Follow the Vodka: My Left Shoulder

Our favorite tippler Robert Estes, shouldering his load.

So, gentle reader of the chronicles of Follow the Vodka, I will digress before I begin the piece properly. As your intrepid night columnist, I had planned on writing about the piano bar The Alley on Grand Avenue in Oakland and the octogenarian pianist Rod Dibble, who has been playing there before recorded history. In my many nights reading there at the one table that has a light, I found that words of Samuel Beckett made a great accompanist to hearing the grateful regulars take their turns, well, not quite belting out tunes, but quite joyfully singing the sentimental romantic American Songbook tunes of their youth. At the center of those songs, there is often loneliness, or depression even, with an obsessive or timeless desire, “you’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved, come rain or come shine…” that fits in with Beckett’s often uncompromised, oddly static characters, who seemingly will be what they are forever, come rain or come shine.

Again, I had planned (god laughed), to spend this past weekend’s midnight hours at The Alley writing my column for your reading pleasure. Then, on Friday, about noon, I began feeling a pain in my left shoulder. By the time of the opening that night of the show I had directed, What Rhymes with America, I had to be careful how I walked, to avoid feeling as if I were self-electrocuting my left arm with pain.

So, my grand plan of the Alley just couldn’t happen with the pain. Still, clichéd as it may be, when you have lemons, make lemonade! The pain in my body kind of gave me access to the pain of producing theater. I really couldn’t fall asleep Friday night and I couldn’t help but let the body pain travel into a little bit of psychic pain.

Just a little background on me: Before I got into theater, I was a devoted audience member. I would guess that I saw easily 50 shows a year, but probably a higher number. I would often go with my good friend Carol and sometimes we would talk to theater people after the show or in some other occasion. We were often taken aback by how angry they could be about the work of others. Carol and I couldn’t help but make inside jokes about the Bitter Theater People.

I got into theater when I was 43 years old by volunteering at the California Shakespeare Theater. I was more than happy at the thought of just running off script copies (my day job was as a paralegal, so I was used to “organizing and preparing documents” as my billing entries to the clients often read), doing historical research for classical scripts or comparing versions of scripts now out of copyright (it was much more fun to collate versions of Arms and the Man than the closing documents for the latest massive, half-scammy business transaction at the firm).

I was very lucky at Cal Shakes because the first director that I worked for was Lillian Groag and she loved historical research when directing her plays. So I went wild on every aspect of Arms and the Man. I was double lucky that Bronwyn Eisenberg was the Resident Dramaturg as she nurtured me by giving me further research projects and opportunities to write for the program.

So, from the one small choice to volunteer at Cal Shakes at 43, my life for the past 13 years has been spent on all kinds of theater projects, now leading to my founding Anton’s Well Theater Company in the East Bay.

Yet now, I have to admit, I might be becoming the Bitter Theater Person. Or maybe just Crotchety Old Bitter Theater Guy.

Let me start with the thing that has an easy solution: paying for tickets. I totally understand if a theater person (or anyone in fact) is scraping by. I’m very happy to offer comps or pay what you can to get in someone who loves theater and wants to see, say, the Bay Area premiere of the work of an upcoming writer like Melissa James Gibson.

But so often, I feel as a theater ticket seller, it’s almost like I’m Exxon Mobil in the mind of the buyer. It almost seems like a moral sin to pay for a full-price ticket. Why? In my case, with $20 General/$17 Student/Seniors, if you buy through Goldstar, you would pay $14, of which only $10 goes to the theater. You’re giving Goldstar $4 to save yourself $6 from the $20 full price. I mean, $6 is a cup and half of coffee, or even less.

And, in the past, it’s been very frustrating to give someone a comp or $5 ticket, and then see on Facebook a week later that they’re having Duck a la Orange at Trendy Dandy Don’s foodie flash restaurant of the week. So, there’s my crotchety old bitter theater guy. I guess I just would hope that we in the small (or indie or however you want to define it) theater scene would value each other’s work by paying full price as often as we can.

And, moving on, I would hope that we could somehow (I admit, I have no solution for this other than to make an observation) value each other’s work other than on the basis of an inflation of praise. It’s not enough nowadays (man, that word makes me sound oooold!) that a show is said to be “amazing,” it has to be “truly amazing.” The phrase “truly amazing” seems to me like the passive aggressive (or maybe just aggressive) way of saying that this show actually is good and the other “amazing” shows are poseurs and are actually bad.

