Theater Around The Bay: A Post About Posters

Our guest post today is by long time Theater Pub Art Director, Cody Rishell, who is making his debut on the blog as a writer!

We have all been enchanted by posters, and I’m willing to bet that there’s a poster hanging in your home, office, or studio that you cherish. It’s a theater poster or a film poster, a motivational poster, a propaganda poster, or a poster that just lets you escape for a few seconds in the day whenever you look at it. We hang them for education in when we’re in elementary school, and out of rebellion when we get to high school; in college it’s how we make our dorm room feel like our room.

When you're in my bedroom, you Can-Can sucker.

When you’re in my bedroom, you Can-Can sucker.

It’s a fine art, the poster, and has an incredible history that is largely responsible for bringing fine art to a lot of people who can’t afford originals or a expensive prints. It took art from inside the salons of Paris and put it into the streets and the homes of the lower classes, which was kind of a big deal. We owe a lot to the early greats and the Cherets, Muchas, and Lutrecs of the most recent ages. Hell, I dare you to look at a Drew Struzen and not feel enchanted by the Star Wars universe.

Since I much prefer Mucha, however, you're getting some Mucha.

Since I much prefer Mucha, however, you’re getting some Mucha.

Now, the poster has leapt from carts and panels to become a cornerstone of modern marketing. At its core, the poster’s purpose is to inform the greater public of SOMETHING, that SOMETHING is happening and you had better be a part of it. It’s not an easy task. A poster has about 3 seconds to create enough interest that a viewer remembers the image and whatever slogan your marketing team spent hours (or seconds) on wordsmithing. And truly good posters are hard to make for that reason. A lot of them, even some really beautiful ones, are still forgetable, often either because they’re not-eye catching enough, or so overwhelming (or obtuse, or complex) that they fail to convey their intent quickly enough to associate the image with whatever it’s supposed to be selling.

No, really, this poster is lovely... but what the hell is it trying to tell me?

No, really, this poster is lovely… but what the hell is it trying to tell me?

I’ve worked in the Bay Area theater scene as a graphic artist for a little over six years, and I have seen a lot of posters (usually reduced to their lesser cousin, the postcard.) I’ve seen some pretty terrible ones, some mediocre ones, some great ones, and some mind blowing ones, but I can’t really say that the poster, whatever form it takes, is really working for a lot of venues. There are a host of reasons as to why, all of which are understandable: shows come with contracts stating you have to use X imagery, artistic directors end up creating the posters themselves, marketing people put all their effort behind social marketing instead, etc. Whether it was lack of time, funds, initiative, know-how, or a great idea that sort of fizzled, at the end of the day, a lot of Bay Area theater scene posters kind of fail, and when I say that, I by no means think that every poster I design is perfect either, because the poster is a really simple, but incredibly complex, monster, and often times it kicks my ass too.

I may also have really high standards.

I may also have really high standards.

I will probably lose black box street cred when I say this, but I love “The Phantom of the Opera.” I first heard the overture of Act One when I was 9 when my sister was rehearsing it on her flute. I remember asking what it was, and she showed me the shows music book. The cover was a replica of the poster from the show, and it looks like how that overture should feel: dark, moody, and romantic.

Bravi, bravi, bravissimi...

Bravi, bravi, bravissimi…

It’s also so simple: black, a mask and a rose, and the shattered mirror font of the title. It’s not complicated but it really tells you what the show is about, without using a photo, while also leaving a ton of mystery, creating intrigue. It assists in the illusion that the show seeks to cast on the audience. All of the great theater posters have this approach in common, from “The Fantasticks” to “Wicked”. The best posters are simple, iconic, and tell you something about the show to pique an interest. They’re the brand of the show that adorns all other marketing materiel like programs, web banners, and e-mail blasts, and they’re usually the first impression your audience sees of the thing you’ve worked so hard on. Therefore they need to convey the mood of the piece, the flavor of the evening in store, along with subject matter, while also still leaving room for all that actual information like dates and times and places.

You are in for singing, violence, blood, and fabulous hair... AT THE ST. MARCUS THEATER!

You are in for singing, violence, blood, and fabulous hair.

