time I just kind of… blew it off. Which is probably for the best. It’s 2015. What do the winners of 2014 matter now? Talking about the past and all the change, the triumph and failure that you may or may not have actually processed because you didn’t have the time and when you did you didn’t have the energy and neither did anybody else- people, is this anyway to start a new year? Benny just lost his cat. Have you seen the video?

Over the last year in particular, often times when reading something on the internet, particularly Facebook, particularly a debate, particularly about… ANYTHING, I have found myself quietly quoting the Witch from Into The Woods: “No but what really matters is the blame; somebody to blame; fine if that’s the thing you enjoy, placing the blame, if that’s the aim, give me the blame…”. This is, by the way, the most important lyric in “Last Midnight”, not the far more often touted, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.” Please. I get why people are like “Ooooooo” cause it’s a smooth ass bit of verse, but if you walk out of the show thinking the Witch is right you have missed the point of the show and no, it’s not open for debate- if the Witch WAS right, the show wouldn’t end with her coming out and singing a third variation of her big song in which she completely changes her perspective from the previous variations. There’s only one thing the Witch is in fact right about before “Children Will Listen” and it’s that most people, even good people, when faced with the complications of life, would rather put energy into placing the blame and finding fault than celebrate the success or, God forbid, forget the blame and just offer a solution to the problem. Cause you see, that would take work. Like actual work and trial and error and looking bad and getting better and cooperation and genuine pride tempered with genuine modesty and tolerance and forgiveness and everything else we hate to have to do because it can’t be done quickly and angrily while the mob posts “fuck yeah!” on our thread and we can come out looking like we have somehow saved the world again without any sacrifice on our end. See, throwing Jack to the Giant is, in fact, the easy solution because the Witch doesn’t care about Jack and she doesn’t really care about the kingdom. The Giant, to her, is an interesting problem to be solved and once Rapunzel is gone the Giant becomes a tool of the Witch’s rage, a physical manifestation of eye for an eye that does not care about what happens next, just wants to see everyone get theirs like she got hers because the world has crapped on her and the only thing that matters is how it hasn’t crapped on you AS MUCH or AS HARD and BOOM CRUNCH that’s Justice. Which doesn’t make the Witch evil, by the way, or the Giant. But it doesn’t make them good or admirable, either, so don’t lie to yourself about that, or the nature of Justice.

One of the ironies of the Witch calling out everyone else on their blame game is that she’s been doing it- blaming THE ENTIRE WORLD- since… well, since before all the characters we spend time with were born. The Witch’s garden is sown with hate and it grows ladders to destruction and the smugness with which the Witch berates the others is that brand of modern smugness now so prevalent, especially on the internet. Or more likely, probably always prevalent but now with a bigger, higher platform on which to display itself with that utter conviction that turns all conversations into arguments because Captain Justice understands the nuts and bolts of something, the basic math, but none of the nuance (often known as “reality”, “context” and “life”) that defines a blueprint from an actual building. This is usually buoyed on a blazingly obvious bed of deep insecurity and low self-worth, not to mention lack of genuine interest in others as actual human beings with souls and minds of their own and of equitable value, even if in opposition, to the Witch. The Witch may be factually right about some stuff… but she also is desperately trying to win a beauty contest in her head, the prize of which is the questionable love of the girl-woman she has held hostage for over a decade. This doesn’t mean disregard the Witch, but take her with a grain of salt, especially when she says things like, “Fuck you all for not killing the kid like I, with my fucking awesome nectarines, told you to- I’m out!” Anyone who leaves the room because they can’t handle being said no to was probably never there to improve the situation in the first place. They were just there to be right.

