The Real World- Theater Edition: Interview with William H. Bryant Jr. and Skyler Cooper

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews the creative team behind Every 28 Hours.

Every 28 Hours is a piece that was created by linking one-minute plays based on the staggering statistic that every 28 hours, a person of color is murdered by a police officer, vigilante, or security guard. This is a piece that hits deeply into the legacy of white supremacy that our culture has been built upon and asks us if we are willing to look at ourselves to build a way of living and interacting where black lives matter.

I had the opportunity to speak with two of the actors in the Every 28 Hours production here in the Bay Area. Their names are William H. Bryant Jr. (BJ) and Skyler Cooper, and I feel fortunate that we were able to connect to share their experiences working on such an intensely powerful theatrical production.

Every 28 Hours is produced by Faultline Theater and playing at PianoFight until Nov.12.

Skyler Cooper. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Skyler Cooper. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Barbara: Tell me about Every 28 Hours and how you came to be involved. What are you bringing to the table? Where do you see yourself in the piece?

Skyler: Every 28 Hours is a collection of stories influenced by experiences of black and brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement in this country. I wanted to be a part of this because it’s necessary and it’s vitally important to raise awareness and I am all about the creative activism that weaves throughout these stories. In my heart I knew I was being called forth from a deep spiritual place to do something with my artistic voice. I have been using my art to bring awareness to LGBTQ issues in the past, present, and future. But I am not just from that community, I am also black and I am an American and this affects me and my loved ones. I am fortunate that I am able to say “Yes”. I know so many actors would if they could. It felt like a “call to arms” when I was first told about the project. Also I relate to these stories not just because I’m black but also because I’m transgender, as well as two-spirited. I have walked in both black men and women’s shoes in this country and I’m here to tell you it ain’t easy. Currently the path I walk in the world is predominately as male. I’m either seen as a cisgender black male or a black trans male, every now and then (although I identify as a transgender actor), I am still remembered for the characters I’ve done as a cisgender masculine-of-center female. So I could be seen as black butch female. They have it just as bad as males if not worse in some cases.

BJ: First and foremost, thank you, Barbara, for the opportunity to share a bit about myself and the type of work I love doing the most. Every 28 Hours is a project comprised of 72 one-minute plays that are inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and was developed after the news of Michael Brown’s death. The title comes from the often challenged statistic that a person of color is murdered by a police officer, vigilante, or security guard every 28 hours.

I first heard of the plays, actually, from one of my cast mates and friend, Deane, who had already started working on the plays before I came aboard. I ended up joining the rest of the amazing cast late because they needed another actor due to one having to drop out because of a conflict. I couldn’t be more grateful for the open arms that welcomed me, from the cast, to the directors, to the production team. Not only did I see it as an amazing opportunity to speak up for something with life-and-death importance to me, but I saw it as a responsibility to stress how important it is for us to, at the very least, open dialogue and have a conversation about the subject matter of the plays.

I see myself in this piece as part of a group with a story to tell. We all complement each other in ways I feel make us most effective in telling these stories. The bond that we created has been so crucial in working to do the writers of these incredibly moving pieces justice.

Barbara: What has the creative process been like? Has there been anything that surprised you along the way?

Skyler: Doing one-minute plays with five different (amazing) directors is a treat. Yet the creative process is different on so many levels from a traditional three-act structured play. It’s kind of like boot camp for character development. Much of what these plays give are a three-act story structure in one minute. I can find the beginning, middle, and end in most of the pieces on stage. Much of the creative process on all these plays is put into the backstory — what is not seen or said in the play. It has allowed us to bring full characters to the table. It’s necessary when you only get one minute! I’m surprised at how full these plays can be, say so little, and give so much.

BJ: The creative process of working on the pieces has been quite the learning experience. We are very lucky to be working with five of the most ingenious, brilliant, and hardworking directors and production team. This itself has made the creative process for this project so much more effective and real. The directors have put all of their beings into this whole process, instilling life into the pieces and allowing us the freedom to do the same with the characters while keeping in mind that this project isn’t for us; it’s for the victims, their families, and everyone who is blind to the fact that there is a major problem in our society/country.

I was actually surprised by how physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, the entire process would be. But, the cause itself, the work, and each other are motivation enough that help along the way and keep us aiming to raise the bar after each and every performance.

3rd: William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

3rd: William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada.

Barbara: Is there anything you do for yourself when investing so much of yourself into a powerful piece like this one? How do you keep going when it goes so deep?

Skyler: What I do to care for myself through this process is exercise my spiritual practice. It keeps me grounded and I include everyone else in my prayers — cast, crew, audiences and the souls that we lost. I rededicate each performance and I try to ground myself in their power, the power of the piece, and the power of the people. When I’m able to do this my cause is unshakable, because the roots are deep with love rather than fear or hate. I try to give love to myself and to the purpose of the piece. It’s all love.

