In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – Can you Macarena?

Charles Lewis III, lining it up.

All men, mostly White – this is the LEAST likely line-up for Olympians auditions.

All men, mostly White – this is the LEAST likely line-up for Olympians auditions.

“Give [the audience] pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
– Alfred Hitchcock, Asbury Park NJ Press (13 August 1974)

Home stretch, folks. After nearly a year of plotting, outlining, fundraising, and writers burning pages from our own scripts before we tear out our hair and shout to the heavens in futility, we’re now kicking into gear. This past Monday was the final pre-festival meeting of writers and directors (“The White Council”), so from this point on you can consider the gears officially in motion. The SF Olympians Fest draws nigh.

So what does that mean for you good folks? Well, if you’re patron of the arts, fan of Greek mythos, on the lookout for cheap SF theatre, or just someone with strong opinions about dolphins, Miley Cyrus, the name “Jason”, or pumpkin-spiced… anything, then you’re in for a real treat.

But if you’re an actor, then you’re in for the wildest ride of all. This coming Sunday and Monday will see the return of the hilarious chorus line known as the Olympians auditions.

As one of this year’s writers and directors, I originally followed the above statement with a maniacal laugh. Then I took a moment to think about it and remembered the truth about the Olympians auditions: the actors are the ones with the advantage.

First off, you should all read Ashley’s spot-on Olympians auditions advice column from two years ago. Not only is it a great read, it’ll put a lot of the following into context.

Now that you’ve done that, here are a few things I know from having been on both ends of this festival’s audition process. Many folks think being an auditor is easy because all you have to do is plant your ass in a chair for several hours whilst an endless parade of pretty faces beg for your approval by reciting Neil LaBute and 32 bars from Seussical. That’s true, to an extent, but it’s also true that we can be just as terrified watching as you are of auditioning. I’m terrified that you folks will be so goddamned talented that the work on which I’ve spent a full year will seem mediocre when spoken by someone other than the voices in my head. I’m scared that all of the Bay Area actors of color who constantly seek out opportunities won’t even consider coming to this audition. I’m afraid that I’ll find the absolutely pitch-perfect roster – they look the parts, they read with conviction, all of their schedules sync up perfectly – only to be told I can’t use them because they’ve already said “Yes” to another Olympians piece. (As a rule, actors are allowed to be cast in any number of plays throughout the festival, but not on the same weekend.)

And make no mistake, folks: we will fight over you. Every year there are those actors who bring it so hard in auditions, that you can feel it in the room. As soon as one of them leaves, every writer and director underlines their name and puts stars and hearts around it like a middle school love note. And it’s not as if it’s just a handful, oh no. Olympians auditions are an embarrassment of riches: actors you haven’t seen in years; youngsters fresh out of (or still in) school; adult newbies who always loved performing and are trying this for the first time. All those people whom critics claim don’t exist in the Bay Area theatre scene – they all come out of the shadow.

And we auditors sit dumfounded, asking ourselves “Where have you been all my life?”

So if I had any advice for actors auditioning next week, it would be “You have all the power. Use it.” You don’t need to prepare anything, you don’t need to worry, you don’t need any preconceived notions – just be you. And if you’re curious as to whether we still had spots available, you read the info here and send a query to the e-mail provided. In fact, you can even try getting a walk-up slot, if one’s available. Just bring a headshot, a resume, and a love of performance.

Other than that, there’s a room full indie theatre’s best waiting to hear you totally own your randomly-selected monologue.

Now do it with a Scottish accent.

Charles Lewis III is writing and directing this year’s Poseidon play, which requires a cast of various ethnicities and genders. He can’t wait to see who shows up.

The Five-5 Reasons To Donate To The San Francisco Olympians Festival

Anthony R. Miller checks in with a public service announcement.

Hey you guys, my favorite time of the year in Bay Area theatre is the Fall. New seasons are starting, folks are prepping their spooky plays for October and The SF Olympians Festival is on its way. Speaking of which, The SF Olympians is trying to raise some money, and I have a few reason why you should donate, predictably, there are five.

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It’s All in the Family

If you read Theatre Pub, you know somebody in this festival. Every SF indie-theatre face you know and love will play some role. Most of our Theatre Pub contributors (Myself included) are writing a play, or directing, or both. If you include Artists, Actors, Writers, Directors, and staff, there are close to 200 people involved. So just one donation supports a lot of people.

It’s a Dream Factory

There just aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for writers like the ones the SF Olympians Festival offers. Most festival requires the submission of a full script, but the Olympians Fest only asks for an idea. It’s one of the few submission processes based on the quality of your idea, and then you get the opportunity to write it, and then it gets a reading. This makes fertile ground not just for established writers, but also up and comers, and even folks who just want to give it a try. The festival also hires about a 100 actors a year. So supporting this festival is supporting opportunities for artists, you like opportunities for artists don’t you?

The Clock is Ticking

As I’m writing this, there is only 36 hours to go and we’re 500 bucks away, so if you were waiting to donate at a dramatic moment, now is the time.

