Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Age Cannot Wither Her

Marissa Skudlarek, growing old thoughtfully. 

In the two weeks since I turned 29, I completed a draft of my first new full-length play in five years, and discovered a secret place to pick blackberries.

If I’m being honest with myself, the blackberries sometimes feel like an even better achievement than the play.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time passing lately: cycles, parallels, how the present moment feels like a tiny, dainty pinprick caught between the vastness of the past and future. (The main character of the play I just completed does a lot of thinking along those lines too, as the director of my staged reading pointed out. Well, I put a lot of myself into her.) My birthday is in the summer and I moved to San Francisco in the summer too, nearly eight years ago. People are moving away, or moving on to different projects. The election cycle and the news cycle are all-pervasive. The last year of my twenties has commenced.

This month is also the ten-year anniversary of my first major achievement as a playwright, when I won a national contest for writers 18 and under and was awarded with a staged reading of my play in New York, plus a week of theatergoing and workshops.

I found out that I’d won on my 19th birthday. I still remember it: waking up early on a summer morning, wrapping myself in a blanket, sitting on the end of my bed and calling the New York number of the Young Playwrights organization. (They had left me a vague and maddening voice mail a few days earlier and I hadn’t been able to call them back due to the Fourth of July holiday.) The woman who ran the organization, Sheri Goldhirsch, told me that I’d won.

I wish I could say that that was the moment my life changed.

It was a wonderful experience, don’t get me wrong; but it now feels strange and distant, and I hardly ever think about it. I can’t even remember the exact date of the staged reading. When I do think about that week in New York, it is often with regret that I did not keep in better touch with the professional writers and directors to whom the organization introduced me. I was 19 years old and did not know how to network. I was shy and uncertain (some would say I still am). In my blacker moods, I pray that this contest was not the high-water mark of my playwriting career. I know New York is not the end-all and be-all of a theater career, but I haven’t had any plays in New York since then…

I’m still Facebook friends with the other seven contest winners. Some of them still seem to be involved in arts-related pursuits: theater, writing, filmmaking. One has a baby and is divorcing her husband. Nobody is wildly successful. Nobody is anybody you’ve ever read about in a puff piece touting “the latest hot young playwright.” I would be rabidly jealous if they were. There’s a decent chance that out of all of us, I’ve written the most new works for the stage in the last ten years. But I feel weird about comparing myself to the other contest winners; if I’ve kept writing plays while others have given it up, that isn’t necessarily something to be proud of. Maybe it means I am just more set in my ways and resistant to change.

Sheri Goldhirsch is now deceased.

The man who directed my staged reading went on to direct a little play off-Broadway that became a huge hit, and moved to Broadway, and earned him a Tony nomination for his direction. (Now you can see why I wish I’d kept in better touch with him.)

I also can’t shake a feeling of guilt that whenever I take advantage of an opportunity for “young people,” I’ve gamed the system. I skipped first grade and have a summer birthday, so I’ve always been younger than everyone else, or prematurely advanced for my age, depending on how you want to look at it. When I submitted my play to the Young Playwrights competition, I was 18.5 years old and had already completed three semesters of college. It was perfectly fine for me to submit according to the contest’s rules, but I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t the kind of person that the contest was designed for.

Similarly, tonight, a scene from my new play Juana is going to be read at Playwrights Foundation’s Night of New Works, a scene-reading and networking event that the Bay Area Playwrights Festival interns are hosting for theater-makers under 30. Again, when I submitted my work for possible inclusion in this evening, I felt slightly guilty about doing it: I am 29 years old, I am not fresh out of college, I have a long list of indie-theater credits and I write for this blog every two weeks and a lot of people seem to know my name. Is it fair for me to take up a slot in this evening? Am I going to feel like the old lady at the kids’ table?

And furthermore, are these kinds of opportunities for young people fair, or are they blatant age discrimination? What about the people who discover theater and playwriting when they are in their 30s or older? And then, if this is a youth-obsessed industry, shouldn’t I have done even more to try to become a Hot Twentysomething Playwright rather than hanging back?

When I moved to the Bay Area, it felt like my twenties would last forever. The first play I saw here was Yellowjackets, at Berkeley Rep, on one of their half-price tickets for people under 30. The time when I would age out of that benefit seemed a long way off. I was startled to realize last week that I’m now in my last year of eligibility for Berkeley Rep’s half-price tickets. I feel, simultaneously, like I haven’t done enough with my twenties and like they have gone on for an unbelievably long time.

I have a lot of work still to do this summer. Producing the Pint-Sized Plays, revising a play for Custom Made’s new-works development program, completing a new one-act play for the Olympians Festival. But despite it all, I’m going to try to go to the secret blackberry patch at sunset every chance I get. You know that you should never force a blackberry off its stem; if you have to pull too hard on the berry, it isn’t ripe. You need to pick only the berries that have hung in the sun a good long while, the ones that are on the verge of turning jammy and falling apart. I need to remember to let the berries take their time, and not regret the ones that went unplucked.

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The Real World – Theater Edition: Britney Frazier

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Britney Frazier.

I heard about Britney Frazier before I ever met her, when taking acting classes at Laney College under Michael Anthony Torres’ direction. I knew that she was an amazing actor — and then I got to see her in a play. Wow, blown away. As an actor, Britney brings so much depth of feeling to her work and the same can be said of her writing.

Her one minute plays packed a lot of punch both in 2015 and 2014 at the Playwright’s Foundation benefit and were smong my favorites of the evening. When I learned that she was having a reading and I had to talk with her. The subject matter couldn’t be more timely.

From the media blurb:
There is a myth that persists that “black folks don’t get depressed, we get the blues,” and as a result, too often, the opportunities to talk about mental illness and suicide in African diasporic communities are missed as our loved ones continue to take their own lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide claims one African American every 4.5 hours. The top three factors that contribute to suicide in communities of African descent which go unaddressed are: untreated mental illness, homophobic bullying and religion.

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Dysphoria: An Apache Dance is the confabulation of two drunks in a “dive bar” under the waves contemplating gender roles and the trials, tribulations, bonds and breaks of a mother, daughter narrative, and an inquiry into whether genetically inherited predispositions lead to depression, PTSD and suicide, or if ancestral memories passed from the “hanging rope” to the umbilical cord are the culprit.

What follows is an interview with Britney Frazier about her creative process and Dysphoria: An Apache Dance.

Barbara: Tell me about your background. What got you interested in writing and theater?