I won’t go into much detail about my own process, but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that I think are good things to keep in mind, both as a designer and as the person working with a designer, when creating posters for the theater:

1) Details of the show. Check the profound adjectives at the door. I want to know the title, who wrote it, what will the set look like, what will the costumes look like, what era does it all take place in, and who or what is the playwright’s favorite artist or design aesthetic. After this, tell me in one sentence the message you want to get across about your play. If you are going to put on a production of “Hamlet” where all of the male characters are played by female actors, and vice versa, because you believe “Hamlet transcends gender” that’s a pretty bold statement. So the design should probably be something bold.

Nothing says bold like Death looking you in the face.

Nothing says bold like Death looking you in the face.

2) What has come before this? There are so many ways to sell “Hamlet”, but what is the best way to sell Hamlet for your production? Looking at what others have done in the past and steering away from that is a good place to start, since obviously you want something brand new (unless your concept is to actively evoke other people’s interpretation), but how does your unique production inspire or justify going into new visual territory? Looking at how another company did (or did not) solve this design problem is a great way to get ideas- including ideas on what not to do.

Hmmmmm...

Hmmmmm…

3) What is the language of your audience? Tap into your inner anthropologist, and go out and see what the community you are designing for likes to do, talk about, and see. What images resonate with them- in good and bad ways? What challenges them? What bores them? What do they talk about- and especially what do they make fun of? Where does their aesthetic, your aesthetic, and the production’s aesthetic all meet?

The MTV Generation is now reaching Theater Patron age... can you tell?

The MTV Generation is now reaching Theater Patron age… can you tell?

Of course, most of the time, as a contract artist, you have to use already established imagery that has been designed by a design house, because in the Bay Area shows are predominantly put on by companies who are more concerned (perhaps justifiably so) with branding themselves than their individual shows (which is more the case on, say Broadway, where each show is kind of it’s own little company). But for the shows where you do have the chance to truly create the marketing images you send out, treat that process like it is a part of the play’s process, because it’s just as important in the long-run. Remember that while the poster helps get the audience in the door, they’re also (along with postcards and programs) the take-aways. They’re the thing that you give to audience members to remember all of your hard work and time, and ideally they hang your poster on a wall and be re-inspired by the show every time they glance at it for years to come. I think that it is really a precious thing when you can become a part of what long-term inspires someone, and so as you (and I) and our theatrical collaborators strive to create the perfect poster, always remember that the art is Art too!

Cody Rishell is a graphic artist who can often be found creating images and posters for the San Francisco Theater Pub, the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and for his own interests and musings. His past work also includes the Fringe Festival 2012, Bay One Acts 9 – 12, and Central Works. He currently has a daily cartoon called Clyde The Cyclops, which follows the adventures of a little blue cyclops named Clyde.

Everything Is Already Something Week 14: Allison Hangs Out with an Oscar Nominee

Allison Page eschews her usual ranting and raving to share a recent interview with someone who blew her mind.

Maybe you’ve never heard the name Aggie Rodgers, and if she walked by you on the street you’d think she was a quirky lady with gray, braided pigtails – what you might not realize is that she was the mastermind behind Princess Leia’s slave costume, Beeltejuice’s striped suit, the rigid clothes that aligned with Nurse Ratched’s rigid personality in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest, and absolutely every piece of clothing in The Color Purple (apart from the hats) for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so. Aggie Rodgers has probably clothed most of the actors you’ve watched on the big, bright screen and many, many of the movies you’ve seen throughout your life. Aggie and I met on the set of the film Quitters last month. I was playing a small, but delightful role, and Aggie was clothing all the actors with parts both big and small. We sort of hit it off right away; she mentioned something she had done for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , and after I figured out she meant the MOVIE and not some local production of the play 10 years ago, I asked if I could interview her. And then for some reason she let me come to her house to do it. After a healthy amount of time shootin’ the breeze, we got to talking about her career. And, of course, clothes.

Me: When did you start costuming? Is that the first career decision you made or did you do something else first?

Aggie: No, that’s the first thing I did. I tried to do business in college and failed miserably. They threw me out at Fresno State…I’m not capable of a lot of things.

Me: Yeah, me neither.

Aggie: My mom had done millinery – hats – in the theater in Fresno for this one theater group.

Me: I LOVE hats.

Aggie: I know!

