Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Renaissance Woman

Marissa Skudlarek, on weaving a tale in another time, another place. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been living with half my head in the 21st century and half of it in the Renaissance. I’ve been hard at work readying my new full-length play Juana, or the Greater Glory for a staged reading on Saturday night as part of the Loud and Unladylike Festival, and therefore I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mad queens, scheming dukes, and sickly princes.

Juana tells the incredible true story of a young Spanish Habsburg princess in the mid-1550s, who is the only woman ever to become a Jesuit. This is an earlier era of history than I’ve ever really tackled in writing before: I’ve written full-length plays that take place in 20th-century America, and at least one of my short Olympians Festival plays takes place in vaguely defined “classical” times, but never a full-length play that takes place in such a different time and country.

The 1550s in Spain and Portugal are well-documented enough for us to know what happened and who was involved with it (at least when it comes to royal and aristocratic families), but not necessarily enough for us to know the reasons why certain things happened or why people made the decisions they did. Maybe this would be different if I’d improved my ability to read Renaissance Spanish, gone to Madrid, and sought out old documents in obscure archives; but from the perspective of a 21st-century Californian with passable but not expert Spanish, doing most of my research on the Internet, I’ve been able to put together a timeline of the key events of Juana’s life, but not to read her words or understand more than the bare facts about her. But, as a playwright, this is what I love: the historical facts give me a structure, but I get to flesh out my characters’ psychology and motivations, and make them my own. In a way, this is similar to what I’ve done when writing mythology-based plays for the Olympians Festival: Greek myths provide a vivid cast of characters and the outlines of a plot, but not necessarily an explanation for why the gods and mortals behave as they do. Writing mythology-based plays prepared me for writing a play based on a distant, dramatic era of history that (from my perspective) might as well be myth.

I feel like the 1550s setting also forces me to be a stronger writer, since I cannot fall back on appeals to persons, places, or things that the audience will find familiar. Many young writers, having seen too many episodes of The Simpsons or 30 Rock, think that cleverness in writing is merely a matter of making endless pop culture allusions. Writing a play that takes place in the Renaissance strips you of that crutch. You can allude to the Bible, to Greco-Roman mythology and history, to certain folk tales, and that’s about it. I do have to be clever – especially because I am writing about a person and a period of history that are pretty obscure to American audiences – in order to convey the necessary backstory without boring or confusing the audience. But it is not the superficial glittering cleverness of pop culture allusion and snark.

 Portrait of Princess Juana by Sofonisba Anguissola, via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Princess Juana by Sofonisba Anguissola, via Wikimedia Commons

While drafting Juana, I motivated myself with thoughts of “What would Shakespeare do?” If you are writing historical drama about medieval or Renaissance-era royalty, it makes sense to look at how Shakespeare did it, and especially, how he wasn’t afraid to combine characters, ignore facts, and invent encounters out of whole cloth, as long as they made for better drama. “What would Shakespeare do?” therefore is my way of justifying my own elisions, inventions, and places where I deliberately ignore the facts. I haven’t done too much of that in Juana: the main examples I can think of are that I’ve aged up a child from about 9 to about 14, for both plot and produceability reasons; and I’m saying that a certain Spanish nobleman was in Spain during this time when really he was in England. But frankly, this is nothing compared to what Shakespeare did. I want to honor Princess Juana’s amazing true story – I’ve really come to love and admire her through writing this play – but I do not feel an obligation to fact-check every line I write.

All the same, I’ve done a lot of research for this project. I’ve read 400 pages of writings by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. I’ve nearly driven myself nuts trying to calculate how long it would take letters to get from Lisbon to Madrid, and Madrid to Rome, circa 1550. I’ve learned the symptoms of juvenile diabetes, the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and the rules for what was and wasn’t permitted during Lent in the 1550s. I’ve looked up the names of all of the Catholic kings of Europe at the time and whether they had sons of marriageable age (this information is now in a document on my computer titled “Possible second husbands” and I giggle every time I see it). More than anything else, I’ve tried my best to get into that death-haunted, Catholic, hierarchical worldview that characterizes Renaissance-era Spain. Before the invention of modern medicine, people by necessity thought about death more than we do. That awareness of and conscious preparation for death is present in writers of the period, like Shakespeare, and also in modern pieces of historical fiction and drama. (I joke that I’m going to turn Juana into a rap musical so that she can proclaim “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory” and “See, I never thought I’d live past twenty.”)

