Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Pet Peeves in Arts Journalism

Marissa Skudlarek pens her penultimate column.

We’re winding down Theater Pub and winding down the blog, so as the longest-serving blog contributor, I thought I would use my next-to-last column to complain about my biggest arts-journalism pet peeves.

(This is not meant as an indictment of anyone who has written for this blog, just of general trends and irksome phrases that bother me.)

“The Bard” — This nickname is just so corny, promotes a false idea of Shakespeare as some kind of Merrie England wandering minstrel, and contributes to the problematic belief that Shakespeare is the greatest genius who ever lived and we mere mortals are unworthy of him. (There’s a reason that overzealous admiration of Shakespeare is called “Bardolatry.”) And yet I feel like the use of this phrase is only becoming more common because “The Bard” is 8 characters while “Shakespeare” is 11. (Thanks, Twitter!) Can’t we just agree to call him “Shax”?

“Penned” — This is a pretentious, cutesy word to use as a synonym for “wrote.” When I hear the word “wrote,” with its grinding r and hard t, I picture someone laboring over a messy notebook with a sputtering pen, forcing the words out. When I hear “penned,” I picture a lady in a negligee, sitting at a dainty writing table with a quill pen poised in her hand. Authoresses pen. Writers write.

“The play’s the thing” — I have seen countless theater-related articles headlined “The Play’s the Thing” and if this was ever clever or funny, it no longer is. As a child, my parents once convinced me to use “The Play’s the Thing” as the title for some book report or essay that I wrote about theater. I am still ashamed of having done that.

“Unbelievable” — In slang, “unbelievable” is a compliment and a synonym for “amazing,” but I always find it ludicrous when it is used in theater reviews as a compliment. The goal of mainstream, realist theater is believability, so when a critic writes something like “John Doe was unbelievable in the role of Willy Loman!” and means it as praise, the critic just ends up sounding like an idiot.

“Kinetic,” “melodic” — Writing about theater really means writing about many different art forms that combine to create a show. A critic reviewing a new musical may find herself evaluating the story, the dialogue, the music, the lyrics, the singing, the acting, the dancing, the direction, the sets, the costumes, and the lighting. It’s hard to write about abstract art forms like dance and music, though, and many theater critics have no special training in those disciplines. (In his book, Sondheim complains that music critics never review Broadway scores and theater critics often know nothing about music.) So in order to say something and sound knowledgeable, critics often fall back on phrases like “kinetic choreography” or “melodic songs.” But do those phrases really tell you anything?

“Stoppard/Sondheim has a heart after all” — This has been a staple of theater criticism since the 1980s. Both of these writers (whom I admire immensely, if it wasn’t obvious) came to prominence in the ’60s with works of clever, glittering wit; then, in the ’80s, critics started to perceive a new emotional depth in their work. You can quibble with this reductive description of their careers, but, more to the point, it’s no longer news to point out that the men who wrote Arcadia or “Not A Day Goes By” are perfectly capable of breaking your heart.

Lack of knowledge of the past — Over the past year, I’ve read articles claiming that “the Schuyler Sisters are the best female musical-theater characters ever” and “Rey from Star Wars is the best movie heroine ever.” I like the Schuyler Sisters and Rey just fine, I am pleased at the increased attention paid to female representation in art, but to claim that these are the “best characters ever” is appallingly shortsighted. Yeah, yeah, the Internet demands hyperbole and most people could afford to be more wide-ranging in the art that they consume, but wanting to write about how much you love a recent work of art is no reason to put down all the art that came before it.

Too much knowledge of the past — At the same time, it really annoys me when older critics spend the bulk of their theater reviews reminiscing about how the original production did it. I feel like this reinforces the belief that theater is for old, rich people who’d rather look to past glories than attempt to push the art form forward. I was fortunate enough to see The Producers in 2001 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but when it’s revived in 2036 starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Justin Bieber, I hope I can take their performances on their own merits.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If she has ever committed any of these sins in her own writing, please feel free to point it out in the comments.

Theater Around The Bay: The Great Blog Re-Cap Of 2015 Part I

Today is the first of our three installments of 2015 recaps from each of our nine staff bloggers. Each has their own unique angle on this past year, so make sure you come back for the rest tomorrow and Wednesday. The Stueys will post on New Year’s Eve.

