Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: By the Sea

Marissa Skudlarek is at the beach for a relaxing vacation.

Well, not quite. She’s actually hard at work preparing for the opening of her play about eight young women and one young man at the beach for a vacation that turns out to be far less relaxing than they hoped.

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“Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” will return in two weeks.

For more information about Marissa’s play, Pleiades, which runs August 7 to 30 in San Francisco, please visit pleiadessf.wordpress.com. Publicity photo by Serena Morelli.

Theater Around the Bay: A Mother’s Care

Charles Lewis III returns with part two of his interviews with the creative team behind Pleiades, which opens later this week at the Phoenix Theatre.

“A son is a son ‘til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”
– Old Irish Proverb

I had the pleasure of taking part in the ‘Pub’s production of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, newly-translated by Marissa Skudlarek. I wore a horse’s head and that is all you need know about my involvement. It was my first – and hopefully not last – time working with director Katja Rivera. I’d first heard of her in 2011 when she directed another primarily female show set in the early 1970s, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Star of that show, actress/songbird Michelle Jasso, affectionately Katja described as “no bullshit, but incredibly open to collaboration and suggestion”. With the full production of Marissa’s Pleiades about to enter tech week under Katja’s direction, I was able to briefly catch up with her to talk about the play. As a complimentary piece to last week’s interview, I got to ask Katja about her approach to the material, historical accuracy, and bringing a maternal perspective to a story of young women trying to find their place in the world.

Katja

Did you attend the original Pleiades reading in 2011?

No, I didn’t attend the first reading of Pleiades. I didn’t even know about the Olympians Festival then!

What about Marissa and her script encouraged you jump aboard this project?

Marissa had sent me her script, and I particularly was impressed with how she understood the dynamics of a large family. I’m from a family of seven, so that aspect of the script particularly resonated with me. I also enjoy working with Marissa (on Pint Sized and Orphée), so I wanted a chance to collaborate with her on a full production.

Whereas Marissa’s script was written by someone trying to imagine a specific time in history, you were actually alive during that time. How important was historical accuracy to you? Are you on the lookout for specific anachronisms or is it better to have just a general sense of the era, so as to focus more directly on story and character?

I like to be as historically accurate as possible, and do think we are products of our time. I do look out for anything that smacks of anachronism, because I don’t want to distract audience members. I feel like Marissa has a good sense of the period, as I remember it, so she’s made my job easy in that regard.

Having myself assisted with the Pleiades auditions and seen the embarrassment of riches in terms of local female talent, how does one begin to whittle that down to “the right” eight women you needed for this play?

The 8 characters in the play are all so individual, so while we had some women in the play who could have played more than one of these roles, their personalities lent to making it easy to slot them into their roles.

Was there any special consideration in choosing Paul Rodrigues (a talented fella whom I’ve had the pleasure of directing) as the sole male role?

With Paul, we definitely wanted someone who was likable, so it wouldn’t easy to dismiss the character out of hand for what he does. Paul is also such an intelligent actor. He is bringing qualities the role that I didn’t see before we started the rehearsal process. It’s delightful.

On the surface, the play would appear to simply be “the problems of eight rich White girls and one White guy”. What would you say is a more accurate description and how would you sell it people who don’t resemble the characters portrayed?

I would say it is about 7 young women, sisters, who are trying to figure out how to live an authentic life, as the world around is shifting below their feet.

Is there a particular character with whom you identify more than the others?

Alison, played by Annabelle King. I’m the middle child of 7, as is she, and there are some character traits that particularly resonate with me.

The proper “adults” in the play are alluded to, but are never seen. It almost as if the sisters live in an insulated world all their own, with disruption immediately followed by the arrival of an outsider. As a mother yourself, how do you approach a story with one of the most frustrating scenarios a parent can think of – namely children holding onto secrets (one becoming the victim of a serious crime) and not turning to their parents for help? Furthermore, how do you think your own daughters will react to this play?

All characters have secrets. That’s my belief. Some of their secrets are revealed in this play, but I encourage actors to have secrets for their characters. As to my daughters’ reaction, I hope they will love the play. They are in the age range of these characters, age 25 and 22, and avid theatergoers. My goal in directing this is for them to love it.

To end with the generic-but-informative questions: What have you got coming up theatre-wise? What projects do you want to do, but haven’t had the opportunity (yet)?

I’m directing Three Tall Women by Edward Albee in November at Custom Made Theatre, and filming Merritt Squad, a webseries, this summer. And I would love to do some more acting soon, as well as some writing. We’ll see what the Universe has in store!

Photo by Serena Morelli

Photo by Serena Morelli

Pleiades begins previews this Thursday, August 7, with opening night Saturday, August 9. The play will run for 12 performances, Thursdays through Saturdays, through August 30th at The Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/780504. For more information, press inquiries, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://PleiadesSF.wordpress.com.

Charles Lewis III thinks that if you have any appreciation for women in theatre, independent theatre, and creative new work, then you should hurry and get your tickets for Pleiades before all twelve performances are sold out.

