Theater Around The Bay: Get Ready For Better Than Television!

Our next show, Better Than Television, is going to turn your world upside down! Before the adventure begins, we figured it was time to check in with regular TP contributor, Megan Cohen, who is the brains behind this crazy new show!

TP: Megan Cohen- you’re back again! What keeps you coming back to Theater Pub?

MC: Every mad scientist needs a lab.

TP: Every show you do is different, but how is this show particularly unique?

MC: As a swirling “live channel” programmed with serial shows and commercials, Better Than Television is bigger AND smaller than anything I’ve done at Pub. The plays are tiny; micro-episodes of just a few minutes each, for short attention spans. The evening is huge, with lots of characters, genres, theme songs, commercials. I’ve got about 25 artists on the team: writers, actors, musicians. That’s a lot of talent for a free show in a bar.

TP: Explain your process behind this one- there was some kind of writing party?

MC: Over a weekend, 17 writers came to my house. We drank 2 flats of Diet Coke, I made 16 pizzas, and between us all, on that Saturday and Sunday we wrote 59 brand new micro-plays. We created the soap opera All My Feels, the sci-fi adventure Space Bitch, and everything else you’ll see onstage.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

I love to do things myself; I’ll write a whole show and mix the soundtrack and make the props with a glue gun; heck, as a performance artist, I’m working on a 12-hour durational solo show right now. I love doing things myself, but I wanted Better Than Television to be about teamwork, friendship, and celebrating the incredible wealth of talent in our community. I built a structure, gave some prompts, gave a format, and then the crew of writers really made the episodes and commercials their own! A fabulous array of voices. I am surprised, thrilled, delighted, and definitely entertained by what people wrote in this format, and I hope you will be too.

TP: What is it about television that makes it a suitable topic for its perceived nemesis- The Theater?

MC: I’m part of The Broadcast Television Generation. The generation before me didn’t have TV on all the time in the house growing up, and the generation after me has everything online and on-demand, where they can curate it themselves. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, tuning in for “Nick at Night” and “TGIF,” at the blissful mercy of a machine that fed me dreams on its own schedule. Going to theater is not so different from trusting a Broadcast Network. You show up, and it takes you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go. You just stay tuned. I think we all need that. We all make a lot of decisions every day, and sometimes you want to relax and let someone you trust take the reins. That’s what I’m planning for these shows to do. People want to be entertained, and I think they want to be a bit surprised.

TP: So, ideally someone comes to all four nights of this, yes?

MC: Better Than Television is a different show each night! New episodes of each micro-serial, a rotating cast of actors, twists and turns all the time; I hope that if you come once, you’ll get hooked, and will want to come back and see what happens next. If you get addicted to the channel and binge-watch the whole 4-night series, you’ll have a lot of fun. More fun than a cat in a banana.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

TP: And what if someone can only come one night? How does it change their experience?

MC: Each night stands alone. If you tune in with us at Theater Pub for one night, you won’t see the complete run of any series, but you will see enough episodes of each micro-show to get the gist, so you can fall in love briefly with the characters and the story. Especially Space Bitch. Everyone loves Space Bitch.

TP: If you could work on any real-life TV show, what it would be and what would you bring to the table?

MC: Any TV show ever? Deadwood. Any current TV show? Orphan Black. What would I bring to the table? Wit, courage, small pores, and the chops I’ve built in an energetic and dedicated writing career where, at age 32, I’ve shared almost 100 of my scripts with audiences around the world.

TP: What if a network approached you and said, “Anything you want?” What does your ideal TV show look like?

MC: It’s kind of a Deadwood-meets-Orphan-Black mashup in a comic vein with a supernatural slant, where everyone in a small frontier town is played by the ghost of Madeline Khan.

(For real, though, if anyone wants to rep me, I can send you an hour-long TV pilot that’s not that.)

TP: Any shout outs for other stuff going on in the community?

MC: Along with Theater Pub, KML and Faultline are 2 resident companies at PianoFight that are having strong seasons this year, with lots of good artists involved. See them, see everything, see Theater Pub every month. See anything by any of the artists who are part of making Better Than Television: Paul Anderson, Scott Baker, Sam Bertken, Stuart Bousel, Jeremy Cole, Barry Eitel, Valerie Fachman, Fenner Fenner, Danielle Gray, Kenneth Heaton, Paul Jennings, Colin Johnson, Dan Kurtz, Rebecca Longworth, Carl Lucania, Becky Raeta, Samantha Ricci, Cassie Rosenbrock, Heather Shaw, Jeunee Simon, Marissa Skudlarek, Peter Townley, Steven Westdahl, Indiia Wilmott, Marlene Yarosh, wow that’s a mouthful. Keep an eye on those people. Also, of course you should see everything that I personally am doing everywhere always.