I have no solution to hype inflation. I suppose in the era of competing with on-demand binge watching at home, it could be argued that a show has to be amazing or why go out to see it? Well, because, there’s a lot to be gained from shows that are not even amazing. The might be compelling. They might be intriguing. They might be gloriously flawed.

I’m almost always happy that I made the effort to see a show. Maybe once a year, I think that it would have been better just to stay home. So I guess that’s just subjective me, and I could understand if others have seen so much theater that a show really does have to be amazing, but then I think they’re going to be disappointed because so many shows that are said to be “amazing” really are not. But they’re still worth seeing!

I believe that we have a good show in What Rhymes with America. I think the $20 ticket price is fair based on theater rental, cost of the rights, and giving the actors and crew a decent stipend (they shouldn’t lose money on the deal). I understand that there are other, shall I say, highly regarded shows out there like I Call My Brothers, Colossal, Deal with the Dragon, and there are event theater things like ShortLived, so in the pecking order of theater attendance, we might be a junior partner.

Still, despite any reservations, it’s amazing (oops, I mean great) to be part of the whole enterprise of putting on theater. I guess that is what I’d really like to say: what we do is vital. Sometimes when I’m with groups of theater people, the discussion will go to extended, enthusiastic discussions of the latest cable series rather than theater. Maybe this is puritanical of me, but it kind of hurts. Let’s talk about our local shows! “I found this part extraordinary…I didn’t quite see what was going on here…I would love to see more of…”

Now that I’ve gotten this off my shoulder (I mean my chest), my psychic pain is lessened. I think it’s time for the best painkiller for my shoulder…which just happens to be my favorite cocktail, the Jim’s Manhattan at Wood Tavern! (See, theater pub blog editors, I got in my favorite cocktail in the column, just like I’m supposed to!).

Jims Manhattan copy

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The Real World Theater Edition: Interview With Rob Ready

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Rob Ready about PianoFight, Theater Pub, Short Lived, and $5,000 in prize money!

I caught up with Rob Ready, the Artistic Director of PianoFight, this week to talk about ShortLived, the short play festival that includes 36 pieces by “indy artists of all stripes”.

The competition brings a $5,000 cash prize on the line as competitors duke it out over six regular season rounds and then one championship road. Each round lasts a week and has four performances. The short plays are scored by audience members and the highest scoring piece of each round clinches a spot in the championship round. We’re currently in week five of ShortLived with the championship round right around the corner. The winner will receive a full-length production in addition to the $5,000 cash prize.

Rob gave me background on ShortLived, how it compares to other new play development programs out there, and some of his favorite moments.

Barbara: What’s your background in theater?

Rob: Performing since I was a kid, school and community theater growing up, BFA from NYU Tisch and artistic directoring PianoFight ever since. I had gigs at ODC in marketing and Z Space in biz dev and producing random shows. Oh and I play a drunk Llama every year for Theater Pub. And THAT’S IT.

Barbara: How did ShortLived come about?

Rob: We were coming to the end of our first year running Studio 250 at Off-Market (our old venue), and were talking to Point Break Live about renting three months. We were stoked because it was our first year and we ran a ton of shows and after nine months we were tired. But then they took a tour of the space, said, “This won’t work.” And they bailed. So we had to come up with something that could fill three months and that we actually wanted to do. So we came up with ShortLived, a show that changed each week, and that audiences had a hand in deciding, and where the prize was legit – a full-length production the following year. It’s definitely a slog, but the experience of putting on new plays every week for three months is one that has shaped me as a performer and producer.

Rob-Ready

Barbara: What is the thing you like most about ShortLived and how have audiences reacted?

Rob: The instant community. You bring together a ton of very different artists, and they compete creatively – basically you don’t get any phoned in performances, because there are only four shows per round and there’s money and resources and bragging rights on the line. Watching your peers work to actively be better every night is a cool thing to see. When everybody else is pushing to be better, you push to be better, and there’s an interesting bond that comes from that.