Theater Around the Bay: Sing a Song of Seven Sisters

Charles Lewis III is today’s guest blogger, with an extremely thorough interview of Marissa Skudlarek, author of the upcoming world premiere, PLEIADES. We’re super excited about the show, and encourage everyone to go. We’d also like to let Marissa know we have never used the term Box Office Babe ironically. “Babe” is a gender neutral term and we consider anyone willing to work our box office SUPER SEXY.

Poster by Emily C. Martin

Poster by Emily C. Martin

“Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?”
– The Holy Bible, Book of Job: Chapter 38, verse 31 (King James Version)

One of TheaterPub’s greatest strengths has always been its networking prowess. Its productions are unmatched in their ability to bring together such a disparate (some would say “motley”) collection of theatre artists to form lasting connections. It was during one such post-show mingle in the ‘Pub’s first year that I was introduced to an unassuming-yet-unforgettable Vassar gal named Marissa Skudlarek. We were both eager to make names for ourselves in the Bay Area theatre scene, but even as we spoke about a variety of topics (I remember Tristan & Isolde being a major one), I knew she was more likely than I to make a splash.

By the end of that summer, most of us knew her bright smile on sight when she warmly greeted each of us as first-ever box-office manager (aka “The Box-Office Babe”) for The San Francisco Olympians Festival’s opening year. What started as idea during a car ride to an Atmos Theatre production has become an annual must-do for the Bay Area indie theatre scene. Now in its fifth year at The EXIT Theatre, the staged reading festival has commissioned more than 130 new scripts; an equal number of fine art illustrations, mosaics, and needlepoints; two books; and the collaboration of countless actors, directors, and theatre technicians. To say nothing of scripts that have gone on to full productions.

It just so happens that the ‘Pub’s own “Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life” columnist is the latest Olympians alumnus to get a full production. Having gone from the festival’s box office manager to playwright to copyeditor of the two Olympians books (Songs of Hestia and Heavenly Bodies), so too will her original script Pleiades, written for Year 2, graduate to a fully-staged run this August at The Phoenix Theatre. Based on the Greek myth of the seven daughters of Titan god Atlas, the play revolves around the seven Atlee sisters, their activist cousin, and a local Casanova in the affluent Hamptons during the summer of 1971. In the middle of her increasingly busy schedule, I was fortunate enough to pose a few questions to Marissa during the final hours of the Pleiades’ successful IndieGoGo campaign. We discussed how she’s grown as a writer, how the script has evolved since the original reading, and why a production with a largely female cast & crew is so important to modern audiences.

First things first: how did you get involved with the Olympians Festival during its inaugural year?

Almost five years ago now, I submitted a proposal to write the “Artemis” play for the first-ever Olympians Festival… but that was the year that everyone wanted to write about Artemis, so I didn’t get chosen. (This is one reason that an Artemis figure, in the guise of rabble-rousing feminist Diane, shows up in Pleiades.) I still thought that the festival sounded like a really cool idea, though, and I was fairly new in town and hungry to be part of the theater community, so I befriended Stuart Bousel and asked if I could help out with the festival. He mentioned the box-office job, and while it was unpaid, it meant that I could see all 12 Olympians shows for free. And that seemed like a great way to get acquainted with a lot of actors and writers very quickly, so I accepted the gig.

Who came up with the name “Box Office Babe”? Does anyone even remember?!

I feel like Stuart came up with the “box office babe” nickname, but I don’t think that I actually heard it used until Year Two, when Barbara Jwanouskos was box-office manager. I admit I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with that title and don’t tend to use it myself, because there’s something kind of old-fashioned and chauvinistic about the word “babe” (even though I understand that it’s ostensibly being used ironically here. Ah, hipster sexism).

One of the things I most remember from first meeting you in 2010 was that you weren’t all that fond of the term “emerging playwright”. One’s profile definitely raises with the production of their first full-length. How would you say you’ve evolved as a writer in the four years since?

Well, Pleiades is the only full-length I’ve written since leaving college six years ago — I’m not the fastest or most prolific writer, so it’s not like I had a wealth of plays from which to choose. If I didn’t produce Pleiades, it might be another 2 or 3 years before I write another full-length play that I’m proud of… and I wasn’t prepared to wait that long to have a full-length produced in San Francisco. Moreover, I felt that as long as Pleiades went unproduced, it was kind of blocking me from getting started on another full-length. It felt like unfinished business. I needed to see this script to fruition (in the form of a full production) before I could move on.

What was it about this script that you felt it had to be your first proper full-length production?

I wanted to produce Pleiades as a way of actively participating in the conversation about gender parity and feminism in theater that has become so prominent recently. There are all these statistics about how female playwrights and directors and actors are underrepresented, and rather than continuing to talk about how unfair that is and debate possible solutions, I just wanted to produce a new play that has a female writer, female director, eight female actors, and be like “DEAL WITH IT.”