TP: What’s next for you?

MC: On the closing day of this show, I’m heading for the “Ground Floor” new works program at Berkeley Rep. We’re doing some development there on my new full-length play Truest. It’s about a pair of sisters who love and fight each other, kind of a Thelma-and-Louise-meets-Sam-Shepard vibe. For news on that and other projects, keep in touch with me on Twitter: @WayBetterThanTV or on my website www.MeganCohen.com.

Better than Television starts on June 20 and plays through June 28, only at San Francisco Theater Pub! 

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Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Joan Howard and Rebecca Longworth

Sam Bertken steps in to guest write and interview Joan Howard and Rebecca Longworth, the producing/directing team behind “Aesop Amuck.”

A few weeks ago, I took some time after a weekend rehearsal to sit down with Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, the collaborative force that founded Samuel Peaches’ Peripatetic Players, winners of the 2013 Best of SF Fringe Award for “O Best Beloved,” a devised adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Sprawled cross-legged on the mats at the Main Street Theater in the Excelsior, I got to know more about what drove them to start the company, the source of their passion for children’s theater, and why audience participation might not be something to dread.

SB: What in particular draws you to staging children’s literature, adapting them for the stage?

RL: What draws me to children’s literature… I think, because it’s imaginative and kind of magical without necessarily having magic. Everything’s very dramatic and colorful and big and broad and also very funny.

JH: I like children’s literature because it always tells a story first. To me, it seems like the stories and the characters are the most important thing. For example, between that and adult literature. A lot of adult literature has, “I’m the author telling the story and I’m going to talk about myself as the author,” and I’m like, “I don’t want to hear about you, I want you to tell me a good story.”

Telling a good story! photo by Tim Guydish

Telling a good story! photo by Tim Guydish

SB: So the genre sort of naturally predisposes it to the stage?

RL: I mean, it depends on what the particular work of literature is but in this show in particular, in Aesop’s Fables, there’s actually a lot less color and detail which means that there’s more room for imagination.

JH: Yeah, with super colorful characters and a very clear story.

SB: Have you always done this kind of adaptation work with this specific genre or specific adaptation style? Or is this relatively new within the past few years?

RL: In terms of adapting children’s literature to the stage, it started in 2013 when the two of us wanted to do a show together and we were trying to figure out, “Well, what kind of show would we want to do?” And of course Joan was like, “It has to have a story! F**k this non-linear narrative b******t!” You can transcribe that as well.

SB: I totally will.

RL: And I was like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to adapt fairy tales and we were talking about what we like, shows that we really liked.”

JH: And stories we read as kids.

Nothing beats a good faerie tale, after all.

Nothing beats a good faerie tale, after all.

SB: What were those?

RL: The ones that are illustrated by Mercer Mayer that have the little monster. Little Critter’s Mother Goose was the one that I had and in it he’s putting on a show and all of the scenery are flats with stamps on them saying, “Rented From Joe’s Costume Rental.”

JH: Talking about like aesthetic visual also brought in the idea of medieval pageant wagons and Renaissance theater and how the scenery moved with simple mechanics.

RL: There’s also this more sophisticated sense of humor that kids actually get, which I see in The Muppets a lot. At first you’d think, “isn’t that a little a little sophisticated for a kid?” But it’s really not at all.

The complex discussions of the Muppets cater to all

The complex discussions of the Muppets cater to all

SB: Why children’s theater? Why is this art important to make?

RL: I think the reason it’s important is because of the way in which we’re doing it. By taking it on this wagon out to a park and setting it up and doing a show and then packing it away and leaving, this show has a higher percentage of people i’ve never met before that have seen it, so it means that like our work is being seen by entirely new audiences.

JH: Instead of our friends just coming to our show to support us.

RL: Right, which, as we all know, is something that plagues the theater community. In other shows, we’re doing it for our friends to come see on their off nights. I think this show is really important because we both have this love of public space.

JH: It’s this spontaneous delight. To me, it’s the magic that harkens back to when the circus came to town. People were like, “Oh my God, the circus is in town. There are the great tents and we’re actually going to make a date with our family to go out and do this thing that we don’t normally do, and experience our community and our town square or our field out next to the schoolhouse where they’ve set up.”

RL: I’m really interested in having interesting, fun, cool and also family accessible events happening in smaller parks. We could do a free Shakespeare show but those end up having hundreds of people, and that’s nice and all but there’s less intimacy between the actors and the audience. For sure, they’re accessible in that they’re free and you come with your picnic blanket and you can plop down but you can’t necessarily talk to the actors afterwards.

