Announcing The Very Last Theater Pub Show!

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Theater Pub’s final show is a way to give back to the community that’s supported us through the years.

Though we normally do a musical sing along, this year we’ve decided to open up the show for anyone who wants to perform a song and lead the audience in one more night of theater and revelry. This year’s line up includes Martin Bell, Andrew Chung, Cory Clar, Clare Eullend, Edward Garcia, Charlie Gray, Sara Judge, Dan Kurtz, Carl Lucania, Juliana Lustenader, Tonya Narvaez, Katie Nix, Rob Ready, Casey Robbins, Marissa Skudlarek, Leah Shesky, Gabbi Traub, Meg Trowbridge, Red Velvet, McPuzo and Trotsky, and Fat Chance Belly Dance! 

The People Sing ONE NIGHT ONLY at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, December 19 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. All funds raised will be donated to the ACLU.

No reservations required, but we get there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and delicious dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts

See you at the Pub!

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost – the Who, What, & Why, with Director Claire Rice

Stupid Ghost director Claire Rice tells us about the immense talent involved in this month’s production, the challenges faced in staging the show in a bar, and the reasons it’s important to catch before we close tomorrow night!

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Who are you? Who is involved in this production?

I am Claire Rice and I’m the director of Stupid Ghost. Tonya Narvaez, Theater Pub co-artistic director and the producer of this play, brought me this script in early 2016. Along the way she’s been my sounding board for ideas, my champion, my anti-procrastination machine, and a constant source of positive energy. Savannah Reich is the playwright. Early on I decided that the song in the show needed to have music arranged for it so I brought on Spencer Bainbridge who wrote the music. To help promote the show I created a short video. Spencer played guitar, Karen Offereins sung and it was recorded by Christine McClintock. I was able to convince Tonya to play a ghost in the woods along with Marissa Skudlarek, Neil Higgins, Erin Merchant and my husband Matt Gunnison. Tonya and Theater Pub co-artistic director Meg Trowbridge helped cast the show. The actors are Megan Cohen, Christine Keating, Ryan Hayes, Celeste Conowitch and Valerie Fachman. Celeste designed and did the lettering on the costumes. The actors designed their own costumes. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get such a talented group of people together.

What is Stupid Ghost?

Stupid Ghost is a story of love, regret, selfishness, the search for life experiences and the destruction of lives. In many ways it really does follow the path of a traditional ghost story. A ghost follows a girl home and slowly begins taking over her life and the consequences are tragic. But instead of it being a horror from the perspective of the living, it is a tragedy from the perspective of a lonely ghost. She doesn’t mean for the things that happen to happen. And I think following her journey we can see ourselves in her. Searching for contact with other people. Searching for love and light. Trying to be seen for who we really are and falling in love when we shouldn’t. It is a really lovely play that packs a great deal into its short run time.

What challenges did you encounter staging this production in a bar?

I think the biggest challenges with this play have been trying to translate it to the bar. It isn’t easy, but it is fun, to come up with concepts for a canoe and a car chase through the woods in a black box theater, but it feels impossible in a bar. Even simple choices in any script become a strategic nightmare. Both Savannah and I were worried about ensuring that the intimate scenes remained quiet and intimate, which can be difficult in a working bar in the Tenderloin. I tried to work on as many levels as I could and keep the play moving so that when we get to that scene the audience is ready for stillness.

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Why Stupid Ghost?

I am drawn to plays that reach out beyond themselves to connect with the audience. It isn’t just the direct address, but the use of unreliable narrators, linear storytelling, unique world building, and moments that almost feel like lessons in empathy. In this play the characters need so much and they discover what those needs are as they go. They learn about themselves through mistakes and sacrifices and successes and connections. The characters are well drawn and the action is entertaining. It has been a fun show to work on and I’ve really enjoyed watching it over the past two nights as well.

Why here? Why now?

What I love about the San Francisco theater scene is the urge of its artists to do theater in every nook, cranny and corner they can. There is an urgency and a living quality to the scene that makes it feel as necessary to the fabric of San Francisco as cable cars and strangely warm weather in the Fall. Stupid Ghost is a storytelling play reaching into the audience. It makes sense that the audience be in arms’ reach and in a place that doesn’t feel like a traditional theater space. And Stupid Ghost is entertaining. It is funny and lively and lovely. You feel hope and fear and love and all the things that make seeing theater fun.

You have two more opportunities to catch Stupid Ghost at PianoFight (144 Taylor St.)!

TONIGHT – Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
TOMORROW – Tuesday, September 27 @ 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 enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciate to our hosts.

