Theatre Seen a look back at 2016

I am grateful that I’ve been able to see as much theatre as I have this year – 39 shows!  The San Francisco Bay Area is an amazing place to be for theatre.  For every show I saw there were five I wasn’t able to make it to see.  There were some shows I saw this year that particularly landed with me and have made lasting impressions.  So as a look-back, here are my highlights.

I was so touched by Pear Avenue’s production of The Mountaintop that I spent a while in the car sobbing, before I could pull myself together.  I went home and blogged about it, because I couldn’t contain the emotions.

With Ex Nihilo’s Terra Incognita (episodes 1, 2, & 3), I can be accused of not being impartial since I ended up performing in the last three episodes, but in all honesty there was part of me that was sad I wasn’t getting to watch it unfold with the audience.  These episodes about the three sisters on their otherworldly road trip were special and fun and sometimes very touching and poetic.  Bridgette Dutta Portman, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, and Elizabeth Flanagan used the premise of their story and the nature of radio plays imaginatively; they balanced moments of outright silliness with other moments sprung from and grounded in grief, love, fear, and acceptance.  Supported by the sound design by Jason Jeremy it was magical.  If you missed it, you really did miss a terrific experience.

I enjoyed the way Stuart Bousel (director) pulled forward the vulnerability and the love in Custom Made’s Six Degrees of Separation. It made the situation compelling and upped the stakes, which allowed the journey – especially for Ouisa and Paul – to have a poignancy I found satisfying and unexpected.  Genevieve Perdue, Matt Weimer, Khary L. Moye, Sam Bertken, and Alisha Ehrlich each had very powerful and touching performances.   Each of them memorable months later.

Cal Shakes’ Othello was controversial for some, and I understand why, but I loved it.  I felt that the disruption of the play added something exciting and occasionally uncomfortable – but necessarily uncomfortable – to the experience.  Not for everyone, but I loved it.  Aside from the disruptions and the unusual structure, I also found the performances to be great.  One of the best Iagos I’ve seen and one of the most assured, comfortable portrayals of Othello, coupled with an easy, natural, charismatic Desdemona.  I could have been watching any number of young couples I’ve known.  I understood things in the script that I’d never seen or grasped before.

Hurt Village produced by Ubuntu Theatre, I thought was brilliant.  The performances were passionate and intense and at times heartbreaking.  I was drawn to Cookie, her life, her story, her mother.

The Permanent Collection put so much out there front and center that needs to be talked about with regard to bias, privilege, institutional racism in areas that we don’t usually talk about it – art museums, corporate offices, and other white collar spaces liberal white intellectuals take for granted.  There were Mamet-esque moments that reminded me of Oleana in the exchanges between the two leads.  (Did he, didn’t he?) In my opinion more interestingly executed.  The three women, though in supporting roles, were stand outs as well for how three dimensional they were written and how much presence the actors gave them.  Similarly Emmitt & Ava used fresh grief and anguish to strip away social graces and expose micro-aggressions and underlying prejudices.  The entire situation was tense and didn’t let the audience off the hook, which I liked.  I thought the cast did an excellent job and deserved a bigger house to perform for.

On the Hill:  I Am Alex Nieto was powerful because it was so raw and unpolished.  It was a community gathering both on and off stage; everyone in the theatre had personal stories that connected them, if not directly then through shared realities or the desire to share a world where incidents like Alex’s don’t happen.   The young people who were involved in creating and performing the work were compelling and empowered.  I’m grateful to have been there.

By far my favorite show of the year, was Awakening at Breadbox.  I’ve gushed, embarrassingly, to anyone who will listen about how much I loved it.  The book was a powerful experience for me in my preteens, giving my nascent feminism a hook by which I would anchor myself for years to come.  Everything about the production made my heart sing and weep.  The script, the set, the costumes, the acting, the directing – goodness the directing. I have never wanted a play to be produced again and again everywhere as much as I want this one to be done.

Dogeaters at the Magic, Bagyo at Theatre First, and Paradise Street at Exit, enchanted me with their scale, poetry, and breadth of storytelling.  Dear Master at Aurora and Word for Word’s All Aunt Hagar’s Children brought the literary form to dramatic performance; both effectively and with terrific design.  In all four of these I learned a lot, while I was engaged and entertained and moved.

I look forward to more in 2017.

