Cowan Palace: Drowning in Beauty Beyond a Grand Victorian Soap Opera and Other Chats With Margery Fairchild

This week, Ashley’s talking to Margery Fairchild about her new production!

Quatre Pic

Featuring, Christy Crowley, Kirsten Dwyer, Katharine Otis, and Courtney Russell; Photo Credit: Basil Galloway

As we get ready to begin The Year Of Monkey and dive deeper into 2016’s second month, Dark Porch Theatre is preparing to kick off their new season! Pas de Quatre, opening at EXIT Studio in just a few days, is the poetic brainchild of Margery Fairchild who has spent years developing this work exploring the relationships between ballet dancers and their art.

Here to bring us further into the world of dancing, is the writer and director herself, Margery!

Please tell us a bit more about Pas de Quatre.

In 1845, Benjamin Lumley, the director at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, had a brilliant idea; to bring together the four reigning Ballerinas of Europe and have them dance together. He also commissioned the famous choreographer Jules Perrot, to create the Divertisment (as it was billed) and the Pas De Quatre was the result of that collaboration. It is considered, along with La Slyphide and Giselle to be one of the seminal works of the Romantic Era in Ballet.

However, the mixing of these powerful celebrities with very distinct styles and personalities, proved somewhat volatile and many historians marvel that it even made it to the stage! Perrot had been married (and divorced) to one of the dancers, partner to two and Ballet Master to all. The dancers themselves had been subjected to incredible public scrutiny and as manufactured as their rivalries were, it still had a distinct impact on their working relationships.

The story has all the makings of a grand Victorian soap opera, but my goal with the project was to dig beyond that temptation.

How has the production evolved since you first began working on it?

I wrote Pas de Quatre as a screenplay in 2002, but it travelled to the back burner. In 2012, I wrote PDQ as a full Two Act play with a cast of 8, which had a staged reading as a part of DIVAfest. In 2014 PDQ morphed into a 50 minute long experimental dance/theatre piece and had a 4 performance workshop at DIVAFest. After several revisions and a new cast, it will debut as part of Dark Porch Theatre’s 2016 residency at Exit Theatre. It’s not a straightforward narrative. The story is deconstructed and organized to parallel the actual music score of the Ballet, a format that allows for greater exploration in the storytelling and character investigation.

As the show focuses on the relationship that forms between ballerinas and ballet, can you tell us a little bit more about your relationship and background with ballet?

I studied Ballet for 9 years at The Boston Ballet and I had a love/hate relationship with the experience. Ballet, like all Fine Art studies, created a foundation of discipline and dedication, but it was also incredibly difficult. While putting your body through the transformation needed to achieve the lines and perfection of the craft, one must deal with a lot of pain and disappointment. I never had the right body and feet to continue as a professional, but I still put myself through it out of love. I quit Ballet at 17 after multiple back and neck injuries. It took a couple years before I started studying Modern Dance in college and began to identify myself as a dancer again. Now as an actor and director, I’ve always recognized the edge and vision that as come from my formative training.

While the show may take place in London, 1845, what do you think San Francisco audiences in 2016 will most relate to?

The Dancers, like ghosts, almost appear as if summoned by the audience themselves and once conjured, they must play out their stories. The history is important, but it is not the lesson of the story, it’s about the people themselves. We connect to human stories, in so far as history repeats itself and we find ourselves navigating the same conflicts and trials despite the Age. I suppose that’s why I’m always drawn towards historical re-imaginings, because there’s so much to learn from it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing this show to its feet?

The biggest challenge was casting. Finding actors with the dance/ movement background to pull off the physical requirements. Ballet isn’t something you can fake. I needed to craft the Play in a way that could accommodate different levels of strengths, but ultimately balance them.

What’s been your favorite moment of mounting this production so far?

The question: “Why do we put ourselves through this?”, being answered one night during the tail end of a Monday Night rehearsal, when the cast has had a collective breakthrough despite their exhaustion and you’re left smiling in wonder. The inevitable doubts being answered by the creative process itself. It keeps us coming back again and again!

What’s your favorite local place for a post show drink/snack?

I like to shake it up! PianoFight and the White Horse are the usual destinations these days.

What’s next for Dark Porch?

Dark Porch Theatre will be presenting the darkly hilarious The Diplomats! Written and Directed by DPT’s co-artistic director Martin Schwartz. It will run through the month of May on the EXIT Main Stage.

What’s next for you? Any projects you’ll be working on in the future or shows you’re excited to see?

I’ll be performing in and co producing The Diplomats in May. I’m also involved in the final shooting phase of the feature film, To No Good End, which I’ve co created with my fiancé Kindrid Parker… And then we’re getting married!

As far as shows I’m excited to see? I’m honestly overwhelmed with the wealth of good Indy theatre/dance/performance happening in this town right now, despite the struggles that artists have faced to stay here. Between Exit Theatre, PianoFight, CounterPulse all on the same block, it’s proof that we’re holding our own!

In 160 words characters or less, why do we need to see Pas de Quatre?

