Theater Around The Bay: Writers Talking About Morrissey

With a somewhat heavy heart, we bring you some thoughts from the writers of the upcoming Morrissey Plays.

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” - Morrissey

“David [Bowie] quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive.” – Morrissey

Who the heck are you, Morrissey Play writer?

I’m Libby Emmons. My plays include I Am Not an Allegory (iamnotanallegoryplay.com, upcoming Under Saint Marks, March 2016, NYC), How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby for Parts (Festival of the Offensive, NYC 2014, winner “Most Offensive”), “Soft Little Song Like Doves,” (upcoming Best Short Plays, 2015, Smith & Krause), & many more. Co-founder of the Sticky short play series (stickyseries.live, upcoming Lovecraft Bar, April 2016, NYC), and blogs the story of her life at li88yinc.com. So many thank you’s to Stuart Bousel for including me in the show, & to Morrissey, for seeing me through my teenage years relatively unharmed.

I’m David Robson. I have a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. I was a director, adapter, and actor, in The Twilight Zone series at the Dark Room Theatre (RIP), which also produced my plays The Night and Zola-X. This is actually my Theater Pub debut!

I’m Susan Petrone, author of the novels Throw Like a Woman (2015), A Body at Rest (2009), and the forthcoming The Super Ladies (2016 or 2017 depending on when I get the manuscript to the publisher). My short fiction has been published by Glimmer Train and Featherproof Books, among others. I also blog about my beloved Cleveland Indians at the ESPN-affiliated blog ItsPronouncedLajaway.com.

Pete Bratach: I’m a guy who has been around long enough to have experienced the Smiths as an angst-ridden, morose teen, long before that whole Emo schtick sucked in the latest generation of outcasts and the disaffected. But “Girlfriend in a Coma” was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Smiths; I know, I know, it was serious. Oh, I live in SF and write for a living.

Allie Costa: I’m an actress, writer, director, and singer. When I’m not in a theatre, I’m on a film or TV set. I’ve been writing stories and songs for as long as I can remember. My earliest audiences were my mom, my sister, and my cat. That audience has now expanded; it’s mind-blowing to realize my work as both an performer and as a writer has been seen in places I’ve never been, like Scotland and London. My play Femme Noir is currently running in New Jersey, while The Intervention Will Be Televised is having its world premiere production in Los Angeles.

Anthony Miller: I was born and raised in San Jose. I performed in the Rocky Horror Picture Show for several years, and then I ran a poetry slam, now I write weird cult plays. I am a man mired in sub-sub cultures. I currently live in Berkeley with my girlfriend and two cats that cant seem to stop eating.

I’m Alan Olejniczak, a San Francisco playwright, Theater Bay Area ISC Board Member, and a company member of We Players. Last spring, I started the fledgling At Last Theatre, with Rik Lopes, and premiered Present Tense at The ACT Costume Shop. Last autumn, City Lights Theater Company presented my short play if-then(-else) and San Francisco Olympians Festival VI premiered my ten-minute play Hylas. This spring, I’m producing my play Dominion and participating in the next San Francisco Olympian’s Festival VII with Lethe.

I’m Barry Eitel, an Oakland playwright and a recipient of the 2016 TITAN Award for playwrights from TBA. I was the Head Writer for Boxcar Theatre’s The Speakeasy, leading a team of nine to create a breathing novel set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. I was the Fall 2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where I created an interactive play for young audiences. My short plays have been produced across the country and have been published by Smith & Kraus. My play The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident will be produced by FaultLine Theatre at PianoFight in August, 2016. My website is www.BarryEitel.com.

Kylie Murphy: I am a creative writing and filmmaking student from New Jersey. My first short play, World Peace, premiered in New York last summer. I apparently cannot write any play without the phrase “world peace” in the title, and am working closely with a professional to figure out why that is.

How/when did you first discover Morrissey?

Pete: I first discovered Morrissey through the Smiths back in high school when Hatful of Hollow was released.

Libby: In 9th grade no one understood me except the college radio station from the University of Rhode Island which only came in after much fidgeting with the location of the boom box in my room and one day after school they played “Reel Around the Fountain”, and they played “November Spawned a Monster”, and my heart was filled with the most joyous melancholy and I knew I was home.

Alan: I dated a guy briefly in college who introduced me to Meat is Murder. Tragically, my love was unrequited and my life became a glorious Smith’s single. I played the album over and over until my roommate, so worried about my spiraling depression, finally broke the cassette tape. Strangely, one of my fondest memories of Morrissey is seeing the Queen is Dead tour. I worked at the venue and after the sound check, the band casually sat on the edge of the stage. I bravely walked up to Morrissey, but could form no words. I stood there stupidly with my mouth open, until they all started laughing. I walked away, humiliated but delighted I got so close to my idol.

Kylie: I discovered Morrissey while reading the coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was fourteen. After the narrator famously placed “Asleep” by The Smiths twice on a mix tape, I listened to it endlessly and it was perfect. (What is my final cliché count?)

Anthony: I first saw the video for “Tomorrow” on 120 Minutes on MTV, followed by “Panic”, but it wasn’t until “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I get” that I was truly hooked. I promptly shoplifted a copy of “ Vauxhall and I” from my local tower records, thus began the love affair.

Susan: I lived at home during undergrad. My cousin Nora was studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art and lived with us. She (or one of her ultra-cool art school friends) had a homemade tape of Louder Than Bombs, which I “borrowed” and never returned.

Barry: I went through a time in high school obsessing over ’80s college rock, and there he was alongside Echo & The Bunnymen and Husker Du.

What do you love about Morrissey?

Alan: I love the man because he’s quirky, passionate, unafraid, and misunderstood. He’s unapologetic about his music and his views of the music industry, world politics, and religion.

Barry: His plainspoken poetry that would get destroyed at a writers’ workshop but works so terrifically set to music.

Libby: Back pocket daffodils, and the voice, and the emotion that is cold and emotionful at the same time, and the humour, how everthing is a joke on the world, but also on me, and how satisfying it is to be in the fray and be an observant bystander at the same time.

Kylie: I don’t know how to separate what I love from what I hate. Much like separating Morrissey the musician from Morrissey the man from Morrissey the demigod, it’s impossible. I love to hate him and hate to love him. He can be so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, and yet I would like to rip that tongue out every once in a while.

Susan: He embodies the human paradox. We’re all of us wracked with self-doubt about our looks and abilities. At the same time, we’re all secretly convinced we’re smarter and better-looking than anyone we know. Morrissey lays that dichotomy right out in the open. Plus his lyrics are always clever and often hilarious.

Anthony: The overwhelming combo of melody and melancholy, it’s sad, introspective, and insecure but with a great beat you can dance. I find his music comforting under any circumstance. His music embraces aspects of our personalities that we are led to believe are bad or self-indulgent, but he shows us that these feelings are completely necessary.

Pete: He and Johnny Marr made a powerful songwriting team. That hair! That croon! That vow of celibacy!

What do you hate about Morrissey?

Barry: That posers sing Smiths songs at karaoke to get laid.

Alan: There is nothing I hate about the man.

Pete: His solo work pales in comparison to the Smiths. Sometimes his tremulous voice grates on me.

