The Five: Tony Award Snarkdown

Anthony R. Miller checks in (on a different day) with smart ass comments about this year’s Tony Award nominations.

Hey you guys, looks like I didn’t get nominated for a Tony again, although my long-term plan for a regional Tony is still rock solid. In case you didn’t hear (due to the lack of Wi-Fi in the cave you live in) the nominations for the Tony Awards came out on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen ‘em yet, go to www.tonyawards.com and get with it. It’s cool, I’ll wait…

All caught up? Great, now we can dive in to a few of my own observations. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

So Apparently Hamilton is Pretty Good

With a record 16 nominations, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton might as well just sit onstage all night. I mean, that’s why we’re all watching right? It’s been about 20 years since a Broadway musical has been such a cultural phenomenon, which is depressing. But I guess we’ll take what we can get. Sure, it might not be fun to be one of the other nominated musicals who will probably not have as triumphant a night, but the fact that a whole crapload of people who would have never watched the Tony Awards are gonna watch is something to celebrate.

I Can’t Hear You

It’s hard for me to be witty when I’m genuinely mad about something. But the fact that there is no longer an award for Sound Design is total garbage. You would think they would bring it back this year just for the sake of giving Hamilton another award. Seriously though, sound designers are artists, and in many cases, friggin’ miracle workers. The art of sound design evolved beyond sound effects and intermission music a long time ago. Maybe I’m spoiled because the Bay Area boasts some brilliant sound designers. So hug a sound designer today, they make your show sound good.

Every Day I’m Shufflin’

Let’s give credit to Shuffle Along. In a Best New Musical category populated by musicals about historical events (Hamilton and Bright Star) and musicals based on movies (Waitress and School of Rock),  Shuffle Along is a musical based on a musical. So there’s that.

Good for You, Arthur Miller

The Best Revival of a Play I Had To Read In College Category features Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Noises Off, Blackbird, and two, count ’em, two Arthur Miller plays (The Crucible and A View from the Bridge). So keep your eye out for that up-and-comer Arthur Miller, he’s going places.

We Love It When Our Casual Acquaintances Become Successful

So if local hero Daveed Diggs wins for Best Performance By An Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical, I will boast not one, BUT TWO Tony award winners on my Facebook friends list. In 1998, I was an ASM for a production of Children of Eden at American Musical Theatre of San Jose. This particular production featured a young fella named James Monroe Inglehart, we became dear, dear friends, OK, not really. But a few years later I served him shitty Chinese food and he totally recognized me. Then he went on to be the Genie in the Broadway production of Aladdin and took home the Tony. Now we have an actor whom I saw once in a production of Six Degrees of Separation, everybody in the Bay Area has been in a play with, someone whom I exchanged 3-4 actual emails with a few years ago about producing a one-man show that never happened. Daveed Diggs is a swell dude (based on our in-depth email correspondence) and it’s always great to see local actors go on to success right after they leave the Bay Area. So here’s to hoping the list of successful people I kinda know just gets bigger. Unless of course they’re a goddamned sound designer.

Don’t forget to watch on June 12th!!!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Producer and Theatre Nerd, keep with him at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: When Is a Play Not a Play?

In which Dave Sikula wonders what the hell is up with David Mamet?

In our last meeting, I discussed the shows I had seen on my recent trip to New York – save one, David Mamet’s China Doll.

Little did I calculate then how timely this chapter would be now, since the show has officially opened and the reviews are pretty much what I expected; in short, “What the hell were they thinking?”

There’s an old story (it might be apocryphal, since a quick Google search turned up nothing) that, sometime in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart did one of the their collaborations, but reviews were not felicitous and one read “Kaufman and Hart didn’t have an idea for a play this year, but wrote one anyway.”
My reaction to China Doll was that David Mamet didn’t have an idea for a play, so he didn’t bother to write one.

Pam MacKinnon on her way out of town.

Pam MacKinnon on her way out of town.

One could say that Mr. Mamet is controversial. When he burst in on the scene in the ‘70s, he was exhilarating. Between the swearing and the poetry of his language, he was really like no one we’d ever seen before. From 1973 to 1985, there really wasn’t anyone quite as interesting (Sam Shepard was too sloppy and the really big names like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had shot their wads.)

