Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: They Can’t Take That Away From Me

Marissa Skudlarek gives us one more look at the Glamorous Life! 

Nearly seven years ago, on Martin Luther King Day of 2010, I attended a staged reading of Euripides’ Cyclops in a crowded bar on the shady side of Nob Hill, and my life was changed.

I was very young then – young enough that life-changing events could still happen to me. I was a late-blooming 22, a virgin who had never gotten drunk to the point of vomiting. Nor had I ever had one of my plays produced in San Francisco, or acted in a show here, or translated a play from French, or been invited to write regularly for a website, or, or, or… I was shy and nervous, masking my insecurity with arrogance and bravado. I think, sometimes, that I must have been completely insufferable.

But Theater Pub welcomed me in, and, indeed, helped me grow up. Within two months of Theater Pub’s founding, I had drunk too many glasses of Spanish red at the Café Royale, and then thrown them up into my bathroom toilet. Within four months, I had lost my virginity. Within eight, I had had a play produced in the inaugural edition of the Pint-Sized Plays – the first time anyone in San Francisco wanted to produce my work. And then came acting, and producing, and translating from French, and meeting the woman who would direct a full-length play of mine, and writing this column for over four years, and, and, and…

I have always thought of myself as kind of a loner, a skeptical soul with an aloofness at her core. I don’t have a group of “besties” with whom I text incessantly; I know what Groucho Marx meant when he said he wouldn’t be part of any club that would have him as a member. But it is inaccurate to think of myself as such a lone wolf – I am not always so isolated. Under the right circumstances, I can be fanatically, doggedly loyal.

And Theater Pub caught me at just the right moment to provoke my lifelong loyalty. When it started, I had been in San Francisco for 18 months, struggling to make connections in the theater scene, and finding it a lonelier and more difficult endeavor than I’d anticipated. I liked Theater Pub’s goals and gestalt, but I also calculated that this organization was my opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something. In those days, it saddened me when Stuart and the other Theater Pub founders would say “Theater Pub was designed to be everybody’s side project and nobody’s band.” I didn’t have any other projects, you see, and I was desperate for a band of my own.

So – partly for lack of anything better to do, partly for careerist ambitions, but, more and more, for love – I started attending virtually every Theater Pub show. I brought innumerable people to the Pub as they passed through my life, failed dates and former co-workers and out-of-town guests. I experimented with my art, in a way that you can only do when you’re making theater in a bar and no one is getting paid more than $20. I sang rock songs, I wore reindeer antlers, I wrote silly poems and fake commercials. Eventually I became one of the “old guard,” sitting at a corner table and looking sidelong at the new wave of bright-eyed early-twentysomethings joining the organization.

So I saw how Theater Pub grew, and changed, and started a blog, and provoked controversy, and went on hiatus, and rebirthed itself. (We in San Francisco know that no startup can be considered successful until it releases Version 2.0, after all.) Alliances and relationships formed and shifted and disbanded. Though, at this time, let me give due credit to Stuart Bousel, at the helm of this for all seven years, and his partner, Cody Rishell, who diligently created promotional art for every Theater Pub show.

And now? I’ve written before that Theater Pub’s end is not to be seen as heartbreak or defeat. In 2017, there will certainly be moments when we think of Theater Pub with fond regret. But none of us are crying tears of remorse, or wailing “If only we’d fought harder, if only we could have saved it!” We’re all ready to let it go – if you were at our show on Monday, you heard the glee with which Stuart announced “Just 17 songs to go, and then I am no longer the Executive Director of this thing!” We’ve got the seven-year itch. All the cells in our body have renewed themselves, and so has the majority of Theater Pub’s artistic leadership. We all do have other projects we’re working on; Theater Pub is not our only band. It became a side project that demands a disproportionate amount of attention and energy.

