The Five- How to Pretend to Know Anything About the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Anthony Miller, making your life just a little bit easier.

Hey you guys, I’m sure a lot of you are super stoked for Hamilton winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sometimes it seems like organizations are inventing awards just to create an excuse to get the cast to perform on their show, while some are highlighting awards no one previously knew existed (I’m looking at you, Grammy Awards). Before we go running into the streets once again to celebrate Hamilton as the savior of American theater and the greatest thing since the last greatest thing ever, ask yourself, “What is a Pulitzer Prize for Drama anyway?” Funny you should ask, because I’ve got you covered. I’ve compiled a handy list of Pulitzer Prize for Drama trivia that you can wow your peers with at your next fancy theatre party, or at the bar. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

How Do You Win?
The criteria has changed over the years, but one thing remains, it must be an American play. The official criteria (as listed on their website) are as follows: “For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.”

Are Winners Rich?
The winner gets $10,000. The first winner, Why Marry? by Jesse Lynch Williams in 1918, got $1000. So no, not really.

What Other Musicals Have Won?
There have been 8. Of Thee I Sing by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin (1932), South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Joshua Logan (1950), Fiorello! by Jerome Widman, George Abbott, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (1960), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows (1962), A Chorus Line, by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood Jr., Marvin Hamlisch, Nicolas Dante and Edward Kleban (1976), Sunday in the Park With George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (1985), RENT, by Jonathan Larson (1996), and Next To Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (2010).

Is There One Every Year?
Even though there are nominees every year, there is not always a winner. The following years had no official recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: 1917, 1919, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986, 1997, 2006.

Has Anyone Won More Than Once?
Eugene O’Neill has 4: Beyond The Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1957). Edward Albee has 3: A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), Three Tall Women (1994). August Wilson and Thornton Wilder both have 2. You can also mention that this is not the first time Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated: In The Heights was a finalist in 2009 but lost to Ruined by Lynn Nottage.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Producer and a Big Theatre Nerd, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

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Cowan Palace: Hugs And Cuddles Heads Out On Maternity Leave!

Ashley says a quick goodbye before maternity leave.

I’ve been feeling mentally blocked from writing this blog for a few weeks. Once I admitted to myself that, yeah homegirl, you’re gonna need to take some time off for a maternity leave, I immediately felt anxious.

See, I’m not the best at taking time off or stepping away from stuff I feel invested in; my thoughts start drowning while my heart races me into a fury.

Take today for example. I’m six days away from my due date and have managed to catch a terrible cold. #Hashtag literally, my entire body hurts and my brain feels like it’s been placed into a blender of fog. But I’m still at work! Partially because I’m still in denial about it all but also because I want to be here and I suck at admitting to myself that sometimes you can’t do everything.

But I’ve been writing this column for awhile and I’m sure you’ve heard me sing that song a few times before; in any case, here we are! So needless to say, when I decided to take the month of April away from writing Cowan Palace, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s happening though and next month you’ll be sans Ashley!

So what to write about in my last entry before motherhood? Well, as always, my life comes back to theatre. In these last few days leading up to our due date, my body has been dealing with the nerves the same way it handles a new show opening. Some of the butterflies feel exactly the same as they do when they’re fluttering around my nervous stomach because of a crappy tech rehearsal leading up to a highly anticipated opening night.

I’ve also found myself feeling a tad defensive in these past few weeks, like I need to explain my production vision to an audience expecting a different show. When I was a kid and I imagined raising a family, I didn’t immediately paint the picture of my life right now. Did I think my husband and I would be bringing a newborn home to a small one bedroom apartment in San Francisco where we pay three times more in rent than many of our friends pay for their mortgages? Nope! But it’s sure fun to watch acquaintances’ eyes bug out when we share our reality!

Here’s the thing though: having the money to invest in fancy costumes or props or sets doesn’t always guarantee your show is going to be a meaningful success, right? (I mean, I could throw some big productions under the bus here but eh, that’s not today’s point.) Some of my favorite and most memorable shows have been in small spaces with minimal tech needs where the production may have been a simple labor of love, but you left feeling connected to something greater.

