Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Melo(dy) Drama

Marissa Skudlarek, la-la-la!

Since Theater Pub’s January show consists of short plays inspired by indie-rock artist Morrissey’s songs, I thought I’d flip that idea around and share some indie-rock songs inspired by theater.

“I Was Meant for the Stage” by the Decemberists

A lovely and tender ballad about feeling like you’ve found your home in the theater, though not without some wry touches. “Mother, please be proud / Father, be forgiving / Even though you told me, ‘Son / You’ll never make a living,’” Colin Meloy begs, and the joke is all the funnier because you can hear it coming. The chorus also acknowledges the darker side of finding your calling as an actor: you might start to feel like you’re superior to the hoi polloi. “You will resume your callow ways / But I was meant for the stage!” Meloy sings – and, responding to his pretentiousness, the band finishes off the track with some parodically self-indulgent noodling.

“Promises of Eternity” by the Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt, frontman and songwriter of the Magnetic Fields, is known for his odd lyrical conceits, but even by his standards, “Promises of Eternity” is pretty kooky. The premise of the song is that if he and his lover broke up, it would be as awful as if “no show ever happened again,” as if there were never any more theater in the world! Perhaps to match the drama-themed subject matter, Merritt sings this song in a much more melodramatic style than his typical deadpan vocals. My favorite line, both in terms of the wordplay and his vocal delivery: “What if the clowns couldn’t be clooowns / And all those painted smiles gave in to plaintive frowns?” (And is this possibly an allusion to Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns?”)

“Actor Out of Work” by St. Vincent

The people on Genius.com posit this as a song about a woman who’s learned to see through her boyfriend’s lies, but you can also read it as just what the title says: the internal monologue of an out-of-work actor. There’s plenty of self-loathing – “You’re an actor out of work / You’re a liar and that’s the truth / You’re an extra lost in the scene” – mixed with the kinds of mantras you might say to psych yourself up before an audition: “You’re a boxer in the ring / With brass knuckles underneath.” The music is appropriately anxious and jittery, though when the soaring backing vocals come in, sounding like something from an old Broadway musical, it lends a nice theatrical touch.

“Benediction” by the Weakerthans

Songwriters continue to exploit “all the world’s a stage,” theater-as-a-metaphor-for-life imagery hundreds of years after Shakespeare did it. The lovely middle verse of this song begins “All the actors broke their legs” and goes on to describe a failing stage production, but it isn’t meant to be taken literally — as a whole, the song seems to be about either a breakup or a death. So it’s a song about theater, but you don’t have to be a theater person to relate to it. That slide-guitar, alt-country sound is so early-2000s-indie that it kind of hurts, and “Let the rain be your applause” is a line that Morrissey himself would be proud to have written.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer with a terrible weakness for any pop music that is described as “wry” or “literate.” Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

The Five: That Time I Met A Famous Person

Anthony R. Miller checks in with stories of hobnobbing with the stars while selling them cookies and finding their seats.

Hey you guys, so I know December is about Wrap-ups and looks back and forward. But I looked at the calendar and it turns out, I have 3 articles this month, with the final one on Dec 30th. So I decided to keep it light this week, and save my wrap-ups for a two-parter on the 16th and the 30th. Today I share 5 times my random theatre jobs ended up with me meeting cool people, mostly.

Stephin Merritt

I was working for a company in SF that had acquired the rights to produce the musical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This being the West Coast premiere, both the Writer and Composer would be there. The Composer being Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, the band who basically provided the soundtrack for my sad, sad mid-20’s. The fateful night came as I worked concessions and a very regular looking guy comes up to the bar. At first glance, you would not think this is the man who sang “The cactus where your heart should be/has lovely little flowers/So though it’s always pricking me/My ardor never sours” was short, wore a faded baseball cap, an old brown leather jacket and was eyeing the cookie tray. NO Stephin Merrit would be in a long cloak, with a rain cloud over him and would have his own personal tea service, because he takes that shit seriously and can’t just order any Earl Grey. But when he ordered an oatmeal cookie in that oh so familiar baritone, I knew it was him. So yes my every pre conceived notion I had about him was flat wrong. One of the most brilliant artists in America today, and he’s also a pretty normal guy, who really likes Oatmeal Cookies.