Kylie: When answering what I hate about Morrisey, I felt a little lost, so I turned to the internet. The top Google searches for “Morrisey is” are “a genius”, “vegan”, “dead”, “not vegan”, and “rude”. I think that says it better than anyone can. In the end, I believe that the only person who could be Morrissey is Morrissey, because he can afford it.

Susan: We all know that we shouldn’t invest too much emotional energy in what other people think of us. Morrissey is evidence of the dangers of completely not giving a shit what the rest of the world thinks.

Anthony: He is kind of a pompous old man now, he doesn’t wear self-confidence well.

Libby: I would say that I hated that time I saw him play and he bailed on the last few songs because he was having a drama freak out, or didn’t feel well, or whatever, but he also sang “Angel Angel Down We Go Together”, and I reached my arms out as far as they could go and felt loved for real, so I don’t even hate him for that, or for moving to LA.

Why do you think Morrissey is important?

Kylie: I’m not sure if I think Morrissey is important, because nothing is important. That’s an answer Morrissey would give. Just kidding, Morrissey would say Morrissey is important.

Alan: The Smiths were one of the most influential rock bands of the 80’s. They resisted being pigeonholed in this ever-evolving music scene. Punk rock turned hardcore, disco evolved into new wave, and rock detoured into heavy metal. Morrissey and Johnny Marr resisted all of these music trends with there own unique sound. The Smiths were never mainstream or found commercial success. They’ve always been underground. The Smiths were remarkable for never having a bad album or a bad song. Since the breakup, Morrissey continues to perform with a loyal following, despite uneven solo albums and infrequent tours. While an unremarkable vocalist, Morrissey has an amazing stage presence – both sexy and commanding. Morrissey’s greatest strength and continued legacy is his brilliant lyrics that range from droll and pithy to self-consciously maudlin. Morrissey is important because he is a rock legend, an icon, with a career that spans four decades.

Anthony: Hs songs create unity through alienation. As fans, we are able to be alone, together.

Susan: His lyrical and vocal style have influenced a wide range of bands and songwriters from Colin Meloy to Noel Gallagher to Sam Smith (who even ripped off the quiff). The meek shall inherit the earth. The misfits and weirdos get Morrissey.

Pete: He gave a voice to the legions of depressed and disaffected youth of the world.

Barry: He made sadness a fine thing to sing about–not “cool” sad, not “look at me I’m sad” sad, not “this world is so crazy” sad, but “I’m afraid I’m totally lame and no one actually likes me” sad.

Libby: I think he’s important as a discovery; for a person who needs to hear what he’s crooning, who feels all those things and has need to have those feelings in surround sound, simply to prevent exploding, Morrissey is essential.

Kylie: I think he is important so that each of us can identify with him at some point in our loneliness, and then find out he is just a guy who has said some bad things and move on with our lives.

David: I can really only talk about Morrissey with a timeline so…

1980s. Morrissey and The Smiths could be seen at school on t-shirts worn by all of the very, very serious kids who’d aligned themselves with alternative culture. I recognized that “How Soon is Now?” was held together by some terrific riffs, but there was something off-putting about the frontman’s…affectedness? Gloominess? The music from nearby Washington, DC’s punk scene seemed a more practical response to the problems faced by my generation, and the industrial/darkwave music out of Chicago was more fun to dance and fuck to. No Smiths or Morrissey for me, then.

1990s. The college’s weekly lively arts publication highlights the spectacularly insane contents of a press release announcing the coming of KILL UNCLE, Morrissey’s second solo album. Among the highlights: “Morrissey is clearly out to shock you with his new album. Just look at the title: KILL UNCLE. See? You’re shocked!” A few years later Morrissey’s VAUXHALL & I marks a pleasing new plateau for Morrissey, and meets with great critical and commercial success. The single “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” turns into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy as it’s played at least once an hour on every goddamn radio station I listen to.

2000s. A noticeably-older Morrissey holds a tommy gun so gracefully on the cover of YOU ARE THE QUARRY that he seems to have pirouetted off the set of a John Woo film. I don’t buy the album (though a friend assures me that “First of the Gang To Die” is one for the ages) but the cover sends me. There’s something tremendously reassuring about Morrissey brandishing a machine gun, especially halfway through the second Bush administration. I’m pleased he’s still around, though damned if I understand why.

2010s. SF Theatre Pub puts a call out for submissions to The Morrissey Plays. I get cranky that they’ve picked an artist with whom I have so little affinity, but simply shrug and say ah well. A week later ask myself where I would start, and call up a YouTube recording of “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” And all the doors between Moz and me just disappear. I can see that crappy seaside town, I exult in the greyness overhead, I feel like I’ve lived there, and yet I can see it so clearly thru the eyes of Morrissey’s narrator; his ennui sounds overblown thanks to a downright Wall-of-Sound production, but the sensuality that informs it is the real deal, and THAT is where Moz and I finally connect. And over a couple of short sessions I find a play set against that grey landscape, populated with Morrissey’s characters and mine, pursuing what I find in the song to what feels to me like a natural conclusion. I can’t pretend that I know Morrissey better than anyone, or even particularly well, but I’m glad, after all of these years, to have finally had such a thrilling introduction.

Allie: I was inspired to write How Soon is Now? after hearing a friend gush about Morrissey the day after she attended his concert with two of her friends, dear friends she’s known since high school. As she told me about her experience at the concert, she positively lit up, smiling so broadly, and I could easily see her as a teenager, moved by the music and bonding with these girls who would become her lifelong friends. I wrote the piece that evening and I shared it with her the next day. When this piece was selected for The Morrissey Plays, she was the first person I told.

Okay. Five MUST HAVE SONGS on the Ultimate Morrissey Mix.

Kylie:
1. “Asleep” Obviously.
2. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” I used this song in a school project where I created a musical companion to Crime and Punishment— you’d be surprised just how well Morrissey and Raskolnikov fit together.
3. “How Soon Is Now?” For the longest time, I thought that he was singing “I am human and I need to belong”. But who was I kidding, Morrissey doesn’t need to belong anywhere.
4. “Half A Person” Of course he says the YWCA and not the YMCA. Of course.
5. “Asleep” Twice, in honor of the book that brought Morrissey into my life.

Pete:
1. “Hand In Glove” Because the sun shines out of our behinds!
2. “How Soon Is Now?” Despite its relative ubiquity, Johnny Marr’s guitar on this song is amazing, and the lyrics were so fitting for an angsty, misfit teenager.
3. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” Again, Johnny Marr’s guitarwork, plus lyrics so over the top they’re funny.
4. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” Another anthem for an angsty drunken teenager in college.
5. “What Difference Does It Make?” Songs that are questions are cool.

Allie:
1. “How Soon is Now?” is my favorite song by The Smiths/Morrissey, probably because it was the first I heard, but also because of its surround-sound effect and fantastic groove.
2. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” Always reminds me of my friend Holly Cupala, whose novel used it as the working title. The book was later published under the title Tell Me a Secret.
3. “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” Always reminds me of Dream Academy’s instrumental cover as featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
4. “Reel Around the Fountain” Check out the acoustic cover version by Duncan Sheik, too.
5. “Girlfriend in a Coma” The juxtaposition of a poppy music line + creepy lyrics.