In 1985, Glengarry Glen Ross came along, won the Pulitzer – and it was over. His next three plays, Boston Marriage, Bobby Gould in Hell, and Oleanna, were obscure at best, and it’s been downhill from there. (Though I suppose November and Race may have their defenders … )

Mr. Mamet’s books on acting are not without interest, but one of the stupider things he’s said (and I admit that takes in a lot of territory) is that there are no characters in a script. There are words on a page; if the actor just says those words, he’ll guarantee the results. And while, strictly speaking, he’s right, there’s more alchemy involved than that.

In The New York Times recently, there was a feature on how designer Vinny Sainato created the production’s poster. It was an interesting precis in the creative process and how a piece of art like that needs to evolve based on given circumstances. It’s a shame Mr. Mamet didn’t do the same with his own drafts.

Mamet may be the only American playwright who nowadays who can get a straight play produced on Broadway right out of the box – no regional productions, no workshopping, no previous incarnations. (Mr. Shepard might be another, but he seems not to have pursued that avenue – and seems to have, more or less, abandoned writing plays.)

Go on; criticize me. I dare you.

Go on; criticize me. I dare you.

I’ll admit that, in spite of my antipathy to Mr. Mamet’s recent work, I was excited by the prospect of seeing the show – and of seeing Al Pacino in what promised to be a meaty role.

We bought our tickets well in advance – and then the early reports started drifting in: The play was incoherent. Mr. Pacino was having line trouble. Mr. Mamet had skipped town. Audience members were leaving in droves at intermission.

We regretted buying the tickets, but what could we do?

When we arrived at the theatre, one of the first things I saw was director Pam MacKinnon. That she was directing at all was a surprise to me. Mr. Mamet is, if nothing else, a wee bit phallocentric, so the idea of a woman directing one of his shows – and a new script at that – was interesting. As I saw her, though, the look on her face said it all: it was a combination of confusion, frustration, and resignation.

I honestly didn’t know what her job with the production was. The prevailing rumor – which persists even now that the show has opened – was that Mr. Pacino was having line trouble. It’s understandable. He’s 75, and I’d say that 85% of the script is him having cryptic telephone conversations – of which we hear only one side. He talks and talks and talks and talks and talks – all sound and fury signifying nothing. In my experience, anyway, there’s little one can do with an actor who is still struggling to get off-book (like I’m one to talk) in terms of characterization (and if Mr. Mamet is to be believed, he hasn’t written a character, anyway), and as far as staging goes, the blocking seemed to consist of Mr. Pacino walking or sitting anywhere he pleased at any time he wanted. He has enough training that the movement was appropriate, but an audience can watch an actor yammering away on a Bluetooth for only so long.

That Bluetooth is one of the more notorious things about the production. Because of it, the rumor mill was sure that he was being fed his lines through the earpiece. Given the choppy nature of the text and his delivery, though, who the hell knows? (As well as the earpiece, there are two Macs set prominently on the stage, the screens of which are both facing upstage, no doubt so that the scrolling script can’t be seen by the audience.)

But, after all this, what’s the play about? I have no idea. As I said, Mr. Pacino spends the vast majority of the evening (to quote Ben Brantley’s review in The Times) “talking to, variously, [his] lovely young fiancée; a Swedish plane manufacturer; a lawyer, and someone he calls Ruby, a former crony who is close to the Governor of the state, whose father (a former Governor) was [his character’s] mentor.” It has something to do with a plane he bought and will or will not pay taxes on, officials he may or may not have bribed, and arrests that may or may not be made. That’s it. There’s an old (again probably apocryphal) quip about the plot of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: “Nothing happens. Twice.” China Doll’s plot is that nothing happens. At all.
Mr. Brantley’s review begins – begins, mind you – like this:

No matter what his salary is, it seems safe to say that Christopher Denham is the most underpaid actor on Broadway. Mr. Denham – a young man with, I sincerely hope, a very resilient nervous system – is one of a cast of two in China Doll, the saggy new play by David Mamet that was finally opened to critics on Wednesday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, and he is onstage for almost the entire show.