Not that I’ve never done that myself. Or called for Justice. As much as it’s a mentality I dislike, I’ve certainly fallen into it, almost everyone does at some point, with the redeeming (but also terrifying) factor being that almost everyone does it out of good intentions. You think you are standing up for yourself, you think you are standing up for someone else, you think your are standing up for A Reason, and maybe you are, but if the reason has made you so tall you can no longer hear or see what you destroy as you rampage on your quest… I mean, you can see where this is going and the point is, I do understand it. It’s a terrible world- princes, humans, wolves. The lot of them. They are all liars and thieves and that’s an opinion based on experience and including the knowledge that I’m not any better. Depending on who you ask I’m a prince, or a wolf, or just some douche bag whose song didn’t even make the film cause fuck that guy, what does he know, he traded his kid for a salad and probably thought he was getting the better end of the bargain. I mean, I firmly believe we all have a soul, and we all have value, and that means we all have the potential to do good, and be Good, but then again, depending on the day, look around, see how some of us are actualizing that potential… and you might see why someone would think that the best thing you can do is find a tower and hide in it. Is it a perfect solution? Well, no, I mean… for one thing you’ll be stuck in a tower, you probably won’t learn or grow very much, better hope there are at least some good books and games, oh and food, but even if a tower protects you for a while it’s only a matter of time before everyone around you in all the neighboring towers will probably blame you for all kinds of shit, including how their tower isn’t as nice as yours and so yours should be taken away from you (the ones who don’t think your tower is an eye-sore, of course, and thus just needs to be removed), or some curious prince/wolf/human will show up with all their desires and complications and breeding potential but hey, at least for a while in your tower you can’t hear it all or see it all and you don’t have to crush anything since you’re not going anywhere, so it’s almost an acceptable way to live. You know, provided you haven’t bothered to look outside your tower- something you’re absolutely not supposed to do, by the way, if you want to keep your tower flying below that collective “Come Fuck With Me” radar as long as possible. That window is for air, you hear me? We’re just keeping you alive so your cage has a purpose and don’t you forget it or we’ll take the cage away and then where will you be? That’s right: out here, getting stepped on by Giants.

My problem has always been that I have always looked outside my tower, all the time, and playing alone for long periods of my life, and getting really good at it, I might add, hasn’t reduced my desire to go out into the world, it has actually magnified it, to the point where, as an adult, I fear loneliness while also desperately craving silence. Like most artists I’ve spent most of my life feeling alienated and different, but also with a powerful, maddening compulsion to put myself out there, to be seen and listened to, to share my personal world with the bigger one, without really understanding what that might entail or how it will be received. I’m smarter than the average human so I do pick up enough pre-game to know that the world is rough and when you adventure into it, you should go disguised- sometimes as something flashier than yourself, sometimes as something duller than who you really are, but neither one telling anyone exactly who I am or even what I want. And because the interactions are not entirely sincere, they are a show, but I, in my madness, want to experience sincerity while using artifice, the part where I end up feeling disappointed by how “the world” still doesn’t seem to really care about me unless I am happy or angry enough to have become an annoyance of some kind… well, that is hardly the world’s fault. I mean, I don’t even know what I want, so why should the world be able to give it to me, or want to? Thank God that I’m so good at looking like I know what I want and even fairly good at going about getting it myself, that generally the world has been relieved of having to bother with a polite inquiry or even admitting I exist and have value and yes… I appreciate that as a token of the world’s appreciation for me never really seeming to need its interest and yet somehow managing to occasionally clean myself up into something it thinks is just the right balance of mainstream and “what is that?”, that I have been sent this lovely man with a slipper. The problem is, I don’t know what to do with this lovely man or this slipper, seeing as I just have the one. Correction: I can use it as a marble jar. Thank you, it’s lovely. The other…