There’s Nothing Like It

The SF Olympians Festival is incredibly unique, where else can you see so many new plays in just one month? Some will be great and some will be disasters, but that’s the fun of it. It’s a massive collection of diverse talent, a sampler of all the great work the SF Indie Scene has to offer. You’ll get comedy, drama, horror, satire, experimental work, one person shows and god knows what else. So supporting this festival is one thing you can do to help keep Bay Area Theatre full of exciting new voices and ideas. It’s something that makes SF unique and different, and just like everything in SF that is unique and different, it needs your help to survive.

Don’t Be a Jerk, Just Donate.

Everything helps, so give. Like I said, if you read TheatrePub or go to the shows, or you’re in the shows, you know at least 7 people in this festival. These are your friends, fellow theatre artists, and maybe even your significant other, and this festival is a very special thing that makes us all happy. It’s an opportunity for so many of us to do something creative and fun. So just donate, because you’re not just supporting a festival, you’re supporting a community. And if you’re reading this article, chances are, it’s your community.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Anthony R. Miller’s play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party” will premiere at the SF Olympians Festival, Read more about it and all of the shows at this year’s festival at www.sfolympians.com

Theater Around The Bay: PINT SIZED V IS HERE! (Part 2)

We’re back tonight with more PINT SIZED! Today we introduce you to this year’s directing team, Stuart Bousel, Neil Higgins, Colin Johnson, Claire Rice, Gabe Ross, Sara Staley, Sam Tillis, Alejandro Torres, and Meghan Trowbridge, here to tell you all about the perils and pitfalls of creating some of the best bar theater around.

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How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Sara Staley: I really enjoy site specific theater and shows that play with the audience’s focus. . I directed a couple of pieces for Pint Sized back in 2010-11, and I think the “finish a beer during the play” parameters given to playwrights who submit are great. It’s really fun watching this festival come together and to see how audiences respond to the work. Fits right in with Theater Pub’s good, casual, beer, and theater thing. I’m also a fan of short plays and festivals that showcase new, local work, or bring together the Bay Area theater community in different ways. And I’m a company member at PianoFight, so it’s great to get the opportunity to stage something in our fabulous new bar/cabaret space for the first time.

Alejandro Torres: I recently worked on a production with several folks involved in Pint Sized and the SF Theatre Pub. They needed an additional director last minute and approached me, I was thoroughly honored and the rest is history.

Stuart Bousel: I run Theater Pub, so I volunteered to direct if Marissa needed me to. She did.

Gabe Ross: I asked Stuart about it. He told me to ask Marissa.

Neil Higgins: I’ve directed for Pint-Sized a couple years now and it’s always a fun summer project.

Sam Tillis: First time at Pint-Sized! Marissa sent me an email saying, “We got this Star Wars play, and I hear you’re a total nerd, so…?” And I was like “Hell yes!”

Colin Johnson: I came back because I think Theatre Pub is doing some of the most interesting performances in SF. The layout of the bar and the interactive nature of the shows create a very fun, collaborative atmosphere. I’ve done several projects with TP in the past and will always look for an excuse to come back.

Claire Rice: I love Pint-Sized. I’ve directed in previous Theater Pub and Pint-Sized shows and there is so much energy and enthusiasm. The audiences are boisterous and the productions are fun. And there’s a little thrill I get every time the audience cheers when an actor chugs their whole pint. It just feels freeing to be among people who are happy to be exactly where they are.

Meg Trowbridge: I don’t know how to quit you, Pint Sized! I’ve directed a piece in every Pint Sized production, and when the Beer Bear and Llama returned this year, I leapt at the opportunity.

Meghan Trowbridge

Meghan Trowbridge

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

Sam Tillis: As with a lot of directing, reading the play for the first time and thinking This is awesome, I could totally direct this is a special treat. And, of course, assembling a cast. And rehearsal, naturally. Alright. I give up. Every part is the most exciting part.

Neil Higgins: The script I’m directing is centered around a song I haven’t thought about in 15 years, so that’s been a fun walk down memory lane.

Meg Trowbridge: Reading the new scripts for the Beer Bear and Llama, and watching Allison and Rob slide back into those roles.

Alejandro Torres: The rehearsals (or the laboratory) and staging theatre in a bar for the first time.

Colin Johnson: Finding naturalism and nuance in a show which requires drinking and screaming over people.

Stuart Bousel: I have a piece that is very much a moment- just a moment in the bar- and so it’s all about subtlety. Which doesn’t always translate well in Theater Pub. The audience has to really listen to get what is going on. Luckily the piece is very short, so it doesn’t test patience and what patience it does require is quickly rewarded. I think it’s a very clever piece, and very real, and I’ve cast three actors who are all “coming back” to theater after a long time away, and there is a realness about them which I love and think lends itself well to the piece. Also, it’s always great when Theater Pub gets to be a place where people return to this art form.

Claire Rice: Opening night. Wondering if it’s going to work. If the audience will like the show. If we’ll have thought out all the variables. Shows like this have so many moving parts and waiting for all the magic to click into place is exciting.

Gabe Ross: So far; answering this questionnaire. But hopefully staging it will be good too.