So is – pause for ominous silence – Al Pacino. Now please cue sound effects of chalk scratching on countless blackboards and the ping, ping, ping of an endlessly dripping faucet, and you have some idea of what Mr. Denham must be going through night after night after night.

My wife’s takeaway was that it was almost as though Mr. Mamet were giving one of his famous “fuck yous” to the idea of conventional dramaturgy and deliberately set out to write a script that violated every “rule.” Nothing happens. Most of the play is a man spouting one-sided exposition that never really amounts to anything. There is no character development (though if there are no characters, how can they develop?). There is no real acting to speak of. It all amounts to Mr. Pacino putting himself on display as though he were in a zoo, speaking meaningless lines slowly and haltingly in a desperate attempt to make them mean something.

As we were leaving the theatre, I saw Ms MacKinnon again, a notepad in her hand. I wanted to go up to her and say, “I know what you’re feeling. We’ve all been there.” But no matter how challenged any of us have been with our own productions, I can only imagine the pressures of dealing with a Pulitzer Prize-winner writer and an Oscar-winning actor in a multimillion-dollar production of a play that’s not working. Whatever she was paid wasn’t enough.

The director in happier days.

The director in happier days.

I’ve seen theatrical disasters before (remind me to tell you about the legendary first preview of Bring Back Birdie), but this wasn’t even a trainwreck; it was more in the “Well, there’s two hours of my life I won’t get back” category.

Derek McLane’s set is nice, though.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: In Defense of Snobbery

In which the author endorses the idea of liking some things and disparaging others.

My name is Dave, and I’m a snob.

And so are you.

Last Sunday, The New York Times featured a column by its main film reviewer, A.O. Scott, on the subject of film snobbery. It turns out the word “snob” has an interesting (to me, anyway*) history. It started out as a term for a shoemaker, but, according to Scott, quoting the Oxford English Dictionary, “’in time the word came to describe someone with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who looks down on those regarded as socially inferior.’ A pretender. A poser. A wannabe. An arriviste.”

Scott goes on: “In this country, the meaning that has long dominated has to do less with wealth or station than with taste, and the word’s trajectory has almost completely reversed. Americans are in general a little squeamish about money and class – worshiping one while pretending the other doesn’t exist – and more comfortable with hierarchies and distinctions that seem strictly cultural. A snob over here is someone who looks contemptuously down, convinced above all of his or her elevated powers of discernment.”

This guy.

This guy.

Now, anyone who knows me, or follows me on Facebook (that is, those who haven’t gotten fed up and hidden me …) knows I have opinions. Lots of them. I like to think I express as many positives as negatives, but the general consensus seems to be “oh, you hate everything.” That I don’t is beside the matter. Those opinions are based on an aesthetic I’ve formed over the decades. This is good. That is bad. I don’t expect people to always agree with them (even if I’ve frequently said that everyone agrees with me eventually; it’s just a matter of when … ), but I hold them dearly, cherish them, let them keep me warm on a cold winter’s night. To take Shakespeare out of context, they’re an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own.

(Parenthetically, I suppose I might have written this time about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s stupid plan to adapt Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. Given some of the people chosen to do the work, it’s even more ill-considered than I would have thought initially. I actually know some of them personally, and am amazed they can string two sentences together, let alone be chosen to improve the Bard. But, as always, I digress – and am showing my snobbish discernment … )

My point, though, is that, as we go through our lives and become exposed to more and more media – be they books, movies, plays, television programs, whatever – we develop tastes that lead us to prefer some of them and disparage others.

Now, I’m not saying that all of those preferences are good. There are plenty of TV shows, books, and movies that I’ll devote time to even as I know they’re inferior (and not even in an ironic hate-watching sense). I’m a sucker for movies where stuff blows up or that involve intricate capers (if one of the Ocean’s movies is on, I have to watch it) and most comic book movies. I know they’re junk food, but will still ingest a lot of them (they’re the artistic equivalent of hot dogs – which I hasten to add, I also love). Sometimes you just need them.