2016 in Review

Every year at this time I think “my god that was a crazy busy year, next year will be so much lighter,”  and since it’s an annual thought, that means it’s never actually a lighter year.  This year was one of the busiest I’ve ever had.  It was a blessing of projects and artistic challenges.  Whether I was out of my comfort zone performing for the first time in 30 years or accepting a leadership role in an established theatre company or more familiar ground with directing staged readings for ReproRights and PCSF, the year has been full of intense experiences and a lot of laughter and delight with new creative relationships around every corner.

  • Acting:
    I performed in Spare Stage’s production of Alan Bennett’s TALKING HEADS and got a few lovely mentions in favorable reviews.  I took over the role of Decima in Ex Nihilo’s radio play series TERRA INCOGNITA for three episodes, which was incredibly fun.  I read in Madeline Puccioni’s stage reading of CYCLONE DANCING for PCSF.  I’ve continued my participation in TRI’s monthly reading series reading various parts every month or so.
  • Directing:
    I started the year with stepping into completely unknown territory by directing an excerpt from a musical, THE RIGHT NOTE, for the Winter Musical Cafe Showcase. I had the pleasure of directing staged readings for ReproRights! The Body Politic both in August with 3Girls Festival of New Works and November at PianoFight and worked with so many phenomenal actors and terrific scripts.  I’ll cherish that experience for a long time.  Vital work.   I squeezed in direction of Vonn Scott Bair’s THE POSSIBILITY at PCSF for a staged reading in the spring. I directed an evening of new one acts for the stage reading festival of new works SF OLYMPIANS FESTIVAL in October at the Exit.  And we just wrapped up the full production of PCSF’s PLAYOFFS 2016, wherein I directed four of the eight plays.  I was also overjoyed that Sheherezade 15 received the TBA Award for Outstanding Anthology (I directed four of the eight plays last year).
  • Writing:
    One of my short plays, AS OF ONE, was included in ReproRights! The Body Politic, directed by Nikki Menez.  I was also selected as one of the Playground’s Monday Night Playground writer’s pool writers for the 2016/2017 season and had my first play submitted, THE VISIT, was given a reading.  I wrote my first attempt at anything musical-like with AND OTHER NECESSITIES for Playground, which wasn’t selected, but I’m proud to have made the attempt and gotten anything halfway decent done and submitted.  I look forward to the writing prompts and months to come.  I also wrote a very silly thing, SYD’S STARS, for the 48-Hour Film Fest that was a rip off of Charlie’s Angels, much fun and got to see the screening of it.  I was also selected to be a playwright for next years SF OLYMPIANS FESTIVAL, writing a one-act about Hathor.  And although it was not theatre oriented at all, I did write/create a murder mystery party for a friend for Halloween that was a huge success and quite amusing.  I continue to work on a couple of my full-length play projects.
  • Artistic Director:
    At the end of the Talking Heads production, the Spare Stage Artistic Director, Stephen Drewes, had me over for coffee and offered me his company and his role.  This was a completely unexpected honor and after a few months of City, State, and IRS paperwork we got everything squared away and formally announced the change last month.  I’m looking forward to my first season in 2017/2018 and continuing the company’s vision for exploring complex ideas on a spare stage.  I’m in discussions with a few people for production opportunities, reading reading reading more established works, and hope to make some announcements about programming in January.

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As busy as it’s been, this is my theatre life and I love it.  It is life and air and sustenance and I, we, need it more than ever before.

 

Theatre Seen

Because as much as I have going on with creative projects, it’s not all about me, so I’ve been seeing a lot of theatre lately.  Most recently, Fences at CalShakes which was achingly well performed, Hurt Village at Ubuntu Theatre Project which was powerful and fresh, and Emmett & Ava at Broadway Playhouse SF which was a more cerebral but still impactful experience; all of which I’d highly recommend, though Emmett & Ava is the only one still playing.  This week I’ve started off with Shelton Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire.  A very solid production and the woman playing Blanche is devastating; worth it just to see her. (For as many productions as I’ve spent in that space, I can’t believe that was actually my first time seeing a Shelton production there).

I read Awakening 30 years ago and it had a profound affect on me.  It’s a touchstone novel.  I am excited to see what Breadbox has done with their adaptation on the 13th and very thrilled that they’ve had a completely sold out run.

I admire Patricia Milton more than I can express, she’s been a mentor of sorts (though she might not know it) and colleague for more than ten years.  I’ve directed her work, produced it, performed it in readings, read it in progress, and avidly watched it performed.  I look forward to seeing her latest Hearts of Palm on the 20th.

Also on the list are You Never Can Tell (CalShakes), Dear Master (Aurora), Speed of Light (Quantum Dragon), Seascape (Role Players Ensemble), Margaret of Anjou (Those Women Productions), Real Women Have Curves (Douglas Morrison).