Gabe Ross. Twice the Fun.

Gabe Ross. Twice the Fun.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Neil Higgins: Scheduling! It’s always scheduling.

Gabe Ross: Having to replace an actor who dropped out.

Stuart Bousel: I also had to replace actors. But I like the ones I found!

Sara Staley: Casting! I got the short recurring vignettes type piece in the festival this time, which I enjoy for the immediacy and challenge of directing five super, short pieces in a truthful way. But it’s been more difficult to cast and rehearse using actors already cast in other pieces in the festival.

Sam Tillis: Scheduling rehearsals is a bitch.

Meg Trowbridge: The knock-out, drag-out fights between Rob and Allison. Such divas…

Claire Rice: There isn’t anything more troublesome about Pint-Sized than any other ten minute festival. It comes back to the moving parts issue. Where it gets tricky is the audience. All that alcohol, all those glass containers, all the excitement…let me just say I’m glad that we don’t have a balcony any more.

Colin Johnson: Finding naturalism and nuance in a show that requires drinking and screaming over people.

Alejandro Torres: I’ll keep you posted, so far smooth sailing. 🙂

Alejandro Torres

Alejandro Torres

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

Sam Tillis: Skin-of-my-pants. I’ve lost so much pant-skin in the last couple weeks…

Colin Johnson: More seat of the pants, because you need to be able to roll with punches, bob and sway with circumstance. It’s not an act of desperation, which what I think of when i hear the phrase “skin of the teeth”. It may be a totally wrong interpretation of the term, but I see Theatre Pub as an act of ever-changing theatrical endurance.

Alejandro Torres: Seat of your pants, because I’m so excited!

Gabe Ross: Seat-of-your-pants. “Skin-of-your-teeth” sounds a little more painful. “Seat-of-your-pants” sounds a little more wild and crazy. Pants is a funny word.

Stuart Bousel: I have this weird fear/obsession with teeth, so I’ll go with “seat of your pants” because I want to associate Pint Sized with fun, uncomplicated things.

Claire Rice: Seat-of-your-pants. I think it’s the nature of the beast. High energy, high adrenaline , but also there’s a lot of last minute thinking that goes into directing a piece in a working bar. A lot of working with the environment that you have.

Neil Higgins: Seat-of-your-pants. I have nice teeth and I want to keep them nice.

Meg Trowbridge: Seat-of-your-pants, IMHO. You make decisions as you go along, and change it up regularly, based on how your piece fits with the other pieces of the night. You have to be flexible. Seat-of-your-pants is the name of the game.

Sara Staley: There’s definitely gonna be some skin and teeth involved in pulling it off, but a sharp cast ready to learn roles quickly, and a cracker jack Pint Sized producer this year has really helped.

Sara Staley.

Sara Staley.

Fuck, Marry, Kill, Bay Area actors, go!

Sam Tillis: Nopenopenopenope. Nope.

Sara Staley: The Llama and the Bear.

Alejandro Torres: In keeping with my hedonistic ways… Fuck.

Gabe Ross: All of them, none of them, just the tall and good looking ones.

Claire Rice: Tonight? Well, if you say so. (Sound of a zipper going down.)

Stuart Bousel: Fuck: Oh that list is so long. Marry: Megan Briggs. As far as I’m concerned we’re pretty much already married. Someone should let her know, though, maybe? Kill: Oh that list is so long.

Meg Trowbridge: Ummm – to keep it simple, I’ll go with historic Pint Sized producers because they are actors, too! Fuck: Julia Heitner (because obvi). Marry: Marissa Skudlarek because our home library would be top-notch. Kill: Neil Higgins BECAUSE IF I CAN’T HAVE HIM NO ONE CAN! (Editor’s Note: Marissa Skudlarek accepts your marriage proposal, Meg)

Neil Higgins: You mean in that order? Well, one of my life goals IS to be a black widow.

Neil Higgins.

Neil Higgins

No, but seriously, who out there would you love to work with?

Neil Higgins: Oooooh! No one. Black widows work alone.

Claire Rice: ( Sound of zipper going up.) Oh. Uhm…Well this is awkward. But seriously I just finished working with Marie O’Donnell and Indiia Wilmott for Loud and Unladylike and they were amazing actresses. I’d love to be able to work with them again soon. I don’t know if Elaine Gavin is looking to act, but she’s wonderful. Melissa Keith is also super talented. I feel like I should name some dudes too. Dudes like Jason Pencowski, Neil Higgins, and Nikolas Strubbe are all actors I completely enjoy watching.

Meg Trowbridge: I can’t wait to work with Ellery Schaar, who is directing my Olympians play this year!

Stuart Bousel: I’m actually in the middle of casting Six Degrees of Separation over at Custom Made and as usual I’m excited by all the great actors I get to choose from. I’m always trying to find a way to keep building relationships with actors I know and work well with, and also to keep new blood flowing in. The beauty of a large cast show like Six Degrees is that it can allow for both quite easily.

Alejandro Torres: Anyone creating intriguing stuff with a gregarious attitude.

