Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Recap of 2015 Part II

Today we bring you three more annual round ups from three more of our core blogging team: Ashley Cowan, Will Leschber, and Dave Sikula! More tomorrow and the Stueys on Thursday!

The Top Five Thank Yous of 2015 by Ashley Cowan

1) You’re inspirational, Molly Benson
Aside from the incredible PianoFight mosaic we all continue to marvel at each time we’re in its proximity, you’ve managed to continue bursting through the creative scene while balancing parenting a small child (which I’ve personally found to be an incredibly difficult thing to do). You’re acting, you’re lending your voice to various projects, you’re making art, and you’re out there inspiring me to keep trying. So thank you and please keep it up!

2) You’re so great to work with, San Francisco Fringe Festival
2015 was the second year I had the chance to be a part of the SF Fringe Festival alongside Banal+ with Nick and Lisa Gentile, Warden Lawlor, Dan Kurtz, Tavis Kammet, and Will Leschber. (And this year, Eden Davis and Katrina Bushnell joined the cast making it even stronger!) Now, I always love working with this dynamic bunch but this time around, I was returning to the stage after a two year hiatus and straight off of having a baby and returning to work full time. Thankfully, everyone was so flexible and kind that when I had to leave a show immediately after my performance (skipping the other pieces in the lineup and curtain call) to relieve our babysitter, I was greeted with support and understanding. It made all the difference so thank you again.

3) You trusted me to be a 90’s (Rose McGowan inspired) teenager, Anthony Miller
Last year when I had to back out of TERROR-RAMA, I was pretty crushed. I don’t totally know how I lucked out in getting a second chance with this October’s reading of TERROR-RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT but oh, man, I loved it. After feeling a bit rusty and uncomfortable in my post baby body, Anthony Miller and Colin Johnson let me play this sexy queen vampire 90’s teen. And I had the best time. Anthony’s script is truly hilarious and under Colin’s direction, the reading was a great success. But I was also left with that electric, “yes! This is why I do this!” feeling after I had the chance to be involved and for that, I’m super grateful. Thank you, Anthony. And thank you Rose McGowan.

4) You Made Me Love Being an Audience Member Again, In Love and Warcraft
One of my theatrical regrets from this past year was not singing praises or appropriately applauding creative teams when I had the chance. In this case, I didn’t really take the opportunity to give a shout out to all involved in Custom Made’s recent show, In Love And Warcraft. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast but, wow, they were delightful. The script was smart, sweet, and funny (and totally played to my nerdy romantic sensibilities) and the whole thing came together into such an enjoyable theater experience. I had such fun being in the audience and invited into a world of warcraft and new love. Thank you, thank you.

5) You Make Me Feel Tall and Proud, Marissa Skudlarek
In our two part Theater Pub blog series, Embracing the Mirror, Marissa and I uncovered new heights. Or, really, uncovered the heights that had been there all along and allowed us to kind of honor them. I’m so thankful that Marissa suggested this collaboration because the topic allowed me to reconnect with tall actress friends from my past while reevaluating my own relationship to my height. Plus, getting to do it with Marissa was a treat in itself. So thank you, Marissa for continuing to positively push this blog forward and allowing me to stand next to you!

Thank-You-Someecard-2

Top Five 2015 Films That Should Be Adapted Into A Stage Play by Will Leschber

Hi all! Since I spend most of the year trying to smash together the space between theater and film, why not just come out with it and say which bright shining films of 2015 should end up on our great stages here in San Francisco. So here are the top 5 films of 2015 that should be adapted to a San Franciscan stage production…and a Bay Area Actor who’d fit perfectly in a key role!

Now, since my knowledge of the vast pool of Bay Area creative performers isn’t what it used to be, lets just get fun and totally subjective and pull this recommendation list from a single show! And not just a single show… a single show that Theater Pub put up… AND I was in: Dick 3… Stuart Bousel’s bloody adaptation of Richard III. Yeah, talk about nepotism, right? Booyah… lets own this!

5) Room
This film adaption of the acclaimed book by Emma Donoghue would fit easily into a restricted stage production with the cloying enclosed location in which most of the action takes place. It’s a moving story dictated by creative perspective and wonderful acting, things that shine onstage. Brie Larson owns the film’s main performance but it if a bay area actress could give it a go, I’d love to see Jeunée Simon radiate in this role. Her youthful energy, subtle power, and soulful spirit would kick this one out of the park.

4) Steve Jobs
Regardless of the Aaron Sorkin lovers or haters out there, this film is written like a three-act play and would work supremely well on stage, as it does on screen. It’s talky and quick-paced as long as you keep up the clip of lip that the script demands. The perfect pairing to tackle this towering role of Steve Jobs and his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (played respectively by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet) would look excellent cast with Jessica Rudholm as Steve Jobs (Jessica is an unbelievably powerful performer and can command any room she steps into…perfect for Jobs) and Megan Briggs as the Joanna Hoffman character: resourceful, smart and can stand up to powerful chest-puffing men. Done!