Be still, my heart.

Be still, my heart.

Bad as they might be, I’ve assigned them some merit, or I wouldn’t spend time on them. I admit I prefer to spend my time with stuff that I know is worthwhile, but you can’t always have that, can you?

My point is, though, that because I’ve established a value system that rates some things as good and worth watching and some as bad and still worth watching, and some that I can dismiss out of hand as being awful (or seeming to be) in advance, I can be considered a snob. And so can anyone who’s decided not to see or read something because they know in advance that it’s going to be terrible. (To invert the disclaimer in the financial advisor commercials, past results are indications of future performances.)

It’s like senses of humor. During my last show, one night in the dressing room, most of the rest of cast spent a good chunk of time reenacting “great moments” from Billy Madison. Now, not having liked anything I’ve ever seen Adam Sandler do, I’ve avoided all his film work, and based on the excerpts, I’ve been more than justified. But every Sandler movie I’ve ignored is someone’s all-time favorite. (We’ll ignore the fact that these people are idiots.)

But for every movie you love, every book you venerate, every television show you cannot miss, every joke you think is hilarious and have taken the time to rate as essential, there’s someone who absolutely can’t stand it. And every actor, author, and comedian you wish would be wiped off the face of the Earth without a trace is a person who someone else would be devastated to lose.

My point is that we should just own up to the fact that we’re all snobs; that we all have things that we venerate and things we look down on as being unworthy. Oddly, though, while there’s never any way we can all agree on the former (I know there are plenty of people who hate Stephen Sondheim, Michelle Obama, and Martin Scorsese), there are plenty of people (the Kardashians, the dentist who shot the lion) we can all agree to dislike.

So, yeah. I’m a snob. And proud of it. And you are and should embrace it as well.

(*Just noting that, if you reacted with a “he thinks that’s interesting,” it’s evidence of your own snobbery. Just sayin’.)

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Breaking the Rules About Breaking the Rules

Dave Sikula, rulebreaker.

A month or so ago, the proprietor of this here site gathered all the various and sundry personalities who give these pages their flavor in order to (more or less) create some guidelines and ground rules for the upcoming months.

Being the social butterfly I am, I had previous plans on that very day and was unable to make the gathering. When I received the minutes of the meeting, one of the suggestions for topics was “breaking the rules.”

The Theatre Pub bloggers meeting

The Theatre Pub bloggers meeting

“Well,” thought I, “that’s fodder for material.” (Okay, I didn’t think that all, but go with me; it’s part of the convention.)

As I started thinking about it, though, I realized that I don’t have a lot of material in that area. (Even considering my recent series of posts about breaking and entering and attempted arson.) As an actor, I do what my director asks. (Even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.) As a director, I do my darnedest to what I think the writer is asking. As a writer, I’m long-winded, but try to be linear.

My recent rehearsals have kept me from seeing any plays, so I can’t even use that to draw on. (I can’t even remember the last show I saw.) But, even if I had seen something, propriety and common sense (and decency) would keep me from giving all but the most fulsome praise to it. (This applies only to the written word, I might add. There are things I’ll tell you in person that I just won’t commit to the Internet where it could potentially come back to bit me in the ass. I mean, it may still come back to bite me, but at least I won’t be leaving it out where just anyone can stumble across it.)

There have been a few things that have occurred lately and that I’ve read recently that cry for comment and shooting down, but about which I feel like I can’t comment because I’ll hurt feelings or say something even more stupid than usual.

Hence, as much as I want to break those rules – in saying things that I firmly believe about certain people events, or things – I’m going to break the rules about breaking the rules and not talk about them.

It’s especially frustrating because I’ve been reading some jaw-droppingly stupid stuff – not Kim Davis stupid, but it’s close enough that (to misquote another dope) “I can see it from my house”) – that almost cry for being taken down, but I can’t go there. (Suffice it to say that there are people whom I read online – and especially on Facebook – who need to realize that not everything they think, say, or write is either profound, comedy gold, or even vaguely interesting. (On those identities, I will be as silent as the tomb – and suffice it to say, yes, I do include myself in that category.)

