Category Archives: Playwriting

I’m Rich! I’m Wealthy! I’m an American Playwright!

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Good Evening:

I received an email this weekend from the Helen-Jean Play Contest, to which I had submitted a one-act play:

Congratulations, your submission “The Land of Hope and Dreams”, has won first prize in our contest.  Your will receive a nominal check and a certificate in the mail shortly.

Yes! Not my first win in a competition by any means, but quite welcome all the same! Now the theater company involved will not actually produce LOHAD, as I call it, but they will send me $50.00. So I have fifty bucks!

Ah, not quite. The reading fee for this particular competition equalled five dollars. So I have forty-five bucks!

Ah, not quite. I promptly purchased $40.17 worth of underwear. So I now have $4.83!

Ah, not quite. At a theater event on Saturday night, I spend $3.00 dollars on a soda.

So I now have $1.83.

Which puts me approximately $1.83 ahead of 90% of every playwright in the United States of America for the year 2015.

But I still have $1.83. Not only that, I have a lot of clean new undies.

Perhaps that’s what really matters.

Vonn Scott Bair

Sunday Night, Fun Day Done Right Day.

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Good Evening:

Sunday night in downtown San Francisco could not have gone much better for culture vultures. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco sponsored a fund raiser in which 8 groups of playwrights, directors and actors wrote, directed and acted in 8 short plays. I happened to play a role in this project: aside from providing breakfast for everyone on Sunday morning, I contributed 2 of the 3 required elements for each play.

The required theme for each play was “Surprisingly Unexpected.” Didn’t come up with that one (my offering: “This Is the End of the World As We Know It”), but I did contribute the required noun and the required line of dialogue. The noun: “Escape Vehicle.” The line of dialogue: “But what about the strawberries?” Thought the poor playwrights would suffer. Thought very wrong. The show was great.

Think for a moment of what kind of play you might write with the theme “Surprisingly Unexpected,” the noun “Escape Vehicle,” and the dialogue, “But what about the strawberries?” Offhand, I can recall these:

  • An extraterrestrial crash-lands her UFO in a male Earthling’s strawberry patch.
  • Two zombie cheerleaders try to cash a check.
  • A mother accidentally reveals that she has lied to her daughter for 21 years–she does know her father’s name.
  • An Elizabethan woman asks William Shakespeare to pretend that he wrote her plays.
  • A nice elderly Jewish couple, both wizards, discover that their new human customer used to be their pet hamster. Not a misprint.

Surprisingly unexpected, aren’t they? And yes, they all included escape vehicles and strawberries.

San Francisco playwrights have excellent imaginations.

After an excellent show, maybe the best 24-hour playfest the PCSF has done, I wandered down to the cable car turnaround on Powell Street, where a gentleman with what appeared to be a 4.5 inch reflector telescope hosted a “Saturn Party,” wherein he offered free viewings of the planet. A little different, even by San Francisco standards.

Just around the corner, in front of the Gap store, stood Clare Means. Who? Clare is a tall woman with Pre-Raphaelite hair, an acoustic guitar, and quite a gift for songwriting in the genre some might call Americana. She currently has a curious sort of nationwide tour in progress: she travels from city to city, busking on the streets with her guitar and portable amp, performing songs from her two current CD collections, collecting dollars to pay for gas and food–basically trying to make a name for herself without a record deal and with an advertising budget of zero. Dropped a dollar in her guitar case and listened to “Look Who’s Lucky Now,” a great intro to her music, which you can find on iTunes. Have heard a lot of musicians and bands that deserved only the greatest success never came anywhere close. Clare Means is just the latest of the bunch, but it would feel pretty darn good some day to see her name on a Top 20. I mean, come on, Pre-Rephaelite hair. Dang.

I even found two dimes on the sidewalk.

Sunday night was that kind of night.

Vonn Scott Bair

Intervention at Disneyland.

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Good Afternoon:

Every second Saturday of the month, San Francisco’s Exit Theatre hosts something called Saturday Write Fever, a fun little event of instant theater creation. I attended last night’s get-together.