Me: I got myself a book thinking I could learn how to do it – it was too complicated. I immediately quit.

Aggie: Oh yeah, you have to have forms and everything…I had a guy in LA who was from the theater, from Berkeley Rep – and he did all my hats for The Color Purple…I used to watch my mother and just think she was crazy – just like my son thinks I’m nuts. So then I went into the theater department there (Fresno)  and  when I graduated form there I moved up to Oakland to my grandmother’s house…I thought “I’ll go to get my masters degree in the theater at SF state.”, so I applied at state and then I entered it and was working away. It was right at a very hot political time and the school itself was demanding that each student sign a pledge of allegiance to the United States. This would have been ’65 probably. And I said “I’m an American citizen, I already am!”, so all the students rebelled and there were huge riots on the campus – and I am Miss Wimp. I mean I’m not now, but I was really supremely wimpy and I called my mother and I said “Mommy, I cannot go to school here. They’re throwing rocks through my windows and I don’t understand what’s going on.” And she said “Well, what will you do?” I said  “There’s some theater group downtown, I’ll try to apply there.” So I went downtown to 450 Sutter and applied for a job in the costume shop. (Note: ACT is the place to which she is referring.) They were barely starting and the person you saw on the set when you came to meet me – me, this person sitting here – is the same person that went into 450 Sutter. I’ve continued to be ding-y and rather light-hearted and I have a slight Joie de vivre. And I got a job there at 55 dollars a week. 55 fuckin’ dollars a week. So I worked there for 2 seasons and I got so much out of it. And I never designed anything really – I wanted to, but I was completely over my head. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. Rightly so, they never gave me a job. So I went back to school. I called all these different state colleges and asked them how much money they dedicated towards a master’s degree costume budget and Long Beach gave $500 at that time so I enrolled there and got my master’s degree in three semesters and I came back and started in on film. Because really, I’m much more mercurial, and that doesn’t work in the theatre. They want and need very specific things that have to do with a long history of character…especially when you’re dealing with Shakespeare. So, it’s just way beyond my head. That’s why I like Valencia street so much. I mean, I don’t mind going to Neiman’s, that’s fine. But you can change what all these characters look like with just a breath by what you put on them. That’s just not the theater that I knew at that time. So I went to work here in San Francisco for a casting agent. I worked there for a couple years just typing out all those little forms that you have to have to be an extra. At that time there were a lot of films shooting here so she provided all the extras and she had a modeling company attached to her and everything. So I worked there and I kept seeing these women come through that were then called stylists, for commercials.

Me: Doesn’t that make it sound so fancy? “Stylists”?

Aggie: Oh, it totally did. I thought “Far out!” But I think I did one commercial when I worked there and I was just terrible at it. I had to rent a whole lot of scuba equipment. I mean – please – but in truth it really was the costume, but I knew nothing about it, I didn’t know how to work a scuba thing. We got to the set and they said “Well, how does this work?” and I thought “Well, I don’t know how this works.” And I did everything wrong on that.

Me: So how did you end up with your first film?

Aggie: They were interviewing for a movie called American Graffiti and it was a union film, and they had interviewed 8 or 9 people before me. And since I had never done anything just had done costumes in college, the union manager asked me if I knew anything about “dragging the main” and of course in Fresno – that was all we did at that time. So because I had grown up in Fresno and I was only a few months older than George Lucas, I got that job. But it had purely nothing to do with whether I had any talent. Somehow they had enough faith in me, this guy, and so did George. I  did many things wrong. I didn’t know I could ask for the actor to come out a day before filming. I just hoped that everything would fit. I would just take measurements from them on the phone. And George was very specific about certain things. Certain shirts on certain characters, and I just tried to fulfill his wishes and it somehow came together. If you think about it, every day on the film set is a piece of theater. Every day when the camera rolls – it’s the theater. The actor is creating a character right in front of you. And in the old days I preferred it much more because we would go to a theater, a screening room, and actually see the dailies that we filmed that day, and the crew members would really become so much more dedicated to the film. Now people stand around looking at a monitor that’s like…this big. (Makes a small hand signal) it’s so unfair to the actor. I think that the actor is going to really lose the crew’s adoration, which I think has always been part of something that’s been important. Like the audience, you want them to come and see your play, it makes you crazy when they don’t. It’s the same thing for an actor, I think, on a set with these stupid little monitors. And they say “Well, you can see the dailies anytime you want.” Yeah, so I’m going to take it home? I stood on the set for 12 hours and I’m going to turn to my computer and watch for three more hours? I don’t think so. So it’s changed for the worse in that way.

