Cowan Palace: An Outcast, A Breast Pump, and An Eccentric Morrissey Fan Walk Into A Bar

This week Ashley chats with Morrissey Play actors, Andrew, Caitlin, and Kitty!

It was about a year ago I asked four wonderfully willing and eager actors to perform in my short, THIS IS WHY WE BROKE UP, which premiered at PianoFight’s ShortLived Competition and was directed by Charles Lewis III. So I was delighted to see that three out of four of them (hope to see you next time, Dylan Pembleton!) were lending their talents to Theater Pub’s current production, THE MORRISSEY PLAYS, which opened on Monday evening.

So I felt like I had no choice but to ask yet another favor of Andrew Chung, Caitlin Evenson, and Kitty Torres because they’re delightful people on and off stage and I wanted the excuse to talk to them. Here they are to tell us a little bit more about their current roles. This one’s for you, Morrissey!

Tell us who you’re playing and a little about the play(s) you’re in!

ANDREW: I’m in 3 of the Morrissey plays, playing three very different characters: Remember those goth kids in high school who were unsettlingly obsessed with the creepy and the occult? In David Robson’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, my character was once one of those high school outcasts. Since graduating from high school, he’s married his high school creepheart and opened a bar in their sleepy little hometown. He and his wife have invited an old classmate over for drinks, but booze isn’t the only thing on the menu…

In “World Peace is None of Your Business” by Kylie Murphy, I am one of those Morrissey fanboys. You know, the kind who just won’t shut up about how awesome and innovative and infallible he is and oh man the world would just be so much better if we all listened to him and by the way have I mentioned how Morrissey is God on Earth?!?! My compatriot and I have cornered some unfortunate soul who apparently has not heard the Gospel According to Moz, and are dead-set on giving this poor sap some education.

Finally, in a fun little script by Alan Olejniczak titled “Unhappy Birthday”, I play a boisterous frat bro trying to console his friend who just went through a breakup. And in his mind, the best way to get over someone is to go and GET SOME, SON! *insert unsubtle pelvic thrusts*

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in "Everyday Is Like Sunday"

Melissa Classon and Andrew Chung have tea with Charles Lewis III in “Everyday Is Like Sunday”

CAITLIN: Cecily in “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” by Jessica Chisum. I’m a new mom of three months meeting my best friend whom I haven’t seen since having the baby. Over the course of the play, which is split into three parts over the course of the evening, we touch on the significance of love, lost youth, and Zooey Deschanel (spoiler: she stole my life!)

KITTY: I am really fortunate to portray a few characters in THE MORRISSEY PLAYS. I play Angela in “How Soon Is Now?” by Allie Costa. As she recounts how this song brought her and her best friends together for the first time. It’s such a wonderful and adorable teenage story about how we all have those songs that define who we are as well as moments in our lives. I also play Emily in “World Peace Is None of Your Business” as a loyal and tad eccentric Morrissey fan who is dealt a hard dose of reality from someone who’s been in my shoes before. I lastly play opposite Brian Martin in a quick passage based on Morrissey’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, by Peter Bratach. We begin the play with him as “you” and myself as “me”, then switching sides to end the play. Performing the script in two different contexts, we portray the struggle arguments everyone deals with when they get into passionate and yet somewhat sedentary arguments with that friend who maintains polar opposite views.

What was your relationship with Morrissey before getting cast in this show and how would you describe it now?

ANDREW: I vaguely knew who Morrissey was before being cast, but I hadn’t heard much of his music and didn’t have much of an opinion of the man. And to be completely honest, that hasn’t really changed. Morrissey and his music just aren’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure he’s fine with that.

CAITLIN: I had no idea who he was when we began the rehearsal process. We were sent a documentary to watch as research and some songs and I realized that I had indeed been exposed to Morrissey before but had somehow missed the major cultural phenomenon that was the Smiths (outside of having seen (500) Days of Summer…). I’ve since gained an understanding of how much his music has meant to people, who his fans are — a lot of interesting dramaturgical stuff. I think I’m still wrapping my head around the “feel” of Morrissey so don’t ask me to articulate that just yet, but I’m getting close.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

Caitlin Evenson and director Stuart Bousel pose with the Breast Pump That Never Goes Out.

