Theater Around the Bay: Gabriel Bellman and Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”

The Pint-Sized Plays open TONIGHT so we’re bringing you another in our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays. Here are writer Gabriel Bellman and director Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”!

“Polling Place” satirizes the current political climate and the heated rhetoric of the 2016 election. In it, a highly strung woman who’s just cast her ballot goes into a bar and confronts a laconic man with the question “Do you think it’s fair to vote for a candidate based on whether they sit down or stand up when they use the washroom?” Caitlin Evenson plays the woman, Claire, and Ron Talbot is the man, Ian.

Gabriel Bellman

Writer Gabriel Bellman has his eyes on you.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Gabriel: I’m proud to have been in this festival before. I enjoy the challenge of writing something on deadline, so when I saw the call for entries post into the clouds via a proxy-streaming server third-party service that takes encrypted pieces of digital information and converts them into the written language, I decided to write a short play using keystrokes and symbols to make words that were then used as a key to unlock language from digital chunks of electromagnitized green-chip circuit boards.

Megan: I directed a Pint-Sized show several years ago and had such a blast! Pint-Sized is one of my favorite SF Theater Pub events so I’m excited to be a part of it again this year 🙂

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: I think it’s to avoid thinking of it as a short play. When you envision a three-inch photograph, for example, you might be thinking of only a corner of a mouth, but (possibly) a better photograph is a three-inch square-size photo of the planet Earth, as cliched and trite as that photo may be at this point (unless of course an alien is in the corner snapping a selfie and it isn’t a blatantly poor Photoshop-job). So if you set out to capture a micro-cosmonaut, then you can still explore heaven and earth, right? A small version of the entire experience of humanity, I guess is the goal, and that’s hard to fit into anything. I feel like I didn’t answer the question. The hardest thing about writing a short play is the constant comparisons to William Shakespeare from strangers on the street.

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

Megan: The show I’m directing is absolutely delightful! Gabriel has written thoughtful and intelligent characters whose lives intersect in an unexpected way on Election Day. We had a fabulous time unpacking these characters and discovering the humor that comes when you mix politics with uncertainty. I also adore my cast. Caitlin Evenson and Ron Talbot are two fantastic performers and I’m very excited this show marks the first time they are working together on stage!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: Getting to see different human minds, each encapsulated in uniquely shaped skulls, interpreting and engaging in the process of making art in live performance. Writing is such a solitary act that it can be a form of self-flagellation or affliction, but when actors come along, that all changes. Actors are a jovial bunch, on balance, and are attuned to human emotion to such a way that they can call it upon demand with strangers looking at them — it’s pretty amazing. So the best thing is to play in creative space with other artists — it can seem too good to be true.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is, what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Megan: I think Stacy Ross is an incredible performer! She excels at both comedy and drama and by all accounts she is a dream to work with.

Megan Briggs

Megan Briggs is a frequent Theater Pub performer and now, a Pint-Sized director!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Gabriel: There are a lot of different ways to answer that. For one, I could say parents, teachers, other artists, I could point to the times we live in, I could recount a midnight screening of Gremlins, or a Bob Dylan concert, or a Shaquille O’Neal dunk, or a Pop-Tart. Let me say something more guided: here are a few writers I felt impressed by as an adult. Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Mary Shelley, Seamus Heaney. Allen Ginsburg’s Howl is still the best poem ever written (although not as good as Whitman’s Song of Myself – which is basically a rip-off of William Blake). Is that an answer? My biggest influences are gangsta rap, existentialism, Atari 2600, and Indian food.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Megan: I would have to say Emily Blunt because I would really love to see how this play would change if we had a British actress playing the part of Claire. It would bring up a series of entirely new questions about her character and why she is so intrigued by the political process.

Gabriel: Penelope Cruz because I have loved her since I was 19 and saw Belle Epoque. Actually, I wouldn’t want it to be weird, so maybe a better answer is Magic Johnson, since i have loved him since I was 15. Wait, was that a trick question? The answer is Madonna.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Gabriel: I’m working on a feature play about a historical figure from New York at the turn of the century. I would say who and what it is about, but I’m too excited about it because I don’t think anybody else has done it yet, and it’s a good idea, and when you share those ideas early on, it bursts the bubble. What’s also next for me is a bubble tea. Very, very soon.

