It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Thoughts on Miracles and Stuff

Dave Sikula contemplates The Mystery.

A couple of weeks ago, I directed a play in the Playwrights’ Center 24-hour festival. It’s one of the damnedest things I’ve ever done. (And it’s an experience I recommend to any writer, actor, or director. There’s nothing like it.)

We assembled as a group – seven writers, seven directors, and about 20 actors – at 7:00 Friday evening. After some introductory remarks, the writers drew lots from a hat: first for the names of their directors, then for the number of characters in their plays, then for the names of the actors who’d act in them. Finally, after all that was settled, someone drew the theme for the plays: “Objects are larger than they appear.”

After a few more minutes of remarks and advice, the groups split up to discuss what the theme and pitch ideas. Our group repaired to a café on Mason St. (which will remain nameless in order to protect the crappy serving staff and mediocre food) for dinner and came up with a number of interesting ideas. As far as I can tell, none of those ideas were actually used in the eventual play, but the ones that were used were just as interesting.

We split up about 9:00 pm. We all went home; the actors and I to sleep, the writer to create gold from our dross.

Have I mentioned before that I’m a night owl? I generally don’t go to bed until 3:00 am, so knowing that I had to get up Saturday morning at 6:00 in order to be at the BART station at 7:00 in order to be at the theatre at 8:00 was daunting. (Frankly, I didn’t even know they still made 6:00 am …) Summoning all my will power, though, I was able to get to sleep early enough to catch a few hours sleep.

The script arrived in my email box at 6:22 am, so I was able to read it on the train, discovering a short tale about a married couple who, riding home on BART from the ballet, encounter the husband’s ex-teaching assistant and former boyfriend. Recriminations fly, apologies and reparations are made, and all three characters are left up in the air with their circumstances vastly altered – quite a lot to accomplish in ten minutes (well, more like 13, but at that point, who was counting?).

The actors arrived around 9:00, and after they’d read the script to themselves a couple of times, we did a read-through, discussed it, read it again, and started blocking.

From here on in, the story is relatively mundane: blocking, tweaking, consulting with the writer, running, and turning the actors loose in order to give them the time they needed to memorize their lines. (Something I could not have done – and have discussed in this space before.) In the late afternoon, the directors met with the stage manager to determine the running order and discuss our technical needs (which were minimal; my set was three chairs and the only prop was a leftover brown paper bag – which I had to rescue from the garbage when it accidentally got thrown away). After that, we did a cue-to-cue which took so long, the planned tech run had to be cancelled.

We were faced with the odd situation of the actors not being allowed backstage during the performance. Since there were strict fire regulations, we had to have each group enter or exit in the interval between plays. It made for an interesting curtain call, too; each cast ran in from the lobby, and paused to bow on stage before running back out to the lobby as the next group took their place.

The show ended up going quite well – surprisingly, in some cases. There were rough spots – how could there not be? But to the untrained eye, it mostly looked as smooth as silk.

My point is not merely to congratulate all concerned for a fine job, but to marvel once again at how – somehow – in spite of all the odds, shows almost invariably pull together. A show can be a train wreck Tuesday, a nightmare Wednesday, limp across the finish line on Thursday, but come opening night Friday, the props are all there, the light and sound cues all go off as planned, and the lines that were so forgettable are suddenly indelibly stamped on the memory. In all the years I’ve been doing this, never once has a show failed to come together, no matter how disastrous it seemed a week before. (And let me hasten to add, they haven’t all come together well; there have been some turkeys, but they were all complete. There were some that just weren’t very good …)

This point was brought home again to me last week when my “real” show opened; that is to say, the one we’ve been rehearsing for six weeks or so – not ten hours. (For the record, it’s Ian Walker’s “The Disappearance of Mary Rosemary,” from Second Wind Productions at the Phoenix.)

Now, I don’t want you to think, dear reader, that “Mary Rosemary” was either a train wreck or in trouble (in point of fact, it’s rather good), but the events of tech week – getting the set finished, assembling the props, working scenes that couldn’t be worked properly until we were in the space and on the set – kept us from doing run-throughs through most of tech week. It wasn’t until Wednesday that we were able to do a complete start-to-finish run – and even that started about 9:00 or 9:30. Thursday, we were even later, and between the run, notes, and some errands I had to run after the show, I didn’t get to bed until 4:00 am – late even for me.

All through the rehearsal period, I’ve had trouble with my lines (yeah, yeah; I know I’ve mentioned this before …). It wasn’t that the lines are bad (they’re also rather good); it’s that I’m just too damn old to learn them with ease. (Now that we’ve had three days off, I’m a little worried about the next weekend of performances. You can bet I’ll be drilling them before the show.) But came opening night and they were all there – well, 95% of them – as well as the rest of the elements: lighting, sound, props, costumes. You’d never have known that it was only our third run-through.

What causes this? Is it knowing we’re up against a deadline? The theatre gods? Fate? Sheer dumb luck? I tend to favor the first explanation; I’ve been doing this so long and it’s happened so consistently, it can’t be anything else. But then why does it happen only on opening night? Is the Friday substantially different from the Wednesday or Thursday? Yeah, it’s one or two extra days, but invariably, something that just doesn’t work or click on those days somehow does 24 hours later. It’s a mystery and a miracle; “a riddle wrapped in an enigma,” to quote Winston Churchill.