That’s hard to explain to those living outside of our San Francisco theatre bubble. The ones that constantly ask me to repeat how much rent prices go for these days and demand I share how I plan to support my child. But Will and I love it here. Sure, raising a baby in this insanely expensive place with our current financial means sounds crazy and we know it’s going to be difficult.

We also know that we met in San Francisco, we fell in love in San Francisco, we got married in San Francisco, we made a baby in San Francisco, and we chose to stay in San Francisco. And thankfully, we’re surrounded by people who enrich our lives in so many more important ways than money. We live in this city because we feel like we’re a part of a community. A group who will laugh at our terrible jokes, bring us chocolate when we’re grumpy, challenge us creatively, open their minds to new ideas, and just love us as we are, right here, right now. I couldn’t imagine bringing our baby into a better environment.

And on that note, hormonal Hugs and Cuddles thank you all for being a part of that. I’ll miss you but look forward to reuniting again in Cowan Palace soon!

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The Five: Five Musicals that need to happen immediately

Anthony R. Miller checks in with five sure-fire hit musicals.

Hey you guys, it seems like anything can be a musical now, and no property is safe. And if it isn’t a new musical adaptation of your favorite 80’s movies, it’s a revival of a show that no matter how many times it’s produced, people just keep seeing it. So in lieu of saying anything substantial about theatre of art or the Bay Area or whatever, My article, nay, MY GIFT to you this week is 5 guaran-damned-teed big money hit musical ideas. You’re welcome.

Joan of Arc: The Musical, Featuring the Music of Pat Benetar

Blending inspirational biopics with the jukebox musical. Joan’s songs would include “Promises in the Dark” (As sung to God). “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (As she’s being burned at the stake) and of course a bad training montage to “Love is a Battlefield”.

Baby Animals The Musical

Self-explanatory. Highlights include, Tap-dancing Ducklings, Golden Retriever Puppy Hoedown and Kitten Dream Sequence Ballet.

RENT 2

Mark and the gang are now in their mid-forties. Now living in Bushwick, they deal with all of their favorite coffee shops, diners and performance spaces have been turned into condos and high end night clubs. Maureen and Joanne are married yuppies, Mark works for Benny making You-Tube videos. Due to breakthroughs in treatment for HIV and AIDS, everyone else is still alive and figured out there is nothing romantic or counter culture about being broke in your mid-thirties. Subjects include, Maureen and Joanne adopt a French Bulldog, Going to Brunch and everyone gets healthcare by working at Starbucks

Cirque Du Solei Presents: Laser-Floyd

Following such hits as “The Beatles: Love” and their Michael Jackson themed show, it’s only natural they blend their mind boggling French Canadian acrobatics with, the great American combination Pink Floyd songs and lasers. Possible numbers include; A “Wizard of Oz” themed performance of “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Comfortably Numb” doing aerial acrobatics, and a contact improv performance of “Run Like Hell”.

Labyrinth Directed by Julie Taymor

Ok, I’m actually kinda serious about this one. And David Bowie could be in it, cause he doesn’t age. She’ll go millions over budget on real farting rocks an actual trained owl and 30 puppeteers.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer, check out his projects at www.awesometheatre.org

Cowan Palace: My Return to Theatre Bay Area and Other Full House Catch Phrases

Ashley reactivates her Theatre Bay Area account and shares her experience the only way she knows how: through the brilliance of Full House.

Growing up I knew three things: 1.) I wanted to be an actor. 2.) I wanted to live in California because that’s where the cast of Full House lived. 3.) I had a pretty scary dessert obsession, especially those of the chocolate variety.

As an adult, I’ve managed to stay pretty true to those guiding forces. I mean, here I am, living in the Tanner’s backyard trying to balance my love of acting and all things sweet. Though, it’s not exactly like I had pictured and my adventures don’t always fit neatly into 22 minute episodes appropriate for families of all ages. But, again, here I am!

When I first moved here in my early twenties, looking to break into the theater scene, I immediately joined Theatre Bay Area. I combed the gigs section of Craigslist looking for auditions. And honestly, it was great. Within one day of living in San Francisco, I managed to book an audition and get the part. Which resulted in A LOT of solo bedroom performances of “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here” from Annie. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d find myself auditioning for the San Francisco revival of Rent starring Taye Diggs.

