Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: The Prosaic Side of Passion

Marissa Skudlarek, late, lamenting.

This column was not written out of passion. It comes to you a day late, after many hours of agonized rumination and then one hasty writing sprint. I am writing it with grim determination and a clenched jaw.

I didn’t know I’d have such a hard time writing about Passion and Desire, our blog-themes for this month. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that they frighten me. And before you accuse me of being a bourgeois good-girl who was socialized to deny and fear her own desires, hear me out.

Passion has messed me up, and I’m not just talking about the sleepless nights and the bittersweet agonies that everyone undergoes when they have a crush. I mean the very idea of passion as the highest goal in life. There’s an OKCupid question that asks “Which is more important, passion or loyalty?” Years ago, I unhesitatingly answered “Passion.” Now, I’m not so sure. Loyalty’s important too. Or perhaps devotion – a word that seems to combine the better qualities of both loyalty and passion.

My father is fond of the motto “Follow your bliss,” which I do think is a good way of ensuring that the world stays full of joy and passion and creativity. But the trouble is that one cannot follow one’s bliss every moment of the day. The dishes still need to be washed; the tub needs to be scrubbed; I need to work forty hours a week in an office in order to live in this beautiful city. And, even in my artistic life, it’s not all delightful creativity and following of bliss: I need to send boring emails, I need to write even if I feel like the Muse has turned her back on me. Some people make it sound as though once you’ve discovered your passion, you’ll never be unhappy or uncertain again. I find that patently untrue.

I guess I’m trying to push back against the idea of Passion and Desire as always being these romantic, positive, heart-throbbing things. Like most abstract concepts, they work in mysterious ways.

In Allison Page’s last blog post, she talks about her play Hilarity, which I think is fair to describe as a “passion project.” But look at the way she talks about it: “I’m making it not because I think it’s for everyone and that they’ll love it and lose their minds. I’m making it because I couldn’t let it go. It’s been brewing for 4 years in my brain, and at some point I just figured that I had to find a way to make it happen because otherwise I’ll be forever bitter at myself for not doing it. It just stuck with me like nothing else has, and I have to think that’s because I need to do it.” We usually consider passion to mean a kind of romantic fervor, but for Allison, passion is stubborn and single-minded.

That’s pretty much how I felt last year, too, when I self-produced my play Pleiades: I did it because I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. It also took me months to admit to myself that it was something I needed to do, that it was what I desired! The idea did not come to me in a rapture; I considered it until I was sure I could make it work, and then I set about my task with determination.

I produced a play because I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. I write this column because I’d regret it and feel ashamed of myself if I didn’t. That’s passion of a sort, but not the hearts-and-flowers kind.

The Five: Post Closing Rituals

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a few of his favorite things to do when a show closes.

With Terror-Rama closed and packed away, I find myself in an odd place, that period of time in between projects. All of the sudden, I’m not crazy busy, there are no more emails to reply to, I realize just what a mess my house is. But most of all, I’m a little sad. I’ve spent the last year of my life on this show. And while I’m turning right around and jumping to the next big project, I find myself with one day devoid of responsibility. I have no meetings, no rehearsal, no call time, no promoting to do, DEAR GOD WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MYSELF? Well, it turns out I have a few things that I always look forward to, filling the void if only for a moment.

Do Laundry

In the last month, the only time laundry got done was when I could toss a few things in the wash while cleaning blood soaked costumes. Now it is time to tackle the large pile of dirty laundry that has collected over the last few weeks, and not a moment too soon, I wore my last pair of clean underwear on closing night. Toss in bed sheets that haven’t been washed since the day before tech week, all my clothes that have been used as costumes, and the one hoodie I’ve been wearing since opening, (I’m superstitious.) and the laundry pile is like a National Landmark. Tourists take selfies in front of it, people stay two days just to see all of it, mule guided tours take you all the way to the top. Nothing says closure like reuniting yourself with the t-shirt you wore for the final dress rehearsal, almost a month ago.

Eat Cake


The Great Email Purge

Oh man, nothing beats creating a new mail folder and filling it with months of emails. Emails about casting, costumes, rehearsal schedules, contracts, call times, program notes, stupid questions, and box office reports can be filed away, making your inbox manageable again. Oh look, I DID get an email about my phone bill being late, well I’ll be.