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: What I Did For Love

Marissa Skudlarek shares some thoughts on our impending closure.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Theater Pub will wind down operations after our December show. It’s not a decision that the artistic staff made lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision they made with no regrets and no sense of heartbreak. Theater Pub is dying a peaceful, natural death; we’re not looking for a miracle to “save” us and, in fact, we might not accept it if it was offered.

Indeed, we really don’t want people to see our closure announcement and spin it into some story about how The Arts Are Dying In The Bay Area Because It’s Too Expensive Here. Maybe that’s true for some arts organizations that have had to shut down, but not for us. Nor do we feel like our passing will leave an un-fillable hole in the local theater scene. Contrary to popular belief, “there are a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be,” as Meg Trowbridge wrote.

When we posted our closure announcement on a Bay Area theater message board, a local theater patron reacted with concern and alarm. He offered to set up a GoFundMe page if that would allow us to “stick around.” As I said, we want to nip this narrative in the bud, so Stuart Bousel gave me the go-ahead to reply to the man. This is what I wrote:

“I’m a longtime Theater Pub attendee/writer/producer/blogger/actor and friend of the Pub’s current leadership, Stuart Bousel, Meg Trowbridge, and Tonya Narvaez. We appreciate your concern and your desire to keep art alive in the Bay Area, but as Stuart and Meg and Tonya wrote in their post, money has very little to do with why we have decided to end Theater Pub. Theater Pub was never going to be a full-time, quit-your-day-job career for any of us. We are indie theater artists juggling a lot of responsibilities (both theater-related and not), and after many years of hard work to produce a new show in a bar every single month — not an easy task! — we want to concentrate on other projects, other ways of making art, other things in our lives. None of us are quitting theater or leaving the Bay Area — on the contrary, I think we’re all busier than ever! So Theater Pub, the institution/organization, is going away, but WE, the artists, are not going away. The friendships and connections we have made, the skills we have learned, are not going away. It may sound strange, in a capitalistic age in a crazy expensive city where nearly every conversation turns to money, but the reason we’re ending Theater Pub isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.”

Meanwhile, this Medium post by Jeff Lewonczyk about why he gave up making indie theater in New York, has been making the rounds. As I said, for the time being, none of the core Theater Pub folks are planning to give up theater the way that Lewonczyk has. But I also think that we all understand his sentiments and don’t blame him in the least. There comes a time to step away from things, thoughtfully but without regrets.

As Stuart, Meg, and Tonya wrote in the title of their joint post, “autumn is a time to say goodbye.” Many of the Theater Pub usual suspects are also involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which begins in just a few weeks and whose theme this year is myths of death and the underworld. But at least for me, looking at death through a Greek-myth framework means seeing it as inevitable, and necessary, and possibly peaceful. (The mythological figure I’m writing about this year is Macaria, Persephone’s daughter and the goddess of peaceful death.) It means thinking about the cyclical nature of things; how Persephone goes to the underworld for half the year, but she is never lost down there forever.

And in the meantime, we’re ending Theater Pub with a show about a ghost (September), a show about a gravedigger (October), King Lear (November), and, finally, a musical celebration/funeral/wake. Because we’re theater people, and we know how to end things.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See the staged reading of her new play Macaria, or The Good Life at the Olympians Festival on October 14.

Theater Around The Bay: Stupid Ghost Opens Next Week!

Co-Artistic Director Tonya Narvaez reveals what drew her to Stupid Ghost, announces the marvelous cast, and releases a teaser trailer.

One week from today, San Francisco Theater Pub will open Stupid Ghost, written by Savannah Reich (http://savannahreich.com) and directed by Claire Rice. I chose this play for Theater Pub after it was shown to me by a friend, Theater Pub’s own Barbara Jwanouskos. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This play touches me in so many ways. It has heart, it’s dark and twisty, and it has the kind of humor that sort of tickles you on the chin before punching you in the gut. To me, this play is about the desire to connect above all else, being unsure how to do so, and being willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to get what you want.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

A young Claire Rice unwittingly preparing to direct Stupid Ghost.

I selfishly wanted to direct this piece myself. After sitting with that decision for awhile, I realized there was only one person I knew who could direct this play. That person is Claire Rice. To me, this play screams Claire Rice’s name from the rooftops. It pleads to be read by her. It begs to be thoughtfully analyzed and synthesized into a production by her mind and her heart. I sent the play in Claire’s direction and let her know how I felt. Thankfully she agreed with me and took on the project.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

Trying on sheets and cutting out eyeholes at rehearsal.

I’m now incredibly delighted to announce our cast and release a teaser trailer for this very special Theater Pub production.