Alan:
1. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” This song reminds me of the freewheeling melancholia of my youth – when the smallest problems loomed large and feeling sorry for your self was a badge worn with honor.
2. “Billy Budd” For me, this driving song is the painful remembrance of being young, closeted, and desperately in love.
3. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” What twenty old doesn’t occasionally wallow in anguish and regret, yet desperately clinging to the hope of eternal love?
4. “Headmaster Ritual” In the golden age of Manchester schools, not unlike a good parochial education, helped students build strong character through fear, violence and humiliation.
5. “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” This song is hilarious – besides who has not loved the wrong kind of guy?

Susan:
1. “Ask” I used to sing this to my daughter when I was giving her a bath because it’s just ridiculously catchy.
2. “All You Need Is Me” Because I love to sing along with the line “I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I ever dreamed about.”
3. “Throwing My Arms Around Paris” In the song “Lush Life” Billy Strayhorn wrote “A week in Paris would ease the bite of it,” and so it would.
4. “Sing Your Life” This is one of three songs I want played at my funeral (no joke).
5. “Now My Heart Is Full” Simply because it’s lovely.

Barry:
1. “Panic” How come people don’t still say “Hang the DJ”?
2. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” You aren’t too cool to appreciate the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
3. “Shoplifters of the World Unite” A song from the viewpoint of the most pathetic security guard ever.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” There may have never been a truer thing ever said.
5. “This Charming Man” I wrote my play about this one so….

Libby:
1. “These Things Take Time” Because it’s the song we sang that one summer when we watched old movies in my bedroom, shunned the glorious singing bird sunshine, drank red wine, and lay the whole day in bed.
2. “Sheila Take a Bow” Because I saw the video for this on my local cable access channel when I was growing up, and some kids did a video show, and they played this and Morrissey does that bend forward thing and I knew I wasn’t alone.
3. “Driving Your Girlfriend Home” Because I’ve been the girlfriend.
4. “Last Night on Maudlin Street” Because it makes me feel like I’m leaving my child hood home forever all over again, and how life hurts, but is beautiful, and how even hurting is beautiful, and love is real, and really possible, even if it’s not always realized, and being alive itself is enough reason to stay that way.
5. “How Soon is Now” Because it’s the classic, and DJ Bobby Startup used to play it at Revival when I was a kid in Philly, and then when I got to know him years later and he dj’d Bar Noir where we did our first Sticky show he would play it just for us, even though otherwise he’d do the dance tunes, and we’d get up on the tables and sing at the top of our lungs and feel like the world was ours.

Anthony:
1. “This Charming Man” So many good memories associated with this song.
2. “November Spawned a Monster” I can sing this at the top of my lungs and just feel better, even if I didn’t feel that bad beforehand.
3. “The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get” This is the song that hooked me.
4. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” Because it’s the story of my life. And that’s Ok.
5. “Still Ill (John Peel/Hatful of Hollow Version)” It’s very much a portrait of how I feel at this point in my life, I am not who I used to be and the world has changed, and it’s equal parts good and bad.

Don’t miss The Morrissey Plays, opening on Monday!

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The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview with Alan Olejniczak

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews, Alan Olejniczak about his upcoming show, “Present Tense.”

I had to feel instant comradery with Alan Olejniczak and having a complicated last name with a silent “J”. In case you were wondering, Alan gives you a little tip on his website on how to pronounce his name, which I’m totally going to steal for my own forth coming website.

“How in the heck do you pronounce that last name?”
OH/la/KNEE/check

We had the chance to bond over email about opera libretti. I was inspired by Alan’s story of the serendipitous outcome of a little facebook post he put out to the world when he had submitted to a company he admires that actually didn’t take unsolicited playwriting submissions. Partially because while I make adjustments to my own playwriting trajectory, I’m feeling the need to be bold and put myself out there more and more.

What follows is my email exchange with Alan. I am looking forward to meeting him, geeking out about Pearl S. Buck and of course, seeing his plays.

Alan-by-ChrisTurner892

Babs: I’m interested in people’s trajectory into writing. Tell me how you got involved in the Bay Area theater scene. Did you come in originally as a playwright? Was anything an impetus?

Alan: While I have a BFA with a focus in Performing Arts, I studied the classics but had little idea of how plays were written or even developed. Up to that point, I never considered the idea of writing one. About six years ago, I saw a developmental reading of a play by Lauren Gunderson at Marin Theater Company. I was inspired and strangely determined to write one myself. After all, how hard could it be? For me, playwrighting has become a passion and continues to be the most difficult and most rewarding personal endeavors I have ever undertaken.

Babs: This tends to be such a loaded question, but do you think you have a writing style, and if so, what is it like? How would your friends describe your writing and the subject matter that you’re attracted to?

Alan: It’s too early for me to claim any particular writing style, and in many ways, I’m still finding my voice. I enjoy writing dramas and I’m naturally drawn to mythology and the stories of powerful historical figures. My work has been described as classically-styled, intellectual, but most often, operatic. I believe theater should be distinct from film and I’m not always attracted to realism, despite Present Tense being written this way.

Babs: Tell me about your upcoming production of “Present Tense” at ACT Costume Shop. What is it about? Where did it grow out of? What might we expect?

Alan: Present Tense is really my second play. It’s a play cycle of five separate vignettes. It’s about loving families and dilemmas that some us face. It’s drawn from personal experiences and those of people I love. The focus is on intimate stories rather than the grand and the characters are drawn from real life rather than archetypes. I wrote the Present Tense with my friend, Rik Lopes in mind and I’m thrilled that he is able to direct and perform in this play.

Babs: I read on your website that you are also very much interested in opera. Could you talk a little about that? What drew you to it and have you written any libretti, out of curiosity?

Alan: While working on my undergrad at UW-Milwaukee, I studied theater production, but outside of school, I sang in the chorus of the Florentine Opera Company. I graduated, moved to Atlanta, and didn’t sing again for another fifteen years. I loved working with the Atlanta Opera and sang three seasons before moving to California. For now, I simply enjoy being a season ticket holder with the San Francisco Opera.

I love opera and believe it’s one of the greatest western art forms. It combines the highest expressions of vocal and orchestral music with the greatest demands on stagecraft. Currently, I’m in the early stages of developing a play for We Players. It’s drawn from Greek mythology and combines spoken drama with song, spectacle, and dance. I’m excited for the opportunity to work with such amazing and dynamic company. My crazy dream is to adapt Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” into a grand opera.

Babs: I mentioned that this month’s themes are “luck and chance”. Can you tell me a story of how this might have intersected with your playwriting/theater trajectory?

Alan: Connecting with We Players was certainly serendipity. Last summer, I posted on Facebook that I foolishly submitted an unsolicited script to a company I love. Never a smart move, but I was feeling bold and guessed that my email was already deleted. By chance, my friend Arthur Oliver, who I worked with at the Atlanta Opera read the post and privately messaged me, asking which company it was? He knew Ava Roy personally and he really made this connection happen. I’m forever grateful.

Babs: What keeps you writing?