KITTY: Growing up, I was lucky to learn about Morrissey through The Smiths from my childhood friend, Caitlin Carlson. She was and is a musical genius who told me simply to just listen to them and make my own understanding of them but to maintain that they were her favorite band ever. I was constantly surrounded by people who liked the work of both The Smiths and Morrissey and while I wasn’t a die hard fan, I got into them and appreciated their work. The music was dangerous and insane and made people uncomfortable. It made me feel uncomfortable and I started to like it and everything in life that made me feel so shaken up. Now that I’ve had some major crash course time to be all about this music again, I feel like my relationship has changed for the better with his music. I definitely roll my eyes at some of the shit he says but I respect him even more. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and to display his own conflicts within himself. That takes so much courage and love. Though he probably wouldn’t describe it like that, haha.

If you had to describe the evening in 160 characters or less and using mainly emoticons, what would you say?

ANDREW: 😀 D: 🙂 :O ;_; XD 😡 (> ‘ . ‘ )> <( ‘ . ‘ <)

CAITLIN: No emojis on my laptop so: “pint glass” “dreary day” “lonely” “acerbic” “revelations” “twist” “flawed humans” “love” Now imagine emojis. Ta-da!

KITTY: Oh man, well you know how you’ve always had that fantasy to throw on your old prom dress 💃and go to a dive bar with some close friends to drink cheap martinis 🍸and eat peanuts🍩 and talk about how fucked up everything’s become?🙋🏽🙋🏽🙋🏽 Whether it be young romance being ripped to shreds👨‍❤️‍👨 losing three jobs in a year, 🏆🏆🏆dealing with sudden deaths of your loved ones, 😣😣dealing with slow deaths of others😖😖 and wondering what the universe is trying to say? And then you stay up to watch the sunrise just to make sure you’re still alive.🎉🎉🎉🎉 That’s what this evening is, haha.

What’s been the biggest surprise working on a show inspired by Morrissey?

ANDREW: Finding out just how many people in the show are big fans of his.

CAITLIN: I had no idea he had such a large and passionate fan-base! The biggest surprise is how I managed to not know about him for so long!

KITTY: The biggest surprise has been to realize how much I’ve changed from when I was a teenager listening to this music and yet Morrissey still resonates with me. Still reminds me to be myself despite how much it pisses people off.

What’s your favorite Morrissey lyric and why?

ANDREW: From “There’s A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends”: All that we hope is that when we go, our skin and our blood and our bones don’t get in your way, making you ill the way they did when we lived.

It’s such a wonderful way to say “fuck you,” isn’t it?

CAITLIN: Well…I only know the lyrics that are in my play…but I do think that “to die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die” is pretty darn romantic.

KITTY: While I definitely didn’t like this lyric before the show, the lyrics to “A Light That Never Goes Out” has become my favorite. It reminds me of a good friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I genuinely miss him, haha.

If Morrissey could be any drink, what would he be?

ANDREW: Fernet Branca. It’s not to everyone’s taste (many say it’s very in-your-face and off-putting), but man oh man does it have a large, utterly devoted cult following.

CAITLIN: I feel woefully under qualified to answer this. Like a poser. But I suppose my part in this play has given me some credibility. So I’ll say tea. Tea with no sugar because the lump of sugar is crushed on the floor next to the table the tea cup is sitting on.

KITTY: Probably crude oil with some rose petals as garnish. Haha, alcoholic drink, I’d say he would have to be a pina colada. It’s really pretty, cute looking from the outside, delicious to drink but ultimately kicks you in the ass by the end of the night and leaves you with a stomach ache the next day.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Morrissey Plays director and cast drinking at PianoFight after the first rehearsal.

Where can we see you next?! Tell us about your next project!

ANDREW: Catch me in February’s Theater Pub show, OVER THE RAINBOW: The totally obviously true story of how Lisa Frank wandered into a magical rainbow realm, setting her on the path to becoming the ironfisted CEO of Lisa Frank, Inc. I’m also co-hosting the next installment of Saturday Write Fever on Feburary 13th at the Exit Cafe!

CAITLIN: Stay tuned!

KITTY: I don’t admittedly have anything going on acting wise, I am continuing to assist the wonderful Brooke Jennings in costuming for Custom Made Theatre and hope to dive back into auditions as soon as possible.

You have two more chances to see the show so mark those calendars! Monday and Tuesday at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco, California 94102)!

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Confessions of a Copy-Editor

Marissa Skudlarek is an editing tornado. 

“Eagle eyes,” my mother used to call me. This nickname may sound odd, because I’ve worn thick glasses since I was five years old, but she was referring to my talent for observation, and especially for spotting errors. I’d be reading some kids’ book, notice a typo and, frowning, show the error to my mother. “Why don’t you write a nice letter to the publisher, sweetie, and tell them what you found?” she’d say.