Yet there is also the danger of too much research, of writing something that would be better as a novel or nonfiction piece than as a play. Juana, or The Greater Glory covers about two years of Juana’s life (the most eventful and dramatic years, IMO) – and it’s been a bit of a challenge to compress two years of events into a two-hour play. But the problem would have been even more acute if I’d tried to cover an even longer period of time. Juana’s son Sebastian, for instance, who appears in my play only as an infant, grew up to have a short but fascinating life as the King of Portugal. He would be a great subject for a play. Someone else’s play.

See the staged reading of Marissa Skudlarek’s play Juana, or the Greater Glory at PianoFight on Saturday, July 16 at 7:30 PM. (Note the start time!) Tickets here.

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Follow the Vodka: Everyday Theatricality!

Robert Estes, theater’s super-tailgater.

White Chapel copy

Ah, the dedication of the night columnist! Late on a Monday night, I’m still diligently laboring at the newest gin joint in the city, White Chapel (600 Polk Street). This place is a fantastical recreation of an abandoned tube station in London; well, except that the station in question, White Chapel is actually still operating. Here, though, the imaginary abandoned station has become a lovingly rendered 1890s gin palace.

When I first looked at White Chapel’s extensive drink menu, I fell in love with the two page listing of twenty-two drinks under the heading “The Martini Family.” Who knows if the dates and descriptions given to all the drinks are academically accurate; I’m not interested in fact-checking the menu, only drink-checking it. So, tonight I began my ginventure by having the first drink on the list, the Pink Gin (dated 1840s), composed of Plymouth Gin and angostura bitters.

I love that the early reviews for this place kept mentioning all the “fake” things about the recreation, such as fake water damage. My theater self couldn’t help but say, it’s not fake, it’s distressed, it’s Theater!

Indeed, it’s fascinating to realize how many bars in the city have become insanely popular by creating an immersive theatrical experience for their drinkers, I mean patrons. An entity called Future Bars now owns nine different local bars, all theatrically presented, ranging from the just opened Pagan Idol tiki bar to the old-standby Bourbon and Branch speakeasy.

It makes me think that so often in theater we wonder how to attract an audience, yet somehow people outside of us, use our rough magic to create very popular events. Even real estate agents know in their bones how important it is to the sale price of a property for it to be properly “staged” at the open house.

On a much greater scale, the mass popularity of sports rests on a ham-handed strict adherence to the principle of dramatic conflict. The “classic matchup” between this team and that one or this player and that one sells all! And franchises encourage theatricality on the part of their fans. One of the joys of going to a sporting event in person is to experience the unconscious theatricality of everyday people as they come to cheer on their team.

I always laugh to myself when I happen to be on a Sunday morning BART train on the day of a Oakland Raiders home game. Raiders fans are legendary for their elaborate costumes, intricate makeup, and outlandish accessories! I would love to compliment them on their detailed and beautiful theatricality, but I also wish to retain my front teeth, so I just smile to myself. But if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend surreptitiously checking out the character-specific costuming choices of the rebel/pirate/Star Wars/Hells’s Angel’s Raider Nation.

And on a smaller, humbler, yet just as faithful way, please notice the down-scale yet touching outfits of the long-suffering A’s fan. They still wear player jerseys from the 1970s. Being the team of my single-digit -year days (oh the love of an 8 -and-a-half-year-old for his team), I still am, on the inside, a fan wearing my Dad’s San Francisco Giants cap inside-out in shame in the bleachers in 1969, when that area was known as Reggie’s Regiment. It was a cold night and my dad would not let me go bare-headed.

Just the other day, after spending the last ten months indoors in rehearsal and performance for five consecutive shows, I happily returned to the Coliseum for a day game. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel the connection in so many ways between baseball and theater. Both are places of memories. There are ghosts on the playing field just as on the playing stage. Looking out at the infield where the shortstop plays, I see Campy Campaneris, Rob Picciolo, Alfredo Griffin, Walt Weiss, just as when I look at various Bay Area stages, I see Tony Amedola, Lorri Holt, John Bellucci, Michelle Morain, Sarah Moser.

I still remember the first that I saw James Carpenter. He was a young man in Otherwise Engaged at the Berkeley Rep in 1984. Like most theatergoers, I’ve seen him so many times since then, all the way from his nervous comic performance in Paint it Red at the Rep to a slithery Stanley in The Birthday Party at the Aurora. It was kind of a shock when he started playing the older, patriarchal “ravenous Earls” in Shakespeare. (Maybe we’ve both gotten older!) Still, it’s been fun to follow his career. Just like it’s been fun to follow my favorite baseball players as a fan.

kind of wish that theater had more of the “true fans” just like baseball. The true fan attends the game even if their team isn’t doing very well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a devoted group of people who rooted for us! Let’s go, PianoFight! Three-peat! Well, maybe PF does have those fans! Seriously, though, as my previous night column touched on, it would be great if we could support theater without it always having to be (allegedly) amazing.

