Cowan Palace: Wizards of Words: Sorting our Favorite Playwrights into Hogwarts Houses

In this two-part blog series, Ashley Cowan and Marissa Skudlarek attempt to sort some notable playwrights into their proper Hogwarts House.

Anyone else needing an escape from the adult world of taxes and other miscellaneous boring stuff? I am! Which is why I was so delighted when Marissa reached out to me about writing a blog together involving placing playwrights into their respective Hogwarts House. I was like, Marissa, are you Sirius? That sounds prefect.

And we aren’t the only ones contemplating Harry Potter “types” in the theatre world these days. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and II, a world premiere new play based on a story by J.K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, will be opening at the Palace Theatre in London later next month!

But in case you can’t quite afford a plane ticket to England (F you, evil taxes!), we will celebrate all this magical, theatrical fun Theater Pub blog style. So grab that sugary new Starbucks drink that’s supposed to taste like Butterbeer and read on!

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Now, if you’re a muggle who hasn’t jumped aboard the glorious Hogwarts Express Train, here’s a quick rundown of the four Hogwarts Houses as told by the Sorting Hat himself in Book Four, The Goblet of Fire:

By Gryffindor, the bravest were

Prized far beyond the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

–Sorting Hat (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

In other words, we’ve got four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Gryffindors are daring and bold folks who value a sense of honor. Ravenclaws are witty and steady minded and love academic achievements. Hufflepuffs are truth abiding, loyal friends who care for others often above all else. And Slytherins are cunning and passionate with a strong focus and drive. There’s so much more to say about each of their characteristics and attributes but I’ll leave that to JK Rowling for now.

If you had asked me a few years ago which house I best identified with, I would have told you I saw myself as “Gryffin-claw” (so, a hybrid between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw). It seemed like a good balance for someone who adamantly moved to California against the wishes of her friends and family at the time to follow a dream but who also spent a great deal of time alone reading whatever she could get her hands on while crafting detailed lists of new goals and color-coded schedules. But after researching the Houses a bit more for this blog, I gotta say, I think this Hugs and Cuddles blogger may be more of a Hufflepuff! I’m totally that person that stresses that I haven’t “liked” enough of someone’s Facebook content because I wants to make sure they feel loved and appreciated when I can’t see them in person.

And, this should come as no shocker, but Ravenclaws everywhere would be proud to have Marissa as a part of their crew. She’s totally that babe in the library casually taking in another book who will probably forget more facts than I’ll ever know. Marissa is the person you want on your debate team, your trivia team, and the gal you call for fashion advice when you want an authentic, beautiful look to wear to a themed party. So teaming up with her for this blog was a no-brainer.

Over a ginger-y cocktail in a dimly lit bar, we chatted about playwrights in between sharing select secrets from our earlier days as writers for the San Francisco theater scene and its residents. It was as delightful as it sounds. So without further ado, here are some of our thoughts as Sorting Hat Hotties.

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Tom Stoppard
“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Schoolboy wit, punster, lover of books and ideas, cramming his plays with erudite references, the favorite playwright of the academic classes: there’s no doubt about it, Tom Stoppard is the Head Boy of Ravenclaw House. “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter,” from Arcadia, is the line that sums up Stoppard’s ethos, and also sums up the key values of Ravenclaw. He also once claimed to write plays because it’s the only socially acceptable way of arguing with himself, and of all the Houses, Ravenclaws are most likely to welcome a good debate and be swayed by a good argument.

Oscar Hammerstein II
“I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: When I brought up Hammerstein over drinks, Marissa knowingly said something along the lines of, “only a Hufflepuff could help create Oklahoma!” and as the Ravenclaw she is, I believe she’s correct! Hammerstein was a known collaborator, co-writing nearly 900 songs! He was involved with creating a community of artists that would go on to pave an encouraging path for future music makers and lovers. He was known for being fairly sentimental, which seems obvious given his musical theatre resume, but he was also a socially conscious spirit who wrote with sincerity. He guided and influenced countless collectives, filling their hearts with love and music. Well, mine is pretty full, anyway. As Hufflepuffs are thoughtful team players with a strong sense of justice, Hammerstein would be a cherished Hufflepuff alumnus.

Caryl Churchill
“What’s poetry? It’s not real but maybe it’s more than real. It’s dreaming while you’re awake.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Another candidate for Greatest Living British Playwright, and another Ravenclaw, though of a less flashy variety than Stoppard. Her plays are coolly perceptive and draw inspiration from a wide range of sources; while they often deal with political themes and reflect her socialist and feminist beliefs, they do not feel polemical (as a Gryffindor’s plays might be). Her work has also gotten more, rather than less, experimental over the years, testifying to her Ravenclaw creativity and questing intelligence. Churchill shuns publicity and does not grant interviews, preferring to let her plays and their ideas speak for themselves – a very Ravenclaw thing to do.

Will Eno
“I think we’re born with questions, and the world is the answer.”
Sarah Ruhl
“This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: I’m linking Eno and Ruhl on this thought bubble because I feel like they share some similarities in their House placements and I go back and forth between sorting both of them in either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. I think I’ve landed on Will Eno being a Ravenclaw (who probably marries a Hufflepuff) and Sarah Ruhl as a Hufflepuff with an endless stream of Ravenclaw crushes. Eno writes (and writes) questioning our roles and our humanity while forever swimming in this sea of existential thought and meaningful observations. And Ruhl’s writing often plays like a dreamy poem. Her work seeks to explore love’s communication style and it’s impact on relationships. If Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had a love child House, I think these two would be in it. But for now, Eno’s wearing a Ravenclaw hoodie and Ruhl’s decked out in cozy Hufflepuff knits.

