Theater Around The Bay: Executive Director Stuart Bousel Stepping Down

Spring brings changes; Stuart Bousel announces a big one.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

So, today seems like as good a time as any to make an announcement I’ve been meaning to make. My plan was to piggyback off another announcement that I’ve been waiting for, but that news seems delayed, so I’m going to just forge ahead.

As I stated on Facebook few weeks back, I’ve been going to therapy again. This is the result of a combination of things, easily summed up as “Life was getting stressful, had been for quite some time, and I opted not to repeat my mental breakdown of 2007-2008, by preemptively doing something about it instead of waiting to lose my mind first.” As often happens in therapy, organizing one’s thoughts and desires quickly makes apparent that action is sometimes required on multiple fronts if one wants to have a decent shot at thriving over merely surviving, and so it was with me, and is part of what led to this decision, the nutshell of which is: I’m stepping down from Theater Pub.

Now, this won’t happen tomorrow (sorry, would-be successors, be patient). It will happen after the New Year, starting January 1, 2017. I know that seems like a really long time, but due to some I-can’t-yet-say-what circumstances, I’m effectively booked from August through December with other projects, so my artistic involvement with Theater Pub this year was most likely ending with August’s Pint-Sized Plays anyway, though I’m sure I’ll be involved with the musical too, if in a very cameo capacity. Part of the reason why I am stepping down is because I have just hit the maximum amount of hours I can squeeze from a day and blood I can extract from my stone heart. And at the risk of bragging, things don’t look to be slowing down, but rather the opposite, meaning I’ve finally hit a point of having to make some tough decisions and withdraw from various things I love, so I can keep doing other things I love, but also growing and evolving as an artist and as a person.

While we’re on it, I won’t be working the Fringe Festival this year (though I plan to be back next year) and I will be involved in the SF Olympians Festival in a very reduced capacity (though I plan to be back in full force next year). All this is not because I’m taking a vacation, but because other opportunities presented themselves, and after years of saying no to similar opportunities in the name of being a good leader/founder and looking after my various responsibilities, I decided it was time to say yes. And like… see what happens. I love the Fringe, I love SF Olympians, and I love Theater Pub… but it’s important that love be a choice, and not an obligation, lest it grow into resentment. Which sometimes, lately, it has.

We (being myself, Tonya Narvaez, Meg Trowbridge, and Rob Ready) still haven’t actually decided if Theater Pub will continue to exist after January 1st. I sincerely hope it does. I love having helped found and for a long time direct an organization that embodies the best aspects of the Bay Area theater scene, its pluck and creativity and innovation and scrappiness, not to mentioning actually putting the Inclusive back into ‪#‎buzzwordinclusivity‬ ‪#‎tbacon16‬. Hundreds of different artists have passed through Theater Pub in the last seven years, we have debuted a ton of new work, and for many people (writers, actors, directors, etc.) we have been their first venue in the Bay Area, or the place they returned to doing theater after a long hiatus, or the place they finally got to try on a new hat, or try on a theater hat at all. Since our fourth show we have paid everybody who has worked with us, and we have started a handful of Bay Area traditions that have ensured we are a formidable source of experimentation and opportunity. We survived a venue change, a regime change, a restructuring, and in the last year and a half have rebuilt what a lot of people didn’t think could be rebuilt. We are just now starting to hit what I predict will be a new stride, a new golden era for the company, and I do not want that to go away, but it’s a lot of work, occasionally quite thanklessly so, and I’m not going to force it upon someone simply because I no longer feel it’s the right thing for me. If Tonya and Meg decide to keep it going, there are no better people I can imagine to do the job. If they do not, then this year will be a long kiss goodnight. Either way, I’ll be here through December in an administrative and advisory capacity, either to help transition or to help shut everything down.

Marissa Skudlarek will be taking over the blog at the end of the year, so that won’t be going away, though it will probably change, and knowing Marissa, drastically improve. Rest assured, the Stuey Awards will continue, and will be my annual contribution. I’m not leaving the world, just leaving Theater Pub. If the production side of Theater Pub continues I am planning to snag an annual “Legacy Show” for myself to direct once a year, but again, we’ll see on that front. Saturday Write Fever will also continue under my and Megan Cohen’s guidance, though it may become an exclusively EXIT Theatre event, depending on what happens with the rest of Theater Pub. That said, we’re in the process of selecting and training more hosts, so that Jeunée Simon, Andrew Chung, Sam Bertken, and ourselves have a little bit more scheduling flexibility. I’m not the only one with a life, and I know that. And there comes a time in every career where you want to move on, or at least just be able to take a sabbatical.

Anyway, I think that sums it up. Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who has made Theater Pub special over the years. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.