3) Mistress America
This buoyant film by Noah Baumbach follows a New York pseudo-socialite, Brooke, embodied perfectly by Greta Gerwig, who has to fall a bit from her idealized youthful 20s phase of life towards something a bit more….self-realized…aka adulthood. At times a situation-farce houseguest comedy, and other times a story of searching for self discovery, the themes would read equally beautifully on stage. The second lead in this film is a bright-eyed, I-know-everything-in-the-world college freshman named Tracy, who befriends our beloved Brooke character. It’s a dual journey. Allison Page has more confidence than all the college freshman I know. She’d play the crap out of that! And for the main Greta Gerwig part… this is a hard role to fill with quirk and empathy, so I’d say let’s give Sam Bertken a shot at it! Sam as a performer has the whimsy of a confident yet lost late-20-something, but the charm and determination to persevere with her/his quirk intact.

2) Spotlight
This journalistic procedural which chronicles the story behind the Pulitzer-winning newspaper story of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church would be a heavy sit. But the story is powerful, the characters are true, and the setting lends itself to small scale theater. To play the stalwart Spotlight department newspaper lead editor, played by Michael Keaton in the film, lets go with Carl Lucania who’d give the role a nice imprint. AND to boot, the Mark Ruffalo character (who is the shoulder of the film, in my opinion) would be handled wonderfully by Paul Jennings. These two have the exact performing skills to juxtapose unrelenting determination and quiet, frustrated fury which fit perfectly for this story.

1) Inside Out
Now I hear you…animated films with complex imaginary landscapes and vistas filled with old memories might not immediately scream stage production. But if The Lion King, King Kong or even Beauty & the Beast can do it, I know some insanely talented set designers, costume designers and lighting specialists could bring this world to life. More importantly, the themes of passing away from youthful phases of life, how hard and lonely a childhood transition can be, plus learning that life isn’t simply divided into happy/sad/angry/scared memories. The complicated reality is that our selves and our memories are colored with a mad mix of many diverse emotions and characteristics. Coming of age with this palette of imagination would be glorious on stage. And who better to play the central character named Joy, than the joyful Brian Martin. He just adorable…all the time.

Five Things I Learned on My Last New York Trip by Dave Sikula

1) “Traditional” Casting Is Over
Well, not totally, obviously, but as Hamilton showed (among so many other things), anyone can play anything. I’m old enough to remember when musicals had all-white casts, then, little by little, there would be one African American male and one African American female in the ensemble, and they always danced together. Gradually, you began to see more and more people of color in choruses, and they were now free to interact with anyone. Now, of course, pretty much any role is up for grabs by any actor of any race or gender – or should be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Asian female eventually playing Hamilton himself. Whether this – and the other innovations of Hamilton – percolates into more mainstream fare remains to be seen, but it’s certainly to be hoped.

2) A Good Director Can Make Even the Most Tired War-Horse Fresh and Vital
For my money, there aren’t many major playwrights whose work has aged more badly than Arthur Miller. Yeah, Death of Salesman is still powerful, but the rest of the canon isn’t faring so well. Years and years ago, I saw a lousy production of A View from the Bridge, and even then, it struck me as obvious, tired, and dull. Ivo van Hove’s production, then, had a couple of hurdles to overcome: 1) it’s a London import, and 2) it’s, well, it’s A View from the Bridge. Van Hove’s 2004 production of Hedda Gabler (surely one of the worst “important” plays ever written) was enough of a revelation that I wanted to see what he could do with this one, and boy, did he come through. Tough, powerful, and visceral, it’s nothing so much as what we hear Greek tragedy was so good at. It was so good, I’m anxious to see his upcoming production of The Crucible, and see if he can make another truly terrible play interesting.

3) Even a Good Director Can’t Make a Tired Old War-Horse Work
In 2008, Bartlett Sher directed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a show I’d seen too much and from which (I’d thought) all the juice had long since been squeezed. By digging deep into the text and back story, though, Sher and company were able to make it vital, exciting, and relevant. Flash forward to last year and the reunion of some of the band to remount The King and I, another show whose time has all but passed. Despite breathtaking sets, more delving into two-dimensional characters by very good actors (Hoon Lee and Kelli O’Hara are doing superb work in the title parts), and marvelous staging, it just sits there. The problem to these tired old eyes is that musical dramaturgy of today doesn’t always fit well with that of the early 1950s, and the show itself just has too many fundamental flaws to work anymore. It’s a pity, because a lot of time and effort is being expended in a futile effort to make the unworkable work. In the words of Horace, “The mountain labors, and brings forth … a mouse!”

4) There Is No Show So Bad That No One Will See It
We’ve dealt with the awfulness of China Doll before. Despite barely having a script and offering audiences little more than the chance to watch Al Pacino alternately get fed his lines and chew scenery, it’s still drawing people. Sure, that attendance is falling week by week, but last week, it was still 72% full and took in more than $600,000. Running costs can’t be that much (two actors, one set), but even with what imagines is a monumental amount being paid Mr. Pacino, it’s probably still making money. If I may (correctly) quote the late Mr. Henry L. Mencken of Baltimore: “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

5) It’s Still Magical
Despite the heavy lifting of New York theatre being done off- and off-Broadway and regionally, there’s still something that can’t be duplicated in seeing a really good show on Broadway that has a ton of money thrown at it – especially one you weren’t expecting anything from. I went into shows like An American in Paris or Something Rotten or – especially – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 knowing next to nothing about them and came out enthralled and invigorated by what writers can create and actors can do. In the best cases, they give me something to shoot at. (And in the worst, multiple lessons on what to avoid … )

Ashley Cowan is an actress, playwright, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area, alongside writer/actor husband, Will Leschber. Dave Sikula is an actor, writer, director and general theater maker in the Bay Area who has been in plays with Ashley and Will, but never both at the same time.