Maybe I’ll see you there!

ReproRights! Twitterviews Meet the Writers

Don’t miss the Twitter Interviews with ReproRights writers.  So far, Madeline Puccioni, Maggie Wilson, and myself.  Coming up Nicole Joost, Lorraine Midanik, Pamela Winfrey, and more.  One of the things I love about ReproRights! The Body Politic is the different stories and voices included.  The 8/25 show is sold out with a waiting list, but there may be other chances to see it and even if not, the dialogue about what inspired us, why we are telling these stories, and who we are is still interesting and important.

Walking the ellipses…

I picked the name for this little blog more because I liked the sound of it, than that I had anything I could articulate.  For most of my life I’ve abused that form of punctuation and relate to it in general more than I do to others.  But as I write this, I feel like right now nothing sums up my life and the world in general as well as the ellipses.  Gaps being bridged. Volumes communicated in silence. Answers pending. Work behind the scenes.  The things not said.  Suspense.  Exasperation.

While I’m in the middle of a job search for the professional life I don’t have much interest in talking about here, I’m working full time on several theatre projects.  Taking advantage of the downtime to be productive elsewhere.  I have a big announcement to make about something that I hope will be a grand creative journey, but not yet.  I can’t announce it yet. I’m directing for another show this fall, but can’t announce that yet either.  I also submitted to a writer’s program that I don’t believe I’ll be selected for (it’s rare for people to be selected the first time they apply), but there’s a possibility I could be, which would be a great opportunity.

Of the things I can talk about …  ReproRights! The Body Politic has a one night only performance on August 25th as part of the 3Girls Theatre New Works Festival.  I announced previously that my play AS OF ONE is included, but since then (aside from actually writing the play, which had been merely a proposal before) I also took on directing one half of the show.  It means a lot to me.  Women’s body and personal autonomy, now especially, is such a critical, important conversation to be had. The pieces in this show are all – every one of them – powerful in different ways.  Different voices, different stories, different topics.  I’m very very proud to be part of it and thrilled that it has sold out already with a waitlist – that’s more than two weeks out it’s already fully reserved.  As a director I’m especially excited to be working with the cast, I feel like Santa brought all my presents this year.

On August 19th I’ll be playing Decima again in the fifth installment of Ex Nihilo’s Tera Incognita at the Octopus Literary Lounge in Oakland.  It’s free but reservations are strongly recommended.  The playwright has asked me to sing a little bit for this episode, which is not something I normally ever think of myself doing, and I’m glad it’s just a little snippet, but also kind of looking forward to trying it.

I will also be taking on a challenge that is new to me on August 19th.  I’ve joined one of the creative teams for the 48-Hour Film Festival.  What this means is that I’ll have a few hours on the evening of the 19th to write a 4-7 minute screenplay, which will be filmed and edited that weekend.  Since I’ll be in rehearsals for ReproRights as well as seeing a couple of shows that weekend, I won’t be able to participate in the filming or editing.  But as terrified of this as I am, I’m also really really looking forward to stretching these skills.  I’m thankful to Wesley Cayabyab and Colin Hussey for asking me to take part.

In September I’ll be reading a part in another developmental reading for PCSF as part of their reading series.  THE SEPARATION by Aren Hahn on September 26th at the Shelton in SF.

I will also be directing one of the nights of the Olympians Festival in October.  Three one-acts, dubbed The Servants (October 14th at the Exit) which will include plays by Marissa Skudlarek, Bridgette Dutta Portman, and Elizabeth Flanagan.  I’m really pleased to have been asked and can’t wait to explore these plays and work with these intelligent writers.  Knowing them, I know that each is going to have a very different voice and style and good, as in don’t miss it good.

My own writing is also making slow, if sometimes painful, progress.  UNDERNEATH THE ABOVE AND BELOW has shape and theme, about 34 pages so far and even plot!  I’m exploring what happens when we break the rules, in a common way, one that is very low risk, one that people do frequently enough to have normalized it, but it goes terribly wrong.  What does it say about us?  How do we handle it?  How do others judge us, and is that fair?   PITCHFORK AND LIGHT is at about 54 pages and while I have the mechanics of the murder that’s at the heart of this, as well as a strong sense of who each of these characters is, I struggle with some of the plot points.  P&L is looking at what happens when something from our past intrudes on and disrupts our present.  I explore different kinds of abuse and how we have to change our view of people after they die.  What excites me about this one is incorporating dance (and I have my eye on a choreographer I want to collaborate with).

