BOA 2013 Kickstarter Campaign
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Her final interview, for the last day of BOA, is with Siobhan Doherty, director of “My Year.”
Siobhan Doherty appeared in BOA 2011 as “Mommy” in Megan Cohen’s “A Three Little Dumplings Adventure,” but this is her first time directing a BOA play. “My Year,” another play from the prolific Ms. Cohen, is a comedy-drama about six women at a surprise party. The pig in the backyard barbecue pit won’t cook, there’s a party crasher in the kitchen, and the birthday girl doesn’t like surprises.
Marissa: What attracted you to the script of “My Year” and made you select it as the play you’d direct for BOA 2013?
Siobhan: It was exciting to me that Megan was able to fit six women, each with their own arc, in a 15-minute play (this achievement is aided by the lovely rapid-fire pace of her dialogue). She doesn’t limit the scope of the play because of its short length. I also love the fact that the play doesn’t center around male/female relationships or family drama. I want people to know that plays with female protagonists can be about life in general, and not necessarily “women’s issues.” They can be gross, existential, awkward, funny, and everything in between.
Lastly, this play had a real personal connection for me, since I celebrated a major birthday myself during the rehearsal process. I think birthdays tend to be a time of personal reflection and serious yearning for release and change. I have had some various frustrations this year, which is clearly also the case for the main character of the play.
Marissa: You and Megan also happen to be housemates—what’s it been like to live with the person whose work you’re directing?
Siobhan: Wonderful. We’re both so busy that we don’t step on each other’s toes. It is extremely convenient to meet up. We also get the luxury of throwing out quick ideas and questions during casual path-crossing in the apartment. We also live above Zante’s Indian Pizza, so it’s a great excuse to indulge in that.
Marissa: Did the script change at all during rehearsals? (Did Megan come knocking on your door with rewrites at 2 AM?)
Siobhan: Megan sat in on one very early rehearsal, so she could hear the words from these particular actresses, and make a few small adjustments to let their voices shine. She also tightened some jokes and scene transitions since her original play was written in a 48-hour play festival. (48 hours!) She gave us the revised script two weeks later, and that was it.
Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in directing “My Year”?
Siobhan: Getting the cast to really connect and respond between the lines was a great turning point for the play, and so was learning that sometimes you can get the audience to howl with the characters at the end! The most frustrating challenge was getting seven freelance theatre artists in one room at the SAME TIME. Our schedules are all glorious (and horrifying) mosaics that can fluctuate at any moment. Instead of “Every day I’m hustling” I’m pretty sure my life’s anthem is: “Every day I’m scheduling.”
Marissa: “My Year” takes place at a birthday barbecue, and I know from personal experience that you and Megan throw great parties in real life. Got any party-planning tips for us? Do you think there’s a connection between being a good party host and being a good director?
Siobhan: Tips: Don’t throw parties too often. You’ll lose specialness. But throw them often enough so that people remember how wonderful your last one was, and you can maintain momentum. Once every 2-3 months is best.
Theme, theme, theme. (Our next one is a surrealist ball to celebrate the start of 13 Pennies, Megan’s ghost project.) Always have something unusual and interactive: e.g. a pinata, or an Easter egg hunt with predictions inside. Having a ride-able dinosaur is a big plus. :)
Being a hostess is like being a director in that you have to sense moods, and be able to turn the tide in another direction if need be.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “”My Year”?
Siobhan: I think “My Year” is chock full of interesting themes: the role of friendships, the perception of time, the desire for escape, our dreams/expectations, connection/ disconnection, the struggle for self-acceptance, growing older, etc. If the audience picks up on a few of those in between laughs, I’ll be happy. I also hope they leave thinking that they should give themselves permission to howl at the moon if they feel like it. I think we could all stand to vent our inevitable human frustration at the stars a little more. And if we do it together, even better.
Marissa: You’re also acting in Program 1 of BOA (as Sylvia Plath in “Write Dirty to Me”)—what’s it been like to wear two different hats this year? Do you think your background as an actor affected the approach that you took to directing “My Year”?
Siobhan: Wearing two different hats has been very fun (minus the crazy schedule part). I think my approach to directing is very actor-centric. I tried to use language that was active and motivation-based, since it is always difficult to get a direction like “have more energy” without a reason behind it. You can usually get a lot more out of an actor if you say something like “let the excitement of your idea shine through more.” It will also hopefully be more specific to who they are.
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Siobhan: I am (a small) part of Megan’s transmedia haunting project, “13 Pennies.” Get your smartphone haunted by a ghost during the month of October! Sign up at www.betterthantelevision.com.
Marissa: Siobhan, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me about “My Year”! You never fail to impress me as a performer, a party hostess, and now as a director—I think it really is your year.
“My Year” plays its final performance tonight, October 5, as part of Program 2 of BOA 2013, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Rob Ready, director of “Desiree.”