Tony Kushner
“The work of artists is to find what’s humanly possible – possibility’s furthest reaches.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: A very smart guy who writes verbose and encyclopedic plays, so there is a temptation to put him in Ravenclaw, but look closer, and you’ll see that he’d do better in Gryffindor. The most memorable moments in Kushner’s plays often revolve around the key Gryffindor trait of bravery: think of Baz’s monologue in A Bright Room Called Day about how he lacked the courage to kill Hitler; or the epilogue of Caroline or Change, where Emmie describes how she and her friends vandalized a Confederate statue. Kushner also values the Gryffindor traits of hope and optimism: he once said “It is an ethical obligation to look for hope; it is an ethical obligation not to despair.” And writing a fantastical seven-hour drama that climaxes with the protagonist going to heaven and arguing with the angels to give him “more life”? You can’t get much more Gryffindor than that.

Tennessee Williams
“A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: My goodness, y’all. I thought about this placement for awhile. Like four coffees and two episodes of Fixer Upper on Netflix worth of thought. I texted friends and chatted to castmates over it. Because it seems like he could almost go anywhere and nowhere at the same time! Williams was gifted with a beautiful grasp of language but vowed to write honestly, once stating, “I only write about what I experience – intuitively or existentially”, which could be a Ravenclaw thought but also seems like a Hufflepuff promise. And while his characters populate Slytherin and Gryffindor, as a writer destined to tell the truth about social realities and humanity, I think I’m going to keep Williams in Hufflepuff!

That’s our start to this glorious conversation; fun, right?! And we’d love your thoughts! Marissa will be discussing a well known writer within the Slytherin House tomorrow but if you have a playwright you think needs to be sorted, let us know so we can keep this Hogwarts party going! See you tomorrow, fellow witches and wizards!

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Working Title: The Ruhl’s of Kissing

This week Will Leschber closes his eyes and gets ready for a Stage Kiss!

My first stage kiss was with Jessica Middleton. Do you remember yours? Ah yes… First semester of college was starting off with a bang! My guess is that I got the part in that readers’ theater original play of Mother Jones because I was good at making bashful googley eyes at attractive actresses and know how to positively lose all brain function when making said googley eyes. Ask my wife, she knows!

But back to the story… so the audition called for an actor and an actress to sit, hold hands, look into each others eyes and have a conversation using only the letters of the alphabet, the ABC’s. I say A?. She says B. I say C! And so on. So I get to around P and…damn…her eyes…they are such a radiant deep shade of cedar brown…it’s like a circular forest folding in on itself and then peering into me…and oh shit…what letter is next…oh my god…did I forget the next letter in the alphabet! Why did I skip kindergarten?!

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I look over at the director…no help. I look back at the Jessica just to check how much I’m ruining her audition,,, and she kindly smiles and says, “Q?”. Man, did I look like an idiot! But, apparently, I looked like an idiot who liked a girl enough to forget the alphabet when looking into her eyes. And wouldn’t you know it, we both got cast. Hooray for being young and dumb, huh!

A first kiss, a first stage kiss, they are hard to forget. We forge them into our stories and use them as touchstones pointing toward who we are and who we were. What do you remember about your first kiss? Was it gentle and sweet? Did you clunk teeth? Was it somehow not a total disaster?! Was it the best ever?

I had the pleasure of speaking to Millie DeBenedet about some of her own Stage Kiss…ing. Millie is a Bay Area actress/director/cocker-spaniel enthusiast and currently plays Laurie/Millicent in Stage Kiss, at SF Playhouse, this holiday season. And of course, while asking after perfect stage kisses, I had to ask for her thoughts on an equally romantic cinematic kiss that would couple well in that vein. She had this to say…

She (Carrie Paff*) and Millicent (Millie DeBenedet) rehearse a scene from ‘The Last Kiss’.

She (Carrie Paff*) and Millicent (Millie DeBenedet) rehearse a scene from ‘The Last Kiss’.

Stage Kiss is Sarah Ruhl’s love poem to actors. The play is utterly romantic. It reveals the twisted dynamics actors find themselves in when they wind up in a showmance. I think it’s easy for actors to confuse lust vs. love. The work of Theatre (like the game of love) requires so much risk-taking. Having a crush on one of your coworkers is inevitable. How you deal with those feelings, well…

She (Carrie Paff*) kisses understudy Kevin (Allen Darby) as Director (Mark Anderson Phillips*) looks on during auditions.

She (Carrie Paff*) kisses understudy Kevin (Allen Darby) as Director (Mark Anderson Phillips*) looks on during auditions.

DeBenedet continues…

To accompany your taste buds the following films are great pairings for Stage Kiss:

1. The Lady Eve (1941) – Because it embodies the dicey and passionate relationship between He & She. However, He is more like Barbara Stanwyck’s character and She is more like Henry Fonda.

2. Let’s Make Love (1960) – The tone is similar to Stage Kiss. However, I think Carrie Paff is a much stronger female lead than Marilyn Monroe. Another similarity is you understand the play-within-a-play idea.

3. Love, Actually (2003) – This is my unsophisticated answer. At one point in Stage Kiss, there are a couple of different love stories you could follow, similarly to Love Actually. Also because it’s a funny holiday rom-com.

Love doesn’t have to be sophisticated. It just has to make you, well… feeling something! These are all excellent choices, but my, my, if I go one holiday season without watching the glory that is Love, Actually, my heart withers a little. Good choice, I say! Now, my first stage kiss my have not lead anywhere besides a decent role my first semester at university, however, my last stage kiss was shared with my wife…so don’t shut down those showmance feelings too early. You never know where a showmance can sweep you off to. As Millie said, how you deal with those feelings, well…well that is a key part in how you continually mold who you are, and where your emotional future may go. It’s a gift.

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Stage Kiss runs at the SF Playhouse until January 9. Tuesday – Thursday at 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm, Select Sundays at 2pm

If you are searching for classic fare, The Lady Eve can be found for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and other e-rental depots; Let’s Make Love may be a little harder to find, but I trust your savvy searching ways. And way too many copies of Love, Actually can be found in my DVD cabinet (what’s a DVD cabinet, you say?) or Netflix.

