Cowan Palace: Don’t Drink Seawater And Other Stuff Kids Know

This week, Ashley’s asking her theatre students to help write her blog.

Greetings, friends! Here’s hoping your week has been full of pie and sans 23 Ides of March stab wounds.

I’ll be honest. I’ve piled my plate a bit too high this year. I mean the Bachelor finale and these Fuller House episodes aren’t going to watch themselves. And between being a mom and working a full time job, I’ve also been busy in rehearsal for Custom Made Theatre’s upcoming production of Middletown (my first full length show since 2013!), trying to be a motivated Maid of Honor for my sister’s upcoming May nuptials, and teaching preschool drama classes on the side.

Because this week was a particularly busy one, I thought I could commission my four year old students to write my blog for me. Their pay? Stickers! Obviously. I’m a pretty generous boss.

So, before we had our warm up and after I had them “shake out their sillies”, I asked my Monday class of five kiddos for their thoughts.

STICKER copy

TEACHER ASHLEY: Why do you guys think doing theater is important?

KID ONE: Where are the stickers?

TEACHER ASHLEY: Safe and sound in my bag; keeping my book and my “Jar of Sillies” company. So what do you think? Why do you think drama class is a good idea?

KID ONE: I got new skies! Can I tell you something? I went to Tahoe!

KID TWO: I’m thirsty. I need water!

KID THREE: Me too! (coughs in sudden thirsty despair)

TEACHER ASHLEY: Okay, okay. Let’s take a quick trip to the water fountain. Let’s make a line and pretend we are giraffes! (Kids quickly line up as giraffes and tiptoe to get a drink. Once there, they consume the water in a craze)

KID THREE: I hate seawater!

KID FOUR: Me too! It’s so salty!

KID THREE: I drank seawater! Yuck!

KID ONE: Can I tell you something? I like my skies.

TEACHER ASHLEY: Let’s come back and make a big circle! Let’s see if we can make it look like a giant pizza!

KID FOUR: Seawater is so gross!

TEACHER ASHLEY: C’mon, guys! Let’s see if we can come back to our circle in ten seconds. Remember, if we get through a great class, we can celebrate with some stickers! (Kids immediately run and form a circle on the colorful carpet) Great job! Okay, does anyone else want to share something?

KID FIVE: When do I get to be a mermaid?

TEACHER ASHLEY: You can be a mermaid when we play our storytelling game! Do you think that’s why doing theater is important?

KID FIVE: I’m going to be Ariel. (whispers) And have magic powers.

TEACHER ASHLEY: I can’t wait to see that. Does anyone else want to pretend to a special character today?

KID ONE: Tiger. But this time he really dies.

KID FOUR: Yeah! I’m a tiger too!

TEACHER ASHLEY: Maybe the tigers can fall asleep and wake up with some mermaid magic.

KID ONE: Fine. But then they’re lions.

KID TWO: I want to be a fairy princess baby! And we all go to the castle to watch a movie.

TEACHER: Great! So… is that why theater class is important? Because we get the chance to use our imaginations, work together, and tell stories?

KID THREE: Can I see the stickers?

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Ah. Okay. Well, there you go! The kids and I spent the rest of class playing games and making up new stories. I got hugs and laughs and even some drawings to take home! But most importantly, I got a needed distraction and energy boost to help survive these next few weeks with a very full plate. I also learned that maybe money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you stickers. And stickers pave the way to happy trails.

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The Five: Sorry Kids, No Time

Anthony R. Miller checks in with adventures in educating.

So I’ve been teaching a “History of Musical Theatre” class the last few weeks and you would think three hours would be long enough to give them a pretty solid, if not basic knowledge of the musical theatre, and you would be wrong. I use a lot of video clips for the class, and with over 50 clips; I never get to use them all. There’s a few that kill me to skip, a few that make me feel like I’m doing these kids a disservice but skipping them, so here are my top clips I had to cut, predictably there are five.

Follies-“I’m Still Here”

Ok calm down, I mention it. I bring up that it’s co-directed by Michael Bennett. But there is no playing of the classic song. There is no discussion of how this show is just one part of the death of the Broadway Myth that happens in the 1970’s.

The Will Rogers Follies-“Our Favorite Son”

Again, I mention the show I never really give Tommy Tune his time in the sun. Not only does the show base itself on the Ziegfeld Follies which we discuss at the begging of the class, but it features some musical theatre’s most iconic choreography.

