A couple days ago, I got an email from playwright Ben Fisher about a new thing he’s starting up called the San Francisco Theater Pub.
As I’m sure he knew, any time you put “theater” and “pub” that close together, you’ve got my attention. So I emailed him back to find out exactly what this wondrous thing called a “theater pub” could be. It turned into the interview below.
Q. I’m intrigued. What exactly is San Francisco Theater Pub?
It’s pretty much what it sounds like — a hybrid of a theater and a bar. The idea is that an audience comes in, has a few drinks and enjoys a bar atmosphere, watches a performance, and then goes back to socializing. The other founders and I have been in discussions with the owners of the Café Royale on Post and Leavenworth, and we are planning to produce a series of performances over the course of the year (and, if it all goes well, hopefully well beyond that).
Q. Is this a new thing for Café Royale?
Currently, the Café Royale has live music, poetry readings, stand-up, and improv, but this is going to be a little different. Because of the bar setting and the unique opportunities that affords, the sorts of things we hope to mount in the Theater Pub are going to be somewhat unlike the kinds of performances you might expect to find in more traditional theater space.
Q. So you’ll tailor the pieces to the performance space.
It’s still a bar even when the performance is happening, which gives us some limitations in terms of the sort of things we can do, but those limitations are also empowering. I think it allows us to create an atmosphere that is a little more casual and a little more playful. The four of us have talked about the word ‘play’ a lot as we put together our season — we want people to come in and have a good time, enjoy pieces that are good and artistically engaging but also little scrappier and a little more spontaneous.
Q. And hopefully reach people who aren’t already going to theater.
I keep thinking of Brecht’s essay on “Theater as Sport,” where he talks about his desire to make a play like a soccer game — a play where the audience is active and engaged, rooting for the characters like sports teams. The bar setting does something similar. People who don’t go to theatre (because they see it as elitist or pretentious or whatever) will hopefully enjoy the experience because the performances are short and lively and there will be beer.
Q. My kind of show.
We want people to have a good time and to be entertained. We want it to be fun, really fun, and we don’t think we need to compromise ourselves artistically to do so. If anything, we have greater freedom to be artistically adventurous — when was the last time you heard of any theater staging Cyclops?
Q. Your adaptation of Cyclops is the first reading. Why that play?
It’s a perfect play for a bar if there ever was one. The story is a reboot of the story from the Odyssey where Odysseus gets the Cyclops drunk and blinds him, and the characters feel much more contemporary than their Homeric counterparts. Like many of Euripides’ plays, it’s incredibly modern in its thinking. It’s also fantastically irreverent and very clever.
Q. You guys have a history with Euripides.
Victor Carrion, Brian Markley, Stuart Bousel and I are the four founders. Victor and Brian are two of the founders of AtmosTheatre in Woodside, and Stuart and I are both Associate Artists there. I met them all last summer when I played Euripides in the Atmos production of The Frogs (which Stuart directed).
Q. This isn’t just a one time event, though. It’s more or less monthly?
Next month, on February 15th, Stuart is directing a Valentine’s Day Pageant — we asked ourselves why is it that only Christmas and Thanksgiving have pageants? There’s a lot of comic potential to be mined there. In March, Brian is putting together a new work that revolves around the San Francisco bus system. And there are some other things in the pipeline as well.
Q. Well, I think a Theater Pub is an idea whose time has come.
It seems like there is a real demand in the theater community and in the city itself for a place like this — a great haven for artists where you can go see something different and original every time, where you can stay up having great conversations about the meaning of art, where people who aren’t in to theater become engaged and people who are heavily involved find a new outlet to express themselves.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
If you are interested in being a part of The San Francisco Theater Pub in the future, come to Cyclops and the other events. Drag your friends. Buy a lot of beer and tip well. I want to make January 18, 2010 the best Monday night on record for the bar so that we can prove that the Theater Pub idea not only works, but that it will flourish. And then find me or one of the other founders afterward and let us know you want to be a part and what you’ve got in mind. Hell, the event is free and what else have you got happening on a Monday?
Q. And there will be live music.
Live folk music played by West of Shannon. They’ll play a little to underscore the piece, and also some songs before and after that are tied in with some of the play’s themes.
Q. And beer.
There will be beer.
Cyclops by Euripides, adapted by Bennett Fisher, at San Francisco Theatre Pub, Café Royale, 800 Post St, San Francisco, Jan 18 at 7:30 pm.