Sources:

Palopoli, Jessica. “She (Carrie Paff*) kisses understudy Kevin (Allen Darby) as Director (Mark Anderson Phillips*) looks on during auditions.” 2016. Photograph. http://sfplayhouse.org/

Palopoli, Jessica. “She (Carrie Paff*) and Millicent (Millie DeBenedet) rehearse a scene from ‘The Last Kiss.’” 2016. Photograph. http://sfplayhouse.org/

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Practical Magic of Props

Marissa Skudlarek, giving props to props.

Making theater means spending your life creating and re-creating other worlds onstage. Some of the tools we use to create these other worlds are abstract – language, gesture, spatial relationships. But there’s also a whole heap of tangible stuff that becomes part of the world of the play: sets, lighting, costumes, props. These items need to be carefully considered, and obtained, and maintained. October 2015 is Design Month on the Theater Pub blog, so, to kick things off, I asked friends and members of the community to share their favorite stories about props.

Playwrights have vivid imaginations, which means that scripts can sometimes require weirdly specific props. If a prop is mentioned in the stage directions but not the dialogue, you might be able to do without it, but if the characters discuss it, you’re probably on the hook for including it.

The Desk Set requires a plush rabbit that can conceal a bottle of champagne. In the production I was in this summer, we substituted a rabbit hand puppet, but it still caused some problems during a dress rehearsal.

Other shows require people to get more artsy-craftsy. Claudine Jones shared the following story on Facebook: “The plot of Angel Street literally hinges on a brooch that contains hidden jewels. The description in the script is so vivid, it’s almost impossible to fake. I set out to make a brooch that fit all these requirements: small enough to wear as an article of jewelry, easy to open and close, and able to hide “jewels” that are big enough to be recognized as such by the audience. A couple of weeks of trial and error, bizarre prototypes that went straight into the trash, and I finally succeeded. The main component was an old tuna fish can, painted gold, with a pin epoxied on the back and an overlapping series of metal triangles that formed a kind of iris that opened and closed. The “jewels”? 3mm ruby Swarovski crystals that shone like crazy. I think the playwright would have approved.”

 Oh, Tony Kushner and your weirdly specific, metaphorical props. Photo by Dale Ratner.

Oh, Tony Kushner and your weirdly specific, metaphorical props. Photo by Dale Ratner.

The play Slavs requires a Russian-style icon of St. Sergius of Radonezh with the face of Lenin. When Dale Ratner directed this play in graduate school, he commissioned someone to paint the icon on salvaged wood – and still has it in his living room. Alandra Hileman has a similar story from when she directed the short play Overtones, in which the characters discuss an “ugly but expensive” lamp. After searching in vain for a suitable 1910s-era lamp, Alandra “assembled this from a candlestick, a votive holder, and an LED tea light for like $5 total. It’s lived on our mantle since then because my mom thinks it’s adorable.”

Ugly but expensive? More like cute and $5! Photo by Alandra Hileman.

Ugly but expensive? More like cute and $5! Photo by Alandra Hileman.

Dale and Alandra aren’t the only people who’ve been known to take props home and use them as décor. For the last month or two of my freshman year of college, I lived with a stylized wrought-steel horse’s head hanging on the wall, because my roommate had been in a student production of Equus.

Theater is all about provoking emotion, and it can be either cathartic or harrowing to see something destroyed before your eyes. But what a nightmare it must cause for the props master! I’m thinking of plays like Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, where, at a climactic moment, the characters muss and dirty a pristine living room. Or, my friend Catherine Cusick shared the following story: “I did a play where a character pours a full bottle of vodka onto a MacBook laptop that we’ve seen working and being used for two hours onstage. My mom called me up out of nowhere during rehearsals asking if I still needed that. Turns out a neighbor had left a lookalike to the working laptop out on the side of her driveway. My mom walked right by and promptly swiped it.”

Speaking of finding props on the street… When I worked with director Katja Rivera on the production of my play Pleiades in summer 2014, I learned that she has what I call a “magpie superpower” – a preternatural ability to find cool and useful stuff on the sidewalks of Berkeley. This year, a record player that Katja found has starred in three productions in a row: Grey Gardens, at the Custom Made Theatre; The Desk Set, produced by No Nude Men; and The Real Thing, at Masquers Playhouse. You have to admit that’s a pretty snazzy resume – and such versatility too, going from the 1970s in the Hamptons to the 1950s in New York City to the 1980s in London without missing a beat! “Do I have an eye for talent, or what? I literally picked that baby up off the sidewalk, and he’s done three shows this year. Next stop Broadway!” Katja writes.

Katja’s record player got passed around between these three productions thanks to informal bartering and Katja’s generosity in loaning it out to friends. If a theater company maintains a proprietary stock of props and costumes, one can even more frequently see the same items appearing in multiple productions. Stuart Bousel recalls “a dress that appeared in five productions I directed in Tucson: a simple red ankle-length gown with a gathered bodice. It was made for a chorus member in Lysistrata, then used in the Oresteia, where it was worn by Clytemnestra. Then we used it in a comedy sketch about the Oresteia where it was worn by Cassandra, then in a production of Faust Part One, where it once again went back to the chorus, then a production of Salome, where it was worn by the Cappadocian (female in our version). I’m almost certain it was finally retired after that… but maybe not.”

In the first show I ever did in high school, I had a small role as a Russian noblewoman attending an opera, and got to wear a beautiful mink stole. I grew very attached to the stole and, later on in high school, basically insisted on wearing it again when I played Mrs. Luce in Little Shop of Horrors. It’s been over ten years, but in all likelihood, that stole is still being worn by teenage actresses at my high school. Though, if I’m honest with myself, I still think of it as “mine.”

Indeed, if you love a prop or a costume piece enough, you’ll find ways to keep reusing it. Catherine Cusick, again: “I worked with a theater in high school that made a papier-maché cow for a production of Into the Woods, but managed to slip it into any other show that could conceivably involve a cow on wheels.”