Rita Moreno

House Managing for another Bay Area Company on their closing night, the lead in the show, who was a very nice lady, introduced me to her friend, Rita Moreno. You know, Rita Friggin Moreno, she was Anita dammit. Fun Fact about me, I watched the Shit out of the West Side Story movie. When I was kid, I could basically recite the thing starting with the overture. Earlier that evening, I had actually already met her while helping find her seat. But there she was, friggin Anita. A woman who’s performance in a film meant so many memories of watching that movie and forgetting the outside world. The conversation went like this.

“Anthony, have you met Miss Rita Moreno?”

“Earlier yes, but I’ve been a fan of hers since I was like eight.”

To Rita, “Well did you hear that?”

To which Rita replied,

“Oh I don’t give a shit.” And then she turned away.

Whoa. Rita Friggin’ Moreno just told me to fuck off. Now in the grand scheme of things, Rita Moreno telling me to fuck off is a little more interesting and a lot more honest than putting on a show for me. In the end she’s not obligated to be gracious. In the end, she was backstage at a closing night pizza party for her friend, not to be noticed. For the record, I kinda understand. Not really.

Billy Aronson

So I was working on a show in SF that was a World Premiere by Billy Aronson. Billy was the Dramaturg and wrote the Book for RENT. For Nerds, this is huge. This is the guy who said “Have you considered basing it on La Boheme?”. And despite the fact that I had long lost my passion for RENT, I was still pretty dang excited to meet the guy.

One night during Tech, I was asked to make sure Billy got on the right MUNi and got to his stop. Oh shit yeah, I was gonna ride on MUNI with Billy Aronson. It was Powell to Outer Sunset, so it was gonna be a WHILE. HE was pretty rad, I asked him a million questions, writer questions, RENT questions, I got to ask what Jonathan Larson was like (THE Answer: “Intense, all he cared about was making his musical happen”). I may have drove him crazy, but he was super nice about it. He did in fact, make his stop.

Bill Ayers

I worked a production of Reborning by Zayd Dorn, son of Bernadine Dorn and Bill Ayers. You remember Bill Ayers, the man who threw a “party” for Senator Barack Obama. The guy who started the Weather Underground, a Left wing radical group, technically classified as domestic terrorists. As in Sarah Palin’s “Palling around with terrorists”, yeah that guy.

So on opening night, the writers’ parents were there. Eventually, I was introduced to Bill Ayers and Bernandine Dorn, the people who Declared war on America, who bombed government buildings, to protest American Imperialism. Real Activist Shit. Not to mention, these days Bill Ayers is one of the foremost experts on Education Reform. In every picture of Bill Ayers I have ever seen, he is wearing a puffy red Marty McFly vest, he was wearing that vest. In typical Anthony fashion, I talked too much. But he didn’t seem to mind, in fact he kept asking me questions. We went on for a while talking about the 2012 GOP crop and other topics. I was totally palling around with terrorists. Before they left, Bill complimented me.

“You’re really passionate and knowledgeable about politics, why don’t you do something with it?”

I laugh, and say “I should run for Feinsteins Senate seat.”

He says, “Let me know, I’ll throw you a fundraiser”

I say, “Don’t you mean a coffee?”

He laughs and walks away.

Henry Rollins

It was a lot of luck this one. Back in my hometown of San Jose, a buddy of mine wanted to book spoken word and poetry acts at a large strip mall night club he worked for. Despite it’s odd location, the place was amazing, it was a huge venue decorated like the 80’s never ended. We had produced a show together that was absolutely great but horribly under attended, but it got the attention of another buddy of mine who had booked the San Jose leg of Henry Rollin’s Spoken Word tour. Because I knew the guy who booked the venue and I knew the guy who booked Rollins, I got the plum position of “Producer”. Holy crap, I was producing a Henry Rollins Show, I would be able to quit my job at the mall for sure. Not really.

On the night of the show, Henry Arrived in a large tour bus and I got to take him to his dressing room (Which was actually a private lounge, but today it was a dressing room.) I gave his call time and ran off. I was trying to stay cool, I had just taken a personal hero of mine to his dang dressing room. Luckily, there was plenty to do. Before the show I pop in and give 30 minutes and say I’d come back to give a ten.His agent replied,

“We don’t need any updates, thanks”

Dude, Henry Rollins just told me to Fuck Off, Ok not really, but that’s how I felt for a second. I was kinda embarrassed; I had stumbled into this situation and probably didn’t belong there. But fuck it, I was a Producer. Five minutes before the show, I got to escort Henry to the stage entrance, that was kinda rad. But I didn’t think it would go beyond that, so once the show started, I sat with my friends and watched the show we made happen, and we drank. We drank a lot.

