Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hostelling International

PF homies Stuart Bousel, Rana Weber and Julia Heitner were involved in this short for Hostelling International (funny! watch now!):

Stuart, who wrote the script for the above short, and Julia, who plays the woman from the exotic land of Los Angeles, are both involved with the theater company No Nude Men, and you can catch those cats competing in Round 3 of ShortLived 3.0 in SF, April 30, May 1, 7 &8. Rana will likely be back this summer as a musical guest on ForePlays if her schedule allows it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Glickman Awards

This past Sunday, I attended the ceremony for the Glickman Award, decided by five local critics and given to the best new play from the previous year.

Armed with a small flask of Jameson, I met Jessica Holt (Threshold/Three Wise Monkeys) and Bennett Fisher (Theatre Pub) at Starbucks, spiked our respective caffeinated beverages (Jessica abstained from spiking), and moseyed over to the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center where we were greeted warmly by croissants and free mimosas. The whole brunch was great and TBA did a hell of a job - many thanks to the TBA staff who organized and worked the event and specifically Gina Baleria who invited the three of us to be guests at her table.

We schmoozed like crazy, spilled drinks, they gave me left over food to take back to PianoFight's starving actors, and I'm relatively certain I made an ass of myself in front of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. So all in all, shit was awesome.

Later that day I posted a thought I'd had about the Award on Facebook: "Carl Benson wonders if a new play which premiered at The Phoenix, Climate, Exit, or any other relatively small venue could ever win the Glickman Award ...

For what I believed to be a pretty innocuous comment, the response was amazing: 17 comments over 24 hours on topics from past winners to house size to the merits of bigger companies winning to a new kind of Bay Area theater award.

I even got a few personal messages about it, specifically one from Glickman Award critic Sam Hurwitt, who informed me:
"Hunter Gatherers premiered at the 85-seat Thick House, which seems to be the venue that's produced more Glickman winners than any other space, produced by a variety of companies. I don't think there's a list online of past winners, but I believe this is all of 'em. As it turns out, 5 of the last 10 winners (and 6 of the last 11) opened in theaters of fewer than 99 seats.

2010 In the Next Room, Sarah Ruhl (Berkeley Rep)
2009 Beowulf, Jason Craig (Shotgun Players)
2008 Tings Dey Happen, Dan Hoyle (Marsh)
2007 Hunter Gatherers, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (Killing My Lobster)
2006 The People’s Temple, Leigh Fondakowski (Berkeley Rep)
2005 Dog Act, Liz Duffy Adams (Shotgun)
2004 Soul of a Whore, Denis Johnson (Campo Santo)
2003 Five Flights, Adam Bock (Encore)
2002 Dominant Looking Males, Brighde Mullins (Thick Description)
2001 Everything’s Ducky, Bill Russell & Jeffrey Hatcher (TheatreWorks)
2000 The Trail of Her Inner Thigh, Erin Cressida Wilson (Campo Santo)
1999 Combat!, John Fisher (Rhino)
1998 Civil Sex, Brian Freeman (Marsh)
1997 Hurricane/Mauvais Temps, Anne Galjour (Berkeley Rep)
1996 Medea, the Musical, John Fisher (Sassy Mouth)
1995 Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Charlie Varon (Marsh)
1994 Santos & Santos, Octavio Solis (Thick Description)
1993 Heroes and Saints, Cherrie Moraga (Brava)
1992 Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Tony Kushner (Eureka)
1991 Political Wife, Bill Talen (Life on the Water)
1990 Pick Up Ax, Anthony Clarvoe (Eureka)
1989 Yankee Dawg You Die, Philip Kan Gotanda (Berkeley Rep)
1988 Webster Street Blues, Warren Kubota (Asian American)
1987 Life of the Party, Doug Holsclaw (Rhino)
1986 Deer Rose, Tony Pelligrino (Theatre on the Square)
1985 The Couch, Lynne Kaufman (Magic)
1984 Private Scenes, Joel Homer (Magic)
(thanks to Claire Rice who also forwarded me this list)

So, I was wrong about the small house thing yes - plays in smaller houses can win this award. However, take a look at that list and tell me if any patterns pop out.