Sam Tillis: You. That’s right. I would like to work with you, humble reader. Let’s do lunch.

Gabe Ross: Maybe you?

Colin Johnson: The list grows the more people I meet. I want Stuart, I want Allison Page, I’m very excited to be working with Claire Rice on Terror-Rama 2, I constantly develop awesome collaborations with the good people of Shotz. I would like to collaborate with some of the amazing performers up at the Circus Center. And I hope beyond hope that Breadbox will let me play with them at some point.

Colin Johnson

Colin Johnson

What’s next for you?

Sara Staley: Directing a reading of Oceanus by Daniel Hirsch and Siyu Song for the SF Olympians Festival this fall.

Neil Higgins: Olympians! Woot!

Stuart Bousel: Running Olympians. DICK 3 here at Theater Pub. Other stuff I feel like I’m not supposed to talk about.

Alejandro Torres: Saving up money to produce some fun theatre in 2016.

Gabe Ross: ATLAS Directing program. Performing in John Fisher’s next opus at Theatre Rhino in November which has yet to have an official title.

Colin Johnson: I’m writing a full length play for this years SF Olympians, I work on the monthly Shotz shows (second Wednesdays at Pianofight). Also in the early stages of directing TERROR RAMA 2: PROM NIGHT, along other upcoming projects through Thunderbird and Playground.

Sam Tillis: I’ve got a theatre company! We do science-fiction/fantasy plays, like the one I’m directing for Pint-Sized but full length! Check out our website at quantumdragon.org.

Sam Tillis

Sam Tillis

Meg Trowbridge: For Killing My Lobster I am writing for the August show, and directing the September show, and head-writing the November show. My still-untitled-play inspired by the ancient god Pontos will premiere at the Olympians Festival on Nov. 21.

Claire Rice: (Sound of a zipper going down.) No but seriously, I’m planning next year’s Loud and Unladylike Festival, which will again be produced by DIVAfest, and I’m writing for Terror-rama along with Anthony Miller which will have a reading October 12 at Piano Fight.

Claire Rice

Claire Rice

Last but not least, what’s your favorite beer?

Alejandro Torres: Racer 5, pairs well with whisky.

Sara Staley: Just went to Portland and drank a lot of beer last month, and so my new summer favorite is Deschutes Brewery’s Fresh Squeezed IPA, which you can also find in SF, yum.

Sam Tillis: Root beer.

Gabe Ross: Any amber ale. I like Gordon Biersch Marzen, and Fat Tire, and Red Seal. I also like Shock Top which is more of a Belgian Style white ale I think? I like beer, but I’m not a beer afficionado.

Claire Rice: I’m digging Bison beers right now. Chocolate Stout and the Honey Basil.

Neil Higgins: I’m more of a cider guy. But I do enjoy a nice, cold Singha.

Meg Trowbridge: I don’t really have a “favorite” as I’ll drink them all, but I do always scan a bar to see if they have Alaska Amber Ale… something about it has got me hooked.

Colin Johnson: SPEAKEASY.

Stuart Bousel: I need to get more serious about giving up gluten so… sauvignon blanc.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform two more times: August 24 and 25 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE, but if you like what you see, throw $5 in when we pass the hat. For more information, click HERE!

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!

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – The Direct Approach

Charles Lewis III, on directing for the SF Olympians Festival.

Pre-show layout for "Hydra" by Tonya Narvaez

Pre-show layout for “Hydra” by Tonya Narvaez

“Cut! That’s a print. Now get that bastard off my set!”
– John Frankenheimer

The quote above from the late film director was reportedly spoken on the set of his 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau. Adapted from the HG Wells book of the same name, the ’96 production is one of Hollywood’s most infamous: Frankenheimer replaced the original director, actors shot footage only to be replaced, the weather was hell, the make-up didn’t come out right, the budget and shooting schedule both expanded, the script was being rewritten every half-hour, and Marlon Brando was… Marlon Brando. But it was working with Val Kilmer that drove Frankenheimer to the breaking point. By some reports, the director is said to have gotten so fed up with Kilmer’s diva antics that two came close to a fistfight at one point. So when it came to shoot Kilmer’s final scene, Frankenheimer is said to have followed the last take with the quote above.

Every director, if they make a career out of it, has at least one or two actors whose very names drive the director into a blind rage. I know I do. I started to think of one in particular during last week’s Olympians Fest directors meeting (which was followed by the writers meeting this week). I’d gotten the chance to direct a great script by a great writer, but we weren’t able to get our No. 1 or 2 choices for a key role because they were both in another reading that same weekend (actors may only be cast in one reading per week of the festival). I tried my diplomatic best to work with the actor we got, but he was determined to do the opposite of every direction I gave him. It was a script meant to be read at a snappy pace, but he would drag… out… every… line. His character was meant to focus one way, but he would try to keep the focus on him. In a staged reading, he kept moving so much that he obviously kept losing his place in his script, and I gave the other actors movements in an attempt to appear as if there were any kind of cohesion with what he was doing. It was a shit show and to this day, whenever I see the author, my first instinct is to say “I’m sorry for that reading.”