Because I haven’t written another full-length since Pleiades, it’s hard to say how my playwriting has evolved. Maybe I’ve learned to be less afraid of my own voice? Pursuing my crazier whims, rather than trying to make my writing sound like everybody else’s. I definitely think I’ve become more courageous in terms of my nonfiction writing. Three years ago, I’d never have written that piece I wrote for Theater Pub recently, pointing out that ACT hasn’t produced a local playwright in 7 years apart from their own AD. I would have been too afraid of getting on Carey Perloff’s blacklist. But, well, the whole point of the article is that she’s not producing local playwrights, right? So what have I got to lose?

Katja Rivera directed your Theater Pub-produced translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée last year. At that point had you already considered her for the director of Pleiades?

At the time of the Orphée reading (April 2013) I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to self-produce Pleiades. My feeling that I needed to produce the play grew slowly over the course of 2013 until, by the end of the year, it had become overwhelming, and I contacted Katja to see if she wanted to direct it. It’s like that Anaïs Nin quote: “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Some playwrights think the most daunting thing about self-production is raising the funds, or simply finding the time/energy to embark on such a major project. Those things never fazed me. For me, the most daunting aspect of self-production was always the problem of finding a director.

Did you ever consider directing it yourself?

I have never wanted to direct my own plays — I have no training as a director, no sense of how to block a scene, absolutely no self-confidence in that area. Plus, having a director handle the day-to-day aspects of production (rehearsals and the like) while I handled the big-picture elements (contracts, fundraising, marketing) sounded do-able… handling everything myself sounded like a disaster in the making.

Katja was definitely my first-choice director. I first met her in 2012, when she directed my play “Beer Theory” for Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival. “Beer Theory” is a weird little play that, more than anything else I’ve ever written, tries to illustrate what it’s like to live inside my head, and Katja knew exactly what I was going for… I felt like she “got” me right away. Our collaboration on Orphée was also harmonious. Further points in Katja’s favor were that she liked the Pleiades script and she’s from a different generation than me — I thought it would be good for the director of Pleiades to have been alive in 1971, the year the play takes place. But it was still scary to send that initial email to Katja and ask her if she wanted to direct Pleiades! I was asking her to clear her schedule and devote months of her life to my work, for very little compensation. And I’m not sure what I would’ve done if she’d said no!

Another thing I recall from that first year is that you were fond of the phrase “Plays are never finished; only abandoned.” I remember seeing the original reading of Pleiades in 2011 and I understand it’s been read around the country since then…

Well, it’s only had one other reading since the Olympians one, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend it: the reading happened in Myrtle Beach, SC, on the same weekend in April 2013 that Katja and I were doing tech for Orphée!

What’s changed about the script since the Olympians reading?

The script still has the same basic structure that it had in 2011, but I like to think that it’s stronger. After the Olympians reading, I beefed up the climax to make it more cathartic. I streamlined certain scenes and expanded others. I tried to raise the stakes a little; I tried to deepen the characters and make them more complex. It’s identifiably the same story, with the same characters; but I think it works a little better.

Have you done any rewrites since announcing the start of production?

I did make some changes to the script between announcing my decision to produce the play (in January) and going into rehearsals in June, but they were fairly minor — rewriting half a page of dialogue so it flows better, that kind of thing. Act One now ends with more impact and has a better curtain line. I haven’t handed out any rewrites to my cast since the start of rehearsals, though.

Your story is about a group of women struggling to define themselves during the height of the Second-wave Feminist movement. One of the icons of that movement, Gloria Steinem, recently celebrated her 80th birthday. You’ve never been shy about defining yourself as such, but what is it about the word “Feminism” that seems to rub modern women – many of them high-profile – the wrong way; particularly the ones who claim to profess the very ideals for which the movement stands?

So it seems to be axiomatic among a lot of people that “young women refuse to call themselves feminists nowadays because they think it makes them sound like man-hating lesbians with hairy armpits,” but I don’t actually know how much truth there is to that. Supposedly, women between the ages of 18 and 29 are most likely to self-identify as feminists. If a young female celebrity says “I’m not a feminist because I love men,” as happened with Shailene Woodley recently, the Internet explodes with essays telling her why she’s wrong. Sometimes I feel like every female playwright I know is a feminist. Which is awesome! But it also means that feminism has lost some of its pungency. It used to be that if you said “I’m a female playwright and I want to tell women’s stories,” it made you sound kind of cool and edgy. Now it’s like “Yeah, so what else is new?”

Thanks to the Internet, more people are discussing and debating feminism than ever before, and feminist concepts (like the Bechdel Test) are entering the pop-culture lexicon. However, the Internet also has a way of magnifying people’s outrage; and online, the people who get the most attention are often the loudest, most extreme, angriest people. So a young woman might see this and think that to be a feminist, you need to be snarky, or bitter, or humorless, or antagonistic, or perpetually outraged, when none of those things are actually true. There are humorless feminists and hilarious ones; there are feminists who want to smash the patriarchy and feminists who want to dismantle it gently. It’s a broad movement. (uh, no pun intended.)

