Things To Read

Some good stuff from around the web recently:

  • Travis Bedard has a “call to action” for critics: “Give your audience context for each show you talk about. An extra online paragraph. Feature the author, or a performer, or the venue – how does this production fit into the town? Or the season?”
  • Speaking of Shotgun, Robert Hurwitt has an article in the SF Chronicle about their busy August, which not only includes the Norman trilogy but also the first of Jon Tracy’s The Salt Plays.
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Travis Bedard Post About ArtsDepot

I’ve been waiting to link to this because I wanted to say something more profound than “This is awesome,” but life is way too busy. So go read this post by Travis Bedard on the 2AMt blog. It’s an awesome idea. Austin should help make it possible — basically, turning an abandoned Home Depot into an Arts Depot with three performance spaces in it: one 99 seat house and two 50 seat houses.

What does this do? (Quoting Travis now):

  1. Creates more performance spaces for Austin.
  2. Provides a space for artists to create in community. I want to model this on Sandy Stone’s amazing ACTLab at the University of Texas. Friction requires proximity. Giving people the tools necessary to create includes access to one another.
  3. Equal opportunity for visual, performance, and movement artists.In the same space. The future means not separating specialties.
  4. It creates a space in the building for the audiences and artists to interact. There is no physical break between the experience and the interaction. Getting in your car and separating yourself from the experience to go to the bar euthanizes the moment. Can you imagine the audiences from three Fusebox shows all emptying into the same cafe at once and talking about art and performance and feeling the glow that only shared experience can bring?
  5. It creates opportunity for awareness. With three shows running you will be exposed to a broader cross-section of available than being at one far-flung location.

On a “go read better blogs than this one” note, you should be reading 2AMt and Travis Bedard regularly.

Finally Back

I was gone most of February and March for my residency at KHN Center, working on a full-length play commission.

I was gone most of March and April for my mom’s funeral, helping my dad adjust from life as a caregiver to life on his own.

I was gone most of April and May because M’s working on a Texas travel guide, which led to photos of places like this:

I am now back and looking forward to seeing a few plays, writing a few plays, and drinking a few beers following both aforementioned activities.

‘BODY AWARENESS’ at Hyde Park Theatre

Where have I been? Well, for the last two weeks, I was in Austin. Where, last Thursday, I saw Annie Baker’s Body Awareness at Hyde Park Theatre, my old stomping grounds. (I was Literary Manager back when it was Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre.)

I went because (a) I saw a reading of the play at the 2007 Bay Area Playwrights Festival and freaking loved it; and (b) because I want to submit Zombie Town there and I wanted to see who’s in charge of what nowadays; and (c) because Spike Gillespie wrote perhaps the best review a play could ever get:

Wait, in case I did not make myself clear: I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT. And I love it so much that I am actually going to joyfully break down and BUY tickets to see it again. I am utterly spoiled with review tickets to lots and lots of shows. This one I’m happy to pay to see a second time. And maybe a third time and a fourth time. Kenny– if you’re reading this (and I know you are) YOU HAVE GOT TO HOLD THIS ONE OVER. Please!

You should probably not read the whole thing. It will make you want to a book a Jet Blue flight immediately.

Making Theater Personal

Two recent posts tie into something I’m extremely interested in: breaking down the weirdly formal atmosphere that accompanies most theater.

I’ve worked front of house quite a bit — taking tickets, working concessions, standing around not doing much of anything (a.k.a. “ushering for a large theater”) — and always went out of my way to engage with the patrons.

I may have picked it up from M, who, when we ushered together, once noticed a woman running in seconds before the doors were about to close and took a moment to smile and say, “It’s okay. You made it.”

You could see the woman make an instant mental shift from her awful commute to “This is a fun night out,” with two seconds’ worth of a genuinely human connection.

As a patron, I find I have two distinct experiences. At the cool little indie theaters, there’s generally a festive atmosphere, a cheap beer, a community of people who know each other, and oftentimes a member of the cast taking tickets, selling drinks and handing out programs.

The play starts and hey, there’s that guy who sold me Two Buck Chuck, and now I’m pulling for him because he seemed like a nice guy and gave me the broken cookie for free.

At the larger institutional theaters, on the other hand, I’m usually the youngest person in the room, surrounded by a bunch of strangers all quietly staring at the closed doors and waiting for them to open — not unlike my experience in the elevator at my grandmother’s nursing home.

That’s why Travis Bedard’s experience at Robert Faires’ one-man Henry V struck a chord:

On arriving at the OffCenter and receiving my complimentary champagne… I was informed that I would be seated. This is odd for our fringe spaces, but what the hell… not my show. I waited. And Robert greeted me and showed me to a seat of his choosing.