Catch up on TV

My Hulu cue is backed up for weeks; the notion that I have spare time, much less more than 45 minutes of spare time to watch TV has been crazy talk. But all the sudden my nights are free and I’m home by 6pm, it’s time to catch up every show I haven’t even been able to think about. I seriously have no idea what’s happened on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s time to veg out and recover from responsibility overload.

Remind people that you exist.

Between load-in and opening weekend, I saw my daughter so few times; she started asking for ID. But seriously folks, I’m pretty sure my friends and family didn’t come to my show to support me, but more so to confirm I was alive. My girlfriend and I produced this show together and despite cohabitating, we haven’t had a non-business talk in weeks. How is she? I have no idea. What will my boss think when it’s 5 pm and I’m just now leaving work?

Now keep in mind the time in between projects can be weeks, days or a couple hours. In this case I have about one day before I dive into the next project. So I’m gonna soak it in, and enjoy the little things, like having a weeks’ worth of clean socks, the ability to sit still and do nothing important for extended periods of time, and cake, because y’know…cake.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, director, producer and seller of theatre tickets. His show, “Zombie! The Musical! Live in Concert and One Night Only”. Is December 14th at Terra SF.

The Five: No, It’s Not My Fucking Hobby

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a response to a question all artists dread being asked.

So this last weekend marked the opening of TERROR-RAMA (perhaps you’ve heard of it). And it’s been going great. But over the first two days I’m inevitably in the fun (for some) situation of meeting people, this and that person’s mom’s friend, a friend’s friend, a friend’s significant other, it’s one of these odd windows of time when I’m someone to talk to (I don’t get it either). Inevitably when you have enough conversations with strangers the now dreaded question arises:

“So is this like a hobby for you?”

I seriously didn’t know what to say, I’ve heard about people getting asked this question. I had had a few beers so I wasn’t at my most eloquent (if that’s a real thing). I stammered, talked about where I made my money. But nothing came out right. I mean, here I was fresh off a hot opening of a show my cast, crew, and I, had been killing ourselves over. Picture a triumphant beer in my hand, and everyone in good spirits, and then this dude compares it all to having a kick-ass collection of baseball memorabilia. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I mean here was a seemingly nice person who just paid good money to see the show and had a good time; I didn’t want to yell “No! are you fucking crazy?”. OK, maybe I did WAN’T TO, but only for a second. To him, it was probably a reasonable question, because lord knows my living isn’t made in a 36 seat theatre right? But this week’s edition of The Five is my response to his question, more specifically, what I wish I had said.

No, it’s not my fucking hobby.

You call this relaxing?

Hobbies are recreational, something you do for fun, to relax. Camping is a hobby, toy trains are a hobby, fantasy football is a hobby. This, my Khaki wearing friend is work. It’s rewarding work, but making theatre is stressful, intense and time-consuming. My life in theatre is constantly at odds with my relationship with my family, my finances and my general sanity. I don’t do theatre after a long day to unwind, that’s what watching pro-wrestling is for. And I get it, since you don’t see much theatre and really have no idea what goes into it, you can see a reasonably well done production and to you, it looks easy. And just so you know, your kid’s school play that you hated was also a SHITLOAD of work. I have seen people crumble into tears, go into therapy after a show closes, and run on 6 hours of sleep over the course of 3 days for this “Hobby”. So sure, I can see why the untrained eye could see this as something we just throw together in our spare time. No, it’s actually why we have no spare time. When your friends call you to go to the bar to watch the game, or golf, or whatever it is you do and you have to say “I can’t, I have rehearsal”. When you look at pictures of your friends at the beach on Facebook while you’re in hour 7 of a 12 hour cue to cue, is it a hobby then? Studying American Presidents is my hobby. (True) This is my fucking Job.

All my jobs are theatre jobs.

