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:

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 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 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.

Theater Around The Bay: The Year of the Snake

Stuart Bousel meditates on the end of a long season of growth.

2013 has been, for me and many I know, a strange year.

Not a bad year, like last year seems to have been for an overwhelming number of people, but a strange year. “Slippery” as I keep calling it, “hard to pin down”, and one where I keep feeling a sense of two steps forward, one to one-and-a-half steps back, on all fronts: personal, professional, social, artistic, financial, health-wise. Which does mean I think I’m making progress this year, but it’s a fatiguing, draining kind of progress, like I’m in a waltz with my mid-30s where we’re slowly making our way across the dance floor but in this circular fashion that seems to re-tread as much ground as it covers. Again and again it seems, just as I’ve mastered a step and taken a lead, something comes along to pull me back to where I was, and the same conversations, the same self-doubts, the same bad habits, re-emerge to remind me I haven’t learned anything except how to identify, better, what is wrong. An important step towards finding a solution, of course, but at what point do we admit we’re wallowing, or just paralyzed?

I thoroughly believe that the life examined is the only life worth living, but something has to be learned from that examination to make it worthwhile, and we have to demonstrate we’ve learned something by implementing the changes we know we need to make, otherwise the learning itself is of little value. The question is always how and when, and for some reason nobody ever talks about the process of change itself, what it’s like to actually go through the transformation. It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason: as human beings we are enormously pre-occupied with the Before and the After, and tend to gloss over or resent the journey. Which is absurd when you realize the journey is pretty much all there is, and is pretty much happening constantly. When we tell people to “live in the moment” we’re saying, “embrace the journey” but to many that’s like saying, “love the airplane to the Bahamas” and most of us love the sitting on the beach with a margarita way more than we love going through security and keeping our fingers crossed for as few delays as possible.

My recent play, “The Age of Beauty”, was, to a great extent, about all this: the journey, the arrival, the before and after, the processing of all these things and our relationship to the past-to-future continuity of our lives and each other. A series of four conversations, all variations on the same themes, it was a talky, subtle little play that I knew not everyone would get and not everyone would find interesting or enjoyable, but since I don’t make art for you (I make it for me and accept that you are going to have an opinion on it) I decided to put it on anyway. Over the last few years I’ve been focused less and less on my own work and more and more on other people’s work, and while I do find that rewarding I’m finally realizing it needs to be a balance or I start resenting people for what’s really, in the end, my own lack of reciprocity towards myself.

Because I am lucky enough to have a relationship with the Exit Theatre where they could step in as co-producers I was able to produce the show for a song, and because it is an all female cast and there are always more women in this theater scene than opportunities for them, I was able to cast four excellent actors who basically pulled together a difficult show (disguised as a simple one) in three weeks of rehearsal, the first week and a half of which was primarily focused on cutting the script by fifteen minutes and understanding what subtle variations in each conversation made it valuable to have all four and not just one. Because even on a budget of zero I needed to find a way to make the play cost less, I acted as my own tech operator and house manager and box office and thus watched every single performance of my show, something I haven’t gotten to do (or wanted to do) in years and it was enormously edifying. By the end of the short run I knew I wanted to cut another page and a half out of the second scene of the show, and I also knew that I had created a beautiful little gem of a play as I watched it evolve from a good opening, through a couple of awkward, plodding mid-run shows, into a really refined, poignant, highly actable (thank you, actors) character study of why and how smart people who have reached the end of their youth, but are not yet old, process their lives and chose to either engage, dis-engage or wallow just a little bit longer in the past. The final two performances of “The Age of Beauty” were, in my opinion, the best of the run, and became the artistic experience I have been hungering for since the year began: I learned something, I was moved, I believed in what I was watching as an audience member and I was proud of what we’d done as creators and I could have cared less what other people thought about the work (I only ever really care when I’m secretly dissatisfied with it myself) because I had experienced what I needed to experience to make it worth doing.

Two steps forward, baby. Two big steps forward.