Theater Around The Bay: Looking Back/Looking Forward On Saturday Write Fever 2015

Megan Cohen, Sam Bertken, Andrew Chung, and Jeunee Simon, our Saturday Write Fever team, bring you a year-end article that lets you play along at home!

Every month, SATURDAY WRITE FEVER takes over the EXIT Cafe for a pop-up theater festival of world premiere monologues written and performed that night. Anyone can sign up to write or to act at our free event which welcomes new faces alongside stalwart regulars, every 2nd Saturday. It’s a sandbox, a workout room, a way to show off to your date, cheaper than seeing “Star Wars,” and above all, it’s actively creative. People come to SWF to make real live homegrown performance, together, with and for each other. So, together, we’re gonna make this blog post!

Fill out this list of words, then plug them into the spaces in the blog post below… just as you would when playing a game that rhymes with Mad Bibs, Bad Libs, or Sad Glibs!!!

Print and play, or to play online instead, follow this link to a site that has some ads and stuff but automates the whole whammy. If you feel like giving us all a gift, post your favorite phrases in the comments below, and have a wonderful holiday.

Now…. LET’S DO THIS!!!

NOUN #1: ______________
ADJECTIVE #1: ______________
NOUN #2: ______________
NOUN #3: ______________
ADJECTIVE #2: ______________
PLURAL NOUN #1: ______________
CELEBRITY: ______________
PLURAL NOUN #2: ______________
FOOD: ______________
VERB #1: ______________
VERB #2: ______________
ADJECTIVE #3: ______________
NOUN #4: ______________
PLURAL NOUN #3: ______________
PLACE: ______________
ADVERB: ______________

December 2015 was our THIRTIETH bout of “Fever.” That’s so many fevers, y’all. That’s so many monologues, at an event where up to 16 pieces are created per night. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say that’s a whole ______[NOUN #1]_____ of monologues.

Our event has grown to have a hosting staff of five: Writer/director Stuart Bousel, actor/writer/mangenue Sam Bertken, actor/hero Andrew Chung, writer/villain Megan Cohen, and actress/goddess Jeunee Simon. To add to the mix of heroes, villains, performers, and artsy-types, the next co-host to join the team should be a ______[ADJECTIVE #1]______ kind of ______[NOUN #2]______.

The EXIT Cafe at 156 Eddy St in San Francisco, CA is our home, a friendly spot with beer, snacks, and a cabaret stage about the size of a ______[NOUN #3]______.

The cafe is part of the fabulous EXIT Theater complex, a longstanding SF arts hub which has several performance spaces hosting some of the best indie theater in the city, including the San Francisco Olympians Festival, the SF Fringe Festival, and performances ranging from ______[ADJECTIVE #2]______ burlesque to stand-up ______[PLURAL NOUN #1]______.

Every month, we have a new theme for the writing prompts. Our 2015 themes included “Where Pies Go When They Die,” “Some Romantic S**t,” “Two Good Things,” and “Spies Have Feelings Too.” Maybe in 2016 we’ll do a night themed around ______[CELEBRITY]______, ______[PLURAL NOUN #2]______, or ______[FOOD]______.

SWF is co-produced by the EXIT and SF Theater Pub. On January 9th, we’re doing our first ever official crossover with another branch of Theater Pub! To tie-in with Theater Pub’s moody-songster-inspired festival “The Morrisey Plays” (playing at Pianofight in January) our first 2016 Fever theme is “F**K MORRISEY!,” a night of monologues based on lyrics copped from the arch nemesis of Moz himself: the never-to-be-trifled with Violent Femmes! The Violent Femmes are the best because their music was used on the soundtrack of “My So-Called Life.” I love that show. Sometimes I think I’m an Angela, but really I’m more of a Rayanne, you can tell by the way I ______[VERB #1]______.

Because SWF is free and monthly, there are plenty of chances to come catch the fever with us next year! It’s easier than learning to ______[VERB #2]______ and just as ______[ADJECTIVE #3]______ as a ______[NOUN #4]______. Come on by, let’s make some art, some memories, and some ______[PLURAL NOUN #2]______. The only reason to miss us in 2016 is if you’re dead or trapped in ______[PLACE]______.

Yours ______[ADVERB]______,
Megan Cohen and the Saturday Write Fever All-Stars

Cowan Palace: Olympian Doughnuts With Sam Bertken

This week Ashley chats with Sam Bertken about tonight’s reading with the San Francisco Olympians Festival.

It’s night five of the San Francisco Olympians Festival! Can you feel the magic? Well, I certainly can because tonight’s the night my short will be taking its first breath in front of an audience. This evening’s performance, THE CREW, features eight shorts by Steven Westdahl, Megan Cohen, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, Alandra Hileman, Seanan Palmero, Alan Olejniczak, and me! Wearing an additional hat, the pieces are being directed by Steven Westdahl who has assembled a fearless group of eight actors including, Sam Bertken, Matt Gunnison, Layne Austin, Heather Kellogg, Wayne Wong, Tom Cokenias, Katharine Otis, and Kim Saunders.

To give me a little additional insight into the acting process, Sam agreed to help answer a few questions. So wahoo! Here we go:

Ashley: First, tell us who you are playing in this evening’s performance.