Top Five “Words of Wisdom” From Folks I’ve Interviewed by Barbara Jwanouskos

2015 marked the first year of shifting “The Real World – Theater Edition” to a mostly interview-based column mainly focused on generative theater artists, new work, and playwrights. As I reflected on the year, five “words of wisdom” moments sprung to mind that I would love to set as an intention moving forward into 2016. They resonated with me when I initially interviewed each of the people below and then again as I reviewed the interviews of the past year.

I think it’s best to let these words stand alone without any framing or reasons why I chose them. After all, when something resonates for you personally, it just does. There’s not much more to it than that. Hopefully, though, highlighting these five artists will also bring new ideas and wonder to the forefront of everyone reading too!
In no particular order, here are their words again:

1) Ariel Craft, director
“Don’t be afraid of not knowing, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know. You can’t be expected to have all the answers in the beginning and, if you think that you do, be cautious of those answers.”

2) Donald E. Lacy, Jr., comedian, radio DJ, performer, writer, director, and community leader
“For other writers and artists I can’t tell them what to write or how they should address social ills, but the first advice I would give is to say you have to feel passionately about what you are writing about, whatever that may be. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but for me, I have to care. Especially as it relates to social issues and or injustices. I despise injustice. I despise racism, so having such strong feelings about those issues, it makes it easy for me to tap into what I want to say about those particular issues. But for me, I like to support my point of view with facts.”

3) Alan Olejniczak, playwright, librettist
“You must also really love the subject of your play as it may take years to develop.”

4) Savannah Reich, playwright, performer, and producer
“For me the simplest way to get your play produced is to do it yourself. It is only very recently that other people have wanted to produce my plays, and that is a new and exciting thing, but it’s important to me to always know that I can make my own work, and that I never need to get picked out of the pile or get the grant or win the contest to make my art.”

5) Marisela Treviño Orta, playwright
“I make a point to wait until I’ve gotten a play into several drafts before sharing the script with anyone. I need that time to really get to know what the story so that when people have notes for me I’m able to determine if those notes help me realize the narrative I’m trying to write or if they are going in another direction.”

The 5 Most Surprising Things that Happened to Me This Year by Charles Lewis III

I wouldn’t call 2015 my favorite year, but it was an interesting one theatrically. Some of it was by design, some of it was happenstance, but all of it taught me something. With all the moments I now recall, here are five that came out of left-field.

1) I sang. I’ve auditioned for so many musicals over the years that I’d long-since stopped holding my breath about actually being cast in one, let alone two in one year (one of which also required me to dance). But between appearing in a brand new musical and singing “Pinball Wizard” at the top of my lungs, I finally got over a stage-based fear that’s been with me since high school.

2) I saw the Red Planet. I was part of the writers’ pool for this year’s two rep shows by Wily West Productions. It was my first time being part of a group, this one led by Jennifer Roberts. One of the two scripts, Zero Hour: The Mars Experiment, had a performance attended by actual candidates of the Mars One project and got a reading at the Otherworld Theatre in Chicago.

3) I learned to like costumes. Not that I ever hated them (although I’ve worn a few horrendous ones in my time), I just didn’t ever want to be the one making the decisions about them. But a director kinda has to make those decisions and I wound up directing a lot this year. To my pleasant surprise, I wound up liking the things my actors wore: I created a cartoonish burger-place cap for On the Spot; I got my Olympians cast to look like a pack of scented markers; and as for Texting

4) I made a skimpy man-thong into a prop. A proud moment for me. Nothing I put on my resume will ever top it. Speaking of which…

5) I gave up my reluctance in calling myself a director. I only acted in two projects, which would normally lead me to calling this a slow year. But I felt envigorated after doing them. This occurred in the same year that I found myself at the proverbial “helm” of so many projects that I finally felt confident enough to put “Director” on my theatrical CV and told people to consider me for projects – which they have.

Oh yeah – I also ran into Colin Firth on the streets of San Francisco, but no one wants to hear about that, do they?

The Top Five Venues of 2015 by Anthony Miller

Hey you guys, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, when my Top 5 format becomes everyone’s format. It’s much like the 90’s, when what I already wore became fashionable. At the beginning of the year I made 2 resolutions, 1) Read The Great Gatsby and 2) Leave the house more often. As we come to the end of the year, only one of those really worked out. As it stands, I have read 17 pages of The Great Gatsby, it took all of 2014 just to finish the introduction. So we’ll table this one again. However, I did manage to get out more, consequently I got to see a lot of different shows in a whole bunch of places. So let’s look at my five favorite venues of 2015.