Do you see it?

Berkeley Rep - 4 wins
The Marsh - 3 wins
Thick House - 2 wins
Magic - 2 wins
Shotgun - 2 wins
Rhino - 2 wins
Eureka - 2 wins
Campo Santo - 2 wins

Of the 27 total awards given since 1984, 19 were awarded to the same 8 companies. Put another way, in almost three decades of the Glickman, eight Bay Area theater companies have won %70 of the time.

According to TBA's own statistics, there are over 400 local companies in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is also supposedly the third largest theater market in the country (this is calculated per-capita as opposed to sheer volume of theater). Over the last few years there have been somewhere between 100-400 new plays produced each year. And in this massive theater mecca which churns out obscene amounts of new content, the same eight companies have won the Best New Play award more than two thirds of the times it has been given.

I want to be crystal clear on this point: I am not passing judgment on past winners - plays or companies. A big part of the reason these companies continue to win is that they are awesome.

But, looking at those numbers above, I think it's pretty clear that a show with a substantial budget has a far better shot at winning than a show with a budget typical to small, nomadic theater. Just look at the theaters absent from this list: Boxcar, Climate, Phoenix, Dark Room, Garage, CounterPULSE, The Exit, Off-Market and that's just the ones I could think of off the top of my head which reside within the San Francisco city limits.

Part of the goal behind The Glickman Award, is to raise the profile of the new work scene in the Bay Area. It's a noble goal, and one that I respect. And I get that to raise that profile, you've got to pick plays that are flat out amazing and have an iron clad shot at going on tour or moving to Broadway or winning other awards.

However I do wonder if critics/patrons/the community itself is overlooking a huge part of that new work scene - small theater.

Thanks for Reading,


CORRECTION: I had initially written that Intersection had never won a Glickman - Sam Hurwitt caught this error and I revised it (Campo Santo is the resident company at Intersection).

Sam also mentioned that he thinks "Political Wife" might have premiered at Climate. Does anyone know for certain? I'll email Jessica Heidt about it and post my findings.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Ass Music Post

As you may know, most PianoFight shows tend to include some type of musical act. They've ranged from folk-rock duo The 45 to the aptly named and relatively self explanatory Oakland Soft Rock Chior. And over the past few months, the bands coming on and off the stage of Studio 250 at Off-Market have been, to say the least, impressive.

Here's some info on some of the most recent killer musical guests at PianoFight:

All Ages (House Band, ShortLived 3.0): Night in and night out at ShortLived, these guys have earned more write-in comments on Voting Cards than any piece in the show because, simply put, they're awesome. In fact, Derek, Josh and Tom are so awesome that they get away with shit like: one night in ShortLived last year, Tom decided to close the show by stripping but-ass-naked and playing the curtain call in nothing but his guitar and socks. Here they are at Red Devil Lounge in April (don't worry, Tom keeps his pants on in this video):

They also do shit like this. You can catch All Ages in San Francisco playing every Fri and Sat night of ShortLived 3.0 through May 1st. And for those of you not in SF, All Ages is going on a fatty North American tour, playing 220 odd shows in about 130 cities (yeah, I know, that shit's bananas).

Laura Weinbach (Musical Guest, Monday Night ForePlays): With a deceptively diminutive first impression, Laura proceeds to walk on stage with charm and quirkiness and floor audiences with her ability. She and Sivan Sadeh make up the duo Foxtails Brigade, who recently released this video (Laura's the one with the guitar):

Foxtails Brigade @ Chasing The Moon 8.06.09 from Scott McDowell on Vimeo.

You can catch Foxtails Brigade April 30th in SF at A.T.A. at a film screening being hosted by another Off-Market vet, comedian Mary Van Note.