Contact-“Simply Irresistible”

I would have blown minds with tis clip. We would have discussed Susan Stroman’s use of dance and movement to tell her story in the tradition of Jerome Robbins and Agnes Demille. We would have discussed the controversy that followed its 2000 Best New Musical Tony Award win when it had no original or live music.

Gypsy-“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (As Performed by Patti Lupone)

So Gypsy is discussed in the class, I even show a clip, but I don’t show this one. I feel it is my friggin duty to show them video of Ethel Merman performing it, I wish I had time to show both of them. Patti Lupone burns the friggin house down in it. But I can only choose one and Ethel Merman has to t win.

The Music Man-“Ya Got Trouble”

I have no fucking business teaching the history of American Musical Theatre without showing a clip of this show. Oh sure, I mention it beat West Side Story for the Tony. I discuss its use of rhythmic speak-singing. I mention it took 7 years to make it to Broadway. What I don’t do is show a clip. Maybe I’ll cut the clip from Pippin.

You can check out the entire playlist HERE and see everything I do show, along with everything that got cut for time.

Anthony R. Miller is a doer of many things, keep up with them www.awesometheatre.org.

Higher Education: The Battle Royale – Creative Vs. Critic

Barbara Jwanouskos on a Saturday… because now that school’s out, it’s always Saturday. Plus we just plain forgot to run her column yesterday.

Grades were due today for my graduating students so it was a scramble to the finish line as always as I read seven 41-60 page plays that served as the culmination of their work in my Advanced Playwriting class. It’s interesting reflecting on the structure of that class and thinking to myself, what I would do if given another chance to teach this course? And, what would I, as a student taking this class, want to get out of it?

I read an interesting article by Mike DiMartino, one of the co-creators and executive producers of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” – both fantastic shows that I’m captivated by. DiMartino talks about elements of story and creativity on his blog. The subject most recently was on “Your Inner Creative vs. Your Inner Critic”. The idea being that the creative side of building a new project is freeform, loose, and expansive in its ideas whereas the critical side shapes, orders, and prioritizes what should take precedence. DiMartino points out that both are needed in order to create something, but that too much will kill a project. He then poses the questions:

In your life and work (whatever you consider your work to be), do you tend to be more creative or critical? Is there a way to bring more of one or the other into your process?

I thought about teaching Advanced Playwriting because as I grade I see the creative, but respond with the critical. As I read, I’m thinking about what is it that is still unclear in the script? Did a something that was set-up pay off reasonably well? And do I ever get lost in the story – in a good way – where I’m simply enjoying how the events unfold before me?

It’s interesting to read my students’ writing and then also to look over their feedback on the course evaluations. I asked if given more time, what would you like to have gone over in depth? Many of the respondents said that they would have liked to learn more about types of story structures, which is really interesting. In class, we spent a lot of time doing generative exercises that in my mind were core to what I felt I could offer people who wanted to take their writing to another level. It can be hard sometimes to get out of a prescribed way of thinking of things. As a student learning a new skill, I like to play with my new toys a bit and get comfortable using them before I’m ready to start learning the nuts and bolts of why they work the way they do, but everyone is different.

I was fortunate enough to have intelligent, engaging students who all have a talent for writing. Earlier today, when I told someone that I’m graduating on Sunday, she observed that Carnegie Mellon is odd in that it is well known for its technology programs as well as its entertainment/arts programs. The two are usually very disparate at other schools. Part of me wonders whether the students’ want for a more academic, structured approach added to a future rendition of this class was out of our desire to satiate the critical side of ourselves with rules and order that make sense. I can understand and appreciate that desire, but I also wonder if having the lexicon of lots of different creative tricks arms them for times when writer’s block looms.

There’s a part of me that can’t really say which one may be “right” because its imbedded in how I approach art and frankly, life in general. If the class is about the creation process as a whole, then maybe there is no real beginning or end. The “final” play that they submitted, in many ways is a first or second draft for many of them. I had no designs that in an elective course that I’d be able to do much more than that, but I did want them all to push towards finishing at least a couple of projects.

For me, the battle between the critic and the creative are really more of a conversation. The creative side starts it off, then the critic molds what is most interesting, then the creative fleshes it out, the critic refines and so on. I don’t think the two need to be adversarial, but they both have distinct functions that are both needed to ultimately get to the finished product.

When talking about ways to bring one side into the other, I think that’s where you end up having to play little games with yourself in order to progress. For instance, when wrapped up in idea generation, it can be easy to become expansive to where you’re somehow completely off the map, but that’s when you bring that critical side in with the map that limits where it is that you can go.