Except when it hasn’t been. (smiley face)

And just to be clear… this is a totally real announcement.

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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!

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.

Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part Two)

Pint Sized Plays IV is more than halfway through it’s run! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Tracy Held Potter: I’m a writer/director/producer who recently discovered that I have to create inspirational mantras that are the exact opposite of the inspirational mantras that I used in high school. I run All Terrain Theater (www.allterraintheater.org) and Play Cafe (www.playcafe.org) and I’m a co-founder of the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project with Rachel Bublitz (http://31plays31days.com). My biggest projects right now are directing The Fantasy Club by Rachel Bublitz and getting ready to move to the East Coast for a fancy-pants MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Jonathan Carpenter: Formerly a biologist and Bostonian, I’m now a San Francisco-based theater director. I love bold, new plays that sometimes have music and sometimes don’t happen in traditional theater spaces at all.

Colin Johnson: I am Colin and I like telling stories and stuff.

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

Colin Johnson: What A Rebel

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Tracy Held Potter: I saw several Theater Pub shows in the past year and loved them, especially Pint-Sized Plays, and also got to run sound for Pub from Another World, which was extremely fun. “Audrey Scare People Play?” Whaaaaaat!

Jonathan Carpenter: This is my first time directing for Theater Pub! I met Meg O’Connor at an event for the SF Olympians Festival. She mentioned that her friend Neil (Higgins) was looking for directors for the Pint Sized Festival. A few days later, Neil and I were emailing each other about the line-up for this year’s festival, and not too long after I was on board to be part of the Pint Sized directing team. I had always been really interested in Theater Pub, and so when the opportunity arose to get involved, I jumped on it.

Colin Johnson: I got involved through the fearless producer called Neil, whom I’ve worked with during the last two years on the SF Olympians Festival.

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

Jonathan Carpenter: There’s nothing better than being in the rehearsal room and digging into a script with actors, so I would say that my rehearsal time with Jessica (Chisum), Lara (Gold), and Andrew (Chung) was the most exciting part of the process for me. Multitasking (by Christian Simonsen) is a deceptively tricky play. You have to keep asking yourself, “Wait, what the hell is going on here?!” All three actors were really smart about figuring out what makes these characters tick. I had a blast bringing the play to life with them.

Colin Johnson: Analyzing and then over-directing the crap out of a one page script. Sometimes the greatest challenges come in the smallest packages. Oh, and also practicing a musical number with a drunk llama.

Tracy Held Potter: Getting invited to direct for Pint-Sized plays and then finding out that I was going to direct a piece by Megan Cohen were freaking awesome. I still relive moments from watching Megan’s piece from last year, so this really has been a thrill for me. I also loved rehearsing with Charles Lewis III, Caitlin Evenson, and Jessica Rudholm … and I won’t lie that sewing the knight props and costumes in the middle of the night was pretty special as well.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Tracy Held Potter: Keeping things simple with this brief yet epic play. I tend to work on projects with a minimal amount of props and set design, but there’s a part of me that wants to go all out with this one: more rehearsals in the space and more elaborate costuming. I got to work with a great cast and I we pulled out a lot of interesting material from the script in a very short period, so I can’t really complain, though.

Colin Johnson: Troublesome? I don’t know the meaning of the word, I say! But I suppose rehearsing with a drunk llama can have its setbacks.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting was probably the trickiest piece of the puzzle for me. There are, of course, so many wonderful actors in the Bay Area; the only problem is that they’re so wonderful that they’re always cast in multiple projects! The Theater Pub performance schedule is great because Monday is usually a day off for actors, so it’s possible to do Theater Pub along with other shows. But it doesn’t always work out. I lost a terrific actor that I was really excited to work with because it turned out that she was needed for rehearsals for another project during the final week of Pint Sized performances. And then when I had to find another actress for that role, there were several other wonderful folks that I couldn’t use because we couldn’t find common free times to rehearse! It all worked out beautifully in the end – thanks to Neil’s guidance, persistence, and huge network of actor friends – but there were some moments where I was really banging my head against the wall.

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

Jonathan Carpenter: Casting Clusterf**k Survivor

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Tracy Held Potter: I would say “seat of your pants” because I have sensitive teeth and the other metaphor makes them hurt.

Jonathan Carpenter: Pint Sized is definitely a seat of your pants kind of endeavor. You’re making theater that’s going to happen in a bar where anything can happen. Someone could walk through your scene to go to the bathroom. A noisy garbage truck could whiz past Cafe Royale. Who knows, an especially drunk audience member might even try to get in on the action. So, you have to stay adaptable and be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. But that’s also what’s so exciting, right? Live theater!