Megan: I’m very excited to be performing in Theater Pub’s production of King Lear this fall! I like my Shakespeare to be fast paced with high drama, and I think Theater Pub is the perfect venue for presenting Shakespeare that’s anything but boring and stuffy.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Megan: I’m excited about seeing the musical Chess for the first time at Custom Made Theatre Company this fall. I’m also super pumped for Hamilton next spring (although I have to be willing to wait for it).

Gabriel: I’m looking forward to the Lit Crawl, I believe I’ll be performing in that, and also seeing Hamilton, and plays that actors and playwrights from Pint-Sized are doing. It’s a talented group, excluding myself, since that sounds weird.

Finally, what’s your favorite beer?

Megan: I’m more of a cider girl myself, and Stella Cidre is my absolute favorite!

Gabriel: For anybody who was raised in the shadows of the Willamette Valley, it’s Black Butte Porter. But honestly, I love a nice Jamaican ginger beer.

See “Polling Place” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!

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Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays

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Theater Pub is thrilled to announce that our Pint-Sized Play Festival returns this August for FIVE performances at PianoFight — August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29. That’s right, we’ve added a fifth performance by popular demand!

The Pint-Sized Plays – short plays by Bay Area playwrights that take place in a bar and involve characters drinking beer – have been Theater Pub’s flagship event since 2010. This year, producer Marissa Skudlarek and deputy producer Alejandro Emmanuel Torres are pleased to present 11 new plays by a mix of Theater Pub veterans and new faces.

Many of the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays deal with endings and beginnings. A man and woman meet to sign their divorce papers in “No Fault,” by Christian Simonsen. In Marissa Skudlarek’s “Cemetery Gates,” two moody and self-dramatizing teenagers sneak into the bar, while in Shirley Issel’s “Angel of Darkness,” Death himself comes to the bar and targets an unsuspecting patron.

Two one-woman shows depict women on the brink of major life changes: “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky features a 36-year-old woman who has finally become an adult according to Judaism, while Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go With Olivia” is about a woman who’s ready to put her old life behind her and start anew.

National and world politics are on everyone’s mind this summer, so some of this year’s Pint-Sized Plays have a political bent. “Polling Place,” by Gabriel Bellman, satirizes the anxieties and rhetoric of the 2016 election, while in “Don’t I Know You,” by Elizabeth Gjelten, a woman confronts the trauma of her past in a war-torn country.

On the lighter side of things, “Beer Culture” by James Nelson satirizes just how snobby San Francisco millennials can be about microbrews, and “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove pays tribute to Shakespeare in this #Shakespeare400 year by imagining his visit to a modern-day bar. Alan Coyne’s “Bar Spies” presents a dizzying array of false identities and double-crossings in a spy-fiction pastiche

As always, Pint-Sized Plays’ mascot, the drunken llama played by PianoFight’s Rob Ready, will return with a new “Llamalogue,” written by Stuart Bousel.

Full lineup of plays, with a quote from each, is as follows:

“Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah,” written and directed by Jake Arky—“After the bar mitzvah…it’s just the bar. Okay, so technically this is a bat mitzvah, but let’s not split hairs, yeah?”

“Polling Place” by Gabriel Bellman, directed by Megan Briggs—“What if I did choose a candidate based solely on whether they share certain characteristics with me or not, does that mean I’m voting for myself? Because I’m terrified of narcissists.”

“Llama VI” by Stuart Bousel, directed by Emma Rose Shelton—“Look, I hate tradition as much as the next person, okay? But one day, probably, I won’t be here—and you’re gonna miss that.”

“Bar Spies” by Alan Coyne, directed by Juliana Lustenader—“You asked for this meeting. I have what you want. Tell me what I need to know, or there’s no deal.”

“Don’t I Know You?” by Elizabeth Gjelten, directed by Jimmy Moore—“Here I am, a long way from home, and I see this one here, and I swear, we shared a beer. Back home. Maybe at Salim’s?”

“Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, directed by Vince Faso—“Thou thinkest thy sisters arranged a meeting but never had intention of coming hither? Forsooth, wherefore this deception?”

“Angel of Darkness” by Shirley Issel, directed by Jamie Harkin—“He’s probably going to finish that beer; and when he does… Are you listening? You’re gonna die. So, what are you drinking?”

“Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney, directed by Vince Faso—“I have accepted a new job and would like to pursue this without you beginning September 1st. This does not mean I want a long-distance relationship. Or much continued contact at all.”

“Beer Culture” by James Nelson, directed by Neil Higgins—“I’m really not cool about what just happened. He was going to drink a Stella! At my table! What would people say?”

“No Fault” by Christian Simonsen, directed by Alejandro Emmanuel Torres—“Look, if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t sign yet. Nothing’s changed regarding Wendy. Still joint custody.”

“Cemetery Gates” by Marissa Skudlarek, directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin—“Every time you look at someone you love, you know they will never be more beautiful than they are at that moment, because they will never again be so young.”

The Pint-Sized Plays acting company will feature the talents of Layne Austin, Andrew Chung, Lisa Darter, Nick Dickson, Daphne Dorman, Caitlin Evenson, Sailor Galaviz, Jamie Harkin, Colin Hussey, Sarah Leight, Alexander Marr, Kyle McReddie, Brett Mermer, Courtney Merrell, Rob Ready, Paul Rodrigues, James F. Ross, Amitis Rossoukh, Jessica Rudholm, Ron Talbot, and Noemi Zeigler Sanchez. (Additional casting TBA.) Logo designed by Cody Rishell.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform five times: August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, please visit www.sftheaterpub.com.

Gremio vs. Grumio

In honor of our second night of Taming of The Shrew, we thought we’d take a moment to highlight the real conflict of the play: Gremio vs. Grumio! Here to share their thoughts on these two characters are Ron Talbot and Shane Rhoades, who bring these two characters to life all this month at Theater Pub.

So, who are you in a hundred words or less!

Ron: I am a contrarian. All my life society, family, friends and not-so-friends have attempted to categorize me and lock me into a nice comfortable slot to match their world view. As a very stubborn and ornery individual by nature (sometimes to my detriment) I have taken a perverse joy in reshaping myself to consistently defy expectations. Now I enjoy a wonderfully fulfilling life that revolves around family, friends, challenging work, and theatre. And my cat.

Shane: I am a Bay Area native, born and raised. I grew up in San Bruno, went to school at San Jose State, and I have been acting in San Francisco for the past two years. Before I caught the theatre bug, I was a major sports junkie. Wrestling (I love spandex), football and baseball were my favorite sports.

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

Shane: I heard about Theater Pub quite often during a production of 12th Night that I was in a couple of years ago. Many of my cast mates were previously involved in Theater Pub and my director (Stuart) I believe was producing Pint Size around the same time as the run of our show. The following spring, Stuart and Karen Offereins asked me to be a part of Odes to March, which reunited me with many of my fellow 12th Nighters and I had a blast doing it.

Ron: Kim Saunders (Kate) recommended me to the director and he was brave (foolish) enough to cast me sight unseen. No pressure, nope, none al all… (Editor’s note: not entirely true: I had seen Ron before I cast him and I liked his look for the character; plus I know Kim well enough to know she’d never be married to a bad actor).

What’s got you excited about working here? What’s got you worried?

Shane: I always love doing Shakespeare, and roles that require a lot of physical comedy. I also love performing in plays that tend to be very divisive and elicit very passionate responses from the audience. People are never indifferent about their feelings towards Shrew, and I think that what makes it such an exciting play. The atmosphere of Theater Pub is always so much fun to perform in as well. At first, I was very concerned if I was the right fit for Grumio. I never pictured myself playing him, but I am working with a great cast and the process has been great, so I am not as concerned now.

Ron: Excited – I have a long standing love of Shakespeare and the opportunity to perform in such and fun and vibrant atmosphere as Cafe Royal/Theatre Pub is a dream come to true for me. I am a strong proponent on making Shakespeare’s plays more accessible, fun and direct. All to often they are presented either in a stagnate and overly rarified manner or they are forcibly warped and corrupted to illustrate some social or political agenda. Worried – A beer falling on my head. (We have a balcony) Seriously though we only have 2-3 weeks to fully stage an entire Shakespearian script; exhilarating, challenging, and deeply terrifying.

Have you ever been in Shrew before? What’s your history with this show?

