Showing posts with label olympians fest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label olympians fest. Show all posts

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Coming up in 2014: "Dryads" and "Pleiades"


I'll be writing for the San Francisco Olympians Festival again this year: a short play on the subject of dryads. The play will have a staged reading on November 5 as part of the festival's opening night ("Nymphs! Nymphs! Nymphs!").

A little information about my Dryads project just went up on the Olympians Festival website. If you're wondering "what is a dryad?" "how does Marissa plan to write about dryads?" or even "who is this Marissa person, anyway?" you'll find the answers there.

But November's a long way off, and dryads are not at the forefront of my mind, because I'm in the midst of getting a production of my play Pleiades off the ground for a summer 2014 opening. Pleiades was my contribution to the 2011 Olympians Festival and I haven't been able to put it behind me -- I've revised the script, and found a director, and am proud that it will be my first full-length play produced in San Francisco.

I'm excited about this project but also, quite frankly, terrified. Being the playwright, and the producer, and a perfectionist... that's a difficult combination of things to be. I've been lying awake in bed at night, consumed by thoughts like "where the heck can I source cheap Adirondack chairs?" (Or is this the set designer's responsibility? See, I don't even know.)

The image above, by the way, is what I'm using for my "Dryads" author photo, because it's thematically appropriate... but, looking at it now, it also reminds me of the old rule-of-thumb for dramatic structure: "Act One: get your protagonist up a tree. Act Two: throw stones at him. Act Three; get him down from the tree."

This self-producing business is getting me up a tree, all right.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Orpheus and Eurydice" by Jeremy Dobrish: Mythology for Hipsters

I've spent a significant portion of my life over the last four years involved with a theater festival that commissions new plays based on Greek mythology, and I translated Jean Cocteau's Orphée and produced it at Theater Pub last April. So it's no surprise that my friend Stuart (founder of both the Olympians Festival and Theater Pub) dug up a copy of an obscure Orpheus and Eurydice adaptation that played off-Broadway circa the turn of the millennium, and gave it to me with an "I think you should read this."

Orpheus And Eurydice
by Jeremy Dobrish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jeremy Dobrish's Orpheus and Eurydice is a modern, hipster adaptation, in which Orpheus is the frontman of In Your Thrace, a popular rock band. (Jason and Hercules are the other band members.) This version is fast-paced, theatrically savvy, and laden with in-jokes and unusual choices. Despite being one of the title characters, Eurydice is a silent role (the other characters are fond of reminding us that "traditional mythology has very little to say about her"). Orpheus narrates the first part of his trip to the Underworld in a long monologue, but we never hear him sing or play any of his music. Instead, toward the end of Act Two, Death and her two assistants perform an elaborate song-and-dance routine called "What Is Love?"

The depiction of Death and her assistants, by the way, is pretty clearly ripped off from Jean Cocteau's play Orphée. I can't decide whether this is a fun homage or an act of plagiarism, just as I can't decide how I feel about many of the other aforementioned choices (Eurydice's silence; Orpheus' Underworld monologue; Death's song-and-dance).

Still, I'd be interested in seeing this script performed (preferably in a black-box theater by my local hipster company) in order to see how it works onstage, and to make up my mind. Overall, I'd say that it reads like the work of an overeducated twentysomething theater-and-mythology nerd, but hey, I'm one of those myself.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Confessions of a Copy-Editor @ SF Theater Pub Blog

One reason that postings here have been so intermittent is that I've been busy this summer copy-editing two anthologies of plays:
  • the Bay One Acts anthology, which will be available for sale in the lobby and is also a reward for our Kickstarter donors. A $25 donation gets you a ticket to the festival AND a copy of the anthology. Such a deal!
  • Heavenly Bodies, an anthology of plays from the 2011 Olympians Festival, including my own Pleiades. Needless to say, I'm really excited about this one, and will post more details (publication date, etc.) as I have them.
And, for my latest Theater Pub column, I decided to write about my adventures as a copy-editor of play anthologies. Read all about it!

I've spent so much time copy-editing lately that it affects the way I see the world. I've become ever more conscious of typos in the things I read for pleasure. Moreover, after I read that New York Times article about new research indicating that Shakespeare wrote some 325 lines of The Spanish Tragedy, my takeaway was "Just think, if copy-editors had existed in Jacobean England, we wouldn't have this proof." (The text of these lines is riddled with errors and misprints, but the researcher thinks that most of them came about because the printers had trouble reading Shakespeare's messy handwriting.) So perhaps I shouldn't beat myself up if an occasional typo slips into the books I edit? Writers' typos and errors are unique, personal signatures; and as a copy-editor, you develop a very intimate relationship with the text.

And two different friends recently sent me that Onion article about "4 Copy Editors Killed in Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence." Thing is, though, I'm a freelancer. I have no stylebook. I make my own rules. I'm an outlaw gunslinger, and it's a lonely world.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bon Anniversaire, Cody Rishell

Today's post is dedicated to my friend Cody Rishell, because it's his birthday and because I haven't properly thanked him, on this blog, for all of the ways his art and his friendship have enhanced my life over the past three years.