Britney: I started my career in the arts as an actor and acting is extremely unpredictable. In order to preserve my sanity in the uncertainty, I decided to take a month long writing workshop with Marcus Gardley at the Playwright’s Foundation. Gardley did this cool exercise where we, as a group, brainstormed play concepts and types of main characters and then put our ideas in a hat to then randomly pick. The concept I picked was, love is blind and my character type was female protagonist, and I hit the ground running. In a month’s time, with the guidance of Mr. Gardley, I came up with my first play, Obeah, about a two-headed seer falling in love with Shango, Orisha of male virility and fire. Shortly after that workshop, I got my first directing gig, Assistant Directing for Ellen Sebastian Chang.

Barbara: How does acting influence how you write a play?

Britney: As an actor and playwright, I really love plays where the characters are emotionally bold and stories themselves are taboo or obscure. I feel like because I’m an actor who also directs, I write with the whole story in mind, considering the design and transitions along with the plot and characters.

Barbara: Where did you find inspiration for Dysphoria: An Apache Dance?

Britney: I started the path to creating Dysphoria as a writing challenge to myself. I decided to look through the current events in the media at that time and write a play. I ended up finding this article about two women in Salinas California who were lovers and helped one another play out one of the worst child abuse cases in Salinas. The children were emaciated, locked in rooms and chained to the floor for days. As I read the story , horrified, I began to wonder what would compel two women to these extremes. In society, women are “supposed to” be nurturing caregivers, but “supposed to ” is a difficult phrase…I wondered what happened to these women before this incident, that lead them to commit this crime. At first, I decided to write the twisted love story of these two women leading up to the crime, and that was cool, but still felt very surface. Also I love Apache dances, which are violent Parisian dance of the underworld, because they are emotional, sensual, spiritual are rarely used in plays that include dance.

Barbara: What has been the most challenging aspect of writing the play and what got you through it?

Britney: I think the hardest part for me writing Dysphoria was the decision to scrap the facts in the article and write the story from the heart. Originally, I was trying to stay true to the events and facts but the moment I decided to claim the story creatively, as my own, was the moment my own personal connections to the theme became clear and ideas for how to weave in folklore came flooding in. The story opened up when I did.

Barbara: Any interesting discoveries or trajectories you went down that you didn’t expect?

Britney: After a few rewrites and staged readings, I decided to explore mother daughter relationships, alongside romantic relationships because the way one is raised, the experiences/relationships one has as a child influence and affect one’s experience, relationships and perception of the world as an adult. The whole play changed drastically after that.

Barbara: Tell me about the current state of theater — what do you see happening?

Britney: Well, I hear a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion and sometimes I see some of it on stage. It’s a new and trendy thing to add women, people of color and color-blind casting to a season….really? Don’t get me wrong, I support the venues where the work is being done, I just think it’s sad that in 2016 we are still figuring out the how’s of diversity and inclusion in Bay Area theatre.

Barbara: What aspect would you change and do you see any ripe opportunities that we could take now to move us forward?

Britney: I think great theater should be for everyone, not just the people who can pay. I’d like to see a theatre structure where the experience is affordable, reflects the diversity of the communities they serve, creates opportunities for social commentary and healing, makes a real effort to support local artists and includes stories for, about and by women and people of color in every season.

Barbara: What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Britney: Lol. This is the advice I give myself: Keep the faith. Believe in you. People say sh*t, good and bad people say sh*t. Don’t let it make or break your spirit. Please yourself first and no matter what, keep writing. Pay attention to what feelings come up when you are writing. When you as the writer are feeling sensitive about something in your piece, explore it, it’s gold.

Barbara: And also, any bad advice that might be good? or simply something to avoid/ignore.

Britney: See above.

LA Vouge

For more on the reading–visit the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) located at 685 Mission Street at 3rd St. in San Francisco, www.MoADSF.org. The reading is tomorrow, February 20th from 2-5 PM.

LHT’s staged reading is FREE with full day General Admission to MoAD – $10 Adults/$5 Seniors & Students. MoAD admission is FREE for LHT Subscribers and MoAD members with an RSVP to (415) 318-7140 or egessel@moadsf.org.

For more on Britney Frazier, check out Britfrazier.tumblr.com.

Theater Around The Bay: Year-End Round-Up Act 1

Well, we’ve made it- the end of 2014! It’s been a tremendous year of learning and change, tragedy and triumph, and our eight staff bloggers are here to share with you some of their own highlights from a year of working, writing and watching in the Bay Area Theater scene (and beyond)! Enjoy! We’ll have more highlights from 2014 tomorrow and Wednesday! 

Ashley Cowan’s Top 5 Actors I Met This Year (in random order!)

1) Heather Kellogg: I had seen Heather at auditions in the past but she always intimidated me with her talent, pretty looks, and bangin’ bangs. Luckily for me, I had the chance to meet her at a reading early in the year and I immediately started my campaign to be friends. She also just amazed me in Rat Girl.

2) Justin Gillman: I feel like I saw Justin in more roles than any other actor in 2014 but I was completely blown away by his performance in Pastorella. What I appreciated so much about his time on stage was that underneath an incredible, honest portrayal was an energy that simply longed to be; there’s something so beautiful about watching someone do what they love to do and do it so well.

3) Kitty Torres: I absolutely loved The Crucible at Custom Made and while so many of the actors deserve recognition for their work, I really wanted to commend Kitty for her part in an awesome show. She had to walk the fine line of being captivating, but still and silent, while also not taking attention away from the action and dialogue happening around her in the play’s opening scene. And she nailed it. I met her in person weeks later in person and my goodness, she’s also just delightful.

4) Vince Faso: I knew of Vince but we officially met at a party in February of this year. I enjoyed getting to know him both in person and on stage but it was his roles in Terror-Rama that made me realize that Vince is like a firework; while the sky may be beautiful on its own, when he walks on stage, he naturally lights it up in a new way.

5) Terry Bamberger: I met Terry at an audition and she’s the opposite of someone you’d expect to meet in such an environment. She was incredibly kind, supportive, and while you’re hoping you get into the play, you start to equally root for her to be in it too. And after seeing Terry in Three Tall Women, it’s clear that she’s also someone who deserves to be cast from her range and skills alone.