As I said, that first Theater Pub show was incredibly crowded, standing-room only. I perched on the edge of the Café Royale pool table until the bar staff yelled at me not to. At the time, I envied the founders’ ability to start a new theater company that would draw such a crowd at its first-ever event. Only later have I come to realize that the difficult part is not creating a splash straight out of the gate: it’s keeping the organization going, keeping the crowds coming, for months and years on end.

Theater Pub’s end isn’t really a full-stop end, it’s more of an ellipsis or a line break. The Pint-Sized Plays will continue in the PianoFight bar; PianoFight itself will still be the artistic home for many of us and the place where the bartenders will always lend a sympathetic ear. We’re not leaving town or quitting the business. We will still be making art, using the skills that Theater Pub allowed us to hone.

Next summer, I will turn 30. And I already know that my thirties are going to be very different from my twenties, not just because of who will be in the White House, but because Theater Pub will no longer be an organizing principle in my life. But I will carry the experiences of the past seven years in me. I am less lonely than I used to be, less resentful, more calmly confident. When I was an awkward child and teenager, the wiser adults in my life looked at me and said “High school won’t be the best years of your life; college won’t be, either; you’re the kind of person who will only find her people in her twenties.” Despite all my skepticism and neuroses, I never doubted this. Despite this world, this decade, this life, a bunch of people got together in the most expensive city in the country and made theater in a bar for seven years.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Now that Theater Pub is over, keep up with her viamarissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Advertisements

Theater Around The Bay: PianoFight expands ​Pint Size​d Plays, San Francisco’s only theater-in-a-bar festival, to five new shows in 2017!

A special announcement, just in time for the holidays! 

rob-ready-llama

PianoFight and San Francisco Theater Pub are proud to announce the latter’s marquee production, the venerable Pint Sized Plays, will return in 2017 with five all-new installments running throughout the year. Pint Sized Plays is made up of short plays set in a bar, written by locals. The only rule is that each play can’t run longer than it takes one of its characters to finish a beer. Pint Sized will happen in the PianoFight bar on Mondays at 7:30 PM in March, May, August, October and December, 2017. Tickets range from free to $30 donation, and can be reserved at www.pianofight.com.

As SF Theater Pub closes its doors this December, PianoFight will take over production and expand Pint Sized while keeping a few key ingredients of continuity. Meghan Trowbridge, who is currently the co-Artistic Director of Theater Pub, will continue with the new incarnation of Pint Sized as its Literary Director. “We’re accepting submissions right now and throughout the year,” says Trowbridge, who expects to see many of the voices that shaped Pint Sized return, but is also excited to find new talent. “This is a great opportunity for seasoned writers and brand-new voices. All are welcome and encouraged to submit!”

“Over the years, PianoFight Creative Company members, myself included, have been involved in past Pint Sized productions as actors, writers, directors, and musicians,” says PianoFight Artistic Director, Rob Ready. “On top of that, accessibility is important to us, and free theater in a bar is the single most accessible way you can see a play. SF Theater Pub’s tagline was, ‘Make it Good. Keep it Casual. Have a Beer.’ And we intend to keep that idea alive and flourishing.”

The first annual Pint Sized Plays took place at the Café Royale in August of 2010, and included short plays by numerous well-known folks in the Bay Area theater scene, including Stuart Bousel, Bennett Fisher, Jeremy Cole, Molly Benson, Karen Offereins, Marissa Skudlarek, and Megan Cohen. It also marked the first appearance of the Llama character, created by Elena McKernan and played by Rob Ready, who holds the distinction of being the only cast member to have appeared in all six installments.

Pint Sized’s expanded production schedule represents more opportunities for Bay Area residents to get involved in the arts in a fun, low-stakes environment. “The five installments could need around 40 different writers and directors, and will likely involve over a hundred actors,” says Ready. “We hope to fill these roles with voices who are new to the PianoFight community, and new to the Bay Area theater community.”

In years to come, PianoFight hopes to expand Pint Sized further to have an all new lineup run each month in the bar. “Pint Sized was one of the Theater Pub shows that toured to other bars, and it always did well in different settings,” says Ready, “so in the next few years, ideally, there is a new lineup every month at PianoFight, while different renditions of the show play other bars in the Bay Area.”