This play is only an hour and you will spend the entire 60 minutes drowning in beauty!

And, it gets even better Theater Pub readers! Margery has offered a special discount code for you! To get it, use: Code: DPTdiscount16; Discount: $10 off per ticket ($15 tix)!

Pas de Quatre runs Thursday – Saturday, February 11 – 27 at 8:00 p.m. with an additional matinee performance at 3 p.m. on February 20. For tickets and more information, please visit www.darkporchtheatre.org.

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Theater Around The Bay: On The TBA Awards

Will Leschber is on his honeymoon, so we’re bringing you a special report on last night’s TBA Awards, by none other than Allison Page.

I’m kind of hungover. But the okay kind, where you get to just think “Oh, that was a pretty good time. Ha!” without danger of throwing up all over yourself when you get to the “Ha!” Last night was the very first Theatre Bay Area Awards ceremony. Much discussion has rippled throughout the community about these awards. From “OH, we need that!” to “Theater isn’t a competition, you can’t compare this to that!” to “Yeah, but are there drinks?” (That last one may or may not have been me, I refuse to confirm or deny it.) Such was the discussion of these awards that I felt they warranted an immediate reaction. From me. For some reason. Let’s go topic by topic.

The Venue
I can’t even pretend to snark about The Geary Theatre. It’s crazy beautiful. And it made us all feel very classy and elegant, which is maybe not something my crew feels all the time. We’re the black box elite, right? We live in small, dark spaces and create as much as possible with as little as we can. Sure, we like to crack open the champagne whenever possible, but we got that “champagne” for eight bucks and it has a picture of an animal on the front and came with a bag of Fritos. The venue gets 5 Stars for glamour, even though we were totally in the nosebleed seats. There was also a nice little photo place outside the theater, with a TBA background you could pose in front of. But it was literally on the sidewalk so people kept walking through everyone else’s photos as they arrived. Maybe a designated place in the lobby would make sense? It was a cool detail, definitely, but I’m sure I’m in at least six photos I’m not supposed to be. (And Carey Perloff is apparently in Paris, so it kinda felt like San Francisco theater was sort of Airbnb-ing the mansion of an eccentric millionaire who was off on vacation in Ibiza. I think she’s actually working on a show but, ya know, a feeling’s a feeling.)

"Errebody walking through our glamour shots."

“Errebody walking through our glamour shots.”

Refreshments
There was a bar. The bartender was really nice, kept the line moving, and the drinks jumped in size at some point which I definitely appreciated. My whiskey gingers were $9, which isn’t the worst thing ever. Did I long for an open bar at this fancy event? I mean, YES. But I always do. It would have been pretty amazing if our tickets all entitled us to one complimentary drink. Wouldn’t that be a nice touch? It would be a sweet compromise between open bar, and totally not open bar. And actually, after people have one drink, I would think they’d shell out the cash for the next one, but that’s just me. I’m sure the organization has a financial reason to not do that because obviously booze costs money, but I think receiving something apart from a program and a nosebleed seat would be cool. Oh and I bought some peanut M&Ms. The foodstuffs were nothing to go bananas about – mostly granola bars and candy – but I don’t think anyone was coming there to eat, so it seems like a non-issue.

Let’s get into the show itself, shall we?

The Hosts
Hosting anything is a terribly thankless job and almost always people are jerks about the hosts. It’s a tough balance to strike: you have to be funny, but you can’t be too mean. You have to be relevant to the event and audience, but you can’t pander too much. You have to keep things moving, but you can’t rush through what you’re doing. Will Durst and Marga Gomez were this year’s stalwart hosts. I like them both a lot as comics, but opening with “Who loves theater?!?” was maybe a not-so-strong choice. I thought they were fine and had a tough job. These awards have never happened before so the vibe of them is sort of undefined. There were points at which it felt like things were sinking a little, but maybe that could have been helped with…

Lighting
I can take no credit for this thought. The Honorable Costume Design Nominee From Tier III For Custom Made’s Production Of THE CRUCIBLE, Brooke Jennings, said it last night: Perhaps it would be easier to keep the audience’s attention if the lighting was demanding that we look in a particular place.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

It was lights up on the entire stage, the entire time. It was easy to get distracted. “Is that a guy at a piano back there? Nice suit, piano guy. Hey, why does the set look like shards of glass? The girl in front of me has a great dress. My new shoes are shockingly comfortable. I wonder what I’m gonna do for breakfast tomorrow…where am I?” Though I appreciated that there was enough light in the house for us to be able to move around, use our phones, and keep the drink-spilling to a minimum. Actually, it was important to have some light in the house way up in the balcony, because otherwise moving around up there would be kind of terrifying. I was initially worried about tripping and quickly tumbling out of the sky and into Betty Buckley’s waiting arms.

