In For a Penny: Label-mates

Charles Lewis III, breaking his own format.

“I wonder if anyone ever notices the cross and Virgin Mary in my hand?”

“I wonder if anyone ever notices the cross and Virgin Mary in my hand?”

“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”
– Toni Morrison, Beloved

This is about race. You don’t wanna read about it, click on something else. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

In all my years working with the SF Olympians Festival, I can’t recall a year where there were so many divisive; plays that made the audience grateful for the imaginative power of theatre alongside many plays in which the audience felt their lives ending by the minute. I didn’t catch every single play this year, but if there’s one that still positively resonates with me weeks later, it’s Half-Breed, Veronica Tjioe’s one-act based on the myth of the Minotaur. It’s about a mixed-race (half-Asian/half-White) woman coming to terms with her ethnic identity after a none-too-pleasant encounter with her White father.

Lots of thoughts went through my head watching this reading. It reminded me of my own Olympians one-act from Year 3 (also centered around a mixed-race individual coping with his identity). It reminded me of how some of the best works in the festival can be ones that eschew the grandiose nature of the original myth for more intimate character studies. Most of all, it reminded me a lot of bullshit questions I’ve gotten all my life, like “What do you call yourself?” It’s never enough to just exist, some people need to have some frame of reference (read: “stereotype”) in which to fit you; otherwise you don’t exist.

I’ve never been too keen on the term “African-American”. I was an ‘80s kid/‘90s teen, so I was around when the term first came into vogue. It’s always struck me as too clinical and too broad to describe me. It’s a term that describes nationality in such a way as to avoid specific ethnic phrasing. Charlize Theron was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and later became a citizen of the United States – that is an African-American. I’m a Black man. That’s the way I’d be described in almost any other country in the world, so that’s the way I’ll describe myself in my home country. I was born in San Francisco, raised both there and Daly City. I grew up around a lot of Filipinos and a great many of them described themselves as “Pacific Islander” – a term the US Census uses for those of Hawai’ian/Samoan origin. My category isn’t as complex: Black American – end of story.

And I get that there’s a lot of – a Chimamanda Adichie recently called it – “baggage” associated with that term. It’s stifling. It’s myopic. It suggests that a particularly diverse group of people are capable of only one type of representation. As a performing artist, I’ve learned that such terms give audience members, critics, and whomever an easy frame of reference for what they’re about to see. At the same time I hate the idea of being handcuffed to any one particular performance category – especially “Black theatre”. I’m not the first person on this site to mention that this sort of specific theatre (Gay theatre, Asian theatre, women’s theatre, etc.) tends to be pretty damn awful, and Black theatre is no exception. Black theatre usually consists of over-the-top, stereotypical performances of plays that fall into one of two categories (broad comedy or overwrought drama – both usually ending with some awkward mention of Christianity) and spend their entire running time reminding the audience of what they already knew: that there are a bunch of Black people on stage. Film-maker Gina Prince-Bythewood recently told NPR that she’d love to eliminate the term “Black film” if she could. I get where she’s coming from.

It’s one of the reasons I’m also a writer and director in addition to being an actor. I don’t know what’s worse: terrible Black characters written by other Black people or terrible Black characters written by non-Black people. I’ve mentioned on this site before that one of the worst scripts I’ve ever auditioned for was one in which the sole Black character was so cringe-inducingly “perfect” that he lacked any sense of realism. The writer – a White woman – had clearly gone so out of her way to make him politically correct that she didn’t bother to give him a personality; he was just a list of statistics and accomplishments dumped into a Black man’s body. That’s just as bad as if he’d been the worst Stepin Fechit or gangsta caricature because you’re still thinking of them as a category, not as a person.

And God forbid you actually bring that up in conversation with a non-Black theatre professional. Even here in the “Liberal Utopia” of the Bay Area there can be some ass-backwards thinking (and speaking) in regards to race. After all, this is the epicenter of post-racial America under a Black president, where everyone is judged purely on their merits and the people who live here “can’t see race” (a claim that science has conclusively proven to be absolute bullshit. It sucks that I almost never get cast in shows with primarily Black casts (and the last time I was, the idiot director fired me anyway), but it’s equally frustrating that White directors and producers are clearly thinking “Where can we put the Black guy?” whenever I actually am cast. I’ve never gotten a romantic lead, if I’ve gotten a lead at all. I’m usually cast as someone’s father or other asexual authority figure. Having been on both sides of the audition table, I know that there are a million other mitigating factors contributing to such decisions. Still, it’s annoying to be thought of only as a Prospero or a MacDuff, but never as a Romeo or a Bassanio.

Still, when Norm Lewis can headline roles like Javert in Les Misérables and the eponymous Phantom of the Opera, then I think there just might be hope for me yet.

“My audition for Equus didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.”

“My audition for Equus didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.”

I understand the need for labels in both a practical and professional sense. Not only do I gravitate more towards the term “Black” because I feel it accurately describes me, but categorically it’s simple and direct enough that I’d like to think an intelligent person can give it the slightest glance and move on from it without being dismissive. I don’t prefer the term “African-American”, but I’m not offended by it either. I don’t equate it with the horrible epithets I could be (and have been) called. In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, actress Raven-Symoné put a lot of emphasis on the fact that she didn’t want to be labeled as “African-American” or “Gay”. I don’t know what the reaction was amongst the LGBT community, but Black people were pissed. Really pissed.

On the one hand, I get what she means about not wanting to be held back by any particular label. On the other hand, comments like this by her and Pharrell Williams (who recently dubbed himself – I shit you not “The New Black”) don’t suggest an evolved sense of thinking so much as a sense of superiority. These are the comments from people who have achieved enough money and fame that they can separate themselves from problems of people who look like them, but don’t have the money to make said problems disappear. That’s not the same as Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining why he’s not an atheist [/LINK]. This is a look into the thought processes of people who truly think the rules of the world don’t apply to them, and that’s dangerous thinking.

In fact, it can be outright deadly. As I write this entry – which I’d written, finished, and then re-written several times over now – we find ourselves in the aftermath of a legal decision that essentially regarded the life of a Black American as worthless. This is the second such decision in the past two weeks and the umpteenth one of my entire lifetime. As someone who regularly reads classical Greek and Shakespearean prose only to be “shaken-down” by the SF or Oakland police departments that same night, I can’t afford to forget lessons like that. Raven and Pharrell live in a world where racial profiling is unthinkable. For those of us not blessed with such ignorance, their dismissal is insulting, to say the least.

When I finally decided to become a regular columnist for this site, one thing holding me back was the thought that I’d be “the Black writer”. But I’m gonna be that no matter what I write, so I took on the role knowing that if my opinion on any theatre topic is shaped by the knowledge of me being a Black man, so be it. When I started writing today’s piece, it was supposed to be the entry that ran last time. As I mentioned in that entry, Allison’s piece had me in a contemplative mood and I felt more comfortable commenting on that. But I also didn’t want to let loose the angry stream-of-consciousness version of this entry which I was originally writing. In the time between then and now, the policemen who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner have gotten off and I’m starting wish I’d gone with my original version of this entry.

