The Five: 5 Shows in the 2014/15 Season I can’t wait to see Pt: 1

Anthony R. Miller brings you part 1 of a 2 part series about some incredible shows coming in the 2014/15 season, this week he focuses on formal subscription based seasons:

In spirit of this month’s Theater Pub theme of preparing for the new theatre season, I decided to make a list of shows I was really excited to see. Not soon after beginning my research, I encountered a problem. I found myself with ten shows I was pretty excited about and half of them were part of a formal subscription based season and half were independent productions that were stand-alone events. So once again, I made this a two part series. Part 1 is five shows that are part of a formal subscription based season and in two weeks; Part 2 will cover independent standalone shows in 2014/15. To be clear, this list is written from the perspective of not a critic or prognosticator (Lord knows not as a journalist), but as a fan. Here are 5 shows in the formal 2014/15 that I’m really excited to see.

Slaughterhouse 5-Custom Made Theatre Co.
Sept 16-Oct 12, 2014

In 1996, playwright Eric Simonsen adapted and directed Kurt Vonnegut’s time jumping, dark comedy, absurdist war novel for the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. This play is being performed in the Bay Area for the first time and is being directed by Custom Made’s Artistic Director Brian Katz. As a longtime fan of the book, I have often wondered how this could translate to the stage, and thanks to awesome folks at Custom Made, I shall wonder no longer.

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life)-Ray of Light Theatre
October 3rd-November 1st, 2014

The last few years, Ray of Light Theatre has been making a name for itself as one of the few companies in the Bay that focus exclusively on musicals. After years of doing well known contemporary classics and some cult faves as well, Ray of Light made a gutsy move and scheduled two shows that were practically unknown. The first was Triassic Parq, the next is; Yeast Nation, a new Musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann of Urinetown fame. Now what makes this production super cool is that under the direction of Artistic Director Jason Hoover, the writers themselves have been here work shopping the piece. This is a fantastic opportunity for a local company that is still very much on its way up. And we get to see a brand spanking new show by the guys who wrote everyone’s favorite musical in college.

Our Town-Shotgun Players
December 4-January 11, 2014

Fact: The Ashby Stage is three blocks from my house; it’s ridiculous that I don’t see everything they do. That said, I will definitely be making the treacherous five minute walk from one end of the Ashby Bart to the other to see this show. I can’t entirely explain my fondness for Our Town, its schmaltz, but it’s really well written and often profound schmaltz. And in a time such as now when our lives are a Facebook status roulette of bad news, Our Town is a bastion of simplistic comfort. The Ashby stage is a great place for it and I’m excited to see what Shotgunny twists they put on it. (ie how many mandolins will be used) Consider me already in one of their church pews watching what Award winning Director Susannah Martin and co. does with this even-when-it’s-bad-it’s-still-pretty-good chestnut.

X’s and O’s (A Gridiron Love Story)-Berkeley Rep
January 16–March 1, 2015

For the minority of theatre folk who also love football, we’ve long lamented the lack of plays about Football, because it’d be ridiculous. Now Berkeley Rep brings us, the always lively topic of traumatic head injuries suffered by Football players. For reals though, these stories are heartbreaking. And it’s an amazing examination of the very-men portrayed as god-like gladiators on TV every Sunday. Based on real interviews with players and their families, I’m excited to see these tragic stories brought to light and given a voice. I will probably cry. Playwright K.J. Sanchez just had a huge hit Off-Broadway called ReEntry which focused on the stories of Marines returning from combat. Another completely rad thing about this production is it was commissioned and developed right here in the Bay as part of Berkeley Reps Ground Floor program, which is dedicated the creation and development of New Work.

A Little Night Music -ACT
May 20-June 14, 2015

It would seem we are at a Sondheim saturation point here in the Bay Area. Last year, Ray of Light gave us Into the Woods (following up last year’s production of Sweeney Todd), and this year, SF Playhouse followed up by producing… Into the Woods and for good measure next season they are producing Company. Throw in a big screen adaptation of Into the Woods that nobody has seen but everyone already hates, and you’d gotta be crazy to jump into the Sondheim mosh-pit that is Bay Area theatre, but that’s just what ACT (The Company We Love to Hate) has done. Now let’s make something clear, I love the shit out of this show. It’s the Pitchfork Magazine pick of the Sondheim catalog, not his most commercially successful, but arguably his biggest artistic triumph. It’s sophisticated, dripping with subtext (There’s a 17 minute trio of songs about sex for god’s sake) and easily my favorite of Sondheim’s work. The fact that it is written completely in Waltz beat makes it stand out not only amongst his work but amongst most popular musical theatre. It’s grand and majestic but with remarkably vulnerable characters. Not to mention, “The Quintet” that acts as a brilliant narrative device and actually sings the overture. (Authors Note: this went on for 17 more pages and included a story about how I explained the song “Send in the Clowns” to my Dad, but was omitted for brevity.) ACT has a golden opportunity to do a not-as-famous Sondheim piece and stand out amongst the glut of audience friendly Sondheim shows by knocking this out of the park, let’s see what they do with it.

See you in two weeks with my picks for Standalone/Independent production of the 2014/15 season!

Anthony R. Miller is Writer, Director, Producer and the guy who won’t stop calling you about renewing your theatre subscription. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens in October.