JH: And they don’t come off the stage.

SB: What’s really important for a children’s lit adaptation? What kind of theatrical tropes should be included?

RL: For me, it’s what i hear from kids that they want to see. They actually want to see how it’s done. They do want to answer questions when you directly look at them and ask them a question. I think it’s refusing to be like, “Oh, we have this fourth wall because we’ve all agreed on this fourth wall and I’m sorry if you didn’t get that memo, five year old.” We’re inviting it to happen.

JH: One of the things that is very important to me are the moments where people really bond as an audience. When you’re in the audience and you want to listen to what the little kid is suggesting. I feel like it really brings people together in a way where they’re actively engaged together as an audience, which is different than just watching.

Unpacking the FluxWagon can prove challenging! Photo by Serena Morelli

Unpacking the FluxWagon can prove challenging! Photo by Serena Morelli

SB: What is the biggest challenge of this work?

JH: There’s a lot of challenge in just the logistics of the wagon itself. The realities of having to tote a thing that unfolds into a stage on the back of a truck on a small trailer. The practicality of having something that’s out in the elements over time. I mean, the wood is warping and the floorboards are curling up and there’s this constant upkeep, which is why we changed over time to more durable and technologically advanced material, but it takes away a lot of the heart .

RL: It’s challenging to have a new location every time, too. It means that you don’t necessarily settle into the run. There’s always a problem like, “Oh, no one can actually hear us in this part of the world, the wind’s blowing a lot and there’s always like different—”

JH: There’s a dog under the stage! That’s the challenge, but it’s also the beauty.

RL: It’s the challenging beauty.

JH: As an audience member when i see performers who are genuinely engaged onstage dealing with what’s actually happening in real life, even if it’s not what’s scripted—especially when it’s not scripted—I find that utterly delightful.

Utter delight. Photo by Serena Morelli.

Utter delight. Photo by Serena Morelli.

For more information on the current show, Aesop Amuck, including performance times and locations, check out https://aesopamuck.wordpress.com.

The Stuart Excellence In Bay Area Theater Awards for 2013

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2013 list. 

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to start my own Bay Area Theater Awards, because my opinions are just as legitimate as anyone else’s, the awards I give out are as valuable as any other critical awards, (recipients of the SEBATA, or the Stuey, if you prefer, get nothing but my admiration and some free publicity), and also because there’s a fairly good chance that I’ve seen a lot of theater the usual award givers haven’t seen. The best thing about the Bay Area theater scene is that there is a huge diversity in the offerings, and so much on the table to begin with. No one person can see it all, and therefore it’s important to share with one another the highlights of our time in the audience seat, if only to create a greater awareness of what and who is out there making stuff.

Also, there are some people who think I don’t like anything, and I feel a need to not only prove them wrong, but to do so by expressing how much of the local color I do love and admire, as opposed to just pointing out that the reason they think I don’t like anything is because I generally don’t like *their* work (oh… I guess I did just point that out, didn’t I?). Normally I post these “awards” on my Facebook page, but this year I decided to bring them to the blog because the mission statement of the SEBATA is pretty in-line with the mission statement of Theater Pub, and having come to the close of an amazing year of growth for the blog, it now has a much farther reach than my Facebook page could ever hope to have. Congratulations SF Theater Pub Blog- you just won a Stuey.

Anyway, because I am a product of the generation that grew up with the MTV Movie Awards- and, because I’m the only person on the voting committee and thus can do what I like- I have decided that my categories are purely arbitrary and can be stretched to allow me to write about anyone I feel like. The two limits are 1) I can’t give myself an award (though I can have been involved in the show on a limited level) and 2) I won’t go over thirteen (though there may be ties for some awards). Because seriously, how (more) self indulgent would this be without either of those rules? Oh, 3) I won’t give out awards for how bad something was. I’m here to be positive. And chances are those people were punished enough.

To all my friends and frenemies in the Bay Area Theater Scene… it’s been a great year. Let’s you and me do it again sometime. Well… most of you.