After five years, 78 writers, 57 directors, some 290, believe me when I say that there are many such stories connected with the festival. On that same note, there are just as many – if not more – stories of festival collaborators who clicked so well that they immediately got together again on their next project. In fact, if you were to survey the Olympians alumni whose work went on to full production, I’m sure at least part of that could be attributed to the chemistry that was developed during the original reading. Having taken part in the festival every year since its inception, and having taken part in every creative role except illustrator (I’ve taken up finger-painting, so it’ll happen eventually), I know there are far more people I’d love to work with than those I wouldn’t.

It ain’t gonna happen.

It ain’t gonna happen.

The role of Olympians director has always been a tricky one because it’s always been the one that’s been hardest to define. It’s a writers festival first and foremost, so the two most necessary elements are writers to create the scripts and actors to read them. In a festival of staged readings, the emphasis will always be on the “reading” portion. So why is a director necessary at all? There isn’t a lot of work that goes into putting a bunch of people on stage to read a script; what’s the point of being a director if you’re not there to inject some stylistic flourish? Quite a lot, actually.

I first directed for the festival in Year 3 and the first thing I remember was how strongly the writers were discouraged from directing their own scripts. As my own script developed, I began to see why finding someone else to direct was so strongly recommended. Writing is a solitary process. Doing it means spending a great deal of time bumping around in your own head. The problem is that the voice in your head will lie to you. A lot. Having the perspective of an additional artistic point of view will enlighten you to aspects of your script not even you had considered.

The problem comes when directors try to make it less about the writer’s words and more about what the audience will see. The impulse is understandable, but it’s also wrong. Those of us who have been with the festival long enough know why there are now rules about there being only 3-5 rehearsals before a reading, why you should never force an actor to do something with which they’re uncomfortable, and why you should never, ever wait until the day of a reading to fully stage a physical assault scene requiring the actors to both move and read while their scripts are in-hand. There’s at least one of those readings every year. We’ve all seen it. Some of us have actually been in it.

If I wrote a list of banned Olympians directors, this guy would be at the top.

If I wrote a list of banned Olympians directors, this guy would be at the top.

“Well then,” you might ask, what can a director do to help out when the emphasis is meant to be all about the words coming out of the actors’ mouths?” Easy: help them understand those words. They’re still actors, after all. They want character motivation and a better understanding of the person or persons they’ll be portraying. Perhaps the more esoteric moments in the script immediately made sense to you and the writer, but an actor will need something more. These are stories based on ancient mythological beings with fantastic abilities. The script is how it makes sense to the writer, the director makes sense of the script for the actors, and the actors translate that for an audience.

And that doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles. The most common staged reading direction of planting folks in front of music stands is used as often as it is because it works. It allows the actors to always have eyes on their scripts, but still turn and react to their fellow actors. Wanna shake it up a bit? You can do like Stuart Bousel often does and eschew with the music stands all together, arranging the actors in the form of an orchestra. You can define the characters through costume (which, like direction, should be simple, but can still be eye-catching). You can take full advantage of the fact that there’s nothing on stage but the actors. Last year’s Hydra by Tonya Narvaez was one of the most memorable because of the atmospheric way Tonya staged it. She wrote a paranormal thriller and set the mood by having the actors lit only by the lights on their music stands (see the photo at the top). Needless to say, we were still talking about that one days afterward.

Simplicity, it makes all the difference.

I had a list of about twelve people whom I’d considered for directing my Year 3 script about Atlas. The one I chose wound up not being on the list at all and she was the one who encouraged me to direct it myself. After I picked her, she wound up having a busier year than she’d expected, so I relieved her of directing duties to make things easier. After failing to find another director whose schedule would fit, I reluctantly agreed to direct it myself – something I hadn’t done since I was in school. I did direct, it went off okay, and I have since directed so much that I actually should put a director’s resume together one of these days.

I’ve also seen my scripts directed by others, but in the festival and out. It’s given me a pretty clear perspective as to what function directors serve in a festival of staged readings: we’re conductors. That’s probably why Stuart prefers the orchestra-style approach to readings, because it makes clear just how everyone fits into the symphony. The writer composes, the actors sing (sometimes literally – again, happens every year), and the directors is there to make sure every single not is pitch perfect for the welcome audience.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I hear the downbeat…

Charles Lewis is writing and directing this year’s Poseidon play. The music he’s been listening to that which plays when Kirk fights Gorn… it’ll make sense when you see the play. For more information about the SF Olympians Festival, please visit SFOlympians.com

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – The Script you Love to Hate

Charles Lewis III is revisiting old demons.

skeleton-in-closet-1

“We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.”
– Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

About a week or so back, our esteemed Executive Director Stuart Bousel mentioned on Facebook that he’d recently come across an old script he’d written. From the way he described it, he’d put the script aside after a particularly disastrous reading and hadn’t thought much of it since. However, after stumbling upon it again and looking it over, he was relieved to find that the problem wasn’t with the script, but with the way it was read. It was one of those pleasant scenarios that artists hope for happens only upon reflection: to find out that your work wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d thought and that problem was how it was presented.