Ghost – Christine Keating
Ronnie – Celeste Conowitch
Poltergeist – Ryan Hayes
Lecturer – Valerie Fachman
John Pierre – Megan Cohen

See Stupid Ghost only at PianoFight (144 Taylor Street, San Francisco):

Monday, September 19 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 20 @ 8:00pm
Monday, September 26 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, September 27 @ 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 enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts.

See you at the Pub!

Theater Around The Bay: Autumn Is A Good Time To Say Goodbye

So, you’ve probably heard the rumors that Theater Pub is coming to an end and it’s true: Meg, Tonya, and Stuart have decided to close up shop this December. With fall right around the corner and the holidays looming, it seems like a good time to say goodbye, so we’re giving official notice today.

Meg Trowbridge says farewell to the theater in a bar she loves the most…

Theater Pub came back at a serendipitous time for me. I was newly freelancing (read:unemployed) and looking to dive head-first into making art. When Stuart asked me to take on an Artistic Director position, I was eager to get to work. Turns out, it’s a lot of work, guys! Monthly shows are no joke, but even with the non-stop nature of Theater Pub giving me gray hairs, it was magical to see the old and new faces coming together to make theater. It was a pleasure to get to know the crew of PianoFight so well. I especially loved opening nights that were followed by Beatles Karaoke. My theater-loving heart was full on many of these nights.

But a non-stop theater that can’t support its staff is not sustainable. It was around the same time that Stuart, Tonya and I were all thinking about our graceful exit from SFTP – unbeknownst to each other. Stuart was the first to say Uncle (to be fair, he’d been there since 2010, so it was really his time). When Tonya and I sat with the idea of taking on SFTP on our own, the biggest question we had to ask ourselves was why? Did SFTP serve a purpose anymore? When Theater Pub started all those years ago, it accomplished two things: it helped a bar bring in folks on a Monday night, and provided a venue for theater people to produce unlikely works. When we returned to PianoFight, we tried to do the same thing: bring crowds into PianoFight on quiet nights and provide a venue for exciting theater.

I figured once we returned that we’d have people knocking down our door to pitch ideas or get involved – but that wasn’t the case. Not that we didn’t feel loved, there are just a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be. It’s actually great news – it’s news that makes it easier to put Theater Pub to bed.

The three people running Theater Pub right now are playwrights – we sometimes direct, sometimes act, sometimes go full-on diva at a piano bar, but we are playwrights first and foremost. And when playwrights are spending most of their time managing art instead of creating it, it is time to move on. (We get itchy.)

From here, I go on to head up writing a few shows for Killing My Lobster (check out The Political Show this November and look for next season’s announcement!). I will also be finishing up my Pontos Trilogy, which got its beginnings in the Olympians Festival: Wine Dark Sea.

I look forward to seeing what other SFTP regulars have in store! I look forward to having more time to see theater! And if you keep your eyes peeled, Pint-Sized Plays may rear its drunken head for another go next summer…

Much love to all of those who worked with us and supported us.

Meg

Tonya Narvaez gives a long hug goodbye to SFTP…

I wanted to be part of Theater Pub from the first time I attended, which was Pint-Sized in 2011. I wanted to support it however I could. My support took the form of shouting about the shows from the rooftops (of my Facebook), bringing friends along to get them hooked, donating at each show, acting in shows, writing shows, and eventually becoming Co-Artistic Director with Meghan Trowbridge and working with her and Stuart Bousel to see how Theater Pub fit into this new theater landscape. I wanted to do all of these things because Theater Pub has given so much to me.

As an actor, it served to connect me with so many talented theater artists and inspire me with unique shows and magical theater moments.

As a writer, it gave me a home to put on some of my more peculiar ideas and taught me important lessons about my process and my voice.

As a producer, I’ve learned so many hard lessons about how to put on theater. About how to plan a season, how to work with friends (or strangers), how to rely on others, how to expect the unexpected, or when that fails, how to roll with the punches, how and when to say the hard things, and remembering to say the good things. Producing is not for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn’t for anyone who isn’t all-in.

This year I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t all-in for Theater Pub. Not because it’s not worthy. Not because it’s not glorious. But because my priorities have shifted since taking the position of Artistic Director two years ago and I only have so much bandwidth at my disposal.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported Theater Pub all these years. Whether by attending shows or Saturday Write Fever, reading the blog, writing, directing, acting, producing, playing music, singing, donating money, donating rehearsal space, providing a venue, or any of the other countless ways in which the community has helped make this organization what it is.