But then I got a little lazy. I stopped actively looking for new opportunities and chose to do whatever projects my friends (or friends of my friends) offered me. Which, honestly, was also great. I’m not always the best auditioner anyway and I got to perform a lot of fun roles thanks to being seen in earlier fun roles. And so my one woman Annie tribute band continued!

Eventually, I let my TBA membership lapse. Which, after a little while, caused the inner child in me to point out, “how are you going to be a real actor if you’re not even trying? The Tanners would be so disappointed in you.” Ouch, inner child, OUCH. But that little creep was right. So a few days ago (and after reading Claire’s article) I resigned up for Theatre Bay Area. And to chronicle my experience back, I thought I’d use the help of some of the token Full House catch phrases. Because, well, duh.

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“You got it, dude!”

Yes, Michelle and/or Mary-Kate and Ashley, I do got it. I signed back up for TBA! And I got a personalized welcome response from James Nelson, which made my day. This is what I love about being an actor in San Francisco. The sense of community that I couldn’t find while living in New York. I felt optimistic that perhaps my reentry into the theater scene would be as well received.

“Oh, Mylanta!”

Interesting exclamation, DJ, eldest and perhaps wisest Tanner sister. But similar sentiment (I mean, I think? I’m not even totally sure why this one became a catchphrase). When I logged on with eager eyes to view the myriad of auditions I assumed I was missing out on, I instead saw a rather short list. Maybe it’s the time of year? Did I just miss the audition season? Or is there just less theater being done than when I joined the site years ago?

“Cut it out!”

Good point, Joey. No need to immediately panic and assume my acting days are numbered so I might as well drive your car into the kitchen! Why not read through these listings first! So I opted to do a search for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

“Have mercy!”

Tell me about it, Jesse. And I don’t even have your hair to help my cause. Okay, the first audition on the list is for Shotgun Players. Awesome! I’ve heard great things about working with them. Now, looking through their post I read, “Prep 2 contrasting pieces (musical/movement abilities may be incorporated)”. Yikes bikes. Well, I have been taking a YMCA Zumba class where I always seem to stand next to someone who smells like sweat mixed with orange juice. Should I attempt some Zumba moves with my dramatic Shakespearean monologue?

“How rude!”

No! Stephanie, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was seriously asking. I could use some assistance getting back into the audition routine… Next, I come across Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre. I know before I open it that my current age isn’t really ideal for this one. Which sucks because that show is going to be something special.(Side note: amusingly enough, the last time I auditioned for one of Stuart’s shows, I had my sister cut me some bangs so that I could look younger and more like child Ashley. It shockingly did not work.)

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

This has been a harder reality to face these days. I’ve seemed to age out of the roles I moved here for, ones for young gals in their early twenties and yet I’m not quite ready for some of those juicy roles meant for women in their forties and fifties. Or, as I like to call that age range, the parts I played in high school and college because I was taller than everyone else.

As I continue perusing through the listings, I notice a few more musicals and many shows that are happening outside of San Francisco. Unfortunately, for the car- less /Treasure Island dwelling wonder that is me, commuting to these stages isn’t the easiest quest. I also couldn’t help but notice that if you’re a fella willing to travel and/or sing, you could probably do quite well for yourself in the Bay Area! Ah, now I am sounding rude. Sorry. I don’t mean it. I selfishly hoped that my enthusiasm to return to the theater world would be matched with abounding opportunity to bring it to life.

And I’m left with the same questions I had before. Where did the auditions go? I hear about friends going to them; are these theater companies just not posting on Theatre Bay Area? Because that feels like a shame! A missed opportunity to be a part of a proud, established community. And where are they posting instead? What will I tell Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan when they seek my career counsel for breaking into the SF biz? Help!

I’ll await your feedback! And in the meantime, I’ll keep one eye on these audition listings, one on a Full House rerun, and my mouth will undoubtedly be full of chocolate.

Cowan Palace: Our Big, Fat, San Francisco Theatrical Wedding

This week Ashley Cowan (Leschber!) thanks eight special people who helped make a San Francisco wedding even more theatrical.