I’ve been thinking of that a lot the past few months, the idea of revisiting old work of mine that I’d initially brushed off as terrible. I’ve been particularly thinking of it as it relates to my 2012 Olympians play, Do a Good Turn Daily. Earlier this year I’d been offered an opportunity (which I can’t publicly speak of in specifics just yet) to revisit the script and give it an extended life, so to speak. As wonderful an opportunity as this was, it also meant that I would have to swallow my pride and look back at this particular script. And in the time since reading of this particular script, I’d kinda learned to hate it. A lot.

It’s not that surprising for Olympians scripts to have a life beyond the festival. In fact, that’s kinda the whole point of the festival: it’s developmental. It’s still the embryonic stage of the script’s life cycle. Hell, those of us with long-time Olympians experience instantly roll our eyes at the thought of past participants who have treated what-is-clearly-defined-as-a-staged-reading-festival as if it were opening night on Broadway – full of bells and whistles, pomp and circumstance. But every writer selected hopefully imagines that their script will be one of the illustrious alumni that go on to fully-staged productions for which people gladly pay admission. (Look up Stuart’s Juno en Victoria, Marissa Skudlarek’s Pleiades, and Megan Cohen’s Totally Epic Odyssey for just a few examples.)
I had no such illusions regarding my 2012 entry about Atlas. Of all the proposals I’d submitted the year prior, the one for Atlas was the one for which I may have been the least enthusiastic. I wanted to get picked for one of my more exciting proposals; the ones that you’d read and instantly imagine having a poster drawn by Drew Struzan. Instead I got picked to develop a script that I’d refer to as “my Jim Jarmusch play”: it’s set in the mid-‘90s and it’s just three people sitting and talking, accentuated by an eclectic collection of music both old and new.

Then again, I’ve always liked Jim Jarmusch’s work. Plus, what this proposal lacked in (perceived) marketability, it made up for in its personal nature. One of the characters, the 14-year-old Herc, is loosely based on myself in 1995. So while the other proposals, if chosen, would have seen my Id run wild, this one would require me to open a vein. Atlas it was.

I actually did have a director attached at one point, but as enthusiastic as she was, I saw that I was just adding to her already-busy schedule and took her advice to direct it myself. I wrote most of it longhand during an Olympian writers get-together at the Café La Boheme in The Mission. I did a drastic full rewrite the Saturday before our first rehearsal, causing me to miss one that day’s Iapetus vs. Hermes “matinee”. I was still cutting massive chunks of it backstage before the reading, and as I stood in the back of the theatre, I felt I should have cut more. Even as a one-act that clocked in at 53 min., it still felt too goddamn long. I was actually relieved to lose to Claire’s play, because I couldn’t imagine any method of torture as bad as reading (what I imagined to be) the worst play ever written.

Sure, people complimented me afterward, but I freely admit that I’m the worst when it comes to compliments. I’m not as bad as I used to be, so I’m improving. Still, I have a habit of treating every compliment, no matter how sincere, as I would my grandmother telling me I’m handsome: I politely nod, say “Okay” (never “Thank you”), and try put it out of my mind immediately. I’m that hypothetical actor Mamet talks about in True and False, the one who treats every compliment as a slap to the face, so they respond by slapping back with “It wasn’t as good as it could have been.” Criticisms I’ll repeat to myself ad nauseum, but compliments? Those are the greatest insult.

In fact, it was that very self-improvement that finally allowed me to take the Atlas compliments at face value. I’ve actually gotten quite a few of them in the intervening years. The pessimist in me would chalk it up to the fact that I’m more known for acting than writing, so maybe it was the only written thing of mine they could remember (hell, most thought it was the first thing I’d ever written in my life, when I’ve been writing and directing since high school). But they did remember. It was nearly one year ago exactly when one of my co-stars in The Crucible told me how much she’d enjoyed it and wondered why I hadn’t done anything more with it.

So I bit the bullet and finally decided to take a look at it again. It didn’t go well at first. I’ve kept personal journals of some kind since my teens, and on the occasions I dared to look through them, I usually cringe at the obnoxious son-of-a-bitch I used to be. So too did I cringe looking back over my Atlas script, as I nitpicked the bits of bad dialogue and lamented that I wasn’t more creative with my staging.

But as I kept reading through it, a funny thing happened: I didn’t hate it. At all. I could still see where the rough edges were, but that’s because I had the benefit of analytical hindsight with a script I’d written and rewritten in several passionate creative bursts. I have a bit of an obsession with the Freudian model of the psyche – it’s the reason the play has three characters – and this play was definitely fueled by my Id. And once my Super-Ego was done poring every line, word, and punctuation, my Ego was finally able to decide “This was nearly the piece of shit I told myself it was.”

When the aforementioned opportunity to revisit the play presented itself earlier this year, the first question I asked was how much leeway I’d have with rewriting it. I was told that the play could be “touched up”, but couldn’t be drastically different (eg. fewer or additional characters, new scenes, radical restructuring, etc.) than the draft that was that read at the festival. After pondering that for a little while, I agreed. I’ve come to think of this script like an abandoned family heirloom: I no longer want to throw it in the fire, but I think it could use a good polish.