Me: Do you read the scripts?

Aggie: Oh, by heart. Totally. We get the script – we have to help them with the budget and everything – because line producers don’t have a clue, really, what’s going to happen, because they don’t know how to break down the script clearly enough anyway. So before it gets going I was able to tell the line producer that there were 66 changes (in Quitters) just based on the way it was written then, and in the end we had 85 changes.

Me: Wow, that’s a lot.

Aggie: Yeah, because these characters, some of them have 13 changes within the character.

Me: That is a lot of clothing.

Aggie: Oh no. It’s nothing. Even Fruitvale Station, you have to figure that every one of those kids that was up on the platform had on at least $110 – $115 worth of clothes by the time we had to do their shoes, because they couldn’t have brand names on them because there were guns involved and a murder, so there were certain restrictions we had to have. Because – the camera would be right there. There’s the shoe, there’s the sock, there’s the pant, there’s the belt, there’s the underwear that shows, there’s the t-shirt, and another t-shirt then there’s a hoodie, then maybe there’s a hat. So these are things that the young producers who have to deal with money have no clue about. So we get it early – we get the script before we even say “yes, no, maybe so” and then we have to break it down. I wrote to a friend of mine who just did the costumes for The Butler…and her feeling was that there was so much clothing and too many changes but as the script goes by – 38 years go by, so you have to have that much clothing to make those years go by. And if you think about The Color Purple – we have just as many years go by. Whoopi (Goldberg, obviously…is there another Whoopi?) had 91 changes.

Me: Wow. That seems like a lot.

Aggie: Sometimes you’re making all those clothes – like for Oprah (Winfrey, obviously…is there another Oprah?) we had to make most of her clothes because she, too, is zaftig. (Note: She says “she, too” because she previously said that’s how I’M shaped. So…this just in, I’m shaped like Oprah!…oh boy.) And Danny Glover was very tall – not heavy – but there weren’t clothes for him so we had to make all of his clothes. So you have all those different things that go on in film – there probably wouldn’t be that many in a theater piece, now that I think about. But they do have changes in the theater. It creates the scene…when you think about Shakespeare, I think you really only get one hit at it and then they wear it all the way through until they’re stabbed.

Me: A lot of those costumes are so gigantic you don’t even have time to put on a second one in the middle of it.

Aggie: At ACT, sometimes the dressers wouldn’t show up and I would have to stay late and help dress and do fast changes. Many times I’d be standing on the wrong side of the stage thinking “I’m not going to make it!”.

Me: I feel bad any time someone has to help me change because it’s just a mess. Recently I was in a show that had tons of quick changes – which were nowhere near the number you have in films – but I had like 15 seconds for each one and I came very close to some hilarious wardrobe malfunctions (NOTE: One night in particular.  Sorry/you’re welcome to the people who were sitting on the right side of the theater that evening!) So I feel like if I don’t ask you about Princess Leia someone will kill me. Though I am probably one of the only people who hasn’t seen Star Wars.

Aggie: Don’t worry about it!

Me: I saw a drawing of her slave costume – did you do that?

Yowza

Yowza

Aggie: We used an illustrator from the art department. He had been on the previous Star Wars movies and really knew. You know, I had never been a Star Wars fan but I had seen them. They were looking for a local person who could do most of the costumes here so George (Lucas) could have more control over them. I think maybe he might not have been that happy with the English designers he had on the previous films. It wasn’t like “Oh, we have to have Aggie do it.”

Me: We must have Aggie!

Aggie: Yes! Oh my God. I pretend that sometimes. If we could have pulled off  25 yards of silk flying through her legs we would have done it, but we couldn’t because she had all those stunts. There were stunt ones made out of this soft leather and gel and there were regular bras that were lined and so forth. It was a lot of fun.

Me: I feel like that would have been a slightly stressful thing to work on. It seems gigantic, right?

Aggie: But you know, you have a lot of people working with you, it’s not like I’m by myself exactly.