The idea is simple: create a one-person monologue in 30 minutes. The overall theme for last night’s event: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Each playwright drew a piece of paper from an urn (not a chalice, an urn) that contained a line that he or she had to include in the monologue. Since I don’t swear, I can’t tell you exactly what mine was, but it was very close to “Who holds a f@#$king intervention at Disneyland?!”

Keep in mind that the writers have no idea which actors will read their material.

And yes, that does make things interesting.

After the writers returned to the cafe in which the performance would take place, we drew slips of from a chalice (not an urn, a chalice) with the names of the actors. I worked with the actor Rob Stern, who could not have looked or acted more well-suited for my little rant of a piece. Good thing, too: the quality of the writing and acting was the best I’ve seen at these Saturday Write Fever events, with not even one weak monologue or performer.

And so, I present “Intervention at Disneyland.” I have slightly edited the piece, adding <> to bracket and identify the new material. Incidentally, I was the only writer who not only included his/her line, I included the Theme as well.

INTERVENTION AT DISNEYLAND

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” You know what I say, Terry? “Today is the last day of the rest of your life!”

It isn’t how you cheat on me with other men. It isn’t how you cheat on me with other women. It isn’t how you steal from your boss, steal from your church, or steal from me.

It isn’t how you lie to EVERYONE, most of all me.

It isn’t how you leave the toilet seat up.

It isn’t even how you drove me to drink.

So what is it that will make me kill you in the next five minutes, <turn myself in to the police, confess, plead justifiable homicide, and get acquitted by a jury of my peers>?

Today you had a doctor, a counselor, a social worker, and a priest AMBUSH me at an amusement part in front of our children because you think I have a drinking problem.

That’s why you die tonight.

WHO HOLDS A F@#$ING INTERVENTION AT DISNEYLAND??

Vonn Scott Bair

The Taming of the Shrew, The Heidi Chronicles, and The Dead Play.

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Good Morning:

Can we please finally agree that The Taming of the Shrew is a dead play? Please?

I probably should backtrack and start over.

Many years ago, I joined a group of aspiring playwrights who liked to attend a play together and then have a few beers afterwards to discuss what they had seen. Not sure which is more important; sometimes it seems humans invented theater as something they could do to provide an excuse to have a few beers afterward. All of the other playwrights were at least a score of years younger than yours truly, a point that will soon become important.

Once and only once during a show, the entire group left at intermission and did not return. The play in question, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, had a fine cast and a good director with an interesting vision for the script. The script itself has held a prominent place in American theater since its Pulitzer Prize winning debut in the late 1980s. And yet we walked out at intermission.

The other playwrights, especially the women, expressed virulent disgust with the writer’s portrayal of women in the script. Those of you who have read or seen the play might feel quite surprised; the cast consists primarily of female characters and traditionally has a cast of five women and three men. I agreed that the women characters were poorly written, focusing on one particular lesbian character who was so one-dimensional that a homophobe would call Wasserstein a compadre. But I had a bigger reservation.

“Let’s face it. The Heidi Chronicles is a dead play.”

“What do you mean?” asked one young woman

“In this particular case, it’s hopelessly dated, it’s stuck in its time, it doesn’t resonate with anyone younger than me, it doesn’t resonate with any of you. I mean, nothing says ‘dated’ quite like a Laura Nyro joke.”

Everyone laughed. Then another young woman said, “Who’s Laura Nyro?”

I don’t know much about theater (even after almost thirty productions of my own plays), so I don’t know if the concept of “the dead play” or perhaps another term with the same meaning has any place in the business. But sometimes plays just don’t work anymore. Almost all of 19th Century American theater is dead, and rightly so; the plays sucked. In The Heidi Chronicles, the problem lies with most of the characters, cliches flatter than the 2 of Clubs in a deck of cards. The play does still resonate with a tiny sliver of the theater-going world; aside from my group, the audience consisted almost entirely of women in their 60s or older. I have serious doubts that anyone will want to see it in a few decades.