Sam: I am playing such a fun breadth of different characters! One half of a foul-mouthed duo on a segway tour of Atlanta, an actor who reads stage directions, one half of a Canadian air rescue team, one half of a Marina bro pair celebrating the holidays at their wives’ OBGYN clinic, and the hammiest narrator I’ve ever had the honor of portraying.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

Ashley: If you took one of those online “Which Greek God Are You”? quizzes, who do you think you would get?

Sam: Ideally, it would be someone ultra-cool and talented like Hephaestus, who is my personal favorite out of the entire pantheon, but it’s more likely I’d get someone spry like Hermes or something more confusing like Hestia.

Ashley: What’s your favorite line you get to say in tonight’s show?

Sam: It’s a tough choice, but simply because it is so close to my personal interests, “Bring on the fucking doughnuts!” definitely ranks up there with the best of ’em.

Ashley: What’s the most challenging thing about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: As someone who has written for the festival previously, I think it’s actually remarkably easy to be an actor in the Olympians Festival. Just show up to the right rehearsals, and go with the flow. Be ready to go with the flow.

Ashley: What’s the best part about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: The auditions! And probably the performance night, but I can’t be 100% sure yet. 🙂

Ashley: If you could only use emoticons to describe tonight’s show, which ones would you use?

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

Ashley: Where can we see you next? Are you acting in any upcoming productions?

Sam: Well, I’m going to the TBA Awards! And then I’m going to be part of the comedy maelstrom that will be KMLZ, Killing My Lobster’s end-of-year show, which you should totally come see!

Awesome, Sam! Well, gang, you can see Sam, me, and the rest of “the crew” tonight at The Exit. We hope you’ll be there with doughnuts.

The 2015 festival will play 12 nights, November 4-21, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show, or in advance for $12 at Brown Paper Tickets. All shows begin at 8 PM. Audience members who attend more than four nights get the fifth free!

Theater Around The Bay: DICK 3 OPENS TONIGHT!

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It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former King Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco) and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing DICK 3!

Announcing this year’s Halloween show at Theater Pub!

Facebook-2 copy

It’s a dark and stormy night in England, and diabolical Duke Dick is plotting to kill his brothers George and Eddie so he can take over the kingdom- right after he marries the beautiful Anne, murders the sons of his sister-in-law, Liz, and in general wreck havoc with the assistance of his evil henchmen Buck and Ham, all because he’s an ugly hunchback who isn’t much suited to peaceful times and courtly romance.

The only thing standing between him and revenge on everyone who has ever experienced a moment of happiness, is a curse laid on him by Mags, the widow of the former king Henry, which promises him a nasty ending but looks like it will probably take out everyone else along the way.

Freely adapted from a much longer, much more serious play by William Shakespeare, this 70 minute romp falls somewhere between horror comedy and slasher pic, but, you know… in verse! Featuring creepy dolls, angry ghosts, lots of murder, and some of the best dramatic poetry ever penned, DICK 3 marks the return of classic text to Theater Pub, and is the perfect addition to your Halloween season!

Adapted and directed by Stuart Bousel, featuring Sam Bertken, Megan Briggs, Will Leschber, Carl Lucania, Brian Martin, Allison Page, Paul Jennings, Jessica Rudholm, and Jeunee Simon.

The show plays four times, only at PianoFight and is FREE (with a five dollar suggested donation).

Monday, October 19, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 20, at 8 PM
Monday, October 26, at 8 PM
Tuesday, October 27, at 8 PM

Don’t miss it- and be sure to come early (or stay late) and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and menu!

Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Joan Howard and Rebecca Longworth

Sam Bertken steps in to guest write and interview Joan Howard and Rebecca Longworth, the producing/directing team behind “Aesop Amuck.”

A few weeks ago, I took some time after a weekend rehearsal to sit down with Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard, the collaborative force that founded Samuel Peaches’ Peripatetic Players, winners of the 2013 Best of SF Fringe Award for “O Best Beloved,” a devised adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Sprawled cross-legged on the mats at the Main Street Theater in the Excelsior, I got to know more about what drove them to start the company, the source of their passion for children’s theater, and why audience participation might not be something to dread.

SB: What in particular draws you to staging children’s literature, adapting them for the stage?

RL: What draws me to children’s literature… I think, because it’s imaginative and kind of magical without necessarily having magic. Everything’s very dramatic and colorful and big and broad and also very funny.

JH: I like children’s literature because it always tells a story first. To me, it seems like the stories and the characters are the most important thing. For example, between that and adult literature. A lot of adult literature has, “I’m the author telling the story and I’m going to talk about myself as the author,” and I’m like, “I don’t want to hear about you, I want you to tell me a good story.”

Telling a good story! photo by Tim Guydish

Telling a good story! photo by Tim Guydish

SB: So the genre sort of naturally predisposes it to the stage?

RL: I mean, it depends on what the particular work of literature is but in this show in particular, in Aesop’s Fables, there’s actually a lot less color and detail which means that there’s more room for imagination.

JH: Yeah, with super colorful characters and a very clear story.

SB: Have you always done this kind of adaptation work with this specific genre or specific adaptation style? Or is this relatively new within the past few years?