Barbara Jwanouskos’s Top 5 Moments in Bay Area Theater Where I Admired the Writer

This year has been one of momentous changes. I spent the first five months completing the last semester of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and receiving my MFA. I moved back to Bay Area and since then, have tried to become enmeshed in the theater scene once again. I haven’t had the resources to see all the performances I would have liked, but this list puts together the top five moments since being back that I’ve not only enjoyed the performance, but I found myself stuck with an element of the show that made me appreciate what the playwright had put together. In no particular order…

1) The Late Wedding by Christopher Chen at Crowded Fire Theater: Chris is known for his meta-theatrical style and elements – often with great effect. I have admired the intricacy of Chris’s plays and how he is able to weave together a satisfying experience using untraditional narrative structures. While watching The Late Wedding, I found myself at first chuckling at the lines (I’m paraphrasing, but…), “You think to yourself, is this really how the whole play is going to be?” and then finding a deeper meaning beyond what was being said that revolved around the constructs we build around relationships and how we arbitrarily abdicate power to these structures. Then, of course, I noticed that thought and noted, “Man, that was some good writing…”

2) Superheroes by Sean San José at Cutting Ball Theater with Campo Santo: I was talking with another playwright friend once who said, “Sean can take anything and make it good – he’s a phenomenal editor,” and in the back of my head, I wondered what types of plays he would create if behind the wheel as playwright. In Superheroes, there is a moment where the mystery of how the government was involved in the distribution of crack unfolds and you’re suddenly in the druggy, sordid, deep personal space of actual lives affected by these shady undertakings. Seeing the powerlessness against addiction and the yearning to gain some kind of way out – I sat back and was just thinking, “Wow, I want to write with that kind of intense emotional rawness because that is striking.” I left that play with butterflies in my stomach that lasted at least two hours.

3) Fucked Up Chronicles of CIA Satan and Prison Industry Peter and Never Ending Story by Brit Frazier at the One Minute Play Festival (Playwrights Foundation): Clocking in at under a minute each – these two plays that opened the One Minute Play Festival’s Clump 6 after Intermission were among the most striking images and moments for me of that festival. Brit’s two plays were hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, extremely timely works that I just remember thinking, “Now that is how to tell a whole story in just one minute.” I was talking to a friend about the festival and he said, “Even though they were only a minute, it’s funny how you can tell who really knows how to write.” I totally agree, and the first plays that I thought of when he said that were Brit’s.

4) Millicent Scowlworthy by Rob Handel at 99 Stock Productions:
I was only familiar with Aphrodisiac and 13P on a most basic level when I decided to apply to Carnegie Mellon, but, of course, training with a working playwright and librettist, you can’t help but be curious about his other work. Though I hadn’t read Millicent Scowlworthy, the title alone was something that I figured I’d enjoy. Seeing the production this summer, I had another “So grateful I got to train with this guy” moment as I watched the plot swirl around the looming question that the characters kept on attacking, addressing, backing away from at every moment. The desperate need for the kids to act out the traumatic event from their past and from their community felt so powerfully moving. I understood, but didn’t know why – it was more of a feeling of “I know this. This is somewhere I’ve been.” And to me, what could be a better feeling to inspire out your audience with your writing?

5)
Year of the Rooster by Eric Dufault at Impact Theater: I’d met Eric at a La MaMa E.T.C. playwriting symposium in Italy a number of years ago. We all were working on group projects so you got less of a sense of what types of plays each person wrote and more of their sources of inspiration. I have to say, going to Impact to see Year of the Rooster was probably THE most enjoyable experience I’ve had in theater this year – just everything about it came together: the writing, the directing, the space, the performances… There was pizza and beer… But I was profoundly engaged in the story and also how Eric chose to tell it and it was another moment where I reflected, “where are the moments I can really grab my key audience and give them something meaty and fun?”

Will Leschber’s Top 5 Outlets That Brought You Bay Area Theater (outside of a theater)

5) Kickstarter: The Facebook account of everyone you know who crowd-funded a project this year. Sure, it got old being asked to donate once every other week to another mounting production or budding theater project. BUT, the great news is, with this new avenue of financial backing, many Bay Area theater projects that might have otherwise gone unproduced got their time in the sun. This could be viewed as equally positive or negative… I like to look on the bright side of this phenomenon.

4) Blogging: San Francisco Theater Pub Blog- I know, I know. It’s tacky to include this blog on our own top 5 list. But hey, just remember this isn’t a ranking of importance. It’s just a reminder of how Bay Area theater branches out in ways other than the stage. And I’m proud to say this is a decent example. There, I said it.

3) YouTube: A good number of independent theater performances are recorded for posterity. Theater Pub productions of yesteryear and past Olympians festival readings are no exception. I’d like to highlight Paul Anderson who tirelessly recorded this year’s Olympians Festival: Monsters Ball. Due to his efforts and the efforts of all involved, the wider community can access these readings. For a festival that highlights a springboard-process towards playwriting improvement, that can be a very valuable tool.

2) Hashtags: #Theater, #HowElseWouldWeFollowEachOther, #MyNewPlay, #YourNewPlay, #Hashtags, #KeywordsSellTickets

1) The Born Ready podcast: Each week Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs tear into the San Francisco theater scene with jokes and, dare I say it, thoughtful commentary. Looking for a wide spanning podcast that touches on the myriad levels of theater creation, production, performance and all things in between? Crack a beer and listen up! This is for you.

Charles Lewis III’s Top 5 Invaluable Lessons I Learned

This past year was a wild one; not fully good or bad. I achieved some career milestones AND failed to meet some goals. I got 86’d from some prominent companies AND formed new connections with others. With it all said and done, what have I got to show for it? Well, here are five things that stand out to me:

1) “Be mindful of what I say, but stand by every word.” I said in my very first official column piece that I had no intention of trolling – and I don’t – but when I start calling people “asshole” (no matter how accurate), it can run the risk of personal attack rather than constructive criticism. I’m trying to stick to the latter. And believe me, I have no shortage of criticism.

2) “Lucid dreams are the only way to go.” There are some projects, mostly dream roles, that I now know I’ll never do. What’s occurred to me recently is that I shouldn’t limit the creation of my dream projects to just acting. Lots of venues opened up to me recently, and they’ve set off cavalcade of ideas in my head. They might not be what I originally wanted, but it’s great to know I have more options than I first thought.

3) “It’s only ‘too late’ if you’ve decided to give up.” I don’t believe in destiny (“everything is preordained”), but I do believe in fate (the perfect alignment of seemingly random circumstance). I kinda took it for granted that the chances of me making a living at performance art had passed me by, then this year I was offered several more chances. Which ones I take is still in flux, it’s made me reassess what’s important to me about this art form.

4) “Burn a bridge or two. It’s nice to see a kingdom burn without you.” This year someone (whom I shall call “Hobgoblin”) tried to put a curse on me. Nothing magical, but more along the lines of a “You’ll never work in this town again” kinda curse. Years ago I might have been worried, but I knew his words were just that. Instead I threw back my head, started laughing, and said “Oh, Hobgoblin…”

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5) “If you EVER have the chance to work with Alisha Ehrlich, take it.” If I had to pick a “Person of The Year” for Bay Area Theatre, she’d be it. I acted alongside her in The Crucible this year and when some of us were losing focus, she brought her A-game Every. Single. Night. Most of us can only hope to be as dedicated to our work.