For now, Pint Sized Plays will return in 2017 with all-new installments happening in the bar at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St in San Francisco, every Monday at 7:30 PM in March, May, August, October and December. Tickets are free to $30 and can be reserved at www.pianofight.com. Bay Area writers wishing to submit a script to Pint Sized should refer to the full guidelines on PianoFight’s site.

Cowan Palace: Find Your Biggest Fan

Ashley encourages you to find your biggest fan and hug them until they force you to stop it.

Katelyn and Ashley... while Ashley’s in a show playing The Maid Of Honor! Weird!

Katelyn and Ashley… while Ashley’s in a show playing The Maid Of Honor! Weird!

My sister is getting married on Saturday so my mind has been running in an endless list and I’ve been staying up late pretending to work on my Matron of Honor speech. There’s just so many things I want to say and know that I can’t possibly articulate about the whole thing so I end up writing a word and then distracting myself with House Hunters reruns. That scripted dialogue about buying a home is oddly soothing sometimes.

But I got to thinking about an old joke my sister and I have; I honestly can’t remember who first titled her as my “biggest fan” but she’s been lovingly teasing me with that title whenever it seems like a funny time. In her college dorm ten years ago, she hung up the new fancy New York City headshot I used all my savings to take and then print, and put on a star on it, declaring herself Ashley Cowan’s biggest fan. It was awesome. I felt like I had made it.

My sister Katelyn has been the best biggest fan. She’s seen me in more shows than anyone else, even ones I may have been less proud of… She’s seen me play all of the female characters in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (which, come on, that’s a lot of interactive performance to willingly endure). She’s honest when I need the feedback but terribly kind with it because she knows I’m sensitive. She’s the one who I ask to bounce things off of when I’m encountering a writer’s block and often she makes me go around the block by suggesting a brilliant new path. I’ve even sent her several Theater Pub blog entries before I send them off to Stuart just so I can get an extra pair of eyes on my latest words.

Katelyn’s also the one I text before I buy almost anything just so she can tell me if it’s cool or not. My knowledge of makeup and fashion trends is almost 100% based upon those text exchanges punctuated by various emoticons. But for me, I need my biggest fan to keep up my star identity.

So Katelyn, even though we joke about the term, I thank you for the pushes to keep doing the things that I love; to have the courage to audition, to actually write the ideas that seem silly or stupid in my head; to keep reaching for my place in the stars. I’ll never be able to express enough gratitude for it.

And to everyone else, I say, go find your biggest fan! Thank that person who believes in you, loves you, and makes you better than you are. Give them a hug or like, a winning scratch ticket, they’ve earned it. Sure, we should all strive to be our own fans but finding your very own biggest fan? Well, there’s nothing quite like it. Now excuse me while I pause House Hunters and attempt to write some more words for my sister, my friend, my fan.

Theater Around The Bay: STICKY ICKY Character Guide (Part Two)

Excited for Sticky Icky, Theater Pub’s show opening tonight at PianoFight? Well here’s the second part of our character guide to get you acquainted with the heroes and heroines of our story.

received_10154233015265139 copy

Picking up where we left off last week…

THE BLONDE copy

The Blonde is beautiful, scatter-brained, and typically uninterested in intellectual pursuits. Sheila would fit in perfectly with the popular clique from Never Been Kissed.

The Blonde clique copy

THE DRUG DEALER copy

The Drug Dealer archetype can truly run the gamet. From kingpins like Pablo Escobar all the way down to dim-witted dealers selling to high schoolers. Rod lies somewhere between Lance from Pulp Fiction and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

THE DRUG DEALER jesse copy

The Glaucoma Feral and The Dweeb Feral defy archetypal definition. You’ll have to come see the show to find out what they’re all about!