Marissa Skudlarek is a playwright, producer, and arts writer. She still wants a mink stole, especially now that it’s October. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part One)

Pint Sized V begins its four performance run tonight at PianoFight at 8 PM! We’ve got an amazing line of up of writers this year, and check back next week when we introduce you to our directing team! Meanwhile, here’s Christina Augello, Stuart Bousel, Megan Cohen, Alan Coyne, Elizabeth Flanagan, Jeremy Geist, Christine Keating, Juliana Lustenader, Lorraine Midanik, and Daniel Ng telling you all about what it takes to bring you this year’s collection!

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How did you hear about Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival and what possessed you to send something in?

Stuart Bousel: Well, as one of the founders of Theater Pub, and the current Executive Director, I knew the festival was around because I’m the guy who puts it on the schedule. That said, I have had a piece in every Pint Sized except Pint Sized II. The first year was a short called Queen Mab in Drag. All the other years, including this one, have been a monologue written for our mascot, the Llama, who was created by Elana McKernan for the first Pint-Sized, and has been played by Rob Ready ever since. No, I don’t have to go through the submission process- I’m grandfathered in every year. Executive Directorship has its privileges.

Stuart Bousel

Stuart Bousel

Christine Keating: I heard about Pint-Sized when it happened in 2013, but I wasn’t able to see it. It sounded fun and exciting, and I enjoy short storytelling in many forms: flash fiction, web shorts, podcasts. I had written my plays a few months ago to get the idea onto paper, and then Pint-Sized seemed like the perfect venue for them!

Lorraine Midanik: I heard about the Festival from a fellow playwright who thought I might be interested. In March, one of my plays was produced at PianoFight’s Shortlived Festival, and I am excited to have another play presented in that terrific venue. I have always been fascinated by the names of beers and thought it would be fun to play with it in my writing.

Elizabeth Flanagan: General stalking of the SF Theater Pub website. I wasn’t fortunate enough to make any of the Pint-Sized performances at the Café Royale but I have seen most of the videos of the plays. Good stuff. I feel privileged to be part of this history. It‘s also pretty special to be included in the first Pint-Sized festival to be performed at PianoFight. My dad lived in the tenderloin and used to take us to Original Joe’s on occasion. It’s very cool to be back at the old stomping grounds in a new way.

Alan Coyne: I almost certainly heard about this iteration of Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival through Facebook, and from there, Theater Pub’s website. And I’d heard about previous versions of it from folks who’d been involved in them. I’ve had the idea of Einstein as a bartender in a scene for a long, long time. There’s something about the image of him as a silent observer in a bar, a place where the rules of space-time so clearly intersect with the rules of human behaviour, that I find engaging. And so this festival presented the perfect opportunity to try and explore that notion in my own clumsy way.

Christina Augello: I am very familiar with Theatre Pub and knew it was coming up and got an email reminder and followed the link and there it was and I have been wanting to write and the limited parameters seemed perfect to get me started. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Christina’s first play ever!)

Daniel Ng: It was a great experience having my piece, Mark +/-, in Pint-Sized IV, so I’ve been looking forward to submitting again since then.

Jeremy Geist: I found out about it from one of the Theatre Pub people I’m friends with on Facebook. It was only a two-page play submission, and I already had an idea, so I felt it was worth the effort.

Juliana Lustenader: After seeing the call for submissions on the SF Theatre Pub blog, I decided to do some research and found old YouTube videos of past Pint-Sized performances. The plays I watched were all so creative and funny. I knew I had to be involved with the process somehow. Usually I would audition as an actor for these sort of things, but watching those old videos inspired me to write what I think is the silliest five pages I’ve ever written. (Editor’s Note: And yes, this is Juliana’s Bay Area debut as a playwright!)

Megan Cohen: I watched the very first night of Theater Pub ever, years ago, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front row, then I joined the family immediately, writing a piece for the very next monthly event. The community that’s found each other at Theater Pub is diverse in artistic style, and you never know what you’ll see, but I find that the theatermakers gathered under this banner tend to be reliably open and generous, with each other and with the audience. Pint-Sized feels like a flagship festival to me, because it pulls together so many of us, with our unique voices and approaches, and I just can’t miss it. I’ve written for Pint-Sized every year. I keep coming back here because of happy history, and because we get an unusual crowd. Since the shows are free, people come who otherwise wouldn’t take a chance on a night at the theater, and I love the responsibility of that; it means I better give them something worthwhile to watch, so they’ll come back!

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

Elizabeth Flanagan: Getting it done. I think the big misconception would be that shorts are quicker to write. Not for me they aren’t. I’m always amazed at the amount of time I can spend on a short. I can bang out a rough draft fairly quickly, but the rewrites are tricky. I tend to put just as much work into a short as a full length.

Lorraine Midanik: For me, it’s making sure the turn happens at the right time (not too early, not too late…sort of like Goldilocks!). In a short play, there isn’t much time to develop the characters and have an engaging plot so it’s really a challenge.

Juliana Lustenader: Fitting your 50 page idea into a 10 page limit.

Christine Keating: Crafting characters who are real and relatable in a short conversation.

Jeremy Geist: Creating something meaningful. With a play this short it’s really easy to just write a few pages of filler and call it a day.

Daniel Ng: The hardest thing is crafting a satisfying ending. Compelling concepts/scenarios/gags are relatively easy. Sometimes that’s all you need or have time for in a short piece, but delivering a definitive punchline or reaching a pithy denouement takes a piece to the next level. But it’s hard to get there in a short time in a way that feels organic, that isn’t just tacked on.

Megan Cohen: Short plays can be mistaken for “a little something,” as though their length means they are inherently small, in importance or in impact. The hardest thing is to not fall for that trap. As any poet will tell you, short isn’t the same as small. Keep the play big, and the words few.