As I write this, I’ve been seeing television commercials for both The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera and finding myself appalled that people actually pay good money to see those shows and others like them.

I’m suddenly reminded of Robert Benchley. (I’ll pause when you click on that link.) For those who don’t know him, Benchley was a writer who flourished in the first half of the last century. He started writing short humorous pieces in the late 1910s, became the drama critic for the original Life Magazine (which was a humor publication that bore no relationship to the later photojournalism weekly), eventually moving over to the same slot at The New Yorker, before – through a series of circumstances – becoming a beloved character actor in the 30s and 40s. (He died in 1945 at the age of only 56.) No less an expert on humor than James Thurber said that “one of the greatest fears of the humorous writer is that he has spent three weeks writing something done faster and better by Benchley in 1919.”

Mr. Benchley.

Mr. Benchley.

As the critic for Life, one of Mr. Benchley’s duties was to write capsule blurbs for the plays on Broadway, one of which was Anne Nichols’s Abie’s Irish Rose, a stupid comedy about a Jewish boy who falls in love with an Irish Catholic girl. That’s about as complicated and funny as the show got, but it was inexplicably popular, logging 2,327 performances over more than five years (in an era when a run of six months was a smash and that of a year was a blockbuster.) Its run is still the 29th-longest in Broadway history – and #3 for plays.

Critics hated Abie; I mean HATED it. They reacted in ways that make my own dislikes seem mild. Mr. Benchley may have hated it more than anyone, though, so he used those capsules to eviscerate the show, two of which sum up my feelings about Phantom and Lion King (among many, many others): “Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime” and “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”

So, as much as I’d like to emulate Mr. Benchley (or “Sweet Old Bob,” as his friends called him) and speak truth to power (or the powerless, as the case may be … ), there are some particular rules I’m afraid I just don’t have enough gumption to break.

On the Internet, that is. Like I said, ask me in person – or, better yet, buy me a drink – and I’ll spill the beans like Niagara on steroids.

Theater Around The Bay: They say that “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal” , but like…don’t actually Steal Stuff, that is Bad

Playwright Peter Hsieh weighs in on content theft and trying to be a good member of the creation community.

I like Jessie Eisenberg. I can’t explain why but I always have. There was an interview he did on a late night show, something like Letterman or maybe Leno, where he talks about his acting debut in a grade school production of Annie/Oliver Twist. He explains that they did half of Annie and half of Oliver Twist in order to avoid paying royalties and goes on about the line changes and random additional characters courtesy of the drama teacher so that all of the kids had parts. The interview was funny, they laughed about it, the audience laughed, I laughed.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I like Jessie Eisenberg.

I’m sure Jessie Eisenberg’s school didn’t make a killing off ticket sales, his drama teacher isn’t wasn’t lauded as some sort of visionary who changed the landscape of theatre, and the victims, the creators of Annie and Oliver Twist, will probably be okay. So is this right? No. As much as I’d love to see a Sunday in the park/Grease, this isn’t right and it should not be condoned (however small the damages).

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Josh Ostrovsky: Instagram screenshot clown and content thief.

Enter Josh Ostrovsky aka TheFatJewish of Instagram fame who has recently been put on blast for stealing other people’s jokes and passing it off as his own. When I first caught wind of this I didn’t really know who he was and like most people thought ‘what’s the big deal?’ The nature of social media in great part sharing and reposting things, most people do it. So what’s the big deal if somebody gets a few more likes and follows because they’re the Meryl Streep Swag Lord of finding funny stuff on the internet and reposting it? In the case of Ostrovsky ‘a few more likes and follows’ equates to 5.7 million Instagram followers, a book deal, a modeling contract, numerous brand sponsorships , recently a deal with Hollywood mega talent firm, Creative Artists Agency; all this from blatantly ripping off other people’s material and passing it off as his own. His Instagram account is composed almost exclusively of comedic text and memes that he copy, cropped, and pasted from other people’s accounts sans credit or compensation. He is valued at 6000 dollars a post while a majority of the people he steals from don’t get paid for their original material and aren’t represented by CAA.