1) Pianofight
Wasn’t this everyone’s favorite venue of 2015? I’m not the first person to say it, but what Rob Ready and everyone at Pianofight has accomplished is amazing. It’s always fun to be there, the bar is great, the fried chicken sandwiches are the best, and it’s provided a clubhouse of sorts for SF theatre. With three stages, it’s hosting shows from every facet of the Bay Area performing arts scene. All the mini-scenes in the bay are getting together in one place and it’s resulting in more shows and bigger audiences. Whether I’m seeing a show or producing a show there, it’s always fun. I see a huge 2016 for this place, and they deserve it.

2) The Curran
While the 100 year-old Curran Theater is going under renovations, it has been hosting an exciting new series of plays called Curran: Under Construction. I was lucky enough to see a lot of these this year, and because I knew most of the house staff, I got to see not only a lot of cool theatre; I got to explore the place like crazy. By putting the audience on stage with the show, it turns the historic Curran stage into an intimate 150 seat venue that just happens to overlook a 1600 seat theatre and a giant chandelier. The sheer variety of shows I saw was vast There were immersive theater pieces like The Object Lesson, one man tributes to Lenny Bruce, and the Theatre Rock awesomeness of Ghost Quartet and Stew’s Notes of A Native Song. Add that to hanging out on a stage that has hosted hundreds of theatre legends, exploring their basement, fly rails and sneaking into a box seat and drinking a beer, and it makes for an awesome experience every time. And entering through the star door is pretty fun; It’s a really nice stage door.

3) Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater
For purely sentimental reasons, The ol’ Roda Theater makes my list. After roughly 3 years of House Managing for them, I left for greener pastures. Sure, the Roda can be aptly described much like Ferris Beuller described Cameron’s house; “It’s like a museum it’s very beautiful and very cold, and you not allowed to touch anything”. But I did have a lot of fun there. My co-workers were great, and as nerdy as it sounds, there is something absolutely thrilling about getting 600 people seated and giving the house away on time. Not to mention, I saw Tartuffe there, which was easily my favorite show of 2015.

4) The Grand Lake Theater
OK, this is a movie theater, but it is noteworthy. The historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland is my favorite movie theater in the world. I saw Star Wars Episode 7 in classic 2 projector 3D there and whenever I can see a movie here, I do. It’s a beautiful old fashioned theater that still raises a curtain when the movie starts; an organist plays before the show, and it’s got a pretty ceiling. Not to mention the fiercely liberal views that are often displayed on the marquee. Let me be clear, this is best movie theater in the Bay Area. They’re currently hosting the “Roadshow” Version of The Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm, You’re doing it no justice by seeing it at the Kabuki AMC, Go to Oakland, see a movie there. You won’t be sorry

5) The EXIT
I just can’t quit you EXIT Theater, I love you and your pee-pee smelling sidewalk. I don’t see a world where I don’t see shows here. It still remains a place where independent theatre artists can find a home or just get started. It’s the home of SF Fringe, The Olympians Festival, DivaFest and everybody’s first show in San Francisco. With great new venues like Pianofight and the Strand opening up, the Exit is still the Exit, the CBGB’s of SF Indie Theater.

Charles Lewis is an actor and a director and a writer. Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright. Anthony R. Miller is writer and producer, he’s a got a very busy 2016 coming up, keep up with it at http://www.awesometheatre.org.

The Five: Olympians Opening Night Rundown

Anthony R. Miller checks in after a night of revelry and faux-congeniality.

Hey you guys, so last Sunday was the big opening night party for the Olympians Festival, where a bunch of regularly bookish and shy people dress up and revel in the kind of self-confidence that comes from knowing 80% of the people in the room. Wine was consumed, dolmas were eaten, and plays were read. I have a few thoughts about it, astoundingly, there are five.

Small Talk Olympics
Some people are natural conversationalists. Interesting things just fall out of their mouths like they were storing them in their cheeks like hamsters. At any given point you can engage them and they will have something witty and insightful to say, they are naturally comfortable and charming. I am not one of those people, but wine helps. When I know I have to be in a social situation for several hours, there is a process of preparation. I need to have a few topics in which I can talk about for 3-5 minutes with different people, I even plan a few jokes, I know it sounds ridiculous right? But for someone who really likes their alone time, it’s a necessity. The first person to engage me asked if I had heard the new Miley Cyrus record (“Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz”), and of course I had. That killed like 5 minutes right there. Other go-to topics for me were the “Squatty Potty” commercial, (If you haven’t seen it, drop everything and watch it now.) the new Star Wars movie (because even if you don’t have an opinion on it, that’s basically an opinion.) and of course “Are you excited for your show?” All the while the same mantra runs through my head “Make eye contact, don’t say something stupid and for God sakes, cover your mouth when you laugh so your giant teeth don’t frighten anyone.” Good Times.