Anthony Miller’s Top 5 People I Loved Working With This Year

There were way more than 5, but I just wanted these people to know how much I appreciated everything they did this year!

1) Colin Johnson: This fucking guy, he was a huge part of my year and the success of Terror-Rama. He’s a fantastic Director, resourceful as hell a never ending source of positivity and enthusiasm and a swell guy .

2) Alandra Hileman: The courageous Production Stage Manager of Terror-Rama. Smart, unafraid to give an opinion or tell an actor, designer director or producer “no”, in fact she’s fantastic at “No”.

3) Brendan West: Brendan is the Composer of Zombie! The Musical!, we had our first conversation about writing the show in 2007. Since then, it’s been produced a few times, but never with live music. Working with Brendan again to finally showcase the score live in concert was incredible.

4) Robin Bradford:  In the last 3 years, when no one believed in me, Robin Bradford believed in me. This year, I was lucky enough to direct staged readings of her plays, The Ghosts of Route 66 (Co-Written by Joe Wolff) and Low Hanging Fruit. I love getting to work with the amazing actors she wrangles and incredible work she trusts me with.

5) Natalie Ashodian: My partner in life, devoted cat mother and so much more, this year, she has been my Producer, Costume Designer, Graphic Designer, Film Crew Supervisor, Zombie Wrangler and Copy Editor. She is the best. The. Best.

Allison Page’s Top 5 Moments That Made Me Love Being A Theater Maker In The Bay Area

1) The Return Of Theater Pub: I just have to say it – I’m thrilled that Theater Pub’s monthly shows are starting up again in January. It’s such a unique theater-going experience and encourages a different type of relationship to theater which is essential to new audience bases who maybe think that it isn’t for them. It infuses life and a casual feel to our beloved dramatics and welcomes any and all to have a beer and take in some art. I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring for TPub and its artistic team! And obviously, we’ll be here with ye olde blog.

2) Adventures At The TBA Conference: That sounds more thrilling and wild than it actually is. What happened is that I found I had a bunch of opinions about things! WHO KNEW?! Opinions about things and shows and companies and ideals and art and the conference itself. Conferences aren’t a perfect thing – never will be, because they’re conferences – but it does shine a light on what it is we’re doing, and that’s a biggie. Also I had a lot of whiskey with some new and old theater faces before the final session so that was cool.

3) The Opening Of The New PianoFight Venue: This is clearly getting a lot of mention from bay area theater people, because it’s exciting. No, it’s not the first theater to open up in the Tenderloin (HEYYYY EXIT Theatre!) but another multi-stage space is really encouraging. This next year will be a big one for them. Any time you’re doing something big and new, that first year is a doozy. Here’s hopin’ people get out to see things in the TL and support this giant venture. I will most definitely be there – both as an audience member and as a theater maker. It’s poised to be a real theatrical hub if enough people get on board. GET SOME!

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4) Seeing The Crucible: Seeing Custom Made’s production of The Crucible was exciting for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that I’ve never seen a production of it filled with actors instead of high school students. IT WAS GREAT. Yes, surprise, it’s not a boring old standard. It can be vital and thrilling and new but somehow not new at the same time. It was so full of great performances in both the larger roles and the not so large ones, and it really felt like everyone was invested in this big wrenching story they believed in – thus getting the audience to believe in it, too. Maybe that sounds like it should be common, but it’s not as much as it should be.

5) Everything That Happens At SF Sketchfest: Man, I love Sketchfest. Not just participating in it, but seeing everything I can (you can’t see all the things because there are so many, but I do what I can do). It’s this great combination of local and national stand up, improv, sketch, tributes, talkbacks, and indefinable stuff which takes over the city and points to the bay area as a place able to sustain a gigantic festival of funny people. And audiences go bonkers for the big name acts who come to town. The performers themselves get in prime mingling time with each other – something funny people can be pretty awkward about, but in this case we all know it’s going to be weird and we just go for it.

Dave Sikula’s Five Theatre Events That Defined 2014 for Me

1) Slaughterhouse Five, Custom Made Theatre Company: I’ve previously mentioned the night we had to abort our performance because of an actor injury. (I insisted at the time that it was the first time that it had happened to me in 40 years of doing theatre. I’ve since been informed that, not only had it happened to me before, it happened at the same theatre only two years ago.) Regardless, it marked for me a lesson about the magic, and hazards, of live performance. The idea that, not only can anything happen on stage, but that, if the worst comes to the worst, a company of performers will do all they can to come together and make a show work even in the most altered of circumstances.

2) The Suit, ACT: A touring production, but one that provided an invaluable reminder about simplicity. In the 80s, I’d seen Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabrarata, and what struck me at that time was how stunningly simple it was. Brook’s faith and trust in cutting away pretense and bullshit and concentrating on simple storytelling – in a manner that is unique to a live performance; that is to say, acknowledging that we’re in the theatre, and not watching television or a movie, was a lesson in stripping things down to their essence and letting the audience use their imaginations to fill in and intensify the story.

3) The Farnsworth Invention, Palo Alto Players: I’ve written at extreme length about the controversy over our production. I’m not going to rehash it again, but I mention it as another lesson; that, in the best circumstances, theatre should provoke our audiences. Not to anger them, but to challenge and defend their preconceptions; to make them defend and/or change their opinions.

4) The Nance, Century at Tanforan: Something else I’ve written about is my frustration at how, even though we’re finally getting “televised” presentations of plays in movie theatres, they’re almost always from London. I have nothing against British theatre (well, actually, I have plenty against it, but nothing I want to get into here …) I realize American producers don’t want to cut into their profits if they can help it, but not only did film versions of Phantom and Les Mis not seem to hurt their theatrical box office receipts, is there any reason to believe that shows like The Bridges of Madison County or even Side Show wouldn’t have benefitted from either the extra publicity or extra cash that national exposure would have given them? Similarly, would broadcasts of the Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellen Waiting for Godot or the Nathan Lane/Brian Dennehy The Iceman Cometh do any harm? I’ll stipulate they don’t have a lot of title recognition, but did The Nance or Company other than their star leading performers? And let’s not limit it to New York. I’d like to see what’s happening in Chicago or Denver or Ashland or San Diego or Dallas or DC or Atlanta or Charlotte or Louisville or Portland or Seattle or Boston or Cleveland – or even San Francisco. The shortsightedness of producers in not wanting to grow their audiences at the expense of some mythical boost to the road box office (and even that, only in major cities) is nothing short of idiotic.

5) The Cocoanuts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Another one I wrote about at the time. One of those frustratingly rare occasions when a production not only met my high expectations, but wildly surpassed them. Hilarious and spontaneous, it was another reminder of why a live theatrical performance is so exciting when the actors are willing to take chances in the moment and do anything and are skilled enough to pull them off.