For DiMartino and “Legend of Korra”, the writers are working within the framework of the show and characters that have been established, which is helpful in reducing down the amount of ideas that are viable. One of my favorite writing exercises is simply a free write of whatever comes to mind – Julie Cameron calls it “Morning Pages”, Naomi Iizuka calls it “swimming”, others call it “free association writing”. There are variations, but you basically write whatever pops in your head continuously – stories, character ideas, to do lists, feelings, etc. The trick is that it’s timed and most instructors I know encourage their students to set aside that writing for a couple of days or weeks (or forever) before looking at it again.

In terms of putting the creative into the critical, it’s doing just the opposite – it’s looking at a limit or a barrier and finding a way to subvert it. Another favorite writing exercise Rob Handel likes to give us, is to write the play that you hate. I’ve heard variations on this with regard to scenes, “write what wouldn’t happen next”. For me, this exercise responds to the brain’s attempt to shut down the creative and start evaluating, “well, this wouldn’t happen, he doesn’t even have a horse to get to the next town over. He hates horses!” Then, it turns it into a tool to be used and ultimately it might reveal something interesting. Perhaps a new relationship or a more interesting conflict. Who knows!

Oscillating between the creative and critical side is ultimately what helps us find an end point, whether temporary or permanent. It’s all part of the process that cycles through birth to death to rebirth over and over again.

What other tricks or exercises do you use in your creative or critical processes? Share with us! Because sharing means caring. 😉

Everything is Already Something Week 30: The Mental Patient and the Assassin, A Midwestern Tale

Allison Page sends us a story from the frozen north.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in my home town – um, the only coffee shop in my home town – and I see someone familiar. I nearly choke on my Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. I know that hair cut. I know the tick-tick-ticking of her high heels. Her glasses, her clear sense of self-importance – yes, it has to be her. My high school drama teacher. Ohhhh shit.

Flashback o’clock. Suddenly I’m thinking about the first play I ever auditioned for, which would have been Peter Pan when I was about 10, but I showed up to the audition and they wanted me to sing which I didn’t know about in advance, and so I cried and left without ever auditioning. (which is still how I feel about singing)

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you're just bragging.

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you’re just bragging.

So the actual first play I ever auditioned for was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is when I met the woman who would be my drama teacher. Let’s call her Lemon Drop. I read sides of the script with some other awkward teenagers, and Lemon Drop told me that I had “promise”. This I found very exciting and assumed meant I would be playing an important part in the following production. The cast list goes up – I can’t wait, I’m so pumped to find out which AMAZING role I’ll be taking on. And who am I? Who will I fully embody, causing the audiences minds to explode, the tops of their heads to detach and shoot into the stars because I’m, like, SOOOOOOO GOOD?

Allison Page – MENTAL PATIENT and ASSASSIN

What? I don’t even have a name?! COME ON! Look at me, over here! I have promise and shit! You said it, not me! MENTAL PATIENT? THAT’S MY ROLE? I didn’t read for that! I didn’t read for either of the parts I was given because they don’t have any lines. I was unbelievably depressed. I must have been awful, if she didn’t even give me any lines. I must have been a horrible freak and she just said those nice things to make me feel better. That had to be it. Instant misery set in. I’ve always had a terrible memory. I forget things all the time. But I remember how destroyed I felt by that. All of my 14 years of living, at that point, had been leading up to this moment for me.

I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I mean – always. I think I even wanted to do that before I knew what it was. I “wrote” my first play when I was in second grade. I somehow convinced the teacher to make the class watch my rendition of FERN GULLY LIVE. It was magnificent (it probably wasn’t). I loved it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

But this was the first time I’d been at the mercy of someone else’s choices…and look where that landed me: the non-speaking Mental Patient and the non-speaking-and-is-only-on-stage-for-30-second-before-she-dies Assassin. I cried a lot about it for more than one day. I didn’t give a shit about Santa Claus not being real, but this was my version of being told that the jolly bastard with the presents wasn’t comin’ around. Naturally, I got over it enough to perform in the play and see all the juniors and seniors do the fun parts while I watched from my deceased position, lying on the stage.

The depression at the thought that I might not be perfect and amazing as a teenage performer wasn’t enough to dissuade me from taking drama classes, which I did. Lemon Drop was a tough teacher – to me. I think, perhaps, other people had an easier time. It was hard because I so wanted to please her, and she was sparing with her compliments, but never her criticism. Her philosophy was “If I don’t say anything, then it’s good.” but that was hard for me at 16 and 17. I wanted someone to tell me I was blowing the roof off the place and I wasn’t going to get it from her. There were times that other people would mess something up, and I would end up getting the blame, which I strangely just sort of…took. Again – CRYING HAPPENED A LOT. (Which is hilarious for people who know adult Allison because crying is incredibly rare for me. Unless I’m laughing really hard, but I don’t count that.) The parts I was given got bigger and better and became more work – which is exactly what I wanted. I love working hard when it’s something I care about (and only then).

