Theater Around The Bay: An Interview With Colin Johnson

In honor of STICKY ICKY, opening May 23rd, we’re interviewing writer/director Colin Johnson about this latest joint.

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Give us your elevator pitch for yourself- WHO IS Colin Johnson?

CJ: It depends on how long I had in the elevator. If we went all the way to the top floor, I feel I’d have enough time to do an interpretative dance displaying my many passions for film, theater, storytelling, writing, directing, performing and editing, and my experience with many notable enterprises, including SF Olympians, SF Playground, SF Fringe, SF Shotz, San Diego and New York Comic-Con, Image Comics and Awesome Theater. The dance would be tasteful but provocative; informative but challenging. If we were only going up one floor, I’d just reach my hand out and say, “come with me if you wanna have a great time making some weird art”

And this isn’t your first time at Theater Pub, is it?

CJ: I have been playing with the good folks at TP for the past three years or so. Or maybe 4. When was the last Pint-Sized at Cafe Royale? That was when I started. I’ve done like 5 or 6 shows in various capacities.

What keeps you coming back?

CJ: The challenge of setting a piece of theater amidst an open, functioning, busy bar. It’s harder than it looks, and a great many types of shows that would flourish in a traditional venue have struggled with the format. It forces you to be blunt, loud, fast and not rely on tech elements or, to a degree, audience engagement. I tend to go into a show as if I’m entering a combat field with my platoon, but like in elementary school, where the imagination was running wild and role-playing was cool (because that’s what we essentially still do, we are the role-playing holdouts from childhood). X factors will be flung at you left and right and you have to duck and dodge to pull it together. Theater Pub harkens back to the days without polite theater etiquette, where performers and crew members need to be on their toes to overcome any and every obstacle that the outside world will throw at them, from passing sirens to drunk idiots at the bar. It keeps them present and focused, but also flexible. They also let me do pretty much anything I want.

Tell us more about Sticky Icky- what can we expect?

CJ: You can expect a loud, fast, funny romp through classical zombie-film tropes and tireless research from my years of being a high-functioning pothead. We got the archetypes, we got the paranoia, the in-fighting, the snacks, the doomsday radio broadcasts, the external menace, and even a couple original songs.

What’s got you most excited about this project?

CJ: The idea of uncoordinated, easily-distracted-yet-dangerous and relentless antagonists was too funny to pass up. It was actually developed as a feature-film several years ago in Eastern Washington State, a place where you either smoked or you HATED THOSE DIRTBAG HIPPIE NO-GOODNICKS. It was originally much more violent and dealt with marijuana legislation and its respective sides. Over the years, it has remained on the back burner, mutating into whatever avenue suited it best. When I was asked to come back to Theater Pub this year, I wanted to make a serious, intense play. But then I remembered my dormant idea for Sticky Icky and giggled the way a selfish blowhard laughs at his own shit.
Needless to say, it’s a play now, and although it doesn’t try to take itself seriously anymore, the overriding themes of both sides of the debate being equally stupid for different reasons is still very much there.

Marijuana has a colorful history as a subject in film and theater- any influences you wanna point to?

CJ: Most of the direct references come from the horror genre — John Carpenter (The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness) and, of course, George A. Romero were major influences, as were numerous smaller, stranger zombie movies (Shaun of the Dead, Pontypool, 28 Days Later, Undead). In our play the weed is used more as a catalyst in the style of Danny Boyle’s genre-busting classic, only instead of blood or saliva transmission, it’s second-hand smoke (invisible of course due to indoor smoking laws). That said, it’s much closer in tone to Reefer Madness or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (I love idiots screaming over each other). The plot is horror, the dialogue and performances are comedy.

Should or should not people show up to this stoned?

CJ: It definitely wouldn’t hurt if folks got a bit blazed. Unfortunately, there won’t be an intermission to “freshen up”. I promise no one will be bored. We want to create the illusion of chaos, so stoned lightweights should maybe sit a bit farther back from the action.

Let’s say they do- what food served at the bar do you most recommend?

CJ: I’m a devoted pulled-pork guy. And the fries are perfect to keep you going when you’re rocking a long day.

And for the non-stoners in the house- what beverage?

CJ: I’m a pretty no-frills drinker. I like beer and whiskey. My little brother turned me onto whiskey-gingers, those are good. If I’m working I’ll drink the Kolsch or Tecate (the classy stuff). If my wits are not needed as much, I’ll usually go for an IPA.

Any shout-outs for stuff going on in the Bay Area?

CJ: Be sure to check out the SF Shotz shows, performed (usually) the second Wednesday of each month at Pianofight. Six new five minute plays, fully produced. Good rowdy fun. Also Loud and Unladylike has a great lineup this year! As does Olympians! And Best of Playground! Also Saturday Write Fever is always a good bit of creative cardio! The Circus Center is doing crazy cool stuff in their Cabaret Series and various showcases. Jaw-dropping. So much good stuff. All the freakin’ time. Very alive and well. (insert uplifting San Francisco song. Maybe the Foxygen one)

And what’s next for you?