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I’m sure you’re feeling a little tired of all this “Ashley and Will’s Wedding” content floating around the internet. But forgive us. We promise in two weeks we’ll be on to other topics. Most likely.

As I’m still floating on Cloud Nine’s layer of exhaustion, I was tempted to make this blog a collection of my favorite pet pictures. Instead, I decided to perhaps make better use of it by offering a thank you to some of our theater friends who deserve a bit of recognition. Besides, there’s still plenty of time to post an all pet related post!

As Marissa mentioned in her blog, putting on a production can be a lot of like planning a wedding. And for Will and me, the reverse proved to be true. As you can imagine, planning a wedding in San Francisco comes with its fair share of challenges. When the going got tough, we decided to think outside the wedding box and look to a group we knew we could count on: the theater community. And we were overjoyed with the individuals who helped make this event even more meaningful.

In honor of the eight months we had to plan it, here are eight theater makers who helped make our day:

Chris Quintos Cathcart: Will and I thought long and hard about who may be a good match to officially help us tie the knot. We knew we wanted our officiant to be a San Franciscan who knew us both, who had a way with words, and who could comfortably speak before a group. We brainstormed a few options but nothing seemed quite right. We kept coming back to Chris: the person who Will and I had both separately opened up to during Twelfth Night rehearsals, the woman who offered us fantastic love advice and young adult fiction suggestions over various pieces of cake, and the friend who made us laugh during times of insecurity. Throughout the entire planning process, Chris listened and collaborated with us. Most of the time she magically incorporated the thoughts we tried poorly to articulate with unbelievable ease. After working together on theatrical projects of the past, Chris proved once again to be a master of the stage and we can’t thank her enough for lending her talent to this new union.

Stuart Bousel: As he mentioned in his reading, Stuart is the reason I’m here writing this blog. Along with letting us write for Theater Pub, he’s also played the leading role in our meet cute story. Aside from using his magical theater ways to inspire a romance, Stuart was also the one person we knew we wanted to perform a reading. After surviving an already crazy year of rehearsals and multiple shows, we asked Stuart if he would write something for our ceremony. We were not very helpful with the specifics of what we wanted (sorry, Stuart). But we had faith in his words considering they had, in fact, brought us all together in the first place. Once again, he blew us away with a beautiful, humorous and thoughtful retelling of our story together. My friends and family outside of our theater circle haven’t stopped raving about it and we’re left thanking Stuart for his treasured part in our relationship.

Tonya Narvaez: Will and I have the pleasure of living with Tonya and that poor lady has probably seen more wedding induced sweat and tears than anyone else. She calmed our nerves by suggesting we take a moment to focus on the emotional journey of Felicity instead of our own stress. She made us laugh by creating unique talkative voices for each of the pets. But most of all, she was a friend to us when we simply needed a calm voice telling us that everything was going to be okay. Tonya also saved the day by writing all the text on our various chalkboards (and my goodness, we had a lot of them), helped us to arrange our centerpieces, and incorporated her creative ideas into our overall design. Tonya proved to be so many things to us during this process and we’ll never stop singing her praises. (Literally. We sing A LOT on Treasure Island.)

James Grady and Christi Chew: I got to know James and Christi through Theater Pub’s glimpse into Rent. Not only are they incredibly good looking but they’re also super talented. So when my job at the time needed performers for a summer concert series, they were at the top of my list. And wowza, they hit it out of the park. Will and I crossed our fingers they would be willing to play at our ceremony and cocktail hour. When they said yes, we probably high fived each other at least a thousand times. They were willing to quickly learn the song we envisioned as our “walk down the aisle jam” (Gold from Once, for anyone curious) and they performed it with skill and passion. Once the reception started, James and Christi continued to encourage the party atmosphere we had hoped for by impressing guests of all ages with their dance moves. Fun fact: several of my friends asked me to introduce them to Christi because they believed she was the “inventor of dance”. James and Christi, we love you and thank you for your music.