Cowan Palace: My Return to Theatre Bay Area and Other Full House Catch Phrases

Ashley reactivates her Theatre Bay Area account and shares her experience the only way she knows how: through the brilliance of Full House.

Growing up I knew three things: 1.) I wanted to be an actor. 2.) I wanted to live in California because that’s where the cast of Full House lived. 3.) I had a pretty scary dessert obsession, especially those of the chocolate variety.

As an adult, I’ve managed to stay pretty true to those guiding forces. I mean, here I am, living in the Tanner’s backyard trying to balance my love of acting and all things sweet. Though, it’s not exactly like I had pictured and my adventures don’t always fit neatly into 22 minute episodes appropriate for families of all ages. But, again, here I am!

When I first moved here in my early twenties, looking to break into the theater scene, I immediately joined Theatre Bay Area. I combed the gigs section of Craigslist looking for auditions. And honestly, it was great. Within one day of living in San Francisco, I managed to book an audition and get the part. Which resulted in A LOT of solo bedroom performances of “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here” from Annie. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d find myself auditioning for the San Francisco revival of Rent starring Taye Diggs.

But then I got a little lazy. I stopped actively looking for new opportunities and chose to do whatever projects my friends (or friends of my friends) offered me. Which, honestly, was also great. I’m not always the best auditioner anyway and I got to perform a lot of fun roles thanks to being seen in earlier fun roles. And so my one woman Annie tribute band continued!

Eventually, I let my TBA membership lapse. Which, after a little while, caused the inner child in me to point out, “how are you going to be a real actor if you’re not even trying? The Tanners would be so disappointed in you.” Ouch, inner child, OUCH. But that little creep was right. So a few days ago (and after reading Claire’s article) I resigned up for Theatre Bay Area. And to chronicle my experience back, I thought I’d use the help of some of the token Full House catch phrases. Because, well, duh.

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“You got it, dude!”

Yes, Michelle and/or Mary-Kate and Ashley, I do got it. I signed back up for TBA! And I got a personalized welcome response from James Nelson, which made my day. This is what I love about being an actor in San Francisco. The sense of community that I couldn’t find while living in New York. I felt optimistic that perhaps my reentry into the theater scene would be as well received.

“Oh, Mylanta!”

Interesting exclamation, DJ, eldest and perhaps wisest Tanner sister. But similar sentiment (I mean, I think? I’m not even totally sure why this one became a catchphrase). When I logged on with eager eyes to view the myriad of auditions I assumed I was missing out on, I instead saw a rather short list. Maybe it’s the time of year? Did I just miss the audition season? Or is there just less theater being done than when I joined the site years ago?

“Cut it out!”

Good point, Joey. No need to immediately panic and assume my acting days are numbered so I might as well drive your car into the kitchen! Why not read through these listings first! So I opted to do a search for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

“Have mercy!”

Tell me about it, Jesse. And I don’t even have your hair to help my cause. Okay, the first audition on the list is for Shotgun Players. Awesome! I’ve heard great things about working with them. Now, looking through their post I read, “Prep 2 contrasting pieces (musical/movement abilities may be incorporated)”. Yikes bikes. Well, I have been taking a YMCA Zumba class where I always seem to stand next to someone who smells like sweat mixed with orange juice. Should I attempt some Zumba moves with my dramatic Shakespearean monologue?

“How rude!”

No! Stephanie, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was seriously asking. I could use some assistance getting back into the audition routine… Next, I come across Grey Gardens at Custom Made Theatre. I know before I open it that my current age isn’t really ideal for this one. Which sucks because that show is going to be something special.(Side note: amusingly enough, the last time I auditioned for one of Stuart’s shows, I had my sister cut me some bangs so that I could look younger and more like child Ashley. It shockingly did not work.)

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

Child Ashley is judging you… are you making the Tanner family proud?

This has been a harder reality to face these days. I’ve seemed to age out of the roles I moved here for, ones for young gals in their early twenties and yet I’m not quite ready for some of those juicy roles meant for women in their forties and fifties. Or, as I like to call that age range, the parts I played in high school and college because I was taller than everyone else.

As I continue perusing through the listings, I notice a few more musicals and many shows that are happening outside of San Francisco. Unfortunately, for the car- less /Treasure Island dwelling wonder that is me, commuting to these stages isn’t the easiest quest. I also couldn’t help but notice that if you’re a fella willing to travel and/or sing, you could probably do quite well for yourself in the Bay Area! Ah, now I am sounding rude. Sorry. I don’t mean it. I selfishly hoped that my enthusiasm to return to the theater world would be matched with abounding opportunity to bring it to life.

And I’m left with the same questions I had before. Where did the auditions go? I hear about friends going to them; are these theater companies just not posting on Theatre Bay Area? Because that feels like a shame! A missed opportunity to be a part of a proud, established community. And where are they posting instead? What will I tell Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan when they seek my career counsel for breaking into the SF biz? Help!

I’ll await your feedback! And in the meantime, I’ll keep one eye on these audition listings, one on a Full House rerun, and my mouth will undoubtedly be full of chocolate.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: 2013’s Most Memorable Theater Moments

Marissa Skudlarek jumps on the end of year list bandwagon.

“Nothing is forever in the theater. Whatever it is, it’s here, it flares up, burns hot, and then it’s gone.”

