Theater Around The Bay: Get Ready For Better Than Television!

Our next show, Better Than Television, is going to turn your world upside down! Before the adventure begins, we figured it was time to check in with regular TP contributor, Megan Cohen, who is the brains behind this crazy new show!

TP: Megan Cohen- you’re back again! What keeps you coming back to Theater Pub?

MC: Every mad scientist needs a lab.

TP: Every show you do is different, but how is this show particularly unique?

MC: As a swirling “live channel” programmed with serial shows and commercials, Better Than Television is bigger AND smaller than anything I’ve done at Pub. The plays are tiny; micro-episodes of just a few minutes each, for short attention spans. The evening is huge, with lots of characters, genres, theme songs, commercials. I’ve got about 25 artists on the team: writers, actors, musicians. That’s a lot of talent for a free show in a bar.

TP: Explain your process behind this one- there was some kind of writing party?

MC: Over a weekend, 17 writers came to my house. We drank 2 flats of Diet Coke, I made 16 pizzas, and between us all, on that Saturday and Sunday we wrote 59 brand new micro-plays. We created the soap opera All My Feels, the sci-fi adventure Space Bitch, and everything else you’ll see onstage.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

Megan Cohen is sort of like what would happen if Orson Welles had a better childhood.

I love to do things myself; I’ll write a whole show and mix the soundtrack and make the props with a glue gun; heck, as a performance artist, I’m working on a 12-hour durational solo show right now. I love doing things myself, but I wanted Better Than Television to be about teamwork, friendship, and celebrating the incredible wealth of talent in our community. I built a structure, gave some prompts, gave a format, and then the crew of writers really made the episodes and commercials their own! A fabulous array of voices. I am surprised, thrilled, delighted, and definitely entertained by what people wrote in this format, and I hope you will be too.

TP: What is it about television that makes it a suitable topic for its perceived nemesis- The Theater?

MC: I’m part of The Broadcast Television Generation. The generation before me didn’t have TV on all the time in the house growing up, and the generation after me has everything online and on-demand, where they can curate it themselves. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, tuning in for “Nick at Night” and “TGIF,” at the blissful mercy of a machine that fed me dreams on its own schedule. Going to theater is not so different from trusting a Broadcast Network. You show up, and it takes you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go. You just stay tuned. I think we all need that. We all make a lot of decisions every day, and sometimes you want to relax and let someone you trust take the reins. That’s what I’m planning for these shows to do. People want to be entertained, and I think they want to be a bit surprised.

TP: So, ideally someone comes to all four nights of this, yes?

MC: Better Than Television is a different show each night! New episodes of each micro-serial, a rotating cast of actors, twists and turns all the time; I hope that if you come once, you’ll get hooked, and will want to come back and see what happens next. If you get addicted to the channel and binge-watch the whole 4-night series, you’ll have a lot of fun. More fun than a cat in a banana.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

This is the second-most-fun thing in the world.

TP: And what if someone can only come one night? How does it change their experience?

MC: Each night stands alone. If you tune in with us at Theater Pub for one night, you won’t see the complete run of any series, but you will see enough episodes of each micro-show to get the gist, so you can fall in love briefly with the characters and the story. Especially Space Bitch. Everyone loves Space Bitch.

TP: If you could work on any real-life TV show, what it would be and what would you bring to the table?

MC: Any TV show ever? Deadwood. Any current TV show? Orphan Black. What would I bring to the table? Wit, courage, small pores, and the chops I’ve built in an energetic and dedicated writing career where, at age 32, I’ve shared almost 100 of my scripts with audiences around the world.

TP: What if a network approached you and said, “Anything you want?” What does your ideal TV show look like?

MC: It’s kind of a Deadwood-meets-Orphan-Black mashup in a comic vein with a supernatural slant, where everyone in a small frontier town is played by the ghost of Madeline Khan.

(For real, though, if anyone wants to rep me, I can send you an hour-long TV pilot that’s not that.)

TP: Any shout outs for other stuff going on in the community?