Well, it’s like I got a puppy, you know? I mean, it is fucking bonkers cute and there will be days I just can’t stop snuggling it and it will snuggle me back AND THAT WILL BE TREMENDOUS, and of course, it’s all over the Internet and people I like are just going “yeah!” and people I don’t like are so noticebly quiet or super-satisfyingingly petulant, but… I can already feel that puppy getting less cute. And bigger. And getting bored. I know it’s a good puppy, it has the potential to be a great dog, but that is going to require work, classes probably, and in the meantime I am also going to have to feed it and it is constantly hungry. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s also super finicky about what it will eat and it will only tell you what it will eat AFTER you have bought and cooked the meal, and what am I, a fucking mind-reader here? Like, I’m supposed to be that while I’m wearing this outfit, which by the way is not gold, it’s gold leaves and gold stars, but even if it was gold that does not mean I am made of gold. Also, it’s questionable if this puppy-dog-man really has a discerning pallet to begin with. Also, it’s Canine, apparently, and I speak Human. Human and a little Bird. I mean, I get that a dog is like… a bright toddler… so we should be able to communicate but… well, anyway, you may not realize this, but that dress I wore, am wearing, was technically a hand-me-down (I mean, it literally came from the high parts of a tree, down to me) and possibly made from some leaves I just kind of threw together- I just look THAT FUCKING GOOD in gold- so while I’m flattered you think I belong on this throne I’m not sure I actually want to sit on it or that I was aiming for it and don’t you dare say I asked for it. You have no idea what I want. And even if I did want it… wanting a ball is not wanting a prince. I’m not “asking for it” by showing the fuck up. I mean, I recognize that doing so basically qualifies me for everything but that’s society’s fault, not mine, why am I being put on the pedestal (chopping block?) for it?

Oh, right, because I’m letting you. And because it’s true… I like the view from up there. You can really see the gold stars. And my whole life is pretty much about gold stars and trying to find a really good view from… well, anywhere, really. Except maybe this tower. And maybe this one too. Okay, maybe all of them. I mean, look people, if I wanted to just see it all from someone else’s tower or worse, from the one I was just handed by fate, then I wouldn’t have gone about putting all this work into baking cookies and writing graduate program recs for the people who are helping me build a tower of my own- which will totally have public viewing hours and elevators for patrons in wheelchairs so just calm the fuck down and let me have my Sunday on the Moon Deck with The Muse to myself, okay? Please? I mean, didn’t I earn it? I cleaned all those fucking pots for you and we don’t even have indoor plumbing.

Sitting on the Facebook (which I should never have open while I’m writing but I often do because I LIKE TO MAKE MY LIFE HARDER/GENUINELY CARE ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK AND SAY/CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF MY OWN VOICE/D) and reading other people’s responses to the Rob Marshall film version of Into the Woods, and Shotgun’s production of Our Town, (want to break your mind open- compare the two), and thinking on the past responses to my own productions of Hamlet and The Crucible, and the screen adaptations of Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit, and every Shakespeare play ever, and throwing in the case-studies of my three world premieres this past year, Rat Girl, Everybody Here Says Hello, and Pastorella, plus the case-study of the one play I managed to finish this year, Pandemonium, and the general hoopla leading up to and following the Tony Awards and the TBA Awards, all awards in general, and I am having just millions of thoughts about it all, none of which are helping me finish the Stueys, but in the end they all boil down to one: most people, even most very smart people, want what they know, which is a polite way of saying, that most people, even ones with a taste for adventure, just want to be comfortable, experience as little change as possible, and thus they are going to hate you, like truly hate you, when you give them anything that is different, pushes them too hard, or asks for anything too challenging, and then have the audacity to also like… expect them to be interested enough to at least say something thoughtful and sincere, instead of dismissive or grandstanding. But being too cool for school and incredibly self-righteous is what the internet was invented for, it’s the town pub to end all town pubs, and one doesn’t walk in with their “I’m Here To Help” or “I’m Here To Learn” face on because that’s how people get robbed and murdered so believe you me, when you walk in looking like that holding your little heart going “Look I made this!” best have made something they want or be prepared for the knives. And yes, I understand that you might have been confused by all the shouting until they are blue in the face(book) about wanting new visions, new ideas, new blood, real stories, real challenges, more individual voices, more unique perspectives, more this, more that, ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE LACKING etc. but when push comes to shove what most of them really want… you know, like, what they’ll actually pay for and not resent it?… is like… a really well done gourmet mac and cheese. Oh, is that pasta local? Bacon? Very untraditional. A diverse medley of different cheeses? TAKE ALL MY MONEY! INVENTION THY NAME IS MAC AND CHEESE!

