The Five: Believing in TheatreFirst

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a recap of TheatreFIRST’s grand unveiling.

Hey you guys, about a week ago I was lucky enough to attend the season kickoff party for TheatreFirst in Berkeley. There were cool people, a giant platter of lunch meat, and some exciting announcements. If you weren’t there or had too much free wine and can’t remember the details, I’m here with some highlights. Predictably, there are five.

The Mandate
While TheatreFIRST is not a new company, they taking a step in a bold new direction: with a new Artistic Director, a season of commissioned plays, and a mandate that most of us in Bay Area theatre have talked about, had endless diversity forums on and said needed to happen. This mandate is to do theatre that reflects the actual world. TheatreFIRST is committing to aggressive diversity. At least half of all board members, admins and artistic staff MUST be women and two-thirds must be people of color. What makes this so exciting is that they aren’t planning to do it by 2025, or calling it a goal to strive for. It’s a mandate; it’s happening. Instead of saying it, they’re doing it.

The Location
The Live Oak Theater is tucked away in one of the fancier parts of Berkley, nestled in a pretty neighborhood and next to a pretty park. Yes, it’s the Berkeley we’re thinking of when we make fun of Berkeley. Make no mistake: this is a community theater that is not only dedicated to serving members of the theatergoing community, but also the theatre-making community. Subscriptions are super affordable and special $60 “Full Circle” Subscriptions are being made available to theatrical artists, which is pretty darn reasonable. Another big nod to the community is that beginning this summer, the Live Oak Theater will be made available FOR FREE during the day to all community theatrical artists. The idea is to have a group working in one corner, another on stage, another having a meeting in the new café. In a time where facilities are a big expense for any group, this is an incredibly generous thing. It is clear that T1’s goal is to make their venue a hub for art and community.

The Season
TheatreFIRST’S new season will consist of 4 brand-new commissioned pieces, all created by local theatrical artists. The first is Bagyo, by Rob Dario, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and giving a startling vision of the culture wars in Southeast Asia. Next up is VS., an exciting new musical written by Cleavon Smith, Stephanie Prentice and Reggie White, telling the story of Colonel Tye, a black man who escaped slavery and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. Beneath the Tall Tree by Adrienne Walters and Jeffrey Lo tells the story of one woman’s quest to literally dig up her grandfather’s history and with it, a connection to her culture. The season ends in May 2017 with Hela by Lauren Gunderson, which explores the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks. Want more info ? Go to www.theatrefirst.com and learn all about it.

The Party
I am not much of a party person, but I must admit, I had a swell time. Maybe it was the super welcoming vibe, the feeling of something very exciting and real happening, maybe it was realizing I have some really cool neighbors, or maybe it was the free wine. But when we left that night, we couldn’t wait to come back.

The Guy
One of the more exciting moments of the night was to see the staff and board of TheatreFIRST standing together on stage with their new Artistic Director, Jon Tracy, at the helm. Jon is one of the most creative, kind, hardworking, community-minded people in the entire Bay Area. I have been a friend and fan of his work for a very long time and not only does he deserve this, but you just know he’s going to foster something special and exciting. So jump on the website, head out to wooded glen of North Berkeley, and get ready to see an exciting new voice in Bay Area theatre. They’re presenting a season of shows that at its core are great stories and committing to the diversity we all want to see on stage.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

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

Pint Sized Plays IV is more than halfway through it’s run! 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.

Tracy Held Potter: I’m a writer/director/producer who recently discovered that I have to create inspirational mantras that are the exact opposite of the inspirational mantras that I used in high school. I run All Terrain Theater (www.allterraintheater.org) and Play Cafe (www.playcafe.org) and I’m a co-founder of the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project with Rachel Bublitz (http://31plays31days.com). My biggest projects right now are directing The Fantasy Club by Rachel Bublitz and getting ready to move to the East Coast for a fancy-pants MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Jonathan Carpenter: Formerly a biologist and Bostonian, I’m now a San Francisco-based theater director. I love bold, new plays that sometimes have music and sometimes don’t happen in traditional theater spaces at all.