Lemon Drop gave me a thick, thick skin. How do you get a callous? Usually it’s after you’ve irritated and rubbed and poked and prodded that sore part of you until it learns how to protect itself. At the time I often wanted to kick her in the shin and run away, but I’m quite thankful for it now. Though I freely admit that the thought of her still kind of makes me nervous. Which is silly because what could she possibly do to me now – scowl? Who cares?

I’ve talked before about how I took over directing at my high school the year after I graduated. (And only for that year because it kind of made me crazy.) Lemon Drop had decided to stop directing after my class graduated. I remember some sentiment of us being the last class who seemed to really care about it, so she didn’t feel the need to go on. Who knows if that’s true. She showed up to the play I directed; brought me flowers and everything, but didn’t talk to me. I don’t recall ever speaking to her again after that. This was 9 years ago. I had wished that she had said something to me at the time. “I’m proud of you.” she would say, and then we’d hug or some shit. But I never got that moment. And actually I think that’s sort of appropriate. On some level that would make me feel like I’ve already achieved whatever I set out for – which I haven’t.

She was a hellion, but gave me an appreciation for all the work that goes into what previously seemed like play time. She is the single biggest influence on my work ethic and and attitudes about production. There have been many other people I’ve gleaned things from, but she’s the one who set up who I’d be as a performer from the start. She gave me parts like The Artful Dodger, Antigone (that one was tough), the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present, and Thorin Oakenshield.

What, that doesn't look like me?

What, that doesn’t look like me?

I spent time and energy convincing her that certain parts could be as convincingly played by women as men (which was partially for gender equality but more because I WANT THOSE ROLES, DUH.) Should I approach her in this coffee shop? What would I say? What if she didn’t even remember me – this person she had such an impact on? I think she was disappointed that I didn’t go to college and major in theater…or go to college at all. What if she hates my guts?

My friend at the coffee shop turned around to see the woman I was staring at.
“Oh, that’s not her. She just looks like her. I’ve seen her around here before.”, she said.
“Really?” I continued to stare.
“Yeah, but from the back they look identical.” she said, sipping her coffee.
“Huh…weird. I could have sworn that was her.”
“Nope, not this time.”

I guess I have some more time to figure out what I’d say to her. Or maybe I’ll never get to say anything. I doubt she knows she made such a lasting impression on who I am as a person and a performer. And that she’s the reason I don’t require praise to know I’m doing a good job. That’s a pretty solid quality, I have to say. So thank goodness for that. It’s gotten me through moments of potential insecurity for the last decade.

Now I’m sitting in the same coffee shop (again, there’s only one) finishing up this blog, sipping another Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. She hasn’t wandered in this time either, in case you were wondering. But with all this reminiscing, she might as well have.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian on her way back from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, just tryin’ to make good. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Higher Education: Win Some Lose Some

This has been an incredible week over in the halls of Purnell. Very affirming, in many ways, but also it feels as if a door (or doors) are opening. Maybe it’s because the snow is melting a bit more (though the corner business has up twinkly x-mas lights again) or maybe a piece of learning is turning into understanding…

Cue the orchestra for me to now express myself in song.

Does Bette Midler ever need a caption? No.

Does Bette Midler ever need a caption? No.

*Ahem*

It can be tiring to try to progress as an artist. Some days it feels like nothing is working. I could totally relate to Claire Rice’s efforts to break through her writer’s block. These whole last couple of weeks has been like pulling teeth with regards to writing. I’m working on three huge projects: a full-length screenplay about hackers, my thesis play exploring violence at a kung fu studio, and a new play that’s a family drama intercepted by a has-been motivational speaker.

All three things have very real deadlines. Time is running out. I can no longer dilly-dally. Every time I sit down to write, I think, “these pages have to matter”.

omg_hamster copy

But you know what? Sometimes the only reason they matter is because you directing your energy into the projects you’re working on.