THE GLAUCOMA FERAL copy

THE DWEEB FERAL copy

Sticky Icky opens Monday, May 23 at 8:00pm at PianoFight (144 Taylor St). It runs 5/23, 5/24, 5/30, and 5/31.

Cowan Palace: Yeah, What DO You Say To An Actor Who Just Bombed On Stage?

This week Ashley interviews herself.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune ran an article titled, What do you say to an actor who just bombed on stage?

Oh, juicy topic, right?! What DO you say?! The piece explored the thoughts of a few local artists and while San Francisco may be miles away from Chicago’s scene, many of the opinions of those interviewed are universal and quite relatable. Whether you’re the actor in a show that may be more “bomb” than “da bomb” or whether you’re sitting in the audience as a friend watching an explosion, talking about the experience afterward can be awkward, uncomfortable, and unpleasant.

What are the expectations of those in your creative circle? Are you on the side of, “if you don’t have anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? or are you “Team Nice Guy Even If I Gotta Lie”?

magical_maestro_1_387 copy

I decided I’d answer some of the questions in the Chicago Tribune article because I’m sure they would love that. Here are my thoughts:

What’s going through your head when you’re watching a terrible show?

Sometimes I’m thinking, “Yikes. I’m glad I didn’t get cast in this.” or to be even less humble about it, I’m thinking, “Huh. Would I have been this bad?” But most of the time I’m hopeful until the very end. I’m one of those people who can not turn off a bad TV movie until the very last second. Even if I HATE it. And I’ve never left a play until curtain call either because I honestly have hope until it’s really over that there’s still time for it to magically come together. Even though it almost never does.

While I’m a terrible liar, I’m also a known “nice girl” but it’s not usually that hard for me to find something that I enjoyed from a performance. Usually, after I show, I’ll say something like, “wow that was something! I don’t know if it’s the script for me but I liked _______” and then fill in the blank. If I’m there supporting my actor friend, I’ll find a moment of their performance that I liked and focus on that. So if I’m in the middle of a terrible show, I purposely try to seek out those moments of good so that I can use them as discussion points later.

When you’re the one performing in a show.

Yeah, been there, done that, will inevitably do it again. As much as I’d like to have tougher skin, I’m still sensitive and super vulnerable after any performance. And when I know I have friends in the audience, I’m even more aware of it. It does break my heart when I know I have a pal attending the show and then that person conveniently disappears immediately after curtain call and I don’t hear from them. That cold silence sometimes feels quite cruel. While I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or force them to say harsher words for the sake of being honest, sometimes you just want your friends to quietly hug you and simply appreciate your attempt, your work; regardless of how they felt about the show.

Untitled

Ever skipped the hellos?

I’m sure I have! Sometimes I have to catch a bus! But if I do leave, I try to reach out to my friend in the show and leave them with some kind thought. This year though, I challenged myself to stay around after a show to say those kind thoughts in person. Considering I don’t get a ton of social nights out anymore, I also relish these hellos because often it’s a chance to talk to a friend I haven’t seen for awhile.

As an actor, I have stayed in the dressing long a little too long after a show because I’ve been scared of facing certain audience members, assuming they hated it and not feeling brave enough to meet their eyes. I’d like to keep working on that.

Do you have a go-to line that you rely on?

I don’t. And I kind of encourage you not to because each performance is a different, unique thing. My advice is this, if you’re in the audience, allow yourself to have an honest opinion but give the show a chance. Try, try, try, to find something good. Even if it’s teeny tiny. I get it, sometimes shows are trash! But as a member of a small creative community, it’s a nice thing to try.

What do you guys think? How do you handle “terrible” shows? Do you think San Francisco fosters a different post-show environment than Chicago? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing Sticky Icky!

Announcing our next show!

received_10154233015265139 copy

Urban Dictionary describes “sticky icky icky” as a phrase “used by Snoop Dogg to mean highly potent, sticky green buds.”