Alan: Humans have always had a deep need for sharing stories. It’s primal. We are also drawn to meaningful and satisfying work and playwrighting for me fills both of these needs. I find I’m most productive and inspired in the mornings. I wake early, make a pot of coffee, and write. Playwrighting, for me, has become literally the reason I get up in the morning.

Babs: Any advice for those that might want to write a play and have it produced?

Alan: Frankly, I’m still learning myself. However, I would say to write a play, one must learn the mechanics of dramatic structure and how to develop compelling characters and dialogue. You must also really love the subject of your play as it may take years to develop. Lastly be persistent and be open to thoughtful critique. I know the surest way to bring your play to the stage is to self-produce. Take the risk yourself rather than ask others. I remember speaking to Stuart Bousel who stated there is no right way to produce a play or be successful in theater.

Babs: Any plugs for anything of yours (or others) coming up?

Alan: Well, certainly We Player’s Ondine. I hope to work front-of-house on the production after the run of Present Tense. Ondine will be spectacularly staged at the Sutro Baths and will not be a show to miss. I would also recommend Patricia Milton’s Enemies: Foreign and Abroad with Central Works Theater. I’m also looking forward to Impact Theater’s Richard III and Piano Fight’s ShortLived.

PRESENT TENSE_Poster_draft 6 (Final)

You can find out more about Present Tense and ticket information at the ACT Costume Shop website. For news on Alan Olejniczak, check out his website at www.alanolejniczak.com.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a SF Bay Area-based playwright with an upcoming reading of her untitled punk play through Just Theater’s New Play Lab on April 28th. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany and now on Facebook.

Theater Around The Bay: Year End Round Up, Act 4, The Stueys (Again)

Stuart Bousel gives us his Best of 2014 list. Finally. We know it’s long, but read the whole thing. Seriously. If he was Tony Kushner you’d do it.

So if there is anything I learned last week it’s that one can have spent too much time thinking about Into The Woods.

No, but seriously, in the time since I published last week’s avante garde explanation for why I wasn’t going to do the Stueys, ironically, as these things often happen, I rediscovered why I want to do the Stueys. Blame it on a couple of supportive emails I got, a text of a friend reading my blog from inside a security fort and identifying too much, and a chat on a bay-side bench with a young, hopeful playwright, but my heart started to heal from the poison I was bleeding out of it and then one night, quite spontaneously, I just sat down and wrote them. And it just felt dumb not to share them. Before I do though, I wanted to briefly (for me) revisit the three things I wanted to get across in last week’s article. In 2015 it’s my goal to create space both for what I want to say, and what I need to say.

1) I kind of hate the Internet. But seriously, after the last year or so, does anybody not? I mean, I love what it can do but I’m starting to truly hate what it brings out in people, including myself. To be honest, while I am still quick with the quippy comments on Facebook and such, you may have noticed I am much quieter on the debates and controversy front than I once was and this is because I’ve just reached my limit of getting into fights that started out as conversations but then devolved into people just trying to outshout one another. It’s amazing to realize that a silent medium requires a volume dial but it really does, and the truth is, there are days I fear to be anything but funny on the internet, or ubiquitously positive, and so I ironically don’t want to talk in what is supposed to be a forum, not because I fear critique or debate, but because I’m not looking to start any wars. Too bad the Internet is pretty much a 24/7 war zone.

2) I kind of hate awards. I always kind of have, but this became more apparent to me after I won a TBA Award this year and I know that sounds ungrateful but believe me, I am honored and flattered to have received it, and I understand why awards are important, or at least necessary, and I can’t state enough, especially as someone who got to discuss the process and purpose behind the awards extensively with the folks running them, that I do believe the TBA awards are both well intentioned and super inclusive in their attempt to create an even playing field for theater makers coming from a diverse level of resources. What I dislike so strongly about awards is how many people, in the broader sense, use them as shorthand to designate the value of art, artists, and organizations. And no, they’re not supposed to do this, I know, but they do, and we as artists are not supposed to internalize this, I know, but we do. And I became really aware of that standing in a room with my fellow nominees that night, who didn’t win an award, all of whom were good sports about it but I could tell it made them sad. Which made me feel kind of miserable. And now my award lives in the back of my closet because as proud as I am of it, I’m also weirded out about it, and what it might mean to people, the expectations it might create about me or my work. And awards are nice but they can’t be why we’re in this, and I know that sounds kind of bullshit from somebody who has a few but it’s true and we have to remember that.

3) I kind of hate theater. Okay, that is an exaggeration but I am going through a phase of being sort of disenchanted with theater and some of the theater community. I know this is hardly a first for anybody in the community, and I suspect it’s a particularly common feeling when you’re feeling overworked- which I definitely was in 2014. 2015, however, doesn’t promise to be any less work, in fact the opposite, and so that’s got me down. And yes, I know it’s my choice to work as much as I do, but it’s also kind of not. A lot of what I do won’t happen without me and that makes me want to keep working because I believe in it and all the people it serves or creates opportunities for, but my inability to really escape the theater scene for more than a day or two before my inbox fills and my phone rings reached epic proportions in 2014 and lead to some intense moments of resenting the thing I love for needing me so very much while not always feeling like it needs me, Stuart, so much as anybody dumb enough to work this hard for this little pay. Which is a nasty thing to say but sometimes… sometimes it’s also kind of the truth. Feeling taken for granted sucks; feeling enslaved to passion has a dark side. So it goes. It balances out all the times I feel rescued and redeemed by it.

So, hopefully, you can see how all this could make for a mood not suited for creating the Stueys. Considering my general ambivalence/anxiety about awards, but recognizing that some people take the Stueys seriously enough to put them on resumes and websites, I really have been struggling with how ethical, not to mention hypocritical, it is for me, as an artist, to be handing out awards, no matter how playfully, to my fellow artists, when the only thing determining those awards is… me. Who no one should take seriously. But who apparently some people really do. Cue paralysis inducing terror and suddenly I couldn’t remember why I was doing this or what it was all about, but I felt I had to say something because I had all this stuff to say. But it can be hard for me to talk about myself, what I’m personally going through, and even harder for me to advocate for myself. I hate disappointing people. But I hate being insincere more. And I wanted to begin to understand why I was feeling all this dread.

Anyway, without more ado, and much, much later than intended, here they are, 14 awards for the 2014 Stueys.

BEST ADDITION TO THE BAY AREA THEATRE SCENE
The Bay Area Theatre Awards

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, and when we celebrate that whole community, regardless of budget or house size, Equity relationship or ticket price, we are celebrating our Art, ourselves as Artists, and Artists as contributors to and saviors of the World. Of course, no one organization or 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. No matter how far we cast our net, there is always more to see and more to explore and we’re fortunate to have it that way, so for a moment, let’s just celebrate what an incredible delight it is to now have an official awards system for our community that appears to be on the same page as that sentiment of inclusivity and casting a wide net, regardless of whatever other kinks may still need to be ironed out. And for those of you who feel the TBA Awards are not enough, or still missing the boat in some regards, you are correct. And you should do something about it, whatever that means to you. To me, it means keeping the SEBATAs going, because in my mind, Heaven is a place where at last we are all recognized for what we bring to the table, and I dream of a Bay Area filled with organizations and individuals proudly recognizing one another at every possible turn, for as many reasons as can be found, as many times as it pleases us to do so. And so I am giving the first Stuey this year to TBA, and specifically Robert Sokol, for having completed a Herculean task that they will now have to complete all over again. And then again. And then again. And again. Good luck everybody!