And yet people will still want to see Shrew.

I have read the play, a complete primer on the ever-so-splendid art of spousal abuse (please tell me you spotted the sarcasm). It’s all here, and you can check them off, one by one: physical beating, check; starvation, check; sleep deprivation, check; psychological abuse in myriad varieties, check, check and check.

And people want to produce this?!

Modern productions resort to a lot of tricks to try and redeem this garbage. Typically, they will delete scenes which make people uncomfortable, and/or portray Kate a willing participant who thinks the whole thing is a joke. I saw one production last week (a friend played Kate’s father) where they tried to excuse the whole thing as a sham, where the actors played actors playing The Taming of the Shrew as a sort of “play within the play” as part of an elaborate prank played by a rich nobleman on a homeless man.

As if adding practical jokes at the expense of the homeless makes everything better. And to do this in San Francisco?! In a theater on a block that includes among other things a homeless shelter?!

Yes, William Shakespeare was a playwright for our time and for all time; he was also a man of his time, with the prejudices and conventional beliefs of his time. It does nothing to diminish his greatness to state that sometimes he just plain sucked. The closest thing to a virtue this play retains is that it might remind viewers that in our time we have our own prejudices and conventional beliefs and how a few centuries from now they might seem quaint at best and dangerously wrong at worst (he wrote, suddenly thinking of a recent Irish vote).

The Taming of the Shrew is just a creepy (by the standards of our times) misogynist (by the standards of our times) misfire from a guy who–like us–didn’t even know that sometimes he was blind to the prejudices of the era in which he lived, prejudices that he might not have known that he had. No one can do anything to redeem the play short of changing it so drastically that it ceases to be the play that Shakespeare wrote. He wrote a play glorifying spousal abuse because he thought spousal abuse was a good idea. By the standards of his time, William Shakespeare might have been a comparatively good human being. He’s still one of the greatest writers ever.

But he’s still just as human as the rest of us.

And The Taming of the Shrew is just as much garbage as the dust in my vacuum cleaner.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you do not know who Laura Nyro is, for heaven’s sake please do yourself a kindness and head on over to the iTunes store and start downloading.

PPS–The Merchant of Venice is also dead. Come on, people, stop trying to pretend that Shylock is a tragic figure, a sympathetic character. So what if he speaks eloquently on his behalf? So does Richard III. So do all of Bill’s villains.

The Aristeia of Clarence Clemons @ 3:12 a.m., and a New Puzzle!

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Good Morning:

Did you know that Clarence Clemons’ legendary saxophone solo during “Jungleland” on the Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 album runs exactly two minutes, twenty-three seconds?

In simple English, I have taken part in another 24-hour “play in a day” festival and at 3:12 a.m., determining the exact length of The Solo was the most important thing I could do. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco runs two of these events each as fundraisers, and they conduct business by picking slips of paper from a hat. I was selected as a writer by a software version of the same, assigned my director by drawing his name from a hat, assigned the cast size by drawing a number from a hat (3), and assigned the specific actors by the same process.

Finally, the theme. “The Devil Made Me Do It.”

Assignment was the same as ever: write an entire play in 9 hours for a production the following night.

Usually, writing a short play under these circumstances proves surprisingly easy, but for some reason, the theme made this the most difficult 24-hour project I’ve undertaken in 15 years, since the night our theme was a Rene Magritte painting. Oddly, the final script is only 8 pages long, but the theme still made the project tough. However, I can proudly proclaim that I wrote the line “Niccolo Machiavelli. Dear Nicky–always in a class by himself,” and it actually makes sense in the context of the play.

In slightly over 14 hours, “The Latest Small Triumph of Levia Stand” receives its world premiere. I have never worked with the director or any of the actors before, but feel cautiously optimistic that they can wring something decent from what I dump upon their poor heads. If the show turns out well, I will publish the script here. If not, I shall do the right thing and spare you the agony.