RL: In terms of adapting children’s literature to the stage, it started in 2013 when the two of us wanted to do a show together and we were trying to figure out, “Well, what kind of show would we want to do?” And of course Joan was like, “It has to have a story! F**k this non-linear narrative b******t!” You can transcribe that as well.

SB: I totally will.

RL: And I was like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to adapt fairy tales and we were talking about what we like, shows that we really liked.”

JH: And stories we read as kids.

Nothing beats a good faerie tale, after all.

Nothing beats a good faerie tale, after all.

SB: What were those?

RL: The ones that are illustrated by Mercer Mayer that have the little monster. Little Critter’s Mother Goose was the one that I had and in it he’s putting on a show and all of the scenery are flats with stamps on them saying, “Rented From Joe’s Costume Rental.”

JH: Talking about like aesthetic visual also brought in the idea of medieval pageant wagons and Renaissance theater and how the scenery moved with simple mechanics.

RL: There’s also this more sophisticated sense of humor that kids actually get, which I see in The Muppets a lot. At first you’d think, “isn’t that a little a little sophisticated for a kid?” But it’s really not at all.

The complex discussions of the Muppets cater to all

The complex discussions of the Muppets cater to all

SB: Why children’s theater? Why is this art important to make?

RL: I think the reason it’s important is because of the way in which we’re doing it. By taking it on this wagon out to a park and setting it up and doing a show and then packing it away and leaving, this show has a higher percentage of people i’ve never met before that have seen it, so it means that like our work is being seen by entirely new audiences.

JH: Instead of our friends just coming to our show to support us.

RL: Right, which, as we all know, is something that plagues the theater community. In other shows, we’re doing it for our friends to come see on their off nights. I think this show is really important because we both have this love of public space.

JH: It’s this spontaneous delight. To me, it’s the magic that harkens back to when the circus came to town. People were like, “Oh my God, the circus is in town. There are the great tents and we’re actually going to make a date with our family to go out and do this thing that we don’t normally do, and experience our community and our town square or our field out next to the schoolhouse where they’ve set up.”

RL: I’m really interested in having interesting, fun, cool and also family accessible events happening in smaller parks. We could do a free Shakespeare show but those end up having hundreds of people, and that’s nice and all but there’s less intimacy between the actors and the audience. For sure, they’re accessible in that they’re free and you come with your picnic blanket and you can plop down but you can’t necessarily talk to the actors afterwards.

JH: And they don’t come off the stage.

SB: What’s really important for a children’s lit adaptation? What kind of theatrical tropes should be included?

RL: For me, it’s what i hear from kids that they want to see. They actually want to see how it’s done. They do want to answer questions when you directly look at them and ask them a question. I think it’s refusing to be like, “Oh, we have this fourth wall because we’ve all agreed on this fourth wall and I’m sorry if you didn’t get that memo, five year old.” We’re inviting it to happen.

JH: One of the things that is very important to me are the moments where people really bond as an audience. When you’re in the audience and you want to listen to what the little kid is suggesting. I feel like it really brings people together in a way where they’re actively engaged together as an audience, which is different than just watching.

Unpacking the FluxWagon can prove challenging! Photo by Serena Morelli

Unpacking the FluxWagon can prove challenging! Photo by Serena Morelli

SB: What is the biggest challenge of this work?

JH: There’s a lot of challenge in just the logistics of the wagon itself. The realities of having to tote a thing that unfolds into a stage on the back of a truck on a small trailer. The practicality of having something that’s out in the elements over time. I mean, the wood is warping and the floorboards are curling up and there’s this constant upkeep, which is why we changed over time to more durable and technologically advanced material, but it takes away a lot of the heart .

RL: It’s challenging to have a new location every time, too. It means that you don’t necessarily settle into the run. There’s always a problem like, “Oh, no one can actually hear us in this part of the world, the wind’s blowing a lot and there’s always like different—”

JH: There’s a dog under the stage! That’s the challenge, but it’s also the beauty.

RL: It’s the challenging beauty.

JH: As an audience member when i see performers who are genuinely engaged onstage dealing with what’s actually happening in real life, even if it’s not what’s scripted—especially when it’s not scripted—I find that utterly delightful.

Utter delight. Photo by Serena Morelli.

Utter delight. Photo by Serena Morelli.

For more information on the current show, Aesop Amuck, including performance times and locations, check out https://aesopamuck.wordpress.com.

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview With Allison Page

Barbara Jwanouskos, helping us catch up, with both Allison and the blog.

Allison and Babs selfie

Allison and Babs selfie

Allison Page and I met over lunch to discuss the upcoming DivaFest production of her play, “Hilarity” directed by Claire Rice. Over quesadillas, we discussed the darkness of comedy and addictions and what it’s like to write something that becomes very taxing. I found it extremely interesting how Allison writes and her process of preparation. She has always been a source of inspiration because of her boldness in her convictions and how she approaches work. As I’m looking to hunker down into my own passion projects, I found learning about the background of the creation of “Hilarity” useful in helping to form my own strategies. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.

Babs: Can you tell me a little bit about the premise of “Hilarity”?

Allison: “Hilarity” is about a comedian who happens to be a woman who is also an alcoholic. And it’s completely dependent on her best friend who is also her personal assistant. So basically, that’s the person who’s in her world. The only other people that exist are her agent – who is funny, but kind of a coward and non-confrontational – and her mom who flies in once a year and just acts like an asshole. So, it’s about her sort of… I hesitate to say, “trying to get her shit together” because she only tries to get her shit together when someone forces her to get her shit together, but it’s basically about her and her life, which is starting to fall apart. So, it’s a fun romp!