During the day, I work at a theater, selling theatre tickets in large quantities to retirement homes. Would you feel better if I said I was in sales? On a daily basis I perpetuate the patronage of Theatre. I can sell anything, but I choose to sell theatre. My part-time job, is House Managing for another Theater. I work on the front lines, making sure that patrons walk in happy and stay that way. I care enough about theatre that I can find the nobility in simply having the opportunity to participate in someone’s experience seeing a play. But only maybe twice a week, otherwise I’d lose my mind. Now, neither of these jobs are very sexy, but on a daily basis I am surrounded by theatre, every aspect of it. My cubicle neighbor is the Marketing director and also one of the hottest actors in the Bay Area. My water cooler chats are with artistic directors, designers, and technicians. I may be wearing a polo shirt, but I AM LIVING THE MUHFUGGIN DREAM IN THIS POLO SHIRT. (Albeit, in return, I am also screamed at by patrons who can’t seem to read a fucking start time on a fucking ticket and somehow that’s my fault.) And yes, I consider my third job to be a freelance theatrical artist, one day I hope it’s my only job. But Drama teachers who act at night aren’t “acting hobbyists”, they’re actors. More so, they are artists. All day long, they work in theatre. Even the many people with non-theatre day jobs who do theatre at night aren’t hobbyists; they just have two jobs. All my jobs are in theatre, because that’s what I do for a living, that’s my career, I work in theatre. Is it lucrative? Is it a comfortable stable living? Fuck No, but that just brings me to…

I never got into this for the money.

I am fortunate enough to be at a point where in any given month a part of my income comes from freelance theatrical work. But it’s not often huge money. So I never go into a project thinking about making huge money. I’ll be concerned with breaking even. The potential to not lose money is a big factor for me. I like profit as much as anybody, but financial success is a close second to just knowing I got to do it. For instance, the way the financials for TERROR-RAMA work, I will be the last one to get paid- if at all. Before me, everybody will walk away with a little something. Now, if the show is a runaway success, that’s where I might see a financial return on investment. But this show took over a year and a half to make happen, it was rejected by another company and frankly it’s a weird concept, so it’s a risk any way you look at it. But fuck it, I got to do my show, and the feeling I get from that accomplishment is not the same one gets from collecting stamps (I could be wrong, there’s probably some impressive stamp collections out there.) It’s the same feeling you get when you do well at work, or get promoted or close a big sale. I think to myself “See, I knew that would work.” Now if paying my rent and having that feeling cross paths time to time, I’m excited. I also understand that some people just don’t quite grasp the concept of dedicating yourself to something that may yield little to no financial return. If you’re a rocket scientists say, and no one has hired you yet to work full time for a big legal rocket company, and you decide to spend thousands of hours, and dollars, some of which you have crowdsourced, just to build your own rocket. Then you are likely crazy, and on several government’s watch lists. So I get that this does not translate easily to all other career choices. Some people are lucky enough to not have to build portfolio’s on their own dime and time. But take away my art and I don’t know if I’d like myself as much. Which brings me to…

This is what makes me interesting

Take away theatre and my creative endeavors and you’ve got a pretty normal dude, (relatively). Even though I currently have steady jobs in some facet of theatre, I didn’t always, and some of the most talented people I know putting on shows have total non-theatre day jobs, and they’re all artists first. So strip away the writer, director, producer side from me and you get a very boring 36 year old guy who likes pro-wrestling, football , craft beer, his daughter, and his cats. It’s what I’m good at. It’s the thing I’m passionate about. And I can be friends with a lot of different people, the only kinds of people I don’t understand are people who aren’t passionate about anything. It’s not the thing I think makes people think I’m interesting, It’s what makes me interesting to ME. It’s as an integral part of describing me as is calling me tall. So I guess you could say;

This is what makes me, me

A friend and fellow writer once said to me “This shit stopped being a hobby a long time ago, It’s not even something I do, at this point it’s who I am”. Through all the crappy day jobs I’ve ever had, I never considered myself a camera salesman, a liquor store clerk, or a mall store manager. First and foremost I (and many others like me) consider myself an artist. It’s just who I am, for better or for worse, for richer and poorer, putting on shows is what I do. There isn’t some other option for me. With the exception of being a father, the next play I get to write or direct, the next show I get to produce is my motivation to live. I know and work alongside people working just as hard I do (if not more) living just as shitty, because sharks die when they stop swimming. I have sacrificed a great deal in my life to do this, that’s real. Don’t mix up what I do to pay my bills with what I believe in my soul is the only thing I was meant to do. So no, otherwise very nice guy, this isn’t my fucking hobby, it may be a very unstable, frightening and poverty ridden career choice but it’s me. It’s who I am and you can’t put that on sale buddy, oh, and thanks for coming to the show.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer/director/ producer and that guy who won’t stop calling you about your theatre subscription. His show, TERROR-RAMA is open now until Nov 1 at the Exit Theatre.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Saying “I Do” to Self-Production