Fancy Pants
Before the TBA awards came along, The Olympians Festival Opening Night Party was the original Theatre Nerd-Prom. Turns out we all clean up pretty nicely. After years of getting flak (Good-naturedly of course) for my go-to v-neck shirt/ suit jacket combo, I shook things up with a v-neck sweater under the jacket. Cause every girls crazy bout a sweater wearin’ man. And as much as I’d rather wear jeans and a t-shirt to everything, getting’ gussied up can be kind of fun. But I draw the line at ties, ties are for weddings, funerals and job interviews. What am I, a banker?

image1

Meet and Greet
A fun part of the night is meeting the actors who will be in your show. With the exception of fellow blogger Marissa Skudlarek (Whom, incidentally is going to change American “Theatre forever with her performance.) and Mr. Jeremy Cole, my cast is comprised of people I saw for the first time at auditions. It’s great to chat, get their input on the script and meet the people who are making your play happen for the first time. I still get weirded out when people talk to me like I’m important, but again, wine helps.

Dolma-Mania
Every year there is pretty awesome spread of Mediterranean food. So if you’re a fan of hummus, dolma, and falafel, you’re in luck. But it was the giant plate of cheese that created the most internal conflict. As I stumble into my late-thirties, my stomach just can’t party like it used to. In fact two days before the party, my doctor said I couldn’t eat diary for a month. So there it was a giant tray of pepper-jack and cheddar temptation. To be honest, I gave in pretty quick, I assume they serves cheese sandwiches in heaven. And until the wine kicks in, eating is a great thing to do when you’re nervous. But once I got my fix, I stuck to dolmas, lots of them. I ate so many dolmas, I’m pretty sure my blood is at least 37% olive oil. But hey my doctor didn’t say stop eating things with olive oil in it.

The Future is Bright
This year’s festival is going to be great, a lot of returning writers and some new faces. So make plans to see at least a few of these readings. There will good plays, ok plays and total trainwrecks, but that’s the fun of it. What was really exciting was hearing the list of writers for next year’s festival. There were so many new names, less returning writers and the introduction of Egyptian gods (Polytheism, it was a thing.) So yeah this year is gonna rock, I’m genuinely excited for some these plays. But man, next year is already looking like the most exciting year yet. So stay posted, do what your doctor tells you and drink wine, grapes are good for you.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, producer and introvert. His play; “CHRISTIAN TEEN DOLPHIN-SEX BEACH PARTY” will be performed on November 18th as part of the San Francisco Olympians Festival , and promises to be at least mildly amusing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can we see you performing next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Rudholm: It’s great fun!

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

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Burnin’ Down the House – Part II

Dave Sikula, getting carried away again.

In our last thrilling chapter, I began to discuss how I nearly burned down Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

I was going to pick up by talking about waiting in line for movies. In these days of camping out days in advance to get into Hall H at the San Diego Comic-Con or to buy something useless on Black Friday, waiting for a few hours at a movie theatre may not seem novel, but in the ‘70s, it was. As I say, I was going to start with that, but I’m finding my memory isn’t what I think it is.

The first time I remember really waiting for a movie was either 1973 or 1974 for The Exorcist. My girlfriend at the time had read the book and really wanted to see it. In those pre-Jaws days, most big movies would open in limited release (like two or three theatres in the entire country) before moving on to smaller theatres. There were really only two places where every movie would play: Broadway and Times Square in New York and Westwood in Los Angeles. Now, of course, there are no movie theatres on Broadway or in Times Square (the multiplexes on 42nd Street don’t count … ) and Westwood, which once had more than a dozen theatres, now has only a couple.

The Exorcist was playing at Mann’s National, so we drove to Westwood on what I remember as a nice spring Sunday, and discovered that, not only was the movie sold out (in an 1100-seat theatre!), the show after that was sold out (and the show after that might have been sold out). We bought tickets for the first available show and got in line for the next five hours, which entailed going down one block, around the corner, down another, around another corner, and going way down a third block (there may even have been another corner and another block). We had no books, no newspapers, and no smart phones to distract us, no nothin’ except standing in line, talking to people about how we couldn’t believe we were going to wait this long for some stupid movie and how the McDonald’s across the street had jacked up its prices to take advantage of its captive audience. It was a change they denied, but was verifiably true.