One other challenge of being a feminist is that, once you start calling yourself one, you have to examine your own unconscious prejudices and develop your own understanding of what feminism means to you. And each time you detect sexism, you have to decide whether you are going to call it out or whether you are going to let it slide — and both of those things are hard to do, for different reasons. Even if you live in a supportive environment, being a feminist is not always easy. It requires self-reflection and self-questioning, qualities that our culture does not always encourage.

Marissa Skudlarek takes her place amongst the goddesses. Photo by Tracy Held Potter

Marissa Skudlarek takes her place amongst the goddesses. Photo by Tracy Held Potter

You’ve often spoke of your fondness for productions with large casts and Pleiades is unique among contemporary independent theatre (particularly in the Bay Area) as it has a cast of nine that is primarily female. What were the steps you took to make all the voices individual and how did the traditional Greek interpretation of the characters influence the way you wrote them?

The thing about the Pleiades in Greek mythology, at least according to the sources that I’ve found, is that they weren’t very individual as personalities. They are treated like a unit, especially in the most famous story about them, the one that goes “Orion was chasing the Pleiades and Zeus turned them into stars to protect them.” They’re just objects to Orion — he doesn’t see them as individuals. I mean, how do you even chase seven women at the same time? Then I discovered that, maybe the Pleiades don’t have individual personalities, but some of them do have individual stories. The eldest three of them — Maia, Elektra, and Taygete — all had children by Zeus. In fact, Maia and Zeus’s son was Hermes. The youngest, Merope, married a mortal and was punished for it: she’s the dimmest star in the constellation. Artemis turned Taygete into a deer after Zeus raped her — whether this was to protect her or punish her is a matter of debate. I started to see how I could turn these stories into a play.

But you’re right that my most difficult task in writing this play was to figure out who each of these young women was, as an individual. And also to make the story psychologically credible, since it would be taking place in a realistic milieu (the Hamptons in 1971) rather than the stylized world of myth. It’s one thing for a myth to say “Zeus had children with the three eldest Pleiades,” it’s another thing for me to write a believable, serious-minded play about a man who has sex with each of three sisters.

Toward the beginning of the writing process, after I’d figured out the basic plot of the play, I took a day to just outline each character’s personality — listing the adjectives and qualities that define each young woman. I also decided, early on, that it was OK if not all of the roles were equal in size or importance, as long as each character had an individual voice. And, as I started to fill in the backstory for the play, I made a timeline listing the characters’ birth dates, key historical events, etc., and I had fun thinking about which zodiac sign each of my characters might be and matching their astrology to their personality.

In addition to your writing, you’re also quite renowned for your impeccable fashion sense. That having been said, the 1970s aren’t generally regarded as a high-point in 20th century fashion, particularly in the United States…

I actually kind of love ’70s fashion! Especially the early ’70s, which were fascinating. The hippie looks of the late ’60s were still hanging on, and there was also a revival of ’30s and ’40s fashion… it could be pretty glamorous. We have a vintage Seventeen magazine from June of 1971 as one of the props in the play and I’ve had great fun browsing through it for inspiration. It makes me want to grow my hair long and walk through a meadow in a gauzy dress!

What was your and Katja’s philosophy in regards to dressing nine different characters of affluent means in the Hamptons of the early-‘70s?

One thing I’ve insisted on from the start is that I do not want the primary message of the costumes in the play to be “look at the kooky things people wore in the ’70s.” I fear that that would distance the audience from the story. I don’t want people to see this as a “period piece” that has no relevance to life in 2014; I want them to empathize with the characters and relate to them! Obviously I don’t want the characters wearing anything that stands out as anachronistic, but a lot of them will be wearing clothes that could work equally well in 1971 and in 2014.

This fits with my play, too, because my characters are old-money WASPs, which means that many of them favor classic preppy styles instead of wacky trends. And they’re at the beach, so they’re dressed fairly casually. They may be an affluent family and they probably pride themselves on wearing good-quality clothing, but they’re not trying to flaunt their wealth or their individuality through their clothes — in fact they would probably consider that quite gauche.

Earlier this year Allison Page gave five reasons encouraging self-production. In the beginning you seemed to want to do everything about Pleiades yourself. What inspired you decide to co-produce with No Nude Men Productions?

My collaboration with No Nude Men basically means that I can Facebook-message Stuart with all of my silly newbie-producer questions and he’s honor-bound to answer them, because his theater company is nominally producing the show. I also got to use the NNM list of press contacts when sending out my press release. It’s not a financial arrangement (no money has changed hands in either direction) and I still am mostly doing everything myself.

I didn’t approach Stuart asking if NNM would produce Pleiades — he actually suggested it to me, and I took him up on the offer because it seemed to offer some advantages and no significant downsides. Unfortunately, there is still kind of a stigma around self-producing (people wonder where the line is between “self-production” and “vanity production”) and I thought it could only be a good thing if my play was associated with one of SF’s longest-running indie theater companies, rather than being “a Marissa Skudlarek production.”