BJ: When investing everything I can into a piece like this I learned that it helps to clear your head by bonding with your cast mates, friends, family, and loved ones. Also, I have guilty pleasures that I go to, like watching cartoons every now and then or watching superhero movies. I’ve learned during this project that we have to continue to go as deep as possible because this play isn’t for us and we have a message to send. So it helps knowing that we’d be selfish if we were to hold ourselves back in any way. So that, and knowing that my castmates, who have become like brothers and sisters to me, and my family and friends always have my back, definitely helps keep me going. I’m extremely lucky and blessed to have the support system I have especially in doing a project like this.

Barbara: Do you have a favorite moment or line of the piece? What is it and why is it your favorite?

Skyler: There are many… but I think my favorite line is the whole point of Every 28 Hours. It’s where two black men, one from the past and the other from the present, say, “I don’t want to fight. I want to be free.”

BJ: It’s tough to point out a specific piece or line and say it is my favorite because there are so many magical, tragic, heartfelt moments that capture the essence of the messages we are trying to send. There is a piece called “The Gray Area,” written by Chisa Hutchinson and performed spectacularly by Adriane Deane and Stephanie Wilborn in our run. It is a play in which a black protester explains to a white protester who is protesting “police brutality against all people,” that her form of protest is a form of racism because of her choice to ignore the fact that police brutality disproportionately targets black people. This is one of my favorite pieces because there are so many people in society who severely undermine the Black Lives Matters movement with the statement, “all lives matter,” when all lives aren’t being taken at the same rate that black lives are because of police brutality.

Barbara: What words of wisdom would you give to others that want to do what you do?

Skyler: Do it. There is only one you. Also, know that training, focus, dedication, courage, humility, and passion, are helpful to any actor who wishes to find their artistic voice. When I was able to find my artistic voice, I was able to chose the plays and characters that helped me to develop my craft beyond my training. Even still I think taking workshop intensives are great. Every instrument needs to be tuned every now and then. The theater is where I started and I highly encourage anyone who wants to be an actor to look to theater at some point preferably at the beginning. It truly is where the actor gets to work their craft the most, your entire body becomes your instrument.

BJ: I would say if they are willing to put everything they have into their craft, especially in doing plays like these, then be sure to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Really diving into a piece as heavy as this one can take a toll on your body in many different ways.

Barbara: What are you hoping someone watching the piece will take away?

Skyler: To have an unshakeable desire to enact a change in this country. Mindfulness to a degree that allows them to shift unconscious biases held against black and brown people.

BJ: What I am really hoping that people take away from this piece is the urge to act and not just stand by any longer as this continues to go on throughout the country. There are many ways to become active and fight against racism, systematic racism, and police brutality against people of color. I also hope more and more people try to get others to open their minds and understand the struggle instead of staying stagnant, in denial that there is a problem in society.

Skyler Cooper and William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada

Skyler Cooper and William H. Bryant Jr. Photo Credit: Joy Yamada

To learn more about Skyler Cooper’s work –including several upcoming films — is visit http://www.skylercooper.net/#skyler-cooper and https://www.facebook.com/skyler.cooper.9. For more information on upcoming projects for William H. Bryant Jr., please visit http://www.williambryantjr.com/ and @bjbeege19 on Instagram.

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Theater Around The Bay: Autumn Is A Good Time To Say Goodbye

So, you’ve probably heard the rumors that Theater Pub is coming to an end and it’s true: Meg, Tonya, and Stuart have decided to close up shop this December. With fall right around the corner and the holidays looming, it seems like a good time to say goodbye, so we’re giving official notice today.

Meg Trowbridge says farewell to the theater in a bar she loves the most…

Theater Pub came back at a serendipitous time for me. I was newly freelancing (read:unemployed) and looking to dive head-first into making art. When Stuart asked me to take on an Artistic Director position, I was eager to get to work. Turns out, it’s a lot of work, guys! Monthly shows are no joke, but even with the non-stop nature of Theater Pub giving me gray hairs, it was magical to see the old and new faces coming together to make theater. It was a pleasure to get to know the crew of PianoFight so well. I especially loved opening nights that were followed by Beatles Karaoke. My theater-loving heart was full on many of these nights.

But a non-stop theater that can’t support its staff is not sustainable. It was around the same time that Stuart, Tonya and I were all thinking about our graceful exit from SFTP – unbeknownst to each other. Stuart was the first to say Uncle (to be fair, he’d been there since 2010, so it was really his time). When Tonya and I sat with the idea of taking on SFTP on our own, the biggest question we had to ask ourselves was why? Did SFTP serve a purpose anymore? When Theater Pub started all those years ago, it accomplished two things: it helped a bar bring in folks on a Monday night, and provided a venue for theater people to produce unlikely works. When we returned to PianoFight, we tried to do the same thing: bring crowds into PianoFight on quiet nights and provide a venue for exciting theater.