Marissa Skudlarek’s Top 5 Design Moments in Bay Area Theater

1) Liz Ryder’s sound design for The Crucible at Custom Made Theatre Company: Mixing Baroque harpsichord sounds with the frightening laughter of teenage girls, it created an appropriately spooky atmosphere. The friend who I saw The Crucible with went from “What does a sound designer do, anyway?” to “Now I see what sound design can do!” thanks to this show. I also want to honor Liz for the work she did on my own show, Pleiades, composing delicate finger-picked guitar music for scene transitions and putting together a rockin’ pre-show/intermission mix.

2) The Time magazine prop in The Pain and the Itch at Custom Made Theatre Company:

Time_cover_Nov_2006 copy

This play takes place on Thanksgiving 2006, and the subtle but real differences between 2006 and 2014 can be tricky to convey (after all, clothing and furniture haven’t changed much in these eight years). But the November 6, 2006 issue of Time, with President Bush on the cover, takes you right back to the middle of the last decade. Even better, actor Peter Townley flipped through the magazine and paused at an article about Borat. Since Townley’s character was dating a broadly accented, bigoted Russian, it felt just too perfect.

3) Eric Sinkkonen’s set design for Wittenberg at the Aurora Theatre: This clever comedy takes place in the 1500s, but features puns and allusions of a more recent vintage. The set design perfectly captured the play’s tone: sure, Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door, but the door’s already covered with flyers advertising lute lessons, meetings of Wittenberg University’s Fencing Club, etc. — just like any bulletin board at any contemporary university.

4) The whirring fan in Hir, at the Magic Theatre: I am, somewhat notoriously, on record as disliking this show. But the holidays are a time for generosity, so let me highlight an element of Hir that I found very effective: at the start of the play, the sound design incorporates a whirring fan. (The monstrous mother, Paige, runs the air conditioning constantly because her disabled husband hates it.) You don’t necessarily notice the white noise at first, but the whole tone of the play changes when another character turns the AC off at a dramatic moment.

5) Whitehands’ costume in Tristan and Yseult, at Berkeley Rep:

Whitehands copy

Technically, I saw this show in late 2013, but it ran into 2014, so I’m including it. Whitehands (played by Carly Bawden) is Tristan’s other, less-famous lover. Her little white gloves were a clever nod to her name – and, crooning “Perfidia” in a yellow Fifties suit, pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and handbag hanging perfectly in the crook of her arm, she made heartbreak look impossibly chic.

What are your top choices, picks, experiences from the last year? Let us know! 

The Real World, Theater Edition: Interview with Jonathan Spector of Just Theater

Barbara Jwanouskos chats up Jonathan Spector, Artistic Director of Just Theatre and a long-time new work advocate in the Bay Area.

Barbara Jwanouskos: What’s your connection with the Bay Area? How are you involved in its theater scene?

Jonathan Spector: I wear and have worn a lot of hats in the theater scene here – which is one of the things I love about this area, that it allows you to do that. I arrived in the Bay Area thinking of myself very much as a director, and still am, though increasingly my own artistic energies are put towards writing. I’m the co-artistic director of Just Theater, and if I’m actually measuring how I spend my time, the truth is the lion’s share these days is with the artistic directors hat on doing all manner of producing, grant-writing, development, marketing etc. I’m not entirely happy about that, but finding ways to make it work.

My company also runs a New Play Lab, which is developing a new play by, among other people, Barbara Jwanouskos.

For many years I was on staff at Playwrights Foundation, where I was a Literary Manager and dramaturg producer and general playwright advocate, and while I was there I was able to work with an endless stream of amazing writers, which was tremendously exciting and edifying.

Jonathan Spector

Babs: Do you think making theater in the San Francisco Bay Area is different than other places? (How so or how not so or both?)

JS: The only other area I know well is New York, where I lived for five years before coming here. I grew up in the DC area, and am familiar with that scene, but have never really been a part of it.

New York is kind of its own thing in terms of theater – I have the sense making theater in the Bay Area is much more like making theater in DC or Boston or Austin than it is in New York. There’s a whole bunch of complicated reasons why this is the case but the two that I think about the most are 1) that almost everyone I knew who made theater in New York (in the “downtown” theater world) was largely making it for other artists. That’s who they were in conversation with. And then if a show got a good Times review this huge other audience would just kind of materialize out of nowhere (at least this was my impression – I was in my early 20s, so probably missed a lot of what was actually happening). Out here, there’s a much more real and actual sense of having a conversation with an audience. You need to, if you’re going to survive as a theater. I mean the kind of relationship say, Shotgun has with its audience, that’s an amazing and special and real thing and so much more interesting and meaningful than just talking to other artists.

This cuts both ways. The richness of conversation amongst the artists, the sense of wanting to make something that all these other people you admire will think is exciting, because of how big and complex that downtown community is, is a large part of why there’s so much exciting work in NYC. But it’s also easy for that to tip into navel-gazing and solipsism if you don’t ever worry about the average non-artist person enjoying or getting anything out of your work.

The other big point is about opportunity and pressure. In New York, there was always a sense that maybe this thing would lead to that thing would lead to another. And it’s not a total fantasy – look at HAND TO GOD, which started as a little downtown show then got remounted at MCC and now is going to Broadway. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. And this sense of possibility contributes to a feeling that everyone is generally bringing their A-game into rehearsal.

Whereas here, there’s nowhere to go. I mean, our last show, A MAZE had just about the very best result one could have from a show – we did it in a lesser known venue, it got a great response, got remounted with a somewhat bigger company, got great reviews, sold out most of its run and then…that’s it. Good show, onto the next one. There’s never a possibility of a next step (although maybe this too is changing, with SF Playhouse starting to bring shows to New York…)

And all that other stuff being said, I’m much much happier being here. It’s just a much more livable place and I find deep satisfaction in being part of this community.

The last thing to say about the Bay Area is that it’s maybe unique in how spread out it is. I mean, we consider San Jose and Marin and Oakland to all be part of one community and in a sense we all are – we share many of the same artists who put many many miles on their cars. BUT, I’m also increasingly feeling like these communities are pretty separate. I’m embarrassed to admit that beyond the occasional TheatreWorks show, I’ve only seen one other South Bay show the whole time I’ve lived here. I’ll certainly make the trip into the city to see something at Crowded Fire or Z Space or Cutting Ball, but if I’m just going to go to a show on the spur of the moment, I’m much more likely to stay in the East Bay. Which is maybe a long-winded way of saying that there’s a way in which we’re actually a bunch of separate but connected communities, rather than one big one. I mean this whole SF Theater Pub community that you guys have is something that’s totally foreign to me because I just don’t venture into SF all that much. It seems like that’s one scene, and then we have an East Bay scene, and of course there’s lots of back and forth, but they’re not exactly all the same thing. And I think that’s true across a lot of different spectrums.