And now, presenting the Fourth Annual Stuey Awards…

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
“Pint Sized IV” (San Francisco Theater Pub)
Pint Sized Plays gets better each year, and it’s honestly one of two things I actually miss about working at the Cafe Royale (the other is the uniqueness of doing Shakespeare there, which for some reason works in a completely magical way I wish it worked more often on traditional stages). This year the festival was put together by Neil Higgins, who did an amazing job, and I think we had some of the best material yet. The evening as a whole felt incredibly cohesive, with a theme of forgiveness and letting go, archly reflective of our decision to leave the Cafe Royale, and I think incredibly relevant to a lot of our audience. We knew Pint Sized could be very funny, and very socially pointed, but I’m not sure we had ever conceived of it as moving and this year it was, thanks in no small part to our writers (Megan Cohen, Peter Hsieh, Sang S. Kim, Carl Lucania, Daniel Ng, Kirk Shimano and Christian Simonsen), directors (Jonathan Carpenter, Colin Johnson, Tracy Held Potter, Neil Higgins, Charles Lewis III, Meghan O’Connor, Adam L. Sussman) and actors (Annika Bergman, Jessica Chisum, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Eli Diamond, Caitlin Evenson, Lara Gold, Matt Gunnison, Melissa Keith, Charles Lewis III, Brian Quakenbush, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Paul Rodrigues, Jessica Rudholm). The evening would start off with a magical performance by the Blue Diamond Bellydancers, whose combination of skill and spectacle got our audiences excited for what was to come. As we moved through the pieces, each by turns funny and poignant, each in some way or another about finding something, losing it, letting it go, and then coming back stronger, you could feel the audience grow warmer and closer each night. By the time Rob Ready gave the closing monologue, fixing each audience member in turn with a smile, you could feel everyone really listening and you could hear a pin drop in the room, and that’s saying something for the noisy by nature Cafe Royale. I think a lot of love went into the festival this year, and not just because it might be the last, and the product of that love was real magic and like the best theater- you had to be there. And if you weren’t, you really missed out.

BEST SHOW
“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” (San Francisco Playhouse)
I saw a lot of decent, solid, well done theater this year but I had a hard time connecting to a lot of it, which was rarely a flaw with the show and probably had more to do with where I was/am as a person (lots of change this year). Then again, something about really good theater is that it can get you out of your own head and into some other world, for a while. Towards the end of the year, I saw three shows I really really liked: “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake” at Bigger Than A Bread Box Theater Company, “Peter/Wendy” at Custom Made Theater Company, and “First” at Stage Werx, produced by Altair Productions/The Aluminous Collective and Playground. Still, San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, directed by Bill English, was probably my favorite show of the year. Who knows why it has an edge on the others? Maybe because as someone who spent most of their childhood weekends in New York it seemed oddly familiar, or maybe it was the deft handling by the universally excellent cast (Carl Lumbly, Gabriel Marin, Rudy Guerrero, Margo Hall, Isabelle Ortega) of the complex relationships and dialogue that Guirgis does so well, or maybe it was just refreshing to see such a simple, honest play in what, for me, was a year characterized by a lot of stylistically interesting but emotionally cold theater. There is something very passionate, scathing, bombastic and yet also humble and forgiving about Guirgis’ work that I think makes him such an important voice in modern American drama and English’s production brought all that out with an easy grace. The show really worked, and got me out of my head, and when I went back to my life I felt much better for the journey. What more can you ask of a theater experience?

