Evan Johnson updates us on his magnum opus as it wends its way towards opening night!
We are deep into rehearsals at this point, the script is no longer in my hands (thank god) and I survived the first “stumble-through”. PANSY opens 2 weeks from today (holy shi%t!). I think I’m holding it together fairly well, considering the enormous amount of weight on my shoulders. I admit at times the pressure feels immense and I am constantly stepping back and pinching myself, this whole experience has been an incredible ride and I can hardly believe that it’s actually happening. My Director, Ben Randle, for three years now has seen me at my best and at my worst; I am so thankful we’ve had time to really let down our guards and be real with one another. As much as the weight of this show and pulling off this crazy split-character/doppelganger thing falls on me and my performance, it’s also Ben’s cross to bear and the shared sense of responsibility is comforting in those moments of solo(theatre) blues.
Costume changes (!) have been incorporated into the scene transitions for me to get the flow down. Our props and costumes are mostly complete and they look fabulous thanks to designer Eli Magid. The transitions between the two character’s worlds, which I admit I was nervous about, are being greatly enhanced (not just disguised) thanks to Teddy Hulsker, our talented Sound Designer, who is editing sound live in the room with us. His presence at rehearsals has been really wonderful.
Since my last post, we’ve shot two video segments with our badass Video Artist Zack Kasten and we’re awaiting the final versions. I am so glad we shot those early because there were a lot of details to work out, including coordinating background talent and locations which was more stressful than anticipated. Luckily, thanks to my favorite San Francisco nightspot, The Stud Bar really made it possible to get what we needed to get and the actual shooting process went incredibly smooth once we started rolling. Mike, the owner of the bar, even entertained us with his stories of moving to the city- another wide-eyed homosexual youth flying to Neverland story- which I loved.
Posters and postcards have been printed (designed by my patient and foxy boyfriend, Ernesto Sopprani) and they are being distributed by the theatre (so thankful for that!) and yesterday I was interviewed for an upcoming story the SF Chronicle is writing on me and our process of making PANSY! I am so thrilled that we’ll have some press prior to opening weekend. Tickets are on sale and I’ve been really trying to encourage people to reserve seats early, the direct ticket link is: http://click4tix.com/showdates.php?rtt=1&domain=NCTC&s_id=NCTCPANSY
I was so delighted to hear that since PANSY is technically a “Special Event” and The Emerging Artists Program is underwritten by NCTC Producer’s Club, The San Francisco Foundation, Grants for the Arts and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation…that means PANSY tickets are cheap! I was worried that half my potential audience wouldn’t come because of ticket cost..but now there’s no excuse! 😉 Ten dollar tickets! Holler!
My main concerns right now are understandably related to my own performance. Script and production details aside, I’m running up against my old hat “habits” as an actor and battling with my “writer-self” that wants to have such-and-such effect on the audience and deliver this-or-that meaning. It’s important that these characters exist in real time and space and that I fully inhabit their specific characteristics. Some things I’m realizing are that my “understanding” of these characters really needs to get chucked out the window. I can hold onto my ideas as a basis or foundation, which will inevitably inform my actions and choices as an actor..but I need to live in the and stay open and vulnerable to every beat and discovery. It cannot be a cerebral performance. This show demands a high level of attack in regards to the physicality and my energetic relationship to the space. It’s difficult because I often feel compelled to step back and see the piece as a whole and lump all the choices occurring all around me together..It can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming and in those moments, like he has for years now, Ben brings me back to the task at hand. It’s clear he’s the “sensible one” in our collaborative relationship, often keeping my “what if’s” in check and grounding me, keeping us on track. At the same time, part of the joy of being an actor/creator of devised performance work are those big picture inspirations and we’ve been making adjustments to the rehearsal script by swapping out lines, adding sequences and incorporating new images entirely due to this all-hands-on-deck approach. In fact this approach was best illustrated three nights ago when Eli (aka drag performer Elijah Minelli), our Costume Designer, stepped in as a “Drag Consultant” and helped us plan and execute what will likely be one of the big highlights of the show, the moment when Peter Pansy performs his manifesto-like performance piece on the first night of Club Neverland.