Original Joke.

Original Joke.

I’m not going to go into detail about what a talentless, unoriginal, piece of filth Ostrovsky is or give examples of his theft because Gawker and Rolling Stone both have really well written articles that do, and you should check it out if you are curious, but what I will say is that there should definitely be repercussions to dissuade others from following suit. According to Splitsider, Comedy Central has canceled a Television deal with Ostrovsky and in my opinion others involved with him should do the same in order to send a message loud and clear that stealing other people’s work is wrong and should not be rewarded.

…and this

…and this

I recently talked with a fellow playwright who mentioned she will never submit her plays to any competition that requires blind submissions, which is the play with the author’s identifying information wiped, because she is afraid someone might steal her play. I’ve been pretty fortuitous as a playwright and sometimes director. I have never had (or at least found of about) my play stolen or performed without my consent and I’ve only had my one of my plays butchered and one production that blew up in my face over the 50+ that I’ve had the pleasure of being part of. Personally, I’m okay with submitting to festivals and competitions that require blind submissions. Most of the submissions I find on the internet through NYCPlaywrights blog and Play Submission Helper and I also make these submissions via the internet. I’ve heard stories from playwrights who have had their plays performed and even published without their consent and of instances where writers, directors, or actors have failed to get credited. It’s tough.

Social Media allows emerging artists a lot of great opportunities, opportunities to share and promote their works to new audiences, to connect and collaborate with other artists; but with great opportunity comes great (or rather vary levels of) peril. The internet is like the Wild West but with a lot more stupid people and pictures of pets and stuff. Even something as trivial as posting funny pictures and jokes has become a topic of controversy. That someone like Ostrovsky is able to parlay his ill-gotten social media fame into a lucrative comedy career while the people he ripped off receive no credit is something to worry about. Concluding my rant, what can we do to be socially responsible artists? I’m going to close with a few of the basics:

1) Be original. Produce awesome, challenging work that you can call your own.
2) Don’t steal other people’s work. Just don’t do it.
3) Don’t be a dick on the internet. It’s not cool.
4) Community. Be part of it. Create it. Having a positive community of artists is invaluable.
5) Give Credit when it’s due. Do it. Just do it.
6) If you run talent firm, don’t represent content thieves.
7) Support your fellow artists. When you see something awesome tell your friends, share via social media, the artist(s) will appreciate it.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, CA. Currently he is drinking coffee and editing a new feature length play.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Starting Over

Dave Sikula would never fall asleep at your show.

I’ll be honest with you. I just abandoned another post when I realized, 500+ words in, that it just wasn’t working. If nothing else, I was in danger of saying some things that could easily be misunderstood and give too many wrong impressions.

So I decided to deal with something less controversial: namely, what the hell is wrong with audiences these days?

As an actor, I’m used to working with audiences that are up close and personal. My high school’s theatre was in the round, and the seats were thisclose to the stage, so I had early training in being aware of the audience while ignoring them. I mean, I’m always aware of them and their reactions, but I’m not concentrating on them. This has especially helpful in the last few shows I’ve done, that have either been on thrust stages or in interactive spaces. Believe me, we see everything, but learn to ignore it.

The musical I’ve been doing has been extremely (and rightfully) popular, and we’ve had only a few empty seats the entire run. One of my favorite parts of this show is my big number in the second act. I get to sing right to the audience and get in their faces in a positive way. And every night, I’m able to take inventory of who’s still with us, who’s checked out, and who’s asleep. (Literally.) One of the good things about the show is that we’ve gotten a wide variety of types of people. Having a number of different types in the audience pretty much guarantees that there’ll be plenty of varying reactions. Everyone is going to react to the show differently. I’ve found that I don’t like playing before large groups that have come to the show together (benefits are particularly bad in this regard). They’re all of the same mind, so if one of them finds something entertaining or funny, they all will, and will all react in the same way. That’s fine when they like a show, but when they don’t, it’s deadly. You can be doing everything right and well, and they just sit there like an oil painting. Take our last performance. We had a group of college students who couldn’t have been less interested in watching the show. They were dutiful, they applauded, took notes, and stayed until the end, but they were there only because they were supposed to be. Now, please note: I don’t fault them for being uninterested. Not everyone likes every show. (Goodness knows I’ve seen plenty I didn’t like.)