Rob Ready is a frequent BOA participant, having directed Sam Leichter’s “The Philadelphian” in 2010, Tim Bauer’s “Hot Spot” in 2011, and Leichter’s “In Bed” in 2012. Rob and Sam team up yet again in BOA 2013 with “Desiree,” a dark drama about a woman who managed to escape kidnapping and captivity–but can’t escape her past.
Marissa: What attracted you to the script of “Desiree” and made you select it as the play you’d direct for BOA 2013?
Rob: I actually asked Sam for a script. We’ve collaborated a bunch and I knew whatever he wrote would be solid and that we could work out the kinks together. So I guess Sam being awesome is the answer.
Marissa: Sam’s currently on the East Coast for grad school (he’s getting an MFA in Acting at Rutgers). What was it like to direct a new play with the playwright 3000 miles away? Did this have an effect on whether or not the script could change during rehearsals?
Rob: Sam and I went back and forth via email and phone over 5 drafts before rehearsals started — [he cut] 27 pages down to 13. By then, it was pretty set and we’d cut or changed all the wonky parts.
Marissa: Even though this is the third dark, harrowing Sam Leichter play you’ve directed for BOA, I feel like people often think of you as a comedic actor/director and your theater company, PianoFight, as a group of hilarious, party-loving people. How do you feel about this disconnect between the perception and the reality of “a PianoFight play”? Is “Desiree” a conscious attempt to diversify the PianoFight brand?
Rob: I’m down with being perceived as “hilarious party-loving people.” But that or any perception doesn’t drive decisions on what art to make. PianoFight’s first show was a full-length dramedy about college kids dealing with mental disorders. And we’ve been pretty all over the map since then. The main thing is to make art you’d want to see. If it fits that, we do it.
Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in directing “Desiree”?
Rob: Most frustrating: the play wants to be about half an hour longer than it is. Most fulfilling: working with [actors] Dave Levine, Sarah Rose Butler, and Nkechi Emeruwa.
Marissa: In “Desiree,” the plot gets set in motion when the main character, Grace, starts receiving mysterious packages in the mail. Have you ever received anything mysterious in your mailbox?
Rob: No, but in high school, some friends and I once stole a mailbox shaped like a house. Does that count?
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Desiree”?
Rob: Empathy. The world can be really shitty, especially for certain people. And a lot of the time it’s out of their control—like, there is just one terrible fucking thing after another. As functioning humans, we tend to put our guard up without really thinking about it. For example, if you stopped and really took in every homeless person you passed on the street, you’d be a crumpled teary-eyed mess who’d never get through the day. So we block stuff out and rationalize so that we can function. As we do that, it gets easier to look at someone who’s having a rough time and casually think, “Well, they fucked up. They’re responsible for their own problems.” And, yes, a lot of times that is the case. But sometimes it’s just not. Sometimes people have been dealt the shittiest hand imaginable and I hope this play reminds us to give other humans the benefit of the doubt.
Marissa: What’s up next for you and for PianoFight?
Rob: We’re going to open an awesome creative art hub in the Tenderloin that serves up shows and booze and food and tech. Full restaurant and bar in the front of the house, plus two small theaters in the back of the house, decked out with cameras to record or live-stream shows made by local, indie artists. More info at www.pianofight.com/venue.
Marissa: Yes, a lot of us San Francisco indie theater-makers are eagerly anticipating the opening of the new PianoFight complex! In the meantime, though, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your work on “Desiree.”
The final performance of “Desiree” occurs tonight, October 4, 2013, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Rem Myers, director of “Red All Over.”
This is Rem Myers’ BOA debut, as well as the debut of his new production company, Sponge Theater. “Red All Over,” a play about two biohazard workers cleaning up after an elementary-school shooting, is playwright Bennett “Ben” Fisher’s fifth consecutive appearance in BOA.
Marissa: What attracted you to the script of “Red All Over” and made you select it as the play you’d direct for BOA 2013?
Rem: Ben and I knew we wanted to work together, so it was more a question of what exactly we would work on. He tossed around a few ideas for plays—nuns waiting for white smoke in the Vatican, an accountant visiting a stock-aiding shaman—but our favorite was a dark comedy of menace involving a cleaning crew in the aftermath of a shooting. I’ve enjoyed Ben’s mix of humor and sensitivity and was excited to see what could come from this.
Marissa: Ben wrote “Red All Over” as a gender-neutral play: the cast could be two men, two women, or one of each. At what point in the process did you make the decision to cast it with two women? (For instance, did you go into the audition specifically knowing that you wanted to cast two women, or did you make that decision after watching the auditions and seeing the available talent pool?)
Rem: Yes, the script isn’t gender-specific, but we did envision the two characters as women. We specifically looked for two women at auditions, but knew men could play the roles if need be.
Marissa: There’s an interesting tension in “Red All Over” between its form and its content: it’s a short, naturalistic play that gestures toward a huge, tragic topic (a school shooting). Was it hard to keep those two qualities balanced as you directed the play?