The first real memory I have of Cody is working the Olympians Festival audition sign-in table with him in 2010. He was talking a mile a minute about The House of Mirth (he had just watched the heartbreaking Gillian Anderson film version) and "California Gurls" (the song had just been released and Cody already had it stuck in his head). Not many people can talk with equal authority and enthusiasm about Edith Wharton novels and Katy Perry songs -- so Cody immediately piqued my interest as someone I'd like to know better.

Since then, we have bonded over our mutual love for Alphonse Mucha, La Traviata, The Great Gatsby, indie theater, and much more. Last year, I served as copy-editor and Cody did the layout for the Bay One-Acts play anthology -- we had a ridiculously quick turn-around time to put the book together (one week) but we ended up having a surprising amount of fun doing it. When I discovered that I could use Google Docs to compile a list of typos as I found them, and Cody could see the list update automatically as I typed, he wrote that his "head was exploding with unicorn glitter sex." Yes, it is that much fun to work on copy-editing a book with Cody.

Cody coordinates all of the art for the Olympians Festival each year, meaning that he recruited the artists who did the beautiful posters for my plays Pleiades (Emily C. Martin) and Aphrodite (Kelly Lawrence).

This year, Cody did black-and-white portraits of me, Stuart Bousel, and Meg O'Connor to serve as the promo artwork for our "Behind the Curtain" mini-festival at the end of March. I love the portrait he did of me (based on my headshot photo), especially the eyebrows!


"I was trying to channel '1960s French secret agent go-go car racer girl,'" said Cody when I complimented him on the way he drew my eyebrows.

Because Cody says fabulous things like that. And then the only thing I could do in response was send him this YouTube video of Anna Karina singing "Roller Girl." (I cannot find a version of this online that I can embed in my blog. But click the link, it's worth it.)

Cody also had an art show last year called "Everyone Worth Knowing is a Mythological Creature in Disguise," which is a pretty great philosophy, n'est-ce pas?

I particularly like his drawings of the sexy minotaur girl who goes around carrying a parasol, which she wields like a weapon in defense of the less fortunate.

Cody also does all of the artwork for San Francisco Theater Pub, and I have to confess that one of the most exciting things about producing a show at Theater Pub was the prospect of seeing what Cody would draw for the program. His illustration for Orphée this month was even better than I could've hoped: it was double-sided, with Orphée on one side of the paper and Eurydice on the other. So if you hold it up to the light, the image of Eurydice shines through the paper like a ghost. I can't find a picture of this online (and that wouldn't be the right format for it, anyway) but trust me, it was amazing.

So happy birthday, Cody, you mythological creature in disguise, and thank you for all of your beautiful artwork. Here's to many more years and much more beauty.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Month to Wear a Crown

So, this happened:


That is, I appeared on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle's December 6 arts section wearing a bedsheet toga, a crown, and a goofy expression. Flanked by my friends and fellow playwrights Stuart Bousel and Claire Rice (both working different variants on a "Who does that bitch with the crown think she is?" attitude).

Inside, the Chron published a lovely article about the Olympians Festival, as well as another photo. The most delightful surprise was that I got name-checked in the article as an "established playwright." The first time that the Chron prints my name, and they already consider me an established playwright! This, in an era when any playwright whose work hasn't appeared on Broadway is typically referred to as an "emerging playwright"! Many playwrights chafe against the "emerging" label, finding it condescending. So there is something deeply satisfying about seeing a major national newspaper refer to me, in print, as "established."

I had worried that appearing on the cover of a newspaper arts section while crowning myself (like Napoleon) is an act of overweening hubris, and surely the gods would see fit to punish me for my pride and vanity. But instead, December has been kind of a charmed month for me. The reading of my Aphrodite screenplay was a success, and won the audience vote at the end of the night. I'm as busy as I've ever been, seeing great new work at the Olympians Festival, meeting interesting new people, running into people I used to know, winning raffles, experiencing all kinds of fortuitously karmic moments.

And with that, I'm off to see the final performance of this year's San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival, which includes two plays of mine. That's another delightful surprise. I must've gotten left off an email thread somewhere, because I had been led to believe that only one of the two plays I'd submitted had been chosen for production. It was only this afternoon that I found out that both of my plays are in the festival!

I know I'm a lucky girl, and I'm trying to be grateful for all of the overwhelming-in-a-good-way things that are happening to me.

Photos by Russell Yip for the S.F. Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

69 Reasons to See "Aphrodite, or The Love Goddess"

The staged reading of my screenplay Aphrodite, or the Love Goddess is taking place on Friday, December 7, and I would love to see you all there! (if you can make it to the Exit Theater in downtown San Francisco at 8 PM.) Still need convincing? Here are 69 reasons to show up.