Ellery Schaar: I was introduced to Ellery thanks to Chris after she heard me moaning about not being able to find a headpiece to wear with my wedding dress. I have a decent sized head and everything I tried on looked just ridiculous. As soon as I met Ellery, I knew I was in good hands. She greeted me with such a positive and creative force that I knew my hopeful vision of a birdcage veil could be brought to life with care and dedication. She somehow managed to match my love of vintage books with a beautifully detailed piece to wear. The veil included a quote from Twelfth Night, the light peach color from the bridesmaids’ dresses, and the bling that every bride can appreciate. Honestly, I anticipate several future evenings of me alone in my room putting the veil on and remembering the wedding day. Ellery is truly a gifted artist and I’m very grateful I had the chance to be a canvas.

Ashley Ramos: Not only does Ashley have a great name but she can do all the artistic things I wish I could do. Earlier this year, I was super impressed with her draft for the Olympians Festival surrounding Allison’s take on Cerberus but she really delighted Will and me by creating our very own large book where guests could take a picture inside it and literally become a part of the story. She crafted this giant beautiful piece and managed to draw a gorgeous image of The Golden Gate Bridge on the book page. Ashley took a crazy idea and helped bring it to life. She was so sweet to work with and we were truly blown away by her design. So much so, that we plan to hang the creation on the wall. Ashley, you’re wonderful and we can’t wait to see your next creation!

Wes Crain: I first met Wes over beers and margaritas (which Tonya and I had combined… obviously) at a “cleavage and mustaches” birthday party for Chris. After I purchased my dress from Glamour Closet, I needed to find someone to slightly alter the straps before it was ready to wear. I investigated a few options and quickly found the price of altering a wedding dress was almost as much as promising your first born child. Yikes! One place said that if I simply wanted to ask an alterations question, I would have to pay them $35. Regardless if I chose them to fix the dress or if they knew the answer. Barf. So when Tonya suggested I ask Wes to take a look at the dress and see if perhaps he could fix it, I was both anxious and hopeful. Not only did he fix my dress within an hour of first seeing it but he also went on to help my bridesmaid, fellow blogger-Allison Page, with altering her dress as well. I’ve since been bragging that the talent behind the San Francisco Ballet accepted my freelance job but in all seriousness, Wes was fantastic. He made me feel comfortable in a situation that would have otherwise made me feel vulnerable and insecure. He did a perfect job with the alterations and I will continue to suggest him to anyone in need of a seasoned costume master!

As you can see, our wedding was made special by the many talents of the San Francisco Theater Community. We’ve found a family here in this city. Will and I are so thankful to know you all and we’re so happy that our big day was a celebration made better by the immense theatrical talent you all possess. Thank you for supporting us and believing that where there’s a Will (and an Ashley), there’s a way.

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Falling With Style: Five Bay Area Shows I’m Excited About This Season

Helen Laroche is excited about what’s to come. 

As I become less and less inclined to audition these days, I’m happy to find that I’m still interested in the thing that got me to theater and storytelling in the first place — watching it. Because really, isn’t the best part of being an artist (nay, a person!) getting to share in a well-told story, whether you’re telling it or hearing it?

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of shows I’m excited to see this upcoming season. For fairness’ sake, I didn’t put any shows that Theater Pub People(TM) are directly involved with (although you should know that they are the nonpareil of quality, and you should definitely check out The Age of Beauty which closes this Saturday at the EXIT; the SF Fringe Festival which runs the month of September 2013 at the EXIT; and the SF Olympians Festival, which goes up in November 2013 at … any wild guesses? The EXIT.)

So without further ado, here is the completely-personal, your-own-opinion-is-totally-valued-but-will-not-sway-me list of 5 Bay Area shows I’m looking forward to this season.

1. No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep (Berkeley), by Harold Pinter; runs now through August 31, 2013.

Yeah, let’s get this one out of the way. I’m excited, and I think it will ruffle some small-theater feathers to put this first on the list, but here it is. Berkeley Rep’s marketing ploy worked perfectly on my household: I bought season tickets to Berkeley Rep just to get tickets to this show. My husband, the non-theatre guy of our household, is excited to see “Dr. Xavier and Magneto be in love.” I’m excited because I’ve never seen a Pinter play, and I’ve never seen these guys live. And it’s just been fun to watch the jolt this has given the whole theater community.