As I sit here putting the finishing touches on this entry, I glanced at my bookshelf and saw Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, given to me by a fellow ‘Pub writer and Olympians alumnus. A few years back I was in a bookstore and read his “new” version of Noises Off. It really isn’t all that different from the original version he wrote in ’82, but what really stuck with me was the intro at the start of the book. I can’t quote it word-for-word, but it was Frayn speaking to the necessity of a writer to revisit old work to look at it out of its original context. That doesn’t necessarily mean rewriting everything, but to not just outright dismiss the person (and artist) you were, because it’s what led you to become the one you are.

I’m not an impulsive person. Hell, just this past Saturday night I did something uncharacteristically impulsive (and stupid) and have been beating myself up for it every day since. But I am reflective. I like looking at all of my scars because they remind me of exactly how not to get cut next time. The play Do a Good Turn Daily wasn’t explicitly autobiographical, nor would I really call it a “roman à clef” per se, but it was definitely me reflecting on a time that I recall as one of great transition – for the world, for the times, and yes, for me. I like to think of as akin to Jean-Luc Picard at the end of the Next Generation episode “Tapestry”; I just didn’t need a six-inch serrated blade shoved through my chest.

I never approve of an artist outright destroying or radically changing older work once it’s been established in their canon. If they feel an older work is truly deserving of some alteration, then I hope they’d at least keep the original available in some accessible for the very purpose of comparing them (I’m lookin’ at you, George Lucas). At the risk of sounding overly sentimental and really damn pretentious, I think destroying old art is destroying part of the artist and that’s akin purposely throwing away puzzle pieces.

Whereas film and television are media – specifically photographs – captured forever, we theatre folk have the privilege of working in an art form that has the tendency to change every single night, whether we notice it or not. Acknowledge the change, embrace the change, learn from the change. Hell, it was yet another ‘Pub writer/Olympians alumnus who used to paraphrase Paul Valery and say: “Good plays are never finished, only abandoned.” And look what happened with her play.

Charles Lewis III can only imagine how he’ll beat himself up next year, following his Poseidon entry for this year’s festival. As always, if you want to know more about the SF Olympians Festival, visit the official site at http://www.sfolympians.com

In For a Penny: It’s a Super Job

Charles Lewis III, working.

Pay no attention to the ninjas on stage.

Pay no attention to the ninjas on stage.

“They played at hearts as other children might play at ball; only, as it was really their two hearts that they flung to and fro, they had to be very, very handy to catch them, each time, without hurting them.”
– Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera

This past weekend had quite a few discussions of Greek Drama pop up on my social media timelines. Yes, they were mainly Olympians-related, with quite a few of our fellow writers either dedicating that time to writing their plays and/or holding developmental readings. But there were quite a few heated discussions about classical Greek plays such as Lysistrata and Medea. The topic of Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida even came up at one point. If you wanted to talk Greek drama, apparently this was the weekend for it.

For my part, I spent Saturday morning at the gates of Troy. I watched as some of the most creative technicians in the Bay Area theatre scene put the finishing touches on the metallic, rusty walls of the city (apparently this version Poseidon was a fan of steam punk). But the real highlight came when I saw the metallurgical effigy that was the Trojan Horse come to life as it moved back and forth on the massive stage of the War Memorial Opera House. My first-ever trip to the opera was in this very opera house in 1989 and my last time on its stage was two years ago as a supernumerary. Although most of my work with them requires me to stand around and do nothing (such as this day, when I was simply a lightwalker), “dull” isn’t the word I’d use to describe my experiences in opera.

For those who don’t know, a “lightwalker” is just a stand-in. They aren’t involved in the actual production, they just stand on stage during rehearsal so that the tech magicians can test the lighting. A “supernumerary” or “super” is the theatrical equivalent to a film extra: you’re meant to be seen, not heard; you get a finely-tailored costume, but not a single line. But when you’re seen it can be quite an experience. When I was a super for the SF Opera’s 2012 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, I was one of the puppeteers who operated the two-headed Technicolor dragon that appears at the top of the show. I had absolutely no puppeteering experience up to that point, but the director said I looked like I had strong shoulders. It took about eight or ten of us to operate that thing and I was one two guys up front. It was cumbersome and unwieldy, but we found a rhythm and the audience loved it, so I can cross that off my bucket list.

That's me second-from-the-right.

That’s me second-from-the-right.

I feel even more accomplished when I consider the fact that The Magic Flute represents everything I personally love and hate about opera. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful piece of music and a whimsical piece of theatre; but the story itself is problematic, especially in its latter half. That’s when it suddenly comes off as really sexist (the queen is suddenly made the villain seemingly for no other reason than being a queen) and doubles down on the first half’s uncomfortable racism (the sole Black character, often played in blackface, is an irredeemable thief who is whipped by his master and tries twiceto rape the lead damsel). Have I mentioned this opera considered kid-friendly?