Meanwhile, if you like anagrams, I have a fun new puzzle for you! “Levia Stand” is an anagram containing two names used for one of the great characters in all of literature, theater, and musical comedy. What are the two names?

Vonn Scott Bair

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

Photos from The Genuine Show! Rehearsals.

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Good Evening:

The search for a reasonably priced trombone goes on, but so have the rehearsals, and The Genuine Show! has come together very well. Here are some shots from a recent rehearsal. Tickets for the show available at Brown Paper Tickets, brownpapertickets.com/event/1409569.

Director Wesley Cayabyab did a great job directing The Duck last year, and is bringing all of his energy to the new show.

Director Wesley Cayabyab did a great job directing The Duck last year, and is bringing all of his energy to the new show.

Jocelyn Truitt, Ric Wenzel, Sarah Galarneau, Sarah Leight and Colin Hussey listening to Wesley's instructions.

Jocelyn Truitt, Ric Wenzel, Sarah Galarneau, Sarah Leight and Colin Hussey listening to Wesley’s instructions.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Genuine Show Opens April 16!

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Good Evening:

I have waited a long time for this–my first ever full-length evening of theater!

Pictured: Colin Hussey, Ric Wenzel and Jocelyn in "This Is Not a Play."

Pictured: Colin Hussey, Ric Wenzel and Jocelyn Truitt in “This Is Not a Play.”

The Unknown Players, a new theater company in San Francisco, selected a collection of my shorter one-act plays for their first production–a great honor. The Genuine Show! includes seven short plays, mostly comedies, about relationships ranging from normal to literally Surreal (“This Is Not a Play” is a tribute to Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte).

Six performances, Thursday through Saturday, April 16, 17, 18 and 23, 24, 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit our listing at Brown Paper Tickets.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you can attend!

Vonn Scott Bair

The Genuine Show!, April 16 – 25, 2015.

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Good Evening:

Well, this little project has taken a bit of my time lately: my first ever full-length show!

The Genuine Show! represents the debut of a new theater troupe called The Unknown Players, and they have honored me by producing an evening of seven short plays, including “The Duck” (see here and here), which earned raves last year at the Sheherezade festival.

The Genuine Show! will run for six shows over two weeks, Thursday through Saturday, April 16-18 and April 23-25, at the Studio at the Exit Theater, 156 Eddy Street, in San Francisco. More details, including excerpts from the plays and photos of the cast in rehearsals, will follow. If you live in the Bay Area or plan to visit soon, please consider an evening at the theater. This represents a significant step forward and I want to share it with everyone.

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

The Stage Is All the Worlds (Weekly Photo Challenge: Room)

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Good Evening:

This is the sold-out house that greeted the world premiere of Sheherezade 14, the short play festival that includes my own world premiere, The Duck:

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Surprisingly decent shot for an iPhone 4, given the lighting. Set up for the first play, that stage had to serve as the backdrop for 8 different worlds, including 6 rooms. In order from beginning to end:

  1. Dissonance (playwright: Terry Anderson): an absurd Dadaist, Pirandellian landscape.
  2. Almost Like Being Alive (Steve Koppman): a coffee shop.
  3. The Interview (Madeline Puccioni): a bar.
  4. Photo Dynamic Therapy (Jennifer Lynne Roberts): a bedroom.
  5. Reframing Rockwell (Jim Norrena): Norman Rockwell’s studio.
  6. The Box (Madeleine Butler): a museum storage room.
  7. The Duck (yours truly): Hope Judith Hauser’s front yard.
  8. Brew, Drink, Repeat (Bridgette Dutta Portman): A coffee shop that exists outside the space/time continuum.

One stage, one room, eight worlds. I think Shakespeare had it backwards.

Anyway, we had a great opening night; full house, actors in top form. When it works, theater is quite the universe.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Duck World Premiere, June 7-28!

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Good Evening:

And good heavens…less than two weeks until my next world premiere, The Duck at the 14th annual Sheherezade festival of very short plays at the Exit Theatre in downtown San Francisco.