—Karen (Celeste Holm) in All About Eve

Theater is an ephemeral art, so I’m dedicating my last column of the year to celebrating five of my most memorable theatergoing moments in 2013. I don’t quite consider this an official “best of” or “top five” list; it’s more a record of five times in 2013 when theater did what it ought to do: surprised me, jolted me, thrilled me. They are arranged in chronological order.

Act Two of Troublemaker, at Berkeley Rep – I didn’t find Dan LeFranc’s comedy-drama about a troubled middle-school boy 100% effective, but parts of it delighted me beyond measure. As I wrote on my blog at the time: “Act One toggles back and forth between realism and stylization; Act Two goes completely nuts; and Act Three brings it back down to earth to for a more naturalistic, emotional resolution. That second act, though, man… it might be the craziest thing I’ve seen at a Big Theater in a long time. There’s a soup kitchen populated by homeless pirate zombies, the rich kid lounges on a divan as “Goldfinger” plays, our heroes do an unconvincing drag act (leading up to a gay kiss that managed to draw gasps from the liberal-Berkeley audience), Bradley’s smart and mouthy friend Loretta turns into a pint-sized femme fatale… I watched it in disbelief and giddy delight that Berkeley Rep was producing this in such lavish style.”

Finale of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, at Kazino (NYC) – This show is a sung-through, pop-opera adaptation of the section of War and Peace where young Natasha Rostova nearly runs off with a lothario named Anatole. I had seen Dave Malloy’s earlier Russian-themed musical Beardo at Shotgun Players and felt ambivalent about it: it was very clever, but also very arch, and it kept me emotionally distant. The opening scenes of Natasha, Pierre had some of that same winking irony, but by the end, it became heart-on-sleeve sincere. Despite war, scandal, and Russian melancholia, Natasha and Pierre achieve a measure of peace and understanding — symbolized by the passing of the great comet (itself represented by a beautiful chandelier). What began as a boisterous Russian party ended on a note of subtle delicacy. Shotgun, or some other Bay Area company, had better plan to produce this as soon as the rights become available, because I want to see it again.

End of Act One of A Maze, at Just Theater – If a play is titled A Maze, you can’t fault its first act for being puzzling and mysterious. Rob Handel’s script interweaves four different stories, three of them basically realistic and one a strange fairy tale or fable. At the end of Act One, though, all of the stories come together in a way that seems obvious in hindsight, but is completely astonishing (amazing?) in the moment when it occurs. I saw a lot of full-length plays this year, but A Maze was the one where I couldn’t wait for intermission to be over because I had to know what would happen in Act Two. I can’t go into any more detail than that, because it would be a spoiler; but if you want to experience this moment for yourself, Just Theater will be re-mounting its production in February 2014.

Ellen’s Undone, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival – Sam Hurwitt is one of my favorite Bay Area theater critics; his reviews are thoughtful and candid, and my tastes seem to align pretty well with his. But knowing what makes a good play doesn’t guarantee that you can also write a good play. Hurwitt, though, made an impressive playwriting debut with Ellen’s Undone, a contemporary interpretation of the Helen of Troy story. It’s a full-length play with just two characters, one set, and two long scenes – constraints that would challenge even a far more experienced playwright. This 100-minute argument between two smart, stubborn, acidly witty people reminded me of nothing so much as a modern-day Noel Coward comedy (perhaps it helped that Maggie Mason employed her natural English accent to play Ellen). A triumph for Hurwitt and for the San Francisco Olympians Festival as well – which continues to present an impressive variety of new theater every year.

Tinker Bell’s death scene in Peter/Wendy, at Custom Made – J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan depicts a whimsical world, where children can fly by thinking happy thoughts, and even the villains are comically blustering or incompetent. Still, there are darker and more adult undercurrents throughout, which burst to the forefront in the scene where Tink drinks poison to save Peter’s life. Anya Kazimierski (Tink) was honest and raw and terrifying in her death scene, and then there was a long moment as Sam Bertken (Peter) cradled Tink’s body and regarded the audience, seemingly trying to make eye contact with every single person there, stretching out the tension until we could hardly stand it. Finally – and without Sam needing to ask us the famous question – someone in the row behind me piped up “I believe in fairies!” And then another person in another section: “I believe in fairies!” It was a magical moment because the play got a little out of control from what the actors had expected; it was a magical moment because we, as an audience, were all in it together.

These were five of the moments where everything clicked for me, as an audience member watching a performance. But they wouldn’t happen without those moments earlier in the theater-making process where everything clicks for the cast and crew – those miraculous moments in the rehearsal room where you realize that, oh wow, this is actually going to work. So I also want to acknowledge some of my most memorable moments as a playwright: my living-room reading of Orphée last January, when I learned that my translation was playable; the first read-through of Teucer, in which actors Eli Diamond and Carl Lucania were already firing on all cylinders; rehearsing my one-minute play Cultural Baggage and making some subtle cuts so that its three overlapping monologues fit together perfectly. To everyone who made these and all of my theater experiences of 2013 possible, thank you.

Like a great comet, theater flares up, burns hot, and then it’s gone.

And I do believe in fairies.

Marissa Skudlarek wishes you a New Year sprinkled with fairy dust.