BEST NEW VENUE
PianoFight

Is there anyone who isn’t excited about all the potential here? Rob Ready and company have been building this space for years now, and walking into it you see why it has taken so long- it is just beautiful. From the mural by Molly Benson to the floors and the furniture, they have been seeking to create not just another black box or just another dive bar, but something truly magnificent, welcoming, inspiring, and everything a venue dedicated to a community art should be. Best thing of all? They’ve asked Theater Pub to perform there, and so we will be performing there, starting in January, at least twice a month going forward. Which makes us excited and scared. Something we’re sure they understand. This whole year looks to be exciting and scary.

BEST THEATER FESTIVAL
San Francisco Fringe Festival (EXIT Theatre)

Dear San Francisco: this amazing thing happens right in the middle of you every year and not enough of you know about it and not enough of you make the time to visit it. And like… really visit it, not just duck in to see your friend’s show and then run out. And I understand why you do that because I used to do the same thing but now, having worked there for three years, I have to say, you are robbing yourself of an amazing opportunity to see theater from all over the country and the world, and to meet and talk with the most diverse collection of artists any one event assembles at any given point in the year, and to be a part of something bigger than you and bigger than just this venue or this theater scene for that matter. Do yourself a favor, serious theater goer, serious theater maker, and commit to seeing at least three shows at the Fringe this next year. Pick one by someone you know, one by someone you have heard of, and one by a total stranger. See them all, bring a friend, hang out in the Café and the Green Room between shows (on almost any night of the Fringe you can see 2-3 shows in one visit to the venue, and all the tickets are super cheap), introduce yourself to the staff and artists, tip the Fringe, and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to see more, know more, do more. If the Bay Area Theatre scene is a garden, this is one of our most vital vegetable beds. Tend this garden, and then come get fed.

BEST SHOW
“Our Town” (Shotgun Players)

Won’t lie… it kind of kills me that this was my favorite show of the year. But it was, so much so that my boyfriend, afterwards, said, “Let’s not see anything else this year- let’s let this be where we stop” and he was right and I agreed, but that’s part of what worries me: for far too many people I think theater starts and stops with “Our Town”, or its equivalent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good theater because it is, and I have long defended Thornton Wilder as being one of the great playwrights whose work is often undermined by having been overdone. This production, directed by Susannah Martin with assistance from Katja Rivera, was anything but overdone, it was subtle and lovely and elegantly realized, from the costumes and lighting, to the music and the performances, and it all came together in a way that, while nostalgic and dramatically safe (which aren’t necessarily bad things, but important to recognize), still felt fresh and sincere, like the gesture of laying down in the rain on the grave of a loved one. There was really nothing I didn’t love. Though if I had to pick favorites I’ll say very little is more entertaining than watching Michelle Talgarow and Don Wood play off each other, even during the intermission raffle. The night I was there they got some very chatty audience feedback and they handled it Grover’s Corners style: graciously and politely and in a way that warmed your heart.

BEST READING
“Hydra” by Tonya Narvaez (SF Olympians Festival)

God, there is very little better in life than a really good reading, and possibly nothing more frustrating than watching people shoot themselves in the foot on what should be the simplest, easiest theatrical event to pull off. And yet… again and again we see it at the SF Olympians Festival, the full range of dramatic readings, from the simple but impafctful, to the overdone and done to death. This year we had a number of excellent readings, but my favorite standout was “Hydra”, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez. A ghost story, a comedy, a conundrum, the piece was elevated to a new level by Tonya shrouding the stage in total darkness except for reading lights for her cast who, illuminated in the stark and eerie glow, were uniformly excellent- not in the least because they were relieved of having to worry about blocking and forced by the light to focus only on the text. Such a simple, elegant choice, but so effective. She won that night of the festival, and wins this Stuey for Best Reading.

BEST SHORT PLAY
“Mars One Project” by Jennifer Roberts (part of “Super Heroes” at Wily West Productions)

Jennifer Robert’s play, about a female astronaut who is denied her chance to go to Mars because she has a daughter and the Powers That Be don’t think the world can stomach or root for a woman who would leave her child, even in an attempt to create a role model for that child, was by far the best piece in this evening of shorts. There was plenty of fine writing, but this is the one that transcended its own subject matter to present that ever elusive thing: an issue play in which both sides of the argument are presented with pathos. The tragedy of the piece is less that “we’re not there yet” and more, “is what it will take to be there always going to require sacrifice on this level”, to me a much more interesting, more human question. In an evening of mostly sketches, it was the one piece that could not only stand on its own, but really stood for something, and it’s a near perfect short play- which as an author of short plays, I assure you, is a near impossibility.

The Peter O’Toole Award For General Awesomeness
Amanda Ortmayer (EXIT Theatre Technical Director)

Amanda Ortmayer has let me cry on her shoulder so many times this year it’s astounding she doesn’t just keep a towel on hand. Only she probably does, since she’s seemingly prepared for anything, she just probably keeps it out of sight, since she also knows the value of never revealing your bag of tricks, or the exact location of your wishing tree. Something has to keep us in ballgowns and slippers and it’s probably not going to be wishes alone. But Amanda likes to encourage wishes too, and that rare combination of pragmatism and dreaming is why she is just generally… awesome. If you haven’t had a chance to work with her, I hope, one day, you do. It’ll remind you why we’re all in this, or at least, why we should all be in this: for the people.

BEST BREAK THROUGH
Marissa Skudlarek, “Pleiades”

One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to people complain about how there are not enough opportunities, while refusing to ever create those opportunities themselves. For the record I agree, there aren’t enough opportunities, but at some point we need to realize that if we have our health and a clear sense of our dreams, we’ve already been given more than most people get so it’s really just about figuring out how to see your dream materialize. Watching Marissa Skudlarek as she put together her first production as a producer (she wrote the script too, but we’re giving her recognition for the producer hat here), I was blown away by how organized and focused she was, how determined she was to do it as best she could even the first time out. Which is more than I can say for me. Even now, I feel like I mostly just take a deep breath, pick up my sword, and rush into battle blindly, while Marissa strategized and planned, gathered information, raised funds, and was just in general super smart about it all. Was anyone surprised? Not really. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take one more moment to tell her she did an amazing job. Everyone looking to produce a show in 2015- call Marissa. She knows what she’s doing.

BEST CHEMISTRY
Michaela Greeley, Katherine Otis, Terry Bamberger (“Three Tall Women”, Custom Made Theater Company)

It is not easy to play three versions of the same woman but this trio of ladies, under the direction of Custom Made veteran Katjia Rivera, brought so much magic to the stage that the leap of faith required for Act Two of Edward Albee’s classic was not only easy to make, you made it with a song in your heart! This is a lovely show, but one I rarely feel enthusiastic about, energized by, and these three performers, working so well together, in such total tandem with one another, sold me on this show in a way it’s never been sold to me before. Michaela Greeley was uncomfortably good at playing the frailty of her character in Act One and the fierce stubborn vitality in Act Two; while Terry Bamberger was an edgy warmth in Act One that ballooned into an explosion of heat and fire in Act Two; Katherine Otis, in the part with the least to work with in both acts, managed to strike the aloof brittleness required in the first act while still laying the foundations for the insecure idealist the second act tears to pieces. But what I may have loved the most was the way these ladies moved, always circling one another, always creating triangles on the stage, each one so aware of the other, having to fill the space one vacated, or rushing to claim a spot before the other could. It was like a dance, like a motorized portrait of the Three Fates and they wove a spell together that was frightening and enchanting all at once.

