Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost – the Who, What, & Why, with Director Claire Rice

Stupid Ghost director Claire Rice tells us about the immense talent involved in this month’s production, the challenges faced in staging the show in a bar, and the reasons it’s important to catch before we close tomorrow night!

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Who are you? Who is involved in this production?

I am Claire Rice and I’m the director of Stupid Ghost. Tonya Narvaez, Theater Pub co-artistic director and the producer of this play, brought me this script in early 2016. Along the way she’s been my sounding board for ideas, my champion, my anti-procrastination machine, and a constant source of positive energy. Savannah Reich is the playwright. Early on I decided that the song in the show needed to have music arranged for it so I brought on Spencer Bainbridge who wrote the music. To help promote the show I created a short video. Spencer played guitar, Karen Offereins sung and it was recorded by Christine McClintock. I was able to convince Tonya to play a ghost in the woods along with Marissa Skudlarek, Neil Higgins, Erin Merchant and my husband Matt Gunnison. Tonya and Theater Pub co-artistic director Meg Trowbridge helped cast the show. The actors are Megan Cohen, Christine Keating, Ryan Hayes, Celeste Conowitch and Valerie Fachman. Celeste designed and did the lettering on the costumes. The actors designed their own costumes. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get such a talented group of people together.

What is Stupid Ghost?

Stupid Ghost is a story of love, regret, selfishness, the search for life experiences and the destruction of lives. In many ways it really does follow the path of a traditional ghost story. A ghost follows a girl home and slowly begins taking over her life and the consequences are tragic. But instead of it being a horror from the perspective of the living, it is a tragedy from the perspective of a lonely ghost. She doesn’t mean for the things that happen to happen. And I think following her journey we can see ourselves in her. Searching for contact with other people. Searching for love and light. Trying to be seen for who we really are and falling in love when we shouldn’t. It is a really lovely play that packs a great deal into its short run time.

What challenges did you encounter staging this production in a bar?

I think the biggest challenges with this play have been trying to translate it to the bar. It isn’t easy, but it is fun, to come up with concepts for a canoe and a car chase through the woods in a black box theater, but it feels impossible in a bar. Even simple choices in any script become a strategic nightmare. Both Savannah and I were worried about ensuring that the intimate scenes remained quiet and intimate, which can be difficult in a working bar in the Tenderloin. I tried to work on as many levels as I could and keep the play moving so that when we get to that scene the audience is ready for stillness.

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Why Stupid Ghost?

I am drawn to plays that reach out beyond themselves to connect with the audience. It isn’t just the direct address, but the use of unreliable narrators, linear storytelling, unique world building, and moments that almost feel like lessons in empathy. In this play the characters need so much and they discover what those needs are as they go. They learn about themselves through mistakes and sacrifices and successes and connections. The characters are well drawn and the action is entertaining. It has been a fun show to work on and I’ve really enjoyed watching it over the past two nights as well.

Why here? Why now?

What I love about the San Francisco theater scene is the urge of its artists to do theater in every nook, cranny and corner they can. There is an urgency and a living quality to the scene that makes it feel as necessary to the fabric of San Francisco as cable cars and strangely warm weather in the Fall. Stupid Ghost is a storytelling play reaching into the audience. It makes sense that the audience be in arms’ reach and in a place that doesn’t feel like a traditional theater space. And Stupid Ghost is entertaining. It is funny and lively and lovely. You feel hope and fear and love and all the things that make seeing theater fun.

You have two more opportunities to catch Stupid Ghost at PianoFight (144 Taylor St.)!

TONIGHT – Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
TOMORROW – Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciate to our hosts.

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Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: What I Did For Love

Marissa Skudlarek shares some thoughts on our impending closure.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Theater Pub will wind down operations after our December show. It’s not a decision that the artistic staff made lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision they made with no regrets and no sense of heartbreak. Theater Pub is dying a peaceful, natural death; we’re not looking for a miracle to “save” us and, in fact, we might not accept it if it was offered.

Indeed, we really don’t want people to see our closure announcement and spin it into some story about how The Arts Are Dying In The Bay Area Because It’s Too Expensive Here. Maybe that’s true for some arts organizations that have had to shut down, but not for us. Nor do we feel like our passing will leave an un-fillable hole in the local theater scene. Contrary to popular belief, “there are a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be,” as Meg Trowbridge wrote.