Yet we’re kind of lucky in theater when compared to athletes, because everything we do is subjective. Pity the poor baseball player who’s having a bad year! Could you see your worst review being highlighted every day by the theater company where you perform? In baseball, every team shows the player’s statistics before every at-bat. “Now standing at the plate to deliver To Be or Not to Be, the actor with the .198 batting average for the season!” Shudder.

Perhaps perversely, I admit that I actually enjoy going to baseball games when my team isn’t doing as well. It’s almost like going to an audition as the marginal players engage in a Darwinian struggle to remain alive in the show (major leagues). I remember one actor saying that he thought certain audience members deliberately chose to attend the first preview of every show because they wanted to see a trainwreck. Of course, life-long humiliation is one of darker sides to sports…who will ever forget the name of the Boston Red Sox’s first baseman who let the ground ball go through his legs in a World Series game thirty years ago?

In the make-believe of theater, where every corpse arises for a joyful linking of hands for the curtain call, we all live for another day, I hope without humiliation. Still, it takes bravery for actors to be absolutely vulnerable in front of so many people. The nerves of the athlete under pressure must surely be like the nerves of the actor. And for the fans, it is their personal nerves in watching that bind them to the emotional event of the game or the play.

Personally, baseball has influenced my work in theater. Last summer, I directed an adapted version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 called Falstaff! in which the great rogue was played by six different women. The women would also play other roles and the men changed roles as well, so Prince Hal could be Poins and vice versa. The first performance or two was kind of confusing as we worked out the switches, but as the production moved forward, I was pleased that the show developed a great feeling of generosity as everyone had an equal part in carrying the whole play. By the end it was actually like a baseball game where everyone gets their turn at the plate. And for the audience, it was exciting because they weren’t quite sure who they would see playing what role next.

I’ve often thought that the advantage of sports over theater is that we don’t know what will happen in sports. Why couldn’t we, just one time, with no announcement, alter the ending to one of Shakespeare’s plays? Wouldn’t it be great if Emilia said, “Hey, wait a minute, I gave that handkerchief to my husband”? Could you imagine the gasps from the audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival if they did that? There could be riots!

Perhaps the appeal of the Shotgun Players’ current Hamlet (running for the next year!), where everyone in the cast learned the entire show and each actor is assigned their part for a particular performance only 5 minutes before show time, comes from each show being part theater and part sports. You really don’t know what will happen each night. And, being honest, there’s a higher chance of a trainwreck on stage each night, which again, is part of the appeal of sports. I wonder if each show seems to the actors like an athletic game, where nightly success or failure is a more open question than in a conventional production.

But then in baseball, we see success and failure in every game. We also see practice. Yes, go the park two hours before game time and you can see batting practice. I wonder if it would be possible to open our theater houses early and let our fans (oh again, how I would love to have fans) see the vocal warm-ups or fight call. For the true fans that would really make attending theater like attending a baseball game!

Well, how much of all of this found synchronicity between baseball and theater is just fine Plymouth gin speaking? This 1840s-era drink is fiery and it’s numbing my tongue! Now as the bar closes and my rambling thoughts on the connections between baseball and theater grow ever more tenuous, I’ll just say Play Theater!

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Who Needs a National Theatre?

In which Dave Sikula decries institutional theatre.

A few days ago, I was one of the many thousands who have been trooping to movie theatres to see a broadcast of Benedict Cumberbatch in the National Theatre’s production of Hamlet. I’ll begin this by saying that I’m generally a fan of Mr. Cumberbatch’s (the film of August: Osage County excepted; but, other than Margo Martindale, no one got out of that movie alive) and was highly looking forward to it.

My take on the overall reaction is that it’s been generally favorable, with reservations. That was pretty much my reaction. It was intelligent, reasonably well-spoken, and coherent, but not very gripping. (I’ll mention here that my wife loved it and found it “muscular” and though it clarified many of the knottier aspects of the text, so the opinions expressed herein are my own.)

What it lacked for me, though, was any sense of danger or even visceral excitement. In my mind, if Hamlet is anything, it’s everything. It’s a meditation on mortality. It’s a revenge story. It’s a comedy, a tragedy, a ghost story, an examination of the thought process. You name it, it’s got it. There’s so much in it that the one thing it shouldn’t be is routine. It’s not just another play; it’s the play. It’s the role. There’s got to be a reason to do it.

Unfortunately, the production I saw was just kinda there, trapped in a concept that had something to so with a big house and a lot of dirt. (Seriously, I felt sorry for the stage crew that had to lug all that dirt on stage at intermission and then clean it all up at the end of the evening.) It felt like the director had a big star and the huge budget that came with him and decided to spend all of it on her set rather than trying to tell her story in a gripping manner.