Babs: How did it come to be? How did it start?

Allison: It’s something that I started thinking about 4 years ago, which is a pretty long time for me because I’m used to things happening much more quickly than that. I’ve always been really fascinated with comedians in general. Then I knew more and more of them. And then I became one myself and then I was engaged to one. So they’ve always just sorta been around and been the people I understand best, even though they’re often times – not always – so very conflicted. And I feel like it’s become this stereotype that comedians have some sort of substance abuse problem. But it’s a real thing that happens a shitload.

You know, people like Marc Maron talking about his previous substance abuse problems and how they affected all his relationships with all these other comedians. Anyone who listens to WTF knows that shit gets really complicated and really fascinating. So, I just started thinking about it and jotting some things down. I had met with one person from another theater company about producing it and sort of faded away so I put it away for a while. But I just kinda couldn’t stop thinking about it – which was unique – because I tend to drop things if they don’t happen. Like, who cares, whatever. I’m not precious about stuff that I do. But this was just the one nagging thing in the back of my head that wouldn’t really go away. And so about a year and a half ago, I sent Claire Rice a facebook message like, “Hey! Want to direct a thing maybe nex year?” And I was really vague about it. At that time I had another play that’s not mine – that’s from the thirties – that I considered putting up instead. Like, “well, maybe I’ll just do this thing because this thing I wrote would be harder…”

And then in the end I ended up choosing my thing. But she was was onboard immediately. I asked her, “Would you want to direct this thing next year?” And she was like, “Yep! Whatever you want!” Or I think she actually said, “Anything for you,” which is an embarrassing thing to admit.

We were just going to produce it ourselves, but Claire thought of bringing it to Diva Fest, and she did. They accepted it. And now, that’s why it’s happening.

Babs: Can you tell me about DIVAfest?

Allison: I know that they’ve been around for 14 years. It started as a festival to produce work of female playwrights. It sorta has expanded since then to produce solo work. They have a burlesque show, Diva or Die, and other miscellaneous stuff. And they had sort of a “season”, I guess you could say, before, but now it’s more that throughout the year they just have sprinkled things that they’re doing. So, it’s not that there’s a Diva festival happening in March and I’m part of that with a bunch of other things. There’s just different points that they do stuff. I know they have some things in development – like there’s a big solo show that’s in development. Claire’s worked with them. I think this is her 4th year.

Babs: Over the last four years, you’ve were developing the script and working with Claire-

Allison: Yeah.

Babs: Can you walk me through the steps of development?

Allison: So Claire’s only been onboard for the last year and a half or so. Before that, I would sort of work on it and not work on it and I was really arguing with myself about whether or not I was really going to do it.

Babs: What was the “no” voice saying? What was the difficulty in continuing?

Allison: Well, so… here’s the “Oh no! She almost let a man tell her what to do” situation. So I actually thought of this while I was still with my ex-fiance who’s a comedian.

I remember saying like, “I have this idea for this play and I’m kind of obsessed with it and just thinking about it.” And he was like, “But you can’t write a play…” And I was like, “Why not?” And he said, “Because you don’t write plays.” Okay, fair enough.

But then I did it anyway, but not until three years later. I mean between the time we had that conversation and now with this happening, I’ve written so many more things, which I actually think is good. It kinda prepared me for this a bit more. I don’t think I could have done this right out of the gate at the time. But now, I’ve written tons of stuff – lots of different things that have been able to prepare me.

So that was maybe part of the “no” voice and also, it just feels like… It’s a tough story. Strangely, for whatever reason, a lot of people in the cast have tough times with certain aspects of the script – reading it or watching it, or whatever – because most of us have experiences with people who have drinking problems – friends, relatives, parents who are alcoholics. So, we all have these ties to these people who have these problems and we’ve had to watch it and deal with it and all that stuff. I’m included in that. I’ve been really close to some people with very severe problems. So the complexity of the material is a little scary and that makes it- When I was writing it, it made it hard to work on. I felt like I’ll just go and do something else I was working on that was more fun, that was less draining. So, it would distract me from working on the thing because I was working on something else that was easier.

I certainly am glad I’m doing it. It just took me a long time to feel like I could deal with it all.

Babs: Do you feel comfortable with where it is right now? And is there a sort of future trajectory that you kind of have in mind for it?

Allison: I feel pretty good about where it is now. I think if you had asked me a week and a half ago, I would have been like, “I don’t know, man!”

Doing the re-writes while something is in rehearsal has been incredibly fascinating. I’ve made a lot of changes that I think are good. It’s in a much better place than I think it was a few weeks ago. And I really like it now.

I said that last night after rehearsal when we were done. It’s like ten-something PM and we’re like on this mattress in the middle of the floor – because that’s the set. It’s set on a mattress on the middle of the floor, so I’m just like lying on this mattress and I look up at Claire and I’m like, “Hey, I like this a lot more than I thought I liked it!” So, that’s pretty cool.

And I feel pretty good about where it is. The EXIT Press is publishing it, but I can still make changes after the production. Actually, having a deadline of when they needed to have the script to publish it was really helpful because then I was like, “Now is the time for it be really close to what it’s gonna be.”

