Theater Around The Bay: Let’s Hear It From You

Stuart Bousel takes a moment to talk about how our blog has been growing steadily upward.

February has proven to be a breakthrough month for the San Francisco Theater Pub blog!

For the first time since the blog was started by one of our founding artistic directors, Bennett Fisher, in March of 2010 (so we’re coming up on our anniversary!), we have shot past 4,000 hits in one month- and a short month at that! Where as once we usually got about 25-50 hits a day and 500-800 hits a month, we now average 150-200 a day and 2,500-3,500 a month. This increase in traffic is, without question, due in large part to having moved to more regular content, and it’s thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cowan, Eli Diamond, Helen Laroche, Marissa Skudlarek and our various guest bloggers (like the cast and crew of The Odyssey on Angel Island, and Nicky Weinbach from Made in China) that we can start to say the Pub’s online presence is delivering the same mission of inclusivity and being a platform for the community, as it does in the flesh at the Cafe Royale each month.Thank you to everyone who has been a part of it: contributor and reader alike. We hope you stick around for more!

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be adding actress/writer Allison Page to the regular writer rotation, alternating weeks with Cowan Palace, and next week we’ll begin a new regular guest blog by actor/writer Evan Johnson as his new play moves towards its premiere production at the New Conservatory. That will be running alternate weeks with Theater Conservatory Confidential, on Fridays. Additionally, we have a new monthly event, being presented in conjunction with the Exit Theater, starting March 23rd, called Saturday Write Fever. Like all other Theater Pub events, it’s free and all about creating collaborations between artists and busting down the wall between the audience and the creators, so please join us!

At the same time that the blog has been gaining momentum and increasing its profile, I personally have found myself having more and more conversations with various theater people about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what they hope to get from it versus what they actually get from it and just how they feel about that. A lot of those interactions have started with, “I read your posts from a few weeks back and it’s had me thinking…” and I have to say, it’s been wonderful to hear that and even more wonderful to have so many exciting dialogues about this art form and all its social and practical complexity. In the last few weeks my life has been characterized by some of the most honest and inspiring talks I’ve ever had in the ten years of being part of this theater community. It’s been like… final semester of college level of sincere and memorable, but unlike the last semester of college, it doesn’t have to end.

The “Theater Around the Bay” section of the website (basically every Tuesday we don’t have a performance that night- which is most Tuesdays) has always been, and will always remain, an on-going catch-all for whatever news, rants, musings someone wants to contribute and I want to take a moment to remind people that we’re always looking to publish something- the days we don’t it’s literally for lack of content, not because we turned someone down. We shy away from reviews (unless it’s happening in service of a larger thesis) because we want this to be more of a discussion/process/promotion part of the internet (there are plenty of other places to post reviews), but after that caveat almost anything theater related could potentially have a home here. An article about what’s troubling your theater life. Your favorite place to get a burrito before a show. A profile of someone you think is doing great work. A profile of your own work. Upcoming projects or on-going concerns. All these things and more are welcome. Please pitch us if you have an idea! We want to hear from you, and the more voices we can get on here over the course of a year, the better.

On that note, thanks again for reading. And because I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about this lately, if you have moment, leave a comment about what inspires you to keep working and making theater. I feel like every one of these great conversations that I’ve been having lately, that’s the one thing we don’t talk about enough. We talk about what is wrong, sure, and we talk about our work, usually, and we talk about other the tenor the scene and other people, always, but I think it’s just the nature of many artists (or maybe it’s just human nature) to forget to take the time to also focus on what does work, what infuses us with the will to keep on, what makes the baloney worth cutting through and putting up with. So, today, let’s put things back in balance and tell us what you love about the medium, the scene, or yourself. Or all three.

The best thing about the internet is that there’s always room for more.

Stuart Bousel is one of the founding artistic directors of the San Franciso Theater Pub, and a prolific writer and director. His website,, will tell you all about it.

Postcards From The Odyssey #7: All In A Day’s Work!