I’ve explained before about how tired I am of plays from London being broadcast on American movie screens. I’ve got nothing against the Brits per se, but I am tired of them being cast as Americans (I mean, how many more crappy accents do I need to hear?) and seeing their shows held up perfect exemplars of theatrical excellence. (“They have Training!”)

But the specific problem with this Hamlet, to me, was that, since the National is subsidized and paid for by the government, while it may not be swimming in money, it has so much that it can waste it on elephantine sets representing Elsinore.

The program cover. A shiny dime to anyone who can explain its relevance to the production.

The program cover. A shiny dime to anyone who can explain its relevance to the production.

Every so often, we hear calls for an American National Theatre. There have been numerous attempts to create one over the decades, probably as early as Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Rep in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Ellis Rabb’s APA-Phoenix in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and Tony Randall’s National Actors Theatre in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The problem with this plan is that it almost always centers around New York (there was some talk of creating a company at the Kennedy Center in Washington, but it didn’t last and was a rarity). That talk makes sense in that the center of commercial American theatre is indeed those 15 or so blocks in midtown Manhattan, but it also assumes that that’s the only place anything worthwhile is being done and that only work with a commercial focus is worthy. (One might also add parenthetically that it also seems to be the only place Equity actors who want to work in the Bay Area come from.)

This theory is, of course, arrant nonsense. One would be hard pressed to find a corner of the country where interesting and vital work isn’t being done. Seattle, Portland, Ashland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego – and that’s just part of the west coast and leaves out Denver, Chicago, Dallas, DC, Boston, Cleveland, Florida, Louisville, Minneapolis, and on and on and on and on. Any of these cities is producing work that can stand with anything done anyplace on the globe, but, of course, most of the country will never see or hear of it because it doesn’t come with the imprimatur of having a London or New York pedigree.

It makes sense for the Brits to put an English national theatre in London. The capitol is the center of the U.K.’s entertainment industry. TV, radio, film, and theatre are all headquartered there. But how would we justify placing an American national theatre in just one city? I suppose it would be possible to emulate the Federal Theatre of the New Deal era and have multiple locations and troupes, but the whole point of theatre is to be in that room with those people while they tell a story. Even screening productions in movie theatres wouldn’t be a solution, because, for all our pretenses, it’s really just another movie at that point. This is especially true if the production is recorded rather than live. Those actors are going to do the exact same things in the exact same way for eternity. The spontaneity and reaction to the audience that are at the heart of the art don’t exist. It doesn’t matter if the theatre is full or empty; the performances and production are frozen and will not change.

I remember in 1976, Christopher Durang and Mel Marvin’s A History of the American Film (which, I might add, is a very funny show that someone ought to revive – although, frankly, Americans’ knowledge of classic film isn’t as strong now as it was then, so most of the references would be lost) had three simultaneous premiere productions, in Los Angeles (where I saw it), Hartford, and DC. Was one of these more official than the other two? Despite doing the same script at the same time – even if they somehow each had the same design and same director (which they didn’t) – each was different because of the unique casts, venues, and regional receptions. There was no way to centralize the productions, and there never will be. Even a tour, which might be the best/only solution, would have variations from venue to venue.

The

The “Salad Bowl” number from A History of the American Film.

But the larger point, even if we could figure out a reasonable solution to the problem, was embodied for me in Hamlet and other shows I’ve seen at the National (either in person or on screen). They can be well done – really well done – but they’re safe and don’t take any risks. I don’t know if it’s that they don’t want to upset their government sponsors or don’t feel any pressure, but it never feels like there’s an imperative behind it. They’re nice to look at and intelligent, but they’re antiseptic.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I had no prejudice against the production because it had a big star in it. As I said, I him and actually applaud him for doing it. And there’s nothing wrong with big names in plays. I couldn’t have enjoyed Kevin Spacey or Nathan Lane in their own productions of The Iceman Cometh or Peter Falk and Joe Mantegna and Peter Falk in Glengarry Glen Ross, Harold Pinter in (yes, in) Old Times, or Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot any more if I’d tried.

The shows I’ve loved the most in my life – Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil production of Richard II, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamophoses, José Quintero’s The Iceman Cometh, Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and Ghost Quartet, even Casey Nicholaw’s The Drowsy Chaperone – were big and bold and personal and even messy in places, but there was a recognizable artistic sensibility behind them. They were shows that had to be done.

Mr. Malloy in Natasha and Pierre.

Mr. Malloy in Natasha and Pierre.

