Friday, May 22, 2009

Thank You, SF Weekly Readers

PianoFight is humbled, nervous, and ever appreciative for being awarded the Best Theater Company in San Francisco chosen by SF Weekly readers in its 2009 Readers' Poll.

We can't thank you enough, SF Weekly Readers, and we will try like hell to live up to the good name you are giving us.

Thank you.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Congrats to Sleepwalkers (and SF Weekly)

Many heartfelt congratulations are in order for Sleepwalkers Theater for being named the Best Theater Company in San Francisco in SF Weekly's annual Best Of issue.

Sleepwalkers is one of the VERY few companies in the Bay dedicated solely to producing new work, and is the only one that comes to mind which has a "Submit a Script" link on its website.

These guys are the real deal, edgy and talented, smart and funny and always entertaining, and it's phenomenal to see them getting the recognition they so rightly deserve.

And speaking of recognition, I'd also like to send out a personal congrats to SF Weekly for naming Sleepwalkers the best. In terms of critical coverage of theater, a pervading theme is coverage and subsequent rewarding of previously produced work (for an explanation of what the hell I'm talking about, see my post on the Critics Circle here). Way to get out in front of the pack, SF Weekly, and honor a company that truly deserves it.

You can catch Sleepwalkers performing as the guest group in Round 6 of PianoFight's "ShortLived 2.0" June 12, 13, 19 and 20 at the Off-Market Theater.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crowded Fire Gets 'Free Night' Right

Perusing Chad Jones' Theater Dogs blog this morning and saw this:

"Crowded Fire has announced that for its next production, Wreckage by Caridad Svich, running May 9 through June 6, there will be free tickets for the unemployed."

Bingo. Well friggin done. This has been an unofficial, never-made-public (til now) policy at PianoFight since we started. Usually it plays out something like this:

CastMember: Hey, my friend really wants to see the show, but he's broke.
PianoFight: How broke?
CastMember: Dead broke.
PianoFight: Dead broke?
CastMember: AIG broke.
PianoFight: All right we'll put him on the comp list.

If somebody really can't afford to see the show, but is dying to do so, then we'll comp 'em. Crowded Fire is doing it more officially by asking for a pink slip or unemployment check to verify the ticket buyer's brokeness.

This is great, and the company should be commended for doing so. This is the type of community building idea that benefits everyone - the ticket receiver gets to see a show for free and Crowded Fire has now made a fan for life who, if he likes the show, will definitely come back and pay once he's back on his feet.

Furthermore, it's a far better and more effective idea than the much ballyhooed "Free Night of Theater," which encourages companies to give away their product in the hopes that it will attract a new audience.

How are the two different you ask? It's a psychological difference. By offering free tickets to the unemployed, Crowded Fire is helping out a specific subset of people. The tickets aren't free for everyone, just those without jobs, who should get a little help in these tough times. And because Crowded Fire is helping them, they're far more likely to return the favor by paying for a show down the road. If you give away the product to everyone, it's no longer a special favor, rather, it's a marketing gimmick, and the recipients of that marketing gimmick are less likely to return the favor as it wasn't really a favor to begin with.

All in all, Crowded Fire is doing a great thing with this promotion, and I'd be curious to know the numbers on it. Always a pleasure to see local companies getting it right.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Theater Awards FAIL.

About a month ago, the Bay Area Critics Circle announced their nominations for their yearly awards. Now, I know this is going to be a touchy subject, but I want to say up front that I am sure all of the nominated people and productions do great work, and are excessively talented at working a stage. What kills me, and in my opinion what is killing the industry, is the consistent staging and subsequent rewarding of work that has already been done, frequently ad nauseum.

I'll stick to the under 100-seat house section of the awards (cause that's what I know and do), specifically the Best Entire Production nominees.

The Ladies of the Camellias - Lillian Groag, written 1993
Dead Mother or Shirley Not All in Vain - David Greenspan, written 1990
Endgame - Samuel Beckett, written 1957
Victims of Duty - Eugene Ionesco, written 1953
Macbeth - Williams Shakespeare, written 1604
Taming of the Shrew - William Shakespeare, written 1590

This is not only shameful, it's stupid. Have the Grammys ever filled the Best Song category full of covers? Or have the Oscars ever nominated five remakes of films to the Best Film category? Are Pulitzers given out to rewrites every year?

Obviously, the answer is a resounding no - because an utter lack of new work would kill the industry. Again, I want to stress that I'm sure the people and productions were all very good, but this is just ridiculous.

None of the nominated plays were written this decade. One third of the nominees were written 400 years ago. The two Shakespeare's and one Beckett have no doubt been performed countless times, in countless cities, by countless performers, and have put countless people to sleep (me included).

I'm not arguing that the Classics should never be performed. They're called classics because they are great plays and should continue to be produced. But exactly how does Theater expect to attract new audiences and stay relevant by consistently staging and rewarding work that has already been done?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writers Poll: Would You Submit to This?

Putzing around on Theatre Bay Area's website today, I noticed this:

"The Playwrights Showcase seeks to expand opportunities for Bay Area playwrights by introducing local theatre companies to writers and work that represent both the high quality and unique diversity of playwriting in the area."

Sounds great right? I mean, this is what the community needs is it not? A way for young writers to get in front of the big shots who make the decisions about what audiences will be seeing.

Unfortunately, there are some problems, big ones:

"Two showcases will take place this year ..."

Two. Really? Two? That's it? Ok, well, these showcases will probably be a pretty big deal where lots of new plays (or excerpts of new plays) are performed right? Nope:

"Each playwright will be part of a seven-minute presentation: a two-minute discussion lead by an M.C. with each writer about his or her work, followed by the playwright reading a five-minute excerpt from a play he or she wishes to introduce to invited artistic directors and literary managers"

So if I understand this correctly, playwrights will describe their work to an MC, then have to read an excerpt from it? Note to all participating playwrights: I would recommend reading a 5 minute monologue from your play - if you read an argument, you'll just look like you're talking to yourself. Also, if stage fright is why you write as opposed to act, tough shit.

"(The event will be open to the General Public)."

How sweet of them.

"Applications for the Showcase will be screened by a panel of five theatre professionals, who will select a slate of participants that represent the work and diversity of playwriting in the Bay Area."

The decision about which plays will even be discussed in this oh so important gathering of grand theater poobahs is left five unnamed people at TBA. Also, if you don't get chosen, they're not going to give you feedback as to why.

However, it appears that TBA's "Playwrights Showcase" at least gets one thing correct, it's free right?

Nope. To be eligible to apply, you mast have a personal membership to TBA, which, if I remember correctly, costs about $70.

Way to reach out to the community TBA.

So, back to the ultimate question, writers, would you submit to this?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Actors Poll: Would You Take This Class?

An email PianoFight received from the Actors Theater of San Francisco regarding an acting class taught by their artistic director Christian Phillips:

"After a winter respite and with students awaiting his return, Christian Phillips has started his Acting classes once again!"

The email we got says $300 for 8, three-hour classes but their website says $400 - a difference of $37.50 or $50 per class.

So, would you take this class?