  1. It's the first screenplay ever written for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. History in the making!
  2. It's also the first screenplay I've written since I was a teenager, so it's your chance to see me work in a new medium.
  3. Besides, when was the last time you saw a staged reading of a screenplay?
  4. The "hook" of the piece (what I pitched last year in order to win the commission to write it): "The Aphrodite-Ares-Hephaestus love triangle, re-imagined in 1940s Hollywood."
  5. If you are a 1940s movie buff, you'll have fun playing "spot the reference" to try to figure out which films I am alluding to / stealing from.
  6. In fact, it probably features a lot of what you love about '40s movies, including: a romantic scene set on a train;
  7. scenes of glamorous people enjoying themselves;
  8. roles for character actors straight out of central casting;
  9. wiseacre quips;
  10. shadowy city streets in the wrong part of town;
  11. a love triangle involving a beautiful woman, a sexy bad boy, and a cuckolded sap of a husband;
  12. a cynical and fatalistic p.o.v.;
  13. and other film noir elements.
  14. There are also a few Greek-mythology in-jokes that will amuse people familiar with the lore.
  15. The reading is on December 7 -- Pearl Harbor Day -- and the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor appears at a key moment in the screenplay.  
  16. It's only 55 minutes long,
  17. but it has the most sex scenes of anything I've ever written,
  18. plus some '40s-style innuendo in the vein of "Just put your lips together and blow,"
  19. so it's probably a good choice for a date night?
  20. At the same time, my parents are going to be in the audience, so you can have fun watching me (and them) try not to cringe during the sexy moments.
  21. Our director, Sara Staley, has come up with dynamic but appropriate staging to bring the text to life,
  22. and put together a great cast, which includes:
  23. the beautiful Shay Wisniewski as the starlet Rosalie Seaborne (Aphrodite),
  24. the masterful Dan Kurtz as writer-director Fritz Vollkin (Hephaestus),
  25. the charismatic Paul Jennings as movie mogul Mr. Zusskind (Zeus), and
  26. the debonair Brian Thomen as war hero Lt. Harry Mars (Ares).
  27. Because the character of Fritz is a mild-mannered German-Jewish immigrant, Dan will do a German accent,
  28. and because the character of Harry is an R.A.F. pilot, Brian will do a Scottish accent.
  29. The versatile Patrick Barresi will play all of the other male roles, including a fast-talking studio flack,
  30. a self-absorbed matinee idol,
  31. an adorable little old man,
  32. an aw-shucks hick,
  33. and a ratty-looking hotel clerk;
  34. and the equally versatile Siobhan Doherty plays all of the other female roles, including a snippy secretary,
  35. a little old lady,
  36. and an officious bobby-soxer.
  37. To top it all off, Stacy Sanders Young will guide you through the screenplay by reading all of the camera directions,
  38. including two bravura montage sequences.
  39. Exercise your imagination by picturing the movie in your head as we describe it!
  40. This is the first Olympians Festival experience for my director Sara and many of our cast members. I have so enjoyed working with them and bringing them into the Olympians family.
  41. Unlike many '40s screenplays or even 2010s screenplays, this one passes the Bechdel test (if just barely).
  42. And the team who's putting this together (writer + director + cast + poster artist) is majority-female too.
  43. If you saw my play Pleiades last year, you'll remember how the Zeus character in that is an altogether nasty piece of work. Aphrodite features a much kinder, gentler Zeus.
  44. After the reading is over, I hope to do some blog posts about how I taught myself how to write a screenplay and what I learned from the experience. If you see the staged reading, these posts may make more sense to you.
  45. I'll be at the reading, and I plan to wear an amazing, absurdly appropriate 1940s vintage dress (thanks to the ladies at Ver Unica).
  46. I mentioned my dad will be there. Did I also mention that he'll probably be wearing a bow tie?
  47. And he has a great laugh.
  48. Almost as great as Claire Rice's (who will also be there).
  49. Our Box Office Babe, Tracy Held Potter, will sell you your ticket with a smile,
  50. and you'll want to check out what she's wearing, too, since she's theming her outfit to each show.
  51. Tickets are just $10 at the door,
  52. and for that price, you'll see two shows! Aphrodite, or the Love Goddess will be paired with Amy Clare Tasker's one-act Phoebe & Theia, or How To Get to Tartarus.
  53. This isn't the place to do a full-on pitch for my rival's show, but let me just say that Amy is very cool, and Phoebe & Theia will be very different in tone from Aphrodite, and I look forward to sharing the evening with her.
  54. After seeing both plays, the audience gets to vote for their favorite! So yes, I'm trying to pack the house with friends and supporters.
  55. That's right, you have the ability to award me a glorious victory or shame me with an ignominious defeat!
  56. The writers receive a cut of the box-office proceeds, and so do the actors -- another reason we hope to fill every seat in the house.
  57. Stuart Bousel will provide a brief introduction to the evening's subjects (Phoebe, Theia, and Aphrodite) -- his insights into Greek mythology are always worth hearing.
  58. You'll have the opportunity to buy raffle tickets and win a copy of our beautiful poster, by Kelly Lawrence (above),
  59. or our special "Aphrodite" themed raffle prize, a vintage 1940s art deco hand mirror.
  60. Did you know that if you see 4 Olympians plays, you'll get to see a 5th for free? See my show and you're on your way to taking advantage of this deal.
  61. Food and drink are for sale, and allowed into the theater;
  62. may I recommend the Exit Theater's champagne cocktail as particularly tasty and appropriate for a '40s play?
  63. After the show, we encourage audience members go out drinking with us at the White Horse, on Sutter Street,
  64. which is the perfect chance to share your reactions and feedback with the artists!
  65. This is a one-night-only event -- a unique experience.
  66. Indeed, I sincerely doubt this screenplay will ever be produced as a film, so this may be your only chance ever to experience this project of mine.
  67. Unless you are (or you know) a deep-pocketed film producer who would love to produce a 55-minute, Greek-mythology-based, 1940s period film? If so, please show up!
  68. But most importantly: theater and film are nothing without an audience.
  69. And I'm proud of what I've written, and I want to share it with you.
Once again, this one-night-only event is taking place on Friday, December 7, at 8 PM at the Exit Theatre, at 156 Eddy St, San Francisco. I hope to see you there.