Megan Cohen

Megan Cohen

Alan Coyne: The hardest thing about writing any play is the foreknowledge that the brilliant, dazzling dialogue in my head is going to come out all lumpy and misshapen when I start using actual words. And then once you start, it takes on a life of its own, and spawns a million new tangents, and you could spend the rest of your life rewriting it, and so finishing it is practically impossible. Thank goodness for deadlines!

Stuart Bousel: These days I don’t really write short plays any more, and the Llamalogues are really speeches, which I’ve always found rather easy to write, actually. That said, there is always all the usual challenges of any writing- which is to keep it interesting, and striking that balance between challenging and accessible- not always easy when your only character is a sort of emotionally unbalanced alcoholic anthropomorphic animal.

Christina Augello: Actually I liked writing a short play and it wasn’t hard at all.

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

Megan Cohen: Audiences love short work, and that’s enough for me; I just checked, and Pint-Sized will feature the 72nd short of mine produced onstage since 2008. (Wow, just reading that sentence makes me tired.) I like the immediacy of shorts; the way this industry works, a full-length play can take years to develop and find a home onstage, but the turnaround time to production with a short is often a journey of just a month or two. An audience is there almost immediately, showing you how your play works, and what it is. You see what makes them laugh, where they get upset, what they connect with, and you get the goodies now, not later, which is an obvious priority for me as an impatient American.

Lorraine Midanik: I like the opportunity to tell a story in a confined timeframe. It forces me to edit out unnecessary words and actions and focuses me on moving the play along in a fun way.

Daniel Ng: The best thing is bringing something to fruition in a short period of time. This is especially true when working with Pint-Sized, where pieces are quickly produced and performed. It’s like the immediate satisfaction from cooking and then enjoying a great meal.

Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng

Elizabeth Flanagan: Going deep quick. Often a short will feel like a throw away piece or it seems a little more frivolous, than say a heavy drama in two acts. But, because you have limited space and time, that entire world, those characters need to be created in a matter of words. When it works it’s fantastic. Also with shorts there is great freedom to experiment. With Magic Trick I had a lot of fun playing with a mix of language and genre.

Jeremy Geist: Being able to pursue weird ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work in longer formats. I read a lot of weird/gross things on the Internet and like working them into my writing, but they aren’t substantial enough for a full-length. It’s nice to use short formats to vent some of my more indulgent projects.

Juliana Lustenader: When writing a short play, I feel like I can “get away with” more things. Mainly because it’s over before anyone can go “Hey…”

Stuart Bousel: It’s definitely true that, aside from the length restriction, all other bets are off- and that is liberating.

Christine Keating: Not wasting any time getting to the point. Also, throwing an audience into the deep end of the world of the play is fun.

Christina Augello: You get it done quickly.

Alan Coyne: The best thing about writing a short play, or having it performed, is seeing how much better everyone else involved makes it.

Who do you think is a major influence on your work?

Christina Augello: The theatre artists I know and work with influence my work as well as over 60 years experience in the theatre and life in general.

Christina Augello

Christina Augello

Megan Cohen: The character of the BEEEEAAR, that is, the character in the monodrama I wrote for this year’s festival, specifically owes a lot to the influence of playwright Charles Ludlam, a leader of the “Ridiculous” aesthetic movement Off-Off Broadway in the 1970s and 80s. His work has taught me a lot about foolishness and dignity, and the entertainment value of earning a good laugh with a bad joke.

Lorraine Midanik: Because I often write about strong, funny women, my mother is my major influence. She passed away in 2008, but her strength and humor always permeate my work and live within me. My writing has also been influenced by Anthony Clarvoe from whom I have taken playwriting classes at Stagebridge for the last 3 years. I am very lucky to have a wonderful husband and two amazing daughters from whom I draw my inspiration.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Depends on the time of day. Thinking of the short form, Alice Munro is one of my favorite short story writers. Maybe I’m not so much influenced by her as I admire her ability to write a near perfect sentence, and I don’t mean grammatically. She’s one of those writers where a line cuts you to your core. You finish the last line, the last word, and you sit, you just sit with it, thinking there was no other ending because it’s so utterly complete.

Stuart Bousel: My influences are all over the place, I’m very intertextual, read a lot, see a lot of movies and theater, and I listen to a great deal of music. John Guare and Marsha Norman are my favorite playwrights, but their plays are sort of non-traditionally structured and my plays often follow a structure closer to film or musicals. My monologues, particularly the direct address ones like Llamalogue, are often structured like songs, with choruses repeated and builds and codas. So, for this one I’m going to say Sondheim, who is always an influence, really, for me. Sondheim, and some Shakespeare too. And Dostoyevsky. And Morrissey. All the greats.

Christine Keating: On these plays, probably comedians like Amy Schumer. In general, my favourite playwrights are Sarah Kane and Martin McDonagh.

Daniel Ng: The past couple of years, I’ve filled in some of my gaps in Vonnegut and Phillip K. Dick. As I get older, I like their ideas (and personal experiences) about persevering in the search for meaning in the face of a bewildering and uncaring, or worse, openly antagonistic world. Like maybe you can be world-weary, yet, at the same time, remain stubbornly human and humane.

Jeremy Geist: This question is hard for me because I can’t point at specific mechanisms I use and say exactly who it came from. In terms of my comedy, I will say I’ve been heavily influenced by a sportswriter named Jon Bois lately. His stuff is some of the best out there these days – check out his Breaking Madden series.

Juliana Lustenader: A major influence on my comedy writing is David Sedaris. I love the way he can spin an average and innocent encounter with another human being into a ridiculous farce using his wit and seemingly endless vocabulary. I didn’t use much wit or vocab in To Be Blue, but it is definitely ridiculous.

Alan Coyne: I’d like to imagine that Douglas Adams is a major influence on my work. I owe at least some of my interest in cosmology to the Hitchhikers’ Guide series, which I encountered early on thanks to my father. And if I could write like anyone, I would want it to be him. Adams, that is, not my father. Although for all I know, my father could also be a brilliant writer. I mean, he could also be a brilliant writer like Adams, not me, I wasn’t saying I was a brilliant writer. Er, let’s move on.

