Working Title: Serpents, Sea Spray and Seeing Another Year

This week Will Leschber speaks to Rachel Bublitz about her new world premiere play.

Here we are: another year, another day, another play. Welcome 2016. What will you bring in with the tide of time? What’s that now? You’ll bring in El Nino? Oh, cool. I guess we could use the rain. Oh, there’s more? You’ll bring waves of unspeakable sadness and unparalleled joy? Wow. Does one always come with the other? Can I just get a side of “it’s all good” and a garnish of resolution? Would that work? I guess, we’ll see.

This is a time of year for new beginnings, and nothing says a new beginning like a world premiere play. Of Serpents and Sea Spray is a new play by award winning playwright, Rachel Bublitz and it opens January 7th at Custom Made Theater. Serpents tells the story of a young girl who in the wake of tragedy must journey out in search of the ancient winged horse Pegasus and along the way somehow make sense of the hardships she’s endured. The play is described as a fantastical adventure of self-discovery and I can think of no better way to commence a new year, a new day, and a new play than indulging in a little journey of self discovery.

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Rachel Bublitz is a Bay Area playwright, founder of both the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project, and the Loud & Unladylike reading festival, plus member of PlayGround’s Writers Pool. To wet your whistle, and prep for the play via 80’s pop culture, Rachel suggested an excellent film pairing, a tonal story companion, and way to blend the link between stage a screen. Here’s what she had to say:

“There is a movie that I think would go well, it’s one of my favorites so it may be leaps and bounds above my play, but I think it captures magic and fantasy and the gray areas in between reality and fantasy in a beautiful way. The movie I’d recommend is: “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”

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“I saw it with my dad when I was younger, and as a kid who was constantly making up stories and pretending the world was however I wished it to be, it was this beacon telling me that I never had to stop doing that. I also really loved all the layers that I thought I totally understood as a child, but now, when I watch it with my kids, I realize I had no clue about really. And it’s gorgeous; the severed heads are gorgeous, the moon is gorgeous, even Baron Munchausen’s wrinkles are gorgeous.”

Terry Gilliam’s film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a trip…like most Gilliam. There’s so much whimsy and exuberance, it’s hard to resist. So do yourself a favor seek out this 1988 gem, and then seek out Of Serpents and Sea Spray. Both will be an adventure to begin an magical new year upon.

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Of Serpents and Sea Spray runs Jan 7th-30. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen can be found for rent on the usual platforms (Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, etc). More info about Rachel can be found on her website: www.rachelbublitz.com.

The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rachel Bublitz

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rachel Bublitz.

Rachel Bublitz is one of those amazing people that you exemplifies what it means to be a supportive theater artist who is furthering her own artistic journey for theater and writing. I first met Rachel when she came to a performance of my first full length production by All Terrain Theater, It’s All in the Mix. Right away from her positive energy and enthusiastic attitude, you can tell that she is a playwright who will go far. She has a natural tenacity that some struggle to master, others just exude.

I was very excited to interview her about Loud and Unladylike, the new festival presented in partnership with DIVAfest, which highlights unknown, yet influential women in history by exploring their stories through a new works series. The festival started yesterday, June 25th, with Tracy Held Potter’s A is for Adeline (also showing on July 9th), continues with Claire Ann Rice’s The Effects of Ultravioliet Light on June 26th and July 11th, and Rachel’s own new work, Code Name: Brass Rose, presented on June 27th and July 10th. For more information, you can also check out the website at http://loudandunladylike.com/.

Babs: Tell me about Loud and Unladylike. How did it come about?

Rachel: One of my classes at State last Spring – I’m currently going for the MFA and MA combo from SFSU – had a final involving writing a script inspired from an outside source, and a classmate of mine did hers on a historical woman that I had never heard of. And I got a little mad, why hadn’t I heard of this kick-ass woman? That night I met Tracy and Claire to see a play, and I told them all about it and said there should be more plays about historical women, and they agreed, and so we did it. Something I love about having Claire and Tracy as close friends and collaborators is that we all agree that seeing a problem is only part of it, you have to then do something. This is our response to the lack of women’s plays being produced, and the lack of complex female characters in so many plays and films.

Claire then brought the idea to DIVAfest’s Artistic Director, Christina Augello, and she thought it would be a great addition DIVAfest’s season, and that was the start of Loud & Unladylike.

Babs: How did you choose your figure – Nancy Wake? When did you first learn about her?