And lest you think I am being reductive to be spiteful, I have one of the most diverse palates of anybody I know and I too fucking love mac and cheese. Even when it’s kind of bad, and when it’s good… well, nothing is better than mac and cheese in both its comfort food simplicity and your ability to turn it into gourmet food just by adding stuff. Like virtually ANYTHING. Everyone in the cheese eating world knows this. Which is why it, or its equivalents, are a staple of so many modern restaurants’ menues. Like, even restaurants with super crazy exotic and original menues, take a look- there’s mac and cheese, down in the corner, HOLDING UP THE WORLD LIKE ATLAS, telling you, “Go ahead, try that, see if you like it. If you don’t no worries… you can always send it back and order me, mac and cheese.” I mean, thank God for mac and cheese, and cobb salad, and chocolate chip cookies, and tomato soup, and baked potatoes with sour cream. Without those things, people would go hungry, at least half because they turn their nose up at anything else, and it is important to recognize and celebrate our mac and cheese chefs because if we don’t honor our staples the building will collapse or just sit empty. Which means this restaurant we’re all running would totes probs be closed. And we can not let that happen, we have got to keep these doors open, and sure maybe mac and cheese alone isn’t enough, maybe we also need cobb salad, the Superman of salads, and I’m not seeing a reliable desert here so, good, good, thank you for stepping up Chocolate Chip Cookies and don’t you dare look at me like that, it’s tough out there! And the world needs mac and cheese. I need it, you need it, we all need it, and furthermore some of us are really damn good at it. I HAVE MADE SOME DAMN FINE MAC AND CHEESE IN MY LIFE AND I HAVE THE SLIPPERS TO PROVE IT! And we will make room for your little new cuisine mis-steps but Luna Park had fucking SMORES ON YOUR TABLE and look what happened to them! BOOM SQUISH. #techgentrificationallegory #thatsridiculoustechisnotagiant #butgiantsruinshit #notallgiants #giantscanbegood #socancobbsalad #whycantwehaveboth #becausewefearabundancelikewefearsuccess #wefearsuccess #idodontyou #giantisapejorativeterm #ithasbeenreclaimed #bywho #yesnomaybe #cultureofblame #killingme #withhowfuckingboringitis #onedayihope#becomesembarassinglikeusingthetermmansplainingdid #isthattermembarassing #yes #but #noyousoundlikeasnotbagkiditsthatsimple #checkyourprivledge #checkyours ###

The croquet ball whispers, “silencio”.

Which I have to retype like ten times because fucking Autocorrect doesn’t give a shit about my creative spirit. Autocorrect doesn’t seem to mind being capitalized though. Probably because It knows It is one day going to run the World.

So… I can’t seem to finish writing the Stueys this year because I can’t seem to bring myself to work on them. I mean, I made a list, I checked it like five thousand times, asking myself if I really stood by my choices, suspicious of half of them because I’d started to notice a trend, too many of the same names again, and again, deserving, of course, but also how does it reflect me, the community, etc. and are the Stueys serving the same purpose as when I started them, or is it just becoming one more thing people expect now, am I contributing to a culture that places achievement over process and lives for the prince instead of the ball or am I just being a punk-ass kid who likes to throw stones at giants, and will anyone take any of this seriously or dear God, what if they take it too seriously? And after the year I had, that so many people seem to have had a variation on, is it really honest and meaningful to just throw some more promotion around especially if that promotion seems obsolete, or biased, or half-hearted, or saccharine, or intentionally provocative, or not brave enough, or arbitrary, or…?

The point is there was material there, so… I could probably crank it out if you put a gun to my head, which you probably will one day, possibly because I decided to basically skip the Stueys for the year, until I can figure out what I want them to really be, beyond just another show of support for the artists I support all year, or if I think we really need them in the world, or if it’s just more noise and one more thing to do and deal with, for both of us. I know this definitely won’t get the same amount of traction as the Stueys would so hey, if it’s about less is more, mission accomplished, right? No? I understand. I probably deserve to be shot. If not for this, then something else, I’m sure. I feel guilty all the time and I am totally lying about stuff and occasionally stealing so yeah, go ahead and do it now, please, somebody, anybody? No? No. No? You know what, this is why we can’t have The Stueys: because of gun control. I almost miss the Witch.