When we posted our closure announcement on a Bay Area theater message board, a local theater patron reacted with concern and alarm. He offered to set up a GoFundMe page if that would allow us to “stick around.” As I said, we want to nip this narrative in the bud, so Stuart Bousel gave me the go-ahead to reply to the man. This is what I wrote:

“I’m a longtime Theater Pub attendee/writer/producer/blogger/actor and friend of the Pub’s current leadership, Stuart Bousel, Meg Trowbridge, and Tonya Narvaez. We appreciate your concern and your desire to keep art alive in the Bay Area, but as Stuart and Meg and Tonya wrote in their post, money has very little to do with why we have decided to end Theater Pub. Theater Pub was never going to be a full-time, quit-your-day-job career for any of us. We are indie theater artists juggling a lot of responsibilities (both theater-related and not), and after many years of hard work to produce a new show in a bar every single month — not an easy task! — we want to concentrate on other projects, other ways of making art, other things in our lives. None of us are quitting theater or leaving the Bay Area — on the contrary, I think we’re all busier than ever! So Theater Pub, the institution/organization, is going away, but WE, the artists, are not going away. The friendships and connections we have made, the skills we have learned, are not going away. It may sound strange, in a capitalistic age in a crazy expensive city where nearly every conversation turns to money, but the reason we’re ending Theater Pub isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.”

Meanwhile, this Medium post by Jeff Lewonczyk about why he gave up making indie theater in New York, has been making the rounds. As I said, for the time being, none of the core Theater Pub folks are planning to give up theater the way that Lewonczyk has. But I also think that we all understand his sentiments and don’t blame him in the least. There comes a time to step away from things, thoughtfully but without regrets.

As Stuart, Meg, and Tonya wrote in the title of their joint post, “autumn is a time to say goodbye.” Many of the Theater Pub usual suspects are also involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which begins in just a few weeks and whose theme this year is myths of death and the underworld. But at least for me, looking at death through a Greek-myth framework means seeing it as inevitable, and necessary, and possibly peaceful. (The mythological figure I’m writing about this year is Macaria, Persephone’s daughter and the goddess of peaceful death.) It means thinking about the cyclical nature of things; how Persephone goes to the underworld for half the year, but she is never lost down there forever.

And in the meantime, we’re ending Theater Pub with a show about a ghost (September), a show about a gravedigger (October), King Lear (November), and, finally, a musical celebration/funeral/wake. Because we’re theater people, and we know how to end things.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See the staged reading of her new play Macaria, or The Good Life at the Olympians Festival on October 14.

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost Opens Next Week!

Co-Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez reveals what drew her to Stupid Ghost, announces the marvelous cast, and releases a teaser trailer.

One week from today, San Francisco Theater Pub will open Stupid Ghost, written by Savannah Reich (http://savannahreich.com) and directed by Claire Rice. I chose this play for Theater Pub after it was shown to me by a friend, Theater Pub’s own Barbara Jwanouskos. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This play touches me in so many ways. It has heart, it’s dark and twisty, and it has the kind of humor that sort of tickles you on the chin before punching you in the gut. To me, this play is about the desire to connect above all else, being unsure how to do so, and being willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get what you want.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

I selfishly wanted to direct this piece myself. After sitting with that decision for awhile, I realized there was only one person I knew who could direct this play. That person is Claire Rice. To me, this play screams Claire Rice’s name from the rooftops. It pleads to be read by her. It begs to be thoughtfully analyzed and synthesized into a production by her mind and her heart. I sent the play in Claire’s direction and let her know how I felt. Thankfully she agreed with me and took on the project.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

I’m now incredibly delighted to announce our cast and release a teaser trailer for this very special Theater Pub production.

Ghost – Christine Keating
Ronnie – Celeste Conowitch
Poltergeist – Ryan Hayes
Lecturer – Valerie Fachman
John Pierre – Megan Cohen

See Stupid Ghost only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco):

Monday, September 19 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 20 @ 8:00pm
Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 27 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts.

See you at the Pub!