Leave it to Marissa to find the tie-in between all the Big Days…. 

You’ve rented the venue, you’ve taken care of every detail, you’ve dealt with unexpected crises, and now the crowd is filing in, excited to witness the fruition of your plans…

Wait. Am I talking about planning a wedding — or producing a play?

Both of these things have been much on my mind of late. As my fellow Theater Pub bloggers Ashley Cowan and Will Leschber have reminded you, they’re getting married on June 20. Two days after I attend their wedding, I’ll be officiating at the wedding of two other dear friends, Rachel Sadler and Will Knox-Davies. (Their second date was at Theater Pub!) The day after that, rehearsals for my production of Pleiades start. It’s going to be a crazy weekend.

Doing the pre-production for Pleiades as Rachel and Ashley do the “pre-production” for their weddings has made me realize just how similar the two processes are. Here are what I see as the biggest parallels.

The proposal: It must be scary to ask someone to marry you. In this day and age, though, a marriage proposal is rarely a complete surprise — often the couple has discussed marriage before the official proposal takes place, and conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t ask anyone to marry you unless you’re sure they’ll say yes. Asking Katja Rivera to direct Pleiades was scary, too — she was my first choice director, and I had no idea whether or not she’d say yes. I knew she liked the script, but would she want to direct it — devoting months of her life to my play, with very little compensation? Sure, it’s not a “till death do us part” commitment like marriage, but I still felt like I was asking a lot of her.

The venue: After Katja agreed to direct Pleiades, I knew that the next step would be to find and rent a theater. From there, lots of other things (e.g. our production schedule) would fall into place. We quickly learned that we had to be flexible. For a long time, I was attached to the idea of opening the show in July (Pleiades takes place over Fourth of July weekend, and my birthday is July 5), but theaters just didn’t seem to have July availability. We ended up booking the Phoenix Theatre for a four-week run in August, and are very happy with the way things ended up — but it meant that I had to get rid of some of my pet, preconceived notions. Similarly, the top wedding venues get booked months in advance, and the first step after the engagement takes place is to pick a date and book a venue. I assume that brides and grooms have to be flexible, too, when it comes to locations and venues.

The collaboration: Wedding planning can stress out a lot of couples. There are so many decisions to be made, and what happens when you and your sweetheart disagree about an important aspect of your wedding? You want a sophisticated evening wedding in the city — he wants a folksy outdoor wedding in the countryside. Does this mean the marriage is doomed? At the same time, collaborating and compromising during the wedding planning process can bring a couple closer together. And if you both agree on something without needing to argue about it — well, that just proves that you’re truly meant to be together, right? After Katja and I watched two nights of auditions, we were pleased to discover that we had very similar ideas of which actors we wanted to cast in which roles. Sometimes, writers and directors have very different conceptions of which actor is right for a role — and if that had happened with Pleiades, I think I would have experienced a soul-searching moment of “is this collaboration doomed?” Discovering that Katja and I had a similar perspective on the play and its characters, though, confirmed my belief that she’s the right person for me to work with on this project.

There are some big differences between producing a play and planning a wedding, of course. I envy my wedding-planning friends the fact that weddings are a bigger part of our culture than theater is — and thus, there are more resources, handbooks, websites, etc. available to engaged couples than to aspiring theater producers. Also, most wedding expenses are typically covered by the married couple and their families — but if you’re a self-producing playwright, there’s a stigma around putting your own money into the play, as well as a stigma around having Mommy and Daddy give you the money to produce a play. Both weddings and plays require smart budgeting, but theater requires fundraising to a much greater extent.