Alan Coyne

Alan Coyne

If you could pick one celebrity to be cast in your show, who would it be and why?

Elizabeth Flanagan: Because it’s noir I’m tempted to say Bogart or Bacall obviously. But I’d probably lean more towards Cary Grant. He has a better mix of comedy and suspense.

Juliana Lustenader: Kit Harington, so I can selfishly stare at him during rehearsals.

Stuart Bousel: I mean, it’s hard to think of anyone but Rob Ready playing the Llama, but if I had to go with someone else I’m going to say Derek Walcott, who I once heard read and has the like… sexiest voice. Also he’s a brilliant poet and he’d probably be able to do all sorts of exciting line readings a traditional actor wouldn’t necessarily think of.

Megan Cohen: All the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn; if you’re wondering why, just watch this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTXsec9rvw4M

Lorraine Midanik: That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say Anna Deveare Smith. She is extraordinary in how she takes on the persona of her characters. She is magical on stage by combining advocacy with her outstanding acting and writing.

Daniel Ng: Uzo Aduba. In Orange is the New Black, she perfectly rides that edge between mad fool and truth-teller, comedy and tragedy. And have you heard her story about learning to be proud of her name? Look it up–she’s a hero.

Christina Augello: Ian McKellen….he is a superb actor who’s performances invite you to share in his skill, fun and joy.

Christine Keating: Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson for Part 3, definitely.

Alan Coyne: If I could cast one celebrity in my show, it would be Albert Einstein. But not as himself.

Jeremy Geist: I think Ice-T could do a pretty good job.

Jeremy Geist

Jeremy Geist

What’s a writing project you are currently working on and/or what’s next for you?

Christina Augello: Working on a personal story to present as a solo show and looking forward to performing in a couple of upcoming plays in 2016.

Christine Keating: I’m directing two plays in Those Women Productions’ In Plain Sight night of one acts (September 4-20) as well as writing a full night of plays on horror tropes about sleep for September’s Theater Pub (September 21-29!).

Elizabeth Flanagan: I’m nearly finished with a new full-length that I affectionately call “the meth play”. I look forward to setting up a reading for that play and hearing it in its entirety. I’m also a cofounder of Ex Nihilo Theater, a new playwright group with Jennifer Lynn Roberts and Bridgette Dutta Portman. We’ll have a reading of short plays on Aug 20 at The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland and in October we will present the first installment of a new serial play that we will be writing and presenting over the following twelve months. We would love to see you all there!

Elizabeth Flanagan

Elizabeth Flanagan

Megan Cohen: I’m writing a big ol’ two-act play about a pair of sisters, where the two actresses switch roles every night, and I’m trying to make the dynamic really taut, elastic just totally pulled to the limit between them; it’s so tense in the draft right now, and I hope it stays that way. I’m getting out of the house a little, too, acting in a show for SF Fringe Festival that runs in September. I’ve taken the role of the photographer Man Ray in the DADA spectacle Zurich Plays, so I’ll be going full trouser-drag for that which, as a 4’11” woman with serious hips, should be a glorious challenge. (http://www.sffringe.org/zurich/) Looking ahead, Repurposed Theatre (http://www.repurposedtheatre.com/) is doing a whole program of my short works and one-acts in December. All world premieres, all written by me, the show has this really fun vaudeville frame and is called The Horse’s Ass and Friends! That’s December 2015 at the EXIT Theater, directed by Ellery Schaar, a fabulously fearless partner who seems able to handle anything that comes out of my mind.

Daniel Ng: I’m trying to finish a short story that has now grown to a novella. There is an end in sight, though it’s merely vague and barely visible. My goal is to beat George R. R. Martin to the finish line.

Juliana Lustenader: Instead of finishing any of my scripts, I distract myself by auditioning for other people’s projects. You can see me as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew at Curtain Theatre through September and Sister Leo in Nunsense at Altarena Playhouse starting in October.

Alan Coyne: I’ve been working off and on (mostly off) on a musical involving astrophysicists that will never see the light of day. But more relevantly, I’m playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Curtain Theatre in Mill Valley through Sep. 13, and Stevie in Good People at the Waterfront Playhouse and Conservatory in Berkeley through Sep. 6 (yes, simultaneously; no, I didn’t think that through).

Jeremy Geist: Nowadays I’m mostly working on my board game company, follow me at @pknightgames. My flagship release is a Shakespeare-themed combat game called Happy Daggers!

Lorraine Midanik: I’m in the process of revising one of my full length plays after having worked with a dramaturg. The play is entitled Y Women and it focuses on the three very different women who meet in a behavior change program at a local gym. I have been fortunate enough to have had productions or staged readings of three scenes from this play. I’m also a playwright in the Theatre Bay Area’s 2015 ATLAS program (Advanced Training Leading to Artists’ Success) which begins this month. I am very excited to move my work to the next level.

Lorraine Midanik

Lorraine Midanik

Stuart Bousel: I’m working on a whole bunch of stuff I kind of can’t talk about. What I can talk about is that I’ll be going to Seattle in Septmeber to see the Seattle premiere of my play Everybody Here Says Hello! I’ll also be directing the October Theater Pub, which will be a short and furious version of Richard III. There’s a billion other things going on, but that’s all I can say… for now.

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

Megan Cohen: My own, of course! Anyone who says they care more about someone else’s shows than about their own is probably L-Y-I-N-G. That said, I’m really feeling Will Eno these days and am excited about The Realistic Joneses finally coming to SF (March 2016); I’ll follow actress Megan Trout to the ends of the earth, even if it means seeing Eurydice AGAIN (at Shotgun Players this time, Sept-Aug 2015); and you’ll certainly see me in Theater Pub audiences a lot in the coming months.