Colin Johnson: I’d say seat of the pants is a better term. When you perform in public, especially a bar, you must be prepared to adapt and circumvent logistical problems at a moment’s notice. Skin of the teeth makes it seem like we’re barely hanging in there, which is untrue. This production has actually been one of the most tightly coordinated and relaxed projects in a while for me.

What’s next for you?

Colin Johnson: Next, I’m writing a full-length adaptation of Aeneas’s tale for SF Olympians: Trojan Requiem (titled Burden of the Witless) in November. I also have a recently-completed independent short film that will hopefully be making festival rounds this year. And most likely directing a Woody Allen One-Act early next year in Berkeley

Tracy Held Potter: I’m directing and producing a HILARIOUS sex comedy by Rachel Bublitz called The Fantasy Club that we’re premiering at The Alcove Theater near Union Square from Aug 2 – Aug 11 (http://fantasyclub.brownpapertickets.com). It’s about a stay-at-home-mom who faces the man she’s been fantasizing about since high school and has to decide between her marriage and making her fantasies come true. I’ve spent a lot more time on Google researching underwear and logo contraceptives for this show than I have for anything else. In August, we’re also relaunching the 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge and rehearsing for Babies, the Ultimate Birth Control: Terrifyingly Hilarious Plays about Parenting for SF Fringe (http://www.sffringe.org), which both Rachel and I wrote pieces for. In the midst of all this, I’m going to finish packing up my family to move to Pennsylvania. You know, taking it easy.

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Tracy Held Potter: Taking It Easy

Jonathan Carpenter: I’m about to begin rehearsals for the west coast premiere of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon, which Do It Live! Productions will be producing in A.C.T.’s Costume Shop theater in September. And after The Golden Dragon, I’ll be directing readings of Jeremy Cole’s On The Plains of Troy and Madeline Puccioni’s The Walls of Troy for the SF Olympians Festival.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Tracy Held Potter: I’m looking forward to “A Maze” by Rob Handel and produced by Just Theater at Live Oak Theatre, which just opened. Rob is the theater teacher for my new grad program and I’ve heard great things from people who’ve already seen it (phew!). There are a lot of shows that I’m really sad to be missing because I’ll be out of the state, but I’ll be catching all of Bay One-Acts and at least a couple of SF Olympians shows towards the end of the festival.

Colin Johnson: BOA is always an amazing fun time! As is the Olympians! They’re both a great conglomeration of all the best the Bay indie theatre scene has to offer! And great folks!

Jonathan Carpenter: Oh my gosh. I’m a huge nerd, and I just can’t wait to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep. I mean, it’s Gandalf! And Professor X! AND they’re doing No Man’s Land! I have loved Pinter ever since I first dove into his plays a few years ago while working on a production of The Homecoming. They’re so juicy. So I’m really looking forward to that production. I’m also really excited to check out Rob Handel’s A Maze at Just Theater this summer. I read a draft of the play about three years ago, and I was completely enthralled. It read like a comic book, and I was totally fascinated to imagine how you might stage such an intricate play. I’ve heard great things about the production, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Jonathan Carpenter: Woah! It’s way too hard to pick just one artist! Can I say “all of them”?!? Well…actor Reggie White is probably at the top of my list. He’s been a friend of mine for a couple of years now, and it seems criminal that we haven’t done a show together yet.

Tracy Held Potter: I can’t count how many actors, directors, stage managers, writers, and other theater people that I got to work with this year who I really admired. I have so many theater crushes here that it’s crazy. With that said, I would fall out of my chair if I got to work with Desdemona Chiang on one of my plays.

Colin Johnson: I would love to have a rematch of my 2012 Olympians knock-out, drag down fight with Jeremy Cole. But most of my Bay Area dream collaborations have been fulfilled, with hopefully more on the horizon.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Jonathan Carpenter: Whatever stout they have on tap.

Colin Johnson: I’m a fan of the Marin Brewing Company IPA. But if I’m expected to be productive, a Cider or a Pilsner.

Tracy Held Potter: I don’t really drink that much so I like to order soda or tea, but last time the bartender made me a limeade which was pretty good. There are photos of me on the Theater Pub Facebook page drinking that, if anyone’s interested.

Don’t miss the last two performances of Pint Sized Plays IV: July 29 and 30, at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Theater Around The Internet: Ten Questions with Linda-Ruth Cardozo

A few months back, before we jumped on the general promotion band-wagon, Linda-Ruth started a Facebook page devoted to getting the word out about the Bay Area theater scene and all the crazy-wonderful stuff going on here. As a woman after our own hearts, how could we resist the chance to find out more about this local luminary?