Talking to Chad Jones from The SF Chronicle made me really think of this whole PANSY process and the adventure Ben and I have been on since June of 2010. Telling my story of moving to the city and all the experiences that brought me to this point in my life was really gratifying. I even got a little choked up thinking back on my first play ever produced, “California Here We Come: OR Put Your Brussel Sprouts Where Your Mouth Is” at 12 years old at The Poverty Playhouse melodrama house, back in Pollock Pines, CA. I wanted to make theatre that would provoke audiences to laugh and think and escape the everyday for as long as I can remember. I think PANSY will be a real conversation starter and I look forward to the face-to-face chats after the show. For now, with bubbling up nerves and waves of “holy shi%t! I got so much work to do!” I’m just trying to take Peter Pan’s flight instructions to heart and remember always to: Think happy thoughts.
I hope to see everyone there at the show! Next blog post will likely be opening night!!
With love and humble gratitude for following my journey,
Evan Johnson continues to chronicle the premiere production of his new show.
Friday May 3, 2013. 1:35pm.
Sunny days in San Francisco, everyone digging into rarely opened Summer clothing drawers. Walking back home along Valencia St. I try to dodge oncoming strollers and an entire Elementary class. I feel like a pasty white mess, all red splotches, nearing sun-stroke. Finally, arriving home, I plop down to write this PANSY blog post for ya’ll.
Where are we at with our show? How’s the PANSY? Well…we are shooting some video segments in less than two weeks, yippee! We’ve got Zack Kasten’s terrific eye to guide the video shoot and run camera. His editing skills are also going to help the video sections feel dated and low-fi. Which is perfect for the “nostalgic-analog-VHS-aesthetic” we’re shooting for.
One of the scenes we are capturing on digital video takes place at a mythical benefit show for Peter Pansy. It will appear in the piece on an onstage VCR, as Michael (the character from the modern day) presses “PLAY.” I’m glad we got the go-ahead from NCTC to roll on a TV/VCR cart.
I tell ya, this show is a fucking beast. The amount of text is fairly sizable and I still have to find the physicalities and characteristics of my two characters…they have to be specific and distinct. I need to get on the memorization thing pronto, so I can really play when we start rehearsals officially on May 18th.
Let’s see..what else..
Looking at visuals from early 90’s gay nightlife in San Francisco has been a ton of fun. Now it’s time to take the inspirations and run with whatever choices we make as a team. It’s been a treat meeting the designers and discussing possibilities, from scenic choices to the video sections as well as the soundscape Teddy Hulsker is creating. Check out this awesome video of LeMay performing at Klubstitute in San Francisco circa 1994ish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SkrgJwFFRQ
All of the elements need to of course work in tandem and my role as playwright and actor are fused, so there’s an interesting duality to my input. I feel like sometimes my opinions are more from a place of “what the audience will experience” and other suggestions are more geared towards what I as a performer will need, to get from point A to point B. It’s a lot to juggle sometimes, which is why I’m always so glad Ben Randle (Director of PANSY) is there, he’s super on point with the practicalities and the more brainstormy-just-throwing-out-ideas stuff.
In other news…I’ve been doing some research on early 90’s porn and that’s been….well, fun! I think Vivid Man’s VHS classic “Mindscape 2” (1992) is the one I’d like to include, in the scene where Peter Pansy brings his trick home. I really wanted a clip that was cheesy for it’s special effects and/or dialogue and this one definitely delivers. Here’s hoping we can steal the cip without any legal repercussions. Though, I wouldn’t mind a little controversy, they say any press is good press, right? So, maybe I should say: Bring it on Vivid Man!