BEST READING
“Paris/Hector” (San Francisco Olympians Festival)
I attend a lot of readings every year, and run a reading festival myself, so I’ve come to greatly value a really well done reading. This year, the award goes to director Katja Rivera and writers Kirk Shimano and Bridgette Dutta Portman, whose pair of one acts about the pair of Trojan princes Paris and Hector made for one of the best nights of this past year’s San Francisco Olympians Festival. Part of what I loved about it was that in one evening we saw the amazing variety the festival can offer: Kirk’s play was a comedy with a poignant moment or two, while Bridgette’s was a faux-classical drama- written in verse no less. Though the writers are the center of attention at the festival, credit really has to be given to Katja Rivera, who as the director of both pieces, made many simple but effective choices to highlight the best elements of both works and utilize the talents of her excellent cast: Yael Aranoff, Molly Benson, Jeremy Cole, Mackenszie Drae, Allison Fenner, Dana Goldberg, John Lennon Harrison, Michelle Talgarow, Alaric Toy. With the combined excellent story-telling of the performers (including beautiful and surprising singing from Yael, Molly and Dana), the thoughtfulness of the scripts, and the cohesiveness of the whole, this night of the festival stood out best in what was a consistently strong year at the Olympians.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“My Year” by Megan Cohen (Bay One Acts Festival)
Megan Cohen’s “My Year” is the kind of thing I wish more short plays would be: dynamic, personal, and complete. In a sea of short plays that are really fragments, or meet-cute plays, it’s always lovely to see something with a beginning, a middle, and end, and full-formed characters having actual interactions and not just feeling like Girl A and Guy B, thrown together by the whimsy of the playwright to make a point (though of course, the right playwright can pull that off- which is why so many people try to ape it). A friend of mine described “My Year” as “A fun little 90s indie film on stage” and my reaction when watching it was “Oh, Dear God, convince Meg to let me write a companion piece to this!” because let’s face it: at least a third of what I write is a 90s film on stage. My own vanity aside, what I loved about this play (directed by Siobhan Doherty, starring Emma Rose Shelton, Theresa Miller, Nkechi Live, Allene Hebert, Jaime Lee Currier, and Luna Malbroux) was that it felt constantly on the move, while still being mostly composed of intimate moments between a group of women at a birthday party. Like a lot of the theater that I really loved this year, it also just struck a personal chord, watching this young woman (Emma Rose Shelton) trying to enjoy the party her friends have thrown for her (though she doesn’t like surprise parties) despite there being no food and a random stranger (Theresa Miller) who worms her way in only to turn out to be the troublemaker she’s originally pegged for. Megan’s writing had its usual combination of smart and sentimental, but whereas a lot of her other work heads into absurdity and/or extreme quirkiness (not that this is bad), “My Year” stayed very grounded and found its meaning in that effort to stay grounded, making what might be a quiet little play in anyone else’s oeuvre, a nice change of pace in Cohen’s. The final moment, where the characters howl at the moon because what else are you going to do after a shitty birthday, felt like a communal sigh even the audience was in on, probably because we could all relate to Shelton’s character, and while having always loved and admired Meg’s work, this is probably the first time I related to it so wholeheartedly.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Linda Huang (Stage Manager, Tech, Box Office, Everything)
You know how the Oscars and Tonys give out Lifetime Achievement Awards for people whose contribution is so massive that it would kind of be criminal to pick one work or contribution so instead they just get an award for basically being themselves? You know, like how Peter O’Toole got that award because at some point somebody realized that he was pervasively brilliant and always in fashion and therefore easily forgotten because things like “Oh, well, he’ll win next year” often times factors in to who we recognize, meaning things like reliability and consistency do not? Well, for the first time ever in the history of the SEBATAs, I’m creating The Peter O’Toole Award for General Awesomeness and giving it to Linda Huang, without whom, in all seriousness, I believe that small theater in San Francisco would probably grind to a halt. Earlier this year, I got recognized by the Weekly as a “Ringmaster” of the theater scene, but frankly I (and people like me) could not do what we do without having Linda (and people like her) constantly coming to our aid despite being paid a fraction of what they’re worth and half the time being forgotten because what they do isn’t in the immediate eye of the audience. Linda is a total gem of the theater scene. She wears many hats, though she’s probably best known for running light boards, and one of my favorite things when attending the theater is running into her, usually working in some capacity I previously was unaware she was qualified to do (note: Linda is qualified to do everything). What I love best about Linda (aside from her cutting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor) is her incredible generosity: she does so much for local theater and rarely gets paid, and even when she does get paid she often says, “Pay me last.” A true team player, and one we don’t thank enough, especially as she’s the only person who seems to know how to get the air conditioning in the Exit Theatre to work.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Atticus Rex, Open Mic Night In Support of the Lemonade Fund (SF Theater Pub/Theater Bay Area Individual Services Committee)