So, in a nutshell, who are you and what do you do in the San Francisco Theater Scene?

I am an actor, as yet non-Union (I have some points toward AEA and that Taft Hartley thing but I don’t know how many. I should get on that.) and a drama teacher. I’m a Bay Area native, majored in Theatre/Liberal Studies at SFSU, and studied at ACT in the Certificate Program. I’ve been “doing theatre,” since I was 12. I had an agent for a while, and have done some film and commercial gigs. I just directed my first piece with adult actors since I was last in a directing class at State. It’s cool. I’d do it again.

Do you think we actually have a Theater Scene here?

There are many established theatres and theatre companies that are based here, so, yes, we have a “scene.” The Exit Theatre has the Fringe, there’s the Bay One Acts Festival, the Phoenix Theatre and Stage Werx, among many others. There are also newer companies, and actors that I see again and again.

In what ways are we building, or building up, the Scene and what do you think is working best?

Technology seems to contribute. There are so many changes since I was first taught, for example, how to do headshots. No more waiting weeks for that heavy package from that place in L.A. Now we just send off pic/resume–bling! Lois Tema, photographer extraordinaire (you might want to spell check that) was telling me about the transition she’s had to make. At the foundation of “the Scene” is the Stage. The Magic, Exit Theatres, the Pheonix, Theatre Rhinoceros, (and so on) have been around for a long time. And Stage Werx has gotten a new lease on life at the new space on Valencia. Building up, I think, is largely hard work, and sticking it out, as well as maintaining a sense of being part of a community. Theatre does not happen in a vacuum; we can’t do it unless we do it with other people, and that means appreciating the contributions of everyone involved. It’s teamwork.

Is there anything that isn’t working?

When I attend a show, the audience often seems to consist of, largely, other actors, family and friends. When I encourage “civilians” to see live theatre, they are discouraged by the cost of a ticket, unwilling to dish out the money for a show that’s not “guaranteed” to entertain them. There’s also the whole Equity issue. So many actors who want to stay in the Bay Area choose not to join Equity because they will not be working as much. (See Valerie Weak’s article on Theatre Bay Area website.) This hasn’t changed much from when I was in college and heard that actors in San Francisco generally “work for free.” There are so many talented performers who have to keep those day jobs, and that limits the time and energy they can use for the craft.

What groups or individuals do you think are contributing, and how, to the formation of a San Francisco Bay Area Theater Scene?

Ty McKenzie, owner of Stage Werx is really community minded; the performers and companies who work there represent the diversity of our city. Christina Augello brings us the Fringe Festival every year. The Playwrights’ Foundation and the Playwrights Center of SF are always bringing new, relevant works to the stage. Martin A David’s And-Still a Theatre Company is another group producing new pieces. And, of course, the Magic, Theatre Rhinoceros, Cutting Ball, Impact, and Shotgun, the Marsh, BRAVA and others are firmly established in the Bar Area theatre tradition.

What possessed you to create the Theatre SF Bay page on Facebook?

It was sort of an accident. I was getting confused with FB Friends and Invites and Likes and I had to find a way to organize them. I created a group to distinguish my theatre stuff from everything else; I just labeled it “Theatre.” I would look around, “Like” stuff, and then post it on my own page as reminders to myself. Then I had to categorized things further, so I grouped the local stuff and called it Theatre SF Bay. This way I wouldn’t send notices of my own shows to people in Cape Cod, Colorado and Scotland. Linda Ayers Frederick encouraged the new title by writing “Good idea, Linda-Ruth, more specific” and I realized other people were actually looking at what I posted. It seemed that there was a need for a place where theatre people could post about shows, auditions, ask around for certain props, and so forth. The positive feedback from friends gave me incentive to expand the group. I ran into William Hall and he told me to “keep it up.” So I did and I do.

It seems to be growing all the time- does that mean more or less work for you, and how does that affect your energy and time in regards to your own theater career?

I feel more connected to the theatre community. I’ve come to realize how much stuff is going on around me, and I’ve become involved in projects and made connections through the page. I hope others have as well. I would love members to post more often, since I worry about missing stuff, especially when I’m busy with rehearsals and don’t have as much time for FB.

So many shows are currently being promoted on your page- about what percentage do you personally make it out to see?

About 25%. So much talent, so little time.

Anything you know about that’s coming up you really want to recommend?

BOA for sure.

What are you doing next?

Auditioning.

To find out more about Linda-Ruth, check out http://www.Linda-Ruth-Cardozo.com. And keep your eye on us as we continue to bring you deeper into the Bay Area’s small theater scene. Have a story you want to share, a profile to sketch or a production to promote? Let us know!