And it’s hard. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to come up with ideas. It’s hard to execute the ideas well. It’s hard to bring people together to hear your shitty ideas. It’s hard to be told your ideas are shitty. It’s hard to go back to your ideas and incorporate “feedback”. It’s hard to rally the troops once more (for between one and forever years), hear more feedback. Rinse, repeat. And then it’s hard to get people together to make your shitty idea a reality. And to get the money to do so. And for the performance to come out well. And to get people to come see it. And understand it. And hope they actually like it. And by extension you.

And feelings.

My play makes me feel all of this!

My play makes me feel all of this!

It’s like they say, “if it were easy, everyone would do it”. We don’t get paid well a lot of the times. Or at all. Or sometimes we end up paying in order to pursue our artistic passions. A lot. But if we were in it purely for the money, wouldn’t it just be easier to do something that actually gives us more of a “return on our investment”?

Guys! I’m sure you all know, but you will never make the money back that you put in to pursuing a life in the theater. So, that means you do it cuz you love it. And love is a hard thing. Sometimes, you know… love hurts. It’s sort of like art-being-hard is a person continually punching you in the face and after a while you’re thinking, “any time you want to stop would be just peachy”.

I am just as cynical as the next person and that’s why any win I get, I stick to like a needy cat covered in caramel sauce.

Don't ever leave me, wall!

Don’t ever leave me, wall!

This week’s wins all concerned validation. A guest artist from the land of TV, Aurorae Khoo, gave me a great compliment that since last year, my visual writing had dramatically improved (just the kind of improvement you hope for in a Dramatic Writing program…). My instructor, Rob Handel, came as a guest speaker to the Advanced Playwriting class because I had assigned them “A Maze” to read (three more chances to check it out!) and gave us some great advice about focusing on specificity in our writing. And my one-act play, “Sad Karaoke”, was performed in the Theater Lab class today and was so exciting to see on it’s feet (yay to my director, Kyle Wilson, and cast, Cameron Spencer, Veladya Chapman and Erron Crawford!!!).

And as great as all these wins were, there’s still work to do. Compliments don’t win competitions. I’m not trying to compete with anyone else necessarily. It’s more like being in competition with myself. Is this work I can be proud of? Did I spend my day focusing on the things I really needed to focus on? Am I taking active steps towards personal and artistic growth.

Absolutely.

But that is also still the case even when I feel as though I’ve experienced multiple loses. Maybe I got passed up for an opportunity, perhaps I was slighted, perhaps people didn’t understand what my play was about, whatever. At the end of the day, who cares? I guarantee as the person experiencing the loss or win, you feel it more than anyone else. And the sooner we get over our losses AND our wins, the sooner we can get back to work and keep at it.

No one has reached perfection, which can sound depressing, but it’s actually affirming, because if we do it because we love it, that means we can still keep doing it because “it” isn’t done yet. Nothing ever really is.

I firmly believe that you have to be in perpetual motion in order to succeed. It doesn’t matter how much, just that it’s happening.

Good luck to you (and may the odds be ever in your favor).

game_over

Theater Around The Bay: The Best of the Blog

2013 was a year of change on multiple fronts and our website was no exception. Though Marissa Skudlarek, as our first “official” blogger, began her semi-monthly contributions in 2012, the eight-writer line up that currently composes the blog’s core writing team wasn’t solidified until October of this year, when Claire Rice was brought on to replace Helen Laroche, who, along with Eli Diamond, stepped away as a regular contributor earlier this year. Eli and Helen, along with the current eight and our lengthy list of occasional contributors (most notably Annie Paladino), all get to share in the success of the blog, which steadily and dramatically increased its traffic over this past year. With 45,611 hits in 2013 (compared to 27,998 in 2012, 11,716 in 2011, and 8,435 in 2010), there can be no doubt that the San Francisco Theater Public (as we’ve taken to calling the blog amongst ourselves) is “kind of a thing.” With our current all time total just shy of 100,000 hits, we wanted to use the last blog entry of this year to celebrate the different voices that make our blog unique, while also paying homage to the vast and diverse world of online theater discussion. To everyone who makes our blog a success, including our dedicated readers and Julia Heitner, our Twitter-mistress who brings every installment to the Twitter-sphere, a gigantic thank you for making 2013 the best year so far! Here’s hoping that 2014 is even better!