Credits: Aphrodite poster art by Kelly Lawrence.  I also need to credit the inspirations for this post, which are twofold:
  • Evidently, the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs was originally going to be 100 Love Songs, but that sounded excessive, so they dropped it to 69. Similarly, this post was originally going to be 100 Reasons to See Aphrodite, but...
  • The other inspiration is my friend Megan Cohen and her habit of going on creativity blitzes. Sitting down and thinking up 50 or 100 ideas at a time, even if you only need one. I decided I would try doing the same.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

SF Olympians III on IndieGogo



We at San Francisco Olympians Festival are currently running an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds for the festival's third edition, coming this December. (Featuring my new play The Love Goddess as one of 24 original one-act plays inspired by Greek mythology.)  There are four days to go until the campaign concludes and I'm pleased to say that we're just $200 away from our goal!  But don't let that stop you, if you're moved to contribute: any additional money we earn will go to paying the festival's writers, directors, actors, and poster artists. I think I can speak for everyone working on the festival to say that we will be so grateful for any contribution. Once again, our IndieGogo campaign ends on Thursday, so please don't delay!

A $48 contribution, by the way, gets you a copy of Songs of Hestia, the new book of five plays from the 2010 Olympians Festival, and my debut as a published author. (I wrote the introduction.) The book is also available on Amazon.com if you'd prefer to get it that way -- or if you need to buy additional copies for your friends!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Everything Amazing is Happening at Once

Hiya! I've been busy trying to make amazing things happen. And all of a sudden, they are! Let me tell you of them:
  • A BOOK I COPY-EDITED IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON.COM! Sorry for shouting, but this is basically the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. Songs of Hestia: Five Plays from the 2010 San Francisco Olympians Festival is being published later this month and is currently available for pre-order. I copy-edited the book and wrote the introduction. The text of Amazon.com's "Book Description" is taken from my introduction! Contains plays by Nirmala Nataraj, Bennett Fisher, Stuart Eugene Bousel, Claire Rice, and Evelyn Jean Pine.
  • The other book I copy-edited this year, the Bay One-Acts (BOA) Anthology, is available for purchase at the BOA Festival. Both books have covers designed by Cody Rishell and, with their similar color schemes, I must say that they would look fabulous next to one another on your bookshelf. Also remember to get your BOA tickets, and check out the playwright interviews that I did for the BOA website!
 So yes, I'm busy, but I've got amazing stuff going on. Follow me on Twitter (@MarissaSkud) so you don't miss any of it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Announcing Aphrodite

Guess what's happening exactly one year from tonight?

The San Francisco Olympians Festival will present a staged reading of a new one-act play about the goddess Aphrodite... written by me!

The theme for the 2012 Festival is Titans vs. Olympians. Each evening will pair two one-acts (45-60 minutes), one based on an Olympian god and the other based on a thematically related Titan. At the end of the evening, the audience will vote on its favorite play. Aphrodite will be paired with Phoebe and Theia, by my friend Amy Clare Tasker.

It's a great lineup of writers next year, a good mix of fresh faces and Olympians favorites, and we're already getting into the competitive spirit -- there's been a lot of incredibly geeky trash-talking between Team Titans and Team Olympians.

I don't want to give too much away, but the general idea for this yet-to-be-written play (working title: The Love Goddess) is that it will depict Aphrodite as a 1940s Hollywood starlet and retell the story of the Aphrodite-Ares-Hephaestus love triangle.

Yes, it's another "historical" play for me. As you know, my research often spills onto my blog (there were lots of posts about the 1930s while I was writing The Rose of Youth and about the 1960s-70s when I was writing Pleiades), so I expect there will be some blog posts about the 1940s in the coming months. I'm already putting together a list of movies I need to see (Rita Hayworth figures heavily) and books to read.