Well, we will keep on keepin’ on..and by the time I write my next blog post we’ll have shot that benefit video and another scene we’re shooting in front of The Stud Bar. And…in the next blog, I’ll be just about to start rehearsals. My aim is to be 100% off book by then. I better get to memorizing! I’ll let you know how I do!
Enjoy this weather ya’ll. I live for days like this.
Writer/Performer for PANSY
Evan Johnson updates us on his show as it steadily moves towards production.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
The “Pansy” Progress Report continues and we’re thinking happy thoughts!
At a production meeting a couple weeks ago, Rene Vasquez (NCTC’s lovely and smart publicist) was talking with Ben Randle (Director of “Pansy”) and myself about various things we could do to “engage audiences and invite participation”, especially after the performance ends, which is when all the juicy stuff is still sinking in (hopefully). We talked about dressing up the lobby space to allow for after show discussions to happen, which would be kinda cute…maybe a wall that people pin their stories onto, or a giant image that might somehow invite participation..Since our show deals so much with queer history and it is happening during Pride Month, it was a good conversation to have.
We also discussed inviting 6 Guest Speakers to come see “Pansy” and open some topics for greater dialogue, live, onstage, following the performance. Doing so, we thought, might contextualize the piece with factual accounts and jumpstart even more intergenerational dialogue. At the meeting, I got really excited about this prospect.
Side note: I started working as a Barista at Spike’s Coffee in the Castro in 2009. Since then, I’ve become more curious about history, about my time now, about queer lineage and the city I live in. The shadows here. Small chit chat while making lattes can add up over time and I know there’s a lot of rich CONTENT that I can now give to queer storytelling and queer playmaking because of it. I thank Spike’s’ owner Mike Delgado, for keeping me around this long and supporting me artistically, SO MUCH. I interviewed customers from Spike’s while writing “Pansy” and I know that the person I’ve turned into since moving to San Francisco (Evan 2.0?) is certainly due to my time at Spike’s shootin’ the shit and being social.
At the tail end our our meeting, Ben, Rene and I compiled a list of local queer legends (our dream list) and I’ve already begun contacting people. Actually, as of today, we have 5 of the 6 slots filled and we will be releasing all 6 of our Guest Speakers’ names once we have the full list confirmed. 🙂
In other news, our photo shoot with nightlife photographer Cabure Bonugli (Shot in the City) was splendid – his photographs are so rad and appropriately sleazy and we couldn’t be happier with our flier art by Ernesto Sopprani! The image I shared above, was cooked up for an ad space in NCTC’s current production’s program! Stay tuned for more images!
In the coming weeks I will be meeting more with Rene and Ben to flush out the details of the Guest Speakers and how we’re going to structure that, promote the concept, etc. Also, we need to capture some video soon (for the video segments), we’ll be getting the fabulous Zack Kasten involved with that. Like I’ve previously mentioned, Zack’s work is so closely aligned tonally with the “Pansy” text and story, we’re just so thrilled to be collaborating with him.
I am also busying myself with line learning (7,700 words!) in preparation for when we start officially rehearsing the play mid-May. A 5 week intense rehearsal schedule like you’ve never seen! I’ve got lots to do and I’m just trying to keep swimming…er..flying! At the moment..I think I’ll make a sandwich.
Hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful San Francisco weather! Stay tuned for more updates as we prepare for the big World Premiere Run of “Pansy” June 14-29th at New Conservatory Theatre.
P.S. Holler at me! I’m on Twitter! @EvanLJohnson
Evan Johnson chronicles the journey of his new play, Pansy, from concept to production.
A google search for “how to freeze time” led me to www.spellsofmagic.com where a spell simply referred to as “Freeze Time Spell” instructed me further. The site states that with “strong focus” one can actually stop time by saying the following words, with eyes closed and a strong visualization of a clock ticking:
“Time stand still I order you,
no minutes pass until I’m through,
doing what I have to do,
Time stand still I order you”
When would you use this spell? As a parlor trick? To plan your escape?