Arlen Hart (PianoFight's Music Director): If you've seen a PF show, you know Arlen Hart. He's the guy sitting behind the piano rocking your face off (listen to he and Bochan's cover "Stand By Me"). Arlen has played The S.H.I.T. Show, Monday Night ForePlays, The SoCha Project, ShortLived 1, 2 and 3 he is also responsible for writing and performing the original scores for FORKING and FORKING! Christmas and recording PianoFight's full length album, A FORKING! Album. He's also half of Toby Dick:

Toby D's (Arlen and Lee West) will be moving to NYC sometime this summer and will begin playing gigs along the treacherous East Coast in the fall. Also, pretty dank new label to watch in NY is Soundvise - Arlen's on it, so it's gotta be good.

Zoe Boekbinder (Musical Guest, Monday Night ForePlays): Played PianoFight for the first time as part of ForePlays and rolled out some funky funny stuff. You can see Zeo alongside Shenandoah Davis and Kaylee Cole April 25th at Mama Buzz Cafe in Oakland. Here's the animated video for "The Adventures of Turtle and Seahorse":

ZIVA (Musical Guest, Monday Night ForePlays) I caught ZIVA's first performance at Off-Market as part of a Hyper Raje Records show and, well, wow. She'll be playing ForePlays on April 26th and I am seriously looking forward to it. Here's the band at the First Annual Scorpious last year:

Tempo No Tempo (PF Homies): We go to their shows and they come to ours though I don't think they've ever actually played PianoFight as Tempo No Tempo - one night after SHIT Show, Tyler McCauley played with Chris Cadena as "Our Kelly" - yes, you guessed correctly, an R Kelly Cover band). So they haven't technically played PianoFight but whatever, you definitely need to know about 'em before they explode into stardom:

Tempo No Tempo - "Pole Position" from French Press Films on Vimeo.

Tempo No Tempo is playing Hemlock Tavern in SF on April 27th at 9:00pm.

Spawn Atomic (Hyper Raje Show, March 2010): Off-Market's tech director Clint Winder is the guitarist for this horror-punk band who are heading to Phoenix ComiCon on May 26th. Frequent PF film collaborator Rand Courtney directed the video below:

Spawn Atomic - Hollywood Hijinx from rand courtney on Vimeo.

Plus, there's a shit ton more more bomb acts coming through Off-Market every week. Thanks to the musicians listed above and all the artists who play at OM - do yourself a favor, Dear Reader, and see these performers. They're frickin amazing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Arlen Hart's "New Peace" Drops Today!

PF Music Director Arlen Hart, who is cold-heartedly moving to that awful place New York City in the coming months, drops his bad ass new album "New Peace" today on the iTunes.

Arlen is one of the finest musicians I have ever come across - he wrote and performed original scores to FORKING! and A Merry FORKING! Christmas (which ultimately turned into A FORKING! Album, on sale at all PianoFight shows) - and he just so happens to be one cool motha trucka.

So even though he's being a dingleberry and moving to NY - where no good things happen ever, except when the local paper covers PianoFight - we wanted to say congrats to Arlen on his danktown new album and wish him luck on his totally ill-considered move East.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Playwright's Career Takes Off After ShortLived

The other day I sent a note to Allison Davis, a playwright whose piece "The Boyfriend Store," made it all the way to the finals in last year's ShortLived. She impressed the hell out of us, both with her writing and with her awesome human-ness, so we produced another one of her pieces in the world premiere of Monday Night ForePlays.

Anyway, I sent her a note to see if she'd submit again to ShortLived, and this was her response:
I have to tell you-ShortLived kicked off so many things for me. The Boyfriend Store going as far as it did gave me the confidence to keep writing...and I wrote a pilot that got me representation in LA...and a producer attached to the pilot...and now I'm writing a feature...and i swear to God it was all becuase of you guys, and the inspiration! I don't think I ever told you that. So thank you :-)
Outside of finding out she's so busy with all these new projects she doesn't have time to write a new piece for ShortLived 3.0, this was so cool to hear, and for me, really gets at the heart of PianoFight.