Production assistants from The Odyssey on Angel Island give us a glimpse into everything they do for this unique Bay Area theater experience…

What exactly was a day’s work like for a Production Assistant in The Odyssey on Angel Island, you may ask?

Amorphous as the will of Zeus…

Due to the epic nature of the production (and likely the fickle will of the gods), Ruth Tringham and Hannah Gaff, Production Assistant Extraordinaires, were never quite sure what they might be required to do on any given day on the island.  However, like Odysseus, they were always prepared for an adventure!  Those adventures included (but, were by no means limited to) concocting a recipe for blood; creating a set using animal pelts, bones and taxidermy raccoons; translating ancient Greek for a ritual; spray painting props (many, many props) gold; and scaling Mount Olympus to reclaim poor Hermes’ fallen bike helmet.  These two intrepid souls, along with the rest of the super cool production team, believed in their brains, brawn, and brilliance to bring this big beauty into being.

Below, Ruth and Hannah discuss another of their adventures: the conception and construction of an altar to bright-eyed Athena in the Temenos (chapel) on Angel Island.

Pictured in front of the altar are Freida de Lackner, Maria Leigh, and Caroline Parsons. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Hannah Gaff is a Bay Area actor/creator, clown, and director. She is next appearing in a new work entitled Dirty Laundry created by The Collaboratory, August 9, 10 & 11, 2012 at the Exit Theatre.

Ruth Tringham is, among other things, an archaeologist who recently retired as a Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. In another life she would have been a stage designer and hopes still to become a bee-keeper.

Postcards from The Odyssey #6: Little Moralists

In our on-going series of postcards from the We Players’ production of the Odyssey on Angel Island, Caroline Parsons, who plays Calypso (among other roles), reflects on lessons learned from smaller audience members…

Caroline Parsons as Calypso captures an attractive mortal. Photo by Tracy Martin.

After recent performances of The Odyssey on Angel Island, I have been taken to task by a couple of outspoken little girls. This happens after a scene in which I portray the sea nymph Calypso, who had detained Odysseus for seven years in her loving grasp before Zeus compelled her to let him go. As the scene ends she professes her love for mortal men and her outrage at having lost Odysseus to his homeward journey. One day, as I tearfully bade the audience of delightful and attractive mortals farewell, an elementary aged girl with an indignant chin approached me, saying, “Why are you crying? Odysseus isn’t your husband.”

Caroline Parsons as Calypso entreats Telemachus (James Udom) to stay with her on Ogygia. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Watch out Mary Magdalene, the morality of little girls is coming to vilify you! I improvised, as I am wont to do in this interactive scene, “I know…but I loved him.” The fierce crusader in stretch pants and silver embroidered sweatshirt assessed the veracity of the statement shrewdly, and granted, “I believe you” with a curt nod of her head before walking away with her hands on her hips. Another informed girl tore off a bracelet one of my nymphs had given her, a gift representing an eternal promise to stay with Calypso on the island of Ogygia, and slinging it angrily to the sand she said, “This is a reciprocal situation!” meaning, well, I’m not entirely sure what. What was clear was her immense mistrust of the goddess Calypso and her attempt to wrap the audience in binding chains of love as she had done to Odysseus. These opinionated children are coming to the show having read The Odyssey, probably in the company of an intelligent adult partner, but they do not need help understanding the archetypal characters in Homer’s world: the war hero with the fault of hubris, the faithful wife, the beautiful temptress, the evil sorceress, the good son- we know them by heart already. The work of theater is to bring them to life in a way that challenges the audience’s expectations but leaves them saying, “I believe you”.

Libby Kelly as Penelope and James Udom as Telemachus in the final scene of The Odyssey on Angel Island. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.