I figured once we returned that we’d have people knocking down our door to pitch ideas or get involved – but that wasn’t the case. Not that we didn’t feel loved, there are just a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be. It’s actually great news – it’s news that makes it easier to put Theater Pub to bed.

The three people running Theater Pub right now are playwrights – we sometimes direct, sometimes act, sometimes go full-on diva at a piano bar, but we are playwrights first and foremost. And when playwrights are spending most of their time managing art instead of creating it, it is time to move on. (We get itchy.)

From here, I go on to head up writing a few shows for Killing My Lobster (check out The Political Show this November and look for next season’s announcement!). I will also be finishing up my Pontos Trilogy, which got its beginnings in the Olympians Festival: Wine Dark Sea.

I look forward to seeing what other SFTP regulars have in store! I look forward to having more time to see theater! And if you keep your eyes peeled, Pint-Sized Plays may rear its drunken head for another go next summer…

Much love to all of those who worked with us and supported us.

Meg

Tonya Narvaez gives a long hug goodbye to SFTP…

I wanted to be part of Theater Pub from the first time I attended, which was Pint-Sized in 2011. I wanted to support it however I could. My support took the form of shouting about the shows from the rooftops (of my Facebook), bringing friends along to get them hooked, donating at each show, acting in shows, writing shows, and eventually becoming Co-Artistic Director with Meghan Trowbridge and working with her and Stuart Bousel to see how Theater Pub fit into this new theater landscape. I wanted to do all of these things because Theater Pub has given so much to me.

As an actor, it served to connect me with so many talented theater artists and inspire me with unique shows and magical theater moments.

As a writer, it gave me a home to put on some of my more peculiar ideas and taught me important lessons about my process and my voice.

As a producer, I’ve learned so many hard lessons about how to put on theater. About how to plan a season, how to work with friends (or strangers), how to rely on others, how to expect the unexpected, or when that fails, how to roll with the punches, how and when to say the hard things, and remembering to say the good things. Producing is not for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn’t for anyone who isn’t all-in.

This year I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t all-in for Theater Pub. Not because it’s not worthy. Not because it’s not glorious. But because my priorities have shifted since taking the position of Artistic Director two years ago and I only have so much bandwidth at my disposal.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported Theater Pub all these years. Whether by attending shows or Saturday Write Fever, reading the blog, writing, directing, acting, producing, playing music, singing, donating money, donating rehearsal space, providing a venue, or any of the other countless ways in which the community has helped make this organization what it is.

It’s wonderful Theater Pub had a home in this town for so long and that it was a place that connected people and allowed artists to play. But I do not believe the end of Theater Pub will leave a gap that will need filling in our community. At least not right now. The San Francisco indie theater scene is truly alive right now. The amount of art being created and the number of new artists emerging each year is thrilling.

So if this news leaves you feeling a gap in yourself, I implore you to make some art. To bring a group of people together and create something for this community to consume. To make some mistakes, learn some lessons, add value and a unique voice to the community, and have a lot of fun. I know I’ve had more fun than should be allowed.

Stuart bids a loving adieu to his baby, Lil Theater Pub Bousel…

So, this is not the first time I’ve said goodbye to Theater Pub, though I suspect this time it’s a little bit more definitive. When I announced my departure in April, I had done so hoping Tonya and Meg would be up for carrying the torch forward, but when it came to light that they weren’t necessarily looking to do that, we made the decision to bring the organization itself to a close. A bittersweet decision, to be sure, but the right one. The truth is, we were all ready to move on to new things, many of us already had, and Theater Pub, while dear to our hearts, was preventing us from doing that or making it harder to fully engage the futures that were arriving whether we were ready or not. We talked about handing over the baton to new folks, but didn’t feel that the “right” people had emerged to replace us at Theater Pub. The “right” people seemed to want to do their own thing, not inherit somebody else’s creation, and I can’t blame them for that: after all, I only helped found Theater Pub because I was the sort of people who wanted to be a trailblazer myself.

What’s important to point out is that Theater Pub isn’t ending because it “has” to end. It’s ending because of the reverse reason: it’s been wildly successful, for the most part, and accomplished what it set out to do: build a community and be a launching point for the careers of the people most intimately connected to it. The trouble is that Meg, Tonya, myself, and others (such as our bloggers, original founding team, and various staff) have got so much on our plates now that we’re having a harder and harder time keeping all of them spinning. Something has to give, and we’d rather set something down then drop it, if for no other reason than when you set something down you still have the option to one day pick it up again. That’s the beauty of knowing when to stop before you break something, or yourself for that matter.