Elizabeth Flanagan: Aside from all the amazing Pint-Sized shorts you mean? I’ve never seen Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice so I definitely want to catch Shotgun’s production later this month.

Juliana Lustenader: I am looking forward to the Theatre Bay Area Awards this fall. I wasn’t able to attend last year, but many of my friends and colleagues were celebrated. Bay Area theatre companies stepped up their game this year and produced some spectacular shows, so I’m interested to see what the adjudicators enjoyed most. But more honestly, I can’t wait to celebrate with everyone.

Juliana Lustenader

Juliana Lustenader

Christina Augello: The 24th San Francisco Fringe Festival coming September 11-26th and of course Theatre Pub’s Pint-Sized Festival!

Alan Coyne: Other than my own, I’m looking forward to seeing Eat the Runt at Altarena Playhouse, and SF Olympians this November.

Daniel Ng: SF Olympians. It’s such a varied showcase of ideas and talent and 100% local.

Christine Keating: I’m looking forward to Disclosure from Those Women Productions at PianoFight, as well as the upcoming seasons at Custom Made, Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company. Also, all the shows that are happening soon that I’m exciting about but won’t remember until closing weekend, and then rearrange everything to catch them!

Christine Keating

Christine Keating

Lorraine Midanik: I am particularly excited by venues that feature plays by women and include strong roles for women. 3Girls Theater immediately comes to mind as well as Shotgun Players that is producing an entire season of plays written by women.

Jeremy Geist: I haven’t really been paying attention to anything.

What’s your favorite beer?

Megan Cohen: Free!

Christine Keating: I’m more a cider person, I mostly drink Angry Orchard.

Alan Coyne: Smithwick’s, for purely patriotic reasons.

Christina Augello: I don’t like beer, sorry!

Juliana Lustenader: Hoegaarden, ‘cause day drinking.

Stuart Bousel: Bass. Harp. In my 20s I would frequently two-fist both.

Lorraine Midanik: I know this is going to sound odd, but I don’t drink beer. (Please don’t throw me out of the Festival!). I am actually a cocktail (whiskey sour) and wine person. When I find myself in a pub where cocktails and wine are unavailable or possibly frowned upon, I either order a hard cider (hopefully fruit flavored) or a shandy (beer mixed with lemonade or ginger ale). Forgive me!

Jeremy Geist: Anything from this bracket http://www.sbnation.com/2015/3/23/8277455/jon-and-spencers-beer-bracket-its-the-great-beer-bracket-challenge-so

Daniel Ng: Still Guinness. Always Guinness. They say you can drink it straight out of the new bottles, but they’re lying. Use a glass, you savages.

Elizabeth: Feels like I’m obligated to say Guinness. Which may or may not be true. You’ll have to catch me at SF Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Fest to find out for sure!

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform four times: August 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, click HERE!

The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Savannah Reich

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Savannah Reich about her upcoming Bay Area production.

Savannah Reich is the type of playwright that when you read and hear and see her work, you’re like, “I want to do that! That’s so cool! Theater’s so cool!” I met her while in the second year of the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University, headed by Rob Handel, and was blown away by her humor, theatricality, and the moving moments of human connection and confusion she creates within her writing. So, of course, I was very happy to learn that her play, Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play was being produced by All Terrain Theater in the summer of 2015.

The show opens next Thursday, July 30th at 8:00 PM and runs on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays until August 8th at the EXIT Theatre in downtown San Francisco. I had a chance to chat with Savannah about playwriting, the inspiration behind Six Monsters, and her creative impulses.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Savannah Reich, probably driving to California as we speak.

Babs: Very excited to interview you!

Savannah: Thank you! I am so excited to be interviewed!

Babs: To begin, could you tell me about your background? How did you get involved with theater and writing?

Savannah: I wrote my first play in the second grade. I’m not sure where I got the idea. My parents were both doing theater when I was a kid, as a prop-master and scenic artist at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, so I’m sure I had already seen plays? I am counting this as “my first play” because it was more elaborate than a show I did with friends in the basement or whatever- it had a typed script, which went through several drafts, and I think I forced my entire second grade class to be in it, although I don’t remember that part.

So as long as I can remember I had this incredibly specific compulsion to write plays. I briefly went to NYU for the undergraduate playwriting program, which I was not really prepared for at eighteen. I dropped out after a year and decided I would never write a play again- I was just going to be wild and free and be in punk bands and experience real life. But then I started writing plays again probably six months after that.

I recently found the script for my first play in a box at my parent’s house; it was about two witches who turn people into chickens and serve them to children at an orphanage, which actually sounds like something that I might be working on now.

Babs: How would you describe your style and what interests you?

Savannah: The way I’m thinking about it these days is that I am interested in taking inexplicable emotional processes and making them into something concrete and mechanical. I am obsessed with the Charlie Kaufman movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because it does this so nicely- it takes this very gooey personal feeling, the grief about losing a shared past when you end a relationship, and makes it into this action story. It literally ends with a chase scene. So that’s a really nice way to create ways to talk about things that maybe don’t fall into the cultural shorthand.

More concretely, my plays tend to be removed from true-to-life situations- as Sarah Ruhl says, “my characters have no last names.” They are animals or ghosts or subhuman beasts. They tend to be suffering greatly in some neurotic, cyclical way and they all talk on rotary dial telephones.

Also, I am interested in structure because it is the essential relationship between the play and the audience, which for me is at least as interesting as the relationships between the characters.

Babs: I think Six Monsters, A Seven Monster Play has an interesting origin story – do you mind sharing and then how it developed from its inception?

Savannah: Yes! You were there! It was very early on in my first year at CMU, maybe the second or third week, and Rob Handel had us do a writing exercise that involved beginning a 60 page play at nine am and finishing it by midnight. The exercise was so great, but I feel like I don’t want to give it away in case he is going to do it again next year- part of what was great about it for me was the surprise. I had all these ideas for plays that had been percolating for a long time, and I was fussing over them and trying to make them “good”, and then we got this exercise that said, “Okay, forget about all those plays- here’s a prompt, now write this play. Write this play today.” It was totally liberating for me.