I never expected to include a note about someone who performed at an open mic/variety show, but I wanted to shout out to Atticus Rex, a young performer who literally made his performance debut at the San Francisco Theater Pub/ISC fundraiser for the Lemonade Fund this year. A last minute replacement, Atticus and a friend performed some original hip-hop for our audience of mostly performance professionals and their friends, and despite the formidable crowd and the first time nerves, he basically killed it. Even when he made a mistake it worked: he’d call himself out, apologize, and start again, somehow without ever missing a beat. His lyrics are very tight and poetic, and the contrast between the power in his words and his humbleness at approaching and leaving the stage works so well you’d almost think it was an act- except he later confessed he’d never performed live before, and it couldn’t have been more sincere. With genuine hope he never loses his sincerity, while also continuing to grow his confidence and experience, I wanted to take a moment to say congratulations once again, and thank you for reminding us all what it looks like to really take a risk onstage.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Genie Cartier and Audrey Spinazola (Genie and Audrey’s Dream Show, SF Fringe Festival)
What’s potentially cuter than “Clyde the Cyclops?” Very little, but these two ladies and their breathless, funny, and surreal little clown show come dangerously close to giving Clyde a run for his money, and it’s the only show I saw at the Fringe this year that I wished my boyfriend had also seen. Bravely straddling the bridge between performance artists and acrobats, this collage of monologues, poems, jokes, mime, clowning, puppetry, stunts, music, and children’s games, is like watching two hyper-articulate kids on pixie sticks go nuts in a club house, but only if those kids had an incredible sense of timing and arch senses of humor (not to mention very flexible bodies). I’ve never been a huge fan of circus stuff (I like it as an accent, sometimes, but as entertainment on its own it doesn’t tend to hold my interest long), but I think I’d be a fan of anything that had these two women in it. Their ability to play off each other is the key to making their show work, and when you watch it you have that sense of being let into the private make-believe world of people who have found kindred spirits in one another. It’s an utterly magic combination and from what I know of other people who saw it, it basically charmed the pants off everyone. Or at least, everyone who has a soul.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Ben Calabrese (Apartment in “Crumble, or Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”)
I saw a lot of great performances by men this year (Sam Bertken in “Peter/Wendy”, Tim Green and Gregory Knotts in “First”, Paul Rodrigues “Pint Sized Plays IV”, Will Hand “Dark Play”, Casey Robbins “Oh Best Beloved!”), but this one really took my breath away (though since Sam Bertken actually got me to sincerely clap for fairies in Peter/Wendy, he gets a second shout out). Ben’s role, which is to literally embody the voice of a neglected apartment, is the kind of role that could either be the best thing about the show, or the worst. Luckily for Bigger Than A Breadbox’s production of “Crumble, or Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake (written by Sheila Callaghan), Ben rocked it. Bouncing around the stage, dive bombing the furniture, all the while spouting, eloquently, Callaghan’s beautiful and complex monologues, Ben was so utterly watchable it was impossible not to buy the conceit of the role, and so moments when he has an orgasm from having the radiator turned on, or turns his fingers into loose electrical wires, don’t seem ridiculous, but made immediate and total sense. It’s usually not a compliment to tell an actor they did a tremendous job being an inanimate object, but what Ben did so well was illustrate that a home, while not “alive”, does indeed have a life to it. And if that life occasionally fixes the audience with Ben’s particular brand of “scary actor stare” why… all the better.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Brandice Marie Thompson (Georgia Potts in “First”)
Oh, this was a tough one. As usual, the actresses of the Bay Area are kicking ass and taking names no matter what their role, and my decision to pick Brandice above the rest is because I think she best exemplified that thing which so many actresses have to do, which is take a relatively underwritten role in a play about men and turn it into a rich, believable character who somehow manages to steal the show. Evelyn Jean Pine, who wrote “First”, is a fantastic writer and she writes women and men equitably well, and due credit must go to her for the creation and inclusion of this character in a story mostly about male egos, but in a lesser capable actresses hands, this role could have been annoying, or forgettable, or purely comical, and Brandice avoided all of these traps while making the character utterly charming at the same time. The truth is, her arc became much more interesting to me than that of the main character, and I think a strong argument could be made that “First” was just as much about Georgia as it was about Bill Gates. Director Michael French no doubt had a hand in this too, but in the end it’s a performer who makes or breaks a role and Brandice’s ability to combine mousy with spunky with unexpected and yet thoroughly authentic character turns was deeply satisfying to watch. Georgia kicked ass and took names, because Brandice does. Runners up: Melissa Carter (“Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake”, Bigger Than A Breadbox), Allison Jean White (“Abigail’s Party”, SF Playhouse), Sam Jackson (“Oh Best Beloved!”, SF Fringe Festival), Courtney Merril (“Into the Woods”, Ray of Light), Elissa Beth Stebbins (“Peter/Wendy”, Custom Made Theatre Company).