But its grand theatrical elements are what I love about opera. It somehow seems apropos that opera be brought up a week after Allison and Anthony’s trip to the Hoodslam wrestling match was recounted. Opera and wrestling are quite a lot alike: they’re both considered separate elements from “regular” theatre; they’re both defined by their over-the-top style and larger-than-life characters; and they both showcase unique talent that takes years – if not decades – to refine, but that performers seemingly pull off with the greatest of ease. Hell, the only real difference between them is the dichotomy of their perceived audiences, with wrestling considered pandering to the unwashed masses and opera considered a flaunting of bourgeoisie excess. But both are unmistakably theatre and your appreciation for them grows once you’ve had the opportunity to take part.

Which is not to say that I wasn’t already appreciative of opera, quite the contrary. I became fascinated with opera in high school, when my love of Shakespeare led me to seek out operas, symphonies, and ballets based on his work. I remember watching PBS and admiring the flawless skill of divas like Maria Callas and Leontyne Price, but feeling unqualified to say how much I disliked something (I remember despising André Previn’s adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, but not knowing how to argue it if asked; thankfully, I was never asked). But my tastes began to refine the more I watched. Whenever someone bemoans funding for the arts or public television, tell them that it isn’t there just for you, it’s there for someone you’ve never even thought about.

It was that affinity for opera that led me to stumble upon an opportunity to be a super for the SF Opera. Having done a lot of film extra work, I was used to the idea of just standing around as the important people did their work. But once the stage managers and ADs start giving general directions to the crowd, it becomes apparent who can really take direction and who can’t. Those of us who can – or who just have good shoulders – wind up doing some of the more important non-speaking roles. This might mean wrangling a dragon, this might mean firing a loaded rifle on stage, or it might mean being a dancing zebra in a bacchanalian orgy.

It happens.

It happens.

None of this really prepares you for was awe-inspiring experience of stepping onto the War Memorial stage for the first time. No matter what you’ve seen from the audience, the sheer scale of that stage never really hits you until you’ve actually been on it. The stage itself is like an Olympic-sized field and looking out at the seats makes you think that they extend out forever. And during an actual show, the backstage is truly intimidating. I’ve been in the booth for countless black box theatre productions, but I was truly taken aback by the high-tech walls of lights, numbers, and monitors on either side of the opera stage. It looks more like the control panel of NASA Mission Control, and it’s carried out with the same level of military precision. Add to that the fact that you get your own desk and station, the colorful commentary by the world’s bawdiest co-stars, and the fact that you can gorge yourself on the free catering (which you shouldn’t, because you still have to fit into your costume) then why wouldn’t you want to be part of this?

And yet, the most memorable experience I’ve had working with the opera is one in which I was reminded why the only difference between opera and “regular” theatre is one of perception. I was a super for the 2012 production of Puccini’s Tosca, an opera I enjoy quite a lot. I was really excited because I had more to do than ever before. I was one of Scarpia’s guards, so I appeared in every scene – I intimidated the parishioners, I manhandled Cavaradossi, and I was part of the firing squad at the end. But what I remember most is different interpretations of the title role. Tosca was alternated between divas Angela Gheorgiu and Patricia Racette – both very nice people for world-renowned superstars. Gheorgiu’s casting was a major selling point and every night she got a huge applause on her first appearance alone. Given her powerful pipes, it’s not hard to see why. But Patricia Racette – whose voice is also pretty damn intimidating – always approached the character from the point-of-view of an actor. She wanted to know the motivation for each of her actions and worked to make each movement organic, rather than just scripted.

I remember watching her from backstage when we had the matinee for middle and high school students. It’s often hard to hear anything over the music and tech cues backstage, but I distinctly remember when Racette’s Tosca made the decision to kill Cavaradossi. She’s surprised when she finds the knife on the table, and when she hid it behind her back, I heard audible gasps from the audience. You could hear the tension rising as Cavaradossi made his way over to her. And when she began stabbing, there were the sort of cheers you only expect from hearing your country just won 50 gold medals.

Now THIS is kid-friendly.

Now THIS is kid-friendly.

It’s one of those moments when I had to take a step back and say “Okay, now I remember why I do theatre.”

And that’s what brings me back time and again. Not just as a super, lightwalker, or even an audience members. Not just for opera, SHN musicals, or even black box productions. Not even for experience, money, or points on my resume. I love doing theatre because I love being a part of something that can genuinely move you. And I love being a part of opera, even as just a super, because it represents everything it could (and should) be. It’s grand in its scope, yet capable of some incredibly intimate moments of truth. In a year when I’m not quite sure when I’ll ever actually be on stage again, spending this past Saturday watching a mechanical Trojan Horse reminded me of some of the best things this art form is capable of.

Plus, I might get to shoot a guy again. You never know.

The Napoleanic look is in this season.

The Napoleanic look is in this season.

Charles is curious as to what the public’s reaction will be to the Trojan Horse, especially coming on the heels of the whale in Moby Dick. To find out more about the SF Opera and volunteer for supernumerary work, visit their homepage at http://www.sfopera.com.