Working Title: Staging Legend And Shooting Myth In Bonnie & Clyde

So, in our continuous effort to stimulate our readers minds in different ways, we’re giving a new semi-monthly column a try here. Will Leschber’s goal will be to take a play that is currently happening in the Bay Area theater scene and relate it to a film that has similar subject matter, analyzing both to see how they accomplish telling their stories in different or similar ways. It’s super esoteric, we know, but we think it could be an interesting ride. Luckily, the Bay Area is currently home to the perfect production to start us off with. 

Recently, I had the pleasure to see The Shotgun Player’s production of Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a challenge to take on any subject which general audiences feel they are readily familiar with. The goal is to bring something new to these characters. Any retelling of the tale has to also contend with the influential 1967 film of the same name, which is reputed as one of the 100 best films of all time according to the American Film Institute. Luckily, the stage production directed by Mark Jackson is up to the task. Both the film and play ultimately succeed because they twist the myth created around these two historic outlaws and leave us with a picture of two individual people instead of merely the outlines of an American legend.

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Structurally, the play expands outward from a single night as our two title characters are holed up in a barn waiting out a warm Texas night. Flashing forward and backward in time the playwright, Adam Peck, fills in the explosive history and ominous future to give us a rounded look at Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As the play begins, the two address the audience in unison monologue and declare that the ordinary life is not one made for them. They are made to burn a brighter light. Joe Estlack (Clyde) and Megan Trout (Bonnie), who deftly play our leads, recite these words as the stage-front footlights flood the actors in plain white light. This bare illumination casts distinct shadows on the barn wall behind. These shadows simultaneously hang over them like foreboding destiny and also our mythic expectations for these historic figures. Light change. A projection of Depression era video fills the back barn wall. Our characters begin concurrent individual dance routines that give the impression of the time period (Charleston, Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, etc.) and also their mundane lives before meeting each other (get up, brush teeth, go to work, go home, repeat). Within the first five minutes, we get a sense of who these characters are, the myth they will become and a heightened stylistic sense of setting.

The film introduces itself economically as well. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde opens with slide show of 1930’s era pictures inserted between the cast credits. The font begins bright white and then fades to deep red. The slide show ends with scene setting photos of our stars Faye Dunnaway as Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow. The picture dissolves to a close up of Dunnaway’s red lips. Then to the mirror. She’s in her bedroom. She’s also not yet dressed for the day. Dunnaway flops on her bed and beats against the bars at the foot of her bed in desperate boredom. She’s already in a prison of normalcy. This was not the prison she was made for.

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She comes to the window and sees a young Clyde Barrow looking at her mother’s car out front. She calls out. She has yet to clothe. “Hey Boy! What ch’you doin’ with my momma’s car? …wait there!” We see Dunnaway in silhouette as she rushes down the stairs covering her naked body as she flies to meet this handsome stranger. Within the first five minutes the images of sexuality and crime already are mixing. Who knows how the true to life story unfolded, but in the film Bonnie and Clyde only learn each others names and exchange pleased-to-meet-you’s after they’ve robbed a general store and hotwired a getaway vehicle. It’s a fitting scene to match the idealized fable that the American culture has built around this couple.

These American bandits are set up as depression era Robin Hood figures. They treat the common man like equals and the faceless law officers like ruthless overlords who deserve to be stolen from. That fairytale is all well and good, but to care about these two characters we need to see more of their humanity. The play handles this by showing quieter moments between our two leads. Clyde and Bonnie share a pitiful feast of sardines and left over beans. They relate to each other and show the familiarity of a couple that needs each other. Bonnie reads the paper listing their exploits. Clyde completes the action that she relates by performing the robbery scene.

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The scene is fun, a little bit dangerous and always intimate. The tone shifts and Bonnie begins to lament the newspaper’s mention of a wife and children who were bereaved by the actions of our beloved outlaws. The choices of Bonnie and Clyde left this family fatherless. This flipside of glamorous crime does not go unseen.

To give further depth to Bonnie, the playwright has her tell us in an aside that as a child she wanted to be famous, a movie star maybe. Stage projections fill the back wall. Multiple layered projections are intermittently shot upon the light hued barn. In this instance, one layer illuminating the wooded siding with movie marquis or red carpet scenes and another projected image brightens the support beams with glittering Broadway lights. Together they created an entire wall covered by projection but each distinct within their area. This was a wonderful visual metaphor for our two lovers. She is forever infamous. But is this the fame she wanted?

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Likewise, she wishes to be desired by Clyde. This is obviously the case yet both the play and the film flirt with Clyde’s impotency. On stage we have a sex scene that Clyde ends before it concludes. “I ain’t no lover-boy,” Warren Beauty says he shuts down Bonnie’s advances for sex after stealing their first car. Even his bank robbery attempts speak to his inability to perform. The first bank they rob together has no money in it due to its closure in the wake of the depression. Only near the film’s end, as Bonnie cements their place in American mythic history with her prophetic poem “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde”, does Clyde consummate their relationship. The real poem was entitled “The Trails End”, but its symbol remains the same. To Clyde it represents immortality. This is what pushes him over the sexual precipice. After seeing the poem in the newspaper Clyde says, “You know what you done there? You told my whole story. When I met you I said I’d make you into somebody. And that’s what you just done for me. You made me into someone they are gonna remember.” They kiss. The wind kicks up, they embrace and two pieces of newspaper with their names emblazoned across the headlines blow away into the wind. They dance and twirl and are lost to the winds down the plain.

