An Interview with “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters” Playwright Ignacio Zulueta

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!

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An Interview with “Inexpressibly Blue” Playwright Nancy Cooper Frank

Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Nancy Cooper Frank, writer of “Inexpressibly Blue.”

Nancy Cooper Frank is a Bay Area playwright and “Inexpressibly Blue” is her BOA debut. It’s a wry comedy about two middle-aged women with singularly appropriate names: the cheerful Felicity and her friend Dolores, who’s got the blues.

Marissa: Can you talk a little about the genesis of “Inexpressibly Blue”? What was the initial impetus for writing this script?

Nancy: I was blue one morning,  and I didn’t feel like writing at all. So I wrote “I’m blue.  I’m blue! I’m bluer than blue” and so on, until before I knew it, I had one character so committed to being miserable that another voice spontaneously arose to get in the first character’s face and try to cheer her up. Whether she wanted to be cheered up or not.

Marissa: You are a former professor of Russian literature and you frequently write about Russian subjects. In this country, we often stereotype Russian culture and literature as melancholy, dark, and sad. Do you think there’s a connection between your interest in Russian culture and your writing a play about sadness? Or do you disagree with the perception that Russian = melancholy?

Nancy: There’s a very funny line in Ignacio Zulueta’s play that draws on that stereotype!

Marissa: Yes, this makes for a serendipitous connection between your play and Ignacio’s “3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters,” which is also in Program Two of BOA!

Nancy: I’m tickled to share a bill with his moving tribute to Three Sisters. To get back to your original question: If we had a couple of hours/vodkas, I could expand on this. Short answer: I don’t need Dostoevsky to teach me how to get into a funk. I can do that on my own. Anyway, even if  Russians ‘do’ melancholy better than we do, are they really the outliers? Or is it American culture—with its insistence on cheer, and its denial of sadness—that’s strange?

Marissa: Speaking of Chekhov, you’ve hinted that there’s a hidden Chekhov reference in “Inexpressibly Blue”—are you willing to share what that is?

Nancy: In one of Chekhov’s lesser known one-act plays, “The Anniversary,” a character says “I’m so unhappy! I even drank my coffee this morning without enjoying it!” [Ed: Dolores in "Inexpressibly Blue" also says this.] She says this to gain sympathy, but it’s such a trivial statement it has the opposite effect.

Marissa: So if you’re battling a bout of the blues, what are your favorite quick remedies to cheer yourself up?

Nancy: Get outside. Walk. Walk some more.

Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Inexpressibly Blue”?

Nancy: I hope the play evokes a rueful smile or two. I hope people can see themselves in Dolores, Felicity or both.

Marissa: What about “Inexpressibly Blue,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Nancy Cooper Frank play”?

Nancy: Come to think of it, several of my short plays seem to set basic temperaments or character traits (optimist/pessimist; introvert/extrovert) against each other. And a kind of bleak optimism, or maybe cheerful pessimism, is a common element to many of my plays, including “Daniil Kharms: A Life in One Act and Several Dozen Eggs,” based on a real-life Russian absurdist author.

Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Inexpressibly Blue” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?

Nancy: The biggest change came at the very beginning of the rehearsal process, when the director, Robert Estes, suggested my characters should be engaged in an activity together—they shouldn’t just sit and talk. And so I pictured them doing tai chi together—it’s a nice accompaniment for the shifting balance of their moods and of their relationship. For one rehearsal, we had  a tai chi instructor, Barbara Jwanouskos (who also happens to be a playwright), lead actors, director and coordination-challenged author  through some tai chi moves in the park. My actors, Linda-Ruth Cardozo and Patti Morse, also helped me tweak some lines. I had fun working with this team!

Marissa: What’s up next for you?

Nancy: I’m writing this after midnight, fresh from workshopping a rewrite of “Daniil Kharms” that I am very pleased with. I’m looking for opportunities to produce that play.  I’m also working on a one-act comedy “The Plumber.”  The title character is a Slavic philosopher/plumber with the ability to make his customers more than a little blue… I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Marissa: Nancy, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about “Inexpressibly Blue”! Its cheerful pessimism makes it the perfect curtain raiser for Program Two of BOA 2013.

“Inexpressibly Blue” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, with upcoming performances on September 25, 27, and 29, and October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre.

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An Interview with “Modernizing the Afterlife” Director Katja Rivera

Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. Next up is Katja Rivera, director of “Modernizing the Afterlife.”

Katja Rivera is a Bay Area director and performer making her BOA debut. The play she’s directing, Tracy Held Potter’s “Modernizing the Afterlife,” is a comedy about how, if you have the right app, you can improve anything… even Heaven itself.

Marissa: What attracted you to the script of “Modernizing the Afterlife” and made you choose to direct it for BOA 2013?