Then three days later I made the decision to not take on any directing or producing projects for the next six months (beyond the Olympians Festival, which I am the executive producer for but it’s an annual thing and thus entirely different), and it was like the orchestra suddenly changed and I was waltzing backwards, feeling oddly panicky and unappreciated and ridiculously focused on how, out of 360 tickets available for the run, we only sold 209 (including comps and half-priced tickets), and how we got one mediocre review (never-mind we got numerous solid and ecstatic ones), and how, of course, several of my nightmare audience members had attended what I considered to be “the bad performance” and always seemed to see my shows on “bad nights.” I complained about all this to everyone who would listen and beat myself up for not being… I don’t know… more aggressive on the marketing? A different kind of playwright who would have written an easier, more accessible show? God?… and by Thursday morning I was in a deep enough self-pity hole that I couldn’t go to work and instead lay on my bed staring at the ceiling while workmen tore my apartment apart, finally fixing a water-damaged wall that’s been there as long as I have lived in that apartment (nine years). Around 2 PM that day I got a knock on my door, and it was the guy in charge telling me they were done, ahead of schedule, and that I should wait 24 hours before rehanging all the pictures in our living room. “Why?” I asked. “Oh, we repainted all your walls,” he said, and then sauntered off into the afternoon. I closed the door after him, stepped out into the living room, and was almost blinded by how white the walls were.

Now, in a play or movie or book, the obvious symbolic fresh start here would mark one in me, the main character, but what I think I’ve been learning from this year is that life just does not work that way. You see, I now know that you make a decision to change, and then you spend some time figuring out what that means and just how exactly you’re going to make it happen and since the odds are that whatever plan you come up with isn’t going to go off without a hitch, you then also spend a lot of time revising those plans, abandoning those plans, processing that as well, and then coming up with new ones, and the truth is, the changes tend to kind of happen while you’re not looking, almost as a side result of trying to change. Or to take my newly painted walls as an example: we spent years trying to get the landlords to fix just this one thing and never even realized that by doing so, we’d end up with freshly painted walls the whole house over. In fact, because that was sort of an unexpected result, it was sort of hard to accept, at first, and was even rather overwhelming. I walked around looking at the walls and instead of thinking, “this is great” I actually thought, “God the carpet looks terrible now, we really need to get that redone too,” and “Oh, how annoying that I need to rehang these pictures.” Way to accentuate the positive you know? But that’s human nature. All it takes is the right timing and a bad mood for even the best of us to look at a gift and say, “Eh. I have three already and this one isn’t even in a color I like.”

I would venture and say this summer, now drawing to a close, has been the weirdest part of a weird year, and for a lot of people I know there is an intense desire to finally shake off an uncomfortable skin of one kind or another and emerge whole and new, ready to embrace change: the trouble is, few of us seem to really know how to make that happen, no matter how deeply we wish it. Some people I know are running off to grad schools, others are changing day jobs, changing artistic focuses, changing groups of friends and collaborators, changing lovers. I am taking a break. Or, well, a break by my standards, since I’m still working the Fringe, still running my own theater festival, still writing two plays and trying to finish off another, still doing… well… a  lot of stuff. I had imagined that break being something I eased into but it’s been more like a bellyflop that began this weekend when I blew off not one, not two, but three shows involving friends of mine, all of which I already had tickets to. I only pulled myself out of my apartment because my housemate returned Saturday with an out of town guest in tow and my boyfriend threw a housewarming party/goodbye party for a friend of ours, aptly named “You’re Leaving But I’m Still Here.” And while I knew my theater friends would forgive me missing their shows (especially since most of them hadn’t seen mine- for which they are totally forgiven) I knew my boyfriend would have every right to resent me for missing a party that marked his own recent change of domicile (he upgraded to a real apartment after years of studio living). Half-way through the party (which was back to school themed complete with Capri Suns and bowls of snack sized candy bars) I felt suddenly drowsy and went to lay down “just for a moment” in my boyfriend’s bedroom. I woke up at 11 AM the next day. I had never even said goodbye to our friend who is moving away. The air was heavy with a distinct feeling of “You’re Leaving But I’m Still Here.”