CJ: I got a full slate coming up. I wrote a new show for Longshotz (the one-act offshoot of Shotz) that’s opening in early June. I will also be guest-producing the regular Shotz performance on June 8th. I have a few original short plays being published in August. In October I’ll be directing Terror-Rama 2: Prom Night for Awesome Theater at Pianofight. And I’m lobbying for a big directing gig in December that would expose me to a whole new style of performance. Fingers crossed. I’m also currently producing a web series in collaboration with the new Clown Conservatory. My partner in that endeavor and Director of the Conservatory, the immensely talented Sara Moore, is featured in Sticky Icky as the salty barfly Donelda.

Don’t miss STICKY ICKY- opening at Theater Pub on Monday May 23rd!

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Theater Around The Bay: Colin Johnson Is Creative

Our next show, The Creative Process, opens tonight at Theater Pub! We took a moment to chat with Colin Johnson, the playwright, about the show, making theater, and looking like a chump.

Colin offered no comment, just this cheese ball photo.

Colin offered no comment, just this cheese ball photo.

No, but really, who are you? 100 words or less.

I am Colin. I make theatre and movies and write and produce and act and sell books. I enjoy hiking and chronicling human misfortune in both comedic and horrific ways. I’ve been around the Bay since 2008 and have dabbled in every form of art and storytelling i could possibly taint. I’m currently involved with SF Playground, SF Shotz and SF Olympians, along with co-running my own small production venture, Battle Stache Studios.

And what is this show about? Like really about?

The show is about all the internal and external bullshit that goes into creating anything. The insecurity, the masking of insecurity, the spontaneous inspiration, the yelling, the overwhelming compulsion to be the center of attention and to be validated, the willingness (or refusal) to sell out, the desperation, etc.
We, of course, will wrap these themes into a ridiculous and entertaining format of three short plays, all loosely tied together through character and content. We will also include a live band in our attempt to shove as much art as possible into the experience.

Yeah, but why should I come see it?

First of all, the environment. Pianofight. Where else will you be able to drink, eat, see outrageous comedy and listen to a live band all on the same cabaret stage? Also, anyone who has ever created or produced art will identify with the scenarios we’re exploiting, and will hopefully enjoy the absurd lengths we go to in sketching out the eternal struggle of the artist.

Tell me about your creative process- how do you come up with ideas?

I have trained myself to pull ideas out of any and everything, often to the detriment of my social and romantic life. After conception, my process usually revolves around slight reorganization of my environment, pre-production (I’m big on pen-and-paper prep), and ruthless, energetic optimism. As someone who does a lot of film and theatre production and who recognizes the differences the two formats require, I relish the fact that every project requires a different approach and a different style. Whatever works. Creation isn’t a set menu, it’s a buffet.

And then what?

And then the key is making sure everyone you bring on board is just that: on board. If you surround yourself with amazing people who have faith in the product, the finish line will appear out of even the darkest moments.

What’s your favorite part of the creative process?

Collaboration. I love getting friends and colleagues in the same room and jamming. Creating the perfect creative environment where everyone feels free to experiment and express themselves is the best workplace I could imagine.

What’s the part that makes you want to tear your eyes out?

That’s a multi-tiered answer with a nifty little twist. The final run-up. In independent production, you can be damn sure that Murphy’s Law will rear its ugly head sooner or later. And those obstacles usually show up at the WORST POSSIBLE TIME. Also the occasional bad attitude that sneaks into projects. There’s nothing worse than a morale vaccuum roaming free on set or in rehearsal. Thirdly, the maddening lack of funds and/or production assistance the average independent project has to deal with. These days, there are so many odds stacked against you when you launch a project or a show. The culture is saturated. However, I see this problem as an exciting challenge and an opportunity to forge ahead with new ideas and new presentations. If stress is a motivator for you, if you thrive under the gun, look nowhere else to get your kicks.

How do you know when something is a bust and just isn’t going to happen?

For me, as someone who is enticed by even the smallest projects and has a hard time saying “no”, the realization that something will bust comes early in the process. If the energy isn’t there, if the core idea takes more than 3 minutes to describe, if you find that people in creative roles aren’t condusive to your own process, or, as I’ve just begun to learn, if there’s nothing in it for me, ideally in terms of compensation but more realistically in networking, If I know I’ll not be able to give it all my energy and won’t take something new and valuable from the experience, I’ll move on.Once that perpetual snowball starts rolling, though, I will finish. Even if it becomes something it was never intended to become, even if cast members drop out or the venue catches on fire, once I have concrete work done and have decided to finish something, I will finish it.

How do you know when something is finished?

When I’m content enough to walk away with a modicum of satisfaction. Nothing will ever be perfect or exactly the way you envisioned. The trick is letting it go and moving on. There’s always another opportunity to screw everything up.

Who are the artists who you respect the most and what about their process do you identify with?

I have major respect for artists who can swing back and forth between multiple formats and styles. I’ve been waiting to see what lands on top, theatre or film, for 10 years now and it’s turned into a constant back and forth. My immediate interests at the moment are finding ways to combine the two in organic, innovative ways and enhance certain types of stories. People like Martin McDonaugh, Clive Barker, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Orson Welles, just to name a few, all move seamlessly between multiple forms of expression, from film to theatre to music to books to radio to painting to everything in between. I guess basically I’m trying to say that someday I hope to EGOT. A fella can dream.

Don’t miss The Creative Process, starting tonight at PianoFight at 8