My mom tells me that after successfully planning her wedding on a short time frame (6 months from proposal to ceremony), she felt like she could do anything. The odd thing about planning a wedding, though, is that you really only get one shot at it — unless you plan to divorce and remarry someday, and who goes into a marriage thinking that it won’t last forever? Whereas, one of the things that’s sustaining me through the difficulties of producing Pleiades is the understanding that every lesson I learn, every mistake I make, will make producing the next play that much easier. And maybe, if I ever find myself in the position of planning a wedding, my theater-production experience will make that easier for me, too.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She sends all her love and best wishes to Ashley, Will, Rachel and Will as they get married this month — and wishes a happy 30th anniversary to her mom and dad. Find out more about Marissa’s play Pleiades at pleiadessf.wordpress.com

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Be Regular and Orderly in Your Inbox

Marissa Skudlarek: quoting Flaubert because she can.

What attributes make a person a successful theatrical producer? Do you need to have a keen eye for new talent? The ability to raise buckets of money from wealthy investors? The larger-than-life showbiz flair of a Florenz Ziegfeld or a David Merrick?

All of those things may indeed be useful to an aspiring producer, but I propose that the real answer is far more humble. What you really need, if you’re going to produce a play in the 21st century, is a compulsion to read and respond to your emails as quickly as possible. Oh, and a fanatical love for Excel spreadsheets doesn’t hurt, either.

Auditions for my play Pleiades are happening next Monday and Tuesday, and already I’m fielding six or seven Pleiades-related emails a day, a number that I can only expect to increase as the production process goes on. I’m having actors email me to schedule an audition slot, and I vowed to myself that I’d do my best to respond to all of their emails within 24 hours of receipt. The people that I will potentially be working with deserve my respect and my prompt response — they don’t deserve to be left hanging. But I also instituted this 24-hour rule as a way of ensuring my own sanity. Because you know what’s the only thing worse than having seven un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a day? Having fifty un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a week.

I derive satisfaction from my obsessive email-management habits: responding promptly and professionally, categorizing and then archiving every email I send. Still, while I say that I do these things in order to reduce my stress level, I sometimes wonder if instead, it’s only causing me more stress. When I’m working on a big, email-heavy project like this, I become preoccupied and easily distracted. My thoughts race and I always have a vague, nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something important and will suffer the consequences. I also become irrationally annoyed with people who are more lackadaisical when it comes to email and online communications. If you’re no longer using a certain email address, shut it down entirely. If you’re an actor and you have a Facebook account, check your messages regularly, and don’t forget that elusive “Other” inbox, because someone could be using Facebook to offer you a part or to gauge your interest in a project. If you need a few days to think about something, a brief “I got your message; let me respond more fully in a few days” email is never unwelcome or amiss.

Sometimes I feel like my relationship with email is healthier than it’s ever been before, because I’m always getting better at managing my inbox and quickly responding to messages. And sometimes I wonder if I’m developing some kind of disordered, addictive relationship to my inbox. Just as an anorexic feels that no matter how skinny she gets, she’s never thin enough; so I feel that no matter how promptly I send and respond to emails, it can never be quick enough.

In thinking about my email management habits, I feel most keenly the divide between me-as-playwright and me-as-producer. The way I write when I compose plays is so different from the way I write and respond to emails, it’s like they’re coming from two different people. Playwright-Marissa takes her time, lets her mind wander, sets aside lengthy chunks of time to work on a specific scene or problem. Producer-Marissa is all business, a machine almost, copying and pasting and categorizing and making entries on spreadsheets and trying not to let the effort get to me.

Maybe that’s the right way to handle things. Maybe it’s good to create a divide between the dreamy, messy artist part of me and the methodical, efficient producer part of me. (I am a Cancer with Capricorn rising: outwardly businesslike, inwardly sensitive.) Other artists have done the same; as Flaubert put it, “Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos oeuvres” — that is, “Be regular and ordinary in your life like a bourgeois, in order to be violent and original in your work.”

That aphorism comes from a letter Flaubert wrote to Gertrude Tennant. If only my emails were that wise and elegant.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and compulsive emailer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or follow @MarissaSkud on Twitter.