On setting out to perform a one man version of Henry V, Mr. Faires wasn’t pacing out back trying to find his inner Dionysus, cramming scene 4, or opening his 4th chakra, he was personally greeting and seating all 60 of his guests.

Did he then run out back to compose himself 10 minutes before curtain? No. He simply stepped on stage, surrounded by 20 of those guests, adjusted his props and began when his lights shifted.

If you want to do plays that “emphasize the liveness of theater,” this is where to start.

Why? Well, Ken Davenport says it’s because we have a “natural instinct to want to interact . . . especially with things put on display. It’s so much of the majority’s curiosity that we have to put up signs telling us not to, when it’s not appropriate or not safe.”

I also went to see a show on Sunday. This show took advantage of our natural curiosity and had actors handing out programs, had the star talking to the audience, and even had a couple of audience members on the stage. And a better time was had by all as a result.

It’s simple, and not ground-breaking, but it works every time. Why? Because it’s part of who we are.

We want to feed the animals.

Look, not every show allows for this kind of stuff. I get that. I can’t imagine helping to sell beer and hand out programs and then flipping a switch and starting to play Hamlet. Then again, I wouldn’t have imagined helping to seat people and then flipping a switch and starting a one-man version of Henry V.

The point is…well, the point is what Travis said:

That, my friends, is what we should strive for in the aura around our storytelling, that personal touch. That will curtail the feeling of entitlement on both sides that enables the behavior that we bitch about at the bar and keeps them from showing up in the first place.

I Really Love This Blog

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I run across new blogs from time to time, but it’s not often that I feel compelled to keep clicking farther and farther back into the archives. You might feel the same if you haven’t yet seen Travis Bedard’s blog for his Cambiare Productions.

Recent posts include his response to that Guardian article about doing theatre that isn’t boring:

My boring is not your boring is not Anthony Neilson’s boring. So I would like to retrench the sentiment slightly, and make it an actionable item. By way of doing so I would like to point out musician Amanda Palmer’s latest blog post. Ms. Palmer, aside from roaming in support of her stunning new album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer), is taking time to return to her high school and work with them in creating a new play.

But read the entry. She can’t get the words out fast enough to contain her excitement. And that is my simplistic action statement. Match her. There is no way to ‘not make boring theatre’, any more than you can prove a negative. Make theatre that excites you. Make it as well as you can.

Someone may find it boring. Folks may hate it. But you will have fulfilled your larger duty to capital T Theatre. If Neil Simon excites you? DO IT. Do it well. If zombie rock operas excite you? DO IT.

I also like how he responded to Scott Walter’s post about an artist’s responsibility by spelling out what he considers his own responsibility to his theater community and to the broader Austin community.

(And the fact that he’s from Austin and mentions stuff that makes me homesick, like Salvage Vanguard and The Vortex and Austin Java is icing on the cake.)

Best of all: I no longer have to do any blogging of my own. I can just link to his super-cool posts and say I agree. Sweet.

Theatre Bars

The Guardian’s Theatre Blog has an article by Molly Flatt that talks about theatre bars. As one of the co-hosts of Playwrights Pub Night, a homebrewer of beers, and a fan of theatres that let you bring in drinks, this was definitely an article that caught my eye.

For me, one of the best parts of any night at the theater is hanging out in a bar afterward and talking about the play; or, better, talking about issues or topics inspired by the play; or, best, talking about things that have nothing to do with the play but that wouldn’t have been discussed had we not come together as an audience to watch said play.

All of those things are better with drinks.

Where do you go after you see a play? I find that after a show at the Exit, I have nowhere to go now that Original Joe’s is gone. That used to be where both audience and cast would hang out; now it seems people just see shows and leave. (Although after Mud, Marisela and Sonia and I walked up to Post Street for Thai food and Singha, so maybe there’s more to explore up that way?)

After Magic Theatre events, I often end up at Liverpool Lil’s for some reason. It’s not walking distance and bypasses several bars in between, so I’m not sure why that’s become a hangout, but it has. Mayor Gavin Newsom once serenaded me on the accordion there.

After Impact shows, we usually go to Spats. There’s a perfectly good pizza and beer place right above the theatre, but people generally go there before the show and then drink afterward at Spats. Maybe the time it takes to get to the bar gives everyone a chance to let the play settle in so you can have an actual opinion.

After PlayGround, everyone generally goes to either Beckett’s or Jupiter. I tend to be overanxious to get there and go to the one everyone says they’re heading to, only to find that somewhere along the way everyone headed to the other. I imagine this makes it look like I’m rounding everyone up to go out for a beer and then not actually showing up myself, but enough people usually make it to the wrong place to make it worth staying.