When I was in college, I remember overhearing the faculty planning the shows they’d be doing the next year. There was no excitement about the choices; it was more like “Well, we haven’t done a Moliere for a while … ” or “Do you want to do a Shakespeare this year?” “Naw, how about an Ibsen?” “Yeah. I guess … ”

If that kind of listless programming is the cost of creating a national theatre that doesn’t take enough chances to endanger its funding, I’ll take regional theatres that at least try something different.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Let’s Talk About Shakespeare, Shall We?

In Which the Author (ever-ready Dave Sikula) Saves His Outrage for More Important Matters.

Okay, even though I said in our last meeting that I wasn’t going to talk about this whole “Let’s Update Shakespeare” thing, I guess the time has come to do so.
In what may strike some of my constant readers as surprising, this plan doesn’t bother me in the least.

I do think that, in its current form, it’s incredibly stupid and yet another step down to the road a complete illiterate society – particularly in regard to cultural literacy – but it’s hardly worth getting outraged over.

(Sidenote: In 2006, I was in Los Angeles for … something … and spent a pleasant evening at the Arclight Cinemas. On the program? Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. I’m sure many – if not most – of you have seen it by now, so I won’t bother to recap the plot. Suffice it to say, it was that rare movie that, when I came out of it, had altered my perceptions of the world in which I live. From that day to this, everywhere I look, I see evidence of its predictions coming true.)

But I digress …

Part of this dumbing down (if I may call it that) is the way media companies insist on repackaging, rebooting, and remaking old properties, movies, TV shows, comics – whatever. Inevitably, when one of these projects is announced, folks all around the Internet get their proverbial knickers in a proverbial twist and bitch about how something they loved in their childhood is about to be irretrievably ruined. While it usually is (has any remake ever worked?), I don’t understand why people get themselves upset by it.

I’ll admit I used to get upset about this stuff myself until I had the epiphany that, while the new version was inevitably going to suck, the original was still around and unlikely to go away, so the inferior version could be happily ignored. (Just today, I saw some outrage over remakes of both Mary Poppins and The Wild Bunch. Reasonable minds can disagree over whether these were done correctly the first time (hint: one was, one is not so good), but why get upset over the idea at all?

Interestingly, I think the theatre is the only place where “reboots” are not only encouraged, but the norm. While we all want to do new work, more often than not, we’re working on a script that someone else has done somewhere else. With very, very rare exceptions, multiple movies or television shows are not shot from the same scripts; nor are books or comics redone from the same texts; they’re just reprinted. But how often do we do productions from an existing script? And how many times does that script get done in the same area over and over? I think there must have been about 20 Addams Familys, Chicagos, August: Osage Countys, and Glengarry Glen Rosses over the past year – each of them presenting the same characters speaking the same words. If something like that happened on multiple television networks or at the movies, people would be astounded, but when it comes to plays, we don’t even blink.

Let's see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

Let’s see Terry Crews do some damn Shakespeare!

This is particularly true for poor old Shakespeare. The canon is relatively small (36? 37 plays?), so you’re going to see the same plays over and over (and in some cases, over and over and over and over; nothing against the folks who want to do them, but I really don’t need to see Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet or a couple of others again; I’ve seen them, I got them, I’m done with them).

Because of the limited tunestack and the multiple productions of them, it’s only logical that directors are going to screw around with them in terms of setting, “concept,” textual cuts, and even scene order. As much Shakespeare as I’ve seen (and it’s a lot), I can count on the fingers of one hand the ones that didn’t cut the text. (I’d offer a link to that tired Onion article about “Director does Shakespeare production in setting author intended;” but you’ve all seen it … ). Why do we do it? Two reasons. One, they can be pretty damn long (even when done well), and there’s stuff that just doesn’t translate from 17th century England. (Especially the clowns. My gosh; is there anything less funny than a Shakespearean clown?)

Even with that, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any production of any Shakespeare play that I didn’t zone out of at least once. It happens. But that – and one other reason I’ll deal with in a minute – has never been a barrier. To say the most obvious thing ever, as long as the actors know the intentions of what they’re saying are, you don’t need to understand every word. Sit back and they’ll get you through it.

So it’s not just that the language doesn’t need translating, though, it’s that, in many cases, the people who’ve been hired to do it shouldn’t be allowed to write a grocery list, let alone rewrite Shakespeare. (I’m not going to mention names, but suffice it to say when I saw some of the names either writing or dramaturging, I rolled these tired old eyes at the usual suspects.)

Will gets the news.

Will gets the news.

Lemme give you a for instance. NPR covered the story and cited this translation by Kenneth Cavender from Timon of Athens.

The original:

Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’ the instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast; rather
Than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal;
Large handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law.