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you’re still in need;
of something to read,
here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

Both the stage production and feature film juxtapose the desirable life of the infamous outlaw who lives large and loves hard with the real individuals who can’t sexually perform and succumb to fear in dangerous situations or feel guilt for commuting crimes past their intentions.

The mediums of film and theatre have achieved the ends of introducing our central characters and humanizing them in similar ways thus far. Yet they differ in their unique presentation of the stories climax. The play uses the movement tool of dance interludes in a myriad of ways throughout the play. A good fourth of the play is performed in dance. It is used to set the time period, show the characters wooing, hint at the action of robbery and paint a picture of their relationship. The pinnacle of the play flows out in an extended stylistic interpretive dance scene. Stark lighting and winding movement take the stage. The end is upon Bonnie and Clyde. Their arms sweep, then twist down and around on one another. They fall and are caught by one another. Violent shifts in form evoke the final scene of their death and yet also their entire entwined love affair. These methods are especially effective on the stage and wouldn’t be as potent elsewhere.

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The event on film is equally effective but relayed with glaring difference. The filmmakers hold this scene until the absolute last minute. Our outlaws are making a slow getaway from unassuming police men just to put distance between them. A slow building tension rises, as a trap is being set. Our doomed lovers stop to help someone with a flat tire on an old dusty back road. The motion of the scene escalates to a crescendo through the editing. The bushes shake with law officers. Birds burst out of the bushes with crash. Clyde realizes they are trapped. He begins to run to back her. Quick cut to Clyde. Quick cut to Bonnie. Again. Back. Forth. Close up on Clyde . Close up on Bonnie. The sound spikes and authoritative tommy-gun shots riddle the scene. From all this quick cutting movements our lovers are then thrown into slow motion as bullets seethe through their car, their clothes, their last breath and broken bodies. Everything comes to a halt and our story winds to its sad end. The closing shot shows the gang of police officers looking down through bullet holes and broken glass and reflections from the windshield of this scene. The slow motion lends a kind of poetry to their death but the harsh realistic jerk of violence allows us a view of how ugly their lives could be. This dual image, this spinning chaos of romance and violence is what creates the pedestal upon which sit our dear Bonnie and Clyde.

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In the end the two related mediums of film and theatre serve the story of Bonnie and Clyde well. Both allow us to see a multitude of sides to what could have been two-dimensional historical cutouts. The success of both reminds me of an aspiration of filmmaker Werner Herzog. His goal when making film is to reach an ecstatic truth. In his words, “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” These ecstatic truths can be achieved at equal success in the realm of theatre and the stratum of cinema. Both the production by Shotgun Players and the 1967 film use the tools within their medium to achieve a layer of verity that defies reality and yet reveals more underlying truth.

Will will be back later this month with a different play and a different movie. Let us know what you think!

Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

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

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

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

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a writing project you are currently working on?

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

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

What’s next for you?

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

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

Megan Cohen: Better Than Everything

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite beer?

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing five times this month: July 15, 16, 22, 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!

Theater Around The Bay: Please Continue Your Conversation At Home

Stuart Bousel comes clean about the real reasons he ultimately walked out of Berkeley Rep’s “The Wild Bride”.”

Yesterday afternoon, a friend whom we shall call “Wagner” (all the names in this rant will be changed so I won’t feel bad about whatever it is I’m about to say), dropped me an instant message saying he had an extra ticket to see The Wild Bride at Berkeley Rep that night, and since I’d heard some good stuff about this show (which is in its second incarnation) and I didn’t have anything else to do (which is a lie because I have so much else to do and I’m really enjoying David Wong’s John Dies At The End right now), I jumped on BART after work and headed over to the East Bay for an impromptu man-date, hoping to be blown away by a show the SF Chronicle deemed “The Best Show of the Year!” last year, and several friends of mine had waxed poetic about.

To say I was underwhelmed is putting it lightly – especially as this show was a creation of the British theater group Kneehigh, who were the folks behind the beautiful and moving Brief Encounter, a show that ACT hosted a few years back. Thankfully, I actually didn’t know they were the creators until I was flipping through the program and noticed the director’s bio. I say “thankfully” because I want to believe my opinions on this show are based on what I was watching, not just disappointment due to false expectations and artist loyalty. But what about all those good things I’d already heard from reviews and friends – couldn’t that have raised that bar too high? Honestly, no. One, because I hadn’t followed the reviews of The Wild Bride beyond the critics I regularly read and two, because I have learned to always take local buzz with a grain of salt. Frankly, I’ve been an active creator and appreciator of theater since I got here more than ten years ago (seriously, on day 6 after my move, I went to see – and greatly enjoyed – Shotgun’s Troilus and Cressida), and there is so much I love about this theater scene, but if I had a nickel for every show in the Bay Area that gets undeservedly called “genius” or gets a completely unwarranted standing ovation, I’d have enough money by now to move to New York, where I sometimes feel like the kind of theater I personally enjoy is more prevalent.

I recognize those are fighting words – particularly from someone who is as vocal (and active) in the local theater scene as I am. But what you’re ultimately going to discover is “the point” of this article, is not that I begrudge anyone their taste, but rather that I’m getting a little tired of being a complicit part of what another friend of mine (let’s call him “Valentine”) calls “the Yay-Bay”: basically the idea that as residents of the Bay Area (but particularly the Axis of Smug that is San Francisco, Berkeley and The New Republic of Oaksterdam), not only is our poop gold, but anyone else who shows up and takes a shit in our yard is automatically elevated to Golden Goose status so long as they tell us what we want to hear: namely that we’re edgy, smart, and nowhere near as disconnected from the harsh realities of the world as a great deal of the rest of the world perceives us to be.