STUART BOUSEL by William Leschber 

Whether it be Shakespeare, Ancient Greece, Celtic Myth, or the plight of the contemporary 30 something, Stuart Bousel always has something intelligent to say about it, and if you’ve read any of  his blogs over the past year you’ll know he has an ample array of in-depth thoughts about these things and so much more. I’m proud to have known Stuart for a number of years and the plentiful hours of intelligent conversation are invaluable to me, but my favorite 2013 blog entry of his is one that offers both a larger social insight and something very personal as well. The Year of the Snake blog isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and offers the perfect mix of two brands of self awareness: the satisfaction that comes at being proud of one’s achievements, juxtaposed with the self doubt that comes whenever we embark on something new and challenging. These traits are heightened by a particularly uncertain year for myself and so many others who have had an odd go of it in 2013, the Year of the Snake, and maybe that is why this particular blog resonated so strongly. Although this year is possibly the most challenging some of us have had in recent memory, what Stuart articulates so well here is that sometimes we have to pass through the fire to come out stronger from the forge. The process of wriggling into new skin in due time…aye, there’s the rub: “…the truth is, the changes tend to kind of happen while you’re not looking, almost as a side result of trying to change.”

There's Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

There’s Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

In other favorites-of-the-year news, I present you the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. For those in constant transit and who have an easier time taking in a podcast over reading articles online, this is for you. Now my favorite podcast surrounding film would fall to Filmspotting where new and old films are discussed weekly with humor and insight. But if I had to choose the single best episode  I heard this year it would be Jeff Goldsmith’s interview with writer/director Ed Burns. In the words of the host, the Q&A podcast aims to “bring you in-depth insight into the creative process of storytelling”. He interviews screenwriters specifically (often writer/directors) about how they go about their personal process. Not only are the insights into the writer’s process wonderful to hear but the peeks into their role in the film industry are also fascinating. The Ed Burns episode ranges in topic from 90’s indie films, to his writing process, then on to making micro budget films, and his thought on how the industry is changing and what he’s doing to work in the grain of the dawn of steaming entertainment. It’s great. And here it is: http://www.theqandapodcast.com/2012/12/edward-burns-fitzgerald-familiy.html

ASHLEY COWAN by Claire Rice

Ashley Cowan’s posts often feel like sitting on the couch with your best friend and chatting late into the night with a mug of hot coco.  Every post  is heartfelt and full of a kind of determined enthusiasm that is infectious.  Her post abouttheatre traditions/ superstitions was very funny (if I had known that thing about peacock feathers I might have made different choices with my life.) And her post about her grandmother and goodbyes was touching and beautiful.  But my favorite post would have to be Why Being A Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best…and the Worst.  She beautifully lays out the complex and heart breaking experience of knowing a “the show must go on” mentality is an imminently transferable job skill, but a skill hard to sell to non-theatre perspective employers.

I read Dear Sugar’s advice column for the first time on September 1, 2013, my thirty second birthday.  The piece I read was Write Like Motherfucker  It was surprising, honest and full of so many of the things I had been thinking and feeling.  It was and is full of all the things I needed to hear. “We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor.  I know it’s hard to write, darling.  But it’s harder not to.”

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar - You've just made two new best friends.  You're welcome.

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar – You’ve just made two new best friends. You’re welcome.

BARBARA JWANOUSKOS by Stuart Bousel 

Barbara Jwanouskos is the kind of theater person who figured out long ago what many of us take much longer to figure out: namely that one can balance theater with the rest of their life (she’s a pretty amazing martial artist in addition to being a playwright, blogger, grad student, and non-profit development expert), and that nothing happens if you sit and wait for it, you have to go after your dreams actively. Smart, generous, good-natured, Barbara’s writing reflects a serious mind and soul you might not immediately pick up on when you first meet her, though her bad-ass-ness is definitely apparent in her punk rock haircuts and straight forward conversation style. Her “calls it as see sees it” voice is still developing in her blog, but with “Young Beautiful Woman” she had a bit of a breakthrough, giving us a story both personally meaningful to her while also showing us where the issue of pigeon-holing women in theater and films begins: that most double-sided of backyards, the fine arts masters’ program. This blog had the greatest reader impact of all the contributions Barbara has made for us this year, and it’s the kind of thing I want to see more of from her. It’s with incredible eagerness I look forward to her 2014 contributions, knowing she plans to really hit our readers, black belt style, with more ideas like these.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Outside of our humble little blog, I have read a number of interesting theater related articles this year, but this one from HowlRound seems to have stayed with me the longest. Though when I first read this I kind of had a reaction of, “Well, duh, it’s just part of the process- stop whining!”, I also admire that what Morgan is saying is that a life in the arts is pretty always a heartbreaking business, even when you do finally find your niche, your project, your collaborators. And it’s heartbreaking not just because of the lack of opportunities, or the difficulty in making a living, or all the other things we also talk about, but just from the sheer fact that if you’re doing it right you’re ALWAYS putting your heart into it and the nature of the business rarely appreciates or honors that- while, of course, still expecting you to throw your whole heart into it every time! I, and most of the theater people I know, spend a lot of time talking about sustainability in the theater community, funding and payroll, audience demographics and marketability, etc. and sometimes I can’t help but wonder when theater started to quantify and qualify itself the way I expect Wal-Mart too. When did it become about numbers and money and conventional ideas of success as represented through big numbers, and not about coming together with people of vision and making cool stuff because the world really needs that? Morgan’s article is a bittersweet plea to remember we’re all artists here and artists are delicate creatures in many ways, even if it’s probably through their strength that, ultimately, the world will be saved.