What’s been the most valuable lesson from the collaboration thus-far?

The biggest challenge I’ve had as a producer was finding a set designer, and after I put out feelers to one designer, I got a rather snarky and aggrieved email in reply. Stuart calmed me down and reminded me that, even though I was desperate to find a set designer, that’s no reason to work with people who seem like they’ll be rude or difficult.

Earlier this year you were in the middle of Bay Area theatre controversy when a playwright took personal issue with your review of his most recent work. And yet as artists we’re meant to be aware that we have very little (if any) control over how our work will be interpreted. Were it up to you, what message would like people to walk away with after seeing Pleiades?

I don’t want to get too spoilery, so forgive me if this sounds overly abstract. But I would say that the message of the play is something like “terrible things can happen, but sisterhood can help you get through it.” The world of the play contains malice, violence, and sexism; it also contains humor, courage, and kindness. As such, while bad things happen in Pleiades, I really hope that people don’t interpret it as one of those bleak, nihilistic, “everything in the world is awful” plays.

As mentioned above, I also want people to see the connections between the era of the play and the present era, and to think about how the lives of young women have or haven’t changed since 1971.

Would you invite the aforementioned playwright to one of the performances?

I’d be fine if he came, as long as the rest of the Bay Area theater community didn’t try to turn it into something sensationalistic. The last thing I want is to have people gossiping about me and this playwright and wondering “Ooh… What’s he gonna say about her play? Is the feud going to continue?” Really, at this point I wish people would just stop talking about this so-called controversy.

With a full production now under your (haute couture, envy-inspiring) belt, what are your plans for the next one? Bigger cast? Musical numbers? Sychronised swimming routine?

I don’t actually know. I still love big-cast plays and will continue to advocate for them, but producing Pleiades has made me understand a little better why producers prefer smaller casts: a big cast means more schedules to juggle, more costumes to find, more stipends to pay out! Sometimes I think that my next play should be, like, a really tightly-structured slamming-door farce; sometimes I think I should go in the opposite direction and write something abstract and lyrical. I know that I don’t want my next play to be too similar to Pleiades; it’ll probably be a while before I write another family drama. And I’d like to try writing something set in the present day — it’d be nice to sit down and write without having to do historical research first! But nothing’s certain yet. As Claire Rice writes in “Europa” (one of the plays that will be published, along with Pleiades, in the forthcoming Heavenly Bodies anthology), “What a great burden an open and unknown future is.”

The Atlee sisters look toward the future. Photo by Serena Morelli

The Atlee sisters look toward the future. Photo by Serena Morelli

Pleiades runs Thursdays through Saturdays, August 7 to 30, at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco, August 7 – 30. Tickets are on sale at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/780504. For more information or to get in touch with the Pleiades team, please visit http://PleiadesSF.wordpress.com.

The San Francisco Olympians Festival, for which Pleiades was first commissioned, will have its fifth annual run this November at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. The producers of the festival are currently running an IndieGoGo campaign through August 1st in support of this year’s entries. To learn more about the festival – including artwork, cast lists, and synopses of all plays throughout its five-year history – please visit http://www.sfolympians.com.

The official Pleiades poster at the top of this article was illustrated by Emily C. Martin. Emily’s work can be found through her official site: http://www.megamoth.net The official cast photo for Pleiades was part of a set taken by photographer Serena Morelli, whose work can be found on-line at http://www.serenamorelli.com.

Charles Lewis III considers himself privileged to have seen both the original reading of Pleiades and the very first Olympians Festival. He’s even more pleased to see what each has become in the years since.

Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life: Some Thoughts After a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Marissa Skudlarek, running on producer time.

I read Allison Page’s and Anthony Miller’s recent critiques of crowdfunding with interest, because at the time they were posted, I was running a crowdfunding campaign for my show Pleiades, which opens in two weeks.

Now that the campaign’s concluded and we made our goal, I feel compelled to chime in with some additional thoughts about the experience of crowdfunding.

Anthony mentions the idea that “people are more likely to support an all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign than a you-get-whatever-money-you-raise Indiegogo campaign,” but to me, that feels like it’s largely a rumor. (Perhaps Kickstarter is spreading this myth in order to prevent people from defecting to Indiegogo?)

Instead, in my experience, crowdfunding campaigns often fail when the perks they offer don’t seem appealing enough. Working in theater, we have the opportunity to offer a really great perk that, unlike T-shirts or coffee mugs, doesn’t cost anything to manufacture: a ticket to our play. Thus, when I see theater crowdfunding pleas that don’t offer a ticket as one of the rewards, or offer tickets only to the most high-rolling funders (say, requiring you to donate $100 in order to receive a ticket that normally costs $25), I think that the people running the campaign have been shortsighted. Your most enticing perk should be offered at a level where it seems like a good deal, not outrageously overpriced. For Pleiades, we offered a pair of tickets for a donation of $70, which ended up being our most popular perk (and our average donation was just above that, at $79).