Also, I didn’t finish the Stueys because I am afraid. I am afraid of 2015. Which is just ridiculous. I mean, how is that possible? To be afraid of a year? I might as well be afraid of the air. Come to think of it, I kind of am. I mean, depending on the day and where we are, the air we breath is actually more poison than air. Which is not good because… this is the air. It’s pretty much going to be the air, poison or not. So we really need to think about that and do something (not just blame the people who actually do something, but maybe not something we like) because it would not be good to live in poison, even if we technically can do it for like… far too long considering it’s poison. Wait. I got it. This is why we can’t have The Stueys: because of the poison. And so we’re clear, when I say “poison” I don’t mean “unpleasant.” I mean Poison. The kind of shit you can’t actually smell or taste, but secretly worms its way into the air and the water and then your body. And my body. I mean, who knows how much is already there? My fear is not that 2015 will be a bad year. Just that it’ll be a year, like any other, with Fashionable Intentions and Buzzwords in the morning followed by Witches and Partly-Poison Atmosphere with a chance of Giants. And if I don’t take a moment to stop and focus on me, and ask myself why and what I think about all this, from my head to my slippers, and what my role in it is aside from getting caught up in it all and banging a drum of some kind, then I’m going to probably be someone that contributes to all this. Everyone keeps telling me I had an amazing year and they are right but I’m also exhausted and so much changed and I feel like I should think about that instead of telling everyone else about what I think they should be celebrating. Because I agree, last year was amazing but it definitely wasn’t always fun and even if it had been… I’m not sure I can go through that again. Not in my current state at least. I guess I do need to purge last year’s poison. Not that I know for certain that there is any. I don’t think there is. Then again, there is poison everywhere and some of it is definitely in people and I have been to a lot of balls this year. #gayjoke

Girls, look at your nails, look at your clothes… look at your choices. Why do some of you have eyes… and why do some of you… not have eyes? It’s good to have something to look at, it’s nice to go to balls. But what might we do to keep our eyes?

STATIC

Okay, this is ridiculous, you ruined this perfectly innocuous best of list by making it all about you and your year and this is just so long and ranty and not what I was hoping for and just take it down a notch, okay young man? Young lady? Wait? Who are you again? Your meta-narrative has reached Lynchian proportions over the last two years and I am just exhausted from trying to figure it out. Also, am I the world? Is that what you’re saying? And that I don’t get you so now you don’t feel like trying to get me or anyone else for that matter? I try to get you. I try all the time. I mean, I thought you were the gay one in that play you wrote because you’re gay but there’s like three of them, so it  was confusing just what you’re trying to say there and who you’re trying to reach, and while I am fairly certain you’d never write yourself as the hot one, the angry one was way too uncomfortable to watch, but there were some funny parts so I gave you the benefit of the doubt and… wait, no. No. Oh God. You’re not the black one, are you? That’s racist! Right? 

STATIC

CUT TO:

EXT. WOODS. NIGHT.