I’m also very curious about how this plays out over the next decade or so as San Francisco becomes completely unaffordable and anyone young and eager and new moves to the area.

Babs: How do you stay active as a playwright (or theater artist in general)?

JS: I think being able to shift off between things – so when the writing is going really terribly, I can just think about producing, or maybe directing or vice versa. And having regular opportunities to get to work on stuff with other people – readings or workshops are crucial since I can only really work effectively when I have a deadline.

Through Just Theater’s New Play Lab has lots of great deadlines, and I’m also a Resident Playwright at Playwrights Foundation, which has some as well. I submit to lots and lots of things, so some small percentage of those turn in to actual things I get to do, which give me more structure and deadlines.

Babs: How do you balance your theater/artistic goals with other life priorities?

JS: Not as well as I should.

Babs: What are you working on now?

JS: At the moment, I’m mostly consumed with producing IN FROM THE COLD, but I have two other plays in various stages. One is called ADULT SWIM and is a kind of magic realism play about teenage lifeguards that takes place at a swimming pool. We did a workshop of it this summer that Jon Tracy directed for PlayGround, and it was a lot of fun. I’d love to find a swimming pool where we could produce it. I’m also working on this piece called FTW, which sort of about female friendship and gentrification, with these three girls who just graduated from college and move into an apartment together and are very enthusiastic and idealistic and horrible. We did a reading of it in the Just Theater Lab, and it’ll have another reading soon.

Then there’s the play I’m supposed to be writing for the Lab this year, but have done absolutely no work on since our last meeting. Also I think I’m supposed to write a one-minute play by tomorrow, so I should get on that.

Two Guys

Babs: How did IN FROM THE COLD come to be?

JS: A couple years ago, I learned that this person who had been maybe the biggest spy in the cold war had lived for many years in secret in these townhouses across the street from my high school in the DC suburbs. He was literally #1 on the KGB hitlist for many years, and there was something very disorienting to me about the combination of this high-stakes life and death stuff overlapping with the kind of ultimate banality of the place I grew up. So that was sort of the jumping off point, and I wrote it over the course of about six months in the Just Theater Lab, and then it had a couple readings, in Aurora’s Global Age Project and at Playwrights Foundation, and then we got a grant for it so we decided to produce with my company.

I was a hesitant about us producing it, because it’s not exactly the kind of work that my company typically produces – it’s a little more of a regular play play, but everybody in the company wanted us to do it, so we did. It’s funny – a couple years ago I was having dinner with Thomas Bradshaw and sheepishly confessed that I had started writing plays. And he was like “so you’re gonna produce your work then, right?” And I said in all sincerity that I didn’t know if we would, since this thing I was writing wasn’t necessarily a typical Just Theater show. To which he said, “You’re a liar. You have a theater company. You’re gonna produce your own plays.” So maybe it was inevitable.

And then of course there is this strange lag time between writing a play and having it produced. This was only the second full length play I’d written, and I finished the first draft about three years ago. I think my writing has evolved a fair bit since then, so it’s very strange to sit in rehearsal and think, “I would never write something like this now”. But you also have to respect the thing that it is, and try to make the best version of that rather than trying to completely rewrite it to be something more like what you would write at this moment if you were starting from scratch, since that’s just an endless hamster wheel you can never get off of.

Babs: What is the best or worst advice you’ve been given as a playwright?

JS: One thing that an agent told me once that I think is very true is that theater is it’s a one to one business. That the way you build a career as a playwright isn’t by having a big hit show that everyone loves, but by one person reading your work and liking it and wanting to advocate for you and then another and then another. It’s a series of one on one relationships that develop over time.

This is great to remember because it takes a lot of the pressure off any individual show or reading being too important, because even if it’s a disaster, in the long run that’s not what matters. On the other hand, it also means that the thing that does matter – other people liking your writing – is almost completely out of your control. All you can do is write the plays and get them out there.

The other thing I think about a lot that I also thing is really true is the notion that writing is basically like exercising – the idea of doing it is horrible, actually doing it is okay, and you feel great once you’ve done it. I find it helpful to remember that for so many of us, including many writers I admire, writing is just this awful, painful, unnatural thing that part of your brain will do anything to avoid.

For instance, I sometimes get together with the other PF Resident Playwrights to ostensibly just sit together and write, but I’d say probably 50% of our time is spent talking about how much we procrastinate and avoid writing. There’s solace in remembering you’re not alone in this.

Babs: Any words of wisdom for other playwrights trying to develop their craft, get produced and make connections with other theater people?

JS: Find the work you like, and find ways to hang with the people making it – volunteer, assist, stuff envelopes, whatever. Read lots of plays and see lots of plays. Send your work out.

Babs: Anything else you would like to share, plug or shout-out?

JS: In From The Cold runs through November 23rd at Live Oak Theater in Berkeley. TBA members can get $15 tix. We have a stellar cast. Julian Lopez-Morillas, Harold Pierce, Sarah Moser, Seton Brown and David Saniako. Christine Young directed. Everybody’s doing terrific work.

The next Just Theater show comes up right after and is this completely jaw-dropping piece called We Are Proud to Present… by Jackie Sibblies Drury. This show is not to be missed. Seriously. It’s one of the best plays of the past ten years, and I think all the bigger theaters in town were kind of scared of it (with good reason – it completely terrifies me), so we ended up getting to do the Bay Area Premiere. We’re partnering with Shotgun on it, and it’ll run Feb – March.

Also in February, Anne Washburn’s play Mr. Burns is at ACT. It’s sheer genius. Go see it. And Peter Nachtrieb’s got a new show that’s about to open at Z Below, which is sure to be hilarious.

In From The Cold

You can find out more about Just Theater’s work on their website, http://www.justtheater.org. Jonathan’s play, IN FROM THE COLD will be at the Live Oak Theater in Berkeley for two more weekends.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright and blogger. She is part of Just Theater’s New Play Lab this season and will be presenting a one-minute play during the 5th Annual One-Minute Play Festival on Dec. 15-16. Follow her on twitter @bjwany.

The Real World, Theater Edition: A Playwright’s Guide to Grad School, Part One

Barbara Jwanouskos won’t be going back to school this fall, but she’s got some advice for all you playwrighting grad students out there.