Sticky Icky, written and directed by Colin Johnson, is a new, highly potent stoner zom-com-pocalypse play making its world premiere! A beleaguered group of slacker survivors hole up in an abandoned bar during a violent societal collapse caused by an infectious and dangerous strain of marijuana. Join Theater Pub in this fast-paced and smoke-filled journey which begs the question, “Are you feeling it?”

Sticky Icky plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, May 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, May 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, May 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, May 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

See you at the Pub!

Get there early to enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and munchies!

Cowan Palace: Wizards of Words: Sorting our Favorite Playwrights into Hogwarts Houses

In this two-part blog series, Ashley Cowan and Marissa Skudlarek attempt to sort some notable playwrights into their proper Hogwarts House.

Anyone else needing an escape from the adult world of taxes and other miscellaneous boring stuff? I am! Which is why I was so delighted when Marissa reached out to me about writing a blog together involving placing playwrights into their respective Hogwarts House. I was like, Marissa, are you Sirius? That sounds prefect.

And we aren’t the only ones contemplating Harry Potter “types” in the theatre world these days. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and II, a world premiere new play based on a story by J.K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, will be opening at the Palace Theatre in London later next month!

But in case you can’t quite afford a plane ticket to England (F you, evil taxes!), we will celebrate all this magical, theatrical fun Theater Pub blog style. So grab that sugary new Starbucks drink that’s supposed to taste like Butterbeer and read on!

HP Someecard Pic copy

Now, if you’re a muggle who hasn’t jumped aboard the glorious Hogwarts Express Train, here’s a quick rundown of the four Hogwarts Houses as told by the Sorting Hat himself in Book Four, The Goblet of Fire:

By Gryffindor, the bravest were

Prized far beyond the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

–Sorting Hat (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

In other words, we’ve got four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Gryffindors are daring and bold folks who value a sense of honor. Ravenclaws are witty and steady minded and love academic achievements. Hufflepuffs are truth abiding, loyal friends who care for others often above all else. And Slytherins are cunning and passionate with a strong focus and drive. There’s so much more to say about each of their characteristics and attributes but I’ll leave that to JK Rowling for now.

If you had asked me a few years ago which house I best identified with, I would have told you I saw myself as “Gryffin-claw” (so, a hybrid between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw). It seemed like a good balance for someone who adamantly moved to California against the wishes of her friends and family at the time to follow a dream but who also spent a great deal of time alone reading whatever she could get her hands on while crafting detailed lists of new goals and color-coded schedules. But after researching the Houses a bit more for this blog, I gotta say, I think this Hugs and Cuddles blogger may be more of a Hufflepuff! I’m totally that person that stresses that I haven’t “liked” enough of someone’s Facebook content because I wants to make sure they feel loved and appreciated when I can’t see them in person.

And, this should come as no shocker, but Ravenclaws everywhere would be proud to have Marissa as a part of their crew. She’s totally that babe in the library casually taking in another book who will probably forget more facts than I’ll ever know. Marissa is the person you want on your debate team, your trivia team, and the gal you call for fashion advice when you want an authentic, beautiful look to wear to a themed party. So teaming up with her for this blog was a no-brainer.

Over a ginger-y cocktail in a dimly lit bar, we chatted about playwrights in between sharing select secrets from our earlier days as writers for the San Francisco theater scene and its residents. It was as delightful as it sounds. So without further ado, here are some of our thoughts as Sorting Hat Hotties.

Ashley and Marissa as Hats copy 2

Tom Stoppard
“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Schoolboy wit, punster, lover of books and ideas, cramming his plays with erudite references, the favorite playwright of the academic classes: there’s no doubt about it, Tom Stoppard is the Head Boy of Ravenclaw House. “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter,” from Arcadia, is the line that sums up Stoppard’s ethos, and also sums up the key values of Ravenclaw. He also once claimed to write plays because it’s the only socially acceptable way of arguing with himself, and of all the Houses, Ravenclaws are most likely to welcome a good debate and be swayed by a good argument.