The most amazing thing about Theater Pub is that it’s lasted as long as it has, and has refused to die at least twice. So chances are, it’ll be back again, at some point, in some form. Recently I went to a concert of my favorite band, Belly, who were on tour after a 20-year hiatus. It was pretty amazing. They were actually better than they had been back in 1996. Sometimes taking a break, a nice long one, is not only necessary, but helpful. If we do come back somewhere down the line, I expect we’ll be back for all the right reasons, and super happy to be there. In the meantime, Saturday Write Fever will continue in 2017 as part of the EXIT, and Marissa and I will periodically post on the blog or let others do so when someone really has something to say. The Stuey Awards will continue. The Pint-Sized Plays will continue as part of PianoFight. We’ll all stay in touch, one way or another. And when you least expect it, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be back. And if we’re not… well… we’ll always have Paris. Right?

“Everything dies,” the heroine of my favorite novel, The Last Unicorn, says to her lover, “I want to die when you die!” Things are precious because they are not eternal. It’s been a tremendous gift to start something, stay with it for years, put it to bed, wake it up again, watch it succeed anew and learn from it once more. And it would be a tremendous ingratitude to hold on until it felt like we were prisoners to our own creation. Sometimes the way you love something best is to let it go, especially while you still love it.

Thank you, everyone. It’s been one of the best times of my life.

Please join us for our last four months of shows at PianoFight, including Stupid Ghost, opening September 19th!

Theater Around the Bay: Alan Coyne & Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”

The Pint-Sized Plays begin their 2nd week of performances tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays by speaking to writer Alan Coyne and director Juliana Lustenader of “Bar Spies”!

“Bar Spies” is a spy-fiction pastiche, full of false identities, double-crossings, and heightened tension. Actors Courtney Merrell and Andrew Chung show off an impressive array of accents and some slick trench-coated style as the two spies.

Alan Coyne clown

Playwright Alan Coyne has a sense of humor.

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

Alan: I wrote a piece for Pint-Sized last year (“Relativity”), and this year I figured I’d have another go. I can’t write without a deadline, and this festival gives you that plus a setting, so it’s exactly what I need to write something.

Juliana: I first got involved with Pint-Sized last year as the writer of “To Be Blue,” directed by the wonderful Neil Higgins and featuring the hilarious duo of Eden Neuendorf and Tony Cirimele. The show was such a success last year, I knew I wanted to come back. I’m super excited to return as a director this time!

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

Alan: For me, the hardest thing about writing a short play (or anything) is getting started. And after that, it’s translating the amazing idea in your head into the least-clunky language possible.

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

Alan: Knowing that everything in it has to matter. That helps focus me on what I actually need to put in, and what I can do without.

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

Juliana: The most exciting moment for me so far this year was watching my actors read the script for the first time out loud while Alan and I watched. I couldn’t stop smiling as Courtney and Andrew took these two silly characters and brought them to life so easily despite the ridiculous accents we are making them do.

What’s been most troublesome?

Juliana: Scheduling! But that’s what I get for wanting to work with such talented folks.

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What are your biggest artistic influences?

Alan: P.G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams. They are who I would want to write like, if I could. For this particular play, it’s John Le Carre, who wrote Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; “Bar Spies” is very much a parody of that genre, and he, for me, is the best spy writer. And I owe a little something to Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, which is also a spy parody play. And Chess, which is the musical I’m rehearsing for at the moment, and is set during the Cold War.

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

Juliana: Sean Connery, because he is the best spy with the best accent.

Alan: Alec Guinness, who played the main character in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and did so definitively. Luckily for me, Courtney Merrell pretty much is Alec Guinness, so that worked out.

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

Juliana: Brian Martin is the first to come to mind, though we did do a scene study project in college together. Still, I think it would be a treat to work with him in a more professional setting.

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

Alan: My next writing project is for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, it’s called Hypnos, and it’s an excerpt from Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio. It’ll be performed Saturday, October 15. And my next acting projects are the aforementioned Chess for Custom Made (September/October), in which I play The Arbiter, followed by Feste in Twelfth Night at the Metropolitan Club on Saturday, November 5, which Juliana is also directing.

Juliana: Up next, I’m directing Twelfth Night as part of Shakespeare at the Club. I’m also performing in Chess at Custom Made Theatre Company and Avenue Q at New Conservatory Theatre.

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

Juliana: The Fringe Festival at the Exit Theatre.

Alan: The Olympians Festival is always wonderful, everyone should check that out at the EXIT this October. I had the opportunity to participate in Musical Cafe this year, and they’re doing another showcase in November, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for that. And PianoFight always has something good going on, especially shows which feature Andrew Chung.

What’s your favorite beer?

Juliana: Right now it’s Old Rasputin’s Russian Imperial Stout, but I’ll drink whatever you buy me.