I’ve sort of relaxed. I sent the final draft a couple days ago and now I’m like, “Huh, I feel pretty good about that!” I think I feel like I can leave it for now. Maybe I’ll do something to it later, but now I feel like I could leave it.

Babs: Is this the first full-length play that you’ve had produced?

Allison: Yeah, this is the first full-length that I have had produced. You know, exciting and moderately terrifying, I guess. I’m not a person who’s prone to fear, but I really like- And I don’t even know if fear’s the right word, but I’m just feeling a lot of weird stuff. It’s a weird thing that’s happening. And I’m in it. So like, that’s weird. I always have in the back of my head people going, “Oh, she’s in the thing she wrote,” and sort of like rolling their eyes.

Babs: Has that made it challenging – not only as the performer in your own piece – but hearing the other people around you too? Does your “writer brain” go off like, “No, that’s not what I was thinking!”

Allison: No, I don’t really… I’ve really been enjoying disconnecting from it as a writer. It’s been pretty cool. Sam Bertkin, who’s the Assistant Director, was saying after the first few rehearsals, “It’s really interesting to watch you try to interpret your own material.” Because I do feel like I’m doing that. I’m not looking at like “I wrote this.” I’m looking at it like, “what can I do with this? What can I do with that?”

Claire has brought so much to it and I completely trust her drive the direction of what’s going on. I’m also really not precious about the stuff that I’ve written, so if somebody says a line and then says, “I don’t know if that’s exactly how that should be”, I’m like, “Well, what do you think it should be?” You know, I could tell them to fuck off, but they probably are going to be right. But that doesn’t even really happen. There’s been like such minor things.

There’s some really intense fight scenes and I’ve been working on fight choreography. I wrote the fight really specifically in the script, but we’ve messed with it since then. As long as the intent is the same that’s what I care about.

Babs: I feel like I can definitely relate to you on that one. I guess I’m also sort of wondering, though you say you’re not precious about your words and are really interested in being collaborative, are there moments where you were like, “Well, for the sake of where we’re trying to go with this, I have to let go of this part or this scene”. And maybe have an emotional attachment to it that was unexpected? Or if it was something you just thought was funny, but ultimately it didn’t work?

Allison: Not really. Like, I haven’t had to cut a lot stuff I really cared about. There was one thing that I thought I was maybe going to have to cut that I would have been pretty sad about, but I ended up being able to re-arrange it and re-word it and sort of re-think it.

Babs: Do you think it still works in the re-arrangement?

Allison: Yes. It works better now. Before it mostly just, “This is what Allison thinks about this particular topic” and here’s a mild tirade on that completely from Allison’s perspective.” Then I re-worked it and made it fit more with the person who’s saying it and the show as a whole as opposed to it really being me. But that was the only thing.

Because Claire read it and said, “This is the one part where I feel like I don’t know if that should be there.” And then I changed it and she didn’t say that anymore, so either she forgot or it is better now. I think it’s better now. I like it. But that’s just me. It was very specific to comedy. It’s like a comedy tirade.

Babs: Hey, rants are great. I feel like often times when you’re doing playwriting exercises that can be a really good one to sort of jog people and get them going. Like, “have your character go into a rant right now”. Always really interesting…

Allison: It’s a rant about hecklers, which is fun.

Babs:So in writing this, and also in performing in it, I’m making an assumption – partially because I know I do this – that you’re drawing a lot from your own life?

Allison: Yeah, so I always say that Cyd, which is the main character’s name that I’m playing, that she’s like the nightmare version of myself. So, she’s me if I was given the exact wrong opportunities. And I can totally see that I – She’s pretty monstrous, but we all can be that. So she’s the combination of my worst fears about myself and then also my worst fears for the people that I know that have the set of problems she has. I can see how I could have gone down that same road. There’s definitely some real life stuff in there. There’s one male character in the show and some of the things he says, does, the way he is, the fact that he exists at all, is reminiscent of people that I know unfortunately.

Babs: Or even conversations that you’ve had

Allison: Yeah!

Babs: I would imagine that that becomes difficult when you’re inhabiting that character. And how do I make this person different from me because I wrote it? It’s coming from my experience.

Allison: There’s a lot things about her that are not like me, thank god. The toughest parts have been when she’s really vulnerable and when she’s really not doing well. The parts where she’s being really crass and mean and obnoxious – I don’t know, those can be hard sometimes depending on who I’m directing them at because it’s hard to be mean to Heather Kellogg, who’s the nicest person in the world.

But Claire says that we are totally different, but it’s got shadows of me and other people. I mean she is such a nightmare person. I really hope people don’t think of me that way, like “is that what’s going on in there?”

Babs: I have hope for you. So, as you’re talking it sounds like this is much more of a drama than a comedy.

Allison: It’s really dark. The other night we did a scene from it for the DivaFest gala fundraiser that’s the lightest friendliest part of the show. But it’s really brutal. I mean there’s tons and tons and tons of jokes in it, but it’s really really sad. Sam’s way of describing it was as a “cruel play”. I honestly don’t know how people are going to react to the tone of it because it’s so bizarre. Because even when it’s dark the people are still joking about things in order to cope. That’s pretty standard in a drama in some ways – that there’s still laughter intermingled. Especially the second act, which I said yesterday was like an acid bath. So, maybe people will laugh or maybe they’ll just be like, “oh god, this is not okay!”