MC: Along with Theater Pub, KML and Faultline are 2 resident companies at PianoFight that are having strong seasons this year, with lots of good artists involved. See them, see everything, see Theater Pub every month. See anything by any of the artists who are part of making Better Than Television: Paul Anderson, Scott Baker, Sam Bertken, Stuart Bousel, Jeremy Cole, Barry Eitel, Valerie Fachman, Fenner Fenner, Danielle Gray, Kenneth Heaton, Paul Jennings, Colin Johnson, Dan Kurtz, Rebecca Longworth, Carl Lucania, Becky Raeta, Samantha Ricci, Cassie Rosenbrock, Heather Shaw, Jeunee Simon, Marissa Skudlarek, Peter Townley, Steven Westdahl, Indiia Wilmott, Marlene Yarosh, wow that’s a mouthful. Keep an eye on those people. Also, of course you should see everything that I personally am doing everywhere always.

TP: What’s next for you?

MC: On the closing day of this show, I’m heading for the “Ground Floor” new works program at Berkeley Rep. We’re doing some development there on my new full-length play Truest. It’s about a pair of sisters who love and fight each other, kind of a Thelma-and-Louise-meets-Sam-Shepard vibe. For news on that and other projects, keep in touch with me on Twitter: @WayBetterThanTV or on my website www.MeganCohen.com.

Better than Television starts on June 20 and plays through June 28, only at San Francisco Theater Pub! 

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Cowan Palace: Olympian Doughnuts With Sam Bertken

This week Ashley chats with Sam Bertken about tonight’s reading with the San Francisco Olympians Festival.

It’s night five of the San Francisco Olympians Festival! Can you feel the magic? Well, I certainly can because tonight’s the night my short will be taking its first breath in front of an audience. This evening’s performance, THE CREW, features eight shorts by Steven Westdahl, Megan Cohen, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, Alandra Hileman, Seanan Palmero, Alan Olejniczak, and me! Wearing an additional hat, the pieces are being directed by Steven Westdahl who has assembled a fearless group of eight actors including, Sam Bertken, Matt Gunnison, Layne Austin, Heather Kellogg, Wayne Wong, Tom Cokenias, Katharine Otis, and Kim Saunders.

To give me a little additional insight into the acting process, Sam agreed to help answer a few questions. So wahoo! Here we go:

Ashley: First, tell us who you are playing in this evening’s performance.

Sam: I am playing such a fun breadth of different characters! One half of a foul-mouthed duo on a segway tour of Atlanta, an actor who reads stage directions, one half of a Canadian air rescue team, one half of a Marina bro pair celebrating the holidays at their wives’ OBGYN clinic, and the hammiest narrator I’ve ever had the honor of portraying.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

The patented Sam Bertken smile.

Ashley: If you took one of those online “Which Greek God Are You”? quizzes, who do you think you would get?

Sam: Ideally, it would be someone ultra-cool and talented like Hephaestus, who is my personal favorite out of the entire pantheon, but it’s more likely I’d get someone spry like Hermes or something more confusing like Hestia.

Ashley: What’s your favorite line you get to say in tonight’s show?

Sam: It’s a tough choice, but simply because it is so close to my personal interests, “Bring on the fucking doughnuts!” definitely ranks up there with the best of ’em.

Ashley: What’s the most challenging thing about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: As someone who has written for the festival previously, I think it’s actually remarkably easy to be an actor in the Olympians Festival. Just show up to the right rehearsals, and go with the flow. Be ready to go with the flow.

Ashley: What’s the best part about being an actor in the Olympians Festival?

Sam: The auditions! And probably the performance night, but I can’t be 100% sure yet. 🙂

Ashley: If you could only use emoticons to describe tonight’s show, which ones would you use?

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

eggplant, doughnut, trophy

Ashley: Where can we see you next? Are you acting in any upcoming productions?

Sam: Well, I’m going to the TBA Awards! And then I’m going to be part of the comedy maelstrom that will be KMLZ, Killing My Lobster’s end-of-year show, which you should totally come see!