Cavender’s improvement:

Servants

And clowns, kick the grizzled old senators
Out of their offices and legislate in their place …
Innocent virgins, turn sluttish now – why wait? –
And do it while your parents watch … Bankrupt?
Keep your money, and if your creditors demand
Payment, pick up a knife and cut their throats.
Workers, steal – your bosses are crooks

In fine suits, bandits raking in their loot,
Legalized pirates.

I can only speak for myself here, but I find the original perfectly comprehensible. Granted, I had to read it more than once and have read and acted in a lot of Shakespeare on my own, but I understand what it’s saying – as would any actor who’s playing the role and who should be able to convey the meaning. The “translation” is easier for a modern American audience to understand, but loses everything in terms of poetry and flow of language. Basically, it sucks.

In spite of my antipathy toward the project, I totally understand the motivation behind it. The variety of voices, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds of the writers is only to be welcomed in terms of telling the stories, but where I think Ashland went wrong was in not going far enough. The writers are limited to keeping the originals as intact as possible while clearing up only occasional moments of potential confusion. If there’s anything we know about Shakespeare, though (and we know quite a lot – and more than enough to tell the Oxfordians to shut the hell up because Shakespeare wrote the damn plays), is that he did nothing so much as steal plots and characters from other writers and (mostly) improve them.

Given the choice of seeing someone ruin Timon of Athens by making it more “accessible” or seeing someone take the plot and ideas and make something new out of it – I know which option I’d take. The original is always going to be there, so why not take a damn chance?

Cowan Palace: Ten Times I Broke The Rules And It Ruled!

Ashley’s not always much of a rule breaker but when she is… it’s something!

When we last met as a Theater Pub unit to talk about the rest of the year, the bloggers decided to use September as a way to explore “breaking the rules” in theatre. So, to get things going, here are ten times I broke the rules:

1.) Cat Improv

Closing night of Godspell (the last play I did before leaving New York) I decided it’d be funny if I changed my normal, expected “adlib” line about being too busy to being too busy because I had to wax my cat. (Looking back, I think I was trying to impress some boy I had a crush on who had miraculously traveled all the way out to Queens to see the show after months of my begging.) Sure, some of the cast wanted to kill me because the random weird new line made them break but the audience LOLed and I thought I was a bad ass. As I always say, it’s the cat’s pajamas when you can improv a line about a feline.

2.) The Switch

It was a double show day a few months into Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding (the interactive, Italian wedding show!). We hadn’t brought on many swings or understudies yet and almost of of the cast had been playing the same part each night. After one performance as “the dorky” bridesmaid my castmate, who was scheduled to play “the sexy singer” bridesmaid, mentioned she didn’t feel like wearing her character’s heels for the next show. I tried them on for fun in the ladies dressing room and we started joking about switching parts. (Considering we both had the same dress on anyway, it would only take a few different accessories to become the other character.) But this was at the beginning of the run when we had a pretty strict and regimented production team who absolutely would have said no to the request. We decided to just do it without telling anyone figuring they wouldn’t stop the show and make us switch back. (So sneaky, right?!) The new role I was covering required me to sing four songs and make out with a groomsman without having practiced either activity. Whoa, baby, it was quite the show! And even though we got a stern talking to about our switch, it opened the door to being able to play more of the parts in the show. I then went on to sing many more songs and stage kiss many more groomsmen.

3.) Dating My Co-Star

Not sure if it’s really a rule but it’s certainly not always the best idea. Lucky for me it worked out. And we made a baby. A beautiful theater baby and actual child. Boom. Thanks, fellow actor/blogger Will Leschber!

4.) Getting Too Into Character

It was my first weekend playing Tina (in Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding) and I took the whole “in your face, interactive Italian bride” role pretty seriously. Near the end of the show, Tony and Tina have a big fight where they break up (spoiler alert: they get back together) and I grabbed a glass from someone’s table and threw it at my Tony. The glass shattered and water spilled on a couple attending the show. After the performance I was asked to never do that again by our stage manager. But then a guy who had been at the show (and drank way too much) came up to us and told me I was so fierce that I “must have real balls”. He then spelled “balls” incorrectly and missed a high five. It was rad and totally worth it.

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

Dear God, It’s Me Ashley

5.) Turning On My Phone

While rehearsing God Satan Beer (part of Theater Pub’s second Pint-Sized Festival) I had the instinct during one rehearsal to play God as a real dick and just start taking selfies of myself during Satan’s smart and poignant monologue. We ended up keeping the bit (after cleaning it up and better defining it) and I got treasured show pictures every night!