Rem: Finding the right balance was the main challenge of the play. On one hand, we didn’t want to present a preachy play about the horrors and tragedy of a mass shooting. It was have been unnecessary; everybody already knows mass shootings are horrible and tragic. On the other hand, we didn’t want to give a big middle finger to the audience with a “screw you, we’re going to be sensational and shocking and belittle murder because theater” attitude. Focusing on the relationship between the characters and individual moments actually helped find this dynamic balance. The balance grew and found itself.
Marissa: What kind of work did you do with the actors on developing their characters? (As written, they are not only gender-neutral but age-neutral, race-neutral, etc.) Did the actors invent backstories for their characters, or are they letting the words on the page speak for themselves?
Rem: We did a fair amount of research on Hazmat workers in the initial stages and found that they, too, need to find a similar balance. They must be sensitive and emotionally present when speaking with the families of the victims, but also cannot be too emotionally invested during the actual clean-up, or they’ll risk breaking down. We found that Hazmat workers will often employ morbid humor and a matter-of-fact attitude to get through a cleanup. While we didn’t invent detailed backstories for the characters, we did use the text to extrapolate simple recent histories. Shafer (Juliana Egley) has probably been working as a cleaner for some time and has learned that disassociation works as a coping tool. O’Hare (Erika Bakse) seems newer and will still talk about the situation at hand.
Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in directing “Red All Over”?
Rem: The biggest discovery was that this play is really more about the relationship between these two women, and not about a mass shooting. Besides finding a balance between comedy and tragedy, the most difficult aspect was actually creating the bloody props. My first blood solution, while it looked great, would not dry and stuck to everything. It was a huge mess. The night before tech, I rubbed coffee grounds and paprika into each and every prop in order to stop them from sticking to everything they touched, while still remaining red. Thankfully, the blood ended up looking great without leaving a red trail behind.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “”Red All Over”?
Rem: It is difficult for people to be open to talking and listening about mass shootings, even when using theater as a medium. But I hope that by focusing on the relationship, the humor, and the characters’ response to the drawings and by not focusing on the actual shooting, that the audience is able to take in this play in a natural and unexpected manner.
Marissa: What’s up next for you and the inaugural season of Sponge Theater?
Rem: You just wait and see! But this is not the last time you’ll see Sponge Theater.
Marissa: Okay, Rem, I’ll be on the lookout! In the meantime, thank you for taking the time to discuss your work on “Red All Over” with me.
The final performance of “Red All Over” is tonight, October 4, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up are actors Melvign Badiola and Shaun Plander, who star as the Pigeons in “Two Pigeons Talk Politics.”
Melvign Badiola and Shaun Plander are both making their BOA debuts. The play they’re performing in, “Two Pigeons Talk Politics,” by Lauren Gunderson, concerns two savvy New York City pigeons struggling with ethics, morality, and existential angst… you know, typical bird stuff.
Marissa: First things first: what is it like to wear those amazing pigeon costumes? Are they comfortable? Itchy? Hot? What was your first reaction when you saw the costumes?
Melvign: It’s amazing what not having control over your arms can do for your performance! It’s semi-comfortable, hot, and itchy! My first reaction was, “Uhhh, y’all for real?”
Shaun: The pigeon costumes are definitely little heat boxes, but at this point it’s more like a warm down comforter. I could probably sleep in it.
Marissa: How do you get into character to play a bird? Did you observe pigeons in the wild? Was there a lot of physical/vocal work involved in creating that pigeon physique and squawk?
Shaun: I used to work as a tour salesman at Fisherman’s Wharf, and I got a lot of quality alone time hanging with the pigeons down there. I didn’t know how much of their behavior had seeped into my subconscious until doing this play though!
Melvign: I watched birds while trying to memorize lines in the park. I do the “croooing” before any performance. It has become a part of my pre-show warmup. The louder the better, but you must learn control. Damn, those pigeons are good!
Marissa: Have you ever played an animal (or an inanimate object) before, or is this your first time performing as a non-human?
Melvign: I must say this is the first time I am playing an animal.
Shaun: This is my first time playing an animal in a play, though I used to play some weird inanimate objects and animals in scenes for my college directing classes.
Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in performing in “Two Pigeons Talk Politics”?
Shaun: The biggest discovery for me came when I found my character’s balance between “philosopher” and “stoner”. The most frustrating challenge? Probably that I can’t use my hands to gesticulate. Or how itchy my nose gets when I get in costume.
Melvign: What’s wonderful about this particular piece is that the cast came together to make it work. It’s an awesome idea, but executing it was the real challenge. But we did it!
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Two Pigeons Talk Politics”?
Melvign: I want them to start thinking about life and how we can leave things better for our families. If these pigeons care that much, we must look dumb as hell in their eyes, what with the things we are doing to the world and each other.