Scene of the crime

Scene of the crime

(Now, I remember it as a warm late spring/early summer evening (as does my then-girlfriend) – and the same night that the LAPD and the FBI shot it out with the Symbionese Liberation Army to rescue Patty Hearst, but I don’t see how that could be, since that night was five months after the movie opened. The line was long, but not that long … )

As people came out of the theatre, they were either grossed out (these were more innocent times) or laughing (obviously high). The thing was, we had built a sort of temporary community in that line, with relationships, running jokes, and commentary, but that was broken up as soon as we hit the doors of the theatre. Ultimately, I thought (and think) the movie was pretty “meh.” It was okay, but more of a cultural phenomenon than a cinematic experience. My girlfriend, though, was so freaked out by it that she demanded that I take her copy of the book and get it out of her house (I still have it), and she got the willies when hearing “Tubular Bells,” the movie’s theme. Her mother got mad at me for taking her daughter to the movie, but then she was generally mad at me anyway.

Careful!

My next experience with waiting for a movie was with Star Wars in 1977. Now, I had known about the movie well in advance, having gotten a poster for it the previous year at some comic convention. (I sold that poster sometime in the ‘80s for something like $100; now it goes for more than $2,000.) The first show wasn’t sold out, but after that, you couldn’t get near theatres that were showing it. It opened wide; really wide. It was beyond huge.

When the second movie opened in 1980, it was with a midnight show at the Egyptian on Hollywood Blvd. I got there at 11:00 am and waited in line all day with a bunch of other misfits. People would walk by and ask what we were waiting for. We told them “the new Star Wars movie,” and they would look at us with either pity, confusion, or terror (or some combination thereof). Can’t say as I blame them. (When the third movie opened in 1983, I gamed the system. This time, there was a benefit screening the evening before the official midnight opening. I paid $50 [!] for a ticket [it was a worthy cause; pediatric cancer or something] and, after the movie, went around the theatre and gathered up a stack of the souvenir programs that had been distributed, then drove to the Egyptian and sold them to the suckers in line for a dollar a pop, more than making up the price of my own ticket.)

I can’t believe I found an image of the program

I can’t believe I found an image of the program

As is my wont, though, I’ve spent words to get us to the point where I’m just on the verge of my attempted arson, so I shall leave you, gentle reader, on proverbial tenterhooks until the next time, when I promise you, I will include breaking and entering among my crimes.

Confession is good for the soul, after all…

Working Title: Just Pick One Already!

This week Will Leschber splits hairs and Oscar camps…

Ok theater geeks, it’s go time. This is our Super Bowl. The Academy Awards.

So many Oscar races come down to a title fight: 12 Years a Slave vs Gravity; Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker; The Kings Speech vs The Social Network; Crash vs Brokeback Mountain; Shakespeare in Love vs Saving Private Ryan; Goodfellas vs Dances with Wolves; Forrest Gump vs Pulp Fiction; Gandhi or Tootsie; Kramer vs Kramer vs Apocalypse Now; Annie Hall or Star Wars; To Kill a Mockingbird or Lawrence of Arabia; All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard; Citizen Kane or How Green Was My Valley; Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz; Wings or Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans… (trick question film nerds).

As you peruse this list I’m sure you are thinking a few things: I’m sure 12 Years a Slave is great and maybe I’ll watch it one day; Thank god that towering achievement Dances With Wolves won over the endlessly forgettable and uninfluecial Goodfellas; I know Pulp Fiction is better but I’m not gonna feel bad about loving America’s Tom Hanks. Win Forrest Win! And lastly, I can hear you thinking, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans…? Are you making shit up again? What the fuck is that?

The voices keep telling me to see Birdman but all I really want to watch is the Lego Movie...

The voices keep telling me to see Birdman but all I really want to watch is the Lego Movie…

I’m getting around the posing of the dichotomy…What is more important, the Unique and Artistic Production or the Outstanding Best Picture award? Once upon a time we had an award for both (all the way back in 1927) but now it seems there can be only one. These days, bouts between the heavy, artistic “important” pictures and the awesome spectacle that only lives in the places between the silver screens has become a common conversation. (See Avatar vs Hurt Locker, and 12 Years a Slave vs Gravity.) There’s no assumed judgement here. I loved all of these films for very different reasons. I know, I know, the best films are a balance of these elements, but that doesn’t make for a good debate! I’m saying, if you only get one and you had to pick, dear reader, which do you choose?