We spent Sunday wandering around the neighborhood, exploring a place we’d been to before, but now that one of us lives there, it suddenly feels like it’s “Our Neighborhood” and that sense of ownership is truly transformative, allowing us to see familiar things in an entirely new way. Eventually, we ended up at a bar where a friend of ours works, and sitting in this place that is decidedly unlike any other place we usually hang out (and noticeably devoid of theater people, our bartending friend aside), we found ourselves looking out the door of the bar at a view of San Francisco we never get to see, soaked in afternoon sunlight, looking magical. “I’m falling in love with this city again,” says my boyfriend, and it’s an important statement because in the last year we have talked constantly of moving, feeling like this city is changing into a place we don’t feel welcome in, and like it will never live up to what we both want in a theater and art scene, an intellectual mecca, a place of opportunities and a community that can be truly supportive while also being challenging and truthful. But tempering those feelings has always been the realization we might just be burnt out or we might just be working on the wrong projects with the wrong people, or we must just need a personal transformation of some kind. But what and how and when to transform always complicates the obvious. It’s great to say, “I need to change,” but hard to finish the sentence after “into…”

If you follow Chinese astrology, that this is the Year of the Snake seems absolutely appropriate, especially if you see snakes the way both the Celts and the Greeks did: as emblems of re-birth, healing, wisdom. Personally, I don’t like snakes. I was incredibly fascinated by them as a child, but one bad run in with a rattlesnake at the age of thirteen (and the gist of the encounter can be summed up with “you don’t realize how loud those fuckers are until you’re about to step on one”) pretty much made me scared of them for life. I’m probably the only person in the world for whom “Snakes on a Plane” was a genuine horror movie, and if it was a choice between snakes and sharks, I’d choose sharks any day. Despite this I do recognize how the snake serves a symbolic purpose in both its shape and ability to coil, and its uncanny and relatively unique ability to shed its skin, appearing to rejuvinate itself in a manner most sentient creatures understandably envy.

Of course, what many of us don’t think about is that the snake doesn’t exactly do this at will, but rather as part of a cycle, and there is a time for it that arrives when it arrives, only after the snake has formed a new skin beneath the old one, changing on the inside long before it changes on the outside. That dramatic moment where it suddenly sheds its skin is the shortest and, in some ways, the least significant part of the process, and again, not really in the snake’s control. All the snake gets to do, consciously, is rub itself against some rocks and squirm out of the husk in an effort to ease along what Time and Nature have already decreed will happen. Which is not to say that Human Will alone can’t instigate change, but from the outside perspective I’m gonna lay it down: most of us are just rubbing some rocks and squirming out of the husk and it’s usually Human Vanity that is dressing it up to look like an epic. Of course, if you’re into Greek mythology (and Celtic mythology) you know that the heroic is that which happens specifically because we are, to some extent, the play things of Time and Nature, and that heroism is a combination of defiance and cooperation with the Powers That Be. Defiance in the sense that we do not accept we have no control over our lives, and cooperation in the sense that we tend to get a lot more by pushing forward than running away.

On Sunday the 18th, around dusk, I felt the seasons change. It’s one of the few mystical things I believe about myself, but I have always felt like I know, exactly, when a seasonal shift has happened. Riding around with a couple friends of mine that following Monday, we watched the lightning flash above the city and one of them remarked that it seemed like a “bad sign” but I disagreed. “It’s good,” I said, “It’s marking the seasonal shift. We’re going to have a long harvest this year. Longer than usual, I think,” and I really do think this. The planting season seems to have been forever ago… like somewhere in late 2011 or early 2012, and it’s been laying under the earth for quite some time, sporadically reminding us of its existence with little bursts of fruitfulness that inspired hope, or disappointing yields that made us think it’s never going to happen. But of course it’s going to happen, and if it takes a while well, that’s maybe because we need to learn to live in the moment a bit more, and enjoy the journey. But live long enough and life is really more a matter of “when” than “if” and it’s the benevolence, not the whim, of Nature that we build a new skin below the old one, before it’s time to shed it . Doesn’t mean we always like that skin, or personally feel it’s ready to go, but when it’s time, it’s Time.

Rub yourself against the rocks, and squirm, squirm, squirm until the husk falls off.

Stuart Bousel is a founding artistic director of the San Francisco Theater Pub and a prolific Bay Area writer, director, producer and theater maker, who is currently taking a six month semi-hiatus. Find out more about him at