Category Archives: Acting

Garden Gnomes Gone Wild!

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Good Evening:

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission enjoys an obscure reputation among government agencies in general for our mildly racy advertisements and public service announcements (PSAs); at least, mildly racy by the standards of government agencies in general.

The SFPUC also likes to save money whenever possible, so they recently asked me–an employee there–to star in a YouTube PSA because I have the 16 or 17 credits in the Internet Movie Database and mostly because they wouldn’t have to pay extra for an actor. You can see the commercial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXrhOZ3X5GU

Now if you want to see the proper way to confine and maintain your plastic garden gnomes, please refer to the photograph below (Castro near 24th Street in San Francisco):

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If you look closely, you will see that all 3 gnomes are Giants fans. And yes, that is an American flag with a Giants logo in orange, white and black.

Vonn Scott Bair

Blog Post #800: A Steve Jobs Hallowe’en Story on 12 May 2015.

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Good Evening:

I auditioned for a short film role this evening (a man who years before had to kill his wife in self-defense after discovering that she was a serial killer–and a witch. Yep, typecast again) and found myself rehearsing lines with a young lady currently living in Palo Alto. Between scenes she made a remark about how Apple was “Apple-izing” the entire world and then she casually added, “You know, I used to know Steve Jobs.”

“Seriously?!”

“Yeah, we lived a few doors down from him. He gave me one of the first of these like, candy-colored bubble-shaped computers, it was bluish-”

“A Bondi Blue iMac?! Steve Jobs gave you a Bondi Blue iMac?!”

“I don’t remember the name, I was only in fifth grade.”

(I’ll pause here while you suddenly realize just how old you really are.)

“He was really nice to all of the kids in the neighborhood, his house had the best Hallowe’ens, we always went there. He came to the door himself and he would say things about our costumes, and then he gave away full-size candy bars. Not those bite-size ones. Full size.”

(Ed. Note: They’re never too young to become customers for life.)

“Except one Hallowe’en, he refused to give candy to my brother.”

“Why not?”

“He didn’t have a costume. He didn’t yell at my brother, he just said, ‘Where’s your costume? You think I’m going to give you candy just because you walked around all night? Go get yourself a costume and come back here.”

(Suddenly I think of George C. Scott in Patton, always asking, “Where’s your helmet?”)

So her brother dashed around among their friends, borrowing pieces and scraps of various costumes and improvising something out of multiple characters.

She continued, “He went back to the Jobs house and knocked on the door. Steve Jobs came to the door, studied him for a minute, looking at my brother top to bottom, and he said. ‘I appreciate the effort.’ And gave him a candy bar.”

So there you have it, a perhaps lesser-known story about Steve Jobs. It sounds plausible to me, combining examples of his marketing skill with his attention to detail and obsession with critiquing and improving everything. Even the Hallowe’en costumes of other parents’ children.

What do you think? Sound plausible to you?

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I used to feel so proud of myself for attending a BMUG meeting where an Apple rep let us see a prerelease Bondi Blue, back when no one cared what Apple did. But Steve Jobs never gave me one.

PPS–How appropriate that my 800th (!!) blog post should discuss the man responsible for the computer I used to create it.

The Genuine Show! Rehearsal, 12 March 2015.

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Good Evening:

Load-In Day. A phrase that frequently evokes terror in the theater world, Load-In Day refers to one of the physical events in theater, when the entire cast and crew combine to move all of their costumes, props, special equipment, cases of 8 oz. bottles of water, and other sundry heavy items into the theater they will call home during the show’s run. Fortunately, we have an excellent director in Wesley Cayabyab, whose organization worked so well we only needed an hour to get everything done.

So we had our first full run-through.

And all I can say is “Wow.”

The Cast of The Genuine Show! Listening to Instructions from Their Director

The Six Actors of The Genuine Show! Listening to Instructions from Their Director

“Wow” has become one of our inside jokes (from one of the plays, “Jack & John & Jackie & Joanie”), but here it means that I am ab-so-lute-ly THRILLED with the work the cast has done. They bring more than creativity to their acting; they always surprise me with interpretations that I would never imagine in a hundred years, yet whatever they do remains true to the script.

Incidentally, I took all of these shots with my iPhone 6 Plus, which has done surprisingly well in low-light conditions, requiring only a few adjustments in iPhoto.