We may not pay much (or, well, anything in some cases), but we do provide access - you got a play? Submit it. Who knows, it might just kick serious ass and lead to hella awesome sheez down the line.

So congrats to Allison, couldn't happen to a nicer, more talented lady.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DevilDriver - "Fate Stepped In"

UPDATE OF AWESOME: Here is video of the actual event I attended with S.H.I.T. Show crew ... you're welcome.

WTF pro-wrestling w/Einstye concert, guts, sheep?

roseman (kevin) | MySpace Video

So I got invited to this event on Sunday which features semi-pro wrestlers, metal, and all the beer you can consume while rocking out and rooting for more steel chairs!! (I would give details but the email I got had this line in it: "Tap the bottle, twist the cap, and prepare your blunts as some of the most highflying and exciting professional wrestlers from around the state will compete in front of a rowdy audience." - so I don't think this event is exactly on the radar, or, ya know, legal)

Anyway, in honor of the event, here's the DevilDriver vid "Fate Stepped In," directed by PF homie Dan Burke.

And here's some hella dank wrestling footage from back in the day:

Monday, April 5, 2010

NY Times on PianoFight: "Good for Theater"

The New York Times' theater/culture/arts reporter in SF, Chloe Veltman, took the time to call up PianoFight the other day and get some info on ShortLived 3.0, the largest audience-judged playwriting competition in the country. Chloe's been keeping an eye on PianoFight ever since we ran Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors Night last year, so after I sent her an obscenely long email pitching the virtues of writing about ShortLived, she called, had some questions, played Devil's advocate and ended up writing a pretty killer piece in the Times about creative ways to involve the audience being employed by arts organizations in general, and about how PianoFight has come up with some outside the box ways to engage the community in particular (Rotten Veggies and ShortLived).

The last few grafs read as follows:
Conversely, PianoFight’s all-out approach, though fun, threatens to sacrifice quality at the expense of interactivity. And the barriers to entry for “ShortLived” are exceedingly low: Anyone can submit a play. Because the audience is responsible for judging, authors frequently bring their fans. The winning play may therefore be as much the result of a popularity contest as it is a reflection of artistic merit.

Arts organizations should be careful not to let these interactive elements debase the quality of their work. Or it won’t be long before audiences start hurling rotten veggies on a regular basis.
And it's a fair warning indeed - be wary of engaging the audience just for the sake of interactivity as it could lead to a dip in quality. It should also be noted that Chloe, who has not seen a performance of ShortLived, is not saying that this is how the competition plays out - she's merely posing a hypothetical which could happen. That said, there are quality controls we've set in to the format and rules of the competition to prevent these things from happening, and which get a bit glossed over in those last two paragraphs.

1) While anyone can submit a play, and there are absolutely no registration fees or submission costs to writers (I'll be posting a note on the generally terrible access points in theater later this week), there is one huge barrier between submitting and actually getting in to the competition - the script has to be picked by the six experienced directors who make up the ShortLived Directing Team. It is only once a script has been vetted by that directing team (and two producers), that it is entered into the competition, produced and subsequently left to the audience to decide if it's any good.

2) Yes, a playwrights' fans, friends and family can influence the outcome to a degree, however, the format and rules of the competition are such that you've got to be pretty freakin popular to really sway voting. The 13-week competition is broken into six, two-week long rounds with a final Championship Weekend at the end. The only way to win the whole competition is to win that Championship Weekend, and the only way to get into that Championship Weekend is to win one of the rounds. Each round consist of four performances, which, if sold out as they usually are, is about 60 people per show and a total of 240 people scoring for one round. So even if a playwright cajoled 25 friends into seeing ShortLived over that two-week period (a pretty massive count as anyone who frequently invites friends to see their work well knows), that's still only one-tenth of the people who will ultimately be scoring pieces in that round. Furthermore, if that playwright happens to make it on to the next round, the scores reset, so she would have to continue pulling in more and more friends to keep stacking the odds in her favor.

