The Producer From Another World

In preparation for this month’s Theater Pub, The Pub From Another World, we interviewed producer Sunil Patel about his vision and process for this show.

Take Me To Your Leader

Take Me To Your Leader

Who are you, in a hundred words or less.

I am a voracious consumer of stories in any medium—television, film, video game, book, comic, music, anecdote—who loves words more than anything. I love to create new stories, but I also love introducing people to stories I love. I’m a pop culture fan, a geek, a nerd, and when I love something, my first instinct is to share it. As of this night, I am a writer/actor/director/producer. By day, I work in drug safety and write about people with explosive diarrhea.

How did you get involved in Theater Pub?

I made my Bay Area theater debut with the Thunderbirds in 2010, and it was my first time onstage in seven years, so I was excited to get back into theater. And lo and behold, Theater Pub was holding auditions for The Theban Chronicles, and they didn’t even need monologues! I had gone to the February Theater Pub (the Valentine’s Day show), and it looked like a fun group to work with. I was in three of the four plays, and I got a death scene, and I’ve become more and more involved since then.

So, where did this idea come from?

At the Theater Pub retreat, we were asked to come up with pitches for the next year of Theater Pub. I was excited to be a producer, as I had previously only produced halftime shows, but I didn’t know what to suggest. I didn’t know any obscure plays I wanted to put on. I’ve had an idea for a murder-mystery Theater Pub for a couple years, but I hadn’t gotten it off the ground and I wasn’t going to pitch it if I didn’t think I could write it in time. We had talked a lot about inclusivity, though, and it suddenly hit me: I could create a space for new work. I’m a genre fan and a theater fan, but I don’t see a lot of genre theater, so why not give genre writers an opportunity to write for theater and playwrights an opportunity to write genre? I had the sense that the plays I wanted to see—whether or not they were being written—were not being produced because people look down on genre, so I was going to stand up say, “I will produce your genre plays! Let your geek flag fly!”

What defines something as “genre” and specific to these genres, what defines something as Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

I am by no means an expert and trying to define “genre” will result in hours of heated conversation in the company I keep, but I see “genre” work as work that uses or is informed by established tropes—which is sort of saying that genre is genre. In general, however, when someone refers to “genre” work, they usually mean the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, which are the genres that least resemble the real world. These works tend to take place in a world that is definitely not our own for one reason or another: hence The Pub from Another World.

Defining each genre is just as tricky as defining “genre.” To me, horror is not just about the obvious elements—ghosts, vampires, serial killers, etc.—but about evoking that visceral, primal fear. And in the best horror, the scary thing isn’t just a scary thing but a manifestation of a real, relatable fear. Similarly, sci-fi is not just about spaceships and time travel and aliens but about taking real science and extrapolating the implications. Some people prefer the term “speculative fiction,” which handily eliminates the need for science and brings in more dystopic fiction. These imagined futures can tell us a lot about our present.

Fantasy may be the easiest genre to identify thanks to its long, long history; today, the stories of Greek mythology can seem like fantasy, what with gods transforming into animals and people being magically brought back to life. Fantasy can be speculative as well, but, unlike science fiction, it has less basis in reality. My goal with this project was to tell unreal stories that have real emotion.

We don’t often think of these genres as applying to the theater, but there are many examples of each. What are your favorites in each category?

The first horror play that springs to mind is Nathan Tucker’s Dionysus, which kicked off the first Olympians festival. It really captured that sense of visceral horror. Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman had one of the most horrifying jump-scares I’ve ever experienced in a theater. And, although they’re a bit more comedic, I love Tim Bauer’s Zombie Town and Kirk Shimano’s Love in the Time of Zombies; both are great examples of the sort of genre theater I’d like to see more of.

I haven’t seen a lot of sci-fi theater, but I read a lot of great sci-fi scripts on the reading committee for Cutting Ball’s RISK IS THIS experimental theater festival a couple years ago. Consider for a second the fact that sci-fi theater is considered “experimental”; could that be why we see so little of it? Two of my favorite scripts—which have received readings but no full productions, to my knowledge—were Garret Groenveld’s The Hummingbirds, a wickedly funny Brazil-esque tale set in a bureaucratic dystopia, and Richard Manley’s This Rough Magic, which uses science fiction ideas to examine basic human truths about how we interact with our families and people in general. I also think Josh Costello’s Little Brother (adapted from the Cory Doctorow novel, produced at Custom Made Theater Company)—one of my favorite plays in recent years—counts as near-future dystopian sci-fi.

I also haven’t seen a lot of fantasy theater, although one of my favorite theater experiences was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The best example of the sort of fantasy theater I’d like to see was Stuart Bousel’s Giant Bones (adapted from Peter S. Beagle short stories), as it transported the audience to a fantasy world and told stories as compelling as any in the real world.

As the producer, you have a lot of inside knowledge of this event- what are some things you’re really looking forward to sharing with the audience.

Personally, I’m just looking forward to sharing all eight plays with the audience, since they’re all very different and I think there’s something for everyone. I’m also very excited about my cast, since most actors play multiple roles, and I think it will be a real treat for the audience. AJ Davenport, Colleen Egan, Peter Townley, and Olivia Youngers all play three roles, no two alike. But with regards to inside knowledge…in Audrey Scare People Play, the monster, Scare People, is described as being “an octopus monster with wings,” and Meg O’Connor is attempting to make that costume. So I can’t wait to see it myself.

Did the unusual subject matter pose any particular challenges to the process?

See above re: octopus monster with wings. For the most part, however, no one wrote anything too outrageous because they were conscious of the limitations of theater and Cafe Royale specifically. You can do genre theater without a lot of special effects!

This show has a teaser at a bookstore. Tell us more about that and how you made that happen.