Sarah Galarneau & Philip Goleman in "Yes Maybe No."

Sarah Galarneau & Philip Goleman in “Yes Maybe No.”

Playwrights become pretty darn useless at this point in the production; seriously, the best help we verbose critters can provide consists of silence. At the end of the run-through, I kept it simple: “I have just one word to add, no, two. Thank you.” OK, that’s eleven words, but still really, really reticent by playwright standards.

Rehearsing "Keeping You Man in Line on the 21-Hayes." Left to right: Sarah Leight, Jocelyn Truitt, Philip Goleman, Colin Hussey (standing), Sarah Galarneau, Richard Wenzel.

Rehearsing “Keeping You Man in Line on the 21-Hayes.” Left to right: Sarah Leight, Jocelyn Truitt, Philip Goleman, Colin Hussey (standing), Sarah Galarneau, Richard Wenzel.

Keeping You Man in Line of the 21-Hayes has two unique distinctions among the plays–the only one with no dialogue and the only one inspired by one of my own blog posts! Please see this post (one of my very earliest!) for the story.

Can’t wait for Opening Night on Thursday. No jitters, just good old-fashioned excitement. If you can’t wait, either, tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Vonn Scott Bair

Vanishing Venues in San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten)

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Good Evening:

If San Francisco keeps losing the people, places and organizations that make the city so interesting, how long can San Francisco remain, well, you know, interesting?

Formerly the Cafe du Nord Music Venue, Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Formerly the Cafe du Nord Music Venue, Market Street, San Francisco, CA

The performing arts scene here probably cannot get more confusing at this juncture in the city’s existence; like a famous Dickens sentence, we live in the best of times, we live in the worst of times. The average two-bedroom apartment rents, which have now skyrocketed to about $3,500 (believe it or not, one American city is worse–Palo Alto, California), have driven out so many actors, writers, musicians, and other artists that currently I represent the only member of the Playwrights Center of San Francisco who lives in San Francisco.

Gone and Pretty Much Forgotten; Former Theater on Guerrero and 16th

Gone and Pretty Much Forgotten; Former Theater on Guerrero and 16th

That blank wall used to be the storefront of a 30-seat theater in the Mission, perfect for very young companies just starting out. Fifteen years ago, Bertolt Brecht was a thing in San Francisco until people realized that most of what he wrote doesn’t work (good thing Kurt Weill helped out; Master Puntila and His Chauffeur Matti is completely unwatchable without the music). I saw a performance of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich one night because a friend had a role in it. Before the show began, a homeless woman wandered in and accosted a few of the spectators. Just as I began to suspect that she might have been a member of the cast, the lights went down, she accosted me, and then began reciting the opening speech of the play. We became good friends and acted together in a few projects, but when television work dried up in the Bay Area, she moved to Los Angeles and we lost touch.

Formerly the Home of Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco, CA

Formerly the Home of Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco, CA

Market forces are driving out more than individuals. The demand for new housing has gone from insane to really really insane, and when leases expire, landlords kick out the tenants and then sell out to developers for more money than they thought they would see in a lifetime. If decades ago you bought a mixed living/retail building for $250K and someone offers you a few million to take it off your hands so you no longer even need to think about it, I can’t blame you for taking the cash. That’s how the system works–if how the system works means that it is not working, then that become a discussion about economics, at which point I would rather remain silent and be thought a fool.

Theatre Rhinoceros (“The Rhino”) occupies a special place in American theater as a home for world premieres of plays that “explore both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of our queer community. (from the mission statement)” Currently homeless, the next show will premiere in the Eureka Theatre on Jackson Street.

And speaking of the Eureka…

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…this isn’t the current home. This is the old home, where among things, actors like Danny Glover started building careers, and playwrights like Tony Kushner could premiere plays like Angels in America. Yes, that play got its start right there back in 1988 in that blue industrial building. Times have proven tough for artists in San Francisco, especially theater artists, and the Eureka Theatre Company is now a venue on Jackson Street that rents its space to local companies. Great space, too; I am proud that my one-act play Allegro Passionato led off the 2006 BOA (Bay One-Acts) Festival.

So the mood among theater and music artists in San Francisco remains gloomy. Venue after venue keeps closing. And yet, somehow, someway, we persist. The Rhino and Eureka lost their homes, but have kept going, somehow, someway. Another local company, PianoFight, has opened a restaurant-bar-theater venue in the building once occupied by Original Joe’s restaurant. A new theater company has approached me with an offer to produce one of my full-lengths.