2. Road Show at The Rhino (San Francisco), by Stephen Sondheim; runs January 2 – 19, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre

When I saw the Rhino’s season announcement email, with the last names of all their playwrights, and saw “Sondheim” among them, I high tailed it to their website to learn more. What Sondheim piece would fit into their “queer theater” credo? Turns out it’s a piece I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen — his most recent show, Road Show (formerly Bounce), which was first produced in 2003 and re-mounted with major revisions in 2008. It involves two brothers, one brother’s (male) lover, and their luck as they mine for gold in the Wild West.

3. Silent Sky at TheatreWorks (Mountain View), by Lauren Gunderson; runs January 15—February 9, 2014

Lauren Gunderson has been so hot these past couple seasons, and I have to admit that I haven’t seen a show of hers mounted yet. But I have read one of her plays, and the story is such that I will be a fan of hers for life: I was setting up a Shakespearean parlor reading at my apartment, and when it was clear we weren’t going to have the minimum number of people necessary to read All’s Well That Ends Well, I remembered that Lauren had a series of Shakespeare-inspired plays. (The first, Exit, Pursued By a Bear, had a rolling premiere last season (two seasons ago?) that included a staging at Impact Theater.) I went to her website, saw her list of works, and emailed her to ask if my friends and I could read the fourth in the series, called We Are Denmark. AND SHE SAID YES AND SENT OVER A PDF THAT STILL SAID DRAFT ON IT. It was so freakin’ cool. (And the play was great, to boot.)

So, she’s got a groupie in me now, for a number of reasons. But yeah, We Are Denmark centers in some part around astronomy, which Silent Sky also does. So I expect greatness. Also, TheatreWorks proved themselves to be awesome at night sky stage dressings in their awesome production of Fly By Night. So that’s another point in this production’s favor.

4. Top Girls at Custom Made Theatre Company (San Francisco), by Caryl Churchill; runs March 18 – April 13, 2014

When I first saw the audition notice go out for Custom Made’s upcoming season, I did my homework and read through all their shows. (For someone who calls herself a “theatre person,” I have read a woefully small number of plays in my life. So whenever I hear of a new season, it usually involves a lot of reading.) Top Girls is the one that stood out to me in the season, for two reasons: (1) it not only passes the Bechdel test, it blows it to smithereens; and (2) the amount of overlapping talking in the play makes for very difficult reading, to say nothing of how it’ll be staged and presented. Have you ever read Glengarry Glen Ross? That’s sort of stilted speech, with constant interruption, yet with each character maintaining her own line of thought. I’m interested in seeing this show for intellectual reasons as much as anything else.

5. The Color Purple at Hillbarn Theatre (Foster City), adapted from the book by Alice Walker; runs May 9 – June 1, 2014

When I first saw this musical done professionally, I was so moved I saw it twice. Sure, it had its moments of being over the top (just like any musical should!), but Alice Walker’s story was all still there, and Celie’s transformation into a self-confident woman was mirrored so compellingly in the actress’ soaring gospel voice. (I’ve always been a sucker for gospel.)

Doing this show at the community theatre level is a gamble on many levels, and it’s the first non-Equity presentation I’m aware of, anywhere. And you gotta hand it to Hillbarn for taking the leap and producing this show — I hope it gets the talent turnout they need to cast a 40+ person, nearly all-minority show. (We all know the talent’s out there; it’s just a matter of getting people to Foster City. And hey, they did it with Ragtime last season, to great effect. So if anyone can do it, Hillbarn can.)

(Auditions are early 2014, guys!)

Bonus: Camelot at SF Playhouse (San Francisco), by Lerner and Lowe; runs now through September 21, 2013.

So I lied. Had to tack this one on, playing now through late September. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of this musical. No amount of Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews could save it.

But maybe Angel from RENT could.

That’s right. This production stars Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the Tony Award-winning actor who originated the role of Angel, as Sir Lancelot. HOW is it halfway through the run and I haven’t heard about this?? WHO is running the marketing over there??

Other actors in the cast include a hodge-podge of Bay Area actors, Equity and non-Equity, including Bay Area favorite Monique Hafen as Guenevere. 

So. Now you know which shows (some, guilty pleasures; others, intellectually stimulating) that I’m looking forward to this season. How about you? Are you going to come see these with me? Do you have others on your mental list that you want to share?

Leave it all in the comments!