Awesome, Sam! Well, gang, you can see Sam, me, and the rest of “the crew” tonight at The Exit. We hope you’ll be there with doughnuts.

The 2015 festival will play 12 nights, November 4-21, Wednesday through Saturday, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco (156 Eddy Street). Tickets are $10.00 at the door, and can be purchased starting at 7:30 the night of the show, or in advance for $12 at Brown Paper Tickets. All shows begin at 8 PM. Audience members who attend more than four nights get the fifth free!

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Rah-Rah for Dada

Marissa Skudlarek mingles with some Fringe elements.

Last Saturday, spending an evening at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, I saw two pieces in a row that mentioned the French surrealist André Breton, which has to be some kind of bizarre record. In Sebastian Boswell III’s mentalist act “The Ineffable Experience of Impossible Achievements,” he plays a game of Exquisite Corpse with the audience, claiming to have learned the game from Breton himself, in the 1920s. Following that, I saw Breton (portrayed by Ignacio Zulueta) as a featured character in Zurich Plays, “a Dada history of Dada.”

I like to think Breton would be pleased by this coincidence. After all, at its best, Exquisite Corpse is a game that allows you to find deeper meaning in the products of chance. And the SF Fringe Festival itself is a product of chance: as a member of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, it is required to choose its lineup via lottery, rather than curating it based on ideas of what is “good” or “worthy.” This accords with Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, in which he wrote of wishing to make art “in the absence of any control exercised by reason.”

The production of Zurich Plays at the Fringe Festival is spearheaded by Steven Westdahl, who directed the show and plays Tristan Tzara. (Steven and his partner Megan Cohen – who also appears in Zurich Plays, portraying Man Ray – were the forces behind Theater Pub’s April 2015 show, Steven & Megan in “Megan and Steven Present a World Premiere by Steven & Megan.”)

There’s something strange but wonderful about seeing 21st-century artists in a Fringe Festival in California paying homage to a revolutionary avant-garde arts movement that took place 100 years ago in Switzerland. After I saw Zurich Plays, Steven kindly agreed to have a brief conversation with me about the show and about the Dada movement (with Megan adding some pithy comments).

Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. (This costume gets re-created in ZURICH PLAYS!)

Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. (This costume gets re-created in ZURICH PLAYS!)

Marissa: From my research, it looks like you were involved in a previous production of Zurich Plays in Atlanta. Can you talk a little about your decision to bring this show to the SF Fringe?

Steven: One of the ways I was “paid” for my work on the 2001 production in Atlanta was with no-fee rights to the script for future production. With less than an hour left before the deadline to submit for the SF Fringe, I hastily threw together a proposal for Zurich Plays. I knew the 100th anniversary of Dada was around the corner, it is a script that I knew had never been seen outside of Atlanta, and it was so much fun to see and then work on. Once it was chosen out of the lottery for a slot in the festival, it finally dawned on me that I had to cast, design, rehearse, and produce a full-length play in a few months. With the help of my partner, Megan Cohen, I got some of the best Dada-minded actors in the Bay Area to agree to work with me for two months for next to nothing.

Marissa: It’s been nearly 100 years since the Dadaists presented their revolutionary performances at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Are there any lessons you think contemporary artists can learn from them?

Steven: Depends on which Dadaists you turn to for your lessons… Hugo Ball would teach you that it is OK to walk away from a group that you founded if you no longer agree with the direction that it is heading. Marcel Duchamp would teach you have no fear in recontextualizing your surroundings and the products that you are being sold. Man Ray would teach you to brand your work with a unique and identifiable name. André Breton would teach you to see and name what other artists are doing, if even just for yourself.

Megan: I think they teach you Y.O.L.O.

Marissa: Do you think there are any artistic movements in our own time that, similar to Dada, are upsetting the status quo and rewriting the rules of what art can be?