Rachel: So we decided on the festival and that we’d be the guinea pigs and write for the first year. After that we had a meeting with lists and summaries of all the interesting lesser-known historical women we could find. Most of the women I had researched had been soldiers or spies; I’m drawn to the juxtaposition of war and what society tells us femininity should mean. Nancy was on a few different blogs that I came across, posts with titles like: “25 Badass Women You Don’t Know About.” That sent me off to Wikipedia, and before I knew it I was ordering her autobiography from Australia.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins, and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

The whole cast of Code Name: Brass Rose. From left to right: Charles Lewis III, Veronica Tjioe, Matt Gunnison, Melinda Marshall, Neil Higgins,
and Heather Kellogg. Photo: Rachel Bublitz.

I spent most of that meeting trying to convince Tracy and Claire that one of them should write about Nancy Wake, and finally, I think it was Claire, said to me, “Ya know, if you like her so much, maybe you should write about her.” And this blew my mind, how could anyone not want to write about this powerhouse? After they both assured me it was okay, I never looked back. We were meant to be, Nancy and me.

Babs: What has it been like collaborating with Claire and Tracy on building the festival?

Rachel: Collaborating has been a challenge, it’s not that it’s hard for the three of us to be on the same page, we are just all very busy ladies. Tracy just finished up her MFA from CMU and has her two boys, Claire directed Allison Page’s fantastic show HILARITY earlier this year and is working on a commission from Terror-Rama, and I have my rug-rats and school as well, and so finding time to get together has been hard to say the least. Somehow it’s worked so far. I think we owe a lot to the other ladies in Loud & Unladylike who support us so well; the very talented Tonya Narvaez and Roxana Sorooshian, our production manager and literary manager respectively.

This year has also found us to be on a very slow learning curve, well me at least. Running a festival is tricky. So many complications pop up every day! And there are also so many cool things you’d like to do but aren’t worth the trouble, especially in the first year when keeping things as simple as possible is key. Even the simple gets hard, trust me. But we are kicking around some exciting ideas for the 2017 festival, and we’re in the midst of selecting the plays for 2016, so a lot of exciting things are on the horizon.

Babs: I’m also curious to learn about the development process – how have you supported each other in the research and writing or has it been mostly solo? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?

Rachel: We’ve shared pages at meetings, and talked about the themes and questions we’d like to bring up in each of our plays. Something that surprised me, that I think we’ve all had to deal with, is getting over the reverence for the person the play is inspired by, so that you can actually get something written. Knowing that this was a real person and that you’ll be informing some amount of the population about them is a heavy task, and having Claire and Tracy wrestling with this same challenge all year has been a comfort.

Also, one of my most favorite parts of the festival, is that we each will have two readings with about two weeks in between to rewrite. We’ll be hosting talkbacks after each play, and Claire and I will be running those in week one. I’m excited to play that role and engage with my fellow writers and the audience in order to develop the plays further. The second week, which might have three totally different plays based on what happens in week one, will have talkbacks lead by our literary manager, Roxana.

Babs: What do you love about the Bay Area theater scene and what would you change?

Rachel: One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area theater scene is that I’m constantly discovering more of it. I’ll be out at a show, chatting with someone brand-new, and they’ll mention so-and-so theater that they work for, and more often than you’d think, it’s a theater company I’d never heard of. I’ll think, oh they must be new, but no! Usually they’ve been around 10 or 15 years. It’s insanity. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a theater company here and that’s pretty special. BUT, in a way that’s something that I’d like to change too. Not that I’d like to see less companies, I just wish there was more collaboration among them. I love seeing companies joining forces and I think everyone could stand a little more of that. If a project is too big for one company to take on, find another to duel produce it with! Let’s do big things and stretch ourselves, and help one another.

Babs: Any advice you have for aspiring playwrights and producers of new work?

Rachel: I think the most important thing you can do, other than of course the writing or the producing, is to go see shows. I have kids which makes it hard, but I try to make it out to as many plays as possible. Not only can you learn just from seeing other work, and all other work, good, bad, mediocre, all of it has lessons for those who are looking, but you go and see the work and then you talk to people after. Say hi to the director, the actors, the playwright. Tell them what you enjoyed (only of course, if you actually did), ask them about their inspiration, ask how you could get involved. Theaters take on a risk when producing local work, but if we all went out and saw one another’s work, that risk would be much less, so I especially try to make it out when a new work of a local playwright is being produced. We can’t demand it if we don’t ourselves support it.