Shane: I was in Taming of the Shrew a few years ago in San Jose. I played all of the roles that were, in essence, background scenery (Officer, Haberdasher and one of the servants), so I am very happy to revisit this play with a much more substantial part.

Ron: This will be my third Shrew, and in may ways this play is tracking my life progress. First I played the young idealistic lover, Lucentio, then I moved on to play the mature and somewhat cynical Petruchio, and now, the grumpy old man, Gremio.

Ron Talbot: A Shrew's Best Friend

Ron Talbot: A Shrew’s Best Friend

Tell us about your character- what do you love about them, what do you hate about them- what do you see as the biggest challenge?

Shane: There are many things that I love about Grumio, but I especially love the relationship he has with Petruchio. It’s almost like they’re siblings. One minute they have each others back then they’re at each other’s throat the next. I can’t say that I hate anything about Grumio. There are a couple of challenges with Grumio because there really isn’t very much revealed about him throughout the play. He’s a pretty obscure character who is prone to making very random statements. He can be interpreted many different ways, which is exciting, but therein lies the first challenge. The second is to not make him a caricature, which is very easy to do with this role.

Ron: Gremio is a fairly straightforward character with roots in Comedia. I like to think of him as mixture of a country gentleman and a dirty old man. I suppose the biggest challenge is not to lose the audience’s sympathy, Winter/spring marriages are looked upon with abhorrence by our society and while I want the audience to root for Lucentio I also don’t want to despise Gremio.

One of you is named Grumio and one of you is named Gremio. What do you think is up with that? Was it a misprint? Does it mean something? Was Shakespeare just lazy?

Shane: I have no idea. I was too lazy to look into it.

Ron: I don’t read to much into this. There are lots of names in english that sound almost identical. To an Italian they probably don’t even notice the similarity. Consider Ron/Don/John or Lauren/Laura.

In a fight between Gremio and Grumio, who do you think would win?

Ron: My only hope would involve a Bazooka and 100 yard starting range, other then that Grumio would win hands down. Our Grumio is pretty much the personification of “Big Strapping Lad”.

Shane Rhodes: strapping lad.

Shane Rhodes: strapping lad.

Shane: Grumio, by far! Grumio is a bit more rough around the edges and can take a beating. Gremio’s chin is questionable.

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

Ron: One of Kate’s lines that resonates strongly with me as well, oftentimes to my detriment: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.”

Shane: A line that was unfortunately cut from this version. “Am I but three inches?”-Grumio

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

Shane: I could always go for a good IPA.

Ron: Bodington’s! Come see the and show and if you like it, buy me one.

Shrew has its second performance tonight- don’t miss it! It starts at eight, only at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco, but get there early because we fill up! Plus, we have a pop-up sushi kitchen tonight, starting around 6 PM, so get there early to get a table and enjoy some sushi before the show!

Kim Creates Kate

Last week we got to know Paul Jennings, the actor playing Petruchio in our up-coming production of Taming of the Shrew. This week, we’re checking in with Kim Saunders, who will be playing Katherina and making her San Francisco Theater Pub debut.

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So, who are you in a hundred words or less!

I am a native New Yorker and a city girl. My heart belongs to the theatre and has for as long as I can remember. I adore animals and share my home with a cat named Pyewacket and my wonderful husband Ron Talbot (Ed. Note: Ron is playing Gremio in this production). I love being busy and normally will be directing, choreographing, performing and coaching several projects at the same time

And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?

I was lucky enough to be cast at Custom Made Theatre Company in a production of Merchant of Venice. Having made friends with several people in the cast they took me to see last year’s production of Measure for Measure and I loved the entire concept of theatre in a bar! It reminded a bit of the NY Renaissance Faire and murder mysteries but with an amazing script.

What’s got you excited about working here?

So many things! The script, the people I am working with, the role I play and performing in an environment where anything can happen.

What’s got you worried?

The final monologue is so well known and can be interpreted in many ways. I hope that I am able to interpret it so the audience can understand Katherine’s point of view.

Have you ever been in this play (Shrew) before?

No.

What’s your history with this show?

I have always loved this show and the witty repartee between Kate and Petruchio. I have auditioned for it several times but have always been called back for Bianca. Having already done Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, this seems like a natural progression and I am excited to take it on!

Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?