One of my fellow playwrights has described theater and film people as “hard to kill as cockroaches, only worse, because cockroaches don’t make so much @#$% noise.” So we continue onwards, lurching from one funding crisis to the next. Saw this film crew today on my way to the Rainbow Grocery:

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The American Conservatory Theatre has already opened one new space on the 1100 block of Market, and will soon open a second theater on that same block, converting a building that used to house the Strand movie house (speaking of endangered arts spaces). So I should feel more optimistic than I do.

Best of times, worst of times; worst of times, best of times.

What continues to bother me is the attrition diminishing the numbers of theater artists in San Francisco. When I began in the late 1990s, I looked up to, admired, and sought to emulate a lot of men and women who seemed to me to have their stuff together, who could juggle the poorly paid waiter/clerk/bartender job with their true passion, earn a couple of extra hundred or perhaps a thousand dollars per year, and whom the arts establishment regarded as up-and-coming artists with bright futures.

Of all those people from back then, one still continues onward, however blindly.

Me.

That’s so bizarre. Talent, ability, artistry don’t seem to matter. Only pure dumb bull-headed wrong-headed too-stupid-to-know-when-to-quit stubbornness seems to matter. I don’t know if I’m any good, only persistent. The brilliant and imaginative director, subject of articles published in the national press, quit abruptly after a show in 1998 or 99. I wanted so badly to work for him, but who know what he’s doing now? A woman in that show still acts, but moved to LA a long time ago–just like a lot of other artists from the Bay Area.

For all the new companies, spaces and artists I see in San Francisco, it does not appear that they have popped up fast enough to replace all of the people who quit or moved on. Of course, this represents a perfect time to remind one and all that I am most emphatically NOT a professional journalist, so take extreme care before accepting my own personal experience as universal truth.

But if artists can’t afford to live here, then how can they pop up here fast enough to replace the ones who quit and/or left San Francisco entirely?

Vonn Scott Bair

The Leftover Memories of Venue 222 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Container)

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Good Evening:

This ugly little dump contains some of my happiest memories in the theater.

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During the 1960s and 1970s, City College of San Francisco’s enrollment grew so much so quickly that the buildings could not hold all of the students, and the administration could not build new classrooms quickly enough. Therefore, the college threw up these pre-fab cabins for use as ad hoc temporary classrooms. However, ad hoc temporary solutions have a way of becoming ad hoc permanent solutions. Cabin 222, notwithstanding its leaky confines, lack of heating, and air conditioning, became the home of theater majors getting rained on or freezing or cooking in its confines depending upon the season.

A few decades ago, a drama professor named Ann Shay had a bright idea: double-purposing the cabin as both classroom and a 49-seat black box theater. She created her own company, the California Travel Troupe, so named because they usually travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland to participate in the grandfather of all fringe festivals. In between trips, she would produce shows in what was no longer cabin 222; it had become Venue 222.

I met Ann when one fine day, totally out of the blue, the at the time complete stranger emailed me and offered me a directing job for her next evening of one-act plays. My first directing job? No problem! I didn’t even ask her how she got my name. What I did not know was that everyone else she asked had declined the offer because everyone else–including the playwright!–thought the little ten minute script was garbage. So she offered me the leftovers. I didn’t know the play was garbage, numbskull that I am, but because I didn’t know how to evaluate scripts, took this opportunity seriously and to the surprise of Ann and the cast, and the shock of the playwright, directed a, well, um, pretty good play.

Ann Shay producing her last show, another evening of one acts, at about the time when her friends suspected, and she knew, that she would not win her final battle with cancer.

Ann Shay producing her last show, another evening of one acts, at about the time when her friends suspected, and she knew, that she would not win her final battle with cancer.

Ann felt grateful enough for my salvage job that when time came to produce another evening of one acts, she invited me to submit one of my own scripts. I had just finished a 20-pager called Starvation, an experiment in the horror genre to see if it was still possible to scare a theater audience in this day and age.