WePlayers is a company built to shake expectations: Alcatraz is a stage? An audience can walk 3.5 miles during a show? This Odyssey doesn’t end with Odysseus’s home coming? Nowhere is this expectation breaking more apparent than in the ending of this production. In the last scene we find Penelope, Odysseus’s faithful wife who has awaited his return from the Trojan War without remarrying for 20 uncertain years, crying because Odysseus has finally returned home: only to slaughter the men who have besieged her household, the serving girls in tow, and then leave again immediately. In Homer’s poem he comes home to stay and there is a happily ever after ending. In this production, why he has departed so quickly is interpreted variously by the different characters. The old school nurse Eurycleia believes he has gone to absolve himself of the bloodshed with prayer, the politically minded Mentor believes he has left Ithaka to avoid attack by the island families whose sons he has just slaughtered, and it is Penelope who has the wisdom to see that whatever the reason for his departure, he is a changed man after the war and she can no longer spend her life in waiting for the man she once admired. He is gone forever. A brilliantly emotive Libby Kelly portrays Penelope’s descent into despair. A little girl stands nearby and queries, “Why is the princess crying?” I do not know how her adult answered her, perhaps with a lengthy discourse on how war can change a person, on how twenty years away from your spouse is not automatically bridged, something about betrayal, or most likely, “Because she’s sad.” In either case the adult is being asked to describe a complexity of emotion that is often absent in the stories our children see on screen or read before going to bed. In contemplating the significance of my work with WePlayers, I am reminded of a genre of story called temblon, described by the writer/researcher Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves: “[The temblon] overtly entertain, but are meant to cause listeners to experience a shiver of awareness that leads to thoughtfulness, contemplation, and action.”

Claire Slattery, Frieda de Lackner and Joan Howard surround Caroline Parsons as they prepare her for the ritual eating of the Lotos. Photo by Tracy Martin.

After performing a trance in the Lotus Eaters scene I am left dangling limply on a long rope in a round depression at an old military site. From this seemingly lifeless state I have the pleasure of overhearing audience members’ reactions as they depart. The voice of a little boy follows an eager run to the edge of my cavern, “Pit of Shaaaaame!” he denounces gleefully. On another day I hear an adult say to a young girl who wants to know why I am down there, “Because she is a bad girl a very very bad bad girl.” The subtleties of the scene have been missed, surely, since the Lotus Eaters’ ritual is a communal one in which the drinking of the Lotus juice induces a clairvoyant and exhaustive trance, the culmination of a meditative group oracle ceremony. However, the use of our play as a version of the traditional warning folktale is no less important than an interpretation more closely aligned with our intentions. I imagine that next time that curious girl doesn’t clean her room or do her homework her adult counterpart can remind her of what happened to the “bad bad girl” in that Odyssey play. The child, who was so concerned about my well being, may have a strong reaction to that! I say, let’s come into the theater like children: full of righteous ideas, full of passion, and ready to be swayed and taught by what we see. I say, let’s care that much.

The cast and audience of The Odyssey on Angel Island dance in Aolia, the land of the wind. Photo by Mark Kitaoka

–Caroline Parsons

Caroline Parsons is a freelance theatre, dance and yoga instructor and teaching artist. She last performed with We Players in their Hamlet on Alcatraz.

Postcards From The Odyssey #5: Discovering the Sleepy Giant

Rebecca Longworth continues to send us postcards from We Players’ production of “The Odyssey on Angel Island”. This one is written by cast-member Maria Leigh, who talks about what it’s like to be a member of the ensemble of this unusual and demanding theater piece.

I woke up early on the first day of rehearsal for The Odyssey on Angel Island. I was nervous and excited and had a long commute to work. In the meetings leading up to our first day a mantra of sorts had emerged and was ringing in my ears, ” Don’t miss the boat. Don’t miss the boat. Don’t miss the boat”. And somehow, none of us did despite traveling from cities across the Bay Area. It was a beautiful day in early March, unseasonably warm, and as the ferry churned through the bluegreengraybrown before it, I realized that it was one of those rare moments in life where I was perfectly balanced between before and after but that the moment of falling from one to the other was imminent. The cast and crew had all signed on to spend a third of the year on Angel Island and while I understood what that meant in a technical sense, I didn’t know anything about Angel Island in a practical sense.

The adventure begins…. Photo Credit: Terry Barnet

At 1.2 square miles in area, 788 feet at its highest point, and only 3 miles from San Francisco, Angel Island dwarfs Alcatraz and, as a state park, is merely the price of a ferry ticket and back. And yet I had only visited the island once before, years ago. When pressed I would have volunteered:

“It was pretty.”
“And I think we walked a lot?”