From my own perspective, both as a creator and as an audience member with a critical eye, I will admit I have noticed there is a local tendency to respond, sometimes with real anger, to anyone who calls us on this, and to actively turn our attention away from things that would challenge us to be more thoughtful about our own lives, more considerate of perspectives “less enlightened” than our own, and more open to the possible rewards from letting ourselves experience the full range of intellectual and emotional experience- in art, and in our actual lives. My friend “Siebel” likes to say that the Bay Area is a terrible place to get your heart broken, because there’s a resentment of anyone who brings the party down; I know what he’s talking about (though most of my friends are amazing bastions of support in my low periods), and when it comes to the arts I tend to agree: this is not always a great place for self- or socially-reflective art about being in a bad situation, disillusioned, or heartbroken- unless that heartbreak is over Bush winning an election, in which case you’ve just pooped gold. See, we are allowed to be angry here, but preferably about stuff we can all agree upon. And yes, I feel like there is an enormous pressure for us all to agree here, or not speak if we don’t agree. Which is another way of agreeing.

I don’t want to imply that New York is some bastion of integrity in these regards because it’s not – it too suffers from an insular worldview that tends to place itself at the center of the universe and many New Yorkers I know are guilty of looking on the rest of the world as a place where handmaidens come from (any city that isn’t New York) and open space filled with peasants (any other place where people live). And New York theater is notoriously self-referential and a great deal of what is successful there follows the trifold agenda of 1) be about New York 2) reaffirm New York is the center of the universe 3) reflect the vast cultural and social diversity of New York, subtly underlining the idea that no one need ever come from anywhere else because New York, like Noah’s Ark, already has two of everything – and everyone. And I say this as someone whose favorite play, hands down, is John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. But the thing about New York is that for all its solipsism, it is a place where most people have embraced an undercurrent of constant change and aspiration and all the attendant fear and anxiety that comes with following your heart, while the Bay Area has often been pegged as being about attaining and maintaining a level of lifestyle best described as “laid-back, comfortable,” but detractors of the Bay Area see as “lazy and indulgent.” As a young local musician I recently had a drink with told me (we’ll call her “Margaret”), “In New York they ask, ‘What’s your passion?’, in Los Angeles they ask, ‘What’s your dream?’ and in San Francisco they ask, ‘What’s your pleasure?'” Not a bad question to ask, mind you, but if we accept this characterization (and I have to admit, I immediately agreed it was pretty accurate), then it is indicative of the heart of the problem I/we struggle with here: a certain culturally ingrained resistance towards anything that discomforts us or screws with our way of looking at the world.

Which is the real reason I walked out of last night’s performance of The Wild Bride.

The fact is, if anyone ever should have loved this show, it is ME. I am sucker for three things in this world, and the number one thing is mythology or fairy tales of any variety. The second is folk musicals – those shows which incorporate music and singing into their stories while actively avoiding the trappings of mainstream musical theater in an attempt to create something widely appealing and accessible as opposed to glittery or virtuosic (not that there isn’t a time and a place for that). The third thing, however, that I am a sucker for, is human feelings. Put some emotion on your stage, from screaming teenage raw to drawing-room repressed – and even if I hate your story or hate your characters, I’ll probably still find something to like about your show because honestly, I go to the theater to feel, it’s that simple. As much as I like to be intellectually stimulated, if there is no emotional hook I don’t see the point – of anything really. I personally believe it’s our emotions, and not our intelligence, that actually set us apart from the lesser animals. Or rather, what I really believe is that our emotions, and our attempt to understand our emotions, are the signs that we actually are intelligent, and not just the varying degrees of clever that we see demonstrated by birds and snakes and other critters that have learned to bash their food against a rock or play dead when a bigger critter comes along.

For me, The Wild Bride lacked an emotional center that conveyed to me why the story was one this theater troupe felt a need to tell. Throughout the first act, despite the obvious craft and skill on stage, I became progressively aware of the math of the show, of what the artists behind it were doing, and less and less interested in what was going on in the world of the play. By the time the glowing pears showed up, I was thinking things like, “Oh, that’s cool-looking, wish I had thought of that, and hey, that actress looks like she’s having fun trying to get the pear in her mouth” and not, “Awww, the trees are feeding this poor broken woman of their own accord – it’s a miracle!” Which means the show failed for me. Look, I love highly theatrical ideas and design – I get why Kushner wants you to see the strings on the Angel, and as a guy who has been in The Fantasticks three times and still cries at the end, I don’t need or desire realism and I value meta-theater enormously. My own writing is highly satirical – I make fun of everything, particularly myself, and I think irony, surrealism, absurdism, symbolism and all the other isms all have their place. But for heaven’s sake, is it so much to ask that by forty-five minutes in I should care about something or somebody on stage? I don’t have to like them, I don’t have to admire them – but I should feel like I am invested in them. I ALWAYS know I am watching a play when I am watching a play, because I am not delusional (that way). For me, suspension of disbelief begins the moment I sit down in the theater because I am a lifetime theatergoer and I know that’s my part of the game we’re all playing. I have never done acid because I don’t need to – I have an overly active imagination as it is. The one thing I need, and then I’ll do a great deal of the rest of the work myself, is an entry into the story you are telling me – and for me, that entry needs to be human. Not a design element. Not a cool idea. Good design and good ideas are what elevate the experience, but if there’s no humanity there, there is no experience for me – good or bad. And frankly, non-experience is the only thing I feel isn’t worth my time because life is too short to not be engaged. To me, The Wild Bride felt as cold and distant and as if someone was standing center stage reading me the light cues instead of telling me a story that was important to them, about people they felt I should care about.