Shaun: I hope the audience will take a little more time to connect and really hear each other. It’s easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of politics, and even easier to be crippled by fear of your own future. So yeah, chill out. Sign some petitions. Listen to people and get out of your head.
Marissa: It feels very appropriate that BOA is producing this play at a time when the federal government has shut down for the first time in nearly 2 decades and there’s a lot of frustration with politicians. How does it feel for you?
Shaun: There’s a very easy connection–I’m frustrated with the status, I’m frustrated with the quo, I’m frustrated every day with our political-corporate machine, but we’re all kind of pigeons. We’re small and we can’t affect much by ourselves. But we can fly in a big pack and shit all over the corporations that run our country, if we all decide we really want to.
Melvign: I am frustrated! Wish I could take a wet slimy dump on these politicians! Bwahahaha!!! And we say we are more evolved?! C’mon!!! These politicians need to get FIRED! They are in a position to look out for the people, not themselves. And what’s more infuriating is the fact they are still getting paid! FOR DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! How much more broken can a system get?! I say fire their asses! And put in people that are actually affected by their actions and decisions. After all, the government is for the people! NOT FUCKIN’ POLITICIANS!
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Shaun: My comedy group, Narcissists Anonymous, is developing two shows right now—a super fast paced and boozy bar-prov show at the 50 Mason Social House, and an hour-long improvisational show
Melvign: I am currently under the mercy of the EDD. But fortunately I have the opportunity to be a part of NCTC’s YouthAware Program, which tours middle and high schools, educating youngsters about respect, acceptance, tolerance, love, and how it is to be human. That last part is mine. I am also part of a short film titled Prinsesa, which will premiere in July 2014. Also, check out Bindlestiff Studio, where I first started out and currently serve on their board of directors and production team. It’s the only Filipino-American theater space in the whole U.S.!
Marissa: Melvign and Shaun, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about “Two Pigeons Talk Politics.” Your performances in this show prove that politics is definitely not just for the birds.
“Two Pigeons Talk Politics” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, with its final performances on October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is William Bivins, writer of “The Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth.”
William Bivins (Bill to his friends) had his play “Altered Landscape” produced in BOA 2010, one of the credits that made him the most produced playwright in the Bay Area in 2009-2010. His 2013 BOA contribution, “The Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth” is a comedy about a squabbling couple who won’t let the zombie apocalypse stop them from attending their weekly therapy appointment.
Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “The Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth”? What was the initial impetus for writing this script?
Bill: “Last Couples” was initially written for PlayGround last December. The topic that month, in keeping with the last day of the Mayan calendar [in December 2012], was “End of Days.” I initially wanted to do a story about the end of a marriage, but I thought that would be too tedious. Then I thought of a zombie apocalypse, but I thought that would be too hackneyed. So I decided to combine the two ideas.
Marissa: Stories about zombies and other disasters seem to be increasingly popular these days. Do you think this has to do with something in our current cultural moment (fear of catastrophe) or because it’s a way to tell exciting high-stakes stories?
Bill: Both, I think. There’s nothing more high-stakes than the impending end of the word; it’s been a go-to theme for humans since the dawn of storytelling. But I also think it’s become part of our zeitgeist lately because of things that are beyond my pay grade to say anything intelligent about: global warming, the fraying social fabric, political polarization, the Kardashians, etc.
Marissa: So what’s your survival plan for the zombie apocalypse?
Bill: My survival plan for the zombie apocalypse is to go to the nearest Costco. Costco has everything you need to survive a zombie onslaught: plenty of food, weapons, camping supplies, entertainment. And Costcos are big enough to house and sustain large groups of humans to repopulate the planet. Just as monasteries saved civilization during the Dark Ages, I predict Costco will save humanity during the zombie apocalypse.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “The Last Couples Therapy Session”?
Bill: How to kill zombies. The play goes into detail about that. And also how to save a marriage. But mostly how to kill zombies.
Marissa: What about “The Last Couples Therapy Session,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Bill Bivins play”?
Bill: It’s not a “Bill Bivins play;” it’s a “William Bivins play.” Bill Bivins is a computer repair guy in North Carolina who beat me to my preferred domain name, thereby compelling me to go by the more pompous-sounding William (as in williambivins.com). But to answer your question, I don’t really know what makes this feel like a William Bivins play, or, indeed, even if there is such a thing as a William Bivins play. Critics have said my plays are characterized by sardonic humor, but I don’t even know what that is.
Marissa: I think that might’ve been some sardonic humor right there. Anyway, I was also wondering how the rehearsal process for “The Last Couples Therapy Session” was. Did the script change at all during the process?
Bill: I only went to the first rehearsal. I did make a few line changes to get rid of repetitive or extraneous beats. I didn’t go to many rehearsals because I had so much confidence in Jon Lowe, the director, that I felt the play was in great hands. I was right! He and the cast did an amazing job—which made me glad I spend all that rehearsal time gambling and drinking.