WILLIAM LESCHBER by Marissa Skudlarek

It has been a pleasure to read Will Leschber’s “Working Title” column since it debuted in September 2013. Theater can sometimes feel like an insular, inward-looking art; it’s not  a part of the mainstream cultural conversation in the way that movies, music or TV are (though we Theater Pub bloggers are doing our best to change that!) Even worse, theater people sometimes take a perverse pride in their own insularity, looking down on movies and TV as lesser, more commercial art forms. So I love Will’s idea of writing a column that places theater in dialogue with film. He acknowledges the virtues of each art form without belittling either of them and, in so doing, seeks to bring theater into the larger cultural conversation. Nowhere is this more evident than in his piece “To Dance Defiant” about one-man dramas Underneath the Lintel and All is Lost. The play is language-based and the film is image-based, says Will, but both confront stark, essential truths: “What decisions in life remain the most important? How do we measure it all? What significant artifacts do we leave behind? Is anything we leave behind significant? Or is the struggle and the suffering and the joyous dance in spite of all the dark, the only significance we are afforded?” Will’s column is about the importance of the art we make, be it on stage or on film — and therefore, is about the importance of our humanity.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

In one of my earliest Theater Pub columns, I wrote about how much I liked local critic Lily Janiak’s willingness to publicly critique her own criticism and question her own assumptions. So it was great news this year that Lily was selected as one of HowlRound’s inaugural NewCrit critics, bringing her work to a national audience and allowing her to write longer, more in-depth pieces. Even better, Lily has continued to question her assumptions and acknowledge her biases, approaching criticism in a spirit of open-minded inquiry. I particularly liked her piece “Our Own Best Judges: Young Female Characters Onstage” because, if I may admit my own biases, Lily and I are both extremely interested in the depiction of young women in plays. And then we ask ourselves: are we right to be so concerned, or does it mean that we are (wrongly) holding female characters to a higher standard than we hold male ones? “Critics are supposed to be objective, to approach a work with no agenda, but in this case, I have one. […] It’s impossible to separate one’s politics from one’s aesthetics (aesthetics are never pure!), but sometimes I worry that my politics have too much control over my critical criteria,” Lily writes. The whole piece is well worth reading for its thoughtfulness and honesty. That it happened to discuss three plays that I saw myself, got my friends’ names published on a national theater website, and spurred a response from Stuart Bousel on our own blog is just icing on the cake.

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

ALLISON PAGE by Dave Sikula

Let me tell you about Allison Page.

I met her this year when I played her father. I had no idea who she was. I had friended her on Facebook and, looking at her posts, thought we might get along. We had some similar interests, and despite her terrible taste in other things (I mean, seriously, “Ghost Dad,” “Daria,” and Kristen Wiig?), there was enough overlap that I thought we might become friends.

Then we met and she instantly drove me crazy.

I have every reason to hate her. There are things she does and writes about that just annoy the bejeezus out of me – BUT, that’s what I love about her. Her pieces for this here blog combine the miracle of being confessional and personal without being self-indulgent. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything she says (she accuses me of not liking anything, but oh, how wrong she is), but even when she irritates me, it’s in a way that makes me need to defend my own positions – and that’s what the best art does for me. If I had to pick one post of hers that really spoke to me, it was this one on how we need and create nemeses. I find you’ve got to have someone or something to fight against or do better than in order to do your own best work.

But don’t tell her I like anything of hers or she’ll just hold that over me.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Moving on to something online that I found of interest was this, Frank Rich’s latest profile of Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is one of those people my feelings for whom, words like “reverence” are far too mild. I know that if I were ever somehow to get a chance to meet him, I’d fall over in a dead faint, or at the very least, be utterly tongue-tied to the point where I’d sound like an episode of “The Chris Farley Show:” “You know when you did ‘Sweeney Todd?’ That was great.” But any chance to read about what he’s really like is fascinating.