BEST RISK
Kat Evasco, “Mommie Queerest” (Guerilla Rep/DIVAfest)

Kat Evasco knows how to work an audience, but the audience at her show might not have been ready to get worked so hard. Bravely darting in and out of us, throwing herself around the stage in gleeful and breathless abandon, Kat unravels a personal story about the struggle to discover not only who she is- but who her mother is. And why she needs her mother to know who she is before she can finally accept herself. Co-written with John Caldon, who also directed, the show avoids the bulk of solo show clichés, feeling more like a play where Kat has just been tasked with playing all the roles to the best of her ability, and the audience isn’t really asked to come along so long as commandeered by her at the beginning and let go only when she sees fit. The piece is courageously risky, not only because of the controversial elements within it, but because Kat leaves no fourth wall standing between herself and the audience, and if they don’t run with her on it, her show is kind of screwed. Both times I saw this though, that wasn’t a problem; it’s hard not to jump in both feet at a time with a performer who is so ready and eager to do it.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Justin Gillman (“The Pain And The Itch”, Custom Made Theater Company; “Blood Wedding” Bigger Than A Breadbox Theatre Company; “Pastorella” No Nude Men; and like a billion other things)

So… how many plays was Justin Gillman in this past year? It seemed like every time you turned around he was being cast in something, including by me, and every time he was pretty amazing in it. I don’t know how he does it. Like seriously, I don’t know how he memorizes all his lines, let alone doesn’t burn out from the constant rehearsal and yet somehow he shows up every night, fresh and ready to perform. Generous with everyone, onstage and off, it’s rare I don’t find him the highlight of a cast, usually finding a way to balance being a somewhat over-the-top character with a deeply human core that is achingly vulnerable when not just a tiny bit scary. In each of the three roles highlighted above, this was the common thread- men at first dismissable, who at sudden turns revealled their fangs, and then wept as they ripped your throat out. Delicious.

The ladies have gotten a lot of attention on this year’s list, which is great, but we like to keep things balanced here at the Stueys so we’re giving two more nods out: Kenny Toll (“Dracula Inquest”, Central Works) and Sam Tillis (“Slaughterhouse Five”, Custom Made Theater Company). In my opinion, both of these gentlemen were the best thing about these two shows, which were solid enough theatrical productions but elevated by fully committed actors. In both cases, both men also played characters who were… well, committed. As in insane. Though the insanity characterizations couldn’t have been more night and day than the plays were (Toll’s was of the by turns wimpering, by turns screeching Bedlam variety, Tillis was the diamond hard, lethally cold, slow burn sociopath kind), both managed to be believable and unsettling without being melodramatic or over-the-top. Toll even managed to be sympathetic, while Tillis managed to be mesmerizing. Either way, it was endlessly watchable, haunting, and impressive.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Cat Luedtke in Anything

Seriously, once upon a time there was no Cat Leudtke and then one morning we woke up and she was everywhere. I think I might have seen her in like six shows this year and in each case she was the walk away discovery, the revelation performance. The tremendous skill of this woman is matched only by her tremendous range, as every role I saw her in this year was different, though perhaps none so piercing and breathtaking as her role in Custom Made’s “Top Girls” as England’s most done-with-it-but-not-lying-down-about-it mother. I’ve also seen her sing and dance, act Lorca, play the 19th century adventurer, the dutiful wife, and more (probably helps that one of the things I saw her in was a collection of one-acts), bringing to each role a personal touch and a universal power, a sincerity and openness of heart that made you feel like you were watching a real person. She’s very much a “real actress”, whatever we mean by that when we say it. I know that what I tend to mean is somebody so good at throwing themselves into something, they transcend and turn into someone else, each and every time.

There is always an embarrassment of brilliant female performances in the Bay Area, so I feel a few other honorable mentions are in order: Mikka Bonel in “At The White Rabbit Burlesque” (DIVAfest), giving a performance as a rabbit that was unlike any performance of anything I’ve ever seen; Ariel Irula in “Blood Wedding” (Bigger Than A Breadbox), whose deeply passionate performance was matched only by the soul of her singing voice; Jean Forsman in “The Pain And The Itch” (Custom Made Theater Company), nailing well-meaning but vapid liberal mom as only someone like Jean could, walking perfectly that line of endearing and annoying; Stephanie Ann Foster in “Slaughterhouse Five” (Custom Made Theater Company), who played both a woman and a man in the show, and was lovely, heartbreaking, deeply sympathetic in each role.

BEST FUSION THEATER PIECE
Now And At The Hour (Christian Cagigal, H.P. Mendoza)

The fusion of theater and film is a tricky one, and I can only imagine how filming a stage show without destroying the magic of live theater must require an excellent understanding of both mediums. Now make that live theater a magic show too and you are truly setting yourself up to fall flat on your face, but H.P. Mendoza’s film of Christian Cagigal’s “Now And At The Hour” flies, it is magical and touching, the decision to interrupt the narrative of the stage show with the narrative of Christian’s life and the important players in it only adding to the emotional punch of this unique variation on “the artist and his work” formula. Beautifully shot, entertaining, unexpectedly poignant, this is a stellar example of a collaboration between artists and mediums.

BEST SOLO SHOW
Kevin Rolston, “Deal With The Dragon” (SF Fringe Festival)

Remember my earlier bit about the Fringe? Here is a glowing example of why going into something blind at the Fringe can sometimes result in stumbling across something truly excellent. I didn’t know anything about this show. It had a fun premise in the Fringe guide (Man moves in with Dragon) and a bad flier design (sorry, it can’t all be hugs and snuggles here) and while I had no expectations what I wasn’t expecting was to be so thoroughly moved and entertained. It does not hurt that Kevin Rolston is an incredibly talented performer with an ability to switch between his three narrators with glass-like smoothness, or that each of the three stories he tells, each with a different take on the idea of a “dragon”, are all funny and unsettling portraits of our tenous relationship with self-control and those things inside us that scare us. An unsettling fable about how our potential for violence and indulgence can also be our potential for strength and transformation, Rolston’s notes in the program claimed the piece is unfinished, but it could actually already stand as is. Here’s hoping the final product is as good as the draft.

And as for Me…

So Usually I end the awards with something about the show I personally worked on that affected me the most, but in all honesty I got so much out of all of them it would be hard to pick one so I kind of just want to take a final look at last year as a whole so I can both make sense of it and kiss it goodbye.

