Working Title: The Move, The Packing, The Thrush and The Woodpecker

This week Will Leschber barely makes it out of his moving truck to speak to Custom Made Theatre about The Thrush & The Woodpecker.

Hello there dear readers! You all are a dedicated bunch. I gotta give you props. Not only are you here now reading away, but we even tried to trick you all by saying that the last Working Title blog entry was a goodbye blog! Well, as you may know, it was a farewell Bay Area blog but it is not the last Working Title blog, no siree bob blog… we can’t trick you! Tricks are for kids. Let’s keep this party going from across the country!

So I can’t tear myself away. Even after the 3500-mile journey from San Francisco to Phoenix to Austin then Kansas and on to Connecticut in a 26’ box truck towing a car, even after unloading a ridiculous amount of moving boxes, even after getting my bearings and loosing sleep and battling landlords and praising new daycare workers and thanking in-laws and parents…even after all that, I can’t tear myself away from San Francisco indie theater. You guys deserve the best. So I have a few more suggestions to help wet your whistles and prep your brains as you dive into the new offerings from Bay Area theater.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Katz, Artistic Director at Custom Made Theater about The Thrush & the Woodpecker, a new play by Steve Yockey that has its rolling world premiere beginning in a few short weeks. If you think that driving cross-country with a dog and a dad sounds dramatic and surprising, that has nothing on this revenge play. Starring local legend Stacy Ross, Shotgun Players Company Member Fontana Butterfield, and hot up-and-coming actor Adam Magill (Berkeley Rep’s Macbeth, SF Playhouse’s Stupid Fucking Bird), The Thrush and the Woodpecker tells the engaging story of a mysterious stranger who arrives to turn the world upside down for Brenda Hendricks and her son Noah, who’s recently returned from college unexpectedly. What avian secrets lie in wait?! We’ll see…

The Thrush and the Woodpecker copy

I asked Brian Katz the best film to pair with the new and unusual Thrush/Woodpecker and like a good Artistic Director, he offered up the question to his wonderful production team to get a myriad of opinions. Here’s a sampling of recommendations:

Kitty Torres (costumer) suggests: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Since the play and the film definitely share the same levels of obsession and deceit.

Liz Ryder (sound) concisely recommends: The Birds!

Leah Abrams (Custom Made Theater Company’s Executive Director) offers up: The 2006 thriller Notes on a Scandal because its two female characters strike me in a similar way, a mix of perfectly normal/really off-kilter in their own way. AND Hitchcock’s The Birds. I think it’s the film that terrifies me most – there’s the obvious havoc wreaked by said birds, and also just that sense of the supernatural invading seemingly normal people in the real world.

The Birds copy

With the uncanny, supernatural, deceitful, unnerving recommendations Thrush/Woodpecker sounds to be quite an intriguing experience. The play opens August 4th and runs until August 20th. More info can be found at www.custommade.org.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: What Theatre Needs

Claire Rice gives us a list of wishes…

You don’t have to tell me that if wishes were fishes we’d all be very good at making our own sushi. Still, there are things I wish existed that I really think would be awesome. And I know that some of these things are in my grasp. Like a bike, for example. I could make that happen. Black Widow getting her own Avenger’s movie, on the other hand, is not exactly in my control. I mean, I can write the screenplay and I can film it and I can hire the lawyers to protect me from Disney and Marvel…but it just wouldn’t be as satisfying as if Mark Boal wrote it and Catherine Bigelow directed it. Sometimes I think it’s OK to just send things out into the universe and wish.

But none of these wishes are going to be for more money. All of the wishes I have below can be gotten for more money, but “more money” as an answer is boring. You will always want there to be more money. You will always want things to be more equal. You will always want things to be more fair or to work in your favor.

This isn’t that kind of list.

So, I wish…

1 – Ashland Everywhere
This past Monday I was sitting in the lobby of Berkeley Rep listening to a pre-show discussion with a few of the playwrights featured in this week’s Monday Night Playground. When, as part of a general discussion about the arts and funding, Jonathan Luskin asked “Why can’t every state have an Ashland?”. I’m sure I’m among the many who, after returning from their first trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, felt a deep longing for the utter immersive theatrical environment that is OSF. The dream of spending nine months living and breathing live theatre. It’s hard not to romanticize it. But, before OSF alumni comment on the thrills of seclusion in Ashland and the joys of months upon months of self important tourists, let me say that I know that it can’t be perfect. But, I also agree with Jonathan, why can’t every state have it’s version of Ashland? I don’t mean the paint-by-numbers three month runs of Oklahoma!, or the unscrupulous and shady touring productions (like a certain production of Peter Pan that blew through a few years ago.) No, I mean forward thinking, risk taking, creative, invested caretakers of the American theatrical ambition. A place where the artists and craftsmen are treated as both employees and artists. A place to be introduced to theatre for the first time, a place to live theatre for a week, a place to relive favorites, and a place to discover new voices. And, yes, employers. Great behemoth employers where the young train, the up and coming to hone their craft, and the established relax into 401k plans.