Also, and this is what I think is the second most important thing, share your work. Submit plays to theaters, yes, but also have your friends over to read your drafts. Ask actors and directors you know to read what you’re working on, ask advice on where your work would fit best, and then reach out to them. You’re going to be ignored a lot, but I’ve found that if you keep it up, and you keep everything positive, they don’t ignore you forever. Also, true story, I’m still being ignored by plenty of folks, that’s just part of the business. Try not to take it personally, though I know that can be hard.

Babs: Plugs for upcoming work and shout-out for other plays to check out around the area?

Rachel: Yes! My full-length play Of Serpents & Sea Spray is getting a week-long workshop with a staged reading this July (the reading is on July 24th) and will be produced in Custom Made’s 2015/16 season this coming January, with Ariel Craft as the director.

As for other shows, I don’t think anyone here in the Bay Area is allowed to miss Desk Set presented by No Nude Men, it’s a power-house cast, and is being directed by Stuart Bousel, who might just be the most generous member of the Bay Area theater community and an all around excellent theater maker. It’s running July 9-25, and will probably fill up quick, so I’d jump on those tickets ASAP, if you know what’s good for you. And, the show I’m most excited for this summer, other than Loud & Unladylike of course, has to be SF Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays this August! Megan Cohen’s “BEEEEEAAR!”, performed by Allison Page back in 2012, is still at the top of my all-time-favorite theater experiences, and I have a hope we’ll see more of that beer loving bear this time around.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

From left to right the ladies of Loud and Unladylike: Claire Rice, Rachel Bublitz, and Tracy Held Potter at a Custom Made production. Photo: Sam Bertken.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who can be found on twitter as well @bjwany. Tweet at her to point her to theater happenings around town!

Theater Around The Bay: We Open Tonight!

Opening Tonight: On the Spot, a night of 10 minute plays written in 24 hours! Six playwrights will be selected on March 5th, and put “on the spot” the morning of March 13th to write a 10 minute play that must include a line of dialogue, prop, and set piece all provided by Theater Pub. Their scripts are due the morning of March 14th. Six teams of actors and a director will rehearse and stage these brand new works at PIANOFIGHT the last two Mondays and Tuesdays of March.

Our six playwrights (five, plus one team of two!) for the evening are Jake Arky, Gabriel Bellman & Sara Judge, Rachel Bublitz, Barry Eitel, Seanan Palmero, and Madeline Puccioni!

Our six directors are Mike Fatum, Neil Higgins, Christine Keating, Charles Lewis III, Rem Myers, and Sam Tillis!

Our fabulous acting company is Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Jan Gilbert, Annabelle King, Michelle Navarrete, Annette Roman, Carole Swann, Jess Thomas, Meg Trowbridge, Steven Widow!

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

Theater Around The Bay: Writers, Directors and Casts Are In For On The Spot!

Coming to Theater Pub this March: On the Spot, a night of 10 minute plays written in 24 hours! Six playwrights will be selected on March 5th, and put “on the spot” the morning of March 13th to write a 10 minute play that must include a line of dialogue, prop, and set piece all provided by Theater Pub. Their scripts are due the morning of March 14th. Six teams of actors and a director will rehearse and stage these brand new works at PIANOFIGHT the last two Mondays and Tuesdays of March.

Our six playwrights (five, plus one team of two!) for the evening are Jake Arky, Gabriel Bellman & Sara Judge, Rachel Bublitz, Barry Eitel, Seanan Palmero, and Madeline Puccioni!

Our six directors are Mike Fatum, Neil Higgins, Christine Keating, Charles Lewis III, Rem Myers, and Sam Tillis!

Our fabulous acting company is Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Chung, Steven Danz, AJ Davenport, Jan Gilbert, Annabelle King, Michelle Navarrete, Annette Roman, Carole Swann, Jess Thomas, Meg Trowbridge!

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing Playwrights and Directors for On The Spot!

We are excited to announce the playwright selection process has been made for On the Spot! We had a lot of great playwrights interested in participating, but these are the lucky seven (two of whom are a writing team) who were drawn to participate:

On the Spot Playwrights

Jake Arky
Gabriel Bellman & Sara Judge
Rachel Bublitz
Barry Eitel
Seanan Palmero
Madeline Puccioni

These playwrights will receive the prompts (one line of dialogue, one prop and one set piece) on the morning of March 13, and by the morning of March 14, they will submit their scripts to be rehearsed that day!