For me, it was an incredible year, but that doesn’t mean I loved every second of it. Far from it. It was as demanding as it was rewarding and at times it also seemed… endless. Like there was just always one more thing to do, to get through and then… two more. And then nine. I got to work with material by the incredible Kristin Hersh this year and that will forever be a highlight of my life but the production itself was a rough process, and the reception was rough, it all kind of placed too much strain on an important relationship in my life and I walked away feeling very differently than I had when I walked in- which was hopeful and desirous to bring a project that meant a lot to me to people I loved who I thought could benefit from it, but by the end I was wondering if I had ultimately done more harm than good by bringing such tremendous attention to something so natal. Then I directed a stellar production of “The Crucible” that made me acutely aware of how resistant critics and audiences can be to seeing a familiar play in a new way, and also how embracing they can be, but by that point I was having a hard time hearing the love and found it easier to focus on the detrimental views. I worked to let it all go, focused on feeling proud of the work my actors and designers had done, which was stupendous, and then just as I was feeling more balanced again, Wily West’s production of my play “Everybody Here Says Hello!”, after a whirlwind of a production process, opened to unexpectedly and ubiquitously positive reception. Suddenly, I was a guy with a hit show on my hands- technically my third this year since “Rat Girl” and “The Crucible”, despite whatever misgivings critics were having, were also big audience successes. For the first time in my career though my writing was the center of attention (I often feel I am mostly known as a director who writes, though I am actually a writer who directs), partly because Rik Lopes, not I, had directed “EHSH”, and so critics had to speak about our separate contributions separately, and that was wonderful but the moment was short-lived: we ended up having two performances canceled and the show only ran 7 times and it became my play everybody “really wished they had made it out to see.” Me too! Though one should never shake a stick at houses full of strangers. But oh… we do this partly because of the friends we hope to show something personal to, don’t we? And, again, I was having a year where it was hard not to keep adding things up in the negative, no matter how well they were actually going.

Anyway, this was then followed by the Fringe, as rewarding and as demanding as ever, which was then followed by the fast and furious (yet incredibly smooth) rehearsal process for my play “Pastorella”, which was the only piece I both wrote and directed last year, and which was well received, actually pretty much adored by audiences, but played to 2/3rds full houses or less its entire run after opening to an audience of 11- my second smallest audience in the history of my theater life in San Francisco (not my whole life- I once played to an audience of 2 in Tucson). The result was a show that, though very economically produced, still ended in the red, something which shouldn’t affect one personally as much as it does. But if you haven’t gathered yet, I’m being truthful here, even if it makes me seem a little petty. So yeah, my final passion project of the year was probably my personal favorite artistic accomplishment but it also cleaned out my bank account, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that 2014 was the year I went freelance/contractor and believe me- it’s been an adjustment. One I’m still adjusting to. Finally we had the fifth installment of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which was wonderful if perhaps more draining than usual, and fraught with an abnormal amount of backstage drama, from some diva moves on the part of some of our participants, to a failure to meet our fundraising goals (first time ever), and then the pique of which, of course, was having our dressing room robbed on, naturally, the night of my reading, which was successful in that it was well done by my trooper cast, but again, sort of middling attended, and a bit anti-climactic as an artist considering it had taken me all year to write it. And did I mention that some of my favorite actors kind of hated the script? Disappointing, but less so than having a “colleague” tell me that working with me was basically bad for businesses because of my strong opinions and tendency to carve my own way, nonsense that nobody who was actually a friend would have bothered to bring up- especially not when I was in the midst of trying to find a way to help them realize their own plans for the local theater scene. But I have occasionally been told my Achilles heel is caring about the band as much as I care about myself.

And somewhere in there I won a TBA Award for “EHSH”, had two works of mine garner bids for film adaptations, threw a delightful birthday party and another successful Easter brunch, but had to cancel a major social event because I got pink eye. Which is only worth mentioning again because in retrospect, it really is kind of funny. I wanted to get more reading done and much more writing, but it just didn’t happen. Best laid plans of mice and men…

So yes, 2014 was amazing but it was also, definitely, a mixed bag. Rewarding to no end, but unforgiving in many ways, most of all in that I had a hard time forgiving myself for just… well… doing my best but not always getting everything the way I wanted it or hoped for. The problem is, when you’re burnt out, stuff that you’d normally brush off or accept as the breaks of the business or just how life is get harder to be blasé about, and I found myself at the end of 2014 feeling accomplished but bruised, lucky but kind of cursed, exhausted and not excited so much as terrified about the future and yet… hopeful. Cause I am hopeful. And I want to stress that and more or less end there, and tell you it was amazing to have 800+ people applaud me for winning an award (even if it was for a play I always considered a bit of a “minor work” and never guessed would be so defining), and it was incredible to walk up those stairs that night, all alone, and think, even as my thoughts came crashing down around me, “Well, you certainly don’t do anything half-assed, do you Stuart?” (even if that means sometimes I paint myself into an intellectual corner with the same gusto I pull myself out of it). Though I definitely experienced a lot in 2014, I often felt like I wasn’t actually learning so much as surviving, and oh, by the way, I had massive writer’s block, and it was writing all that out last Monday that finally cured it… and got us here. And here is not a bad place to be: hopeful, and weirdly confident that whatever happens next, I can probably handle it. I just kind of wish I had a clearer idea of what “it” was. But then we all wish that, don’t we?

Ah well. C’est la vie.

Deep breath.

Happy New 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.

Don’t Miss Your Last Chance To See Shooter…

…and the rest of the Bay One Acts, which close this weekend!

Meanwhile, checkout this review, which includes a nice nod to “Shooter” and director Rik Lopes!

http://theatreplaybyplay.com/brevity-is-the-soul-of-the-bay-one-acts-festival/#.UkSK5YasjTo

“Shooter” by Daniel Hirsch, directed by Rik Lopes, and featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check out http://bayoneacts.org/.

Don’t Miss “Shooter” At This Year’s Bay One Acts Festival!

Just wanted to share a haunting shot (no pun intended) of Theater Pub’s contribution to this year’s Bay One Acts Festival, “Shooter.”

A scene from "Shooter", featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, photo by Christopher Alongi

A scene from “Shooter”, featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, photo by Christopher Alongi

“Shooter” by Daniel Hirsch, directed by Rik Lopes, and featuring Melvin Badiola, Randy J. Blair, and John Lowell, will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check out http://bayoneacts.org/.

An Interview With Dan Hirsch

Happy Labor Day everyone! We’re excited to share this interview with Dan Hirsch, a new addition to the local playwriting scene, whose new play shooter is our contribution to this year’s Olympians Festival. Enjoy!

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

Originally from Massachusetts, but a Bay Area resident for eight years, and a recent Silicon Valley escapee, I’m now living as a freelance writer in San Francisco. What this means exactly changes every day. Some days, I’m reporting news for a hyperlocal journalism site in the Mission where I live. Other days, it’s cute web copy. The tedious days, it’s pretending to find more freelance work but actually reading Buzzfeed. And on the nicest days, when I’m not trying to make any money at all, I write plays.

This is you first time working with Theater Pub, yes? And BOA? What’s it like to be the new kid on the block?

I feel really excited. It seems like a pretty tight knit community that I’m eager to be a part of. A couple of times I’ve had the distinct feeling of people eyeing me and wondering: “Who is this guy? Where did he come from?” My answer: “I’m Dan Hirsch and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Dan Hirsch Is Happy To Meet You!