2 – Nerdy Trade Magazines
Oddly specific and full of the best and most up to date information on trends, topics and news. How many theatre companies prefer to use Meisner Technique in their rehearsal rooms? Meisner Today knows (or it would if it existed.) I know, I know. Print media is dead!!! We’re playing a wishing game here. I want to open my mail box and have piles of glossy news items fall out. Yes, I get American Theatre Magazine and Theatre Bay Area and both are great. I don’t know about you, it get’s exhausting looking at all the ads for graduate schools in American Theatre Magazine, surely there is someone else willing to advertise in there that will make reading it feel more adult. There will never be a day when Howl Round or 2amT will come monthly and glossy, and I don’t think it should…oh but I kind of wish it did. I’m not going to lie. I want a theatre version of Rollingstone. I want it to be that stupid, that gossipy, that hero worshipping, that controversial and that entertaining in itself.

3 – Legitimate coverage
I don’t want to wait for Vanity Fair to cover Tracy Letts because Meryl Streep is in an adaptation of his play. I want every entertainment magazine, newspaper and entertainment broadcast to devote a little space to theatre. Not just major catastrophes like Spiderman, but the fact that cool stuff and terrible stuff is happening all over the country all the time. I want Vanity Fair to talk about theatre so much that around the time of the Tony’s they have a big Annie Leibovitz theatre spread where they name everyone and give little descriptions (I love those!) I want AV Club and Jezebel to roll their eyes at Vanity Fair and write article after article about “real” theatre stars, accomplishments and pitfalls.

4 – Conventions and Trade Shows
We never called it cosplay – we called it costuming. And,no, it isn’t fun to dress up as the family from Death of a Salesman, but you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a million Rent heads there all to see the panel with the original cast. Vender booths, sneak previews of Broadway hits before they open, tech fairs with the latest in lighting and sound and projection equipment, costume parades from our favorite designers (LIKE FASHION WEEK!), season announcements from big regional theatres and…oh goodness. It would be terrrible and wonderful and fun.

5 – Comfortable Seats
The older I get the more I dread going to see theatre at certain venues. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good the show is. If my ass has fallen asleep, my spine has started to tingle from bad lumbar support, and my hips (my lovely wide American hips) have finally had enough of being squished beneath the arm rests I may just walk out.

6 – More Broadway in Las Vegas
This is like the Ashland wish, only this theatre is way more commercial. Yup. Hoaky, touristy, loud show offy and commercial commercial commercial. I want more of it. I want a Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre on the strip doing shows in rep. I want brilliant musical directors, singers, actors, set designers and crew to cut their teeth and earn retirement fund there. I want the type of people who wrote Urinetown to have an edgy big theatre there too that does crazy new works with big budgets. I want a sketch comedy troupe with multi-media know-how to do their thing there.

7 – More Poaching from the Lower Ranks
I want the big regional companies to look below them and think about moving whole shows up from the small independent companies. When I see a cool show at Crowded Fire, I want to get excited when I see that the next season it’s at Marin Theatre Company.

8 – Less Excitement about Seeing it First, More Excitement about Seeing it Next
I want a new play to premiere at Kitchen Dog Theatre and I want to know for sure that in the next few months I’ll get the opportunity to see it too. I want there to be a ripple of excitement spreading across the country. The New Play Network and it’s rolling premiers are doing a good job and I want more! I want little black box theatre franchises all over that will open a show all in the same season. I want a big broadway show to open on Broadway AND in Los Angeles. I want previews for shows just like movies. I want them all in a single place so I can watch them all. I want to share them on Facebook and I want to say: “Man, I can’t go to Dallas right now but I hear that Playhouse will do the show in June!”

9 – Away with Curtain Call
I just don’t think they are necessary. It’s a false kind of pageantry that isn’t necessary. It’s hoaky. It breaks the mood. It wastes time. It’s a form of begging. I want the audience to feel like it’s a special treat to see the actors without the makeup or the character. The curtain call has become pro forma. It’s lost it’s magic. I don’t need it any more.

10 – A Powerful Politician and The Owner of a Media Outlet
I want friends in high places for theatre. Loud ones.