Colin Johnson: I am Colin and I like telling stories and stuff.

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

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

Tracy Held Potter: I saw several Theater Pub shows in the past year and loved them, especially Pint-Sized Plays, and also got to run sound for Pub from Another World, which was extremely fun. “Audrey Scare People Play?” Whaaaaaat!

Jonathan Carpenter: This is my first time directing for Theater Pub! I met Meg O’Connor at an event for the SF Olympians Festival. She mentioned that her friend Neil (Higgins) was looking for directors for the Pint Sized Festival. A few days later, Neil and I were emailing each other about the line-up for this year’s festival, and not too long after I was on board to be part of the Pint Sized directing team. I had always been really interested in Theater Pub, and so when the opportunity arose to get involved, I jumped on it.

Colin Johnson: I got involved through the fearless producer called Neil, whom I’ve worked with during the last two years on the SF Olympians Festival.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: There’s nothing better than being in the rehearsal room and digging into a script with actors, so I would say that my rehearsal time with Jessica (Chisum), Lara (Gold), and Andrew (Chung) was the most exciting part of the process for me. Multitasking (by Christian Simonsen) is a deceptively tricky play. You have to keep asking yourself, “Wait, what the hell is going on here?!” All three actors were really smart about figuring out what makes these characters tick. I had a blast bringing the play to life with them.

Colin Johnson: Analyzing and then over-directing the crap out of a one page script. Sometimes the greatest challenges come in the smallest packages. Oh, and also practicing a musical number with a drunk llama.

Tracy Held Potter: Getting invited to direct for Pint-Sized plays and then finding out that I was going to direct a piece by Megan Cohen were freaking awesome. I still relive moments from watching Megan’s piece from last year, so this really has been a thrill for me. I also loved rehearsing with Charles Lewis III, Caitlin Evenson, and Jessica Rudholm … and I won’t lie that sewing the knight props and costumes in the middle of the night was pretty special as well.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Tracy Held Potter: Keeping things simple with this brief yet epic play. I tend to work on projects with a minimal amount of props and set design, but there’s a part of me that wants to go all out with this one: more rehearsals in the space and more elaborate costuming. I got to work with a great cast and I we pulled out a lot of interesting material from the script in a very short period, so I can’t really complain, though.

Colin Johnson: Troublesome? I don’t know the meaning of the word, I say! But I suppose rehearsing with a drunk llama can have its setbacks.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting was probably the trickiest piece of the puzzle for me. There are, of course, so many wonderful actors in the Bay Area; the only problem is that they’re so wonderful that they’re always cast in multiple projects! The Theater Pub performance schedule is great because Monday is usually a day off for actors, so it’s possible to do Theater Pub along with other shows. But it doesn’t always work out. I lost a terrific actor that I was really excited to work with because it turned out that she was needed for rehearsals for another project during the final week of Pint Sized performances. And then when I had to find another actress for that role, there were several other wonderful folks that I couldn’t use because we couldn’t find common free times to rehearse! It all worked out beautifully in the end – thanks to Neil’s guidance, persistence, and huge network of actor friends – but there were some moments where I was really banging my head against the wall.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

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

Tracy Held Potter: I would say “seat of your pants” because I have sensitive teeth and the other metaphor makes them hurt.

Jonathan Carpenter: Pint Sized is definitely a seat of your pants kind of endeavor. You’re making theater that’s going to happen in a bar where anything can happen. Someone could walk through your scene to go to the bathroom. A noisy garbage truck could whiz past Cafe Royale. Who knows, an especially drunk audience member might even try to get in on the action. So, you have to stay adaptable and be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. But that’s also what’s so exciting, right? Live theater!

Colin Johnson: I’d say seat of the pants is a better term. When you perform in public, especially a bar, you must be prepared to adapt and circumvent logistical problems at a moment’s notice. Skin of the teeth makes it seem like we’re barely hanging in there, which is untrue. This production has actually been one of the most tightly coordinated and relaxed projects in a while for me.