As I said above, I wound up rewriting this entry quite a few times before sending it in. I didn’t want it too sound too angry, because an “angry Black guy’s” opinion can be easily dismissed, but I wanted the seriousness to be felt in every word. I wanted a bit of levity to shine through, but I didn’t for one minute want the reader to think I was just trying to put a happy spin on a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. I wanted it to cover as much as possible without being a long-winded screed throwing in everything including the kitchen sink. Most of all, I wanted it to reflect the broad scope of my column and the specific goal of this entire website: theatre.

We are artists: we comment on the world in a way that makes sense to us in the hopes of connecting with someone who feels the same way. Do we simplify, exploit, filter, and manipulate in the hopes of getting our point across? Abso-fucking-lutely. That’s the great paradox of what we do: when we do it right, our simplified material will leave you with a complex emotional response. It might make you happy, it make you angry; but the point is that we were afforded this opportunity and this forum to make our voices heard and you chose to listen, so the least we can do is make it count. As much as I abhor the broad stereotypes that tend to pop up in a lot of Black theatre, I take a lot of comfort in the knowledge that a topic like this would most likely be able to find a home there. From Lorraine Hansberry to Lynn Nottage, no one reflects us as well as we do.

As an artist, I’ve learned that the only thing worse that the labels put on you is when you fall into the trap of letting those labels define you and everything you do. Very little of the theatre work I’ve done in recent years would easily fall into the category of “Black theatre”, but there is a self-assured Black man behind each and every one. I’d never let my race be the sole defining factor of my work, but I won’t shy away from a piece where it’s vital to the outcome (I’ve recently started writing a full-length in which race plays a considerable role with the characters). Most of all I’ve made a certain amount of peace with labels others use for me – whether I like them or not – because I know that it’s based on their frame of reference, not mine.

Besides, if there’s one thing the world is starting to get wind of, it’s that “African-American” isn’t the worst label that could be placed on someone like me.

Photo by Pamela Moore

Photo by Pamela Moore

Charles Lewis is a celebrity look-alike. He’s often been told he “fit(s) the description of a suspect”.

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – Let the Monster Out

Charles Lewis III lets the monster out!

Artwork by Cody Rishell

Artwork by Cody Rishell

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”
— Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

It all started with a car ride. That’s what I was told. During a 2009 production of Aristophanes’ The Frogs for Atmos Theatre’s Theatre in the Woods, that’s when we’re told Stuart first pitched the idea of a theatre dedicated to the classic works of Greek and Roman playwrights. As everyone learns when they’re around Stuart for long enough: he doesn’t pitch ideas so much as give you a heads-up on his inevitable plans.

Within a year from the original car ride, twelve local playwrights were staging twelve brand new plays – each one dedicated to one of mythical Olympians. Less than a year after that, three of those twelve plays had full productions. A year after that, half of the first year’s plays were collected into the first book, Songs of Hestia. Here we are five years on and the festival has produced two books, commissioned work from nearly 100 playwrights, staged readings of some 103 plays, commissioned an equal number of stunning original illustrations by Bay Area artists, and showcased the talents of countless members of the Bay Area acting community.

Not bad for a quirky li’l staged reading fest that started from a drive through the woods. As the festival itself is such an interesting and evolving beast, it makes sense that the fifth year would be dedicated to the monsters of Greek mythology.

I actually thought that I wouldn’t be involved with the festival this year. I’ve been involved with it in one way or another since the first year, wherein I was an actor. I played Prometheus, which wound up becoming something of a running joke when I wound up playing him three years in a row. Why no one seems to remember Stuart playing an incredibly smug and condescending Judd Apatow, I’ll never know? But I digress. After acting in two plays that first year, I wound up cast in seven the next year. The third year I was only in three plays, but I also moved up to being one of the festival’s playwrights with my one-act about the Titan Atlas. I wasn’t the first Olympians alumnus to make such a leap, but it seems appropriate to mention her as hers was one of the eight plays I directed for the fourth year (in addition to writing one of my own).

So yeah, I’ve been in the festival once or twice. I guess I’ve done enough to where after this year’s auditions, potential actors kept sending me messages asking when casting would be announced. So too did potential writers for next year ask me when those choices would be made. I have no official administrative capacity with the festival, but I told them all the same thing: “Just be patient.”

And yet I honestly didn’t expect to take part this year. None of my writing proposals had been accepted, nor had I been picked to direct this year. I auditioned this year as I had every year, but I was thoroughly convinced I wasn’t going to be cast in anything. I mean, I wasn’t cast last year either, so it wasn’t a big surprise that as casting announcement were made my name never appeared. And I took that as one-of-many signs about where my career has been heading this year. I’ve had to ask myself some serious questions about where said career would, could, and should be heading and exactly how I could get there. I was considering spending my October/November taking a small role for a very prominent local company (I mean, one even non-theatre people know by name) and just trying to see whatever Olympians shows fell on my “off” nights. So imagine my surprise when, early in the run for Pastorella, I got an e-mail offering me a role in the closing night show, “Echidna” by Olympians superstar Neil Higgins. (Like Stuart’s Judd Apatow, Neil’s stage directions “character” was one of the most memorable parts of Year 1.)

Surprise… and relief. Unexpected relief. There’s an almost inexplicable thrill to the festival that one can’t really understand unless you’ve taken an active part in it: the surprise of getting to read for characters and plays that can go from comedic to dramatic at the drop of a hat; the amazement that comes from seeing all the artwork on display; the wicked glee that comes from talking about which play will be “that show” this year (you know the one – the stunning misfire that’s talked about over drinks for years to come); the relationships that are made by two auditioners who share a BART train afterward; and, of course, the very experience of watching some of the most enduring myths of the western world become bold new works for hungry new audiences.

Can you believe I almost passed that up?

That’s when something occurred to me: since so many people have an interest in how they can see, support, or get involved with the festival, why not pull back the curtain every now and then? During last week’s opening party, we got to hear the announcement of the writers for next year’s fest, of which I will be one. So in addition to the other topics I’ll be covering in this column, I’ll also spend the next year making occasional updates on the fun/maddening process of putting together this lovely li’l fest of ours. And having taken part from nearly all angles of it, I can tell you that it’s no easy feat.

Over the next year you will hear stories of concepts praised and mocked, of scripts written in haste just to be torn up moments later, of “dream casting” that becomes a nightmare for everyone involved, of Jeremy Cole tracking you down like an angry cheetah because you didn’t reply to his e-mail, of illustrators who were supposed to have finished work a month ago but only have rough sketches, of writers wanting to tear their hair out because in the end there is nothing more stressful than trying to find the right raffle prize for the night of your reading and seeing that said prize is sold out.

But most of all, you’ll see a lot of love. What started out as a fun idea during a car ride through the woods has evolved into an annual highlight of the entire Bay Area theatre scene. And that’s always been the bottom line of the festival – for its audiences, illustrators, directors, actors, and writers – everyone keeps coming back because none of them can deny just how much fun they’re having. And I can’t believe I almost went a year without it.