I have a good relationship with the people at Borderlands, and my original pitch included the preview reading because people who shop at a genre bookstore are more likely to see a night of genre theater, and vice-versa. It was a way to benefit my favorite bookstore and my favorite theater-in-a-bar. I floated the idea past Alan Beatts, the owner, and he was very receptive. And, to my surprise, he immediately suggested using microphones to broadcast throughout the store and draw people toward the reading and recording the reading as a podcast, which I hadn’t even considered. He wanted to make this the event it deserved to be.

We know you don’t drink, so what’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale on Theater Pub nights?

Coke. It’s the nectar of the gods. Not the Elder Gods, just the regular gods.

Don’t miss The Pub From Another World, playing one night only on May 20th, at 8 PM, for FREE, at the Cafe Royale!

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Artistic Director Julia Heitner Announces This Year’s Pint-Sized Plays!

I spent a marathon day on Monday getting inspired at the Theatre Bay Area annual conference, gathering information about interactive experience from Burning Man founders and tips from site-specific mavens, Kim Epifano (Epiphany Productions/Trolley Dances) and Lauren Chavez & Ava Roy (We Players.) With this knowledge fresh in my mind, I am so pleased to announce the line-up for our annual bar-specific play festival, The Pint Sized Plays!

We have 10 new plays by 10 fantastic local playwrights. For Pint Sized III I plan to include everything our audiences love about the festival: entertaining theatre, great acting and direction, live music, beer drinking, and of course, our resident llama! For the first time this year, we are also taking the show on tour to other bars around San Francisco. First stop, the fantastic Irish Pub, The Plough and Stars on Clement Street!

The Line-up:

Beeeeeear
by Megan Cohen
Third time Pint-Sized fest playwright, Megan Cohen continues to surprise us with this play about a beer-drinking bear.

Beer Theory by Marissa Skudlarek
Boy meets Girl. Dionysian meets Apollonian.

Celia Sh*ts by William Bivins
What happens when all the mystery is lost from a relationship?

Circles by Seanan Palmero
Watching a Nascar race brings up philosophical questions from the bar patrons. Are we all just going in circles?

Circling by Nancy Cooper Frank
Don’t we all deserve… a parking place right out front?

To Deborah by Leah M. Winery
Friends and family reveal their true feelings about the dearly departed.

Llama by Stuart Bousel
The llama is back!!!

Man vs. Beer
by Sunil Patel
A Teetotaler is peer pressured by a talking beer.

Play it Again, Friend
 by Tim Bauer
Man contemplates life through the music of the bar pianist.

Put it on Vibrate
by Tom Bruett
Pleasure party + Mother-in-Law = Hilariously Uncomfortable

The festival runs July 16,17, 23, 30 & 31, 8pm @ Café Royale, (800 Post St @ Leavenworth in San Francisco) with a special touring performance, July 18, at Plough and the Stars, (188 Clement St. @ 2nd Ave in the Richmond District), SF. Additional dates for the festival TBA.

San Francisco Theater Pub Launches into the Blogosphere!

On January 18, 2010, the crowd inside the Café Royale on Post and Leavenworth extended out the door. Inside, a standing room listened as Skye Alexander sang “Wayfaring Stranger” from the upper balcony. As the song came to a close, an actor stepped in front of red curtain emblazoned with the Café Royale emblem, stood for a moment, then shouted “Dionysus! Dionysus my master, you son of a bitch!” The first lines of the first performance of the San Francisco Theater Pub.

The San Francisco Theater Pub was founded in late 2009 by Stuart Bousel, Victor Carrion, Bennett Fisher, and Brian Markley, with the support of Les and Dan Cowan and their bar, the Café Royale. For the inaugural event in January, co-founder Bennett Fisher directed a staged reading his new translation of the satyr play Cyclops by Euripides – a ribald retelling of the famous story from the Odyssey and the oldest, as far as we know, play about drinking – accompanied by live music and flowing drinks from two very overworked bartenders.

You can read an interview with Fisher about Cyclops on Tim Bauer’s blog here and watch video of the production from UnfocusedSF here.

Since the first night, the San Francisco Theater Pub has hosted two more events, also playing to standing room only crowds.

In February, the day after Valentine’s day, co-founder Stuart Bousel directed A Valentine’s Day Post Mortem – a collection of original writing and songs from local artists offering all manner of perspectives on the subject of love and what (if anything) it has to do with the holiday.

Last Monday, co-founder Brian Markley presented How To Ride a Bus in San Francisco – a series of short scenes, songs, poems, and meditations on the perils and pitfalls of that infamous San Francisco Transit System.

And more is coming…

In April, Fisher returns to direct the first full production for the San Francisco Theater Pub – Vacláv Havel’s comic one act Audience. The event runs for five performances on Mondays and Tuesdays – April 13, 19, 20 and May 3 and 4 – 8pm each night and (as always) free admission. Reserved seating is limited, so be sure to make a reservation early if you do not want to stand.

The local community has responded enthusiastically. Even in these first few events we, the founders, have found a considerable thirst for a different type of theatrical event performed on nights – Mondays and Tuesdays – when cultural events of all sorts are scarce. We hope that the San Francisco Theater Pub will continue to serve as an inviting and inclusive nexus for artists and audiences – offering pieces that are short, lively, and engaging and in a relaxed bar environment with plenty of good beer on tap.

We’ll keep this blog updated with the latest in all things San Francisco Theater Pub, upcoming projects, behind the scenes perspective into the process, and ways for all those to get involved. To learn more, become fans of us on Facebook, email theaterpub@atmostheatre.com, and swing by on performance nights to talk with the team.

We look forward to seeing you there.

-Stuart Bousel, Victor Carrion, Bennett Fisher, and Brian Markley.