Leading those rehearsals, is our fantastic directing team:

Mike Fatum
Neil Higgins
Christine Keating
Charles Lewis III
Rem Myers
Sam Tillis

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

It’s fast-and-loose theater, people! Come along for the ride!

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – The End is the Beginning is The End

“My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
‘Tis given with welcome; to feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.”
– Lady MacBeth, MacBeth Act III Sc. 4, William Shakespeare

For all of us who have been there, it’s no surprise that Stuart’s apartment is often referred to as “The White Tower”. I honestly can’t recall what color the exterior really is, but I do know how exhausting it is to hike up those stone steps from one street to another, followed by another two flights of steps once you get inside – all for the sake of looking out over his balcony at one of the most enviable views of the San Francisco skyline without riding in a helicopter. Of course it’s The White Tower. What else would we expect from a self-proclaimed “Tolkien-nerd” who produces a festival based around ancient Greek mythology?

There’s a special something in the air for the first writers meeting of the annual SF Olympians Festival. If you’ve worked in the previous year’s festival, you’ve (hopefully) had time to decompress from that madness and have replaced your anxiety with excitement for the new fest, which is a good whole year away. If you’re new to the game, you probably have a walking-on-eggshells feeling of not wanting to look ridiculous in front of a bunch of folks who put on a festival where last year The Judgment of Paris was made to resemble RuPaul’s Drag Race. Don’t worry about it: before the night is over, you’ll be so stuffed with wine, cheese, and chocolate that you won’t think your idea is ridiculous – you’ll wonder if it’s ridiculous enough.

A typical Olympians meeting usually starts with a round of introductions, in which we all clumsily try to remember our names, our subjects, and our proposals for this coming festival. Even without alcohol, that’s a lot harder than you think – we didn’t become writers so that we’d have to, y’know, talk.

We then explain the logistics and mechanics of the festival. Again, those of us who have been through it before know that it’s nothing to be taken for granted, especially as the festival continues to expand – both in size and influence – with each successive year. There are going to be some major changes to the festival, come 2015. The fundamentals will remain the same, but the necessity for streamlining has presented itself. For all the new achievements, there’s also been the accumulation of a lot of dead weight that has slowed down what-should-be a rather expeditious process. That dead weight will have to be cut loose. The only folks likely to complain are those who have been letting others do their work anyway.

Which leads the meeting to another touchy subject: communication. It’s importance cannot be over-stressed. There were problems that sprung up in the last festival (and a few festivals before) that were the result of people not properly communicating with one another. As such, some of those people have become persona non grata with the festival. It’s not something anyone likes to do, but when people ignore repeated warnings, then action has to be taken. We want to be invitational, not exclusive. The idea of anyone feeling like they don’t belong is something we won’t tolerate.

So… after we’ve discussed scheduling, fundraising, and where to find cheap (or free) rehearsal venues all over the Bay Area, we finally come around to the main event of the evening: the writing samples. Every writer is (barring unforeseen circumstances) expected to attend every meeting, and every writer in attendance is expected to bring along two sample pages of their script as proof they’ve actually been, y’know, writing it. It’s not uncommon for pages to be written the day of the meeting (God knows I’ve done it plenty of times). Hell, some folks will actually write them during a lull in the meeting. So long as you aren’t doing this once the festival is up and running, we’re just glad to hear a sample.

I love reading for everyone else’s samples, but hate hearing my own. I mean, I know Allison will bring pages to have us on the floor holding our sides, that Rachel’s will make us all envious of her fertile mind, and that Bridgette will somehow, someway find a way to work iambic pentameter into her dialogue. I’m nowhere near as reliable with my writing, but I will at least try my best not to butcher the words of the fellow writer whose words I’m reciting.

My subject this year is a one-act based on the myth of Poseidon. I’ve always had a soft spot for Poseidon because I think he’s entitled to nearly as much fame (or infamy) as his brother Zeus. I mean, both of them had the tendency to be complete dicks, but somehow Zeus is the more revered dick. My play, in short, is actually pretty timely. I submitted it months ago, but thanks to certain recent revelations about one “Mr. Cosby”, my play has become topical in a way even I didn’t expect. Whether it will remain so in the coming year, remains to be seen.