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Charles Lewis would love to see Stuart return to his role as Judd Apatow, if for no other reason than to see a two-person show wherein Allison Page plays his Lena Dunham. SF Olympians V: The Monster Ball kicked off last night at the The EXIT Theatre and continues tonight with Megan Cohen’s Centaur, or Horse’s Ass and Annette Roman’s Satyr Night Fever. All shows begin at 8pm, all tickets are $10.oo cash at the door, with raffle tickets $5.oo a piece. For more information, please visit www.SFOlympians.com.

Theater Around the Bay: A Mother’s Care

Charles Lewis III returns with part two of his interviews with the creative team behind Pleiades, which opens later this week at the Phoenix Theatre.

“A son is a son ‘til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”
– Old Irish Proverb

I had the pleasure of taking part in the ‘Pub’s production of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, newly-translated by Marissa Skudlarek. I wore a horse’s head and that is all you need know about my involvement. It was my first – and hopefully not last – time working with director Katja Rivera. I’d first heard of her in 2011 when she directed another primarily female show set in the early 1970s, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Star of that show, actress/songbird Michelle Jasso, affectionately Katja described as “no bullshit, but incredibly open to collaboration and suggestion”. With the full production of Marissa’s Pleiades about to enter tech week under Katja’s direction, I was able to briefly catch up with her to talk about the play. As a complimentary piece to last week’s interview, I got to ask Katja about her approach to the material, historical accuracy, and bringing a maternal perspective to a story of young women trying to find their place in the world.

Katja

Did you attend the original Pleiades reading in 2011?

No, I didn’t attend the first reading of Pleiades. I didn’t even know about the Olympians Festival then!

What about Marissa and her script encouraged you jump aboard this project?

Marissa had sent me her script, and I particularly was impressed with how she understood the dynamics of a large family. I’m from a family of seven, so that aspect of the script particularly resonated with me. I also enjoy working with Marissa (on Pint Sized and Orphée), so I wanted a chance to collaborate with her on a full production.

Whereas Marissa’s script was written by someone trying to imagine a specific time in history, you were actually alive during that time. How important was historical accuracy to you? Are you on the lookout for specific anachronisms or is it better to have just a general sense of the era, so as to focus more directly on story and character?

I like to be as historically accurate as possible, and do think we are products of our time. I do look out for anything that smacks of anachronism, because I don’t want to distract audience members. I feel like Marissa has a good sense of the period, as I remember it, so she’s made my job easy in that regard.

Having myself assisted with the Pleiades auditions and seen the embarrassment of riches in terms of local female talent, how does one begin to whittle that down to “the right” eight women you needed for this play?

The 8 characters in the play are all so individual, so while we had some women in the play who could have played more than one of these roles, their personalities lent to making it easy to slot them into their roles.

Was there any special consideration in choosing Paul Rodrigues (a talented fella whom I’ve had the pleasure of directing) as the sole male role?

With Paul, we definitely wanted someone who was likable, so it wouldn’t easy to dismiss the character out of hand for what he does. Paul is also such an intelligent actor. He is bringing qualities the role that I didn’t see before we started the rehearsal process. It’s delightful.

On the surface, the play would appear to simply be “the problems of eight rich White girls and one White guy”. What would you say is a more accurate description and how would you sell it people who don’t resemble the characters portrayed?

I would say it is about 7 young women, sisters, who are trying to figure out how to live an authentic life, as the world around is shifting below their feet.

Is there a particular character with whom you identify more than the others?

Alison, played by Annabelle King. I’m the middle child of 7, as is she, and there are some character traits that particularly resonate with me.

The proper “adults” in the play are alluded to, but are never seen. It almost as if the sisters live in an insulated world all their own, with disruption immediately followed by the arrival of an outsider. As a mother yourself, how do you approach a story with one of the most frustrating scenarios a parent can think of – namely children holding onto secrets (one becoming the victim of a serious crime) and not turning to their parents for help? Furthermore, how do you think your own daughters will react to this play?

All characters have secrets. That’s my belief. Some of their secrets are revealed in this play, but I encourage actors to have secrets for their characters. As to my daughters’ reaction, I hope they will love the play. They are in the age range of these characters, age 25 and 22, and avid theatergoers. My goal in directing this is for them to love it.

To end with the generic-but-informative questions: What have you got coming up theatre-wise? What projects do you want to do, but haven’t had the opportunity (yet)?

I’m directing Three Tall Women by Edward Albee in November at Custom Made Theatre, and filming Merritt Squad, a webseries, this summer. And I would love to do some more acting soon, as well as some writing. We’ll see what the Universe has in store!

Photo by Serena Morelli

Photo by Serena Morelli

Pleiades begins previews this Thursday, August 7, with opening night Saturday, August 9. The play will run for 12 performances, Thursdays through Saturdays, through August 30th at The Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/780504. For more information, press inquiries, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://PleiadesSF.wordpress.com.

Charles Lewis III thinks that if you have any appreciation for women in theatre, independent theatre, and creative new work, then you should hurry and get your tickets for Pleiades before all twelve performances are sold out.

Theater Around the Bay: Sing a Song of Seven Sisters

Charles Lewis III is today’s guest blogger, with an extremely thorough interview of Marissa Skudlarek, author of the upcoming world premiere, PLEIADES. We’re super excited about the show, and encourage everyone to go. We’d also like to let Marissa know we have never used the term Box Office Babe ironically. “Babe” is a gender neutral term and we consider anyone willing to work our box office SUPER SEXY.

Poster by Emily C. Martin

Poster by Emily C. Martin

“Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?”
– The Holy Bible, Book of Job: Chapter 38, verse 31 (King James Version)

One of TheaterPub’s greatest strengths has always been its networking prowess. Its productions are unmatched in their ability to bring together such a disparate (some would say “motley”) collection of theatre artists to form lasting connections. It was during one such post-show mingle in the ‘Pub’s first year that I was introduced to an unassuming-yet-unforgettable Vassar gal named Marissa Skudlarek. We were both eager to make names for ourselves in the Bay Area theatre scene, but even as we spoke about a variety of topics (I remember Tristan & Isolde being a major one), I knew she was more likely than I to make a splash.

By the end of that summer, most of us knew her bright smile on sight when she warmly greeted each of us as first-ever box-office manager (aka “The Box-Office Babe”) for The San Francisco Olympians Festival’s opening year. What started as idea during a car ride to an Atmos Theatre production has become an annual must-do for the Bay Area indie theatre scene. Now in its fifth year at The EXIT Theatre, the staged reading festival has commissioned more than 130 new scripts; an equal number of fine art illustrations, mosaics, and needlepoints; two books; and the collaboration of countless actors, directors, and theatre technicians. To say nothing of scripts that have gone on to full productions.

It just so happens that the ‘Pub’s own “Hi-Ho, The Glamorous Life” columnist is the latest Olympians alumnus to get a full production. Having gone from the festival’s box office manager to playwright to copyeditor of the two Olympians books (Songs of Hestia and Heavenly Bodies), so too will her original script Pleiades, written for Year 2, graduate to a fully-staged run this August at The Phoenix Theatre. Based on the Greek myth of the seven daughters of Titan god Atlas, the play revolves around the seven Atlee sisters, their activist cousin, and a local Casanova in the affluent Hamptons during the summer of 1971. In the middle of her increasingly busy schedule, I was fortunate enough to pose a few questions to Marissa during the final hours of the Pleiades’ successful IndieGoGo campaign. We discussed how she’s grown as a writer, how the script has evolved since the original reading, and why a production with a largely female cast & crew is so important to modern audiences.