Nobody knows my actual name. I don’t even know it. I mean, nobody really knows anybody’s actual true name, right, except God who is like… so not sharing. AMIRIGHT? No? You don’t really think about it because He’s dead/your Christian, whatever, it’s cool, if not terribly imaginative and WOW, it is so awkward in here isn’t it? Sorry. Anyway, it’s fine. Like everybody else, I go by this name I have been given. Unlike some people, I guess, I actually like this name. It’s a name for a servant, but also like for a prince, or leader. You know, like how Cinderella is both a scullery maid’s name and the name of a princess. Like, nobody ever mentions that, do they? That she doesn’t change it to “Victoria” or “Sansa” or whatever, she actually stays “Cinderella” like, “Hello, Royal Subjects, I am she of the ashes!” Like Jenny From the Block but… sincere. Anyway, I consider myself lucky to have a name with so much possibility. I can be anything. And I don’t need that slipper. I got a tree in a forest somewhere that makes slippers as an accessory to ballgowns for fuck’s sake, but… thank you. I will accept it and put it somewhere I can’t see it because one slipper looks… lost. Like an accident. I never thought about that when there were no slippers. Now I think about slippers way more than I should. Plus the puppy chews on it, a lot, which is just reinforcing the puppy’s tendency to think the only things that matter are what makes us laugh and feel good and people yelling at us until we figure out how to make them stop. Anyway… looks like you need a new house. I can help with this. I have this tree that grants wishes but also like… has been destroyed. I am clearly still adjusting to that new development as well as a long list of others- by the way has anyone else realized that if the giants come from the sky and it’s right above us that really at any time it could happen again? Oh please don’t comfort me, people are dying out there, I’m just venting and hey… I still got the birds. And those birds are… violent. Which is helpful. Anyway, I don’t have this tree anymore, but I guess I do now have all this wood, so let’s build something from the wreckage of my hopes and dreams and yes… yes, I will help you with your house. There are times I really enjoy cleaning. And like… how ironic, right? I mean, I basically went to the ball just so I could end up back in the kitchen. Technically, this is not even the first time. It’s not even the second. No, please, I’m not upset. These are happy tears. I chose this. I am chosing this. I will always chose this. I just learned something too, something I never knew. Just kidding, why am I here, where is my castle, where is my prince? Just kidding again, I am a bottomless well aren’t I and you are a fucking tough batch of puppies let me tell you, but… it’ll be a nice kitchen. It’ll be warm. It will be welcoming. Mostly. I’m sure we’ll have our bad days. But it’s going to have all this counter space to make cobb salad on. Or whatever. I’m giving up carbs. And you know what? That slipper is just gonna glow by the light of the new fireplace. Just you wait and see. Our fireplace.

For the record, Shotgun’s production of OUR TOWN is this year’s Stuey for BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking show and I saw a lot of great theater in the Bay Area this past year (despite how this post might come across), but this is the only show from then you can actually still see because it’s still playing so head out there if you haven’t.

#raisedtobesincere

Stuart Bousel is what is missing from your life. Unless he’s a presence, in which case it’s certainly possible he’s worn out his welcome. Sucks he’s not going anywhere then.

While he cannot encourage you enough to see OUR TOWN over at Shotgun, he’d also like to announce one more SEBATA, the recipient of this year’s Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness. This is because the intention behind this award is the only one that is truly clear: it is to recognize someone who is often unrecognized, often because they are so prevalent, so constantly contributing that it’s easy to forget them, and all they do, from listening to us, to keeping us in line, to fixing our problems quietly, behind our backs, even though they have more than enough of their own stuff to do. One of these people (and there are so many) is Amanda Ortmayer, the technical director of the EXIT Theatre. She has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome.

The Five: 5 Shows in the 2014/15 Season I can’t wait to see Pt: 1

Anthony R. Miller brings you part 1 of a 2 part series about some incredible shows coming in the 2014/15 season, this week he focuses on formal subscription based seasons:

In spirit of this month’s Theater Pub theme of preparing for the new theatre season, I decided to make a list of shows I was really excited to see. Not soon after beginning my research, I encountered a problem. I found myself with ten shows I was pretty excited about and half of them were part of a formal subscription based season and half were independent productions that were stand-alone events. So once again, I made this a two part series. Part 1 is five shows that are part of a formal subscription based season and in two weeks; Part 2 will cover independent standalone shows in 2014/15. To be clear, this list is written from the perspective of not a critic or prognosticator (Lord knows not as a journalist), but as a fan. Here are 5 shows in the formal 2014/15 that I’m really excited to see.

Slaughterhouse 5-Custom Made Theatre Co.
Sept 16-Oct 12, 2014

In 1996, playwright Eric Simonsen adapted and directed Kurt Vonnegut’s time jumping, dark comedy, absurdist war novel for the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. This play is being performed in the Bay Area for the first time and is being directed by Custom Made’s Artistic Director Brian Katz. As a longtime fan of the book, I have often wondered how this could translate to the stage, and thanks to awesome folks at Custom Made, I shall wonder no longer.