Me: I feel like you don’t get stressed out very easily. You seem like such a calm person.

Aggie: Ohhh, I do! And I yell and I’m an asshole. I can do it! But as I’ve gotten older…I feel like I’m better at sizing up the situation. Especially on something like Quitters – just letting shit go. It’s not about the ego, it’s jut about the shot. And it used to be, when I did these larger films, it was about the shot but it was what I could put in it. I don’t know, I’ve been very happy with the films I’ve gotten to do, and honestly a theater person would have been thrilled to have had the same kind of career in the theater that I’ve had in film.

Me: Yeah! And you have – how many Oscar nominations do you have?

Aggie's costuming efforts for The Color Purple were rewarded with an Oscar nomination

Aggie’s costuming efforts for The Color Purple were rewarded with an Oscar nomination

Aggie: Just one!

Me: That’s all you need! You don’t really need another one – you still have that one.

Aggie: I know, it’s totally true! And I’m glad it was for that particular film.

Me: That must have been a really bizarre experience – did you go?

Aggie: Oh, of course! And my husband came.

Me: Did you wear something really magnificent?

Aggie: I wore a Yohji Yamamoto outfit – I was very much into Japanese clothes. I still have it! I’m trying to keep it for my older son’s fiancé. I tried it on her when she was here last and she looked fantastic.

Me: That’s amazing.

Aggie: But, ya know, it’s so political now, to even get nominated. And the Academy is so difficult. There’s such a European presence in the costume department because just like we think in the theater “Oh, I want to go see a Shakespearean play with all those 20 yards of silk and the skirt!” – that’s generally what wins. Big skirted period pieces. I mean, I liked last year, I liked those gowns in Anna Karenina. Just stunning, because she had taken much license and made it like a 50’s Dior gown rather than to the period, where some people will only do just exactly what would have been worn.

Me: Have you done a period piece?

Aggie: No, I’ve done more things that were like American Graffiti. Things you don’t really have a big budget for. The Color Purple and Return of the Jedi were the two biggest budgets I had. I don’t need to do that anymore. I think if I tried to do that now it would be scary, because that department can either make or break those films.

Me: Do you purposely choose smaller stuff now?

Aggie: I do. I don’t want to do anymore studio pictures…I try not to do movies that have guns in them. But even Fruitvale had guns, so I can’t always get away with that. I wanted to do Fruitvale no matter what. I would have cried if I hadn’t gotten that movie. So, I eliminated myself from a lot of shit. I don’t want to see any more “black man holding a gun”. I’m over it. I try to just work on things that I would actually go to.

Me: That’s a pretty good rule…have you ever just quit on anything?

Aggie: No, but I have been fired!

Me: Have you?!

Aggie: Yeah! I’ve been fired twice. It was pretty good. I got fired off of Stuart Little. I prepped for that movie for like three months. They finally gave me Geena Davis on the Monday before the week she’d have to start. She’s over 6 feet tall, you cannot buy anything for her. There are no clothes in any costume department that had just been waiting for her to put on in a little movie. So on Monday we started making her clothes and on Wednesday we had a test and the director didn’t  like how she looked and on Friday I was gone! But I really didn’t care because I had a producer friend who had called me about a Denzel Washington picture called The Hurricane and I had said “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m busy” but I called him up and said “Did you ever get a costume designer for your show?” he said “No”, and I said “Well, I’m available!” so then I went off and did that. Much more my kind of movie, really. I had worked for Norman Jewison before and I was honored to go back and work for him again. And I can’t say that the young man who worked on Stuart Little has done very many successful things.

Me: Ha! So you don’t feel too bad about it?

Aggie: Nope! And one other thing – an Arnold Schwarzenegger picture. I only worked a week on it and then I was gone. I think people realize I’m either going to make it or not. They either like that kind of style or not.

Me: Is there anything you’ve done you wish you could have had more control over?

Aggie: I really would have liked to stay longer on Beetlejuice. But I think it turned out good!

Me: It certainly did! Wherever did you get that striped suit?!

Dear Allison: If You're Reading This, It Means I'm Done Formatting This Article. Finally. Love, Stuart.

Dear Allison: If You’re Reading This, It Means I’m Done Formatting This Article. Finally. Love, Stuart.

Aggie: We made that!