Summer’s coming to a close and many are headed back to school. You may be toying with the idea of going back to school to get a degree in a theater-related field. If you’re a playwright, you may be looking at grad schools and thinking about applying. Well, as a recent graduate, I can give you some of what I’ve learned not only in the process of applying, but also what my experience was like while in it. I’m putting together at least a two part guide to the schools to look at, things to consider (for instance, is there a need to go back to school all together? SPOILER ALERT: No, but we’ll get to that), and ideas on where you might want to focus your attention while wandering through application land.

So, you wanna go to grad school… The first thing to consider is the reason (or reasons) why you want to go back. I will tell you right now, even if you end up being accepted into a program that pays for you, you will end up spending a lot of money in order to do this. Perhaps this does not seem daunting to you… but, trust me, when you get the bill, it will settle in. It also ends up meaning putting a hold on other theatrical pursuits while you’re there. It can often mean a big move. And, if nothing else, even if you have just recently graduated from undergrad, it can be a huge learning curve to be in a new environment with new demands placed on you.

To help you on this quest, here is my handy dandy check list of things to consider before making the decision to go back to schools:

Write out your goals as a theater artist. Is there a field that you are most attracted to? What kinds of plays/performances do you want to be involved in? What kinds of audiences do you want to have? Do you want to get paid to write, or do you not care? Why do you do theater? What kinds of theater are you interested in? Where do you want to be five years from now in your playwriting career?

Honestly answering all these questions and more will help you figure out what you truly value. And even before we get to the question “why grad school now”? I would look at all the possible alternatives. Make sure to literally write this all out because 1) you’ll be writing a lot in school, so start getting used to it 2) when you write something out, you’re engaging other parts of your brain so that you are very thoughtfully considering this decision from lots of different angles 3) if you do ultimately decide to apply to schools almost every program asks what your goals are as an artist (and even if not here, you usually get asked what they are in the interviews), so it’s worth it to feel very solid with what you want to achieve.

Ask yourself, if you can possibly make any of these goals happen in other ways. If you think you would be happier without making the sacrifices (financial, social, geographical, etc.) that are required to be a part of an MFA program, you should seriously reconsider the decision to go back to school. Or, at least, start reevaluating your goals and seeing if you can be more specific.

For instance, if one of your goals is to continue to hone your craft and add to your tool kit, there are a variety of resources out there that aren’t always free, but are more financially viable (and fun!) than a graduate program can be. In the Bay Area, the Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco, in addition to a variety of other organizations, offers classes to community members that are reasonably priced and taught by master playwrights. Theatre Bay Area offers the ATLAS program to playwrights and other theater artists to develop their career maps and goals. PlayGround has a Monday night writers’ pool for members of the community to share their work.

In other parts of the country, you have the Playwright’s Center and well-respected regional theaters that offer master classes, developmental opportunities, and writer’s groups to the public. These are great ways to continue to polish your skills, develop your voice, and network with other playwrights (incidentally, these are also some of the goals that could have been on your list!). The other thing to consider are some of the playwriting retreats (the one at La Mama Umbria is a fantastic one) where you can take a week or two to learn under an experienced playwriting instructor in the company of other writers, and often in a beautiful locale.

Another common goal is to have more development opportunities, which is often a part of an MFA playwriting program. Keep in mind, however, that not every program offers the same types of resources (some DO NOT offer development opportunities) and that by connecting with your theater community, you may be able to go through the development and production process quicker than you are able to in school. The added benefits are that you will have more experience putting your plays on their feet and meet new friends/colleagues!

Make these things happen! The reality is that such a small number of people get accepted to graduate programs across the country every year. You can’t wait until you get into a program to make things happen with your writing. If you see a class in your home town, take it. If you have a couple friends who will read your work, do it. Don’t be precious about your writing or your goals. Now’s the time to make sure other people know what you’re working towards. You have to be unapologetic about being a writer or artist of any kind. And if you’re doing it to make money, just stop now and start looking into other processions where you can be creative, but are more lucrative. A career in playwriting will never be enough to live off of completely. I repeat, you will make little to no money doing this (and a lot of times, you will spend money so that you can participate in something you think is worth your time as an artist). This may not be the case for screenwriting or TV writing, but it certainly is for playwriting. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

If you’re still on the graduate school path, you still need to be active in the theater scene. As previously mentioned, these programs are highly competitive and often times only take a handful of playwrights each year. Your experience in theater is going to help you. So, if someone offers to do a staged reading of your play, do it! Write that play! Volunteer at a festival (speaking of which, the San Francisco Fringe Festival is coming up…)!

Do your research. Again, even before you make the decision to apply, look through the various programs out there. They come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll want to find the ones that most align with your aesthetic, your learning style, and your financial resources. The Playwrights’ Center has a fantastic list of the playwriting programs offered across the nation, here. In the second part of my series I will go into more depth about what to look for in these programs, but make sure you are hunting for information on who the head of the program is, what plays they’ve written (read or see them!), how much it will cost, how many people they accept, what the curriculum is like, and where it is (at the bare minimum). More on this in the next column.

Make a plan of attack. After you’ve considered why school and why now and have still remained active in the theater scene and have done your research, now’s the time to plan ahead. What will it truly take for you to go back to school? Look into all the ancillary things that come with being involved in a program. Talk to people in programs if you know anyone. Reach out to the school and see if you can talk to a current student, if you don’t know someone. Make a list of the deadlines for each school and what they require (they don’t all require the same things) and put them into some calendar, to do list, or organization mechanism. Plan ahead if any want you to take the GRE, since that is a whole other beast. Visit the schools if you can. And look ahead to the deadline time to see what your life will be like around then. Try to minimize the amount of activities you’re involved in around that time. The most important thing is your writing sample (keep in mind, some programs ask for two full length plays), but don’t discount the other materials needed, for instance your letters of recommendation (ask three to four people who know you and your work) and your personal statement. You should be about one to two months ahead of the deadline with prepping all these materials. Start with the letters of recommendation because you DO NOT want to ask your champions at the last minute. Ask them at least two months before the deadline. They are probably being asked by a lot of people.

Read, see, and write plays. Above all, immerse yourself in theater. Read the classics you haven’t gotten to and the new playwrights that are being talked about. Read the plays by the heads of programs you’re thinking of applying to. Read up on theater news and opinions. Go to see performances regularly. Even if (especially if) it’s not your cup of tea because you will be exposed to a lot of things you love and hate while in school. Find ways to appreciate and respectfully talk about performances you didn’t care for. I know a lot of folks will disagree with this, but my reasoning is that you will see so much theater done by your friends while in and out of school, that it’s a good thing to open your mind to new forms and even try new things yourself. And if nothing else, to learn how to talk about what you connected/didn’t connect to in a way that maintains a working relationship with the colleague that’s responsible for the performance. It’s fine to have your opinions and tastes, but there’s nothing wrong with moving outside of your comfort zone every now and again. If nothing else, at least you may be able to articulate more clearly why it’s not your thing.