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Bill: I am working on a full-length commission for Mad Cap Productions. It’s called “Horseman: The True Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Yes, it’s a retelling of the Washington Irving story. No, I did not know about the effing TV show before I got the commission. “Horseman” goes up in October 2014.
Marissa: Well, but we theater folks will have the last laugh when the zombie apocalypse takes place: everyone’s TVs will stop working, but theater can still happen! In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to discuss your BOA play, “The Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth.”
“The Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth” appears in Program 1 of BOA, with its final performances taking place on October 2 and 4 at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Michael Phillis, writer of “Babes.”
Michael Phillis is making his BOA debut with “Babes,” a comedy about two lesbians trying to explain some big topics—gender, sexuality, and love—to their new baby boy.
Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “Babes”? What was the initial impetus for writing this script?
Michael: With “Babes,” I wanted to tell a story that was unique to the LGBT community but also universal in its themes. Everyone has had some experience of “the talk” (AKA where babies come from) and that experience is just ripe for comedy. When I thought about the unique challenges that face LGBT couples that want to become parents, I realized that there will never be an “accidental” gay pregnancy. LGBT parenting will always be something deliberate, something that both parents must want and plan for, something that involves others outside the parental unit: doctors, surrogates, donors, adoption agencies, etc. It takes a community, so something like “the talk” becomes an even bigger deal for LGBT parents to navigate, especially when our experience of having children is so different.
Marissa: Well, because “Babes” is about the difficulty adults can experience when explaining tough stuff to their kids, I was wondering if you had a story from your own childhood that relates to this? A time when an adult explained something to you really well/wisely, or, if not, a time when an adult explained something really poorly/confusingly.
Michael: I remember a sex ed instructor coming to my elementary school when I was young and separating out the students by their genders. The boys stayed in our own classroom to learn about boy anatomy, while the girls went to another classroom to learn about their anatomy. The whole time I could barely focus on my own lesson because I really wanted to know the other one: I mean I already had a grasp of my own anatomy, sometimes literally (sorry, I had to), so I couldn’t stop thinking about that mysterious talk going on in the next room. I knew I was going to have to learn about that stuff at some point anyway, so why delay the inevitable and draw a big line between us? When the girls came back they seemed a little shell-shocked; I think their lesson was very different from ours.
Marissa: According to your bio, you don’t have any kids—but if you did (or if you do have them in future) what would be the conversation you’d dread having with them?
Michael: I don’t have kids and at this point I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it that way, but I think if I were to be a dad I would dread the “first broken heart” talk the most. No parent ever wants to see their child in pain, and a broken heart is just one of those things you know they’re going to go through and you can’t necessarily protect them from. I would hate to have to talk my son or daughter through that, no matter what their age. I think my goal would be to make them laugh about it; as long as you can laugh about it you know it will be okay, eventually.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Babes”?
Michael: Laughter. I always want to make an audience laugh, but it’s important that the comedy comes from a place of connection. I love the comedies that make you laugh so hard you don’t even realize you’re thinking, feeling, maybe learning something along the way. I think the best way to connect with each other is to laugh with each other, and that’s what I love about live theater. A room full of people laughing can change the world.
Marissa: What about “Babes,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Michael Phillis play”?
Michael: I want my plays to feature characters that are real and engaging, going through something relatable and in-the-moment. I’m a fan of classical and abstract art of all kinds, but in my own work I strive to present something of the world we’re living in now. “Babes” feels real to me. Sure, it has its moments of ridiculousness, but what these women are going through is something that every LGBT parent will go through at some point in their experience, though hopefully with better luck. And I hope that parents who don’t identify as LGBT will also connect to the moms in this play, and realize that the Babes’ experience (and their love) really isn’t all that different from anyone else’s.
Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Babes” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?
Michael: I attended the first reading of “Babes” with director Sara Staley and our wonderful cast. Then I attended the show itself after opening night. So based on the first meeting and the final product I’d say the rehearsal process was fantastic! The show really blossomed under Sara’s smart direction and the cast, Emma Rose Shelton and Luna Malbroux, really made the play their own. At the reading I encouraged them to add in their own embellishments, repetitions, baby talk, etc, the kinds of things that make it sound like more of a lived-in relationship. Couples have their own languages and I love the way Emma and Luna found their way to that and made the script so much more than it was on the page.
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Michael: My next play is coming up in December at the Children’s Creativity Museum. It’s called “It’s Christmas, Carole!” and it re-imagines Charles Dickens’ holiday tale as a modern-day physical comedy, featuring a female protagonist (Carole, a Jewish secretary working for Scrooge) and a cast of unexpected Christmas ghosts. Lots of fun for children of all ages, directed by Andrew Nance and featuring Sara Moore, Rory Davis, Dawn Meredith Smith, Dave Garrett, and myself. More info posted soon on my website, www.michaelphillis.com.
Marissa: Ooh, that sounds like one more reason to look forward to the holidays. In the meantime, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your BOA play, “Babes.”