Steven: The territorial pissings of graffiti, stencil, and wheatpaste street art; the 4chan-esque corners of the internet; self-taught artists who break the rules without knowing them. Bansky might consider ‘themselves’ to be Dada. But also Banksy isn’t Dada.

Marissa: If the Dadaists were transported 100 years into the future and saw your production of Zurich Plays, what do you think their reaction would be?

Steven: Zurich Plays might be too safe. We cut the real onstage urination in favor of stage magic and a piss-rig. We bought a few things from prop stores and use them as what they were intended to be used for. We test the patience, focus, and stamina of the audience but never really offend them. I think the Dadaists would want more people stirred towards riot or, at least, a few walk-outs. No one is going to protest Zurich Plays. It’s an experience but not a revolution. It is art about anti-art without being anti-art itself.

Megan: I hope they would say it made them hungry.

Zurich Plays has 3 more performances at the San Francisco Fringe Festival: Saturday Sept. 19 at 2:30 PM, Wednesday Sept. 23 at 7 PM, and Friday Sept. 25 at 7 PM. Advance tickets available here.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She realizes that the Dadaists would probably denounce her as hopelessly bourgeois. Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Outré Trappings of Outrapo

Resident Francophile Marissa Skudlarek continues her exploration of the Parisian avant-garde.

Last Friday, a co-worker challenged me to see if I could have five adventures over the weekend. My calendar was otherwise open, and the weather was lovely, so I eagerly embraced the constraint. After all, my experience as a playwright has taught me that you often have more fun, and are more creative, when you have a challenge or limitation to live up to. I’ve written before that “the blank page can be daunting” and I still believe that’s true. “Live life to the fullest” is an impossibly abstract maxim. “Have five adventures this weekend” is pleasantly concrete and tangible.

(And if you’re a playwright who agrees with me about the value of a challenge, why not write a play that follows the constraints for Theater Pub’s 2015 Pint-Sized Plays festival, and submit it before May 15? Full guidelines here.)

I ended up having four adventures this weekend. At least, I think I did. Because when you start counting your adventures, you also start making philosophical distinctions, asking ontological questions about the nature of adventure. If I rent a bike to go tooling around Golden Gate Park, and my phone flies out of my back pocket and pops out of its case when I coast down a hill (my phone’s fine, don’t worry), and I become so tired trying to pedal back up said hill that I get off the bike and walk it back to the rental shop, is that three small adventures, or one big one?

So constraints make you creative and philosophical and self-aware, which is to say, they make you feel rather French. Maybe that’s why the artistic movement that explores how art can be produced under various types of whimsical constraints started in Paris. Circa 1960, a group of French experimental writers formed the Oulipo (“Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” or Workshop of Potential Literature). Oulipo writers have composed 300-page novels without the letter e and sequences of sonnets whose lines can be interchanged with one another. Artists in other fields then started to get in on the action, founding their own workshops. The workshop that deals with theater is known as the Outrapo, which stands for Workshop of Potential Tragicomedy. It’s a great name because it sounds like “outré” (Oulipians adore puns) and because the word “tragicomedy” is less neutral than a word like “drama” or “theater.” “Tragicomedy” evokes emotions, highs and lows, grandeur and farce, in a way that appeals to me very much. (Not to toot my own horn, but sobbing in an alley after a postmodern vaudeville show strikes me as very Outrapian.)

As soon as I heard about Oulipo and Outrapo, as a high-school student under the influence of an English teacher who loved everything “postmodern” and “meta,” I was intrigued. However, there’s not too much about these movements – Outrapo in particular – online, and the best sources seem to be in French, which I did not start studying till college. And not just any French: pataphysical French. Oulipians have their own calendars, codes, shibboleths, patron saints, heresies, and orthodoxies. Their overriding philosophy is called “pataphysics,” defined as “what comes after metaphysics.” (Don’t worry, I don’t quite get it either.)