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My life has gotten rather a bit maddening this month of May. Between rehearsals and performances for Jinshin Jiko at the Fringe of Marin theater festival, plus meetings & correspondence for a film project in the first weekend of June (I’m the screenwriter), I haven’t had a chance to attend more than the first rehearsal of my own play The Duck (you can read the seven page script here and here).

Normally, I prefer to attend a few early rehearsals and a few late ones. The early ones so I can listen to my howlingly bad tone-deaf dialogue and fix the script, the later ones so I can marvel at how the cast and crew have salvaged the show. This time around, people keep saying the same two words, over and over. The second most common: “stunning.” The most common? “Beautiful.”

I feel most curious to see the first run-through of the entire show; apparently, I have something good.

Director Wesley Cayabyab selected an amazing cast that carries the play to whole new levels, and they have worked very hard on a challenging little play, even if only 7 pages long. Here are two of the actors, Rick Homan as an FBI agent, and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong in the lead role as the amnesiac Hope Judith Hauser.

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The third member, Cameron Galloway, is one of San Francisco’s best comedic actors, but as the other FBI agent, she is tackling one of her most serious roles.

HS-Cameron Galloway

I keep hearing that The Duck looks really good at this stage, but knowing almost nothing of the rehearsal process, it feels like I have a surprise present awaiting me in June.

Anyway, Wily West is a terrific small theater company based in San Francisco, which has produced a number of Sheherezade short play festivals, an annual event of the Playwrights Center of San Francisco. If you need just one more reason to visit my home town next month, Sheherezade 14 might prove the perfect “just one more reason” you need.

Vonn Scott Bair

On the Threshold of Theater (Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold)

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Good Evening:

On occasion, one aspect of theater stands out from most other forms of the arts.

Sometimes, you can’t possibly know how the story will end.

The Set of The Two Chairs, 5 April 2014

The Set of The Two Chairs, 5 April 2014

You can skip ahead to the end of a short story, a poem, or a book. In big-budget movies, you already know what will happen even before you fork over your $10-12 (plus the price of popcorn). I haven’t seen the latest James Bond yet, heck, they might not have even filmed it yet, but I probably already know that the dude will still be alive at the end (and somehow, I don’t think that’s a spoiler alert). In low-budget movies, you can’t take for granted that you know how they will end, so they offer a similar experience to theater. Sometimes a good television show will throw a huge surprise at you, so that also counts as a similar experience.

But when you sit in your chair on the threshold of the world premiere of a play, you can’t possibly know how it will turn out before the end. As the above picture shows, you can’t even know what you might see on stage. A movie set in New York City? You probably won’t see the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s just not real. Theater hasn’t these constraints (unless the show wants them), and therefore has greater scope for invention, even though it operates under severe physical constraints. Theater is invention grounded by force in reality.

The above photograph of the set of The Two Chairs (world premiere this month at Bindlestiff by the Performers Under Stress) is a good example. As it happens, I had to opportunity to read the entire script before the show, and still had no idea what to expect. Sometimes happens with the classics, too: Yale Rep once staged a spectacular version of The Tempest featuring eight Ariels.

The Two Chairs is a two-hander (two actors total) about confession, power, domination and control. Both actors did very well on the night I saw the show, but Duane Lawrence has now amazed me in two consecutive plays; he can do astonishing things just by arching a single eyebrow. And that’s another advantage of the theater over other art forms; its sheer visceral nature. Those are real human beings on a stage and sometimes they are only a few feet away from you. Or even less; in one show, my character had a death scene that went slightly awry and my head ended up on an audience member’s foot. CGI just can’t me the same feeling; after a while, let’s face it, it’s just more computer stuff.

Theater: it’s just plain real.

Surprise yourself and check out a play and let it surprise you.

Full disclosure: I know the director and cast of The Two Chairs (the SF theater scene is both big and small; everyone knows everyone). Even so, I still feel good about recommending the show.

Vonn Scott Bair