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life)-Ray of Light Theatre
October 3rd-November 1st, 2014

The last few years, Ray of Light Theatre has been making a name for itself as one of the few companies in the Bay that focus exclusively on musicals. After years of doing well known contemporary classics and some cult faves as well, Ray of Light made a gutsy move and scheduled two shows that were practically unknown. The first was Triassic Parq, the next is; Yeast Nation, a new Musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann of Urinetown fame. Now what makes this production super cool is that under the direction of Artistic Director Jason Hoover, the writers themselves have been here work shopping the piece. This is a fantastic opportunity for a local company that is still very much on its way up. And we get to see a brand spanking new show by the guys who wrote everyone’s favorite musical in college.

Our Town-Shotgun Players
December 4-January 11, 2014

Fact: The Ashby Stage is three blocks from my house; it’s ridiculous that I don’t see everything they do. That said, I will definitely be making the treacherous five minute walk from one end of the Ashby Bart to the other to see this show. I can’t entirely explain my fondness for Our Town, its schmaltz, but it’s really well written and often profound schmaltz. And in a time such as now when our lives are a Facebook status roulette of bad news, Our Town is a bastion of simplistic comfort. The Ashby stage is a great place for it and I’m excited to see what Shotgunny twists they put on it. (ie how many mandolins will be used) Consider me already in one of their church pews watching what Award winning Director Susannah Martin and co. does with this even-when-it’s-bad-it’s-still-pretty-good chestnut.

X’s and O’s (A Gridiron Love Story)-Berkeley Rep
January 16–March 1, 2015

For the minority of theatre folk who also love football, we’ve long lamented the lack of plays about Football, because it’d be ridiculous. Now Berkeley Rep brings us, the always lively topic of traumatic head injuries suffered by Football players. For reals though, these stories are heartbreaking. And it’s an amazing examination of the very-men portrayed as god-like gladiators on TV every Sunday. Based on real interviews with players and their families, I’m excited to see these tragic stories brought to light and given a voice. I will probably cry. Playwright K.J. Sanchez just had a huge hit Off-Broadway called ReEntry which focused on the stories of Marines returning from combat. Another completely rad thing about this production is it was commissioned and developed right here in the Bay as part of Berkeley Reps Ground Floor program, which is dedicated the creation and development of New Work.

A Little Night Music -ACT
May 20-June 14, 2015

It would seem we are at a Sondheim saturation point here in the Bay Area. Last year, Ray of Light gave us Into the Woods (following up last year’s production of Sweeney Todd), and this year, SF Playhouse followed up by producing… Into the Woods and for good measure next season they are producing Company. Throw in a big screen adaptation of Into the Woods that nobody has seen but everyone already hates, and you’d gotta be crazy to jump into the Sondheim mosh-pit that is Bay Area theatre, but that’s just what ACT (The Company We Love to Hate) has done. Now let’s make something clear, I love the shit out of this show. It’s the Pitchfork Magazine pick of the Sondheim catalog, not his most commercially successful, but arguably his biggest artistic triumph. It’s sophisticated, dripping with subtext (There’s a 17 minute trio of songs about sex for god’s sake) and easily my favorite of Sondheim’s work. The fact that it is written completely in Waltz beat makes it stand out not only amongst his work but amongst most popular musical theatre. It’s grand and majestic but with remarkably vulnerable characters. Not to mention, “The Quintet” that acts as a brilliant narrative device and actually sings the overture. (Authors Note: this went on for 17 more pages and included a story about how I explained the song “Send in the Clowns” to my Dad, but was omitted for brevity.) ACT has a golden opportunity to do a not-as-famous Sondheim piece and stand out amongst the glut of audience friendly Sondheim shows by knocking this out of the park, let’s see what they do with it.

See you in two weeks with my picks for Standalone/Independent production of the 2014/15 season!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Director, Producer and the guy who won’t stop calling you about renewing your theatre subscription. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens in October.