Not quite this bad - but almost.

Not quite this bad – but almost.

What I can’t understand is why someone would either go to a show they really had no interest in seeing or why they’d stay. Well, I know in one sense; it’s something that my wife and I have dubbed “Obligation Theatre.” In most cases, I want to see something or I won’t make the effort to buy a ticket and leave the house. But, every so often, someone I know is doing a show, and despite my worst fears and expectations (“They’re/he/she doing that? ), I go and endure a couple hours of pain because I want to support a friend, even in the most perfunctory sense.

But, that aside, every actor has stories about audience members who misbehaved. Just tonight, in addition to the dullards at my own show, I heard reports from another show about audience members who used the set as a place to set their bags, who went into the lobby during the show to complain to the cast about the temperature in the theatre, then stood in their way when they were trying to make their entrances and a couple that argued in the parking lot at intermission because the husband had fallen asleep during the first act. (They left.) During our production, we’ve had a number of sleepers, and at least one woman who thought the emotional 11 o’clock number was the perfect time to check her phone, and another who was in such a rush to leave, she ran smack into one of the actors trying to make her curtain call. (And don’t even get me started on the audience members who use the curtain call as the perfect opportunity to rush out of the theatre as though the joint was on fire. Are they really going to save that much time?)

We’ve probably all dealt with cell phones going off or talkers or singers-along or eaters or texters or latecomers or the deathly ill, but I can’t imagine how these people have been so sheltered that they don’t comprehend that they can be heard or seen or smelled or detected; that they’ve developed some kind of force field of invisibility that prevents anyone else in the audience or cast from detecting them.

An actor I once worked with had worked with another actor in the West End who had a unique way of dealing with latecomers, especially those who were down front. He’d stop the show, welcome them, make sure that they had programs and knew who everyone on stage was and what had happened thus far. Once he was sure they were well-informed, he’d ask for permission to start again. One can be pretty sure that these folks were never late for the theatre again. Similarly, in the days when people had to use cameras, rather than phones, to take photos at shows, when Katharine Hepburn would spot one of them, she’d stop the show, walk downstage, demand that the photographer stand and take all the photos he or she wanted because their needs were more important than those of anyone else in the theatre. When she was satisfied that the person had had their fill, she resumed the show. Laurence Fishburne once stopped a performance of The Lion in Winter when a phone went off. He stopped, looked at the audience with a lethal stare, and intoned “Tell them we’re busy.” I once saw Christopher Walken halt a cross from stage left to right when another phone went off. He stared at the audience in a Walkenesque way, with a look on his face that indicated his character couldn’t tell if he was hearing things or something was actually happening. When the phone stopped, he kind of shrugged and resumed the cross. Dennis O’Hare, in Take Me Out, was in the middle of a monologue when someone in the audience sneezed. Without missing a beat, he said “Bless you” and continued the speech. And we all know how Patti LuPone reacted to a photographer.

Don’t screw with Patti.

While all of those responses are admirable to me, anyway), in almost every case when I’ve had to deal with a moment like these, I’ve made the choice to just ignore the interruption or sleeper or noise or smell, and I have to wonder why. We all know it’s happening, it’s disruptive and annoying, but we all suspend our disbelief and pretend it’s not happening or it’ll stop eventually.

I guess it’s just the easy way out or that we want to avoid confrontation or that it’s not worth the effort to break the illusion.

As I said at the beginning, this was a substitute for another post, so I’m not sure what my ultimate point is other than to complain and urge all of us – myself included – to stay awake, alert, and involved when we go see a show. Even the worst of shows has some value, even if only as an example of how bad something can be. If I could make it through The Lily’s Revenge without throttling someone, there’s nothing that can’t be endured.

Cowan Palace: Let’s Eat Our Feelings and Write About It!

Ashley gives herself a writing challenge and confronts her own food demons.