The true question is: who tames who? Shakespeare chose to make his heroines remarkable women; if the shrew is truly tamed at the end you have then forced a square peg into a round hole. I don’t think that is what Shakespeare intended. I believe in the end they both have found love and a true partnership. If anything these two are now a force to be reckoned with against the world!

Tell us about your character- what do you love about them?

I love the sparing between my Katherine and Petruchio as well as the ability to use all the physical elements that bring these two to life.

What do you hate about them?

I always want to find the humanity in my characters. How did they become who they are before the play has begun? When playing such a strong character it is sometimes hard for the audience to see the hurt and vulnerability that has brought them to where they are when you (the audience) first meets them.

What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Back to….the final monolgue. Everyone knows it and already has an opinion.

When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago? 

For me listening and working off other actors, as well as the director’s vision are my favorite ways of finding my way into creating a role. Also many hints are in the text and also in the pauses thanks to the verse! I have several acting techniques in my toolbox if I need them as well.

What do you think this play has for a modern audience? 

Hopefully a great deal of laughter and maybe a new take on the show to start a new conversation!

A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?

“If I be waspish best beware my sting.”

A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?

They keep adding new ones so I just want to keep trying new ones!

Don’t miss Kim, and the rest of this fantastic cast, in Taming of the Shrew, which plays four nights only- March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. No reservations necessary as admission is free (with a suggested five dollar donation at the door), but get there early as we tend to fill up!

Our Next Show Begins Performances on March 18!

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It’s Kate vs. the World!

When brilliant but brittle Katherina (Kim Saunders)’s younger sister Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) finds herself being courted by three eligible bachelors (Vince Faso, Brian Martin, Ron Talbot), their opportunistic mother (Jan Marsh) lays down the law that Bianca won’t be allowed to marry until Katherina finds a husband. The suitors select Petruchio (Paul Jennings), a money seeking adventurer who might be Kate’s worst nightmare- or the best thing that ever happened to her.

Also featuring Sam Bertken, Shane Rhodes, Sarah Stewart, and directed by Stuart Bousel, this fast and furious production of the classic play will be one part Shakespeare, one part boxing match, and all parts Theater Pub.

The show plays March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy the pop-up restaurant of the evening, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!

Two Amazing Events On Their Way!

Taming of the Shrew Opens March 18! 

Theater Pub jumps into their third Shakespeare production, this time taking on the ever-controversial, ever-thought provoking, ever-fascinating TAMING OF THE SHREW.

It’s Kate vs. the World! When brilliant but brittle Katherina (Kim Saunders)’s younger sister Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) finds herself being courted by three eligible bachelors (Vince Faso, Brian Martin, Ron Talbot), their opportunistic mother (Jan Marsh) lays down the law that Bianca won’t be allowed to marry until Katherina finds a husband. The suitors select Petruchio (Paul Jennings), a money seeking adventurer who might be Kate’s worst nightmare- or the best thing that ever happened to her.

Also featuring Sam Bertken, Shane Rhodes, Sarah Stewart, and directed by Stuart Bousel, this fast and furious production of the classic play will be one part Shakespeare, one part boxing match, and all parts Theater Pub.

The show plays March 18, 19, 25 and 27, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy the pop-up restaurant of the evening, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!

The first Saturday Write Fever will be March 23rd at the Exit Cafe! 

The Exit Theater announces a new Saturday night monthly event in their Café- and an exciting new collaboration with the San Francisco Theater Pub!

Starting March 23rd, every third Saturday of the month, we invite writers, actors, directors, theater creators and theater audiences alike to an evening of quick script-making and flash-fried performance!

Join us for an 8:30 mixer followed by a 9:00 writing sprint where writers (any writers who care to participate that night) have 30 minutes to generate original monologues based around that night’s pre-selected subjects (will they be drawn from a hat? WHO CAN SAY?!?). We cast actors from the crowd (no experience necessary), then at 9:30, they perform the work on stage in the café for an on-the-spot, one-night-only instant festival! Come join in the communal creativity, either as writer, performer, or audience!

Hosted by local writers Stuart Bousel and Megan Cohen, admission to this event is free, with the Café staying open and staffed so you can purchase drinks and snacks all night long! No need for reservations! We’ll provide paper and pens, all you need to bring is your amazing, sexy mind and the desire to create for creation’s sake.

See you there!