For an example of pataphysical humor, here’s my translation of the opening text on the Outrapo website: “Stanley Chapman committed the gesture of dying, 9 Shritt 136 (May 26, 2009). Exit. Applause. Curtain. It was on Stanley Chapman’s initiative, thanks to his pataphysical spirit, his passion for theater, and his vital poetry, that the workshop was founded in London with Cosima Schmetterling and Milie von Bariter. Then Jean-Pierre Poisson, Anne Feillet, Félix Pruvost and Sir Tom Stoppard quickly joined the group. Stanley Chapman is therefore now excused from meetings and public presentations.”

Anyway, when I was studying in Paris in 2007, I was poking around the Outrapo website one night, and saw that the address of their headquarters was not far from the university where I went every Wednesday to take a course on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and not far from my favorite bistro. (Le Petit Cardinal, right by the Cardinal Lemoine metro stop. You can feel the trains rumble beneath your feet as you eat. I highly recommend it.) Instantly, I resolved to try to meet the Outrapians when I was next in the neighborhood. I had wanted to connect with French theater-makers when I was abroad, and what better group of theater-makers than these? I also thought that this could be a potential (no pun intended) way for me to achieve my life goal of meeting Tom Stoppard.

That Wednesday, I visited the building, which looked like an ordinary Parisian apartment house. There were no indications that pataphysical activity was taking place there. Nonetheless, I was undaunted. I waited for someone to come out of the building, slipped in the open door, went up the stairs, found the apartment in question, screwed up my courage, knocked… and received no response. So I sat on the narrow little staircase, ripped a page out of my cahier, and in my best schoolgirl French, wrote a brief letter to Milie von Bariter, the leader of Outrapo. This is the part of the adventure that embarrasses me the most in hindsight. I should have written a bizarre Outrapian letter, not a polite schoolgirl one. How the Outrapians must have laughed when they received my earnest missive! Yet perhaps, in its very absurdity, my letter fulfilled the Outrapian spirit. I slipped the letter under the door, then slipped out of the building.

In retrospect, I cannot believe my daring. Sneaking around apartment houses, trespassing where I should not have been! I think, too, about how I assumed that my privilege as a young white girl would protect me. It was unlikely that anyone would stop and question me; and even if they had, I could probably have gotten away with a white lie (e.g. “I am visiting a friend”). Even telling the truth (“I am a playwright trying to get in touch with Outrapo”) might’ve been OK. One likes to think that the French have such reverence for art and literature that even the gendarmerie couldn’t argue with such an excuse. Maybe they’d think I was weird, but they wouldn’t think I was dangerous or criminal.

I had provided my email address in my letter to von Bariter, and that evening, I did receive a response from him. He thanked me for the letter and I think there was some brief talk of meeting up for coffee, but that never came to anything. I didn’t want to bother him again. My courage started to fail me. The adventure petered out.

I’ve been thinking about Outrapo lately, not only because my attempt to get in touch with the movement is one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done, but also because the show that we’re producing at Theater Pub come Monday sounds rather Outrapian. According to the blurb on our website, Steven and Megan in Megan and Steven Present a World Premiere by Steven and Megan deals with the nature of constraint. Steven Westdahl and Megan Cohen will be repeatedly presenting a new 5-minute play, while simultaneously adding more and more elements (props, costumes, blocking) and chugging booze. As the constraints get tougher, their minds will get foggier. And what could be more adventurous, what could be more pataphysical, than that?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. She’s wonderign if we should start a branch of Outrapo in the Bay Area. Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Theater Around The Bay: STEVEN & MEGAN IN “MEGAN & STEVEN PRESENT A WORLD PREMIERE BY STEVEN & MEGAN

Wondering what’s next up at Theater Pub?