With a background like that – observational skills, perfectionism, and a mother who encouraged those traits – I suppose I was bound to become a copy-editor. And while I’ve tried to relax my standards a bit in this Internet age of casual communication (I don’t use capital letters on Gchat), errors in more venerable publications still bother me. Twice, I have witnessed The New Yorker print “vocal chords” instead of “vocal cords,” and each time, this makes me think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

I have now copy-edited four books in two years: two volumes of the Bay One-Acts anthology, and two volumes of the Olympians Festival anthology. Copy-editing plays, especially anthologies of plays from multiple authors, must be one of the most challenging editorial tasks there is. If you’re copy-editing, say, a nonfiction article or an academic essay, you can generally trust that the piece will be in paragraphs of several sentences each, that the author wants to adhere to standards of English grammar and punctuation, that pretty much every sentence will end with a period, etc. (Well, I don’t envy the person who had to copy-edit David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster – but most essayists are not DFW.)

Plays, though, are descriptivist, rather than prescriptivist – they reflect the way people actually talk, not the way that grammarians tell us we should talk. Before you can correct a grammatical mistake in a play, you have to determine whether it’s the author’s mistake or the character’s. When a playwright forgets the punctuation mark on the end of a line of dialogue, you can’t just assume that she wants a period to go there – what if the line should end in an ellipsis, or a dash, or an exclamation point?

Then, imagine doing that for twelve different playwrights, who all have their own idiosyncrasies and tics. For instance, some playwrights favor en-dashes and some favor the longer em-dash – both are acceptable in American English. And every playwright has her own method of dealing with stage directions (italicized and tabbed, parenthetical, or a mixture of both) and as long as the reader doesn’t get confused, that’s usually OK. But an anthology ought to have internal consistency between the plays. More than half of my job as a copy-editor involves converting parenthetical stage directions into italicized ones, or en-dashes into em-dashes. And don’t get me started on the writers who like to use hyphens instead of dashes…

I feel like copy-editing allows me to develop an incredibly intimate relationship with a writer’s words. Actors, directors, and scholars may all do in-depth analyses of the plays they work on, but do they scrutinize them at the level I do, considering every apostrophe, every comma? I hear the writer’s voice, I discern her personality in the placement of every punctuation mark. I learn which writers favor elaborate stage directions and which are minimalists; which writers sit at their computers and pound out dialogue so fast that they neglect punctuation, and which ones meticulously place every semicolon.

Because of my perfectionism, I also find that I’m a de facto fact checker in addition to being a copy-editor. I love this part of the job, since it lets me make use of some of the random knowledge that clutters up my head. All information is useful for a copy-editor. For the second volume of the Olympians book, I was editing a play where a character said that Election Day 2008 was on November 2. But I remembered that I donated to the Obama campaign in 2008 and, in return, got a T-shirt that said “VOTE NOV 4TH” in big letters. I emailed the playwright and asked him if he wanted me to change the date in the text to “November 4.”

Or you could decry me for wasting time on fashion and pop-culture websites, but if I didn’t pay attention to stuff like that, how would I know that Zooey Deschanel spells her first name in that Salingeresque fashion, rather than the more common “Zoe”? (“Zoe” to “Zooey” is another mistake I can recall correcting in the course of my copy-editing projects.)

I even find that being a copy-editor has made me a better writer. The book designers/layout editors I work with always claim that it’s necessary to strip all formatting (e.g. italics) from a play before they do the layout and make the proof copy. Therefore, one necessary evil of copy-editing is going through the proof copy, comparing it to the playwright’s draft, and replacing the italics that were removed. This exercise has convinced me that playwrights don’t need italics half as often as they think they do. Sure, sometimes the italics provide much-needed clarification by indicating which word the actor should stress. But most of the time, the italics don’t seem to serve any discernable purpose and the line isn’t measurably improved by adding them back.

So, copy-editing my play Pleiades for the Olympians anthology, I’ve elected not to replace some of the italics that got stripped away. The climactic scene of the play is dramatic enough as it is – littering it with italics just makes it looks like I don’t trust the actors to play the scene with the appropriate intensity. Italics, punctuation, formatting, and all of those other details only get you so far. At some point, the words have to stand on their own.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and copy-editor. If you found any spelling or grammatical mistakes in this column, please tell her about them in the comments.