Oscar Hammerstein II
“I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: When I brought up Hammerstein over drinks, Marissa knowingly said something along the lines of, “only a Hufflepuff could help create Oklahoma!” and as the Ravenclaw she is, I believe she’s correct! Hammerstein was a known collaborator, co-writing nearly 900 songs! He was involved with creating a community of artists that would go on to pave an encouraging path for future music makers and lovers. He was known for being fairly sentimental, which seems obvious given his musical theatre resume, but he was also a socially conscious spirit who wrote with sincerity. He guided and influenced countless collectives, filling their hearts with love and music. Well, mine is pretty full, anyway. As Hufflepuffs are thoughtful team players with a strong sense of justice, Hammerstein would be a cherished Hufflepuff alumnus.

Caryl Churchill
“What’s poetry? It’s not real but maybe it’s more than real. It’s dreaming while you’re awake.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Another candidate for Greatest Living British Playwright, and another Ravenclaw, though of a less flashy variety than Stoppard. Her plays are coolly perceptive and draw inspiration from a wide range of sources; while they often deal with political themes and reflect her socialist and feminist beliefs, they do not feel polemical (as a Gryffindor’s plays might be). Her work has also gotten more, rather than less, experimental over the years, testifying to her Ravenclaw creativity and questing intelligence. Churchill shuns publicity and does not grant interviews, preferring to let her plays and their ideas speak for themselves – a very Ravenclaw thing to do.

Will Eno
“I think we’re born with questions, and the world is the answer.”
Sarah Ruhl
“This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: I’m linking Eno and Ruhl on this thought bubble because I feel like they share some similarities in their House placements and I go back and forth between sorting both of them in either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. I think I’ve landed on Will Eno being a Ravenclaw (who probably marries a Hufflepuff) and Sarah Ruhl as a Hufflepuff with an endless stream of Ravenclaw crushes. Eno writes (and writes) questioning our roles and our humanity while forever swimming in this sea of existential thought and meaningful observations. And Ruhl’s writing often plays like a dreamy poem. Her work seeks to explore love’s communication style and it’s impact on relationships. If Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had a love child House, I think these two would be in it. But for now, Eno’s wearing a Ravenclaw hoodie and Ruhl’s decked out in cozy Hufflepuff knits.

Tony Kushner
“The work of artists is to find what’s humanly possible – possibility’s furthest reaches.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: A very smart guy who writes verbose and encyclopedic plays, so there is a temptation to put him in Ravenclaw, but look closer, and you’ll see that he’d do better in Gryffindor. The most memorable moments in Kushner’s plays often revolve around the key Gryffindor trait of bravery: think of Baz’s monologue in A Bright Room Called Day about how he lacked the courage to kill Hitler; or the epilogue of Caroline or Change, where Emmie describes how she and her friends vandalized a Confederate statue. Kushner also values the Gryffindor traits of hope and optimism: he once said “It is an ethical obligation to look for hope; it is an ethical obligation not to despair.” And writing a fantastical seven-hour drama that climaxes with the protagonist going to heaven and arguing with the angels to give him “more life”? You can’t get much more Gryffindor than that.

Tennessee Williams
“A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: My goodness, y’all. I thought about this placement for awhile. Like four coffees and two episodes of Fixer Upper on Netflix worth of thought. I texted friends and chatted to castmates over it. Because it seems like he could almost go anywhere and nowhere at the same time! Williams was gifted with a beautiful grasp of language but vowed to write honestly, once stating, “I only write about what I experience – intuitively or existentially”, which could be a Ravenclaw thought but also seems like a Hufflepuff promise. And while his characters populate Slytherin and Gryffindor, as a writer destined to tell the truth about social realities and humanity, I think I’m going to keep Williams in Hufflepuff!

That’s our start to this glorious conversation; fun, right?! And we’d love your thoughts! Marissa will be discussing a well known writer within the Slytherin House tomorrow but if you have a playwright you think needs to be sorted, let us know so we can keep this Hogwarts party going! See you tomorrow, fellow witches and wizards!