Me: The costumes in that movie are amazing.

Aggie: I thought they were great! But I only had 9 weeks or 7 weeks – it was short. As I was getting ready to leave, like a week before, I mentioned to Tim (Burton) that I was finishing. He said “Well, can’t you stay longer?” I said “Well, they keep telling me I have to leave that day so I took something else!”. I would have liked to have stayed longer on that one. It’s such a great film. I’m not sure I really knew what I was on – does that make sense?

Me: Like you didn’t know it was going to be as awesome as it was?

Aggie: Yeah! At that time they used to just hire you for a certain length of time and you could only work as long as that was. That was your contract deal.

Me: Is it not like that anymore?

Aggie: No.

Me: So…you have done more than one movie with Jack Nicholson, right?

Aggie: Yes!

Me: What’s he like? Is he awesome?!

Aggie: Oh my God! Absolutely! On Cuckoo’s Nest they took a chance on me. I had only done American Graffiti and The Conversation and then I went to work on Streets of San Francisco – cash, money – and then they hired me to do Cuckoo’s Nest. I was down in LA and I was looking at Goodwills to find jeans for Jack (FREAKING NICHOLSON) and I could never find any, and I knew I didn’t want to buy new ones and they told me about this guy, I called him up and I said “I have this actor, I just have to have a couple pairs of pants for him, here are his sizes.” He sent me two pairs of jeans. When Jack came up to Oregon for the fitting, that’s the first thing he said – “Let me see the jeans.” So he put on the jeans, both pairs fit him perfectly and that was fine, so then I was fine. That was a magic film to work on.

Me: I’m sure it was! I watch it…regularly.

Aggie: Especially – I mean, it comes from a theater piece! I had seen it in San Francisco and a year or two later I got to do the film. And then, Witches of Eastwick

Me: I LOVE WITCHES OF EASTWICK!

Aggie: I saw the book in the library the other day and thought maybe I should get that out and read it again. The movie was great. Great director. He made a mistake after – the next film he did after was a film about a boy who had some illness that could be healed by some kind of oil or something – and that was it after that. Witches was a Warner Brothers film and it was very complicated politically. They had cast Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, and given them their parts and then they cast Cher in Susan Sarandon’s part and gave Susan Sarandon a part she didn’t particularly want, so then Jack (FREAKING NICHOLSON) really clicked into gear and he would have them over to his flat and they’d party and play and have a great time. And the women really got together, really tightly. They knew that Susan had been thrown a bad bone. But Cher really rose to the occasion. They were his (Jack’s) girls.

Me: They were all great in it.

Aggie: They really were. And Jack is the first one who started calling me “Aggs”. I was always either Agnes or Aggie but he started calling me Aggs and that stuck quite a bit.

Me: That would be okay to say! “Ohh, Jack Nicholson just gave me a nickname, no big deal!” (NOTE: I’m a real nut about Jack Nicholson, it seems.)

Aggie: He’s a very relaxed person. He doesn’t have to have one person do all his clothes or anything like that.

Me: So why, if you were doing all these big Hollywood movies, have you always lived in the Bay Area?

Aggie: My husband. He doesn’t like LA.

Me: Me neither.

Aggie: And my grandmother grew up in Oakland – my mother in Walnut Creek. And the films I got started on up here were much more my kind of thing. They were films I would actually have gone to the movie theater to see.

Me: Do you have a favorite?

Aggie: I think The Color Purple.  I just got to do so much stuff – making all those clothes. It’s hard to do now. People do, do it though.

At this point her husband arrives along with a friend of theirs who has a delightfully thick accent that sounds exactly like Sean Connery. They came bearing cookies, so naturally we sat around eating cookies for a while.

I’m about to turn 29, and like everyone else on the planet, I feel like I could be accomplishing more. I mean, it’s not like I’m just taking naps all day and building forts out of couch cushions (not that I don’t do that from time to time) but I think it’s only natural to feel like you’re behind, but for some reason, my afternoon with Aggie reminded me that time may not be this thing that’s always working against me. Sometimes it can be a tool for a long, fantastic life and career. Ya know, like 40 years in filmmaking.

You can find Allison on Twitter @allisonlynnpage and you can check out the rest of Aggie’s amazing list of films at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0345888/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

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!