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What is more valuable and what is more valued? Do we strive to delight and transport in a way only film can? Or do we strive to reach new depths of the human experience? Or do we strive to rage against the dying of the light? Calm down Christopher Nolan, we get it, you are super deep.

This year that title fight looks like Boyhood vs Birdman. I show up to spectacle any day. Birdman was a visual feat and feast! But the greatest and best film this year is also the quietest and the most unassuming. That’s why it achieves more. I’d love to see Boyhood win because it’s a one of the most successful films to capturing something all of us experience that rarely makes it into narrative film; the feeling and memory of growing up and the importance of all the unimportant moments that build the mortar of who we are. That’s my pick. But what should win isn’t necessarily what will win. I made peace with that award show truth long ago. Who knows Imitation Game may show up and surprise us all. We’ll see.

There can be only one…Who will you choose?

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: A Nice Day for a White Wedding?

Buckle up, Marissa is referencing Billy Idol.

Over the weekend, I attended my cousin’s wedding outside of Philadelphia. After the church service and the lengthy reception, there were some ad hoc after-parties in the hotel where many of us were staying, and I found myself in a room with a bunch of my cousin’s friends from college. The atmosphere was very “frat party” and I only stayed for five minutes, but that was enough time for me to overhear an unexpectedly interesting conversation: “This is the whitest wedding I’ve ever been to,” said an Asian-American young man.

“No kidding,” said his friend, who, like everyone else in the room, was white. And they proceeded to try to count up how many wedding guests were people of color. They thought of about three (out of 150+ attendees).

Overhearing this conversation really made clear to me just how much racial diversity is an active topic of discussion, in a way that it wasn’t even five or ten years ago. When even a bunch of drunken, mostly-white bros are counting people of color and complaining that my big Catholic family wedding has too many white people at it, that’s when you know that this topic has hit the mainstream.

This is happening in regards to gender diversity, too; witness the outcry this week when the cast of the upcoming Star Wars sequel turned out to include only one new female character (as opposed to 6 new male characters). And I find myself preoccupied with these topics all the time: I submit statistics to Valerie Weak’s “Counting Actors” project; I make little tallies of male vs. female writers whenever the winners of a playwriting contest are announced; I see a show with an all-white cast, and wonder if they were truly the best people for the job, or if racism is at work.

But at the same time… I kind of hate myself for doing these things. It’s easy to count actors and easy to work up a sense of outrage; it is much harder to actually change things for the better. Especially because I happen to believe that a lack of diversity most often results from abstract, sociological, systemic reasons, rather than from individual acts of racism or prejudice. Sure, the ethnic composition of the guests at my cousin’s wedding did not mirror the ethnic composition of the United States as a whole… but what were the bride and groom supposed to do about that?

Furthermore, if I think about these things too much, I start brooding over unanswerable questions. Is it “okay” that the new Star Wars actors are mostly male, because two of those men (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) are people of color? Is it “okay” for me to celebrate a theater season that has 50% male and 50% female writers, if all of those writers are white and come from privileged backgrounds? Is strict adherence to ethnic and gender diversity, to dismantling the old racist and patriarchal power structures, my top priority — and if it isn’t, does that make me a horrible person?

I think that it feels petty and mean-spirited to spend so much of my time counting actors and getting outraged; and then I think no, the petty, mean-spirited people are the ones who want things to remain status quo. I wish that we spent more time online discussing philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics rather than identity politics, and then I realize that that makes me sound like a stereotypical White Person, stuck up in an ivory tower. I realize that to say “I don’t want to spend so much time thinking about race” merely reveals my immense privilege: society might allow me to ignore the fact of my whiteness, but it will not allow a black person to ignore her blackness.

But still… I want to be positive and receptive to change, not embittered or resentful or willfully ignorant. So perhaps I should just say that I am grateful that even drunken bros are counting people of color — this kind of awareness might be the first step toward the systemic, society-wide changes that we need — and I look forward to seeing where things go from here. I hope that the conversation goes deeper — and that the world moves forward.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you don’t mind hearing from yet another young, white, female voice, find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.