Maybe it was an off night. I kind of doubt it, because I know what makes a good script and little of that was there, but I also can see how in hybrid theater where the songs and movement are a massive chunk of the script (arguably more important than the dialogue), something can work better on nights when the cast is really selling it. Then again, maybe they were selling it and all they had to sell was a flat story with undeveloped characters and no real stakes. Or maybe it was the best performance of the best show in the world and it just wasn’t my thing. Any of these things could be true but the result is the same: I wasn’t enjoying it. Yes, I politely applauded the end of Act One (which was an astounding example of anti-climax), but when Wagner turned to me and asked if I liked it I said, “No,” then laughed and said, “Honestly, good tech and performances aside, I feel like I’m watching bad college theater. It’s all concept but no content. Or really, it’s more like children’s theater, only with children’s theater it wouldn’t have a second act and we’d know at the end of an hour what the moral of the story was.” My friend piped in with his own opinions, which were not as damning, but equally as strong and less than enthusiastic. And that’s when the woman sitting in the row in front of us felt a need to step into our conversation.

I have come to accept that part of living in the Bay Area is that strangers feel they are allowed to talk to you whenever they want. You have to understand that this is not an easy thing for me to grasp – my parents are from New York, where strangers only talk to you because they are lost tourists or potential muggers, and I spent my formative years in Arizona, where there is a strong culture of “stay the fuck out of my business unless I invite you in.” In the Yay Bay, we have a lovely climate of friendliness and perennial smiles that when I first moved here actually confused the shit out of me because like a lot of newbies, I kept thinking I had made all these friends only to realize “friendly” and “friend” are not the same thing (my dad, as New York as they come, would frequently say, “when are you going to realize that nice people are usually liars?”). It took me two years, more or less, to understand that people here are people just like they are everywhere else, and some are good and some are bad and most are just trying to get through life, but because so many of us are comfortadores here (thanks Joss Wheedon, for coining the term), boldly on the lookout for our next good glass of wine and/or casual sex partner (and I am not saying that’s a bad thing), we have cultivated a culture of “it’s all good” and many have internalized it to mean “there are no boundaries” and that is bullshit. I have boundaries. You should too. One of those boundaries is that if I am not talking to you, and you don’t know me, then you ask to be part of my conversation. You don’t just walk in. I mean, the women in the row behind us were talking about their low blood sugar and how cold the theater was. Did I turn around and tell them there were cookies and possibly more heat in the lobby? No. And maybe I should have. But I didn’t get the impression they were sharing their woes with me and I personally consider it rude to rush in to help unless someone is bleeding on the sidewalk and nobody has called an ambulance.

This woman in front of us, however (we will call her “Martha” because I don’t know her actual name), obviously had no such sense of boundaries. Never mind that our conversation is in a different row – which to me is like a different table at a restaurant, where the idea that each conversation is an island not to be breached is inherent to good service – or that it is intermission and so we’re hardly disturbing the performance. Never mind that we’re talking about the play we’re watching and thus attempting to make the most of our night at a disappointing theatrical experience. Never mind that for all she knows, we’re actual theater critics, or agents, or potential producers, or students, and this is our job or in some other way we’re obligated to have an opinion and to articulate that opinion. Never mind that as normal audience members we have the right and the obligation to respond to the show as honestly as we can, so long as it’s not screaming our thoughts aloud while the actors are on stage. For some reason, Martha feels she has every right to turn and say, “Hey guys, please continue your conversation at home. People can hear you.”

At another point in my life I would have told this woman to go fuck herself and learn that being polite means not listening in on someone just because you can technically hear them. At another point in my life that wasn’t that point, I would have told her that it is our duty to express our opinions of the work as audience members, and doing that in the theater during intermission is perfectly fine as that’s kind of what intermission is for (contrary to popular belief, it’s not to get snacks or pee – in the olden days, people did that all throughout the show) – a moment to process what you’re seeing and to do so socially, as in theory that should heighten your enjoyment of the next act. At still another point in my life, I would have probably apologized to her, certain I had done something wrong, even though I hadn’t. But in the last few years I have started to follow the advice of a friend of mine (let’s call her “Gretchen”), and whenever these moments happen I now hear her voice in my head saying, “Is this your hill to die on?” And 90% of the time now, I say “no.” So, instead I turned to Wagner and said, “On that note, I’m out.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup. I don’t need to watch the second act, and I definitely don’t need this pretentious Martha’s attitude, and it’s a long BART ride home.”

“Oh, well, I’m not staying by myself.”

And that’s why two men in their early 30’s, perhaps the theater community’s most coveted demographic after two men in their mid 20’s, walked out during the intermission of The Wild Bride.