On the audience side too, the act of scoring elicits real opinions and discussion from audience members who have a natural instinct to compare notes during and after the show. Because folks are directly asked to evaluate pieces critically, the chatter after shows tends to be pretty high level, so strangers who happened to sit next to each other in the show will end up having beers at a table after discussing why they scored one piece higher than another. Again, it’s another cool thing to see.

Barbara: How does it compare to other new play development opportunities/venues? What does it offer that others don’t?

Rob: I’m sure there are other festivals that do similar things to ShortLived, but seems like the main differences are that ShortLived:

– gets all 36 plays off book and on their feet
– provides critical audience feedback for artists
– has no submission fee =)
– is hyper local
– lets audiences decide the winner and which plays advance
– offers a legit grand prize of cash money AND a show

Barbara: Favorite moments – how about three, from ShortLived?

Rob: These are gonna be more personal for me, but here ya go:
– In ShortLived 2 or 3, Duncan Wold, Christy Crowley and I put together a 10-minute musical in one day. It didn’t win, but it did really well – and working that fast was very cool.

– Performing Kirk Shimano’s play Inner Dialogue in ShortLived 4. It took second place in ShortLived 3 in 2011, and because the rules were different, it performed every weekend for 13 weeks. So when we brought back the festival after 144 Taylor St opened, it felt like it was a good call to bring back that piece and enter it into the Wildcard Round. Hadn’t acted on stage with Dan Williams since we’d done the piece originally, so being able to perform with my friend and business partner in our new theater was pretty special.

– Producing Megan Cohen’s first play in ShortLived 1.

Barbara: Anything you’re looking forward to this time around?

Rob: The Finals. They are always amazing. They sell out like crazy, the plays are really strong, the crowds are amped, the performers are jacked too and the whole week is just really fun.

Barbara: Plugs/shout-outs for upcoming performances of friends’ work?

Rob: Adventures in Tech by Stuart Bousel and directed by Allison Page. Also Terro-Rama 2 by Anthony Miller and Claire Rice and directed by Colin Johnson. Maggie’s Riff, written by John Lipsky, adapted by his son Jonah with musical direction by his other son, Adam, directed by Faultline AD Cole Ferraiuolo. And yes – they are all here at PianoFight!

For more on ShortLived at PianoFight, click here!

In For a Penny: Whose Job are You?

Charles Lewis III, finding his place.

empty theatre

“No man likes to acknowledge that he has made a mistake in his choice of profession, and every man, worthy of the name, will row long against wind and tide before he allows himself to cry out ‘I am baffled!’ and submits to be floated passively back to land.”
– Charlotte Brontë, The Professor

I had a job interview last week. It was your usual fare: questions about past experience; asking what I’d bring to the position; explanation of where the company is headed – I’m sure you’ve all been through it. What was different for me was that it was the first interview in which my theatre work was brought into focus. Usually when I mention it, it’s in response to questions about what I do outside of work. Saying that I do theatre often results in blank stares, condescending raised eyebrows, and the occasional question of “Have you ever done any real acting?”

My theatre experience wasn’t just a random topic of last week’s interview, it was central. It was the subject on which we spoke for the entirety of my time in the building. It was the first time in my life in which I had the opportunity to possibly do the one thing that I’ve often thought wasn’t possible: turn my love of theatre into a full-time job.

There’d just be one catch: I wouldn’t be as active in theatre as I am now.

It wasn’t just a question of time consumption – although that would have played a role – but it was the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to see the Bay Area theatre scene from the inside-out anymore. I’d be in a position that would have fundamentally changed my role in the “ecosystem” of the local theatre community. I’ve seen that community from almost every possible angle – actor, writer, director, stage manager, tech, box office manager, company member, auditor, set construction – and that includes the past work I’ve done that directly related to the new position. The difference is that this would permanently place me into a role I’d probably enjoy, but make it nearly impossible to do the theatre work I’ve come to love.

I walked out of the interview the same way I walked in: knowing that there are certain opportunities that only present themselves once, if ever. What makes those opportunities so unique isn’t just what you hope to gain from them, but also what you’d have to give up in order to do so. “Nothing important is ever easy,” as they say. When I finally got home after the interview – and an evening rehearsal – I came to the decision that if this opportunity was mine for the taking, then I’d go after it head-on and have no regrets about doing so.

Of course, the point of someone interviewing for a job is that the decision isn’t in their hands to begin with.