First things first: how did you get involved with the Olympians Festival during its inaugural year?

Almost five years ago now, I submitted a proposal to write the “Artemis” play for the first-ever Olympians Festival… but that was the year that everyone wanted to write about Artemis, so I didn’t get chosen. (This is one reason that an Artemis figure, in the guise of rabble-rousing feminist Diane, shows up in Pleiades.) I still thought that the festival sounded like a really cool idea, though, and I was fairly new in town and hungry to be part of the theater community, so I befriended Stuart Bousel and asked if I could help out with the festival. He mentioned the box-office job, and while it was unpaid, it meant that I could see all 12 Olympians shows for free. And that seemed like a great way to get acquainted with a lot of actors and writers very quickly, so I accepted the gig.

Who came up with the name “Box Office Babe”? Does anyone even remember?!

I feel like Stuart came up with the “box office babe” nickname, but I don’t think that I actually heard it used until Year Two, when Barbara Jwanouskos was box-office manager. I admit I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with that title and don’t tend to use it myself, because there’s something kind of old-fashioned and chauvinistic about the word “babe” (even though I understand that it’s ostensibly being used ironically here. Ah, hipster sexism).

One of the things I most remember from first meeting you in 2010 was that you weren’t all that fond of the term “emerging playwright”. One’s profile definitely raises with the production of their first full-length. How would you say you’ve evolved as a writer in the four years since?

Well, Pleiades is the only full-length I’ve written since leaving college six years ago — I’m not the fastest or most prolific writer, so it’s not like I had a wealth of plays from which to choose. If I didn’t produce Pleiades, it might be another 2 or 3 years before I write another full-length play that I’m proud of… and I wasn’t prepared to wait that long to have a full-length produced in San Francisco. Moreover, I felt that as long as Pleiades went unproduced, it was kind of blocking me from getting started on another full-length. It felt like unfinished business. I needed to see this script to fruition (in the form of a full production) before I could move on.

What was it about this script that you felt it had to be your first proper full-length production?

I wanted to produce Pleiades as a way of actively participating in the conversation about gender parity and feminism in theater that has become so prominent recently. There are all these statistics about how female playwrights and directors and actors are underrepresented, and rather than continuing to talk about how unfair that is and debate possible solutions, I just wanted to produce a new play that has a female writer, female director, eight female actors, and be like “DEAL WITH IT.”

Because I haven’t written another full-length since Pleiades, it’s hard to say how my playwriting has evolved. Maybe I’ve learned to be less afraid of my own voice? Pursuing my crazier whims, rather than trying to make my writing sound like everybody else’s. I definitely think I’ve become more courageous in terms of my nonfiction writing. Three years ago, I’d never have written that piece I wrote for Theater Pub recently, pointing out that ACT hasn’t produced a local playwright in 7 years apart from their own AD. I would have been too afraid of getting on Carey Perloff’s blacklist. But, well, the whole point of the article is that she’s not producing local playwrights, right? So what have I got to lose?

Katja Rivera directed your Theater Pub-produced translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée last year. At that point had you already considered her for the director of Pleiades?

At the time of the Orphée reading (April 2013) I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to self-produce Pleiades. My feeling that I needed to produce the play grew slowly over the course of 2013 until, by the end of the year, it had become overwhelming, and I contacted Katja to see if she wanted to direct it. It’s like that Anaïs Nin quote: “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Some playwrights think the most daunting thing about self-production is raising the funds, or simply finding the time/energy to embark on such a major project. Those things never fazed me. For me, the most daunting aspect of self-production was always the problem of finding a director.

Did you ever consider directing it yourself?

I have never wanted to direct my own plays — I have no training as a director, no sense of how to block a scene, absolutely no self-confidence in that area. Plus, having a director handle the day-to-day aspects of production (rehearsals and the like) while I handled the big-picture elements (contracts, fundraising, marketing) sounded do-able… handling everything myself sounded like a disaster in the making.

Katja was definitely my first-choice director. I first met her in 2012, when she directed my play “Beer Theory” for Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival. “Beer Theory” is a weird little play that, more than anything else I’ve ever written, tries to illustrate what it’s like to live inside my head, and Katja knew exactly what I was going for… I felt like she “got” me right away. Our collaboration on Orphée was also harmonious. Further points in Katja’s favor were that she liked the Pleiades script and she’s from a different generation than me — I thought it would be good for the director of Pleiades to have been alive in 1971, the year the play takes place. But it was still scary to send that initial email to Katja and ask her if she wanted to direct Pleiades! I was asking her to clear her schedule and devote months of her life to my work, for very little compensation. And I’m not sure what I would’ve done if she’d said no!

Another thing I recall from that first year is that you were fond of the phrase “Plays are never finished; only abandoned.” I remember seeing the original reading of Pleiades in 2011 and I understand it’s been read around the country since then…

Well, it’s only had one other reading since the Olympians one, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend it: the reading happened in Myrtle Beach, SC, on the same weekend in April 2013 that Katja and I were doing tech for Orphée!

What’s changed about the script since the Olympians reading?

The script still has the same basic structure that it had in 2011, but I like to think that it’s stronger. After the Olympians reading, I beefed up the climax to make it more cathartic. I streamlined certain scenes and expanded others. I tried to raise the stakes a little; I tried to deepen the characters and make them more complex. It’s identifiably the same story, with the same characters; but I think it works a little better.

Have you done any rewrites since announcing the start of production?

I did make some changes to the script between announcing my decision to produce the play (in January) and going into rehearsals in June, but they were fairly minor — rewriting half a page of dialogue so it flows better, that kind of thing. Act One now ends with more impact and has a better curtain line. I haven’t handed out any rewrites to my cast since the start of rehearsals, though.

Your story is about a group of women struggling to define themselves during the height of the Second-wave Feminist movement. One of the icons of that movement, Gloria Steinem, recently celebrated her 80th birthday. You’ve never been shy about defining yourself as such, but what is it about the word “Feminism” that seems to rub modern women – many of them high-profile – the wrong way; particularly the ones who claim to profess the very ideals for which the movement stands?

So it seems to be axiomatic among a lot of people that “young women refuse to call themselves feminists nowadays because they think it makes them sound like man-hating lesbians with hairy armpits,” but I don’t actually know how much truth there is to that. Supposedly, women between the ages of 18 and 29 are most likely to self-identify as feminists. If a young female celebrity says “I’m not a feminist because I love men,” as happened with Shailene Woodley recently, the Internet explodes with essays telling her why she’s wrong. Sometimes I feel like every female playwright I know is a feminist. Which is awesome! But it also means that feminism has lost some of its pungency. It used to be that if you said “I’m a female playwright and I want to tell women’s stories,” it made you sound kind of cool and edgy. Now it’s like “Yeah, so what else is new?”