And I find it appropriate that the staged reading will take place on December 7, since that date is indelibly associated with the 1940s.

Mark your calendars, and wish me luck as I begin this new play!

Image: The Rokeby Venus by Velázquez, one of my favorite paintings of Venus/Aphrodite.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Olympians Festival Post on 2AMTheatre

I know I've been AWOL from my blog for too long, but you can check out 2AMTheatre today to see a post I wrote about the Olympians Festival (which is what kept me so busy in October)

Greeks and Geeks: The San Francisco Olympians Festival

Many thanks to Tim Bauer for suggesting that I write this post and to David Loehr for his stewardship of 2AMTheatre.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Olympians are Omnipresent!


The San Francisco Olympians Festival is well under way and it feels like it has been taking the city by storm! You can check us out at the following locations...
  • On your iPhone: Thanks to playwright/programmer Kirk Shimano, we are the world's only mythology-inspired theater festival with its own (free) app! It features schedules, cast lists, and festival artwork. Search for "olympians" at the App Store.
  • In Bay Stages: There's a 1-page feature on us in the October issue of this new-ish local performing arts magazine. Also free! Pick up your copy here.
  • In American Theatre Magazine: We made it into a national publication! The article isn't available online, but pick up a hard copy of the October issue and turn to pages 14-15 for a few nice paragraphs on the Olympians Festival.
  • At the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street): We had our opening party here, and all month long the cafe gallery is hosting a show of the original Festival artwork. It is just stunning to see in person, particularly Molly Benson's Perseus glass mosaics and Emily C. Martin's original Pleiades drawing, featuring real gold leaf!
Photo by Claire Rice. That's me kneeling at front, with some of my fellow Olympians playwrights: (l-r) Maria Leigh, Christian Simonsen, Neil Higgins, Bryce Duzan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Links: Playwriting, "Pleiades," Personals, Paris...

Links to tide you over as I ignore my blog in favor of revising my play. The staged reading is happening one month from tonight!
  • Pleiades is set in 1971 and I've been getting my daily dose of visual inspiration from the Sighs and Whispers blog, which posts scans of old fashion magazines, with a heavy focus on the late-'60s early-'70s era. Because my play is about seven sisters, I especially liked "Seven Faces of Beauty," an ad campaign from 1972.
  • Far more contemporary: N+1 Personals. I love these people. I hate these people. I want to slap these people. I want to date these people. I have more in common with these people than I would like to admit. Is this a ruthless "Stuff White People Like"-style examination of the preoccupations of young, overeducated, underpaid Americans? A collection of desperate lonelyhearts who name-drop Derrida and Pynchon in order to conceal their fear that they're dull and empty inside? An assortment of vibrant individuals who would be my new best friends if we ever met in person? And before you ask, no, I am not the "latter-day Aphra Behn seeking straight Kit Marlowe." I wish I were clever enough to describe myself that way!
  • Thought-provoking HowlRound post by the brilliant Taylor Mac. Quote: "I would go one step further and suggest not to read plays until after they’ve committed to producing them. Instead get to know artists and their body of work. Give them a date on the calendar for when their new play will be produced and… trust. If you’ve liked plays they’ve written in the past, chances are they’ll write something you’ll be interested in again, and if not, the production will be over in a couple months but the relationship with the artist may last decades." You know, this is kind of how the Olympians Festival works -- we were given a year to write our plays and, come hell or high water, they'll have staged readings in October. And I am immensely grateful for, yes, the trust and faith that our Festival producer has placed in me throughout the process.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Psychedelic "Pleiades" Poster

I love, love, love Emily C. Martin's poster art for Pleiades! (Click for a bigger version.) And how amazing is it that the Olympians Festival creates such stunning artwork for what is, in essence, a one-night-only staged reading?

Our Festival art coordinator, Cody Rishell, asked us if we had any guidance for the artist, and I responded with an email about the early 1970s, psychedelic rock posters from that era, Alphonse Mucha, Art Nouveau, maxi dresses, and long-haired girls. (My decision to set Pleiades in 1971 was inspired by a photograph of my mother's six beautiful female cousins wearing long dresses in the early '70s.) I worried that I was demanding too much... but you can see that Emily Martin was able to capture all of that and more! I especially like the swirling mandala-like design.

The first show of the Olympians Festival is in exactly one month and Pleiades is taking place on October 22. Come to my show and have a chance to win a copy of this poster in a raffle!