So it’s September and I’ve been attempting to climb over a writer’s block that’s managed to wedge itself into my path for a few months. But considering the piece in question is for the San Francisco Olympian’s Festival and auditions are just a few weeks away, the clock has started to tick louder and louder each day.

I submitted three proposals for consideration last year right before the midnight deadline. Two were silly and fluffy. One was way more personal and scary; which ended up being the play I was matched to write.

Last year I had a blast writing my Olympian’s short, Oenone because I was able to take an honest, awkward middle school existence and channel it into a retelling of Paris’s first wife while making fun of some of my twelve year old self at the same time. It proved to be both fun and healing and forever solidified my belief that in this life, we’re all just middle schoolers trying to find a place to have lunch.

I guess I had hoped I’d have a similar experience this year. The myth I was drawn to surrounding Charybdis involved this female character being punished for eating one of Hercules’ prized cattle. She was then thrown into the sea where she was left to resume life as a monster.

Growing up, I always felt my relationship with food was a struggle. Without going too much into it now, it’s consumed more of my thoughts and energy than I’d care to admit. And when I thought about this idea of being turned into a sea creature over a ravenous appetite, I was inclined to finally explore it. Even though it made me feel a bit more vulnerable than I expected. Every time I would draft out a few pages, it never felt quite right. Perhaps because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to really say and how truthful to be to my own experiences. How many demons should a writer unleash before they attempt their story?

Ashley takes a bite out of life and also, some meat.

Ashley takes a bite out of life and also, some meat.

So instead of answering that question, I thought it may be more useful to do some research. Since I had chosen to place this play in an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, I figured I should probably educate myself a bit more on the organization. Which meant, agreeing to attend a meeting to truly obtain the experience.

See, this isn’t really a new thing for me. I’m always trying to “dare” myself to do stuff so I can share the story later. (A few years ago I challenged myself to go alone to a strip tease class for that very purpose. And if you know ANYTHING about me, you can imagine what that was like. And if you can’t, well, here’s an image: I was unaware that we were supposed to bring a towel with us to incorporate into our dance routine. So I then had to use my bright pink hoodie in its place…awkward, duh.) So true to my character, I went online and found a San Francisco Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

And then I (hilariously) came down with food poisoning. What luck, huh? I’m forever an accident waiting to happen. I will be attending one, however, before my next blog is out and I look forward to sharing the tale with you all soon. In the meantime, I found a whole bunch of valuable YouTube clips to keep me busy. I mean, aside from all the puppies and babies and stuff.

I stumbled across a 1985 dramatization of a slightly chubby, middle aged woman who eats cookie dough batter after her teenage daughter sasses her about not understanding what it’s like to go out on a dancing date. The short film seems to be sponsored by Overeaters Anonymous and while I couldn’t help but mock some of the dialogue and direction (this woman’s husband shames her for eating a tiny cupcake and then she goes to the grocery store where a judgmental clerk says, “see you tomorrow!”), this dated piece did provide some interesting information and a perspective of someone attending an OA meeting for the first time.

Straight from the YouTube clip: sassy 80's daughter sassing her mom!

Straight from the YouTube clip: sassy 80’s daughter sassing her mom!

Yes, some of it was pretty amusing to watch because I’m mean and can’t get enough of 80’s hair styles, but I also appreciated this idea of finding people with similar experiences and chronicling them to help heal each other. There’s something kind of hopeful about how someone who truly felt hopeless could find acceptance and learn to cope through the encouragement of others.

Since my only personal experience with meetings of this nature was through a stupid ex-boyfriend (stupid because he was idiot, not because of his addictions), it’s a world I only really know through pop culture’s eyes. And even though it makes me pretty uncomfortable to dive into this particular whirlpool (Charybdis pun, holla!) I feel like it’s time to face my own monsters for the sake of writing this piece and explore this myth the way it deserves. Did I bite off more than I can chew? Probably. I’m working on that. But hey, choking makes for enjoyable future blogs, doesn’t it?

So in the meantime friends, make sure to sign up for an Olympians audition (this is your last week to do it!) and I’ll look forward to seeing you there with the newest version of my story.