“Babes” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Allison Combs, director of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Allison Combs served as co-director of “Cloud Flower,” presented in BOA 2011. Her contribution this year, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” uses the text of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem as the basis for an ensemble-devised theater piece.
Marissa: “Devised work” is one of the hottest things in the American theater right now, but some people are still fuzzy on what exactly that means. What does “devised theater” mean to you, and why is it so awesome?
Allison: Devised work, generally speaking, is content that is created in the rehearsal space. Unlike a traditional process, in which a playwright writes the play and the director interprets it to the actors, devised theater is usually created/written by the entire company. It is the director’s job to have a final goal in mind and steer creation through organized material generating processes. Once material has been developed, then the director becomes the editor and stitches the work together into a piece.
Why is it awesome? Because the aesthetic is unlike anything else, and every single person involved deeply affects the final product.
Marissa: What drew you to T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as the jumping-off point of your piece for BOA 2013?
Allison: I’ve always loved this poem. At first it was for the rhythm of the words and the images they conjured. I bumped into it at various times throughout my school years and eventually began to wonder if there were some significance to that. It took me a long time to really feel like I understood the poem. It wasn’t until I had decided to write a play on it and then chickened out (due to fear of failure) that it really clicked.
Marissa: Another wonderful thing about devised work is that every troupe’s process is different. Can you talk a little about your process in adapting Eliot’s poem together with your ensemble of actors? What were rehearsals like?
Allison: In devising work I almost entirely rely on methods from Viewpoints, because that is how I was first introduced to this type of work. Viewpoints provides a vocabulary to use to describe movement in particular. I then, as the director, ask the cast, using this vocabulary to develop small, specific pieces of material, or sometimes to improvise within clearly defined limits. We generate an enormous amount of physical text in that way, which I then work into the piece.
Marissa: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the interior monologue of a meek, self-loathing man. When you proposed this piece for BOA 2013, you noted that it would “absolutely contain movement.” What was it like to create a physically inventive theater piece about a character who is so repressed? Did that cause any difficulties during the process?
Allison: No difficulties. Movement, especially expressive movement, is just another way of telling a story, no matter the type of character. I knew the piece would absolutely contain movement because the devising method I use focuses on the physical and visual.
Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in creating “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?
Allison: Wonderful discovery: my cast. They’re fantastically talented, intelligent, and kind people. The most frustrating challenge: Realizing I now think of Prufrock the character as a different person than I did prior to starting the process.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of your piece?
Allison: A strong sense of Prufrock’s story, and his sadness. I hope they can connect their personal experiences to his inability to take action.
Marissa: What’s up next for you and for Do It Live! Productions?
Allison: I’d like to make “Prufrock” into a full length production. Keep your eyes and ears open!
Marissa: Will do, Allison! In the meantime, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this incarnation of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”!
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” appears in Program 1 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on September 28, and October 2 and 4, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Daniel Holloway, author of “Write Dirty to Me.”
Daniel Holloway is making his BOA debut with “Write Dirty to Me,” a comedy that envisions Herman Melville, Alfred Tennyson, and Sylvia Plath as phone-sex operators… and some famous literary characters as callers on the chat line!
Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “Write Dirty To Me”? What was the initial impetus for writing this script?
Daniel: I got the idea for “Write Dirty to Me” after an unexpected close encounter with an actual phone-sex operator. I was working on a show and afterwards one of the cast members suggested we all go to his house, have a drink and continue to discuss the ideas of the play. We all piled into the little apartment he shared with his girlfriend, sat on the couch and started talking plays and literature. As we conversed, the sultry sounds of dirty talk would periodically waft in from beneath the closed bedroom door. About an hour into everything—in the middle of a dialogue about James Joyce—the door to the bedroom opens and in walks the girlfriend. “She makes phone sex calls,” the boyfriend said with a quick tilt of the head. She sat down with us and took up right away in the discussion of Ulysses. I was struck by how easily my brain moved from literature to sex and back again. It seems sex and art are always tied together for we homo sapiens. Words and storytelling are powerful tools of seduction, and sex has most definitely given rise to some wonderful novels, poems and plays. “All authors would make great sex callers,” I thought and things took off from there.
Marissa: The idea of famous authors working as phone-sex operators is definitely a great premise, and one that I can imagine being funny with any number of authors in the main roles. So what made you choose Tennyson, Melville, and Plath as the three authors that would be depicted in your play?
Daniel: I wanted to use authors that everyone would know and have some idea about already. I think we all had to read Moby-Dick or “The Charge of the Light Brigade” at some point, and who can escape college without somehow romanticizing Sylvia Plath? We already feel as if we know these three writers because we spent so many years with them in textbooks. It made it fun to bend and warp those expectations ensconced since middle school.
Marissa: Have you ever had lustful feelings for authors or fictional characters—and if so, who?