I’m really glad that crowdfunding websites exist. Had Indiegogo or Kickstarter not been invented, I’m not sure if I would have had the confidence to self-produce a play, because I wouldn’t have known how to raise the money. And if I didn’t have the $5,000 from my Indiegogo campaign in the production budget and had to subsist on ticket sales alone, I’d really be panicking right now.

But, like Allison and Anthony and other intelligent people who are feeling a little burnt-out after the onslaught of crowdfunding projects this year, I see some dark sides, some discontents, to this trend as well. Although crowdfunding likes to associate itself with virtues like charity and altruism, I found myself becoming less altruistic while my campaign was running. It made me greedy – I checked my email more compulsively than ever, hoping each time to see an email from Indiegogo saying that there was a new contribution to my campaign.

It also made me think about the fine line between asking your friends to support your dreams, and monetizing your personal relationships. I found myself having evil, mercenary thoughts like “If only I was close friends with this person rather than mere acquaintances, if only I’d been better at keeping in touch with my friends from high school and college, they might donate to my campaign!”

There’s also a problem with the way that crowdfunding taps into the larger societal trend of Instant Gratification, and for all I know, exacerbates it. As I mentioned above, I do choose to support campaigns based on the perks that they offer – and while part of me feels like this is being a smart shopper, part of me feels like it is antithetical to the spirit of giving. I should donate to a campaign because of what it will offer to the world, rather than what it will offer to me. And I realize that I can become easily seduced by a campaign that seems especially shiny or flashy, or that gets media attention. No, I did not donate to that damn potato-salad Kickstarter, but I did donate to Amanda Palmer’s a few years ago, mostly out of curiosity and a desire to be part of the zeitgeist (I was not really familiar with Palmer’s music).

And in an instant-gratification, Instagram world of hipper-than-thou hipsters, the less-flashy crowdfunding campaigns can have a problem. It’s especially acute for campaigns that aren’t one-shot endeavors, but are yearly and recurring. The San Francisco Olympians Festival, for instance. We believe that this festival is an important part of the community; it’s been around for five years and we want it to be around for a dozen more. But for that to happen, the festival will also need steady contributions from regular donors.

Start using phrases like “steady contributions” and “regular donors,” though, and the whole thing starts to sound boring and adult and institutional. Loyalty to a cause used to be a virtue; now I fear that loyalty is seen as synonymous with naivete or dullness. Crowdfunding has made it so that anyone can ask for anything at any time; perhaps now it’s time to remember that we should be careful what we wish for.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her play Pleiades runs from August 7 to 30; tickets are available here. And if she hasn’t used up her “give me money” karma this year, she also encourages you to donate to the San Francisco Olympians Festival Indiegogo.

 

The Five: Five Crowdsourcing Campaigns You Should Check Out

Local Playwright, Director, and Ticket-Shiller Anthony R. Miller returns with a 2 Parter on the rise of Crowdsourcing in Bay Area Theatre.

It’s been quite the two weeks since my last post; the closing of my hometown theatre company, San Jose Rep, a double whammy of bullshit from the Tony Awards (Seriously, instead of hearing the speech from the winner of “Best Book from a Musical” I get a special performance by Sting?”), there’s really no shortage of lists. But another event this last week was a personal one for me, the show I am producing and co-writing; TERROR-RAMA, made its Kickstarter goal. Thanks to the support of friends, family, and the Bay Area Theatre Community, we have enough money to pay everyone who works on the show, not have to charge a ridiculous amount of money to break even, and perhaps even a smidge of production value. One thing that struck me was just how many campaigns went on at the same time as us; The Lost Church, Diva-Fest, friggin Reading Rainbow. So I did a little research, and if you add up every theatre campaign in SF alone for 2014 (finished, current, and projected), almost $450,000 has been, is, and will be asked for via crowdsourcing. Sure, there are people living in the city right now that could fund all of those projects at once and still manage to have a sweet vacation, but it’s a big sum none the less, and it’s only destined to rise. Even now, you can easily find 10 different arts campaign just for the Bay Area. This inspired not one, but two lists. This week, I present: Five Bay Area Arts Crowdsourcing Campaigns You Should Check Out and in two weeks; Five Questions About The Future of Arts Crowd Sourcing. One thing crowd sourcing has allowed is that any once can at least try now. Sure, they might not make it, but they have the opportunity to even ask. This means there’s a whole crap-load of incredible companies looking for help; here are a few current campaigns you should check out.