So the first really surprising thing I learned when I arrived on the island was that people live there.

A house on the Northeast side of the island. Photo Credit: Nathaniel Justiniano

There are currently 27 people living on the island (with six more arriving soon), 18 are parks employees and the remainder are family members. There are thirteen residences on the island, although two are currently unoccupied. The youngest inhabitant is six and the oldest is old enough that the person I talked to about it felt awkward about quoting a number.

In partnering with We Players, the residents are not just sharing their space but welcoming us into their home. The number of ways that we intersect as part of this partnership are too numerous to count but the parks and rec staff are always incredible. A case in point: “You need a stake large enough to gouge out a cyclops’ eye? No problem.” The next day a fallen tree weighing 4,500 pounds arrived.

We couldn’t have wished for more generous or knowledgeable hosts. And while during the production you will see the fruits of this beautiful collaboration and will see parks staff greeting you along the way, it’s probably worth a couple of return trips to get to see people like Casey Dexter-Lee in her primary role as State Park Interpreter. In this context you can hear about how park residents are the most recent inhabitants of the island in a chain leading back through Asian immigrants, multiple military eras, European explorers, to the Miwok people.

A mysterious structure. Photo Credit: Terry Barnett

In The Odyssey, Mount Olympus is situated on a spectacular semicircular cliff befitting the gods. Nearby is a rickety wood and metal structure where Telemachus kneels in prayer. While architecturally interesting, I didn’t give the structure much thought given the preponderance of cool abandoned structures that are sprinkled around the isle. But as time went on, I learned that the cliffs were actually the edges of an abandoned serpentine quarry and the structure was a rock crusher. During the period that the serpentine quarry was operational, there was also a sandstone quarry just above the beach that is Calypso’s home in The Odyssey. The flat area where you stand to watch the Olympian gods, was once as tall a hill as the cliffs. But in the years between when the quarries opened in 1850 and when they was last used in 1922, the hill was mined down to the level ground that exists today. Some of the stone from the quarries was used in Angel Island structures but much of it went into military construction in other parts of the Bay Area. Throughout its operation, state and military prisoners provided much of the labor, and in an ironic twist, stone from this operation was used in the construction of a new fortress – on Alcatraz.

As you can imagine (and perhaps have read about in previous posts) there are a tremendous number of logistical concerns in terms of staging The Odyssey. One that is perhaps easily overlooked is how much water travels along the path of the audience in each show. Drinking water, water used in rituals, water used as scenic elements, and more. Each day the production moves approximately 50 gallons of water around the island. Not to mention what individual audience members carry on their person or the end of the day when we line up to take turns in the shower.

A cleansing ritual in Temenos – Photo Credit Tracy Martin

But where does the water come from? On this point the best person to chat with is Rick Ables, Water and Sewage Plant Supervisor, who is very knowledgeable and articulate on every detail of Angel Island’s water supply. All of the water on the island comes from a protected underground aquifer that is remarkably constant even in drought years. To date there has been no salinity or other intrusion problems from the bay into the aquifer. The water is extracted using four wells ranging in depth from 240-325 feet deep. The water is monitored for coliforms and disinfected using sodium hyperchlorite (more commonly known as bleach). The water on the island is of very high quality and is maintained in accordance with the California Department Public Health standards. The water is then kept in three facilities totaling 1,500,000 gallons. Wastewater is processed through a sanitary sewer treatment plan that eventually releases clean water back into the ground and completes the hydrologic cycle.

Another shock for me on the island was seeing spotted fawns bounding delicately through the underbrush on the island. Or standing on Calypso’s beach in the dark and seeing bright eyes peer and a husky gray body hustle out onto the sand. How on earth did deer and raccoons end up on Angel Island?