A tale of two dresses…

A tale of two dresses…

6.) Sewing A Wedding Dress

When I first got to play Tina in TNT they costumed me in a dress that had long sleeves (though they were too short to fully cover my arms). It was also slightly too wide and too short. And, covered in random sequins and lace. Then our show switched venues and a bunch of our clothes never made it to the new location. Including that dress. (Perhaps it returned to the magical Lisa Frank world from once it came). I knew I couldn’t fit into the dress worn by some of the other Tinas but I didn’t want to tell our production team because I knew they’d take away my chance to play the part. So I found the backup dress that I could almost fit into. Then I stole it from our collection and brought it home (huge no no). Next, I cut it apart and sewed it together to fit me better. Keep in mind, I can barely dress myself sometimes and I really don’t know much about sewing. But somehow after hours of effort, I pulled it off! I had a dress I could wear. When I put it on for my first show back in the role, one of my castmates told me she hoped I could wear that dress in my own wedding because it seemed “made for me”. I did not wear it for my own wedding but that comment still makes me laugh.

7.) An Unconventional Headshot

Before I auditioned for Terrorama, I sent the production team a picture from a film I did in NYC as my headshot and resume. It’s just me screaming in a nightgown. Awesome (Theatre), right?

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t this girl have her own musical/horror/reality show yet?!

8.) Male Monologues

For two years whenever I was asked to have a monologue ready, I went in with a male Shakespearean selection. For some reason, I always felt free to make bigger choices with them. Now this tactic did not always result in getting into the show but I like to think it helped with playing Viola in Twelfth Night.

9.) Auditioning With A TLC Song

Not a whole lot more to say other than I sang an acapella version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” at an audition that asked us to have a more classically driven song prepared. I did not get cast. But I have no regrets! One step closer to achieving my solo TLC cover band dream.

10.) Drinking On The Job

Now, I’m pretty strict about not drinking during a show. Even when I’ve played characters who were drunk and suppose to be drinking AND the director allowed me to have a real drink, I’ve always asked for the non alcoholic stuff. I have way too many butterflies before and during a show and booze doesn’t lend itself well to that (for me). But during one TNT show, when I was back to playing “the dorky bridesmaid”, a table ordered me and one of the groomsmen a shot and demanded we take it together. We tried to talk our way out of it but they insisted. Plus, the drinks were expensive! So in the nature of the “yes, and” style of the show, we took them. Even though it was just one drink, it felt a little dangerous and reckless (again, for me). Enough to say, alright, I did that but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Even if it’s just my own silly rules, sometimes it’s cool not to break them.

Cowan Palace: Colleen, Eden, And Jessica Walk Into A Bar…

… and delight Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Play Festival’s audiences!

Well, Pint-Sized plays have officially returned to San Francisco! And after two performances earlier this week with packed houses, the festival is very much alive and thriving. Completing this creative team of superheroes are three actors who kindly offered me some of their time to chat about their experiences performing in this year’s show. The lovely and talented, Colleen Egan, Eden Neuendorf, and Jessica Rudholm!

Tell us a little more about the character(s) you’ll be playing.

Colleen Egan: I will be playing two very different women who are being cheated on by their male significant others. They go about dealing with their anguish in different ways. One woman decides to plot a sweet 1940’s noir-style revenge and the other shotguns a beer to drown her sorrows. I feel like my response to that type of betrayal (as Colleen) would fall somewhere in between.

Eden Neuendorf: I play 3 different characters throughout the evening. Each is a different aspect of my own personality and all three are in very different states of mind. Amy is having some problems in her personal life and is seeking the help from her BFF who is too busy playing Candy Crush to pay attention.

Grace is probably my biggest challenge in the festival because she is a science nerd. (Just typing science made my eyes gloss over.) So I needed to teach myself what I’m actually saying so I can explain it in truth. Even though this one was the biggest challenge for me, I think Grace is closest to me as a real life person. Adam and Grace have a very complicated relationship and we get to see them interact in their adorable, nerdy awkwardness.

Finally, Sage is the character who is so open and just having a great time in the bar. This is by far the easiest one for me to play. I mean, I’ve already been having a good time in a bar leading up to it. Last night some of the patrons at the bar sang along to the song with me. That was the best!

Jessica Rudholm: I play two characters: 1) Alice – a woman looking for love in all the wrong places, and 2) Stella Artois – a woman who just wants to be left alone with her Heineken Lite.

Jessica, enjoying a moment alone in a very crowded bar.

Jessica, enjoying a moment alone in a very crowded bar.

If your character was a pint of something to drink, what would they be?

Colleen Egan: Alicia (from People Having Important Conversations While On Their Phones, Part 4) would have anything alcoholic. Amelia (from Magic Trick) would have a martini, but just one, she needs to keep her scheming wits about her.