Stuart calls my subject. I pass my type-written pages off to Sunil and Tonya. I turn my head away, but tilt it in their direction so as to take in every word. I keep my eyes to the ground because I don’t wanna know what everyone else thinks of it – not yet. The two readers keep a good pace with my pages. Two of my jokes even elicit laughs from the room. There’s a chunk about the modern world needing myths more than ever. I genuinely feel that the gravitas of the moment is working. For once in my self-deprecating life, I allow myself think that maybe – just maybe – people actually like the stuff I write. In about two minutes it’s over. I take my pages back, fold them into my bag with my red pen (for adjustments), and consider my work done for the night. I can breathe again.

I'm not saying this is the poster for my play, but I'm not saying it isn't.

I’m not saying this is the poster for my play, but I’m not saying it isn’t.

After all the pages are read, most of the wine has been drunk, and Rachel’s mac ‘n cheese has been completely devoured, we’re all dismissed for the evening. It’s a slow and steady process: phone numbers and e-mails are exchanged, last-minute bites of food are taken, Lyfts are ordered, what-have you. One thing we all take away from this meeting is the fact that the festival is changing. It has to. Everything does. It’s just a question of whether that change is one of a relic falling into decay or an organism evolving with its time and environment. I definitely think the latter is occurring. As I’ve said before, what I love about this festival is that it never ceases to surprise me. It’s almost irrelevant to try to explain certain things to newcomers because there’s something new for all of us. Now we’ve officially begun our yearlong journey into the Wine Dark Sea. And, as the name implies, just sailing out into it is an adventure in and of itself.

Also there’s gonna be a lotta dolphin sex. I mean, a LOT. You don’t even know…

Charles Lewis III can’t wait to make a splash with the upcoming festival. For more information about the history of the festival and next year’s readings, please visit http://www.SFOlympians.com.

Cowan Palace: A Confidence Question

Ashley confidently proclaims she has a confidence problem.

On Sunday evening, I celebrated a friend’s birthday over cake, carnitas and chitchat. After a full weekend of callbacks, cleaning, and Cowan craziness, it was delicious to sink my teeth into a distraction. Spoiler alert, the cake was chocolate and the conversation was with the very talented and lovely writer herself, Rachel Bublitz.

Eat Me.

Eat Me.

As I continued to cram my face with food, we started talking about her kids and their many skills, which are apparent even in their early ages. Rachel mentioned that her daughter possesses a notable confidence. So much so that a teacher actually suggested that she be signed up for an activity she wasn’t particularly good at, so that she could experience what it feels like to be challenged outside of her immediate skill-set.

I was so struck by that idea! Personally, I grew up (and grew into) a person with the opposite issue. If you hadn’t noticed, I have a real confidence problem in almost everything. And sometimes it feels like my whole life is just a bunch of humbling activities to remind me of current skills and weakness. (I invite you all to watch me in a Zumba class sometime!) Besides the fact that my main creative love is a passion rooted in rejection. The theater isn’t always the first place one goes to feel confident, after all.

When I was younger, I was incredibly shy and while I dabbled in a myriad of after school activities, it’s fair to say I was merely mediocre at most. And sadly, it took until my senior year of high school for me to finally get the courage to sign up for drama class. Granted that decision proved to be one of the biggest influences of my life but I certainly didn’t come upon it with an abundance of assertive grace. In this case, my teacher pulled me aside after class and said I had to follow this seemingly crazy dream; that I should feel confident in my talent and continue the pursuit. Truthfully, without him, I’m not sure if I would have gone on to study Theatre in college, move to New York and then inevitably chase it to San Francisco.

While thinking about my conversation with Rachel and her daughter’s teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder about the key to success. Does confidence ultimately breed triumph? Is it better to be overly self-assured and not acknowledge your weakness so that you always believe your work is strong? Or would you rather be insecure and forever question your potential but hope that you can actually make it better?

And on a slightly bigger scale, if we lack confidence (or lack the ability to fake it) how can our audiences trust in our work? But if we remain overly confident, do we risk not being truthful to the process, the product, and its perception?

I think, once again, the secret is finding the balance of being confident enough to keep moving and humble enough to acknowledge that the path isn’t always easy or clear. Sometimes it’s okay to stop for directions if it gets you to your destination.

Luckily my love for theater has given me strength when my self-assurance lagged behind. But, I’m still a victim to my own lack of confidence. Too often, I talk myself out of auditioning for things or submitting my writing to a new opportunity. But I am working on it. We are all a work in progress. And in the meantime, we still have each other and cake.

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!