Maybe it’s just something to accept, rather than try to examine too deeply. Regardless, I’m grateful that it happens – and always in the nick of time.

Theater Around The Internet: Ten Questions with Linda-Ruth Cardozo

A few months back, before we jumped on the general promotion band-wagon, Linda-Ruth started a Facebook page devoted to getting the word out about the Bay Area theater scene and all the crazy-wonderful stuff going on here. As a woman after our own hearts, how could we resist the chance to find out more about this local luminary?

So, in a nutshell, who are you and what do you do in the San Francisco Theater Scene?

I am an actor, as yet non-Union (I have some points toward AEA and that Taft Hartley thing but I don’t know how many. I should get on that.) and a drama teacher. I’m a Bay Area native, majored in Theatre/Liberal Studies at SFSU, and studied at ACT in the Certificate Program. I’ve been “doing theatre,” since I was 12. I had an agent for a while, and have done some film and commercial gigs. I just directed my first piece with adult actors since I was last in a directing class at State. It’s cool. I’d do it again.

Do you think we actually have a Theater Scene here?

There are many established theatres and theatre companies that are based here, so, yes, we have a “scene.” The Exit Theatre has the Fringe, there’s the Bay One Acts Festival, the Phoenix Theatre and Stage Werx, among many others. There are also newer companies, and actors that I see again and again.

In what ways are we building, or building up, the Scene and what do you think is working best?

Technology seems to contribute. There are so many changes since I was first taught, for example, how to do headshots. No more waiting weeks for that heavy package from that place in L.A. Now we just send off pic/resume–bling! Lois Tema, photographer extraordinaire (you might want to spell check that) was telling me about the transition she’s had to make. At the foundation of “the Scene” is the Stage. The Magic, Exit Theatres, the Pheonix, Theatre Rhinoceros, (and so on) have been around for a long time. And Stage Werx has gotten a new lease on life at the new space on Valencia. Building up, I think, is largely hard work, and sticking it out, as well as maintaining a sense of being part of a community. Theatre does not happen in a vacuum; we can’t do it unless we do it with other people, and that means appreciating the contributions of everyone involved. It’s teamwork.

Is there anything that isn’t working?

When I attend a show, the audience often seems to consist of, largely, other actors, family and friends. When I encourage “civilians” to see live theatre, they are discouraged by the cost of a ticket, unwilling to dish out the money for a show that’s not “guaranteed” to entertain them. There’s also the whole Equity issue. So many actors who want to stay in the Bay Area choose not to join Equity because they will not be working as much. (See Valerie Weak’s article on Theatre Bay Area website.) This hasn’t changed much from when I was in college and heard that actors in San Francisco generally “work for free.” There are so many talented performers who have to keep those day jobs, and that limits the time and energy they can use for the craft.

What groups or individuals do you think are contributing, and how, to the formation of a San Francisco Bay Area Theater Scene?

Ty McKenzie, owner of Stage Werx is really community minded; the performers and companies who work there represent the diversity of our city. Christina Augello brings us the Fringe Festival every year. The Playwrights’ Foundation and the Playwrights Center of SF are always bringing new, relevant works to the stage. Martin A David’s And-Still a Theatre Company is another group producing new pieces. And, of course, the Magic, Theatre Rhinoceros, Cutting Ball, Impact, and Shotgun, the Marsh, BRAVA and others are firmly established in the Bar Area theatre tradition.

What possessed you to create the Theatre SF Bay page on Facebook?

It was sort of an accident. I was getting confused with FB Friends and Invites and Likes and I had to find a way to organize them. I created a group to distinguish my theatre stuff from everything else; I just labeled it “Theatre.” I would look around, “Like” stuff, and then post it on my own page as reminders to myself. Then I had to categorized things further, so I grouped the local stuff and called it Theatre SF Bay. This way I wouldn’t send notices of my own shows to people in Cape Cod, Colorado and Scotland. Linda Ayers Frederick encouraged the new title by writing “Good idea, Linda-Ruth, more specific” and I realized other people were actually looking at what I posted. It seemed that there was a need for a place where theatre people could post about shows, auditions, ask around for certain props, and so forth. The positive feedback from friends gave me incentive to expand the group. I ran into William Hall and he told me to “keep it up.” So I did and I do.

It seems to be growing all the time- does that mean more or less work for you, and how does that affect your energy and time in regards to your own theater career?

I feel more connected to the theatre community. I’ve come to realize how much stuff is going on around me, and I’ve become involved in projects and made connections through the page. I hope others have as well. I would love members to post more often, since I worry about missing stuff, especially when I’m busy with rehearsals and don’t have as much time for FB.

So many shows are currently being promoted on your page- about what percentage do you personally make it out to see?

About 25%. So much talent, so little time.

Anything you know about that’s coming up you really want to recommend?

BOA for sure.

What are you doing next?

Auditioning.

To find out more about Linda-Ruth, check out http://www.Linda-Ruth-Cardozo.com. And keep your eye on us as we continue to bring you deeper into the Bay Area’s small theater scene. Have a story you want to share, a profile to sketch or a production to promote? Let us know!