STEVEN & MEGAN IN “MEGAN & STEVEN PRESENT A WORLD PREMIERE BY STEVEN &; MEGAN

As the play gets better, the actors get worse! This free, 40-minute theatrical cocktail pours ambition into a shaker over ice, then adds a splash of fiasco. San Francisco Theater Pub presents the duo of Megan Cohen &; Steven Westdahl, award-winning artists and a real-life couple, who will endeavor to share their new magnum opus with a twist… or a chaser. They’ve got a brand-new five-minute play, and they’ll do it over and over until they get it right. However, as they bring in elements to realize their theatrical vision, adding props, costumes, and even “acting” to their play, the two will also be taking shots and chugging pints, reducing their ability to make it through the performance of their mercilessly challenging script. Will art survive this high-stakes drinking contest? Will the artists? Join them for an evening, and see if you can keep up.

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, April 20 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, April 21 @ 8:00pm
Monday, April 27 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, April 28 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door (and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!) No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early.

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to get a good seat, and try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!

ARTIST BIO
Megan Cohen and Steven Westdahl are founding ensemble members of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists, a company called “Best of the Bay” in the 2014 San Francisco Bay Guardian, and voted “Best Theater” in the 2014 SF Weekly Readers’ Poll. Between them, Steven & Megan are a 2014 Theater Bay Area Emerging Artist Honoree, the 2010 Air Sex World Champion, a theremin player, an award-winning puppeteer, a competitive eating champion, and the most produced female playwright in the San Francisco Bay Area. Between them, they have worked with companies including A.C.T., Second City, PianoFight, Impact Theater, Playwrights Foundation, Un-Scripted, NCTC, and Playground, and have performed in SF, New York, Scotland, Russia, and Bali. Together, they are unusual, brunette, and 10′ 11″ tall.
Visit: megancohen.com, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steven-Westdahl/
Tweet: @Swestdahl, @WayBetterThanTV

In For a Penny: Of Olympic Proportions – With a li’l Help from your Friends

Charles Lewis III checking in from the most recent Olympians meeting.

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

For last year’s fest Steve wore a dog collar. What has he got planned THIS time?

“I had been alone more than I could have been, had I gone by myself.”
– The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

In all of the year’s I’ve been involved in the active production of the Olympians Fest (Years 3, 4, and now 6), I think I’ve only ever missed a single meeting. I believe it was during Year 4. I actually had planned on attending, but as the day wore on, I got so ridiculously sick that I eventually expected a CDC “Quarantine” tent to go up over the house. I’m pretty sure that once one agrees to write for the festival, the only excuse for missing a meeting is to be dead – at least that’s the impression we get from Jeremy’s e-mails. He’ll only accept actual death because being “on the brink of death” means you’re still alive and therefore should be at the meeting.

Granted, the folks who missed out on the most recent meeting had pretty good reasons: one was rehearsing his new show; one was acting, producing, and hosting this month’s Theater Pub; and one was actually having a baby. I… guess those are valid-sounding reasons, what do you think?

So as we all settle in, stuff our faces, and gossip about actors who have burned too many bridges, I really begin to notice that the meetings for this year’s fest carry a significance that wasn’t there in meetings for previous years. I don’t just mean the fact that Rachel Kessinger’s veggie lasagna has raised the bar on the food we bring, or that an entire cantaloupe-sized bottle of wine was finished off before the meeting proper even started. No, what I’m noticing is that this year’s meetings really do point toward a shift in the way that the festival is put together. There are fewer meetings this year than there were in previous years. As such, a lot has been packed into each one, so if you miss it, you’re missing something significant about how this year’s festival will differ from the last five.

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

Someone actual wrote on blue pages. What sorcery is this?

We cover the normal bases: stating how much of the play has been written so far, if at all; mentioning how the premise has changed from the original pitch, if at all; finding a director, if you haven’t yet; and the reading of pages from the script-in-progress. As before, I pass my pages off to other writers in the room, tilt my head to the side, and try to just listen. I hear flaws, lots of them. Not in the way it’s read, per se, but the readings give the characters a different interpretations that what I’d conceived. One joke I wrote crashes and burns like the toilet seat of a Russian space station, so I know it’s not likely to be in the next draft. I will say that the back-and-forth aspect I wrote for this scene sounds better spoken than it did as I wrote it, so that’s good. All in all, I’m not entirely pleased, but I have an idea of what to work on.