On Monday I got an e-mail from my interviewer. I didn’t get the position. I replied telling him how grateful I was to have interviewed that I hoped he’d contact me immediately if anything changed. I was disappointed that I wasn’t hired for a great job, but I was also relieved that I wouldn’t have to make such a major change in my theatre life. I’ve spent the majority of entries in this column pondering my position in the world of theatre, both in the Bay Area and beyond. I do this because each day I’m more certain of it than I was the day before.

The evening after I received that e-mail, I went to rehearsal for the full production for which I’m rehearsing. The day before, I’d rehearsed my role in a play for this week’s ShortLived (a play written by fellow ‘Pub columnist Anthony Miller and directed Colin Johnson, who’s writing and directing the ‘Pub show for May). The day before that, I saw the earlier round of ShortLived. I have a few auditions coming up and I’m making a schedule to finally start writing plays I’ve had on the back burner for quite some time now. That’s my place in our theatre “ecosystem,” and I kinda like it here.

I first named this column “In For a Penny” because I’m someone who will fully dedicate himself to something once he’s committed. Right now, that’s being an active theatre artist. Soon it might be taking a different role. Whatever it is, you can’t say I didn’t give it my all.

To observe Charles Lewis III in the aforementioned “ecosystem,” see him tonight and all this weekend in Round 4 of ShortLived at PianoFight. It also stars fellow ‘Pub members Sam Bertken & Andrew Chung and is biting commentary of contemporary SF. Give us the votes! All the votes!!!

The Five-Singing Children, Ladies of Theatre, Hulk Hogan and More!

Anthony R. Miller Checks in with whatever’s on his mind.

Hey you guys, so once again, I completely fail to have one “Big Idea” to discuss, but luckily, I still have a few things to talk about, luckily, there are five.

Kids Rock

I was lucky enough to attend the opening of “School of Rock” at the Curran Theatre and I’m seriously still high on life. While the show is still on Broadway, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has allowed amateur and school productions to be licensed now. OSA had the chance to present the very first school production in the country. The show is fantastic, and I could go on for hours about it. Webber is the undisputed king of the reprise, the music is clearly influenced by British Metal, Julian Fellows (Yes that Julian Fellows) took a great, but problematic movie script and gave it so much shape and rounded out the characters and relationships so well. But that’s not what’s important, what’s important is THESE KIDS. Just to be in the room and share this moment of unbridled joy for all the amazing kids in the cast. It warmed my bitter cynical heart and left me with a dumb grin on my face the whole time. It was like mainlining serotonin. I think the entire run is sold out, but if you can, sneak in, buy a scalped ticket, do whatever. It’s been a long time since I’ve loved a show so much. Thanks Kids.

Death of a Fictional Character

And now let’s talk about pro-wrestling. It’s been a rough year or so for Terry Bollea. You may better know him as Pro Wrestling God Hulk Hogan. The thing to know about old school wrestlers is they never dropped the act; they were their character all time. This was never so true than it was for Hogan. But now he’s in court suing over a sex tape with his friend’s wife, where he is, to say the least, very un-Hogan like. We are presented with the uncomfortable truth that my childhood hero is a human being, capable of doing and saying very unfortunate things. This brings me back to my never ending “Art vs. The Artist” discussion. Do I simply love the art created by the person or does the realities of who the artist is in real life taint that ability? It’s easy to say “Well, Hulk Hogan is ok, he’s a fictional character, but Terry Bollea is a dick.” But when the man spent most of his career convincing us those two people were one in the same, It’s not so easy.

ShortLived Baby!

PianoFight’s short play competition known as “Short Lived” has begun. Tons of writers and theatre folks are presenting shows in this content. Myself included. My Play, “We Were Walking Around Like We Owned The Place Before It Was Cool” will be featured in week 4, it’s about how Hipsters being mad about gentrification may be the most ironic thing of all. It’s pretty funny, has a great cast and is directed by my Director on Retainer, Colin Johnson, come see it and vote for us.