It’s wonderful Theater Pub had a home in this town for so long and that it was a place that connected people and allowed artists to play. But I do not believe the end of Theater Pub will leave a gap that will need filling in our community. At least not right now. The San Francisco indie theater scene is truly alive right now. The amount of art being created and the number of new artists emerging each year is thrilling.

So if this news leaves you feeling a gap in yourself, I implore you to make some art. To bring a group of people together and create something for this community to consume. To make some mistakes, learn some lessons, add value and a unique voice to the community, and have a lot of fun. I know I’ve had more fun than should be allowed.

Stuart bids a loving adieu to his baby, Lil Theater Pub Bousel…

So, this is not the first time I’ve said goodbye to Theater Pub, though I suspect this time it’s a little bit more definitive. When I announced my departure in April, I had done so hoping Tonya and Meg would be up for carrying the torch forward, but when it came to light that they weren’t necessarily looking to do that, we made the decision to bring the organization itself to a close. A bittersweet decision, to be sure, but the right one. The truth is, we were all ready to move on to new things, many of us already had, and Theater Pub, while dear to our hearts, was preventing us from doing that or making it harder to fully engage the futures that were arriving whether we were ready or not. We talked about handing over the baton to new folks, but didn’t feel that the “right” people had emerged to replace us at Theater Pub. The “right” people seemed to want to do their own thing, not inherit somebody else’s creation, and I can’t blame them for that: after all, I only helped found Theater Pub because I was the sort of people who wanted to be a trailblazer myself.

What’s important to point out is that Theater Pub isn’t ending because it “has” to end. It’s ending because of the reverse reason: it’s been wildly successful, for the most part, and accomplished what it set out to do: build a community and be a launching point for the careers of the people most intimately connected to it. The trouble is that Meg, Tonya, myself, and others (such as our bloggers, original founding team, and various staff) have got so much on our plates now that we’re having a harder and harder time keeping all of them spinning. Something has to give, and we’d rather set something down then drop it, if for no other reason than when you set something down you still have the option to one day pick it up again. That’s the beauty of knowing when to stop before you break something, or yourself for that matter.

The most amazing thing about Theater Pub is that it’s lasted as long as it has, and has refused to die at least twice. So chances are, it’ll be back again, at some point, in some form. Recently I went to a concert of my favorite band, Belly, who were on tour after a 20-year hiatus. It was pretty amazing. They were actually better than they had been back in 1996. Sometimes taking a break, a nice long one, is not only necessary, but helpful. If we do come back somewhere down the line, I expect we’ll be back for all the right reasons, and super happy to be there. In the meantime, Saturday Write Fever will continue in 2017 as part of the EXIT, and Marissa and I will periodically post on the blog or let others do so when someone really has something to say. The Stuey Awards will continue. The Pint-Sized Plays will continue as part of PianoFight. We’ll all stay in touch, one way or another. And when you least expect it, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be back. And if we’re not… well… we’ll always have Paris. Right?

“Everything dies,” the heroine of my favorite novel, The Last Unicorn, says to her lover, “I want to die when you die!” Things are precious because they are not eternal. It’s been a tremendous gift to start something, stay with it for years, put it to bed, wake it up again, watch it succeed anew and learn from it once more. And it would be a tremendous ingratitude to hold on until it felt like we were prisoners to our own creation. Sometimes the way you love something best is to let it go, especially while you still love it.

Thank you, everyone. It’s been one of the best times of my life.

Please join us for our last four months of shows at PianoFight, including Stupid Ghost, opening September 19th!

Theater Around The Bay: Executive Director Stuart Bousel Stepping Down

Spring brings changes; Stuart Bousel announces a big one.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

So, today seems like as good a time as any to make an announcement I’ve been meaning to make. My plan was to piggyback off another announcement that I’ve been waiting for, but that news seems delayed, so I’m going to just forge ahead.

As I stated on Facebook few weeks back, I’ve been going to therapy again. This is the result of a combination of things, easily summed up as “Life was getting stressful, had been for quite some time, and I opted not to repeat my mental breakdown of 2007-2008, by preemptively doing something about it instead of waiting to lose my mind first.” As often happens in therapy, organizing one’s thoughts and desires quickly makes apparent that action is sometimes required on multiple fronts if one wants to have a decent shot at thriving over merely surviving, and so it was with me, and is part of what led to this decision, the nutshell of which is: I’m stepping down from Theater Pub.