Thanks to the Internet, more people are discussing and debating feminism than ever before, and feminist concepts (like the Bechdel Test) are entering the pop-culture lexicon. However, the Internet also has a way of magnifying people’s outrage; and online, the people who get the most attention are often the loudest, most extreme, angriest people. So a young woman might see this and think that to be a feminist, you need to be snarky, or bitter, or humorless, or antagonistic, or perpetually outraged, when none of those things are actually true. There are humorless feminists and hilarious ones; there are feminists who want to smash the patriarchy and feminists who want to dismantle it gently. It’s a broad movement. (uh, no pun intended.)

One other challenge of being a feminist is that, once you start calling yourself one, you have to examine your own unconscious prejudices and develop your own understanding of what feminism means to you. And each time you detect sexism, you have to decide whether you are going to call it out or whether you are going to let it slide — and both of those things are hard to do, for different reasons. Even if you live in a supportive environment, being a feminist is not always easy. It requires self-reflection and self-questioning, qualities that our culture does not always encourage.

Marissa Skudlarek takes her place amongst the goddesses. Photo by Tracy Held Potter

Marissa Skudlarek takes her place amongst the goddesses. Photo by Tracy Held Potter

You’ve often spoke of your fondness for productions with large casts and Pleiades is unique among contemporary independent theatre (particularly in the Bay Area) as it has a cast of nine that is primarily female. What were the steps you took to make all the voices individual and how did the traditional Greek interpretation of the characters influence the way you wrote them?

The thing about the Pleiades in Greek mythology, at least according to the sources that I’ve found, is that they weren’t very individual as personalities. They are treated like a unit, especially in the most famous story about them, the one that goes “Orion was chasing the Pleiades and Zeus turned them into stars to protect them.” They’re just objects to Orion — he doesn’t see them as individuals. I mean, how do you even chase seven women at the same time? Then I discovered that, maybe the Pleiades don’t have individual personalities, but some of them do have individual stories. The eldest three of them — Maia, Elektra, and Taygete — all had children by Zeus. In fact, Maia and Zeus’s son was Hermes. The youngest, Merope, married a mortal and was punished for it: she’s the dimmest star in the constellation. Artemis turned Taygete into a deer after Zeus raped her — whether this was to protect her or punish her is a matter of debate. I started to see how I could turn these stories into a play.

But you’re right that my most difficult task in writing this play was to figure out who each of these young women was, as an individual. And also to make the story psychologically credible, since it would be taking place in a realistic milieu (the Hamptons in 1971) rather than the stylized world of myth. It’s one thing for a myth to say “Zeus had children with the three eldest Pleiades,” it’s another thing for me to write a believable, serious-minded play about a man who has sex with each of three sisters.

Toward the beginning of the writing process, after I’d figured out the basic plot of the play, I took a day to just outline each character’s personality — listing the adjectives and qualities that define each young woman. I also decided, early on, that it was OK if not all of the roles were equal in size or importance, as long as each character had an individual voice. And, as I started to fill in the backstory for the play, I made a timeline listing the characters’ birth dates, key historical events, etc., and I had fun thinking about which zodiac sign each of my characters might be and matching their astrology to their personality.

In addition to your writing, you’re also quite renowned for your impeccable fashion sense. That having been said, the 1970s aren’t generally regarded as a high-point in 20th century fashion, particularly in the United States…

I actually kind of love ’70s fashion! Especially the early ’70s, which were fascinating. The hippie looks of the late ’60s were still hanging on, and there was also a revival of ’30s and ’40s fashion… it could be pretty glamorous. We have a vintage Seventeen magazine from June of 1971 as one of the props in the play and I’ve had great fun browsing through it for inspiration. It makes me want to grow my hair long and walk through a meadow in a gauzy dress!

What was your and Katja’s philosophy in regards to dressing nine different characters of affluent means in the Hamptons of the early-‘70s?

One thing I’ve insisted on from the start is that I do not want the primary message of the costumes in the play to be “look at the kooky things people wore in the ’70s.” I fear that that would distance the audience from the story. I don’t want people to see this as a “period piece” that has no relevance to life in 2014; I want them to empathize with the characters and relate to them! Obviously I don’t want the characters wearing anything that stands out as anachronistic, but a lot of them will be wearing clothes that could work equally well in 1971 and in 2014.

This fits with my play, too, because my characters are old-money WASPs, which means that many of them favor classic preppy styles instead of wacky trends. And they’re at the beach, so they’re dressed fairly casually. They may be an affluent family and they probably pride themselves on wearing good-quality clothing, but they’re not trying to flaunt their wealth or their individuality through their clothes — in fact they would probably consider that quite gauche.

Earlier this year Allison Page gave five reasons encouraging self-production. In the beginning you seemed to want to do everything about Pleiades yourself. What inspired you decide to co-produce with No Nude Men Productions?

My collaboration with No Nude Men basically means that I can Facebook-message Stuart with all of my silly newbie-producer questions and he’s honor-bound to answer them, because his theater company is nominally producing the show. I also got to use the NNM list of press contacts when sending out my press release. It’s not a financial arrangement (no money has changed hands in either direction) and I still am mostly doing everything myself.

I didn’t approach Stuart asking if NNM would produce Pleiades — he actually suggested it to me, and I took him up on the offer because it seemed to offer some advantages and no significant downsides. Unfortunately, there is still kind of a stigma around self-producing (people wonder where the line is between “self-production” and “vanity production”) and I thought it could only be a good thing if my play was associated with one of SF’s longest-running indie theater companies, rather than being “a Marissa Skudlarek production.”

What’s been the most valuable lesson from the collaboration thus-far?

The biggest challenge I’ve had as a producer was finding a set designer, and after I put out feelers to one designer, I got a rather snarky and aggrieved email in reply. Stuart calmed me down and reminded me that, even though I was desperate to find a set designer, that’s no reason to work with people who seem like they’ll be rude or difficult.

Earlier this year you were in the middle of Bay Area theatre controversy when a playwright took personal issue with your review of his most recent work. And yet as artists we’re meant to be aware that we have very little (if any) control over how our work will be interpreted. Were it up to you, what message would like people to walk away with after seeing Pleiades?

I don’t want to get too spoilery, so forgive me if this sounds overly abstract. But I would say that the message of the play is something like “terrible things can happen, but sisterhood can help you get through it.” The world of the play contains malice, violence, and sexism; it also contains humor, courage, and kindness. As such, while bad things happen in Pleiades, I really hope that people don’t interpret it as one of those bleak, nihilistic, “everything in the world is awful” plays.

As mentioned above, I also want people to see the connections between the era of the play and the present era, and to think about how the lives of young women have or haven’t changed since 1971.

Would you invite the aforementioned playwright to one of the performances?

I’d be fine if he came, as long as the rest of the Bay Area theater community didn’t try to turn it into something sensationalistic. The last thing I want is to have people gossiping about me and this playwright and wondering “Ooh… What’s he gonna say about her play? Is the feud going to continue?” Really, at this point I wish people would just stop talking about this so-called controversy.

With a full production now under your (haute couture, envy-inspiring) belt, what are your plans for the next one? Bigger cast? Musical numbers? Sychronised swimming routine?