That was a major topic of the meeting. Not my shitty pages, but the topic of collaboration. The simultaneous gift and curse of writing is its solitary nature: it often requires you to block out the white noise of the outside world so as to let your Id run free, but doing intentionally requires cutting yourself off from those to whom you look for support, solace, or even a few quick laughs. Writing means translating billions of mental synapses into finger movements that will somehow paint a verbal picture meant to be interpreted by someone other than you. But although the writing process can be solitary, it doesn’t mean that means to get the wheels moving have to be.

This meeting was about asking everyone in the room “What do you need?” and trying our best to make sure they got it. Maybe they have writer’s block, maybe they forgot the dates, maybe they wrote for a specific actor whom they now know they won’t get (FYI: pre-casting in the festival is frowned upon, and with damn good reason). As such, we threw out not only our frustrations, but also our solutions – particularly those of us who have done the festival before. A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of having the scripts read aloud. You might think this was a no-brainer – what with it being the entire point of the festival – but it’s how past entries that were meant to 10-15 min. shorts wound up being around 30 min. or more; it’s how a festival that starts every night at 8pm and expects to be out by 10pm (if not earlier) winds up having nights that go as late as 11:30pm. To this conversation I contribute “Just remember that it’ll always sound different out loud than it does in your head, ‘cause the voice in your head will lie to you. Every. Single. Time.”

Suggestions are thrown out for setting up writing sessions and readings. It reminds me of when I went to such a meeting with fellow Olympians writers during Year 3. I wrote the first full draft of my one-act about Atlas longhand in that café. I wound up drastically rewriting it when I finally typed it up, but that session in the café really got the ball rolling.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

See that bottle on the floor? That was the SECOND one of those opened.

Before we conclude for the evening, we touch on the other major necessary evil of art: funding. The fundraising template for the festival will be one of the most notable changes from years past. It’s a bit too early to say what it will be exactly, but it seems assured that it won’t resemble the campaigns from previous years. Of course, once your fundraiser video features creepy photo-bombing by Allison Page – 9:35 in the video – where else is there to go with it?

But the one thing of which we are sure is that it will require the effort of every single person who was in the room that night, as well as many more who weren’t there. If there was an overall message of this last meeting, it was that it only works when all of the pieces are in sync. Those of us who have been part of it from the beginning (in one capacity or another) know this to be absolutely true. Writers must communicate with directors, directors with actors, everyone with friends and family to see this new work and others like it. Once someone gets in their head that their way – and ONLY their way – is what will happen… well, there’s a reason each year’s festival has That One Play. Hell, it’s usually not even one – I tend to count two or three, depending on the year. It’s the play or plays that clearly had a communication breakdown and wind up being complete and utter train wrecks. Not even the good kind with some redeeming element of camp; no, they’re the ones that make audiences want to chew off their own limbs in an attempt to escape. There’s at least one every year. I sure as hell hope it isn’t mine.

So as we began to leave for the evening, encouraging all present to see this month’s ‘Pub show (that includes you reading this, it runs again this coming Monday and Tuesday), I dare say the one word on everyone’s lips is “collaboration”. That and Rachel’s lasagna.

Charles Lewis III is planning to once again direct his own Olympians piece on Poseidon this year. As to how that’s still collaborative, he plans to elaborate in the next “Of Olympic Proportions” entry. To read his and every writer’s proposal, and to learn more about the festival’s past and present, please visit the official SF Olympians Fest website.

Everything Is Already Something Week 41: Things And People That Are Funny

Allison Page knows what funny is.

September is comedy month over here at Theater Pub. Or it’s supposed to be. We do what we want. Anyway, I’m getting you back on the comedy course riiiiight now! And as the resident comedy obsessed eat-sleep-breathe-it blogger I deem myself worthy of this endeavor. (And comedy doesn’t just mean stand up, by the way.)