So my theatre life continues to be full and sometimes overcommitted, but always in flux and always stretching and growing.  Two years ago I would have scoffed at the idea that I’d be doing so much directing, that I’d have acted in anything, that I’d be trying a screenplay.  Life’s not too bad on the ellipses…

 

 

Upcoming Projects – Spring/Summer

2016 is proving to be a very fulfilling year already.  The Musical Cafe Showcase was a perfect way to kick things off.  In March I had the joy of acting again in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads with Spare Stage.  In April I had the pleasure of channeling my inner Velma (a la Scooby Doo) for Ex Nihilo‘s episode four of Terra Incognita, directed by the fantastic ShawnJ West and featuring sound engineering by Jason Jeremy.  I also got to play with an old friend reading Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star in a private workshop reading.

In May, I’ll be directing Vonn Scott Bair’s modular play The Possibility for a staged reading at The Playwright’s Center of San Francisco.  The play is a full-length “modular play” depicting the internal struggles of a man and a woman who think about the possibility of adultery–and who might act upon that. In this iteration, we’ll be exploring the circular nature of the possibility.  The cast includes Richard Wenzel, Erika Anne Soerensen, Geoffrey Malveaux, and Ria Meer.

In June, I’ll be returning to the role of Decima in Ex Nihilo’s Terra Incognita episode five, directed by Kelli Krump at the Octopus Literary Lounge.

Today Repro Rights announced their line up for The Body Politic an evening of short plays, songs, poetry and monologues about women’s reproductive rights and body autonomy.  I’m thrilled to have my short play, AS OF ONE, included.  This will be my second year participating in this important and powerful evening of theatre.  It’s presented as part of Three Girls Theatre‘s New Work Festival in August.  AS OF ONE examines how centuries of cultural silence and squashed debate about the issues women face with regard to their autonomy and body have affected our perception of things and how the breaking of that silence is having various results.  Auditions will be in Mid-July.

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I also have a huge project in the works, but will have to wait to announce it.  Everything should be finalized in early Summer.

 

Re Acting Again

As the first weekend of performances is nearing its end, I’m reflecting a lot on what this journey has been for me. I’d given up on acting. Made an active decision that it wasn’t happening so with gut-wrenching grief officially gave up on it – except in the most incidental circumstances. I had been too busy, too preoccupied with producing and writing, had started to think I was meant for behind the scenes roles. I’d had the awkward and humility inducing experience of mentioning acting to others and, because it was not something they associated with me, had received that grimace-smile we all give when we think someone is trifling with something they don’t really know. I wanted to protest, “no really, I used to be legit. I was fucking great.” I was tired of being relegated to the stage directions ghetto, on the rare occasions I was asked to do anything. I recognized I was doing NOTHING to further that long ago held dream, so maybe it was just that, an old one. Maybe holding onto it while not really pursuing or even identifying with it anymore was holding me back from something else.
Then an old friend who had always known me as an actor first and foremost asked me to come play with her, exploring some plays she wants to possibly produce, floated the idea of actually performing together. It was fun, though a bit like waking up a limb that had gone to sleep. All prickly and odd. But it was an opening.  
Then another call out of the blue. Would I be interested in playing a role? From my theatre mentor, whose directing I admired a great deal. Who knew intimately my capabilities. Who has an impossibly high standard for theatre and performers, who would never ask me if he didn’t think I’d bring gravitas to the part. Even I, who does not believe in signs, could not pass this off. Yes!

Then the reality, the doubts. The “what the hell was I thinking?” Performing a rehearsed, language laden, accent required, 30 minutes on stage alone, piece after 30 years?! Was I insane?

Every step of this has been a revelation; either peeling away years of blocks, or discovering surprising new things about myself. Do I think I’m still great? Eh. Depends on the day and the hour. But I have proven to myself that I can do it. That I can do it well. That it feels as amazing as it used to… Maybe more so, because I just have more life experience and can appreciate it more. And because I’m more mature, I am experiencing it without the same defensiveness, insecurities, misplaced ego, and etc that I can see now held me back before.

I have no idea if it means I’ll be jumping into auditioning or what I’ll be doing in future. But one thing I do know. My fractured dream is still a part of me and the next time someone raises an eyebrow at me, I’ll shrug it off. 

That and feeling an audience respond just the right way at just the right time to something I’m doing is so fucking awesome.

   
   
We have 7 more performances.  Spare Stage TALKING HEADS, by Alan Bennett, directed by Stephen Drewes