I don’t actually know. I still love big-cast plays and will continue to advocate for them, but producing Pleiades has made me understand a little better why producers prefer smaller casts: a big cast means more schedules to juggle, more costumes to find, more stipends to pay out! Sometimes I think that my next play should be, like, a really tightly-structured slamming-door farce; sometimes I think I should go in the opposite direction and write something abstract and lyrical. I know that I don’t want my next play to be too similar to Pleiades; it’ll probably be a while before I write another family drama. And I’d like to try writing something set in the present day — it’d be nice to sit down and write without having to do historical research first! But nothing’s certain yet. As Claire Rice writes in “Europa” (one of the plays that will be published, along with Pleiades, in the forthcoming Heavenly Bodies anthology), “What a great burden an open and unknown future is.”

The Atlee sisters look toward the future. Photo by Serena Morelli

The Atlee sisters look toward the future. Photo by Serena Morelli

Pleiades runs Thursdays through Saturdays, August 7 to 30, at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco, August 7 – 30. Tickets are on sale at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/780504. For more information or to get in touch with the Pleiades team, please visit http://PleiadesSF.wordpress.com.

The San Francisco Olympians Festival, for which Pleiades was first commissioned, will have its fifth annual run this November at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. The producers of the festival are currently running an IndieGoGo campaign through August 1st in support of this year’s entries. To learn more about the festival – including artwork, cast lists, and synopses of all plays throughout its five-year history – please visit http://www.sfolympians.com.

The official Pleiades poster at the top of this article was illustrated by Emily C. Martin. Emily’s work can be found through her official site: http://www.megamoth.net The official cast photo for Pleiades was part of a set taken by photographer Serena Morelli, whose work can be found on-line at http://www.serenamorelli.com.

Charles Lewis III considers himself privileged to have seen both the original reading of Pleiades and the very first Olympians Festival. He’s even more pleased to see what each has become in the years since.

Falling With Style: Five Bay Area Shows I’m Excited About This Season

Helen Laroche is excited about what’s to come. 

As I become less and less inclined to audition these days, I’m happy to find that I’m still interested in the thing that got me to theater and storytelling in the first place — watching it. Because really, isn’t the best part of being an artist (nay, a person!) getting to share in a well-told story, whether you’re telling it or hearing it?

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of shows I’m excited to see this upcoming season. For fairness’ sake, I didn’t put any shows that Theater Pub People(TM) are directly involved with (although you should know that they are the nonpareil of quality, and you should definitely check out The Age of Beauty which closes this Saturday at the EXIT; the SF Fringe Festival which runs the month of September 2013 at the EXIT; and the SF Olympians Festival, which goes up in November 2013 at … any wild guesses? The EXIT.)

So without further ado, here is the completely-personal, your-own-opinion-is-totally-valued-but-will-not-sway-me list of 5 Bay Area shows I’m looking forward to this season.

1. No Man’s Land at Berkeley Rep (Berkeley), by Harold Pinter; runs now through August 31, 2013.

Yeah, let’s get this one out of the way. I’m excited, and I think it will ruffle some small-theater feathers to put this first on the list, but here it is. Berkeley Rep’s marketing ploy worked perfectly on my household: I bought season tickets to Berkeley Rep just to get tickets to this show. My husband, the non-theatre guy of our household, is excited to see “Dr. Xavier and Magneto be in love.” I’m excited because I’ve never seen a Pinter play, and I’ve never seen these guys live. And it’s just been fun to watch the jolt this has given the whole theater community.

2. Road Show at The Rhino (San Francisco), by Stephen Sondheim; runs January 2 – 19, 2014 at the Eureka Theatre

When I saw the Rhino’s season announcement email, with the last names of all their playwrights, and saw “Sondheim” among them, I high tailed it to their website to learn more. What Sondheim piece would fit into their “queer theater” credo? Turns out it’s a piece I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen — his most recent show, Road Show (formerly Bounce), which was first produced in 2003 and re-mounted with major revisions in 2008. It involves two brothers, one brother’s (male) lover, and their luck as they mine for gold in the Wild West.

3. Silent Sky at TheatreWorks (Mountain View), by Lauren Gunderson; runs January 15—February 9, 2014

Lauren Gunderson has been so hot these past couple seasons, and I have to admit that I haven’t seen a show of hers mounted yet. But I have read one of her plays, and the story is such that I will be a fan of hers for life: I was setting up a Shakespearean parlor reading at my apartment, and when it was clear we weren’t going to have the minimum number of people necessary to read All’s Well That Ends Well, I remembered that Lauren had a series of Shakespeare-inspired plays. (The first, Exit, Pursued By a Bear, had a rolling premiere last season (two seasons ago?) that included a staging at Impact Theater.) I went to her website, saw her list of works, and emailed her to ask if my friends and I could read the fourth in the series, called We Are Denmark. AND SHE SAID YES AND SENT OVER A PDF THAT STILL SAID DRAFT ON IT. It was so freakin’ cool. (And the play was great, to boot.)

So, she’s got a groupie in me now, for a number of reasons. But yeah, We Are Denmark centers in some part around astronomy, which Silent Sky also does. So I expect greatness. Also, TheatreWorks proved themselves to be awesome at night sky stage dressings in their awesome production of Fly By Night. So that’s another point in this production’s favor.

4. Top Girls at Custom Made Theatre Company (San Francisco), by Caryl Churchill; runs March 18 – April 13, 2014

When I first saw the audition notice go out for Custom Made’s upcoming season, I did my homework and read through all their shows. (For someone who calls herself a “theatre person,” I have read a woefully small number of plays in my life. So whenever I hear of a new season, it usually involves a lot of reading.) Top Girls is the one that stood out to me in the season, for two reasons: (1) it not only passes the Bechdel test, it blows it to smithereens; and (2) the amount of overlapping talking in the play makes for very difficult reading, to say nothing of how it’ll be staged and presented. Have you ever read Glengarry Glen Ross? That’s sort of stilted speech, with constant interruption, yet with each character maintaining her own line of thought. I’m interested in seeing this show for intellectual reasons as much as anything else.

5. The Color Purple at Hillbarn Theatre (Foster City), adapted from the book by Alice Walker; runs May 9 – June 1, 2014

When I first saw this musical done professionally, I was so moved I saw it twice. Sure, it had its moments of being over the top (just like any musical should!), but Alice Walker’s story was all still there, and Celie’s transformation into a self-confident woman was mirrored so compellingly in the actress’ soaring gospel voice. (I’ve always been a sucker for gospel.)

Doing this show at the community theatre level is a gamble on many levels, and it’s the first non-Equity presentation I’m aware of, anywhere. And you gotta hand it to Hillbarn for taking the leap and producing this show — I hope it gets the talent turnout they need to cast a 40+ person, nearly all-minority show. (We all know the talent’s out there; it’s just a matter of getting people to Foster City. And hey, they did it with Ragtime last season, to great effect. So if anyone can do it, Hillbarn can.)

(Auditions are early 2014, guys!)

Bonus: Camelot at SF Playhouse (San Francisco), by Lerner and Lowe; runs now through September 21, 2013.

So I lied. Had to tack this one on, playing now through late September. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of this musical. No amount of Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews could save it.

But maybe Angel from RENT could.

That’s right. This production stars Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the Tony Award-winning actor who originated the role of Angel, as Sir Lancelot. HOW is it halfway through the run and I haven’t heard about this?? WHO is running the marketing over there??