MARIA BAMFORD

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I have to mention her, and I have to mention her FIRST. It’s really hard for me to believe there’s anyone funnier than Maria on planet earth. I laugh harder and more consistently at everything she says and does than I ever have at anything. I know, that sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. She’s incredibly unique and wonderful. Watching her is like watching a majestic unicorn morph into 26 other animals right in front of you. I have listened to her albums over and over again and I never stop laughing (Check her out on iTunes. Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome is brilliant.) You can catch her stand up at Cobb’s Comedy Club October 28th and 29th. If you haven’t seen her before, I really cannot recommend it enough. She’s also a sweet and delightful person, so that’s a perk.

SHIPWRECK

“Good theatre for bad literature? Marital aid for book nerds? A literary erotic fanfiction competition for the ages?” Shipwreck is a monthly event at The Booksmith in the Haight involving 6 writers who are assigned one character each from a classic/great book, and are tasked with writing erotic fan fiction putting that character into places and situations they were never, ever, EVER meant to experience. Full disclosure: I have participated in Shipwreck once so far, for Catcher In The Rye. I got second place, just behind Maggie Tokuda-Hall who is now the FOUR TIME CHAMPION. She’s like a magician of hilarious filth, and you can see her and a bunch of other writers at Booksmith on October 2nd, destroying characters from Stephen King’s Christine. The best parts are the dramatic reading of each piece by Steven Westdahl, and the fact that the audience votes on their favorite nasty masterpiece.

MISSION CTRL

Mission Control is a sketch comedy group spawned from Piano Fight’s loins. They are consistently funny and completely insane. They’ve done at least one sketch that made me feel like I was on acid and I’ve never actually been on acid. People who think sketch comedy is just shitty theater are stupid assholes who don’t know what they’re talking about and should see Mission Control.

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When PF opens their fancy new space in the heart of the Tenderloin, I imagine the guys at Mission CTRL will be making a whole lot of smart nonsense. Whenever that happens, you’re sure to see news about it on pianofight.com or on Mission Control’s Facebook page which you can find for yourself. You know how to internet, I’m not going to teach you.

IVAN HERNANDEZ

Ivan is really funny. He runs a show called Give Me Fiction populated with comics, writers, and generally wonderful degenerates who read stuff they wrote and that’s it. There’s no winner, no loser, no end goal apart from just listening to some cool/funny/great new prose that someone wrote based on a particular theme. It’s a thoroughly good time in the Cynic Cave at Lost Weekend Video (Or is it Cinecave? I see both. Whatever, just go.) It’s also been turned into a podcast, which you can listen to here: http://boingboing.net/2014/09/09/give-me-fiction-the-podcast.html Ivan’s also a great comic and his Twitter is a solid place to spend your time. You can follow him @ivan_hernandez

SAN FRANCISCO IMPROV FESTIVAL

If you’re one of those “Uhhh…improv can be reeaaally bad” people, I hear you. Believe me, I hear you. But if you want to find some good ones, this is a great place to do that. Groups locally and from other reaches of the planet come crawling out of the woodwork to perform starting TODAY and lasting until September 20th. I’d go for Boom Chicago, Jet Eveleth and Scott Adsit, Speechless, Huge and The Vendetta just to start – though I’m sure there are lots of great offerings to get educated about at http://sfimprovfestival.com

Scott Adsit looking serene

Scott Adsit looking serene

JANINE BRITO

Janine is a former bay area comic who’ll be coming through again September 25th and 26th with Guy Branum and Kevin Shea. She’s most well-known now for being a part of the Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell team, but she’s very much funny in her own right and totally worth hobbling over to Cobb’s to see. W. Kamau Bell calls her “a sarcastic, snarky smart bomb of comedy funk straight from the 80′s,” and he’s not wrong.

Or you can say “Fuck it, what’s Allison doing?” and see Killing My Lobster at Cal Shakes’ Grove September 26th at 6:45pm before ambling over to see their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as bay area comedy goes, but I don’t have all day, Reader. I just don’t have all day.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedy maker in San Francisco, you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.