In PANSY there is a conscious play of time, namely a 20 year span between the two lives I’m exploring; Peter Pansy in 1993 and Michael Darling in 2013. With the theatrical device of Peter Pansy’s VHS video footage, Michael rewinds and plays and fast forwards until he reaches (in the climax of the piece) a personal moment of pause.
A couple days ago I was sitting at Cafe Flore with Ben Randle, my director and Zack Kasten our Videographer/Video Artist extraordinaire. Zack was talking about ways we could get the effect of a giant hook dragging Peter Pansy offstage, which was something I had written into the script without a real clear plan of execution. He suggested stop motion animation. Immediately Ben and I said “Yes!” because we knew how right on the idea was. Our plan now is to shoot all the video elements mid April so we have them to rehearse with in May. Shadow hook stop motion animation sequence included.
Zack’s help with video is going to be a tremendous asset to us, since the video elements are so crucial in telling this story. We aren’t making a show with cool multimedia effects just for the sake of mixing mediums; rather, the video and technology in PANSY are truly plot driven and integral to the action.
For more about Zack, check out the trailer for his film “The Perfect Hello” here: http://vimeo.com/zackkasten
In addition to a new Video Artist collaborator in place, I also want to take time to announce we’ve been super fortunate to score an amazing Sound Designer, Teddy Hulsker! Teddy’s work has been heard around the Bay Area at Box Car Theatre’s “Buried Child” and “A Lie of the Mind” as well as Mark Jackson’s “Woyzeck” for Shotgun Players and currently at Z Space in Mugwumpin’s “The Great Big Also.” Here’s some of Teddy’s (bad ass) sound work on soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/teddy-hulsker
And lastly, before I bow out on this blog-
Ben and I also met with our friend Cabure (Shot In The City) to discuss promotional images for PANSY and we are taking photos next week so stay tuned! Hopefully we’ll have some fun images to share next time I write. Cabure was our first choice to photograph Peter Pansy for the promo shoot because of his fabulous eye and nightlife/party flier sensibilities. Here’s Shot In The City on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shot-In-The-City/225421338535
Cheers everyone! Happy Spring!
– Evan, the Pansy
Today we launch a new semi-monthly guest blog by Bay Area writer/actor Evan Johnson, who will be chronicling his process as he brings his new show, Pansy, to life at the New Conservatory.
I must’ve known already, at least on some level, that the Boy Who Never Grew Up was actually a middle aged woman with a pixie haircut, strapped down breasts and a pouch full of plastic glitter confetti. But it was 1993 and I was 7 years old and that whole “suspension of disbelief thing” still really worked because I clapped harder than anyone during Tinker Bell’s near-death scene; it was my clapping, I felt, that helped save her life.
PANSY opens in June. 3 years in the making. It’s the most ambitious project I’ve ever worked on. What started as an investigation of the queer shadow aspects of Sir James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story has eventually transformed itself into something more immediate, more local and more magical. I have been working with the ingenious Ben Randle, a local theatre director who was introduced to me by Ed Decker, producing Artistic Director at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, where PANSY has been in development since 2010.
Ben and I were set adrift, making this script, on our metaphoric raft of make believe, escape, sex, shadows, time and growing up. On these themes we rode till we arrived at the second star from the right.
Peter Pan was the first play I ever saw. I spent years after first seeing Cathy Rigby fly above my head, bent over lit birthday cakes and wishing for one thing only, as I extinguished each little flame: to fly. It was cheesy, impossible and sensationally sentimental. That was my childhood, though, hours and hours of playtime spent making myself believe in things beyond all doubt. I was Peter Pan and everyone else was everyone else. I deluded myself on purpose, for what purpose?
I grew up in the shadows of giant redwood trees, where I’d chase moving specks of light in the forest as a favorite pastime. I was lucky to have a truly gorgeous palette of colors to amuse and inspire me, rich earthy browns with green moss and ferns everywhere.