As the show ended, I ran backstage to take Henry back to the dressing room, but this time there was a crowd being held back. So now, I got to escort Henry Rollins to his dressing room while protecting him from fans, THIS WAS TOTALLY MY LIFE. And then it happened, I was back stage with him and we just started chatting. And for 15 minutes I just sat around and talked about performing with one of my heroes. Here’s the problem, I was still drunk, and every bit of effort was to come off not wasted. The moral here is, if you can’t drink with your heroes, wait till they leave.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and that guy who keeps calling to convince you to bring a group of ten or more to see The Music Man. His show, Zombie! The Musical! Live in Concert! Is on Dec 14th at Terra Gallery.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: J’Adore the Flore

Marissa Skudlarek waxes poetic about one of her favorite local places to create art.

I hope the Café Royale won’t get mad if I use this column to declare my affection for another San Francisco café with a vaguely French name: the Café Flore. I spent an extremely productive three hours at the Flore on Tuesday night revising my play Pleiades, and it’s made me want to do all my writing there from now on.

My initial reason for favoring the Flore is that Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America there. A few years ago, I attended a lecture of Kushner’s, and while he said many witty and brilliant things (see the blog post I wrote about it), my main takeaway was that he was a patron of the Flore. I am a bit superstitious, and a bit prone to romanticize the act of being a writer (rather than the act of writing), so I loved the idea of writing in the same space where the greatest American play of my lifetime was written. Even better, nobody else seems to know about the Flore’s Kushner connection, so the café is not yet overrun with aspiring playwrights seeking to soak up the Kushnerian magic. Part of me is reluctant to write this column and let the secret out; the other part of me thinks that the café management ought to put up a plaque in Kushner’s honor.

Going to the Café Flore can also me feel like I’m aping the creative process of genius songwriter Stephin Merritt, who claims, “I get most of my ideas in dark gay bars, listening to thumping disco music that I don’t particularly like” (source). OK, the Café Flore is more than just a gay bar and its background music isn’t really disco – but it’s gay-friendly and the top-40 pop music it plays can get loud and overbearing after the dinner rush is over. But that just makes you write all the faster as you start to feel self-conscious about sitting in an empty bar listening to Lady Gaga. And when you finish your three-hour revision session and hear Katy Perry shouting “Baby, you’re a FIIIRE-WORK!” you feel like she’s singing it for you.

Aesthetically, the Café Flore is pleasing, with copper-topped tables for beauty and hard wooden bench seats for making you feel ascetic and disciplined. I like to sit where I can see the bar and the dessert case as a reminder to treat myself to a drink or a slice of cake when I’m done writing. To fuel us writers during marathon writing sessions, the café offers an extensive selection of salads, sandwiches, pasta, etc., and makes a mean Arnold Palmer. Wherever I go, Arnold Palmers are my drink of choice when writing (thanks to the refreshing citrus and the hint of caffeine) and the Café Flore’s version is terrific. They thoroughly mix the tea and lemonade by pouring them into a cocktail shaker, and garnish it with a lemon slice!

If you go to the Flore on Tuesday or Thursday night, your Arnold Palmer (or Kir Royale, or margarita, or whatever) will likely be mixed by bartender Brian, who is an aspiring screenwriter. We had a nice conversation about dramatic writing on Tuesday night after I finished my revisions and he made me an Old-Fashioned.

Best of all, the Café Flore is pretty easy to get to, conveniently located near the Castro MUNI station. Or, if you ride the N-Judah like me, you can stroll up Noe Street to catch the N at Duboce Park. This part of Noe, lined by tall trees and elegant Edwardian architecture, has to be one of the most beautiful streets in San Francisco. Even if you are abstaining from sweets or alcohol, a nighttime walk up Noe Street is reward and solace enough for a hard-working writer.

Learning that Angels in America was written at the Café Flore is what initially spurred me to see it as a good place to write. But I keep returning there not out of superstition or nostalgia, but because I love its atmosphere, its energy, and those Arnold Palmers. That Kushner. He has good taste.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.