Other actors in the cast include a hodge-podge of Bay Area actors, Equity and non-Equity, including Bay Area favorite Monique Hafen as Guenevere. 

So. Now you know which shows (some, guilty pleasures; others, intellectually stimulating) that I’m looking forward to this season. How about you? Are you going to come see these with me? Do you have others on your mental list that you want to share?

Leave it all in the comments!

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area theatre-type, currently doing her thing at www.sayshelen.com

Introducing The Writers of Pint Sized Plays IV! (Part Three)

We’re continuing our series of profiles of this year’s writers and this time we have two very old friends who have been contributing to Theater Pub for years: Megan Cohen and Sang S. Kim. Both prolific and highly respected local writers, Sang and Megan have been strong supporters of Theater Pub throughout the years and so we’re very excited to have them be a part of the festival this year. In some ways, they also have an unfair advantage on everyone else when it comes to this interview- namely because they’ve already done it before!

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

Sang S. Kim: I hear about Theater Pub all the time. Every social gathering, the two things that come up are Pint Size and Olympians. It’s the Equinox and Solstice of the Bay Area theater community. It’s like your life is measured in relationship to these events.

“How old’s your kid?”
“Two Pint Sizes and half an Olympian.”

What possessed me to submit? The spirit of Carol Channing. I know she’s still alive but that’s how awesome she is.

Megan Cohen: I’ve had a play in every Pint-Sized Festival so far– this is my fourth Pint-Sized Play. You’d think I’d be over the format by now, but I’m not! After writing a monologue (“BEEEEAAR!”) for last year’s festival, where it’s just one character hanging out at a table, I wanted to swing the pendulum way in the other direction and do a sweeping epic with a lot of action and movement, and see how far I could push that in the Pub setting. A situation only gets old if you stop trying new things.

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

Sang Kim: Who say’s its hard. It’s not hard. Have you ever ridden the BART between Oakland and Embarcadero around midnight? A lot can happen in 10 minutes or less.

Megan Cohen: Remembering that it’s a short play, not a small play. It doesn’t have to be about small ideas or small themes, and it doesn’t have to be simple or cute. You can give the audience a real experience, a complex experience; you can make those ten minutes important.

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

Megan Cohen:They’re easier to get produced. We’re all working with such limited resources in the arts, and it’s really a huge financial investment for a company to rehearse, produce, and promote a full evening-length play; one major failure can pretty much bankrupt a small theater company, and even if they survive, it can damage their reputation and credibility. Short play festivals are cheaper, faster, and more casual, and they usually draw an adventurous audience who don’t mind if they haven’t heard of the writer, the director, or the actors before, which means companies can take risks on new and emerging artists. It’s still really competitive to get a short script chosen for production, (there are so many playwrights in the world!), but it’s much less competitive than getting a long script accepted. So, the best thing about writing short plays is knowing that they’re easier to get produced, and there’s a better chance the play will get to an audience instead of sitting in a drawer.

Sang Kim: I like to get in late and leave early. This is not good advice outside short plays though.

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

Sang Kim: David Ives. He really ought to sue me for how much he influences my writing.

This is Sang S. Kim, David. Remember His Face.

This is Sang S. Kim, David. Remember His Face.

Megan Cohen:Right now in general, I’m actively trying to steal as much as I can from David Lynch, Alan Ball, and JJ Abrams. I’ve read too much Shakespeare for that influence not to be present in everything I write; same goes for Tom Stoppard; same goes for Sondheim; couldn’t turn those formative influences off if I tried. This specific play, “The Last Beer In The World,” is an Arthurian grail quest written in rhyme. So, obviously, you’re gonna get some Monty Python in there!!! We’re talking about a whole tradition of quest stories behind this kind of format, though, which are like 100% absorbed by all of us through cultural osmosis, even if we’ve never read any Arthurian literature on purpose. Star Wars? Yeah. Harold and Kumar? Sure. Some book I read as a 12-year-old about flying cars? Probably.

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

Megan Cohen: I always say (you can check, it’s on my website at MeganCohen.com) that all the roles in all my plays are written for Madeline Kahn. I would love to see her as all three roles in “Last Beer!” If you mean a living celebrity… Michelle Obama. Imagine the publicity, plus you just know she’d be so nice to work with. Anyone who says they don’t want Michelle Obama in their play is lying.

Sang Kim: Daniel Day Lewis. He’s absolutely wrong for either a college kid or grandmother but I would just love to watch him prepare for the role.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Megan Cohen: I am prepping my solo adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey,” and I hope you will come see the first sneak peek of it at the SF Olympians Festival on Nov 8th! I’m going to perform it myself, as a kind of bard from the very-near future, as though I’m speaking to you from tomorrow about one of the oldest stories humans have ever told! The Olympians showing will be an evening-length “highlight reel,” but I’m working towards eventually creating a 12-hour durational piece where I tell the entire story, beginning to end, over the course of a single waking day! It’s all in rhymed verse! It’s a very long-term project! I’m calling it “A Totally Epic Odyssey!” I’m very excited! You can tell how excited I am by all these exclamation marks!

Sang Kim: Finishing these 10 Questions. I’m really close to spending as much time on these questions as I did writing my Pint Size submission.

What’s next for you?

Megan Cohen: Yeah, you can get in on my NEXT thing at BetterThanTelevision.Com. I’m building a “transmedia” story experience where a GHOST haunts your SMARTPHONE for the month of October, leading up to Halloween. I’ve got a great cast, and I’m completely enthralled with this amazing new software platform called Conductrr, which we’re using to make it an interactive story, so that you can communicate with the characters by text and email and stuff like that. It’s a sort of spooky narrative about a Victorian-era magician’s assistant who haunts you until you help her restless spirit cross peacefully into the next world! It’s part game, part film, but it’s really a whole new kind of story experience; it’s social, and modern, lives in your pocket, and should have lots of surprises; hopefully it will actually be “Better Than Television!” Dot com. Better Than Television Dot Com. BetterThanTelevision.Com. BETTERTHANTELEVISION.COM. Ok, I’m done.

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

Sang Kim: I’m helping the people at Bay Area One Acts this year and I’ll probably contribute here and there but I’m actually thinking of taking a break for a while. I find I’m repeating myself and running out of things to write about. Seriously – I’ve been staring at the last two sentences for 10 minutes before I wrote this sentence.

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Megan Cohen: “The SF Olympians Festival: Trojan Requiem” (not just because my Odyssey is in it, I promise), and “Strangers, Babies” at Shotgun in Oct/Nov. I’m stoked for that, because “Any Given Day” by the same team (Dir Jon Tracy and Playwright Linda McLean) at the Magic was soooooo unique, it had this kind of delicacy that really wasn’t like anything else I’d ever seen.

Sang S. Kim: I just looked at my Facebook Event page so I’ll go ahead and plug the next two shows I’m seeing which are “Book of Liz” at Custom Made and “Age of Beauty” at Exit.

What’s your favorite beer?

Sang Kim: I’m actually drinking cider these days. I’ve been having the worse dreams when I drink beer. Like Lars Von Trier directed dreams.

Megan Cohen: If I’m buying, PBR. If you’re buying, two PBRs. If you are buying and have a good job, Russian River’s “Consecration.”