Before grad school, I had been writing plays and producing them myself, so I think that I had gotten into this trap of keeping my producer’s hat on while I was writing. I would think about making props affordable, stuff like that. It was dumb. This exercise broke me out of that. The original opening stage direction for “Six Monsters” was something like, “There are six audience members seated on a wooden cart. The wooden cart rolls through an infinite darkness.”

I also think I put a bunch of things that felt really vulnerable and revealing to me in this play, and maybe I wouldn’t have if I had been imagining that it would ever be performed. I write much better when I am able to convince myself that no one I know will ever see it.

After I finished the play, I co-produced a one night workshop performance of it with our fellow MFA writer Dan Giles, with him directing, me as the skeleton, and six amazing CMU undergrad acting students as the chorus, which I will get to brag about when they are all famous in like twenty-five minutes.

Babs: When I last saw this piece, you were actually performing in it as the Skeleton. How do you think performing/not performing in your own work influences how you see the play, what to develop/not develop next?

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah Reich as the Skeleton carrying Jeremy Hois as the Baby in the Pittsburgh performance workshop at the Irma Freeman Center for the Imagination directed by Dan Giles in February 2014.

Savannah: I’m not sure how I feel about this anymore! I am worrying about it a lot in a neurotic and cyclical way! I have performed in my own work a fair amount, and sometimes I think I don’t want to do it anymore, because probably it would be better with real actors who are good at acting. But then I recently saw the performance artist Dynasty Handbag in New York, and I love her, and I thought that maybe I should always perform my own work. Not that I am a performer like she is- I tend to be visibly thinking on stage in that way that playwrights do when they try to act- but I do think there is something special about seeing someone perform their own words, there is a kind of specificity to it.

But I’m not going to be a performance artist because I love actors so much. They are my favorite thing to look at, especially when they are in my plays being hilarious. It’s great to be a playwright because we get to see all these very attractive people pretending to be us, pretending to have our same anxieties about capitalism or intimacy or whatever, which feels deeply healing in some probably very messed up way. Also good collaboration makes the show better, of course. The actor can see a lot of things about the show that I can’t.

I don’t know that I learn anything much from being in my own plays. I played the part of the skeleton in the workshop mostly because it felt too personal to turn it over to an actor. But now I have a little more distance, and I’m so excited to see what Laura Peterson does with it.

Babs: In the San Francisco production, is there anything that you are most looking forward to seeing or experiencing?

Savannah: I was just talking about how much variability actors bring to the table but of course that’s also very much true of directors. I haven’t worked with Sydney Painter before, and seeing her take on the piece is probably what I’m the most excited about. I haven’t been in town for rehearsals yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this crew has interpreted the show in different ways than I would have imagined.

Babs: Any advice for playwrights in creating new work or getting it produced?

Savannah: For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.

Babs: Any shout-outs for shows, events, or other things going on around the Bay Area that you might check out while you’re here?

Savannah: If you come to Six Monsters; A Seven Monster Play you will also get to see a short play by the fabulous Tracy Held Potter called Texting. And we should probably all get on a plane to New York to see Dan Giles’ play How You Kiss Me is Not How I Like To Be Kissed at the New York Fringe Festival.

Also, this.

Learn more about Savannah Reich, her screenplays, plays, and upcoming artistic projects from her website, http://savannahreich.com/.

Katja Rivera: Reigning Orpheus Interpreter Of The Bay Area

We’re doing a double post today because Orpheus is part of a pair and so is our director du jour, Katja Rivera! She’s not only directed tonight’s Theater Pub, but also directed the recently opened EURYDICE at Custom Made Theater Company. We wanted to know what it’s like to have the same story so much on the brain and with a headshot this charming we think you’ll agree there’s always room for quality time with Katja.

Seriously. How can you not live this smile?

Seriously. How can you not love this smile?

So, how did you end up with your hands full of Orpheus and Eurydice?

Ah, synchronicity. Marissa Skudlarek had been working on her translation of Orphee at the same time I was working on Eurydice at Custom Made, so she thought it would be fun to have me do both.

And how did you get involved with this reading?

Lovely Marissa asked me. I had directed a play of hers at last year’s Pint Sized Festival (“Beer Theory”), and she felt I’d be a particularly good match. How could I say no?

What do you consider the major differences between Sarah Ruhl’s version of the story and Cocteau’s?

Ruhl uses the myth to explore the grief she’s experienced since her father’s death, and really, to get a chance to spend some more time with her pops. It’s poetic, visceral. It reminds me of of Alice in Wonderland. Cocteau’s version explores the myth surrealistically, and focuses more on the relationship between Eurydice and Orphee. And it has a happier ending.

Is there anything that stands out to you as a real strength of Coctaeu’s vision?

The element of magic and carnival, which in a full production would be a blast to explore.

What are some of the differences between directing a reading and directing a show?

Oh my goodness. Readings are instant magic. You throw your instincts at the piece and–go! A show you’ve got a longer period to let the collaboration stew and get rich. I’ve loved watching how Jessica Rudholm’s performance in Eurydice has become more and more nuanced.

We noticed you are using some of your custom made cast (Jessica, Jeremy Parkin, Stefin Collins) in this reading- any particular reasons behind that?

They are good, reliable actors who fit the roles. And I loved hearing echoes of lines from Eurydice as we rehearsed Orphee. My own private joke.

What’s next for you? Any more trips to the underworld in your future?

Next, I am directing at Playgrounds Best Of Festival opening on May 11. And the I am going to Washington DC to see my daughter graduate from law school!

When enjoying a dramatic reading at the Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to get from the bar?

Ginger Beer!

Don’t miss Orphee, for one night only, tonight at Cafe Royale at 8 PM! And dont’ miss Eurydice, playing all month at Custom Made Theater Company!