Katja: A couple of things. It’s funny, and I like funny (it made me laugh when I read it), and I’ve been wanting to work on one of Tracy’s plays since seeing her work done at Playground this last year.  Also, I am advocating for female playwrights, and felt that they were underrepresented this year. Finally, Tracy left the characters open as to age and race, so I could just see in the audition process who would be the best for for each role. I enjoyed that freedom.

Marissa: “Modernizing the Afterlife” satirizes our tech-driven society, where there’s an app for anything you want to do. Do you have a smartphone? If so, what are some of your favorite apps?

Katja: Yes, I do have a smartphone. I love the basic apps (weather, maps, Yelp and Facebook), but my favorite fun ones are the New York Times, my Virtuoso piano app (you can play piano on your phone!), Webster’s Dictionary, Craigslist (I especially cruise the “For Free” section), and my very favorite: my daughters’ blogs.

Marissa: I am totally stealing this question from James Lipton, but I think it’s appropriate for someone who’s just directed a play called “Modernizing the Afterlife”: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Katja: “In honor of you, we made strawberry shortcake for dessert tonight!”

Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Modernizing the Afterlife”?

Katja: Honestly, I just hope they laugh. Sometimes, that is enough..

Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Modernizing the Afterlife” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?

Katja: The rehearsal process was concentrated and brief.  We had to share [actress] Nkechi Emeruwa with two other directors, so efficiency was the order of the day.  Tracy expanded the role of Steve Jobs based on the casting of David Naughton, because he brought a certain flavor to the role. Also, she had some tech-savvy folks read it for accuracy.

Marissa: What has been the most wonderful discovery and most frustrating challenge in directing “Modernizing the Afterlife”?

Katja: I loved getting to work with this fun and enthusiastic cast and getting to meet the BOA all-girl tech team! I loved discovering what hams my actors were. The frustrations… ah,  the limits of time and space.

Marissa: What’s up next for you?

Katja: Next up is the Olympians Festival. I’m directing plays by Bridgette Dutta Portman and Kirk Shimano. On the same night! It’s going to be crazy! And then I’m looking for acting work. Got any jobs for a union gal of a certain age?

Marissa: Well, if I come across any — or if there’s an app that will make the audition process easier — I’ll be sure to let you know! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your work on “Modernizing the Afterlife.”

“Modernizing the Afterlife” appears in Program 1 of BOA 2013, performing September 22, 26, and 28, and October 2 and 4, at Tides Theatre.

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An Interview with “Break of Day” Playwright Jeff Carter

Marissa Skudlarek, BOA 2013′s Anthology Editor, is conducting interviews with the festival’s playwrights, directors, and actors. First up is Jeff Carter, writer of “Break of Day.”

Jeff Carter is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in Boston, New York City, San Francisco, and more. “Break of Day,” his contribution to BOA 2013, is a seriocomic play about Ted and Fred, twin brothers who are “just the slightest bit ‘different’ from other people,” as they struggle to move on after the death of their mother.

Marissa: How did  “Break of Day” come about? What was the initial impetus that made you write this script?

Jeff: “Break Of Day” is very loosely based on a family of poor farming people I was familiar with growing up.  The inspiration to write the play just came to me one day.

Marissa: “Break of Day” takes place on a farm somewhere deep in rural America. Do you have personal experience with this kind of environment? What was it like to write a play that takes place somewhere so distant from the Bay Area?

Jeff: I grew up in a potato-farming community in northern Maine.  Many of my plays are concerned with life in rural America.  Write what you know, I guess.

Marissa: The world of this play seems somehow timeless — it could be taking place today, or it could be taking place 60 years ago. Do you think of the play as taking place in the present day, or do you think of it as a period piece? Does it matter?

Jeff: I wanted the play to have a timeless quality.  I prefer not to set references to particular times and locations in my plays, if possible.

Marissa: Your bio says that you worked on “Break of Day” with the Monday Night Group — can you tell us a little about what this group is and how they helped you develop the script?

Jeff: The Monday Night Group is one of the oldest playwriting workshops in the Bay Area.  It was initially organized by Will Dunne and several other local writers over twenty years ago.  Recent works by member writers are done as cold readings by local actors.  We proceed from there.

Marissa: What do you hope the audience will get out of “Break of Day”?

Jeff: I hope the audience simply has a thoughtful experience with the play and that it stays with them after they leave the theater.

Marissa:  What about “Break of Day,” in your opinion, makes it feel like a “Jeff Carter play”?

Jeff: You got me there.

Marissa: How has the rehearsal process for “Break of Day” been? Has the script changed at all during the process?

Jeff:  The rehearsal experience was great.  Brian Trybom’s direction was right on, and so were the performances of John Lowell and Shane Fahey.  A few minor cuts were made during rehearsals.

Marissa: What’s up next for you?

Jeff: My full-length play Pastoral Paranoia will be produced by Scorpio Theatre in Calgary, Alberta beginning in October, and I’ll continue to work on one thing or another.