You may have heard it’s our last show at Cafe Royale. What do you look forward to for the future of Theater Pub?

Sang Kim: I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the move to bring even more new people. Also, I look forward to not having to worry about drinks falling on my head because someone forgot how gravity works.

Megan Cohen: Keeping the dream alive with “SATURDAY WRITE FEVER!” It’s a free monthly playmaking party at the Exit Theater Cafe, co-produced by Theater Pub and the Exit, and co-hosted by me and Pub founder Stuart Bousel. On the third Saturday of the month, everyone comes at 8:30pm to hang out and get a drink, then at 9pm, writers pull prompts from a hat and take a 30 minute “playwrighting sprint” to each write a new original monologue! At 9:30pm, brave actors read the monologues for the crowd. It’s fun, you should come, the writing is good, the acting is good, it’s friendly and lively, there are cheap beers or champagne cocktails, and absolutely everyone’s attractive and well-dressed. If you follow SF Theater Pub on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll hear about it when it’s happening. You should follow SF Theater Pub on face so you can know about SATURDAY WRITE FEVER, and about other such things, because I can tell from the fact that you’re still reading this article that you are definitely someone who likes to know about things.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 29 and 30, always 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!

Introducing The Writers Of Pint Sized Plays IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is only a few weeks off and we’re excited to have two writers who are contributing a play to Pint Sized for the very first time! Though Carl Lucania has been a staple of Theater Pub from early on, this marks his first time as part of the festival, while Peter Hsieh will be making his Theater Pub debut! We took a moment to get to know these guys a little bit better, and find out what drew them to Pint Sized, what challenges they faced, and what they’re excited about both at Theater Pub and beyond!

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

Carl Lucania: I got in on the ground floor, having worked with all the Theater Pub founders at some point or other as an actor. I love to tell stories and enjoy writing, but I’d never written a play before.

Peter Hsieh: I probably saw stuff about it on Facebook, but it was during one of my meetings at Asian American Theatre Co’s New Works Incubator that Sunil or Kirk brought up Theater Pub and my first time submitting was actually for the evening of sci-fi and horror that Sunil was producing. Also I like beer and short plays.

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

Peter Hsieh: Keeping it concise and to the point, there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to short plays and a lot of times it is hard to know what to keep and what to change and what to get rid of.

Carl Lucania: The most difficult thing for me in any self-motivated project is blocking out the time to get it done. After that it seemed fairly intuitive; who doesn’t have at least one good story that takes place in a bar?

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

Carl Lucania:  That it isn’t a full length play.  That would make my head hurt.

Carl Lucania: Never One To Let His Head Hurt

Carl Lucania: Never One To Let His Head Hurt

Peter Hsieh: It is more focused, for me at least. When I’m writing a short play I usually know where to go and I more easily connect the beginning to the end to give it that extra kick. Also I feel there are a lot more production opportunities for short plays in terms of being an emerging writer, theaters may do maybe one new work a season that is a full length but produce an evening or weekend of five to eight short plays once or twice in their season.

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

Carl Lucania: I was greatly influenced by Audrey, an 11 year-old whose short play got produced In Pub From Another World back in May. It convinced me to get over myself and contribute something.

Peter Hsieh: Keroauc. I’ve always loved his writing style, his form, his poetry, his sense of rhythm. I think I take a lot from his style and incorporate that in my plays and poems.  American Haiku is so good it makes my balls hurt. Seriously. I am also a big fan of Sarah Kane, I’ve read 4.48 Psychosis more times than I’ve read any other play.

Peter Hsieh: Keroauc cool.

Peter Hsieh: Keroauc cool.

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

Peter Hsieh: Michael Fassbender. Hands Down. He is an awesome and incredible actor and I like him in everything he’s been in. Hunger. Shame. X-men First Class. Heck I’d probably change the script so he takes off his pants so I can have some full frontal Fassbender in my play.

Carl Lucania: Since I’ve got an older woman of Italian heritage in the piece, how about Isabella Rossellini? I’d watch her do just about anything.

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

Peter Hsieh: I am currently working on a new full length play, which is about two high school friends who kinda hold these grudges against each other over different things. Things escalate when one beats the other at this video game and ends doing it with the other kid’s mom. There will be flame throwers, chainsaws, fast cars, gaming, college applications, and a splash of futuristic dystopia. I hope to have a first draft by end of July so I’m pretty stoked.

Carl Lucania: I have this notion to try and adapt Isherwood’s Christopher and his Kind into a sort of Cabaret: The Real Story type piece that includes some music of the Weimar era. I thought an adaptation would be easier than writing an original piece. I was wrong. So wrong.

What’s next for you?

Peter Hsieh: I have an art installation / open house gala of my monologue and poems called Collectives: Volume One going up July 12th at Avid Coffee in San Jose. There are these paintings, installations with headphones that play my poems and monologues mixed to cool music and ambience and stuff. There will be an auction there as well for my installations. Also on that same weekend Rama and Sita a play that I collaborated on with my friend Steve Boyle is going up as part of SJREAL’s Late Night Series at San Jose Rep. My play Even Spies sit on Park Benches is being workshopped at West Valley College as part of Alpha Project, a summer festival of new plays and that is going up end of July and playing through early August I believe. We are also planning our next season for SJREAL so I’m looking forward to cool and innovative new season.

Carl Lucania: Good question. Anyone have any interesting parts for a middle-aged man with all of his hair and most of his marbles?

So what upcoming shows or events are you most excited about in the Bay Area Theater Scene?

Peter Hsieh: Wow, there are so many. I’m excited to see Bay One Acts when it goes up. No man’s Land at Berkeley Rep. The Snow Queen at San Jose Rep this winter. Mutt by Christopher Chen at Impact. City Lights Theatre Co, has an amazing entire season that I’m really looking forward to, and  I always enjoy their shows. There are a lot of them, but one thing that I am probably most excited about is the SF Olympians Festival this year, I don’t think I’ve ever been in such an awesome and big festival with so many talented individual, and the fact that these are all new works by local Bay Area playwrights make it even more exciting, so I guess that one is probably the one I’m most excited for.

Carl Lucania: I’m pretty amped for SF Olympians.  I love Greek mythology, love the creativity that goes into the telling and reinventing of these stories. Plus I’ve had the good fortune to be associated with some great pieces that have come out of the festival.

What’s your favorite beer?

Carl Lucania: Big Daddy IPA. Read into that what you will.

Peter Hsieh: Shock Top Belgian White. Actually I like most Belgian Whites.

You may have heard it’s our last show at Cafe Royale. What do you look forward to for the future of Theater Pub? 

Peter Hsieh: Ah, I wish I had seen more shows at the Cafe Royale! I guess I look forward to being more involved and seeing more productions. I’m a big fan of new works and edge works and  re-imagined classics and there is nothing more exciting than seeing your friends and peers do that sort of stuff.

Carl Lucania: My hope for Theater Pub is to continue to keep doing what it does best: to be a cross-breeding ground for amazing local talent and a place I can drink with people who always have something interesting to say.  And for everyone involved to make a kajillion dollars so they can keep at it. Or at least have some great rehab stories to tell.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 29 and 30, always 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!