THE GAY 90’s
In the same “wrinkle in time”, also in San Francisco, as I was being sprinkled with confetti pixie dust, a lot of people were dealing with loss on a scale so horrific I can only imagine. Hidden from me of course, as a child, somewhere in the shadows, AIDS deaths were severely on the rise globally; reality for many was a tangled mess of pharmaceutical legislation and social stigmas.
Also in 1993, exactly 20 years ago now, queer punk fashions, music and culture were in full swing. Pansy Division, a local sex-positive “queercore” band, had just released their first LP. Parties like Club Uranus and Klubstitute provided escape and revelry to “femmes” in black leather jackets. Drugs, sex and music were escape from the harsh realities of funerals and fundraising for survival. Punk and club-kid aesthetics gave a lot of newcomers to the city a new community to be proud of.
Fast forward to the present. And to my play PANSY. See, I’m 27 years old and still writing plays and playing make believe.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary describes “Juxtaposition” as “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side; also : the state of being so placed.”
In crafting PANSY, I’ve created a “2-character/split-timeframe solo play” in which a modern day lost boy homosexual connects with a deceased lost boy homosexual via artifacts left behind on VHS tapes.
Actually my elevator pitch is this: “In Evan Johnson’s new solo play PANSY shadows stir in modern day San Francisco when Michael discovers a time capsule in his basement. As Michael looks through VHS tapes, audio cassettes and wrinkled party fliers, parallels begin to emerge between his life and that of 90’s gay club kid Peter Pansy.”
The script, to put it simply, has gone through quite a few changes or “stages of development”. And my mind of course, has been plagued with doubts and reservations. Is this too big a project for me? Am I getting it right? Will the work be flimsy or stale, overwrought or under-researched? I guess THAT’S WHY IT’S TAKEN SO LONG – in case you’re thinking, “3 years, geez! I could write a play in 3 years!” It is however now (mostly) finally complete in a very polished-feeling “rehearsal draft” and we will be putting it up on it’s feet- in front of a real paying audience- in a short matter of months. 3 months to be exact.
I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN
At first, I sought out intergenerational connections and would-be lost bits of insight. I wanted a greater sense of time and place. I wanted to grow up and feel connected to this place as a home.
I felt a tugging and personal sense of responsibility to say something meaningful, anything at all, which might speak to that initial feeling of being stuck in PAUSE mode.
The origins of this piece included also a newfound sense of realism around making work. I guess I had been influenced by my peers, by performing friends of mine who were moving away from making “theatre”. There was a general drive away from making narrative work or work which was dubbed “populist.” People I knew were becoming increasingly preoccupied with performance as public act or witnessed act or contextualized theory. And, to be honest, I was bored at those shows, I was feeling frustrated and I wanted to see and feel something else.
The solo shows from the 80’s and 90’s, for instance, were seeping with cultural significance, that was back when “queer theatre” was radical and vital and images of survival and protest were necessary to our community’s growth and solidarity.
The desire to do so much with this project has at times weighed so heavily on my heart that typing one single line of text became next to impossible. It was too big and I was too small. I think this sense of being dwarfed by all of history and time was desperately wanting some stage time also. So that’s how some of the other threads became full on components of the piece.
THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS
Since June of 2010, we’ve hosted two official work in progress showings at NCTC, I have interviewed 17 local queer history keepers about “San Francisco-as-Neverland” and I have worked with two guests dramaturgs, Louis Jenkenson and Steve Yockey, respectively. I have many people to thank and a lot of people I am indebted to.
I will be writing weekly on this blog to chronicle the remaining 3 month process which will culminate in our big fancy World Premiere production. You can look forward to hearing all about how we (Ben and I) get our PANSY baby to fly!
I hope you’ll join me by reading this blog and seeing PANSY in June at NCTC. It should be an awfully big adventure.