CLAIRE RICE by Barbara Jwanouskos

What I love most about reading Claire Rice’s Enemy List is how Claire seems to pick up on an uncanny wave-length of theater topics that happen to be populating my brain (and others), like why there were so many plays dealing with rape this year. The post I particularly enjoyed was her interview with Dave Lankford, Executive Director of The Shelter and author of the internet famous blog post, “Dear Actor”. Claire’s interview gave a clear insight into Lankford, his background as a theater artist (playwright, actor, director, etc.) and what prompted the writing of the post. More so, her interview demonstrated through Lankford’s response, what it is like today to be a theater artist where so many of us are also using the internet as a means of communication, discourse and criticism about theater in general. For whatever reason, “Dear Actor” seemed to resonate with many people in a way that was surprising, but Claire’s interview presented Lankford at a more more meta level, which was fascinating to consider.

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

I love tracking HowlRound essays by some of my favorite playwrights – especially when they write about things I’m actually dealing with… like teaching playwriting! “Teaching in the 21st Century” by Anne García-Romero and Alice Tuan was a blessing to me sent from the heavenly gods of playwriting. I constantly flip back to this essay when I need to recalibrate my goals as a new teacher. García-Romero and Tuan’s approach mirrors what they had learned from the great Maria Irene Fornes. I appreciate their innovative approaches to get writers of all kinds jazzed about writing plays and how they deviate from strict adhearance to teaching structure versus other traits that good plays have – like voice and liveness.

DAVE SIKULA by Ashley Cowan

I met Dave Sikula earlier this year while working on BOOK OF LIZ at Custom Made Theatre. A project that inspired a blog or two on Cowan Palace and also provided a chance to get to know the guy who is now behind the column, “It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review”. After kindly driving me home after numerous performances and being graced with many Broadway songs on his impressive car sound system, I soon got to know Dave as a incredibly smart, insightful, and experienced theatre enthusiast. I’ve come to enjoy his contributions to the Theater Pub blog for the same reason. One of my personal favorites to read was his last piece, The Ritual Business. Ten years ago when I studied in London, I had the chance to see TWELFTH NIGHT starring Mark Rylance at the Globe and it’s a performance that’s forever stuck by me. I loved reading about Dave’s time in New York and his vivid description as an attentive audience member. I felt like I was there again reliving a magical moment of the theatrical experience of my past while also connecting to his observations and reactions.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Aside from Dave’s contributions, it’s been an interesting year for the Internet, huh? I fell for every hoax imaginable and had my spirits crushed when I learned that no, there would not be a new season of Full House or an 8th Harry Potter book to look forward to in 2014. With all that going on, one article that weaseled under my skin came from The Onion, believe it or not, and was entitled: Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life. I found it to be a humorous and honest piece about how many of us (in this artistic community) tend to balance our time. But the thing I truly want to share with you guys is this video, because at the end of the day (or year) sometimes you just need to watch some cute animals do some cute stuff.

MARISSA SKUDLAREK by Allison Page

Marissa Skudlarek and I communicate differently, but we think about a lot of the same things. If I’m a grilled cheese sandwich, she’s duck confit. She has the ability to say things that I know I’m also feeling, but haven’t brought myself to express properly without the use of a lot of F-bombs and references to Murder, She Wrote. Generally speaking, I like to accentuate the positive rather than wallow in a pool of the negative, so when her article “You’re Doing It Wrong, You’re Doing It Wrong” (Technically the second half of a two part article. The first one is also worth reading, but the second really drove it home for me.) The internet, and the world, can be a dark and dismal place. Some days it feels like there’s nothing to be happy about; nothing that’s going right. In a world that seeks to find the worst in everything, Marissa seeks out the subtle nuances of her theatrical experiences, and of the world around her. It’s refreshing and thoughtful, and a big reason I love reading her posts. Not everyone is doing it right wrong. I like to think Marissa is striving to do it right; for women in general and for herself.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she'll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she’ll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Outside of the Theater Pub Blog, there are always a lot of conversations stirring up interest. Every writer, every playwright – hell, every person has a different way they like to work. This last year I’ve been focusing more on writing and I’m always trying to find new ways to keep myself excited about the writing process. That can be hard to do, seeing as you still need to sit down and fuckin’ write at some point. That part is unavoidable. Though this article is actually from the end of 2012, I didn’t read it until this year, so I’m counting it! It’s an interesting collection of the daily routines and writing habits of famous writers. Hemingway wrote standing up? Well, that’s weird.