Marissa: Sounds great, Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your pastoral, poignant play “Break of Day.”

“Break of Day” appears in Program 2 of BOA 2013, performing September 21, 25, 27, and 29, and October 3 and 5, at Tides Theatre.

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Interviews With the Cast & Crew of “Shooter”

In the coming days, Marissa Skudlarek, the BOA Anthology Editor, will be posting her interviews with the writers, directors, and actors of BOA 2013 on this blog. In the meantime, though, we encourage you to check out the interviews that San Francisco Theater Pub has conducted with the cast and crew of “Shooter,” the piece that they are producing for BOA 2013. Please click on the links to read the interviews on San Francisco Theater Pub’s site.

Interview with “Shooter” Playwright Dan Hirsch
Interview with “Shooter” Director Rik Lopes
Interview with “Shooter” Actor John Lowell
Interview with “Shooter” Actor Randy Blair
Interview with “Shooter” Producer Brian Markley

“Shooter” appears in Program Two of BOA 2013, September 21, 25, 27, 29 and October 3 and 5 at Tides Theatre in San Francisco.

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THANK YOU to our Bay One Acts Festival Community!

MANY THANKS to the 200 BOA backers who pledged to our 2013 Kickstarter campaign. We did it! With YOUR support! Your donation goes right back to the 13 plays in our 2013 festival, and to the talented and dedicated artists bringing all to you in two dynamic line-ups of plays at Tides Theatre now through October 5th. We’ll see you at both programs of BOA 2013!



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BOA 2013 Kickstarter Campaign is Now LIVE

Pledge Your Support for Local, New Work and BOA 2013!

The 2013 Bay One Acts Festival (BOA) Kickstarter Campaign is now LIVE. Each pledge received through our Kickstarter campaign goes right back into bringing the 2013 BOA Festival to you.  Give now to receive ticket discounts and extras before they go on sale including the 2013 BOA Anthology, reserved seating, and concessions tickets. Remember we need to reach our goal by the end of the campaign to receive any of the money pledged. Please pledge what you can today, and help us spread the word about this campaign to friends and family. Your support will keep a Bay Area theater tradition alive, and help our BOA community grow in 2013.


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BOA 2013 Posters

The 2013 Bay One Acts Festival is Proud to Present Our Pair of Posters Designed by Cody Rishell…



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BOA 2013 Program One & Two Plays & Directors

We Are Thrilled to Announce the 2013 Bay One Acts Festival Plays and Directors for Programs One & Two!


Custom Made Theatre Co

Modernizing the Afterlife by Tracy Held Potter

Directed by Katja Rivera

Do it Live!

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Based on the poem by T.S. Eliot

Devised and Directed by Allison Combs


Desiree by Sam Leichter

Directed by Rob Ready

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Write Dirty to Me by Daniel Holloway

Directed by Sharon Robinson

Sponge Theater

Red All Over by Bennett Fisher

Directed by Rem Myers

The Visible Theater

Last Couples Therapy Session on Earth by William Bivins

Directed by Jon Wai-keung Lowe


All Terrain Theater

Inexpressibly Blue by Nancy Cooper Frank

Directed by Robert Estes

FaultLine Theater

Two Pigeons Talk Politics by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Maria Calderazzo & Maxx Kurzunski

New Conservatory Theatre Center

Babes by Michael Phillis

Directed by Sara Staley

Playwrights Foundation

My Year by Megan Cohen

Directed by Siobhan Marie Doherty

San Francisco Theater Pub

Shooter by Daniel Hirsch

Directed by Rik Lopes

Tides Theatre

Break of Day by Jeff Carter

Directed by Brian Trybom

Wily West Productions

3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters by Ignacio Zulueta

Directed by Kat Kneisel

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BOA 2013 General Auditions

BOA 2013 General Auditions

Tuesday July 9th from 6pm -10pm

 New Conservatory Theatre Center

(25 Van Ness @ Market St. in San Francisco)


General Auditions for the 2013 Bay One Acts Festival (BOA) will be held on Tuesday July 9th from 6pm-10pm at New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco. Now in its 12th year, the BOA Festival is thrilled to bring together 14 Producing Partner theatre companies who will present two programs of one act plays performed in rep from September 14th – October 5th at Tides Theatre in San Francisco. This unique Bay Area theater event brings together over 75 local theater artists each year, with the common goal of creating community and new work. Actors may be cast in one or more BOA plays. Rehearsal schedules TBD. Stipends TBD. Tech/dress rehearsals are scheduled evenings from September 9th until September 13th

Auditions are by appointment only. We would like to see a two minute contemporary monologue, and you will be asked to read sides from the festival.

For consideration please email your headshot, resume and brief cover letter letting us know why you’d like to be involved in BOA 2013 to with the subject “BOA 2013 General Auditions”.

Questions may also be emailed. Non AEA submissions only please.

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