Do It Lives’ 2014 Season

Ambition, ambition, and a big dose of moxie are the words I use to describe this young SF theatre company. They’re raising money to fund their, that’s right, ambitious season of 7 plays from writers all over the world. On top of that they’re doing them in repertory, a rotating line up of plays for 8 months. This group is dedicated to doing active, visceral, and challenging theatre. I hear they also plan to build a theatre in space, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. This group is worth looking at, they’re different, focus like a laser on a younger audience, and give the artists they work with a lot of freedom.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/do-it-live-s-2014-season

Great Star Theater

Nestled in Chinatown is the Great Star Theater, I have seen some crazy shows here. It’s a classic 1920’s theater that hosts a variety of exciting theatre. They are currently raising money to restore it to its former glory. 90 years of dust, old ass ropes that people dangle from and a million burnt out light bulbs are just a few of the things they’re trying to tackle. This place is worth checking out. Last I checked, we need all the venues we can get, and this one is rad.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1927498591/great-star-theater?ref=discovery

2014 FURY Factory Festival of Ensemble Theatre

From July 6-20, The FURY Factory festival will bring 24 ground-breaking theatre companies from around the country to The Mission District. This festival has an incredible line-up and promises to be 2 weeks of really exciting theatre. They are raising money to pay all the artists and personnel of the festival. This is worth checking out, because bringing some of the most innovative companies in America to SF is one thing, but paying them too is a darn fine cause.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/2014-fury-factory-festival-of-ensemble-theater

Pleiades

Birthed from the loins of the SF Olympians Fest (They have a campaign coming up too.) writer Marissa Skudlarek is DOIN’ IT and self-producing her play about 7 sisters coming of age in the early 70’s at the height of second-wave feminism. And to top it off, its very production addresses a situation in Bay Area Theatre, a lack of women writers, directors and roles. Pleiades features a female writer, director, lead-producer and 8 female roles. Check this out if you’re ready to see more talented women doing theatre.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pleiades-world-premiere-female-driven-play-in-san-francisco

Mugwumpin 10

With just a day and half left, this company gets and A for urgency. These bad-asses of Theatre are raising money specifically to pay the performers and directors of their two revivals; This is All I Need and Super:Anti:Reluctant, both plays are audience favorites that creatively question American ideals. You should check them out because they’re very close to goal (and their deadline) and these guys have been doing incredible work for ten years and changing the relationship between audience and performer.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mugwumpin10-celebrate-a-decade-of-live-art

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer, and that guy who won’t stop calling currently living in Berkeley, Ca. His show: TERROR-RAMA opens in October 2014.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Saying “I Do” to Self-Production

Leave it to Marissa to find the tie-in between all the Big Days…. 

You’ve rented the venue, you’ve taken care of every detail, you’ve dealt with unexpected crises, and now the crowd is filing in, excited to witness the fruition of your plans…

Wait. Am I talking about planning a wedding — or producing a play?

Both of these things have been much on my mind of late. As my fellow Theater Pub bloggers Ashley Cowan and Will Leschber have reminded you, they’re getting married on June 20. Two days after I attend their wedding, I’ll be officiating at the wedding of two other dear friends, Rachel Sadler and Will Knox-Davies. (Their second date was at Theater Pub!) The day after that, rehearsals for my production of Pleiades start. It’s going to be a crazy weekend.

Doing the pre-production for Pleiades as Rachel and Ashley do the “pre-production” for their weddings has made me realize just how similar the two processes are. Here are what I see as the biggest parallels.

The proposal: It must be scary to ask someone to marry you. In this day and age, though, a marriage proposal is rarely a complete surprise — often the couple has discussed marriage before the official proposal takes place, and conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t ask anyone to marry you unless you’re sure they’ll say yes. Asking Katja Rivera to direct Pleiades was scary, too — she was my first choice director, and I had no idea whether or not she’d say yes. I knew she liked the script, but would she want to direct it — devoting months of her life to my play, with very little compensation? Sure, it’s not a “till death do us part” commitment like marriage, but I still felt like I was asking a lot of her.

The venue: After Katja agreed to direct Pleiades, I knew that the next step would be to find and rent a theater. From there, lots of other things (e.g. our production schedule) would fall into place. We quickly learned that we had to be flexible. For a long time, I was attached to the idea of opening the show in July (Pleiades takes place over Fourth of July weekend, and my birthday is July 5), but theaters just didn’t seem to have July availability. We ended up booking the Phoenix Theatre for a four-week run in August, and are very happy with the way things ended up — but it meant that I had to get rid of some of my pet, preconceived notions. Similarly, the top wedding venues get booked months in advance, and the first step after the engagement takes place is to pick a date and book a venue. I assume that brides and grooms have to be flexible, too, when it comes to locations and venues.

The collaboration: Wedding planning can stress out a lot of couples. There are so many decisions to be made, and what happens when you and your sweetheart disagree about an important aspect of your wedding? You want a sophisticated evening wedding in the city — he wants a folksy outdoor wedding in the countryside. Does this mean the marriage is doomed? At the same time, collaborating and compromising during the wedding planning process can bring a couple closer together. And if you both agree on something without needing to argue about it — well, that just proves that you’re truly meant to be together, right? After Katja and I watched two nights of auditions, we were pleased to discover that we had very similar ideas of which actors we wanted to cast in which roles. Sometimes, writers and directors have very different conceptions of which actor is right for a role — and if that had happened with Pleiades, I think I would have experienced a soul-searching moment of “is this collaboration doomed?” Discovering that Katja and I had a similar perspective on the play and its characters, though, confirmed my belief that she’s the right person for me to work with on this project.