Daniel: Of course! I would do things my mother would highly disapprove of with Edna St. Vincent Millay. Don’t even get me started on my fantasies about a carafe or two of wine and a quill-and-paper fight with the Brontë sisters on a rainy English night. Character-wise, I think every one of us would go for a good Danish threesome with Ophelia and Hamlet. (Is it wrong that I could go on like this for quite a while?)
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Write Dirty to Me”?
Daniel: Well, first, I hope the audience gets a laugh and a damn good time. I suppose too, on some deeper level, I hope the audience walks away thinking differently about these “classical” authors and poets and the words they wrote. Hopefully they’re inspired to read the books again, maybe for the first time since college, and see that they’re more than academic pieces… they’re tools that can help get you through this life. Also, if I can get a little intellectual for a minute, I hope that people will see how art connects us. We come together as a community when we all laugh at a dirty joke because it reminds us that we’re all the same; we’re all out there trying to get laid. Likewise, we we all nod when we recognize a famous line of a poem; it reminds us that we’re all the same on a level higher than the physical, too. Art unifies us.
Marissa: What about “Write Dirty to Me,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Daniel Holloway play”?
Daniel: I think it’s the mix of highbrow and lowbrow. A lot of people think you can’t make an intelligent penis joke, for instance. I think you can. For goodness’ sake, have you read The Canterbury Tales? There’s a fart pun every six lines. I think mixing the two—the “banal” and the “artistic”—is an exact mirror of the human condition. We all think poetic, beautiful thoughts and see the incredible beauty in life… and we all laugh at filthy sex jokes. It’s what we are as a species. Why can’t the two live together?
Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Write Dirty to Me” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?
Daniel: Rehearsal was a real eye-opener and the script definitely went through some changes. There is a fine line in American society between pushing the boundaries and producing laughter, and pushing the boundaries and having people snap shut like a well-oiled bear trap. Having an actor actually say the line—right out there in the real world—lets you know very quickly where things are falling.
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Daniel: I’m currently finishing up another highbrow/lowbrow play, this one full-length. It’s a re-imagining of Beowulf and deals with modern capitalism, sexism and the state of modern writing… with the same irreverent bent as “Write Dirty to Me.” If you know anyone looking to workshop or produce a filthy, thinking play, let me know. I’m wide open.
Marissa: Now you’ve got me wondering if that innuendo there (“I’m wide open”) was intentional, or if it’s just that everything sounds a little raunchy after our discussion. In any case, thanks very much for talking with me about “Write Dirty to Me”!
“Write Dirty to Me” appears in Program 1 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on September 28, and October 2 and 4, at Tides Theatre.
Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Ignacio Zulueta, writer of “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters.”
Ignacio Zulueta is a Bay Area playwright who served as BOA’s dramaturg and conductor of playwright interviews in 2011. You can probably figure out what “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” is about; if not, this interview, should clarify matters.
Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters“? I was a fellow participant in the Wily West Productions event last February where the play made its debut, but our readers probably won’t know this backstory.
Ignacio: In Wily West Productions‘ Cowboys vs. Outlaws 2013 season kickoff, participating playwrights had two weeks (I imposed a three-day deadline) to create a seven-page play from a prompt: mine was “He found it in a dark hole in the woods.”
Marissa: So how did you get from that prompt to a story about three women watching a Chekhov play?
Ignacio: By kicking against the obvious. I felt the prompt to be rather over-specific, so instead of treating it as a plot synopsis or key point and locking myself into a scenario, I used it as a bit of found dialogue instead, and built the play from the dialogue out. Sharp-eared audience members can hear the distinctive line in the play itself. Plus, Women’s History Month was coming up in March, and the nation was twisting itself in knots over the Supreme Court’s still-impending ruling on Prop 8. Combined with my rebellious instinct against the prompt, I decided that the “he” in question should be an offstage character, and the voices in question should all be “she’s.”
Marissa: Your characters argue about whether Chekhov’s work is touching and important, or boring and depressing. Where do you stand on this issue?
Ignacio: I would argue that Chekov is so important because it is so depressing. I also think the Slavic writers have an appreciation of the tragic, the unjust, and the futile that is in synch with East Asian literature and my sensibilities as an Asian American playwright. It is said that Chekov told Stanislavsky and the cast of the premiere production [of The Seagull] that they were performing a comedy. Whether this is apocryphal, misguided, ironic, or a very Russian joke played by the playwright on his cast, is best left to others to determine. The ambiguity is all, and I also see entertainment as encompassing more than wish-fulfillment, or immediate gratification. This play, and my full-length comedy in production at AlterTheater, The Fellowship, obliquely address the happiness trap that lies within the artistic output of incredibly wealthy, consumer-driven cultural producers that we are. For my part, I believe that theater thrives on depicting crisis, while consumerism thrives on creating insecurity. Both are exciting. One is markedly unhealthy.
Marissa: So do you have a favorite Chekhov play?