And make sure to continue to play with your writing! There’s a fantastic playwriting challenge going on to write 31 plays over the span of August (Check out 31 Plays in 31 Days). It’s a great way to produce a lot of writing without judgment. And writing something on the page is the absolute first step in writing a new play.

The Real World: Theater Edition: Tools for Today’s Playwright

Barbara Jwanouskos is bringing a more writer-focused bent to her column, and starts the transition with a link packed tool-box for today’s Fresh Off the Grad School playwright.

If you’re a playwright out there trying to write, make connections and get produced, there are a couple resources you should be aware of that might make it a bit easier for you. I’ve put together a mini guide to memberships you may want to consider and a couple sites online where you can read and participate in discussions involving theater.

The Dramatists Guild
Playwrights don’t have a union like screenwriters and TV writers do, but they do have the Dramatists Guild and when it comes to issues of legality, the Dramatists Guild is an excellent resource for playwrights, composers, and librettists. It has been around for over 80 years and has over 6,000 members nationwide. As a member, you receive a subscription to their publication, The Dramatist, as well as a guide to playwriting opportunities, and information about other meet-ups that are helpful to networking with other playwrights.

The best thing about the Guild is how they advocate for your rights as a playwright.

YOU: Wait, I have rights??
ME: Yes, you do.

Take a second to visit their site and you’ll find the Bill of Rights, which includes being compensated for your work as a playwright if the production charges admission and/or compensates others on the production team – EVEN IF IT IS VERY SMALL. You will also see that no one can change the words in a script you’ve written without your approval and other helpful rights. While these are not laws, they are modes of conduct that are fair and equitable and any good theater company will not only be aware of, but also abide by. As a member, you can also call (800-289-9366) the Guild if you are having legal problems with a production of your work and they will advise you on how to navigate the problem.

July 14-17th marks #RightsWeek, which is sponsored by the Dramatists Guild, Samuel French, and HowlRound, when theater makers will be having a series of online and offline conversations about one’s rights in the theater, specifically with regards to intellectual property. Follow the above listed sites and use the hashtag #newplay and #rightsweek for more information.

The Playwrights’ Center
The Playwrights Center is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is an excellent resource for playwrights of all experience levels. They offer several fellowships for emerging, mid-career and experienced playwrights that include fantastic benefits such as a respectably sized stipend to offset financial costs associated with devoting all of your time to playwriting, mentorships with more experienced playwrights for those emerging, and staged readings and productions of your work.

For members, they offer many discounts to bookstores, software, and theater publications (like American Theatre put out by TCG). They are an excellent resource for playwriting submission opportunities around the world. Their search functions and organization makes it easy to identify which ones you are interested in pursuing. They also offer classes to their members conducted by their group of Core Writers. Sadly, they are held in Minnesota, so you would need to take a trip out there if you’re coming from here.

The Playwrights Foundation
Not to be confused with the Playwrights Center above, the Playwrights Foundation is based in San Francisco. It offers a variety of classes for playwrights to brush up on their chops – a lot of them taught by local writers like Lauren Gunderson, Octavio Solis, and Eugenie Chan. I’ve taken several classes here and have always had a great time and broken through blocks I’d had in writing.

The Playwrights Foundation also hosts the Bay Area Playwrights Festival each summer that includes a selection of new plays, many of which go on to be produced by the Playwrights Foundation or other companies.

Theater Bay Area
I’ve only recently joined TBA, so am not as familiar with what resources are available and exciting to playwrights. But, from what I can see, you gain access to the Job and Talent Bank, which is an excellent resource (as Ashley mentioned the other day) for audition listings. I have also seen job postings and playwriting opportunities online when I’ve searched it after starting my membership. You get a subscription to the Theater Bay Area magazine and discounts on tickets around the Bay. They also support artists through small CA$H grants and have a Lemonade Fund to support artists who are terminally ill.

In addition to the above, these online discussion sites are great places to keep up with your theater news and issues:

HowlRound includes essays and editorials on theater making. Writers and artists of all kinds participate in ongoing discussions about the most prevalent topics in theater.

Bitter Lemons is a site devoted to LA’s theater scene, but also has some great essays that take up sometimes controversial stances on the practices of making theater.

2AMt is another great site for essays and views on theater.

Born Ready is a podcast hosted by Rob Ready and Raymond Hobbs where they make fun of the issues theater has.

What other resources (memberships, websites, podcasts, etc.) would you add? Let us know!

Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright who recently moved back to the Bay Area having completed the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.

Theater Around The Bay: A Play In 60 Seconds or Less? Seriously? Yeah, Seriously.

Carol Lashof on the process of creating something very, very short.

I was slow to warm up to the ten-minute play genre, thinking it gimmicky and more conducive to sketch comedy than serious drama. But eventually I succumbed to the lure of submission opportunities and began to write ten-minute plays. I found that they were fun and that, yes, it is possible to create nuanced characters and make high-stakes drama unfold in a mere 8-10 minutes of stage time. Even so, when I first heard that one-minute plays were a thing, I thought … No.

Then Dominic D’Andrea invited me to participate in the 4th annual One-Minute Play Festival at the Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco. Whatever is the inverse of sour grapes, that’s what I experienced. I was honored to be asked to join the party. Besides, a production is a production, no matter how short the play. I squelched my skepticism in under a minute. And after reading several examples of successful one-minute plays from other festivals, I knew my doubts about the potential of the genre were unfounded. Still, the question remained: Could I write one? (Or two, actually, since the call was to submit exactly two.)

I cast about for a structure, a form in which every breath counts, and lighted upon the sonnet: 140 syllables and a thing complete in itself. Drawing inspiration from Romeo and Juliet—who meet and fall in love in the course of a shared sonnet—I wrote Come Live With Me, a play about star-crossed lovers for whom the impediment to a life together is not the enmity of their families, but the high cost of rent.

The rules of constructing a sonnet provided me with a sense of safety in my first attempt at writing a one-minute play. For my second attempt, I abandoned the training wheels. I heeded the advice in the festival “Writers’ Pack” to build from a “seed image” and pursue “deep specificity.” My seed image for Be Yourself was a wife questioning whether her spouse would, by another name and gender, still be the person she has always loved. The first drafts ran long, so I kept cutting the beginning, starting later and later in the action, so as to allow the characters time to move deeper into the conflict—which is a useful habit to adopt when writing any play, no matter how long.

Carol Lashoff is a playwright whose work has been featured all around the Bay Area and beyond. The complete scripts of “Come Live With Me” and “Be Yourself” are posted here: http://wp.me/p2lYdZ-33 Running time for each play is about 50 seconds.