“We’re not doing anything, honest!” – Photo Credit Jaquie Klose, Angel Island Conservancy

The prevalent theory is that they both walked over when Angel Island was not yet an island. However, as both can swim, it is possible that if the populations died out at any point new animals may have swam out and repopulated. The gap between Tiburon and Ayala Cove is quite narrow and is actually called Raccoon Strait (although this name comes from the HMS Racoon which was the second European ship to visit the island not the adorable swimming bandits). The deer population was also bolstered by the military who repopulated them after overhunting. The deer population currently stands around 60. The raccoons are not tracked. And while you may or may not see deer or raccoons randomly on your travels during the show, they do make a memorable appearance in the company of a certain witch later in the play.

I guess what has surprised me most in my personal odyssey with this show is the attachment that I have come to feel for Angel Island. While I love site specific theatre for many reasons – accessibility, vitality, specificity – I have never spent so much time in a performance site. On the island, I have been able to see different wildflowers come in and out of bloom, watched goslings become geese, learned which patches of grass become swampy when it rains. As a cast we have sung in the pouring rain, run in the sun, watched the fog roll in, and the sun rise and set. Each day my roots have gone deeper into our island home, the sites have become increasingly relevant to the actions that happen within them, and my choices are informed by the landscape I am in.

Every time we visit a site, it becomes more richly layered with memories and experiences from the visits that came before. I think about all of the life that crossed the same places before me and the lives that will come there after. About the simultaneous constancy and dynamism of place. I think of you, the audience, who will come and those who have already come and gone. That we share an experience but that we also have our own perspective. Every show there are moments where I see things that are so beautiful but will never be seen by anyone else. And while part of me is sad that no one else will ever see these perfect instants, I know that each person will find their own private moments. An interaction with a character that only they see, a perfect perspective that chance brings for them alone, a scent on the wind carried on an intake of breath and then gone. And then that moment will pass and we will be together again, sharing the adventure, traveling together, borne aloft by this sleepy giant that is Angel Island and who is ready to speak to those who will listen.

A home away from home. Photo Credit: Annette Goena

Factual information in the article is drawn from interviews with Angel Island State Park employees and the sites for California Parks and Rec and the Angel Island Conservancy.

Maria Leigh is a Bay Area actor, collaborator, and cultural philosopher. She is next appearing in a new work entitled, Dirty Laundry, created by The Collaboratory, August 10 & 11, 2012 at The Exit Theatre. Her next written piece will be a one act, Rhea, premiering as part of The San Francisco Olympians Festival III: Titans vs. Olympians, December 19, 2012 also at The Exit Theatre. For more information, please visit:

Postcards From The Odyssey #3: Our Partner The Audience

This week’s post is by cast member Julie Douglas, who examines the unique role of the audience in We Players’ production of The Odyssey on Angel Island.

Telemachus (James Udom) journeys with his companions, the audience. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Audience is intrinsic and necessary to theatre. Theatre in its true form is about the direct relationship and dialogue between the story, the storytellers, and the audience.  Mainstream western storytelling has the audience sitting in the dark while the players, set apart upon a stage, spin the story both visually and verbally. Site-specific, experiential theatre changes that dynamic and understanding for both player and audience. The story is both imaginary and tangible, it is all around us and we are all active players in it. In “The Odyssey on Angel Island” not only are we asking the audience to emotionally and energetically follow the story, we are asking them to literally follow our hero and physically go on their own Odyssey in a living location. They are asked to take action, respond directly, and have interactions with the players and story. They are a part of the story, and their engagement helps drive it forward.

Julie Douglas — your fearless reporter — as Circe, engaging an audience member with her wily and “intensely seductive” ways. Photo by Tracy Martin.

In theatre there is always a conversation with each unique audience. Their energy can be felt on stage. It fills the room. Now imagine it filling an island. In this kind of theatre there are spoken conversations and shared experiences between the players and audience, between audience members and with the surroundings.  Shows that engage everyone in this way can change how audiences think of themselves and their influence. It can also help us as performers truly feel the necessity of the audience and inform our relationship to that audience in all forms of theatre. It is a high wire act that requires full commitment because you never know what might be thrown your way. You are looking your audience square in the face and know if they are or are not along for the ride.