Ignacio: OK, it’s dirty confession time. I have not read or seen the entire Chekov canon. God, what have I been doing with my life? That said, I find the sibling rivalry, duels, and bad-to-worse arc of Three Sisters to be pretty compelling – not just for this short, but for my other full length, Kano and Abe, being featured at SF Playhouse’s Sandbox readings next month. I’ll save the pitch for later in the interview, though – just remember those bloody duels and spats when I do.
Marissa: I also wondered if you were familiar with Will Eno’s short play “Intermission,” which has a similar premise to “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” — a conversation among some audience members during intermission of a play at a big regional theater. (San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater produced “Intermission” in 2011.) Could Eno’s play have influenced yours, or is this just a coincidence?
Ignacio: I think both plays focus on the way in which theater, despite its anesthetizing potential, nevertheless does the work of raking up audiences’ feelings in unpredictable, risky, and publicly embarrassing ways. That said, I recall watching a double bill at Cutting Ball of “Intermission” and “Lady Grey (in ever lower light)” but I confess that both at the time and some years later, “Lady Grey” left a far more favorable impression than the former. The very literal reveal of Lady Grey and her vituperation for her audience, prompted by the humiliating demands of her profession, resonates more with me than the fatuous characterization of the younger couple in “Intermission” and the insipid quality of the modern play all four characters are watching. Eno’s protagonists for “Intermission” are very much the older couple with their touching dog story, passing on their accumulated wisdom to the blasé younger pair. In contrast, my blasé youngest sister gives as good as she gets, and her suspicion for the traditional theatre is as deeply motivated as her older sisters’ devotion to it. And then there’s setting: Eno’s setup for “Intermission” focuses on the generation gap in audiences, but barring the use of a cell phone, it could just as easily occur in any point in time after the Korean War. “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters“ occurs with a very specific text during a very specific moment in time. Finally, the triangulations of status allowed by an interrelated three-person cast are very different from the stable quadrant of Eno’s four-person, two-couples cast. From those fundamentally different foundations, necessarily different plays have sprung into being.
Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters”?
Ignacio: I hope my audiences decide to patronize more shows, and not just the ones that their friends are performing in. Since this preaches somewhat to the choir, I also hope they’ll leave with a refreshed outlook on how theater aligns with the modern media environment. As I mentioned before, “3 Sisters…” is an interrogation of why the epiphenomena of live performance matters as much as the performance itself. Though really, anyone who’s scored a vital business card during a post-show after-party, or met their soulmate (or start-up crony) at Burning Man, will recognize the serendipitous value of congregating in person for a rallying work of art. That doesn’t happen playing a solo video game or binging on Netflix.
Marissa: What about “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters,” in your opinion, makes it feel like an “Ignacio Zulueta play”?
Ignacio: These characters talk too much, and think even more than they talk. Plus, they’re all related. Furthermore, “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” is the first of an entire year’s worth of plays (from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014) that I decided to write featuring a gender ratio of at least 2 females to every male. Before my male actor friends out there get up in arms, I’d like to point out that is hardly an act of activism on my part, but rather, a simple acknowledgement of the realities of the stark gender ratios in theatre. BOA Artistic Director Sara Staley pointed out in an interview with Ashley Cowan that the production team for BOA 2013 is all female. Thus, it seems reactionary rather than revolutionary to make a year’s worth of my playwriting output match up with the demographic facts on the ground.
Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “3 Sisters…” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?
Ignacio: I actually expanded the material past the 7-page limit of the original play, which was written during a three-day binge back in February. One of my sisters wasn’t as thoroughly written as she could have been, and changing events on the political landscape, both in California and nationally, threatened to render the script outdated. I talked to Sara Staley and director Kat Kneisel about my plans for a rewrite at the first BOA Program 2 read-through. Sara said, more or less, “Keep it as good as it is now, or better.” Kat said, paraphrased, “The original draft is seven pages, I think we can expand a little and get comfortable.” I said “Gotcha, gotcha, great. I’ll get back to you with the changes.” And that’s how we got to where we are today.
Marissa: What’s up next for you?
Ignacio: As I mentioned before, blood ties and radical adaptations have been very much on my mind. In 2012, PlayGround commissioned me to write Kano and Abe, a Daly City bible story. It’s kind of like Two Brothers to Three Sisters, except the brothers in question are Cain and Abel. How’s that for depressing? SF Playhouse picked it up to kick off their Sandbox reading series on Monday, October 14th. That’s exactly 9 days after BOA closes, so I’ll be able to treat Bay Area audiences to a fresh draft of a full-length work, provided I don’t party too hard at the BOA closing party.
Marissa: You deserve to treat yourself at the closing party, though! “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” is a lovely play, especially when placed as the finale to an evening of one-acts. Thanks for talking to me about it.
“3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on September 27 and 29, and October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre. We also encourage you to check out the interview that Wily West Productions, which is producing “3 Sisters…” at BOA, conducted with Ignacio!