Dan Hirsch Is Happy To Meet You!

So what made you write “Shooter”?

I wrote “Shooter” in the summer of 2012, the summer that James Holmes opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the summer that Wade Michael Page killed six people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and numerous other acts of gun violence seemed to consume the national imagination. But also, it was the summer a 19-year-old was shot and killed on my block, almost directly across from my house. In response to the national conversation about gun violence and the very local tragedy, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of confusion and helplessness, something I’m sure many of us felt. I couldn’t stop wondering: who are these people that commit this terrible violence? James Holmes left no record, he didn’t write any manifesto. Despite his proximity, the killer on my block was part of a completely different community and world that I knew nothing about. As a way just to tease out and think about this question, I wrote “Shooter.” While I read a lot about gun violence in America—I spent a lot of time looking at Guide to Mass Shootings in America by Mother Jones, for one—I feel like this research is totally inadequate. “Shooter” is ultimately just an act imagination, an attempt at empathy for people who challenge our ability to empathize most.

Would you consider this work typical of your writing? How is it a “Dan Hirsch piece”… or is it?

Are you asking if all my plays describe brutal acts of real world violence from the perpetrator’s perspective? Definitely, not. They’re not all this dark either. I actually sometimes write totally silly sketch comedy. I hope what unifies my work, maybe even the goofy stuff, is their relationship to the world around us. As I mentioned, I’m also a journalist and feel very invested in thinking about and responding to the way we live now, and I think a strain of non-fiction storytelling permeates my plays. In my journalism and playwriting, I like weaving many distinct voices together to tell a compelling story or engage with a complex issue.

It’s your first time working with Rik Lopes, the director. What’s it been like for you, developing a piece with him?

Rik is a baller. It’s been a pleasure working with him so far. He’s got great ideas and is totally interested in hearing my ideas and what went into the writing of this piece. Throughout auditions, the various readings, and meetings, I felt very much like we are the exact same wavelength about nearly everything—even in terms of facial hair. It’s been a total delight.

What’s turning out to be the biggest challenge in creating a piece like this, and in a festival setting?

To echo what Rik said in his TP interview, also to prove my point about the same wavelength thing, the challenge is about where “Shooter” fits in with the rest of the festival. While I hope it will make people think and respond in a variety of ways, the play is kind of intense. I love the diversity of the one acts in our program, and think “Shooter” definitely belongs somewhere in there, but it’s never fun to be that serious guy at the party talking about gun violence in America.

What’s the greatest asset of being part of a short works festival?

There’s 13 different theater companies, writers, and directors in this thing. As relatively new member of the theater scene, this has been such a great opportunity to get familiar with the work of a bunch of different artists all at once. There’s so many small, independent theater companies in the Bay Area, it can be hard to keep track of them all. BOA is like a lunch buffet of talent. All those people should also make it easier for us to fundraise.

What else at the festival are you most excited to see?

As the new guy, I need to be careful not to make anyone angry and I do really admire the incredible range of talent and ideas. I also missed the table read for Program One, so I can’t even comment on those. Of all the plays in our program, “Break of Day” by Jeff Carter is the one that I wish I had written, it’s so simple and sad and funny and everything you want in a one act. I was also totally entertained by Megan Cohen’s “My Year” and look forward to Lauren Gunderson’s “Two Pigeons Talk Politics” because it’s going to have puppets in it!

What’s next for you as a writer?

On November 6, I’ll have two short works in the SF Olympians Festival, which I’m really looking forward to. A full length play of mine called Subtenant just had a developmental reading at the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco which was hugely useful. I’m in the process of editing it now, and hope that it will have a life in production sometime in the near future. I’m a frequent contributor to the news site Mission Local, you can see some of my recent journalistic efforts there.

“Shooter” will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check outhttp://bayoneacts.org/.

Director Rik Lopes Talks “Shooter” And SF Theater Pub at BOA 2013.

Rik Lopes, a frequent collaborator with the San Francisco Theater Pub, talks about directing this year’s contribution to the Bay One Acts Festival. A dramatic and challenging piece, “Shooter” looks to be a real unique part of this year’s festival, and just in case you didn’t think it would be a serious piece of art, Rik sent us this amazingly serious headshot.

Rik Lopes: Director, Actor, Writer... CK1 model?

Rik Lopes: Director, Actor, Writer… CK1 model?

Okay, so, tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

I have been making theatre in some form or other since I was 10 years old. I have been actively involved in the San Francisco theatre community since 2007, having come back to my senses after a goodly long hiatus. I am an actor, director, and playwright, but not necessarily in that order.

This isn’t your first time working with Theater Pub, is it? What have you done with us in the past.

I have appeared in several readings, including Hamlet and Cheese on Post, The Memorandum, and The Shunned House. I was also very fortunate to direct both the pint-sized scene and full production of Brian Markley’s The Nebraskan And Sam.

This is your first time at BOA, correct? What’s that like?

Indeed it is. I have often been regaled by friends with stories of how much fun BOA is and am excited to finally be a part of it. I must say, I am very impressed by the sheer vastness of it all. I went into the project expecting to direct a really cool show and quickly learned that I would also be making friends with theatre companies from all across the city.

We know why producer Brian Markley picked this play, “Shooter” as the TP contribution to BOA, but what drew you to the piece?

I am always drawn to the dark horse pieces. BOA is generally assumed to be a collection of comedic pieces and I was very glad to discover “Shooter”. I was immediately drawn to the serious and dark nature of it. I am also a big fan of tight spaces filled with people who never actually interact with each other physically. It’s a fantastic challenge for a director.

It’s your first time working with Daniel Hirsch, the writer. How involved is he in the process?

I first met Dan at the general auditions and was impressed with him right away. He is very open to my ideas and continued to rework the script until the very end. He’s a super talented guy and I’m very pleased to be partnering with him to bring this show to life.

What’s turning out to be the biggest challenge in directing a piece like this, and in a festival setting?

I have to say that I tend to veer toward the minimal as a director. The less “stuff”, the better. Let the text speak for itself, that is. Part of me wonders if such a pared down show will fit harmoniously with the other pieces, especially if we have an audience expecting a bit more of a belly laugh.

What’s the greatest asset?

If we pull this off, the simple, dressed down concept may very well be our best asset as well. It can really be a standout.

How is this show still a Theater Pub show, despite not being performed in a bar?

One of the greatest things about Theater Pub is the immersive element and the chance to take advantage of unconventional staging and blocking. There’s a remarkably wide angle on the lens, so to speak, and you can really play with that. With “Shooter”, it’s as if we have jumped into the mirror world of Theater Pub. We have three very strong personalities who each inhabit a stiflingly small space but experience it in their own time. The audience sees three different stories unfolding at once.

What else at the festival are you most excited to see?

I’m really looking forward to “Break Of Day”. It’s a solid script with a great cast. I know Bryan Trybom as an actor and have always loved him on stage. I’m excited to see him direct.

“Shooter” will play, along with an assortment of other excellent one-acts in this year’s festival, September 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at the Tides Theater in San Francisco. To find out more about this show, and all the great shows that will be a part of this cornerstone event for the San Francisco Bay Area Theater scene, check out http://bayoneacts.org/.