Nick Trengove, Lizzie Nichols, Megan Trout, Charlie Gurke and Geof Libby — all We Players friends and collaborators — watch a scene during a dress rehearsal. Photo by Tracy Martin.

In “The Odyssey on Angel Island” there are many miles walked with the audience, many scenes that have improvisation, and nature is an ever changing partner as well. How the show manifests, in many ways is dependent on that unique audience’s personalities and choices. In rehearsing the Odyssey we did our best to stand in for each other’s scenes as audience, to fill in those gaps of experience for both the audience and ourselves that would make up a large chunk of our show. We also made use of happenstance audiences that thought they were just coming to a state park for a picnic.  A family laughed as they got called out as rabblerousing suitors. A man on the beach bonded with Hermes by yelling out his approval. A group of boy scouts were drawn to our happenings, unexpectedly finding themselves a part of a scene. These joys and challenges of performing in a public space began in rehearsal, but something we couldn’t simulate was engaging with and moving an audience of over a hundred people to a point that they want to actively join in the story and enjoy it.

An audience member dances with Penelope (Libby Kelly). Photo by Tracy Martin.

Our opening weekend started with an invited dress, then preview, followed by Saturday and Sunday shows. Our audience doubled each day, which was a great way to learn what these new partners might do as they grow in number. Of course each audience is and will be different and not just in size. This audience talks back, they want to participate in different ways and to different degrees, they challenge your engagement as a performer with unexpected questions and actions.  Making connections with these individuals as well as the group at large is key so that we fulfill our objectives not just with our fellow actors, but also with the audience that doesn’t know the script.  The skills needed to play directly with the audience will grow and change with each show. This is the truly exciting part that keeps the story alive now that the final partner is cast, the audience, and the reason why we do this, the ones with whom we share our gift of communal creation and wonder.

The audience joins in a folk dance on the island of Aolia (Camp Reynolds, Angel Island). Photo by Tracy Martin.

Julie Douglas can be seen running around Angel Island in “The Odyssey” as Athena, Circe, and other ensemble roles. She is a Bay Area actor, theatre-maker, clown, teacher, director and mask maker. Most recently she directed a youth version of…yep, you guessed it…”The Odyssey” and performed with Shotgun Players in “Road to Hades”.

The Odyssey on Angel Island runs weekends through July 1. For reservations and more information, please visit You can also “like” We Players on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @weplayers for more behind-the-scenes tidbits and the latest news.

Postcards From The Odyssey #2

Rebecca Longworth continues to keep us updated on We Players’ ambitious summer production of THE ODYSSEY that happens, literally, in the San Francisco Bay. Got a show coming up you want the world to know about? Let us know! 

“Beach Boys”: Rob Woodcock (bass), Nick Fishman (percussion), Teddy Raven (sax), and Ryan Beebe (guitar) during rehearsal for a scene set at Calypso’s island. Photo by Charlie Gurke.

Charlie Gurke, music director and composer for The Odyssey on Angel Island, has assembled a team of eleven musicians to provide live music for the show. Each performance features seven musicians: two trumpets, sax, upright bass, violin, percussion and a guitarist/singer-songwriter. Saxophonist Teddy Raven sat down to interview Charlie during our last rehearsal weekend. They talked about Charlie’s inspiration and ideas behind the music for The Odyssey on Angel Island, and the collaborative nature of the We Players process — that asks the unexpected from both the performers and the audience. Teddy also interviewed Ryan Beebe and Joshua Cooke, who share the role of Phemius, the wandering bard, and who also wrote songs for the production. Teddy edited his recordings into this podcast, on which you can also hear Teddy’s sax:

Teddy Raven is a saxophonist and composer sought after for his creative and diverse musical background. He was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study folk music in Bulgaria, where he will reside from the fall of 2012 to the summer of 2013. 

Charlie Gurke is a saxophonist, composer, and arranger who has been an active member of the Bay Area music scene for over 15 years, and has collaborated with film, theatre, dance, and poetry projects both at home and 

For reservations and information about THE ODYSSEY ON ANGEL ISLAND, check out