Eden Neuendorf: Amy is totally a stiff martini. Grace is an IPA girl all the way. Sage is any kind of beer the bar has available to her. She’s not picky, she’s just down for a good time.

Jessica Rudholm: STELLA!!!!! I’m not sure about Alice – is there an awkward beer?

What’s the best part of performing in a bar?

Colleen Egan: I like that anything can happen. I know that sounds pretty cliche, but you need to stay on your toes because you cannot expect things to go according to plan, which is great practice for an actor, or really just for any human. I am also particularly stoked to be performing in *this* bar because my parents used to go on dates to Original Joe’s before they got married and they’ll be going on a date to see Pint-Sized. So you know, things come full circle or something.

Eden Neuendorf: The best part is that it’s always different. You are always fighting to keep the attention on your scene in the bar. I love that challenge. I love that things will always be different.

Jessica Rudholm: The spontaneity that comes with live theatre is even more tangible because you are melding it with a working bar. Anything could happen. I love that.

What’s been the biggest surprise (and/or challenge) in being involved in this year’s production?

Colleen Egan: It has been a whirlwind! Marissa cast me on Tuesday and I’m in a show in less than a week! It’s a bit of a challenge but more than anything it’s exhilarating!

Eden Neuendorf: I knew that it was going to be fun to perform in Pint-Sized, but I had no idea it would be THIS MUCH FUN! Drinking beers while acting is a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Jessica Rudholm: The size of the audience has been amazing! It’s been standing room only for both nights so far which means the actors need to be flexible with the blocking, and loud – so much ambient noise!

Colleen as a pint! As imagined by Ashley’s photo app.

Colleen as a pint! As imagined by Ashley’s photo app.

What do you think would happen if we sent The Llama (played by Rob Ready) and The Bear (played by Allison Page) to Vegas together with five hundred bucks?

Colleen Egan: I mean, I hope they would get married by Elvis. But I’m a hopeless romantic. Realistically they would end up in jail.

Eden Neuendorf: So much beautiful love and partying would happen. The money would be gone right away, but there would be a wedding…and then an “oh shit” moment. I’d really like to see them on stage after that trip.

Jessica Rudholm: I think they would blow it on the slot machines in 20 minutes. Or maybe have a romantic evening eating all the meatballs at a buffet and following it up with front row tickets to Celine Dion’s concert.

What drink can your fans buy you after the show? Feel free to request snacks!

Colleen Egan: I love pretzels but please no one buy me anything. Just hug me. I’ll be full of nerves!

Eden Neuendorf: Fans can buy me another 805 Blonde. Or an IPA. Or any kind of beer. All of the beers.

Jessica Rudholm: Kombucha. I love Kombucha. Unfortunately it’s not sold at PianoFight.

You heard the woman, give her all the beers! (Photo by: Ignacio Zulueta)

You heard the woman, give her all the beers! (Photo by: Ignacio Zulueta)

Other than your fantastic performances, what’s your favorite part in the evening to watch?

Colleen Egan: I LOVE the play set in the Mos Eisley Cantina! I think it will be hilarious for everyone, but if you’re a Star Wars geek you’ll really embarrass yourself laughing.

Eden Neuendorf: The Bear starts the evening off right. I love hearing her roar into the room. It gets the party started for sure! I love the short vignettes of people having important conversations while on their phones. The dialogue is so pointed and all of the actors are nailing it! The scenes seem extreme, but I think everyone of us can relate. Also, The Llama. That Llama gets me every time.

Jessica Rudholm: Star Wars! And of course Beer Bear and Llama!

Where can we see you performing next?

Colleen Egan: I’ll be playing a witch in Bell, Book and Candle with Piedmont Repertory Theatre in Oakland this Halloween season.

Eden Neuendorf: I perform in Shotz the second Wednesday of every month at PianoFight. Everyone should come check out Shotz, especially if you enjoy Pint-Sized.

Jessica Rudholm: I will be in Theatre Pub’s October production of Richard III as Queen Margaret and the Duchess, and then next year I will be in Custom Made’s production of Middletown as Tour Guide/Attendant.

In twenty words or less, why should we come see this year’s festival?

Colleen Egan: I think this type of engaging, immersive theater is fun and good for the mind and just plain fun.

Eden Neuendorf: Delicious beer, fun people, solid truthful moments, tons of laughter.

Jessica Rudholm: It’s great fun!

So fans, you only have two more chances to see these three talented performers alongside the rest of the fantastic group responsible for 2015’s Pint-Sized plays. Get yourself to PianoFight next Monday and Tuesday to be a part of the beer enhanced magic!

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!

pintsized-01-4 copy

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!