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
“Nightingale” (Davis Shakespeare Ensemble/SF Fringe Festival)
This little gem at this year’s fringe festival was adapted from the myth of Philomel by Gia Battista, with music by Richard Chowenhill, directed by Rob Sals (with Battista), and staring Gabby Battista, April Fritz and Tracy Hazas as three remarkably similar looking women who each take a turn playing the heroine of a bizarre fairy tale (all the other characters in the story are played by them as well). Dance, pantomime, narration, song and traditional theater techniques all came together in a way that was astonishingly clean and charming in its simplicity. The black and white aesthetic used to unify the look of the show and performers gave the whole thing a quality both modern and timeless, and in its gentle, dreamy tone the sharp elements of social commentary and satire often seemed more brutal and impactful. Of everything I saw at the Fringe this past year, which included a number of excellent works, this piece has stayed with me the longest.

BEST SOLO SHOW
“Steve Seabrook: Better Than You” by Kurt Bodden (The Marsh)
I saw a lot more solo performance than usual this year (including works by Annette Roman, Laura Austin Wiley, Alexa Fitzpatrick, Jenny Newbry Waters, Rene Pena), and realizing how good it can be is, in and of itself, kind of a miracle because I used to say things like, “Theater begins with two people” and “If Aeschylus had wanted to write sermons he wouldn’t have added Electra”. Kurt’s show was not created this past year, it has a long history, but I only saw it in its most recent Marsh incarnation and I’m hoping he’s been able to find ways to keep it going (his Facebook feeds indicate this is so). A satire of motivational speakers and the cult of self-improvement, “Steve Seabrook” manages to be so much more by combining satirical fiction with moments of the kind of personal monologue (still fiction) that permeates solo shows. The result is a sense of development, of a story (Steve’s) unfolding in real time while another story, (Steve’s Seminar) plays itself out over the course of a weekend. Playing off the convention of a backstage comedy (we see the seminar, then we see Steve when he’s not “on”), Kurt’s brilliance as a performer is evident in the seamless transition from one to the other, again and again, carrying a throughline that shows us not only why Steve buys into his mantras, but why any of us buy into anything we’ve come up with (or adopted from someone else) to keep us moving through life’s ups and downs. At once very funny and cutting, while also moving and real (and yes, fuck it, kind of inspirational), Kurt’s show also gets a nod for its fantastic takeaway schwag: a keychain light with Steve’s name on it, with which every audience member is encouraged to shine their light in a dark world.

BEST DIRECTOR
Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, “Oh Best Beloved” (SF Fringe Festival)
“Oh Best Beloved” got a lot of attention and deservedly so- well acted, well designed, it was a genuinely fun piece of theater. Perhaps most deserving of being singled out in the project, however, are director Rebecca Longworth and partner Joan Howard, who share credit for conceptualizing the show (in which Joan also played a part and had, in my opinion, the single best moment in the show), and who lead the rest of the company in adapting the material from Ruyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Anyone who saw the show could easily see that it had about a million moving parts, and Longworth and Howard’s ability to keep all those plates spinning on a small budget and under the strict conditions of the San Francisco Fringe Festival (they literally put up and pulled down a full set with each performance) is worthy of award in and of itself, but the level of commitment and craft they were able to pull from their design team and performers was equally as impressive. Everything about the show, even the parts that didn’t work as well as others, felt thought through and done with panache, making this ambitious and unique experience a delightful jewel in the SF Fringe Festival’s crown.

BEST DESIGNER
Bill English, “Abigail’s Party” (SF Playhouse)
Scenery in general doesn’t do much for me. I enjoy good scenery, but the best scenery should kind of vanish into the background, in my opinion, and be something you barely pay attention to. As a result, I’m often just as happy with a blank stage, or really well thought out minimal set, as I am with a full one, so long as the play I’m watching is good. That said, every now and then I will see a set I just adore, and this year it was Bill English’s set for SF Playhouse’s “Abigail’s Party”, by Mike Leigh, directed by Amy Glazer. Basically a living room/dining room/kitchenet combo, this fully realized “home” was very well crafted as a place, but more importantly, it really worked as a place where people lived. The 70s style was at once present without being overwhelming, evoking the time period without looking like it was a homage to the time period, or a museum dedicated to 70s kitch. I mean, it honestly reminded me of numerous homes I’d played in as a child (I was born in 1978) and all the wallpaper looked like wallpaper in my parents’ home before my mother completely re-did the house in 1990 because “we can admit this is ugly… now”. The amazing thing about English’s set is that it didn’t seem ugly, in spite of being made up entirely of patterns and colors we now find appalling. He made it all work together, the way people once did, and the final result was simultaneously comfortable and dazzling. I remember thinking, waiting for the play to begin, “I could live here.”

And last, but not least, every year I pick…

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE EXPERIENCE TO WORK ON
“The Age of Beauty” (No Nude Men Productions/The Exit Theatre)
I had taken a break from directing my own work, but with this nine performance workshop I allowed myself to re-discover that, as much as I like directing plays by others, there is nothing quite as satisfying as feeling like I’m telling a very personal story of my own and having the final say on how that happens. Of course, such experiences are only rewarding when you get to work with great actors, and I was lucky to have four amazing women (Megan Briggs, Emma Rose Shelton, Allison Page, Sylvia Hathaway) who were willing to go on this adventure with me, always keeping stride as I made cuts and changed lines, memorizing a mountain of material in Emma and Sylvia’s case, and crafting subtle characters who had to be both different from each other and relatively interchangeable at the same time. When I had a hard time articulating what I was going for, they would nod and smile and then show me what I meant by doing it better than I could describe it. When the show opened by the skin of its teeth it had one of those minor miracle opening nights, where even though you’re just a tiny bit unprepared (all my fault, I kept changing the script), it somehow all comes together and really works. Over the course of the show, as their performances grew and refined (our final two nights were simply perfect), I was able to see what flaws still remained in the script (two pages, middle of scene of scene two were cut the day after we closed), and any writer of new work will tell you that’s the best experience you can hope for on a first production. Shout outs to my awesome design team Cody Rishell, Jim Lively and Wil Turner IV! “The Age of Beauty” helped restore some of my lagging faith in the theater process, and made me commit to doing more of my own work in the coming year.