There are some big differences between producing a play and planning a wedding, of course. I envy my wedding-planning friends the fact that weddings are a bigger part of our culture than theater is — and thus, there are more resources, handbooks, websites, etc. available to engaged couples than to aspiring theater producers. Also, most wedding expenses are typically covered by the married couple and their families — but if you’re a self-producing playwright, there’s a stigma around putting your own money into the play, as well as a stigma around having Mommy and Daddy give you the money to produce a play. Both weddings and plays require smart budgeting, but theater requires fundraising to a much greater extent.

My mom tells me that after successfully planning her wedding on a short time frame (6 months from proposal to ceremony), she felt like she could do anything. The odd thing about planning a wedding, though, is that you really only get one shot at it — unless you plan to divorce and remarry someday, and who goes into a marriage thinking that it won’t last forever? Whereas, one of the things that’s sustaining me through the difficulties of producing Pleiades is the understanding that every lesson I learn, every mistake I make, will make producing the next play that much easier. And maybe, if I ever find myself in the position of planning a wedding, my theater-production experience will make that easier for me, too.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She sends all her love and best wishes to Ashley, Will, Rachel and Will as they get married this month — and wishes a happy 30th anniversary to her mom and dad. Find out more about Marissa’s play Pleiades at pleiadessf.wordpress.com

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: App Happy

Marissa Skudlarek gets technical.

As a twentysomething San Franciscan, I have a duty and a prerogative to come up with ideas for mobile phone apps that will harness the power of crowdsourcing/social media/cloud computing/Big Data to disrupt outmoded paradigms. Yes, everyone in this town has a couple of app ideas in their back pocket, and I’m no exception. Here are three theater-related apps that I’ve dreamed up and wish were real.

Cute app name: Anachorrect

The pitch: Spellcheck for anachronisms.

What it would do: Many of our decade’s most-discussed TV series – Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Masters of Sex – take place in prior eras, and there are online commentators devoted to pointing out their inaccuracies or anachronisms. One of the most interesting of these is Prochronisms, or Downton Crabbey – in which a digital-humanities professor named Ben Schmidt uses the Google Ngram text corpus and a computer algorithm to find anachronistically modern phrases in the dialogue of historical dramas. The algorithm reveals fascinating information about the way our language changes over time; I made a few tweaks to my script Pleiades, which takes place in 1971, after reading Schmidt’s post about how the phrase “ought to” was much more common than “need to,” even in the 1960s. Unfortunately, though, there’s no way for you to run your own writing through Schmidt’s algorithm. I would pay good money for that app – and I bet a lot of other writers would, too.

Cute app name: Venuse

The pitch: OpenTable for venues.

What it would do: There’s an amazing resource here called Bay Area Spaces that allows you to search for performing arts venues according to a huge range of factors: location, size, cost, hours, and more. I used this site a lot when I was seeking a venue for Pleiades, and it was really helpful, but it’s not perfect. Some venues post detailed information, including their availability calendar; other venues post the bare minimum. And, in all cases, you need to email or phone the venue manager to get more information and to book the space. With just a few tweaks, this site could become an OpenTable-like app that enabled you to search for venues, see their availability, and immediately submit a request to book the space. Introducing Venuse: helping renters and tenants more effectively use venues. (It’s pronounced “VEN-yuse,” by the way. The allusion to Venus is a bonus.)

Cute app name: StageSeen

The pitch: Goodreads for theater.

What it would do: For years, I’ve been keeping detailed lists of the books I read and the plays I see. I finally wised up and joined Goodreads last summer, and have found it an extremely well-designed, user-friendly app that makes keeping track of my reading even better! I seriously love it, and that’s a big deal for me to say, because Goodreads is owned by Amazon and I hate Amazon. So why can’t someone rip off the Goodreads interface and create a similar site for theatergoers? Sure, Goldstar tries to do that with its “Event Journal” feature, but the obvious flaw there is that it only works for shows where you purchase the tickets via Goldstar. Like Goldstar (and Goodreads), my proposed StageSeen app could offer discounts, giveaways, and other perks, but the important thing is that it’d be free and open to all theater fans, functioning more as a place for discussion and appreciation than a place for selling tickets.

Do any of these pitches grab you? Of course, as the person who came up with the concept, I will take a controlling interest in the new startup, but if you get in on the ground floor, you, too, could become a millionaire when we strike it rich and list on NASDAQ! Who wants to be my CTO?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. One of the reasons she wrote this post is that she’d like more friends on Goodreads. Find her there, on the web at marissabidilla.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.