The Presenters
I enjoyed that the presenters for the evening were varied peoples from varied tiers and represented lots of different kinds of theater. I was particularly happy Rob and Ray from Piano Fight were presenting, even though Marga mispronounced their podcast Born Ready as Born Reafy. It happens. I thought the presenters overall did a fine job. I was, however, worried that the audience clapping after every nominee was read would add two hours to the event. (It didn’t, it turned out to be fine. There were points at which it felt long, but we got out of there at a reasonable time considering the number of awards given out.)

The Nominees
There are a few things to address here. Let’s start with how the nominees are brought out. They’re in a huge line, sometimes stretching all the way across the stage in a jumble which can be extra tough if some of them are from PEARLS OVER SHANGHAI and keep their absolutely gigantic costumes on for the duration of the evening and then try to squish between two people who probably get glitter and feathers jabbed into their corneas. It was fun to watch that happen, though, because I was really far away and didn’t get glitter or feathers in my corneas. Then comes the time to list all the nominees. Is it crazy for me to think they should stand in order of how they’re being announced? I couldn’t always figure out who was what while that was going on, because as it turns out everyone has their own way of identifying themselves when their name is called: some demurely bow, some just clap and look at everybody else, some stand still and smile which is also what people do when their name ISN’T being called. I realize that would require people to get their shit together enough to stand in a line, in order, but these are actors. Lots of them have probably danced in a single file line before, I think they can handle it. Mostly I’d just feel bad for the SM trying to organize them but selfishly, as an audience member I would like to watch it make sense. Then again, that would require that the nominees actually attend. Which brings me to my next point:

TIER I, WHERE YOU AT? Now, I know there were some Tier I people there, and I certainly didn’t count them or anything, but it seemed there were more of the other two tiers. I’d like to know why that is. Are they uninterested? Do they not want to mix with the riffraff that are the lower tiers? Are they just sooooo busy that they can’t come? This is a community wide event. That’s part of its importance, right? We’re supposed to be crossin’ streams over here. When we get down to nominees for Outstanding World Premiere Play and Stuart Bousel is the only playwright on stage and he’s standing next to the only people representing an Outstanding World Premiere Musical nomination (The Bengsons, for HUNDRED DAYS), then I start to wonder what all those other people are doing. And thank goodness Stuart and The Bengsons are the people who won, because it would have been sad if they were the only people who showed up in that category and they LOST. Along similar lines, I heard that backstage things were sort of disjointed among the nominees, in that it seemed like Tier I people talked to Tier I people, and Tiers II and III were talking to each other – because all of life is essentially a middle school cafeteria scene. I was’t back there, so I can’t say first hand, that’s just what I heard.

Special Acts
Am I the only grouch who thinks that if there are going to be a bunch of songs from musicals, there should be scenes from straight plays? The freakin’ Tonys do it. Yeah, they’d need some mics, but I’m pretty sure that can happen. That would be a good opportunity to see excerpts from the Outstanding World Premiere Play nominees that people maybe didn’t have the chance to see.

The Thing That Pissed Me Off
There was one point when I got pretty irritated. A woman (apparently a really generous donor who’s done a lot for various theaters) took to the stage to give a short speech. In it, she said something like: “If everyone in here invited someone to see theater, we would become something that people talk about.” And I kinda wanted to flip a table. My actual reaction, courtesy of my Facebook post 20 seconds after that happened, was “GIRL YOU ARE TALKING TO A ROOM FULL OF THEATER MAKERS, WE INVITE EVERYBODY TO EVERYTHING. WE INVITE *DEAD* PEOPLE TO THE THEATER. TALK TO THE OTHER RICH PEOPLE. YOU’RE PREACHIN’ TO THE POOR CHOIR.” I don’t know that I need to elaborate on that. I’m glad she’s such a supporter of theater, but the problem isn’t that the broke-ass actors in the audience aren’t inviting people. We’re inviting everyone we’ve ever known. Are you?

Overall Closing Thoughts
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought, “Awards? I don’t know if we need that. Do we need that?” but I was thrilled to 1) Dress up 2) Hang out with my friends 3) Get drinks and 4) Think about the thing we have all chosen to do with our lives. And to me, that last one is the real takeaway. I don’t think an award legitimizes someone’s art, and I don’t think the lack of an award means something wasn’t effective or important. But I do think a large gathering of the people who give a shit about theater in the Bay Area is a good thing, because it shows that we are invested in each other, even if that’s sort of bullshit sometimes. Being aware of all the people outside of my immediate circle who exist and do the things we do gives me a view of how large we really are. Sometimes it feels like there are about 25 theater makers in the general vicinity, but there are so many more than that. If we want to be relevant to the public, we should probably start by being relevant to each other. This is a step in that direction, I think. We’re not quite one big happy family but, shit, at least I know we EXIST.

PS. Ruby Skye for the after party at an additional cost? Yeah, we went to the White Horse and drank beer in a tiny room with a hotel ice machine in it and had a fabulous time eating free popcorn.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

What did you think of the awards? Feel free to voice your opinion, as always, in the comments.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director in the bay area, and her hair looked stellar last night. Congratulations to all the winners/nominees/balcony-sitters/people who pour their lives into theater each day without recognition or proper funding.