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Suddenly, Greek gods can be just as interesting and relevant as real people"

A Metafilter thread today led me to this passage from the novel Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, that deals with the continuing relevance and power of Greek mythology to the modern world. An extract:
"Okay. So the Athena that you honor on your medallion isn't a supernatural being--"

"--who lives on a mountain in Greece, et cetera, but rather whatever entity, pattern, trend, what-have-you that, when perceived by ancient Greek people, and filtered through their perceptual machinery and their pagan worldview, produced the internal mental representation that they dubbed Athena. The distinction being important because Athena-the supernatural-chick-with-the-helmet is of course nonexistent, but 'Athena' the external-generator-of-the-internal-representation-dubbed-Athena-by-the-ancient-Greeks must have existed back then, or if she existed back then, the chances are excellent that she exists now, and if all that is the case, then whatever ideas the ancient Greeks (who, though utter shitheads in many ways, were terrifyingly intelligent people) had about her are probably quite valid."
It goes on from there and is thought-provoking. A nice thing to read as the San Francisco Olympians Festival draws nearer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Under the Sea: "Salty Towers" at Thunderbird Theatre

Pity poor Poseidon. After he and his two brothers defeated Cronus and divided the world between them, Zeus gained dominion over the heavens and was crowned king of the gods. Hades gained dominion over the underworld and an everlasting bad-ass reputation. And Poseidon gained dominion over -- the ocean? Well, maybe some gods would have made the best of it, but Poseidon doesn't seem to have been too happy. Most of the myths about him depict him as an angry and resentful god, unleashing mighty storms upon unlucky mortals (Odysseus, Hippolytus, Idomeneo). And in perhaps the most famous myth featuring Poseidon, he loses the contest to become patron god of Athens when he gives the city a spring of salt water (whereas Athena provides an olive tree). Not very impressive, to be sure.

For their play Poseidon in the San Francisco Olympians Festival last summer, authors Bryce Alleman, Dana Constance and Kathy Hicks decided to accept that Poseidon is an underdog among gods, and mine that for comedy. As they see it, Poseidon is the beleaguered proprietor of a shabby undersea hotel. He hopes to win the right to host the Olympics and thus get revenge on Athena, but complications arrive in the form of his venomous wife Medusa, his mischievous hotel staff of sea creatures, and several troublesome guests.

Twelve months later, Thunderbird Theatre is giving this play a full production, having hilariously re-christened it Salty Towers in the meantime. Yes, it's a parody of Fawlty Towers, with Poseidon in the John Cleese role. I should note, though, that I've never seen an episode of Fawlty Towers but didn't feel lost or confused during the play. (And yes, this also means that the plays of last summer's Olympians Festival are now batting 3 for 12 when it comes to full productions!)

Salty Towers authors Bryce, Dana, and Kathy are all company members of Thunderbird, which was founded over 10 years ago with the goal of producing original comedic plays. Not black comedies or drawing-room comedies, but unabashed broad humor, farce, and parody. As such, Salty Towers was written in "Thunderbird style," featuring a large cast and a story that is more a succession of incidents than a complex narrative. New characters and sub-plots are constantly introduced throughout the play, and then everything gets resolved by a deus ex machina: Poseidon accidentally gets knocked out for two days, has a dream sequence, and when he comes to, everything is OK. You could argue that the Greeks invented the deus ex machina and thus it is brilliantly clever for a Greek-inspired play to employ this technique, but I feel like that would be overthinking things. Though it would be more challenging, I did wish to see the characters work their conflicts out organically.

The large cast of characters parading across the stage, though, provides a great showcase for Sara Briendel's witty costumes. The gods wear 1970s styles on top and togas on the bottom, while papier-mache and puppetry allows actors to portray sea creatures. As for the characterizations of the gods -- always one of my favorite parts of an Olympians Festival play -- I liked the comic depictions of Dionysus as a Jim Morrison-quoting stoned hippie and Hestia as a giggling, frumpy nerd. But I'm not sure I understood the decision to portray Hermes as a snooty closeted homosexual (usually he's more of a trickster jock), and while it was briefly amusing to hear fire-stealing Prometheus talk like a 1930s Chicago gangster, the portrayal was overly broad. Meanwhile, Poseidon himself is sympathetic, but not the most memorable or compelling character in the play. Throughout it, he's essentially reacting to the crazy hi-jinks of his customers and staff, not making decisions of his own.

One of Poseidon's employees at the undersea hotel is a Portuguese man o' war. In the real world, this jelly-like creature has long venomous tentacles, but in Salty Towers, it's portrayed more like an electric eel, with tentacles that light up and deliver electric shocks. And maybe that's a good metaphor for Salty Towers as a whole. It has the capacity to deliver jolts of wit, laughter, and electricity. But the play also lacks an internal structure that would give it a more solid shape.

Salty Towers is playing through July 23 at the Exit Theater. See thunderbirdtheatre.com for more info.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Domestic Goddess: "Juno en Victoria" by Stuart Bousel

Juno en Victoria, currently playing at Stage Werx in a production by Wily West Productions, is doubly distinguished: the second Stuart Bousel play to premiere in June (the first was Edenites) and the second Olympians Festival play to receive a full production (after Hermes, in March). Fortunately, it lives up to its pedigree!