What’s next for you?

Colin Johnson: Next, I’m writing a full-length adaptation of Aeneas’s tale for SF Olympians: Trojan Requiem (titled Burden of the Witless) in November. I also have a recently-completed independent short film that will hopefully be making festival rounds this year. And most likely directing a Woody Allen One-Act early next year in Berkeley

Tracy Held Potter: I’m directing and producing a HILARIOUS sex comedy by Rachel Bublitz called The Fantasy Club that we’re premiering at The Alcove Theater near Union Square from Aug 2 – Aug 11 (http://fantasyclub.brownpapertickets.com). It’s about a stay-at-home-mom who faces the man she’s been fantasizing about since high school and has to decide between her marriage and making her fantasies come true. I’ve spent a lot more time on Google researching underwear and logo contraceptives for this show than I have for anything else. In August, we’re also relaunching the 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge and rehearsing for Babies, the Ultimate Birth Control: Terrifyingly Hilarious Plays about Parenting for SF Fringe (http://www.sffringe.org), which both Rachel and I wrote pieces for. In the midst of all this, I’m going to finish packing up my family to move to Pennsylvania. You know, taking it easy.

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Jonathan Carpenter: I’m about to begin rehearsals for the west coast premiere of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon, which Do It Live! Productions will be producing in A.C.T.’s Costume Shop theater in September. And after The Golden Dragon, I’ll be directing readings of Jeremy Cole’s On The Plains of Troy and Madeline Puccioni’s The Walls of Troy for the SF Olympians Festival.

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

Tracy Held Potter: I’m looking forward to “A Maze” by Rob Handel and produced by Just Theater at Live Oak Theatre, which just opened. Rob is the theater teacher for my new grad program and I’ve heard great things from people who’ve already seen it (phew!). There are a lot of shows that I’m really sad to be missing because I’ll be out of the state, but I’ll be catching all of Bay One-Acts and at least a couple of SF Olympians shows towards the end of the festival.

Colin Johnson: BOA is always an amazing fun time! As is the Olympians! They’re both a great conglomeration of all the best the Bay indie theatre scene has to offer! And great folks!

Jonathan Carpenter: Oh my gosh. I’m a huge nerd, and I just can’t wait to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep. I mean, it’s Gandalf! And Professor X! AND they’re doing No Man’s Land! I have loved Pinter ever since I first dove into his plays a few years ago while working on a production of The Homecoming. They’re so juicy. So I’m really looking forward to that production. I’m also really excited to check out Rob Handel’s A Maze at Just Theater this summer. I read a draft of the play about three years ago, and I was completely enthralled. It read like a comic book, and I was totally fascinated to imagine how you might stage such an intricate play. I’ve heard great things about the production, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: Woah! It’s way too hard to pick just one artist! Can I say “all of them”?!? Well…actor Reggie White is probably at the top of my list. He’s been a friend of mine for a couple of years now, and it seems criminal that we haven’t done a show together yet.

Tracy Held Potter: I can’t count how many actors, directors, stage managers, writers, and other theater people that I got to work with this year who I really admired. I have so many theater crushes here that it’s crazy. With that said, I would fall out of my chair if I got to work with Desdemona Chiang on one of my plays.

Colin Johnson: I would love to have a rematch of my 2012 Olympians knock-out, drag down fight with Jeremy Cole. But most of my Bay Area dream collaborations have been fulfilled, with hopefully more on the horizon.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: Whatever stout they have on tap.

Colin Johnson: I’m a fan of the Marin Brewing Company IPA. But if I’m expected to be productive, a Cider or a Pilsner.

Tracy Held Potter: I don’t really drink that much so I like to order soda or tea, but last time the bartender made me a limeade which was pretty good. There are photos of me on the Theater Pub Facebook page drinking that, if anyone’s interested.

Don’t miss the last two performances of Pint Sized Plays IV: July 29 and 30, 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!