Alan: For this show, I recommend drinking a pint of (Alec) Guinness.

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

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

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

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

Skudlarek photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s been most troublesome?

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

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite beer?

Adam: Moscow mule.

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

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

Theater Around the Bay: Jake Arky of “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah”

Next in our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays: writer-director Jake Arky of “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah”!

“Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” is a comedic monologue by a 36-year-old woman who’s finally stopped her hard-partying ways long enough to complete the Jewish rite of passage. Noemi Zeigler Sanchez stars as Julie.

As Jake is the only writer/director pulling double duty this year, he’s answered BOTH our playwright questionnaire and director questionnaire… and sometimes his playwright-self and director-self seem to have differing opinions.

Jake Arky - Headshot 2

Jake Arky, he writes AND directs!

Playwright Jake, how did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Playwright Jake: I bumped into Alejandro Torres, who I had acted with in another Theater Pub show, I Like That, on the street and he mentioned he was producing Pint-Sized this year. I asked if I could send him a monologue that I had just been thinking about writing. He said yes, so I guess I was on the hook to write something good and lo and behold, it made the cut.

And, Director Jake, how did you get involved with Pint-Sized?

Director Jake: I wrote a deadly play and when no one else was brave enough to touch it, I bravely stepped up to the plate to wrestle it into the work of art you’ll see on stage.

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

Playwright Jake: Keeping it a short play.

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

Playwright Jake: Cut to the action.

What’s been the most exciting part of directing this play?

Director Jake: Rehearsals and just discovering everything the play can turn into.

What’s been most troublesome?

Director Jake: Trusting myself as a director, especially since it’s a new hat I’ve been wearing only in the last year.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Playwright Jake: TV. Lots of TV.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush?

Director Jake: They know who they are.

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

Playwright Jake: Louis C.K. and Kate McKinnon, for obvious reasons.

Director Jake: The cast of The Wire. Like, every single person that was ever on that show.

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

Director Jake: I’m the Drama Director at a high school on the Peninsula and I’ll be directing Assassins in a brand new theater space this fall.

Playwright Jake: A play about helicopter parents who kill their children when they aren’t perfect. It’s a comedy!

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

Playwright Jake: All of them.

Director Jake: Anything coming up at PianoFight.

What’s your favorite beer?

Playwright Jake: Stone’s Smoked Porter.

Director Jake: Stone’s Smoked Porter.

See “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!

Working Title: Pint Sized Recommendations…or One Llama to Rule them All

This week Will Leschber discusses Pint Sized Play Festival film pairings with Stuart Bousel, Emma Rose Shelton & Rob Ready.

Reflecting on this year’s upcoming Pint-Sized Play Festival has led me to realize what I miss about being at university. The constant consumption of new things and new ideas is the lure, and, of course, those things are generally missed. But the crux, the essential thing that I pine for, is the structured ascension. You feel as if your path is laid before you and that you are constantly improving and growing as you walk down the road towards knowledge…or maybe the road was just leading to semester’s end. Either way, it’s easy at times in our daily lives, our daily grinds, to feel stagnant and/or circling or floating with less aim than we used to know in the past. There is an absence of hope in aimlessness. But the powerful thing is that we are all moving forward, and the trick is to remind yourself that your constant road can be one that ascends, if you mind the way. Nothing like an annual event to rock us back to reflection…or maybe drinking like we are college kids!

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

It is time again for the Pint-Sized Plays. This jovial event comes but once a year and it is glorious. A fruitful fun evening that turns over a handful of laughs in the time it takes to finish a beer. This may not obviously link to an evening of what you may call ascension… but many things can be found in the swirls of a pint glass. The quick cycle of the night is part of the allure. If this play isn’t for you, finish your beer and worry not, for another play is 10 minutes away…and maybe another beer too. 😉 Our constant companion in the years that we’ve seen Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays has been the Llama. His pint consumption knows no bottom. His wisdom knows no limits. And his beard is just spectacular.

rob-ready-llama

The three pillars of this year’s Llamalogue who I had the pleasure to speak with are Stuart Bousel, Theater Pub’s Executive Director, Bay Area Ringmaster and playwright of the infamous Llamalogues; Emma Rose Shelton, all-around wonder woman and director of this year’s “Llama VI”; and of course, Rob Ready, Artistic Director of PianoFight and the amazing aforementioned bearded Llama himself.

To get you in the headspace of the Llama (oh God NO…you say…don’t worry, it’ll be OK…this will all wear off in the morning) and the Pint-Sized Plays in general, we have three recommended film pairings to play along with the festival’s themes and schemes.

Lets start with the the Rob-a-Llama recommendation…ready, steady, drink and go!