Now, this won’t happen tomorrow (sorry, would-be successors, be patient). It will happen after the New Year, starting January 1, 2017. I know that seems like a really long time, but due to some I-can’t-yet-say-what circumstances, I’m effectively booked from August through December with other projects, so my artistic involvement with Theater Pub this year was most likely ending with August’s Pint-Sized Plays anyway, though I’m sure I’ll be involved with the musical too, if in a very cameo capacity. Part of the reason why I am stepping down is because I have just hit the maximum amount of hours I can squeeze from a day and blood I can extract from my stone heart. And at the risk of bragging, things don’t look to be slowing down, but rather the opposite, meaning I’ve finally hit a point of having to make some tough decisions and withdraw from various things I love, so I can keep doing other things I love, but also growing and evolving as an artist and as a person.

While we’re on it, I won’t be working the Fringe Festival this year (though I plan to be back next year) and I will be involved in the SF Olympians Festival in a very reduced capacity (though I plan to be back in full force next year). All this is not because I’m taking a vacation, but because other opportunities presented themselves, and after years of saying no to similar opportunities in the name of being a good leader/founder and looking after my various responsibilities, I decided it was time to say yes. And like… see what happens. I love the Fringe, I love SF Olympians, and I love Theater Pub… but it’s important that love be a choice, and not an obligation, lest it grow into resentment. Which sometimes, lately, it has.

We (being myself, Tonya Narvaez, Meg Trowbridge, and Rob Ready) still haven’t actually decided if Theater Pub will continue to exist after January 1st. I sincerely hope it does. I love having helped found and for a long time direct an organization that embodies the best aspects of the Bay Area theater scene, its pluck and creativity and innovation and scrappiness, not to mentioning actually putting the Inclusive back into ‪#‎buzzwordinclusivity‬ ‪#‎tbacon16‬. Hundreds of different artists have passed through Theater Pub in the last seven years, we have debuted a ton of new work, and for many people (writers, actors, directors, etc.) we have been their first venue in the Bay Area, or the place they returned to doing theater after a long hiatus, or the place they finally got to try on a new hat, or try on a theater hat at all. Since our fourth show we have paid everybody who has worked with us, and we have started a handful of Bay Area traditions that have ensured we are a formidable source of experimentation and opportunity. We survived a venue change, a regime change, a restructuring, and in the last year and a half have rebuilt what a lot of people didn’t think could be rebuilt. We are just now starting to hit what I predict will be a new stride, a new golden era for the company, and I do not want that to go away, but it’s a lot of work, occasionally quite thanklessly so, and I’m not going to force it upon someone simply because I no longer feel it’s the right thing for me. If Tonya and Meg decide to keep it going, there are no better people I can imagine to do the job. If they do not, then this year will be a long kiss goodnight. Either way, I’ll be here through December in an administrative and advisory capacity, either to help transition or to help shut everything down.

Marissa Skudlarek will be taking over the blog at the end of the year, so that won’t be going away, though it will probably change, and knowing Marissa, drastically improve. Rest assured, the Stuey Awards will continue, and will be my annual contribution. I’m not leaving the world, just leaving Theater Pub. If the production side of Theater Pub continues I am planning to snag an annual “Legacy Show” for myself to direct once a year, but again, we’ll see on that front. Saturday Write Fever will also continue under my and Megan Cohen’s guidance, though it may become an exclusively EXIT Theatre event, depending on what happens with the rest of Theater Pub. That said, we’re in the process of selecting and training more hosts, so that Jeunée Simon, Andrew Chung, Sam Bertken, and ourselves have a little bit more scheduling flexibility. I’m not the only one with a life, and I know that. And there comes a time in every career where you want to move on, or at least just be able to take a sabbatical.

Anyway, I think that sums it up. Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who has made Theater Pub special over the years. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.

Except when it hasn’t been. (smiley face)

And just to be clear… this is a totally real announcement.

Theater Around The Bay: Don’t Miss Over The Rainbow!

The mere mention of Lisa Frank often conjures daydreams of pencil cases, folders, erasers, notebooks, and Trapper Keepers. Of rainbow unicorns, ballerina bunnies, painting pandas, and glamorous kitties. But this cheerful aesthetic may not be all it seems.

OVER THE RAINBOW, written and directed by Tonya Narvaez, continues performances tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM at PianoFight– DON’T MISS IT!

Can’t get enough? Take this Buzzfeed quiz specially crafted by Tonya to determine which character you’d be in a world run by Lisa Frank!

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Featuring performances by Sam Bertken, Andrew Calabrese, Andrew Chung, Danielle Doyle, Alisha Ehrlich, Caitlin Evenson, Danielle Gray, Danielle Ishihara, and Christine Keating with movement direction by Liz Tenuto.

Playing February 22 and 23, performances are free, with a $10 suggested donation, and seating is first come, first serve.

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