One of my favorite aspects of the Olympians Festival is how the writers re-contextualize ancient myths, setting them in other historical eras where they will resonate better. Thus, Juno en Victoria re-imagines the story of Hera, goddess of marriage, as a Victorian comedy of manners -- a perfect match of theme and time period. When Hera says at one point, "I am my marriage," it doesn't sound like hyperbole, but the simple truth. Stuart is also a literature nerd who gets a kick out of mashing up Greek mythology with Victorian fiction and history, and the play is rife with fanservice allusions.

(Geeky playwriting tangent: I am also impressed by the way Edenites and Juno display Stuart's command of two very different dramatic structures. Edenites is a series of short scenes modeled after a talky '90s indie movie, while Juno is an old-fashioned three-act, one-set, drawing-room comedy. Interestingly, though, both plays deviate from the norm by including several direct-address monologues. I felt that the monologues worked a little better in Edenites than in Juno, although the penultimate monologue in Juno is one of the play's best jokes, and Hera's concluding speech is a knockout.)

The play takes place during an English summer in the High Victorian era, at Zeus and Hera's country house. They seem like a happy couple, and their youngest daughter Hebe is about to make an excellent marriage to Heracles (amusingly portrayed as a Bertie Wooster-ish twit). The main action of the play, though, focuses on Hera and her spinster sister, Hestia. Hestia suspects that Zeus is philandering again, and is determined to find out the identity of Zeus's new paramour. Hera, meanwhile, appears unconcerned by her husband's dalliances; thus we (and Hestia) wonder whether Hera is just putting on a front. Adding some Cockney attitude to the cast of characters are the family's servants, Iris and Ganymede.

With Edenites, I felt like the male and female roles were equally well written and performed, but, for personal reasons, I connected to the women's stories more. Juno en Victoria, though, is unquestionably the women's play. The men are supporting characters, Zeus never appears onstage (though his presence looms large), and the women in the cast also seem to inhabit their roles more fully. Kalinda Wang, as Iris, is no glittering rainbow-goddess, but an embittered young woman who gives full voice to her working-class resentment. Kat Bushnell is a vivacious Hebe, making a memorable entrance where she trips, breaks a tea-set, and curses like a sailor.

The play's innovative characterizations -- Heracles as a likable idiot rather than a hero; Hebe as a Victorian girl who clearly won't just lie back and think of England on her wedding night -- show that Stuart's love for Greek mythology and the Victorian era never crosses the line into slavish reverence. Nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment of Hera and Hestia, the central characters. In myth, Hestia is the modest and self-effacing virgin goddess who gives up her throne to Dionysus. In Juno en Victoria, Hestia is a meddling busybody with a sharp tongue. At the staged reading of Juno en Victoria (then called Hera) last summer, I was seated behind a pillar and couldn't see any of Celeste Russi's performance as Hestia. Nonetheless, her dry line readings and impeccable comic timing had me in stitches. Fortunately, Russi is reprising the role of Hestia in this production, and she's even better when you can see her as well as hear her.

Most importantly, of course, there is Hera. In myth, Hera is often portrayed as a nagging shrew, but the Hera of this play is complex and sympathetic. As Hera, the lovely Michelle Jasso perfectly embodies the Victorian ideal of "the angel in the house" (perhaps we should say "the goddess in the house"?). Her characterization reminded me of Elizabeth McGovern on Downton Abbey -- warm, understanding, irresistibly cozy, and surprisingly open-minded. She is dignified and gracious, the perfect hostess, but possesses a secret, steely strength.

In the Victorian era, A Doll's House shocked audiences by showing a charming wife and mother who left her marriage when she realized it was built on a lie. In our own time, Juno en Victoria is surprising because it investigates the psychology of a wife and mother who chooses not to leave her marriage, though she knows it is based on a lie. But could you really expect the goddess of marriage to behave differently?

Juno en Victoria plays at Stage Werx through July 2. Tickets here.

Disclosure: this play was written by my friend Stuart Bousel, directed by my friend Claire Rice, and is associated with the Olympians Festival, for which I am a co-producer...

Top image: Celeste Russi as Hestia, Michelle Jasso as Hera. Bottom image: Michelle Jasso as Hera, Kat Bushnell as Hebe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

With Apologies to Rodgers & Hammerstein

Earlier this month, I was hanging out at everyone's favorite dive bar with one of my fellow Olympians Festival playwrights. I asked her how the writing was going.

"Well, I'd like to have a first draft finished by mid-July."

"Wait! Isn't your birthday in mid-July?" I said.

"Yes -- I kind of thought it would be my birthday present to myself."

I thought this was a fantastic idea -- and it just so happens that my birthday is also in July, one week before my friend's. So we clinked glasses and made a pact to finish the first drafts of our plays by our respective birthdays.

July is coming up fast, though! We have just six or seven weeks to get this done. And when I realized that, I felt a song parody coming on.