She accepted it into the show, which was great, not telling me that on paper she thought that Starvation looked like a piece of s— (one of her favorite words). She needed one more play to fill out the evening and would have accepted anything. Much to the surprise of the director and cast (and playwright), and much to the shock of Ann, the 20 page horror play that looked like a piece of s— on paper worked astoundingly well when performed, and was in fact the best play of the show. On the night of the world premiere, I snuck into the audience to gauge reactions. The play describes an encounter between two women, both monsters; Mrs. Essex is a sexual predator and Melody–nah, no spoilers here. I sat next to a young couple on a date. At the climax of the play, the young lady of the couple shrieked “Omigod, she’s a ____!” wrapped her arms around her date, and buried her face into her young man’s chest.

I think I made his night.

My leftover script turned out rather well.

The Former Dressing Room at Venue 222.

The Former Dressing Room at Venue 222.

In 2004, I had built up a curious acting resume; lead roles in a few feature films (none of which went anywhere), and zero leads in full-length stage plays. So when Ann emailed me out of the blue and offered me the title role in a masque production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yes, of course I took it. Incidentally, for all of my gigs with the California Travel Troupe I received the combined grand total of $0 in payment. What Ann did not tell me at the time was that she couldn’t find anyone else for the job. Once again, the leftovers ended up on my plate.

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The show did very erratically in terms of attendance, alternating sellout crowds with near-empty houses. One performance had exactly one audience member, and the only reason we had that one person is that a woman in the cast was juggling two boyfriends at the time. Still, Hunchback remains one of my happiest memories; the above moment, from the final scene between Quasimodo and Esmeralda, generally elicited audible sniffles and crying from the people who did see the show. Ann herself told me after the last performance that she sometimes cried. This was right before she told me that she only picked me because she couldn’t find anyone else. Just another leftover.

Today, Venue 222 is every bit as decrepit as it looks, and when Ann died, the California Travel Troupe died with her. As I passed the cabin on my way to my date with destiny and a beer can in Almost, Maine, I took a few pictures with my iPhone.

And wondered how something so ugly could contain such beautiful memories.

Vonn Scott Bair

I Don’t Mean to Brag–Well, Maybe Just a Tiny Little Bit…

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Good Evening:

“Madame de Vionnet,” writing for A Beast in a Jungle, another WordPress blog (!), has reviewed Sheherezade 14 and raved about the entire show. The entire production deserves it; I feel ridiculously fortunate to have become part of such a show. “Madame” has kind words in particular for “The Duck:”

My favorite play of the evening was The Duck, by Vonn Scott Bair, directed by Cayabyab. The premise is ”ripped from the headlines” with a twist. Mbele-Mbong plays Hope, an appropriate name for a character who does not give up. Her monologues are gut-wrenching as she describes what her life has become. The Duck is a well-crafted and beautifully acted short play, with Homan and Galloway delivering solid supporting performances.

What lies beyond “ridiculously fortunate?” Because that’s how I feel about director Wesley Cayabyab and actors Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Cameron Galloway, and Rick Homan. I frequently use the phrase “legal cheating,” as in “having a director and cast this good feels like legal cheating,” but that phrase has never so true before.

Anyway, we have two more weeks, Thursday through Saturday, ending on the 28th. Hope you can attend!

Vonn Scott Bair

Jinshin Jiko at the Fringe of Marin Festival

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Good Evening:

I have a role in a terrific one-act play entitled Jinshin Jiko, a ghost story that will appear at this year’s Fringe of Marin theater festival. The play takes place in a Japanese subway, and the title roughly translates as “human accident,” a term used to for people who commit suicide by jumping in front of trains. We perform on May 24 and May 25 at 2:00, and May 30 and May 31 at 7:30. For more information and tickets, please visit the Fringe of Marin website.

During tonight’s tech rehearsal at the theater, I noticed an odd phenomenon of light when I looked up at the ceiling. First, take a look at the pictures below, all taken with my iPhone 4, all unedited. The question is simple: how many colors of paint do you see?

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The correct answer: a lot fewer than you think. Aside from a little brown wood trim on the edges of the first and last pictures, there’s only one color in all of these shots. It’s the off-white color you see in the left-hand side of the middle photograph. Yes, they all belong to my “Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White” series of pictures, but I have never seen such color changes resulting from shadow, the angles of light, and nearby lamps.

Anyway, I feel most fortunate to have become a part of Jinshin Jiko; we have a really good combination of script, director and cast. I hope you can attend. After all, how many good reasons to visit the San Francisco Bay Area are there?

Vonn Scott Bair