The two best theatre/drinking experiences I’ve had were in Austin. First, we used to have a standing Wednesday Night Beer Night at Posse East. No need to call or make plans; just show up and you were 99% sure that someone else would be there. This was in the days when we were doing improv shows on Thursday, two on Friday, two on Saturday, and rehearsals on Sunday, so by Wednesday the group had gone three whole days without seeing each other and we were desperate to get together again.

But best of all was drinking after those shows. Our improv group owned its own theatre, with its own bar and restaurant, so we’d close down the room and hang out and drink until early the next morning. I’m not sure it was technically legal, but it was definitely fun.

Am I missing any good places to hang out after a show? Is there a new place that people go near the Exit? What about in the “Theater District” after an SF Playhouse, Un-Scripted Theater, Phoenix Theatre or A.C.T. show? Anyone?

A “Friend” At The Lark

You know how you can read someone’s blog and website and Facebook status updates and sort of feel like you have a relationship — and then one day you realize you’ve never actually met this person and you probably have no business referring to them as a “friend”?

That happened to me today when I read this:

The Lark Play Development Center announced today the appointment of Megan Monaghan as Artistic Program Director after a comprehensive national search…. Monaghan comes to the Lark from her post as Literary Manager at South Coast Repertory Theatre where she spearheaded new play commissioning and development projects and served as co-director of the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

When I was in Austin, I got hired to be the literary manager (technically the “literary associate”) at Frontera @ Hyde Park Theatre about three days after Megan Monaghan left to become Director of Playwright Services at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. For an entire year, every letter I got was addressed to her, and my job was to read the play, write up a summary and a recommendation, and then write a letter back explaining who the hell I was and where Megan had gone.

So I always felt a connection to her, and followed her career as she went to Alliance Theater and then South Coast Rep — and it suddenly hit me that we may have never met. (There’s a chance she was at Vicky’s goodbye party and that we drank a margarita together about 10 years ago, but that’d be it.)

Which means I’m in the awkward position of being excited for and wishing congratulations to someone who has no idea I exist. How very 2008.

Just A Few Highlights

Okay, so now that I’m back, I’ll mention just a few highlights. It’s hard to sum up a three week trip that covered Ashland, Portland, Astoria, Seaview, Monterosa, Olympia, Tacoma, Bellevue, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Port Townsend, Leavenworth, Wanatchee, Ellenburg, Yakima, Grandview, Walla Walla, Bend, Crater Lake and Klamath Falls, but here are three I’ll definitely remember:

Crater Lake. This was taken in the middle of June. The first time I’ve seen snow in about 20 years, having lived in Austin and then San Francisco that whole time, and it’s the middle of freaking June. I will never again whine about how cold it is in San Francisco in August.

Java Jive. This place was a roadside attraction in Tacoma. I assumed it was going to be a tiny little coffee shop that closed at 3PM. Oh no, my friends. It’s a very cool dive bar, with live music and cheap beer and friendly bartenders and it used to have monkeys in a cage behind the stage until someone realized it was cruel to subject monkeys to all those Kurt Cobain wannabes.

Blackwood Canyon Winery. See that dirt-covered homeless-looking dude? That’s the winemaker and winery owner. The guy’s worth — well, he just sold off part of his land to a guy from Microsoft for about $6 million, and he owns a huge chunk of Santa Barbara where he caters parties for Oprah. But when you visit his winery, it’s just him and about six dogs roaming around the place. The guy’s super-interesting: he basically hijacked our day and took us through a complete history of winemaking, with five hours of sampling some amazing wine, including some that sells for $125 a bottle. He even paired some of his wine with food he whipped up for us in the back room. Then he walked us out to the fields where we drank some unbelievable French-style dry rosé right from the barrels. An incredible day, and a good reason to be married to a travel writer.

The Playwrights’ Center Has A Blog

pc.pngAnd it goes by the brilliant name “The Playwrights’ Center Blog.” Two of my favorite playwrights have already chimed in.

Dan Dietz was an Austin playwright back when I was an Austin playwright. (And we each had offices in the late lamented ArtPlex back in Austin, although I have no reason to believe he ever knew I existed.) His stuff is awesome; he’s one of the main people who put Austin theater in general and Salvage Vanguard in particular on the national theater radar.

And Melanie Marnich was the playwright I lobbied for the most back when I was a literary management type with Frontera@Hyde Park Theater. We had a couple of her plays early on, and I think I may have annoyed the hell out of the artistic director with all my pushing for production.

Add it to your blogroll, people.