Happy International Women’s Day

For those that follow my article regularly (Hi Dad) you may recall fellow blogger Allison Page and I went on an excursion to see “Thunder From Down Under” the Australian Male Stripper Troupe. Beforehand, she and I were chatting and the conversation of “What Comics do you find funny?” Came up and perhaps I disappointed Allison with my response because the only ones I could think of at the time were men. Then two days later it occurred to me that IU had done a terrible disservice to a woman whom I find remarkably funny, if not one of the funniest people who ever lived. So for International Women’s day I would like to take a moment and honor Carol Burnett. She had sass, presence, wit and is still a remarkable performer. Check out old clips of the Carol Burnett Show of Youtube, you won’t be sorry. She is one of the greats. (Are we cool now Allison?)

Reunited and It Feels So Meh

And Finally, the great rite of passage for anyone in their late thiries is upon me, My 20 year High School reunion. (Yeah, I’m old) So while I’m sorta-kinda looking forward to seeing who is balder than me or who married someone with a ridiculous last name, I’m in fear of what people might say to me. In high school I was a weird theatre-kid and now, well, I’m a weird theatre-adult. I’m doing exactly what I said I would do. I’m not like famous or anything, so what do I say to a bunch of people who will be homeowners with steady jobs, spouses and 401K’s? “Yeah, I’m pretty broke all the time, but that’s pretty much the life I chose.” I made a big point to never be a person who misses all the cool things they did in High School . And it does make a nice bookend to my recent experience to “School of Rock”. Without theatre, I would have probably been a juvenile delinquent, and while I was by no means popular in High School, everyone knew who I was. It’s gonna be weird, because at some point people will tell me how they perceived me 20 years ago, and I’m not sure I want to know. I don’t spend much time looking back at those days; nor do I want to be a person who does. Not to mention its being held at a bar I used to run the San Jose Poetry Slam at, this place was My House. Some of the greatest Artistic achievements of my 20’s began at that bar, so it’s gonna be double nostalgic and double weird. Ugh, the past.

That’s all this week, see you soon nerds.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer, go to http://www.awesometheatre.org or follow him on twitter @armiller78 to keep up with all his projects.

Working Title: Keeping it Short

This week Will Leschber talks Shorts Upsets and Shortlived with Jeremy Cole.

I know what you all are thinking. It’s egregious what happened at the Oscars on Sunday night. Am I right!? I keep hearing about it. Obviously, the biggest upset at this year’s Oscars was not the issues of diversity, or Lady Gaga not winning for Best Song after her amazing performance, or even the underdog Best Picture win for Spotlight. It’s so clear. Anyone who participated in an Oscar pool knows the biggest upset, the real dark horse, the office Oscar pool villain was… the short films!

I hear what you are saying… “But, Will, everyone I know saw the best documentary short films! How could no one predict the winner!” I don’t know dear audience. I don’t know. All I know is, I was 9 for 9 halfway through the night when the animated, live action, and doc shorts ruined everything! Dammit all, Oscar pool. Whyyyy?! (Now give me a second while I remove this tongue from my cheek.)

Meanwhile, our friends at PianoFight are gearing up for the next edition of ShortLived. It’s exactly like the Oscars, except not at all, and you, the audience, get to vote! Jeremy Cole wrote a piece in the competition this year, so of course, I had to pick his brain about what film pairing may help get one in the mood for his short play. Here’s what he had to say:

My short piece is about a couple meeting at a bar but their thoughts are told to the audience by two translator characters, one for him, one for her. It’s one of those horrific really awkward pick up situations. [My paired movie recommendation is] Casablanca. Casablanca is actually quoted in the show and is what ends up sealing the deal. While my main story is the standard meet cute thing, the translators subvert it pretty thoroughly.

Well said, Jeremy. I’m sure we can all relate to a horrifically awkward first date. Casablanca‘s ill-fated lovers had the unfortunate circumstance to fall in love in the middle of a war. But they didn’t have proper love translators! The two characters of Jeremy’s short play may fare romantically better than Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Don’t worry. Seeing ShortLived may be the start of a beautiful friendship between you and short plays.

Forget the Oscar pool. (Nobody had Ex Machina  for Visual Effects…geez). But seeing a great short play competition is within your grasp. Barreling towards winner-take-all entertainment, PianoFight’s Short Lived opens this Thursday, March 3rd, and runs for six weeks. Out of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, you should walk into PianoFight and enjoy Short Lived. More details can be found on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/events/537652233075789/ or on Pianofight.com.