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area theatre-type, currently doing her thing at www.sayshelen.com

Ma Vie Boheme

Co-Artistic Director Stuart Bousel talks about RENT, and why this year’s Theater Pub Christmas concert, “Christmas Bells Are Ringing”, is bringing his love-hate relationship with this show full circle.

Maureen, I’m not a RENT person.

No seriously… I liked it for about two weeks when I was a freshman in college, and then I stopped liking it.

I never owned my own copy of the soundtrack. My friend Jessica loaned it to me the first time, over my freshman year Christmas Break, and then I borrowed it from my sister a couple of times in the years that followed. I remember that by the summer after my sophomore year of college I was already dis-enchanted enough to declare in the car to a friend that I thought it was “banal.” I held that opinion for a long time.

My sister really liked RENT. I bought her the behind-the-scenes book for Christmas one year. She sang “Seasons Of Love” at her high school graduation (the speaker at the event charmingly called it “rock music”) and she saw it on Broadway and on tour. I saw… the movie. And I kind of liked it. Which is the surest proof I’m not a RENThead. All those people apparently hate that movie.

So why am I singing a major role in our cover band version of it, specially whipped up for Christmas?

Well, I’m an artistic director of Theater Pub and to some extent I feel an obligation to be in the show and Mark was the better fit of any of the other roles (I mean, I suppose I could have been in the chorus… but fuck that, I’m not running myself into the ground for Theater Pub so I can not cop the occasional lead). I also love working with James Grady and Kat Bushnell, who have spearheaded this project (for the record- I wanted to do Les Mis this year) and fine, okay, on some level some part of me wants to recapture my eighteen year old self that bought into the idea that being bohemian was cool and we could all be bohemian- even if in reality the show implies we can all only be bohemian by being bohemian the same way.

Which is what really rubs me wrong about RENT. I think the irony of its “hey man, don’t sell out!” message is that RENT is like the epitome of the show that sold out. Jonathan Larson’s tragic and untimely death made him the poster child of the bo-ho movement of the late ‘90s, but when you look at his career he was clearly always vying for Broadway, desperately looking to “make it”. Yes, he didn’t sell out and get a job working in an office (he famously kept his waiter job all the way up till RENT’s workshop went into previews), but how is praying every day to get picked up by the theatrical equivalent of Hollywood not selling out? Maybe I’m too much the product of the generation that Kurt Cobain killed himself to stay cool for, but something about Larson and his work (especially his first musical, Tick-Tick-Boom) has always struck me as precious and phony.

Plus, the artists in RENT never seem to make any art (or any good art). Maureen’s protest song, which I think is one of the three truly brilliant moments in RENT (and yes, I do think there are moments of brilliance), is really the only time we see one of these “artists” making art. I mean, sure, there’s Roger’s song but… the less said the better, right? By the time RENT came into my life I’d already discovered Sondheim’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, which I still think is the most honest, brutal and accurate portrait of what the artistic process and life is like for many of us. People talk about all the parts of RENT that move them, but nothing in RENT comes close to the choking-back-tears sensation I get every time Dot and George’s final scene in SUNDAY culminates with her finishing the part of the lesson book he can’t read. But ultimately these are such different shows with such different objectives- SUNDAY is about making art; RENT is about being part of a scene.

And yet these two shows are compared all the time. Larson himself references SUNDAY, directly, with a whole song, in Tick-Tick-Boom. It’s probably that show’s best moment (naturally, because it’s Sondheim), and he nods to it again in “La Vie Boheme” in RENT. The nods are nice (Larson is a good boy who thanks his influences, something I admire about him) and yet to me it’s also a painfully obvious reminder of how sincere and brave SUNDAY was compared to how pandering and drama-club fantastic RENT would become. Not that I think Larson intended that, or could have predicted it even if he wanted to, but while SUNDAY remains timeless (artists will always struggle with alienation and frustration over a world ill-equipped to support and understand them), RENT has aged badly: the story is now riddled with clichés, some of which are kind of offensive (like the humor derived from Maureen having left Mark for a woman), and the bo-ho scene that was so edgy in 1996 (with it’s bisexuality, drug use and post-modern irony) now seems passé, twee and, let’s face it my friends- about as charming as when our parents talk about the 1960s and ‘70s and how cool they were. But what is shocking to discover as I’ve learned this material now, at the age of 34, is that what holds RENT back is not its temporal setting (SUNDAY, set in the 1880s was never current, yet feels more fresh) but its lack of depth.