Babs:
I think it’s always good writing when you’re having characters in the play that have these jokes or they are saying something that they intend as funny and either people within the scene or the audience are like “cringe!”

Allison: There are so many cringy things about this for sure. Any time that Cyd is left alone in her apartment, it’s like the air just get sucked out. She can’t even bear to be there. So it feels awful. There are many things that will hopefully feel awful – that’s a terrible thing to say! But it’s sort of meant to feel that way. But I hope that they laugh at the jokes too. There’s a million jokes in it because it’s a person who speaks primarily in one-liners. Which is also how I write. I write in single sentence responses and I write a lot of jokes. But there sometimes really sad jokes or mean jokes.

Babs: Do you have a favorite line?

Allison: Oh gosh… Okay, so, “You know what else everybody thought was a great idea? Painting watch faces with radium. Everybody’s happy until Betty’s face starts melting off.

Babs: Shifting gears a little bit, do you have any thoughts or advice, words of wisdom, not only if you’re a playwright and you’re thinking about how to produce your work?

Allison: Get a director that you trust. It would be such a nightmare if I didn’t have a director that I really trusted. I mean I wrote it and handed it to her and then she takes it. I’m still there and if in rehearsal someone asks a question specifically about the writing or has a question for me specifically as a playwright, but I kind of look to Claire first. And 95% of the time, she takes all questions about anything and I only chip in if they really want me to. I just feel like that separation is important. Also, because I’m in it so I don’t want it to feel like, “Well, I wrote this and the only reason someone else is directing it is because I can’t do it myself because that would be three things.” That’s not why she’s directing it. I asked her to direct it because I felt like she was the right person for the job. There was never anyone else I thought was right for the job. Definitely not me. So, I guess that’s my biggest advice – get a director that you believe in that understands what you’re doing.

Babs: Any thoughts about the writing process? Anything that helps you out?

Allison: Mostly I spend my time trying to trick myself into writing. So I set standards like “I’m going to write for 45 minutes”. Then take a break or whatever. But also because the writing was so hard, it was nice to take breaks and write something that was lighter. So, I just had to pace myself because sometimes it was a slog. Or sometimes I can’t write in my apartment, like the walls are closing in on me, so I go some place else or I meet up with other people that are doing the same thing and we write at the same time and sometimes we take really long breaks where we’re talking and drinking coffee.

I’m also fascinated by other people’s processes, I don’t know how others do it – and this is going to sound more impressive than it actually is – but there’s basically seven drafts of this. But to call them full drafts isn’t really genuine because sometimes not a lot has changed. So the first two times- So, I wrote up the whole thing and then side by side, I had another document and typed up the whole thing. So, the first draft to second draft are really different because I was re-typing up the whole thing. That meant anytime I had to type up a word, I had to really think if I wanted that word. That for me was really useful, but obviously a huge pain in the ass because it takes a really long time. I feel like it was worth it though.

Or like in the first one I didn’t worry about the formatting and then fixed that in the second one. I did have some interesting experiences with “locked pages”. Have you ever locked pages when you’re writing something?

Babs: No, what’s that?

Allison: It’s tough. It makes sense when you’re in rehearsal with something. Do you use Final Draft?

Babs: Yeah.

Allison: So, there’s several things in Final Draft that I never use that are really useful. Like in rehearsal you don’t want to print off the whole document again because the pages will change, so instead of that, with this feature, it locks the page number and adds an A, B, and so on after the number and you insert that into the existing scripts. But due to some inconsistencies in something, or my computer or whatever, Linda Huang, our amazing Stage Manager, had to spend hours printing pages with my computer. And we made the decision together so we just had to live with the consequences.

It also took me a really long time to write the end because I didn’t want to put a pretty ribbon on it, but it took a while to figure out what that was. Because in the end I want people to get what they want, but that doesn’t happen and sometimes it’s not always best for you.

Babs: Any last thoughts? Plugs?

Allison: It’s been a shock how great the project has been. People have been really supportive, which puts some pressure on. It’s tough to make something. Writing and now all these other people and all these working parts added into it, which creates more possibility that people will disagree. But that really hasn’t happened. I don’t know how. It’s been so harmonious. Claire said, “it’s been going so well it’s kinda freaking me out a little. Like am I going to get to opening night and go – I did everything wrong!” But I kinda don’t think that’s going to happen.

And if it does, I guess I don’t really give a fuck. I got exactly what I wanted. I did it how I wanted to do it with the people I wanted to work with.

Babs: It’s also not necessarily the end because it’s a play and a play lives on.

Allison: Yeah. Will it be? I don’t know. I kinda can’t imagine anyone else wanting to go through that, but you never know. It is fun. But it’s a part that’s a lot. I’d love to see someone else do it though, I’d watch the shit out of that.

The cast of "Hilarity" courtesy of Claire Rice.

The cast of “Hilarity” courtesy of Claire Rice.

For more of Allison Page’s “Hilarity”, check out http://www.theexit.org/divafest/2014/12/15/hilarity/. The show runs from March 5 through 28 at the EXIT Studio. Tickets are available at http://hilarity.bpt.me/. For more of Allison Page, follow her on twitter @AllisonLynnPage or her bi-weekly column on the SF Theater Pub blog, “Everything is Already Something”.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay-Area based writer. Follow her on twitter @bjwany.