I sent this to my friend last night, but I hope she won't mind if I post it here. By announcing this pact in public, it means that if you read my blog and know me in real life, I want you to pester me about my writing and hold me to my promise. Plus, this may serve as an explanation/excuse for why I'm blogging less these days. Also, I'm damn proud of myself for finding a rhyme for "Pleiades." So, here goes -- to the tune of "Sixteen Going On Seventeen":

We stare, dearest friend,
At an empty page
Which we know that we must write on

Lest we stare, dearest friend,
At an empty stage
When the Festival turns its lights on

So...
I’ve got six weeks, you’ve got seven weeks
To write our Olympians plays
A month and a half
To write a first draft
And finish by our birthdays

I’ve got six weeks, you’ve got seven weeks
I think your idea is wise
We'll write in a hurry
A frenzy, a fury
And then have time to revise!

Six weeks to finish Pleiades
(I hope it will be fun)
In seven weeks you'll be at ease
Joe Ryan will be done!

Here's our deadline
Coming up quickly
And so we mustn't shirk
You've got seven weeks, I've got six weeks
Let's get down to work!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Passing the Hat for the Olympians Festival



Okay. Let's do this.

The San Francisco Olympians Festival has two weeks left to go on our Kickstarter campaign, and we're about three-quarters of the way toward our goal. The video above provides a great introduction to our goals for the Festival, the success we had last year and our plans to make this year's festival bigger and better.

In more concrete terms, your donation will help provide for upfront Festival costs such as theatre rental and photocopying scripts. Believe it or not, photocopying represents a huge chunk of a new-play festival's expenses. My play has nine characters in it. And 9 scripts * 100 or so pages each * 11 cents per page = about $100 for photocopies. Multiply that by 12 nights of the festival, and you can see why we'd like to have rent and photocopies taken care of upfront, so that our nightly ticket sales can go toward compensating the writers, actors, and artists.

We're very grateful to all of our donors and we have several ways of showing you our gratitude with a little something extra. Our "Eos" option (if you donate $48 or more) is a really good deal -- in addition to a thankful Facebook post and your name in all of our dozen playbills, you get a full-color, full-size Olympians show poster of your choice. And our posters are amazing.

And I'll throw in something of my own -- if you donate but are unable to make it to my show on October 22, I'll email you a copy of the finished script. Out-of-town friends, this is for you! Even if you just donate $10, that covers the photocopying of one full-length script. $10 is also the price for a ticket to an Olympians Festival show -- if you like, you can think of your $10 donation as your way of buying a ticket to my play, even if you live across the country.


Many thanks, and may Zeus smile upon you!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Zephyrus

Even before I became involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, my family and I were naming our computers after Greek mythology (with one detour into the Hindu pantheon).

My first computer was Athena -- goddess of wisdom.

Then I had Sarasvati -- named after the Hindu goddess of art and literature, whose symbol is the swan.

Next came Orphée -- yes, you read that right, Orphée, not Orpheus. I used the French version of the name because I got the computer when I was in France (Sarasvati having sung her swan song) and was feeling inspired by Cocteau's quasi-mystical belief in the Orpheus legend.

But two weeks ago, Orphée descended into the Underworld and didn't come back, and rather than trying to resuscitate him, I decided it might be time for a new machine. Say hello to Zephyrus.

Zephyrus is a MacBook Air, and I think I'm in love. Who was it that said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?" (I remember being an imaginative little girl, wanting to believe that fairy tales were true, and asking my father "Daddy, do you believe in magic?" And, ever the computer geek, he would reply "Well, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic...") With Zephyrus, it's easy to feel the magic. It's amazing that everything I need or want in a computer can now fit into a machine that weighs less than three pounds. I have visions of myself toting it everywhere, writing in every coffee shop in town.

And as for the name? There are several reasons behind it:
  • The computer is a MacBook Air, and Zephyrus is one of the four winds in Greek Mythology.

  • Zephyrus is the gentle and propitious West Wind, and I live in a city where the wind predominantly comes from the West (and is rarely gentle and often chilling, but oh well).

  • One of our upcoming Olympians plays is about Zephyrus. It falls on the weekend I'm producing, and I'm super excited about it: it's Brideshead Revisited crossed with Greek mythology!

  • It just so happens that I got this new computer in April, and as Chaucer teaches us, there is a link between April and Zephyrus:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Additions to the Blogroll - April

Under the category "Friends' Blogs & Sites": San Francisco Olympians Festival. We've updated the website with information on the plays and playwrights in this year's festival, with even more good things to come as October approaches!

Under the category "Other Blogs I Enjoy": Samantha Ellis. In February, I wrote a blog post highlighting a series of theater history articles that Ms. Ellis wrote for The Guardian in the mid-2000s. Then Ms. Ellis discovered and commented on my post, which led me to check out her blog. Turns out that she is primarily a playwright, not a journalist (no wonder she wrote so well about theater history!) and I love her blog, where she discusses the projects she's working on, the life of a U.K. female playwright, quotes that've caught her attention, etc. Yay, I love the Internet!