Yeah, I said it: RENT isn’t deep. It’s got a lot of heart. More heart than 525,600 productions of Damn Yankees put together. But that’s not the same as depth. Depth requires self-awareness, including self-celebration and also self-mockery, and RENT has moments of both (it’s when the show shines brightest), but they are eclipsed by a deluge of self-projection and self-proclomation, and like most pop culture phenomena, it’s the naive earnestness that appeals to teenagers, but grates when you grow past that moment in your life (and start actually paying rent). It’s like a number of yearbook messages I have from people I didn’t know all that well in high school, who left very nice sentiments about how this was the best time of our lives and I should never change. At the time it seemed sweet, but now I think, “Really? The best time in our lives? Who hopes they pique at eighteen?” But RENT is all about capturing and defining a moment, not looking to the future. After all, the closest it comes to a defining philosophy is “No Day But Today.”

The problem is, once you capture a scene- who is in it and what they value and what they wear and what they listen to, read, etc.- you have essentially killed it. And yes, I do think RENT helped kill the 1990s. It turned moving downtown, being sexually and politically progressive, and pursuing your artistic dreams, into something trendy. Over the decade RENT was on Broadway it went from being a show staring nobodies, many of whom were not trained singers and actors, but rather aspiring performance artists and rock stars, to being just another Broadway tourist trap, with technically perfect singers coming out of various prestigious musical theater programs, sleepwalking their way through the role to entertain legions of mid-west show choir kids on their first NYC visit. When the movie came out it was lapped up by the same America that RENT was ostensibly rejecting. The songs became showtunes, sung by hopeful kids everywhere whose dream was less bohemia and more being famous on American Idol or worse, Glee. I remember the first time I heard a former friend of mine, now a Bible-thumping Christian who voted against gay marriage in her state, go off about how much she loved RENT, and what a cynic I was not to find Angel’s death from AIDS moving. My response was, “Yeah, I’d find it much more moving if he and Collins could get married.” The problem with RENT is that it made bohemia palatable for the non-bohemians of the world- and then they didn’t have to take it or its people seriously. And yes, the flaw lies within the material. RENT is so busy proclaiming “this is who we are” that it fails to ever say, “and this is why you should care.” It’s all sentiment, but no real ideas, and it mistakes sentiment for passion. I commend the show on not apologizing for itself, but I scowl at its lack of anything to say besides its own name.

So here’s my big confession: despite all of this I am excited that for one night, I get to sing Mark. But unlike many people I know who would love to be in my shoes, or one day will be, it’s not because I like RENT. I still don’t really like RENT, though I do think I appreciate it more (that “Christmas Bells” song is a real piece of craftsmanship). It has a lot of corny lyrics and crappy songs, the majority of which seem to be mine. But for better or worse I have managed to dig up that guy who used to wear three layers of shirts and army boots and in his pretentious teenager way he’s reclaiming RENT for my generation, taking it back from all the post-Spring Awakening Gleeks who don’t know anything about the AIDS crisis and all the fear it created in people, or the clean-up of NYC that displaced legions of homeless, or that being an artist is more than a wardrobe and the desire to be an internet meme. I don’t believe RENT really does justice to any of these issues, but I’m going to sing Mark as the person he thinks he is, not the person I see him as. Now.

Which is easier than it sounds because secretly, deep down, I relate to Mark. Still. He strikes me as the kind of guy who listened to SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE over and over again (as Larson apparently did, and as I used to), hoping against hope that he would grow up to be the next Seurat. Yes, he should have aspired to create the next Island of Le Grande Jatte, but mistaking the trappings for the content is something we do when we’re young.

Our self-proclomation is an incredibly catchy tune.

But since we all have to sing it at some point, let’s at least do it in a bar full of all our self-proclaimed bohemian friends.

Don’t miss “Christmas Bells Are Ringing!” our one night only Christmas concert, tonight at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco. Get there early- it’s going to be packed!