The Apartment, the 1960 classic directed by Billy Wilder and starring the splendid Jack Lemmon and stunning Shirley Maclaine… To move up the ladder at work, Lemmon lets executives use his apartment for their affairs… hilarity and heartbreak ensue. It’s kind of a similar aesthetic and tone [to our dear Llama]…Lemmon does a ton of over-the-top physical comedy in the role while also coming off as a grounded, fully-fleshed-out person with a big heart. Most of the film is really funny, but there are parts that just tear at your heartstrings. And I think that’s roughly what the Llamalogues aim to do.

The Apartment foreign

Well said, and great recommendation! Now let’s hear what Llamalogue director Emma Rose Shelton has to pair with the indomitable Llama…

Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy classic… There’s something about Bill Murray’s character coming back each time needing to learn the same lesson and just failing miserably at it. Something about him trying to figure his shit out while being lovably melancholy and self-loathing reminds me of our Llama.

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don't drive angry. Don't drive angry!

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don’t drive angry. Don’t drive angry!

OK, last but not least since this is supposed to be the length of a beer…a slowly nursed beer. Let’s get to Stuart Bousel and close this mother out. Bousel brings to the table a beautiful and less well-known film…but boy is it a treat.

Sally Potter’s Orlando, 1992… Sally Potter, perhaps one of the most underrated filmmakers in the world, is one of my favorite directors, and her film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is, like the source material, many many things. For me, the film is about finding your place in the world, and not just the world, but time itself, coming to terms with the infiniteness of human experience but also the limited scope of any one life, including your own. Or in less fancy speak: it’s about accepting your own mortality, and by doing so, finally beginning to really live. It’s no big secret Theater Pub is coming to an end this year, though Pint-Sized may continue. Will the Llama continue with it? I rather hope so. But I have already decided it won’t be me writing it anymore. So this last Llamalogue is my kiss goodbye to this incredible, rewarding, and demanding period of my life that I’ve loved living through and am also looking forward to having behind me so I can move on to other things. As the angel sings at the end of the film, while Orlando and her daughter watch: I am being born, and I am dying.

orlando-1look-1

That rounds out this pint. I promise the night of Pint Sized Plays at PianoFight is hugely entertaining and there will be more laughs and guffaws than bittersweetness…but like any good night of entertainment the presence of both light and dark will be in attendance…or possibly ascendence.

The season’s change is upon us, as it ever is. Soak it in. It goes fast. This is the last Llamalogue as we have come to know it. Come out, have a beer, a laugh and nod to see the shadow of the Llama pass. You know what they say about a Llama who sees his shadow…or maybe that is something else. This shadow pint is for you, Llama.

pintsized3

Editor’s note: our Pint-Sized Tzarina, Marissa Skudlarek, points out that this is the first year of Pint Sized where we have THREE one-person shows. Says Marissa:

Three of the 11 plays in this year’s Pint-Sized Play Festival are one-person shows. In addition to the return of the drunken llama played by Rob Ready, a beloved character who has appeared in every Pint-Sized Festival since 2010, we’re telling the stories of two women who are on the brink of major life changes. There’s the title character of “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky: at the age of 36, Julie has finally earned the right to call herself an adult by the standards of her Jewish faith. And there’s Meredith — or should we call her Olivia? — in Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go with Olivia?”, a woman who’s preparing to cut ties with her old life and start anew.

Julie, the Llama, Meredith… they’ve all been around the block a few times. They’re adults, thirtysomethings, with histories and backstories and opinions. And yet they don’t always make the right choices, especially when pints of beer are involved. They are brash, opinionated, and very fun characters, but they’re also all seeking meaning and fulfillment in their own ways. I know, that sounds like a lot to ask from a proudly self-proclaimed slut who gets drunk at her own Bat Mitzvah, or a woman whose quest for a new life means turning her back on everything that came before, or a boozy llama who started out in 2010 as an absurdist sight gag. But it also happens to be true.

Don’t Miss Pint Sized Plays VI, playing 8/15, 8/16, 8/22, 8/23, 8/29, 8 PM, only at PianoFight! 

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: An Interview with Danielle Gray

Marissa Skudlarek speaks with one of the Bay Area’s most exciting multi-hyphenate performers!

I don’t think I’d ever seen the actor-singer-musician-clown-fashionista Danielle Gray at this time last year, and then all of a sudden they burst upon the indie-theater scene. And, while I spend my days in a cubicle at a day job, Danielle always seems to be learning new circus skills, or singing torch songs in secret cabarets, and looking fabulous doing it. Currently, Danielle is acting in the new play Hunting Love in Oakland, which seemed as good an excuse as any to chat with them about their art and aesthetics.

HuntingLove

Nican Robinson as Narciso, Danielle Gray as Echo, Susan-Jane Harrison as Love.

Marissa: Tell me a little bit about Hunting Love and the character you play in it.