Stuart Bousel runs the San Francisco Theater Pub blog, and is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. You can find out more about his work at http://www.horrorunspeakable.com.

Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Open Your Heart Tonight At The Heart Plays!

For one night only, Eight creative teams of actors and directors interpret, re-interpret, and totally mis-interpret seminal postmodern playwright Heiner Müller’s 10-line play, HEART PLAY. There will be music, there will be dancing, there will be fake guts, and there will be many, many brick hearts. By the end of the night, you’ll know the text so well, you can perform it yourself! (Note: reenactments and dramatic recitations after the show — and after a few drinks — are encouraged.)

Producer Annie Paladino has assembled a kick-ass team of directors, including Maria Calderazzo, Robert Estes, Hannah Gaff, Amy Marie Haven, Kate Heller, Joan Howard, Rebecca Longworth, Carmen Melillo, Dan Mack, and Cecilia Palmtag. Plus our friends Hide Away Blues BBQ will be there serving up delicious, bourbon soaked treats!

It all happens tonight, February 18th, 2013 at Cafe Royale in San Francisco. Show is at 8:00pm, so come early for drinks, stay later for more drinks, and we look forward to seeing you at the Pub!

THE HEART PLAYS on FEBRUARY 18th- One Week From Today!

May we lay our hearts at your feet?

Maybe your Valentine’s Day was everything you hoped it could be. Maybe you watched “Shakespeare in Love” and fell asleep on the couch clutching a bar of Dove dark chocolate. (Maybe that was everything you hoped Valentine’s Day could be.) In any case, keep those good/bad feelings coming with SF Theater Pub’s February celebration of love, hearts, and non-anesthetized organ removal THE HEART PLAYS.

Eight creative teams of actors and directors interpret, re-interpret, and totally mis-interpret seminal postmodern playwright Heiner Müller’s 10-line play, HEART PLAY. There will be music, there will be dancing, there will be fake guts, and there will be many, many brick hearts. By the end of the night, you’ll know the text so well, you can perform it yourself! (Note: reenactments and dramatic recitations after the show — and after a few drinks — are encouraged.)

Producer Annie Paladino has assembled a kick-ass team of directors, including Maria Calderazzo, Robert Estes, Hannah Gaff, Amy Marie Haven, Kate Heller, Joan Howard, Rebecca Longworth, Carmen Melillo, Dan Mack, and Cecilia Palmtag. Plus, Hide Away Blues BBQ will be there with delicious food and bourbon soaked treats!

One night only, February 18th, 2013 at Cafe Royale in San Francisco. Show is at 8:00pm, so come early for drinks, stay later for more drinks, but be forewarned — our heart is a brick.

(But it only throbs for you.)

Up Next At Theater Pub: The Heart Plays!

May we lay our hearts at your feet?

Maybe your Valentine’s Day was everything you hoped it could be. Maybe you watched “Shakespeare in Love” and fell asleep on the couch clutching a bar of Dove dark chocolate. (Maybe that was everything you hoped Valentine’s Day could be.) In any case, keep those good/bad feelings coming with SF Theater Pub’s February celebration of love, hearts, and non-anesthetized organ removal THE HEART PLAYS.

Eight creative teams of actors and directors interpret, re-interpret, and totally mis-interpret seminal postmodern playwright Heiner Müller’s 10-line play, HEART PLAY. There will be music, there will be dancing, there will be fake guts, and there will be many, many brick hearts. By the end of the night, you’ll know the text so well, you can perform it yourself! (Note: reenactments and dramatic recitations after the show — and after a few drinks — are encouraged.)

Producer Annie Paladino has assembled a kick-ass team of directors, including Maria Calderazzo, Robert Estes, Hannah Gaff, Amy Marie Haven, Kate Heller, Joan Howard, Rebecca Longworth, Carmen Melillo, Dan Mack, and Cecilia Palmtag. As usual, our awesome pop-up restaurant partners, Hide Away Blues, will be there with tasty BBQ and bourbon soaked treats!

One night only, February 18th, 2013 at Cafe Royale in San Francisco (800 Post Street). Show is at 8:00pm, so come early for drinks, stay later for more drinks, but be forewarned — our heart is a brick.

(But it only throbs for you.)