So here’s the thing… if Martha had turned and said, “You know, I really like this show,” I would have been taken aback (boundaries!), but I also would have probably said, “Well, to each their own… hey, why do you like it?” And maybe she would have responded and maybe we would have had an awkward conversation and maybe we would have ended up having a drink after the show to talk more. But instead, she basically tried to shame me for having an opinion, and for expressing that opinion, and that infuriated me so much I walked out on a show that I was otherwise willing to see through to the bitter end because I have only walked out of three other shows before in my life. My friend “Mephisto,” who is also a theater maker with much stronger and much more vocal opinions than I, likes to talk about how theater is dying predominantly, in his opinion, because people feel it’s a duty to attend and not a joy, that it’s exclusionary and not inclusive, and because you’re not really allowed to react to it but instead expected to act like good little boys and girls. Now I don’t quite agree with all that, or with some of Mephisto’s attempts to solve it (like, say, having vegetables thrown at the actors), but at moments like this I do see his point. I mean, honestly, if I’m not allowed to have and express a dissenting opinion at the show, no matter how much the local literati like something, then there really is no reason for me to bother showing up to a live performance. Because the fact is, the only reason to see something live is to have that “in the moment” response – be it joy, laughter, tears, or anger. Hating something is another way of enjoying the experience of experiencing it. Ironically, what Martha made me realize is that I didn’t hate The Wild Bride, but I was hating the lack of experience that was watching it. I was bored. Which is a legitimate response, and I was processing it in substantive way. But Martha, in full Yay Bay fashion, doesn’t want to hear anything that’s gonna harsh her buzz, and since I can’t prove otherwise, I kind of take it that it’s less that she cares what I think, so much as she objects to me expressing it.

On the BART home, Wagner confesses he has already seen the show once and doesn’t like it – and that it’s a relief to know he’s not alone (note to self: he fears the backlash of the Yay Bay as much as I do). In fact, the whole reason he asked me is that he wanted to see the show again, but also to have someone to talk about it with. Which is precisely the point of this epic rant: we go to the theater, or really any live event, to engage, not exist in a bubble unto ourselves. We have our living rooms and streaming Netflix for that. The thrill of witnessing a performance or even a film is due, in large part, to the energy of the people around us – and our inability to control that energy. I have been in the audience of a show that people hated knowing that I alone was cheering it on – and grateful for that experience. I have also sat in the audience of a show where all of us were taken in by that special magic that sometimes emerges and brings everyone together. Both experiences are valuable. Both experiences are what make going to the theater such a crapshoot, and so exciting.

My dear friend “Helen” has an awesome story about being the only person laughing at a comedy performance she genuinely and heartily adored (these weren’t pity laughs), while a bunch of stone-faced couples sat around her refusing to give the performer anything more than the occasional smile or titter. At the end of the show, the audience, practically silent the whole time, gave a standing ovation that mystified Helen. She had liked the show – a lot – but it was, after all, a light comedy. Afterwards, as the audience was filing out of the theater, a woman near her (“Lilybeth”) turned and said, “I can’t imagine how the performers could concentrate with you laughing like a hyena all night long.” Helen replied, “I think it’s a shame to come see a show and not express your enjoyment of it.” Lilybeth responded, “You are mildly retarded.” Yes, that happened in San Francisco. Yes, we still laugh about it. To this day, Helen refers to herself as “mildly retarded.” She now remembers that part of the evening more than she remembers the show itself. The irony of this is that the woman who probably thought she was defending these poor put-upon performers, has in Helen’s memory, managed to completely upstage them. But then, being called retarded by another adult who doesn’t approve of how you laugh is a pretty hard act to follow.

A few years ago I adapted and directed a stage version of a book of stories by Peter S. Beagle called Giant Bones, a show that, for the record, had reviews that ran the gamut from glowing, to telling me I should never put on a play again. We had a night of the show where literally half of the audience walked out at intermission, and we also had nights when people couldn’t stop gushing to us afterwards. But that’s not why I bring it up, the relevant part is that in Giant Bones there is a city where theater has been banned, and the main character of the play, who is the director of a traveling theater company, talks about how on the surface, everything in the city is good, life is calm and orderly and dignified, and no one seems to really have any objections to the way things are done. It’s an exceptionally comfortable place to live, known for its lovely gardens, its thriving markets, its good food. “But as for what its people really think or feel?” he asks, with a shrug. “Well, that’s what the theater is for” says his lead actress, and the implication is that the theater is not just a place for the artist to tell the truth, but for the audience to do so as well. Both about what’s happening outside the theater, and in the theater itself.

Any theater company worth its audience knows how valuable audience discussion is, and they know it starts in the theater. At Theater Pub, we close every show telling the audience to stick around and talk to us, and I have maintained from the beginning that it is precisely that element of Theater Pub, the part where the audience can so directly congregate afterwards to discuss what they’ve just seen, that has made us a success. I’m sure many theater companies wish they had such a built in salon so readily attached to their productions, but most of them don’t. For most of them, the one moment they really have to foster audience discussion before everyone races out the door, is intermission.

Unless you happen to be sitting behind Martha Yay Bay, in which case… is this your hill to die on?

Stuart Bousel is one of the founding artistic directors of the San Franciso Theater Pub, and a prolific writer and director. His website, http://www.horrorunspeakable.com, will tell you all about it.