Danielle: Hunting Love is a new play by Susan-Jane Harrison. It’s kind of a reunion collaboration between Susan-Jane and director Erin Merritt, who used to work together at all-female Shakespeare company Woman’s Will. Hunting Love is being produced by a new company called Local Dystopia, which has produced shows here and in London, and is going up at the Flight Deck in downtown Oakland. The piece is fairly ambitious in its incorporation of dance/movement and sound/music. We have this amazingly talented three-person Greek chorus/band (Jed Parsario, Mia Pixley, Bruce Bennett) who play original music, provide atmospheric Foley sounds with their instruments, and act as minor characters. I am so impressed by them all the time.

Hunting Love is a new story, loosely using characters from Greek mythology. I play two characters who are inextricably connected in the story – Echo, a lovesick dryad who has willingly been turned into air so that she may follow Narciso (played by Nican Robinson) forever, and I also play Histrionia, daughter of Love (played by Susan-Jane Harrison). Character inspirations for my Echo include ballerinas, kittens who scratch you even when they’re trying to be affectionate, and baby velociraptors. She’s a bit feral, but in a lovable way. Histrionia is in her early twenties, but has had some emotional development setbacks… so she is a fully-grown woman with the emotional capacity and understanding of intimacy of a teenager. The play is about learning what intimacy and love even are — how do we go about this confusing business of loving one another?

Marissa: You’ve said that your audition for the 2015 San Francisco Olympians Festival (after which you were cast in a major role in the staged reading of Allison Page’s Jasons) is the reason you’ve been so busy with work over the last year.

Danielle: This is true! I auditioned on the advice of a friend who did it several years ago, and quickly found myself surrounded by excellent new friends and collaborators.

danielle-Theater Pub

Danielle as a mime in the March Theater Pub show, On the Spot. Photo by Tonya Narvaez.

Marissa: What were some of the artistic highlights of the last year for you?

Danielle: It sounds like I’m pandering, but sincerely, working with Theater Pub has been a major highlight of 2016. [Danielle played the Duke in Theater Pub’s February show Over the Rainbow, had roles in two short plays in our March show On the Spot, and also appeared in our June show Better Than Television –ed.] Theater Pub is the opposite of elitist, and everyone involved is engaged fully in the process of trying new things, both with existing texts and new work. It’s been really refreshing. However, my favorite show I only got because the director and writer saw me at Olympians was The Horse’s Ass & Friends, Megan Cohen’s delicious vaudevillian showcase of short works that played last December. It was a dream cast and crew and experience — everyone involved was a super talented pro and a lovely person, and I still count them all as friends I would recommend to anyone, or work with again in a second.

Marissa: Since so many good things came out of the Olympians Festival for you, it’s appropriate that you’re now acting in another play that is inspired by Greek mythology. What’s your favorite Greek myth or mythological figure?

Danielle: Oh, it is hard to pick. I like Medusa quite a bit, because she’s such an interesting, nuanced character who is often unfairly reduced to a Halloween monster. Her situation is fully unfair and she’s just trying to make the best of things by living up to her bad bitch reputation with no apologies, amirite? I’ve also always been fascinated by Hera, who is clearly the one keeping Mount Olympus running behind the scenes while Zeus is being a swan unconcerned with consent or whatever. I like complicated, imperfect female or non-binary characters in basically any mythology.

Marissa: You are making it as a working artist (sans day job) in the Bay Area, at a time when many people say that that’s no longer possible. What are your tips on how to make this work?

Danielle: So this is a popular rumor, and it’s only sometimes true, but I have been known to pull it off for months at a time. My situation changes frequently. I have anywhere from two to four part-time day jobs going at any given time. Nearly all are at least a little art-related, a rule I made for myself this year.  Right now I am teaching at an outdoor preschool for the summer, and I work at the front desk of a dance studio so I can get class credit, which is like… medium artistic, more about supplementing process expenses and doing research. Other arts work is contract-based and somewhat unpredictable, like cabaret or walk-around character acting for parties.

Tip #1: FOUR JOBS IS TOO MANY, don’t do this, I do this so you can see how crazy it can make a person.

Tip #2: Most artists I know have at least two things they love. My advice, for people who are willing to hustle like they will die tomorrow, is to do both of them. Don’t buy the advice that you have to pick. I love working with kids, so I keep my side job options open in five-and-under education, and luckily I live in the Bay Area, where when parents find out I also do cabaret they just think I am cool. They recognize that adults contain multitudes and are capable of being responsible, caring human beings AND doing weird circus sideshows for cash.

Tip #3: Accept help from trusted sources. It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that as an artist in a city with skyrocketing prices, I never hit a surprise financial wall and let my mom (a former costumer and lifelong artist/arts supporter herself) boost me with grocery money. I figure I’ll pay her back when she’s old and I’m successful by being Dorothy to her Sophia and making sure she gets to go on a vacation whenever she effing wants, just like she does for her mother.