Lastly, even though the Oscar shorts lost you your precious $10 buy-in, they are still worthy of your time too. They can be found on iTunes, on Demand, and various corners of the internet.

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!

Working Title: Life is Short Lived. Take a Chance and Get Lucky

On this Saint Patrick’s Day, Will Leschber beckons and reckons with the Saint of Fortune.

Luck and Chance.

As a younger man, I felt that luck took a back seat to drive and effort. It’s possible that the surrounding culture I grew up in silently instilled Manifest Destiny in my bones: that every thing was possible if you travelled far enough, worked hard enough, pulled your boot straps up enough. You could create, you could perform, you could do it all. The world could be in the palm of your hand if you just reached out and grabbed it.

While I think this is boldly true, as a now older man, I also think chance plays a greater part in our lives than I would have liked to believe.

Do+You+Feel+Lucky%2C+Punk+HP

Maybe it’s easy to feel this way when we are youthful and so much is ahead. Everything is possible and all doors stand open.

Only now am I starting to feel like an adult! (Sidebar, it’s about damn time! You’re no Peter Pan, kiddo! You are 33 and are a week away from being a new Dad! Grow up already!!) As part of the theatre community, we revel in make believe and truth and principles and emotional and challenge and risk. Getting on that stage can be beautifully scary. It harnesses what it means to be alive. Edging further into my 30’s, I have become acquainted with the dark side of chance and find myself lucky to have remained less scathed. I’ve held close friends who passed too early, seen others who have fought cancer, known many who wrestled with their own kind of addiction; plus there’s been loss and love and madness and the rest. I’m not here to say that it’s all darkness. Far from it. I find that there is more light bridging the gaps in our hours. What I am saying is that chance is at play and the wheel spins both ways through your days.

Just recently, I had a friend who went in for a routine ACL surgery. Everything went fine. He was home in recovery and all seemed to be improving. Until it wasn’t. He started loosing feeling below his knee and couldn’t move his toes. When he got back to the hospital the doctors had no idea why the circulation had stopped in his lower leg. How could they not know!? Within a day the news went from “Oh he’s back in the hospital with complications” to “he might lose his leg”. I had no words. I could not believe it. Things are better than ever in the medical field and outliers still run to the edge of the bell curve. Shit happens. Crazy, unexpected wildcard cases still happen. It’s baffling. It’s scary. It feels like the Wild West. It feels like the point where your youthful, live-forever, invulnerability cracks.

Perhaps instead of a cheery lesson, focusing on the light, I’d say drink it all. Hold close the shadow, feel it fully and then let is pass. Life’s shadowy milestones will fuel your appreciation for everything else. The spectrum of experience turns with the wheel of chance and fortune.

What does this all have to do with theater and film, you say? Ah, Will, you old man. Did you forget that’s the point of your blog? Whoopsie Daisy!

Whoopsie+Daisy

There are few other careers or pastimes that function from a foundation of chance the way the performing arts do; Or creative endeavors of any kind for that matter. We build glorious microcosmic worlds; create them, paint them, clothe them, live them… and let them close and drift into memory. Any play or film that comes to be is riddled and rippling with good luck and favorable chance. It’s a crap shoot often with tons of expended effort and finger crossing. No one needs to be reminded of the concept “life is theater and Theater is life.” BUT what has been overwhelming my mind of late, is how much the concept of “you never know” actually influences our lives. We all know this. Sure, I’ve known everything since I was a teenager! But, as we age, we actually learn it. We don’t know if this rough-as-hell final dress performance will pull together for opening night or if we will get hit by a bus crossing the street to work. Chances are you aren’t gonna see it coming. So get lucky if you can.

Okay, back to this current life. Well, nothing says luck and chance like a popularity contest, right? PianoFight is in the midst of their ShortLived play competition (Round Three starts up again on Thursday). Each week, this madness has a way of showcasing the eclectic, the funny, the dark, the lovely and the rest. Life is short. See ShortLived.

Also, while you are in the market for short lived artistic experiences, look up the this year’s Oscar winning animated short film, Feast. It’ll remind you that luck can save you from eating off the street, chance has a way of shining through the dark and dogged effort can balance your plate.

feast

Until then, this new-Dad-to-be hopes luck has the chance to find you on this Saint Patrick’s Day.