Tip #4: This one is honestly the most important. Don’t work jobs that make you miserable. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Hold out if you can for a day job that has a team you love, or perks that are actually worth it (like training you in skills that will benefit your arts career), or a job that just makes you happy. Do not languish in industries you hate because you are afraid you won’t find something better in time to rescue yourself from late rent. You will manage. Believe in your own resourcefulness. Ask your network for help.

Marissa: You’ve also been getting into the cabaret scene as a singer, ukulele player, and clown. I am an amateur ukulele player myself so I have to ask: what are your favorite songs to play on the uke?

Danielle: I have been clowning and doing circus sideshow for a couple of years now, started teaching myself ukulele about four years ago but only started playing publicly last year, and I’ve been singing since I could open my mouth. But now I get paid to do it all in dark cabarets and variety shows, fulfilling my destiny of being Sally Bowles with (slightly) more sense in my head, and hopefully fewer Nazis. Lately I’ve been playing the following to relax: “I Wish I Was the Moon,” by Neko Case, “The Chain,” by Ingrid Michaelson, and “That Was Us,” by Julia Nunes. And I’m learning a duet with my dear friend Adam Magill which we will finish eventually: “To Die For Your Ideas,” Pierre de Gaillande’s English translation of a Georges Brassens song. I play so many broody songs on the ukulele I created a clown character centered around it just to lighten the mood. Triste is a sad, pretty clown, who sings pretty, sad songs.

danielle - fortune teller

Danielle as Gilda the Fortune-Teller. Photo by Ralph Boethling.

Marissa: What are your biggest influences or contributors to your aesthetic sensibility?

Danielle: I read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe as a kid, starting just about as soon as I could read a novel. That probably had a lot to do with what is happening here. I read Grimm’s fairy tales and the Anne of Green Gables series like a hundred times. My favorite book in high school was Lolita, because I am obsessed with Nabokov’s love letters to the English language, and the concept of playing with and manipulating audience sympathies. Lydia from Beetlejuice was a strong influence, though I only started wearing black in my late twenties: I didn’t have a “goth phase,” at least not where wardrobe is concerned, because I grew up in the desert. I also grew up in a very theatrical and musical household, so we watched a lot of TCM as a family and on our own. Old Hollywood films, musicals in particular, have had a huge impact on my aesthetic: Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton. Also the fashion of forgotten gems of 1990s cinema. Not the enduringly popular films, but the weird ones like With Honors, or Michael, or Truly, Madly, Deeply. Dad-jeans time capsules. I am enduringly obsessed with vaudeville aesthetics, magic, etc.

Marissa: What’s coming up next for you, and what shows are you most excited to see this summer/fall?

Danielle: So we just opened Hunting Love this past weekend, and it will run through August 21. Click here for tickets. We’ve also begun rehearsals for KML: The Musical, opening in September, which is SO EXCITING because it’s not just my first time working with Killing My Lobster, it’s my first foray into any sketch comedy since my high school cohort’s tragic but heartfelt attempt to form a troupe. I’m thrilled about the team for this show.

I haven’t booked anything at Panic & Give Up (a secret speakeasy cabaret I love) in the near future, but I am always haunting that joint and I’m sure I will turn up on their stage again eventually. It’s a good place to look for me. You can keep in the loop by using the form at www.daniellegray.com/booking, and requesting to be added to my email list. Or follow me on Facebook — I always do a public post when I have a show coming up.

The next show I’m going to see is The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made, and I’m pretty stoked about the space station they’re building over at PianoFight for Faultline Theater’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident.

Marissa: My column is called “Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” and you are a notably glamorous person, so I also have to ask: do you have any pointers (either practical or philosophical) for achieving glamor?

Danielle: Oh goodness, Marissa. Blush. I get asked about fashion advice a lot because I am not subtle about my evolving love affair with my wardrobe, and the best advice I have for anybody is to wear what you actually like. It is that simple. Honestly. If you want to wear a ball gown every day, just do it. I’m not at all exaggerating. If you like to wear yoga clothes, buy the ones you really like and rock them. The only thing stopping you from looking exactly the way you want is your hesitation – find photos that inspire you and replicate the items, scour thrift stores and department stores alike, be real about the colors you enjoy, don’t be snobby about brands (high end or low end). I think of every outfit as a costume, with a particular inspiration. Once a friend told me my outfit was “a pair of fishnets away from Bob Fosse Captain Hook,” which remains one of my most treasured compliments. Some days I’m “Andro Duckie.” Often, I get “80s New Wave/Boy George.” You know what makes you feel good, you know whose style you admire. There’s no reason you can’t do what they do. People like to see other people being unabashedly themselves.

Keep up with Danielle’s adventures at www.daniellegray.com.