In any case, just look at history as an indicator: audiences last year picked William Bivins as the winner. Bivins then went on to become the most produced local playwright of the 2009-10 Bay Area season with five world premieres; the writer/producer of the show at the 2009 SF Fringe which won more awards than any other; and the recipient of a 2009 Critics Circle nomination for Best Original Script.

Audiences at the first ShortLived picked Daniel Heath as the best playwright. Heath's play FORKING!, a fully-scripted, choose-your-own-adventure play in which audiences voted on how the plot would proceed, was so successful in SF it moved to Los Angeles for a month AND spawned a holiday spin-off titled A Merry FORKING! Christmas, which the Bay Guardian called "A runaway Christmas classic."

The writers of PianoFight's S.H.I.T. Show had top three finishes in both previous ShortLived competitions, and have gone on to play the LA Comedy Fest and headline at the SF SketchFest, while picking up critical nods like this one from LAist who called the S.H.I.T. Show, "San Francisco sketch legends."

Essentially, audiences said they wanted to see more of these writers, and local theater critics and producers agreed.

As I said above, Chloe's warning is a fair one. Any companies taking the risk of inventing new ways to engage audiences need to keep a fundamental focus on quality, otherwise that audience engagement is ultimately pointless.

But I'll also submit another fair warning to those involved in the larger theater industry: do not underestimate your audience. Theater makers need to have a fundamental respect for A) what their audiences want to see, and B) what their audiences can and will accept, understand, be moved by and throughly enjoy. As ShortLived has proven in the past, audiences know just as well as producers what makes good theater.

Thanks for Reading,


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Info on SF Critics Circle + Thoughts on Awards

The San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle posted nominations for their annual awards a few weeks back which sparked some questions from local theater makers on the SFBATCC in particular and debate about awards/press coverage in general. This post is an attempt to shine some light on the working of the SFBATCC and kick around some thoughts on awards. (Full Disclosure: PianoFight and Original Sin's co-pro of "Pulp Scripture" was nominated for two SFBATCC awards).

The whole concept of awards can be seen as a bit idiotic - a bunch of people patting each other on the back for essentially doing their job. However, don't most businesses do this in some form or another? (think Employee of the Month)

There is general debate about whether awards are necessary, and the simple answer is no, they're not. But that doesn't mean the SF Theater Scene should just forget about them. Awards are used to highlight excellence and I'd argue more importantly, to market the industry. The Oscars bumped up their Best Film nominees to ten this year in large part due to the ticket sales and awareness that result from a Best Film nomination. Locally, I'm sure the reason the SF Fringe gives Sold Out awards to every sold out performance at the festival is in part to encourage performers to heavily promote their shows. (For a great post on why awards are great tools and how they could run more effectively, and to see just how behind SF is on the awards front, check out LA producer Rick Culbertson's blog)

So assuming that awards are inherently good for awareness, ticket sales, and generally speaking, the bottom line, I emailed Critics Circle member (and all around awesome dude) Tom Kelly to get some more info on the SFBATCC, and here's the synopsis:

CB: How do journalists get on the Critics Circle?
TK: In the past, membership in the Critics Circle has been by invitation. Circle members (via the Membership Chairman) invited members of the print media press to join us. Nowadays, with blogging and online reviews, the world of theatre reviewing has opened tremendously. And the Circle is still trying to figure out how to pick through the multitude of online reviewers to invite the best (and most dedicated to theatre coverage) to join us.
CB: Is the Critics Circle funded by any person, group of people, or organization?
TK: No. All of the Circle does their nominating, voting, event-night-work for FREE ... The only function of the Circle, the way I see it, is to see theatre (as much as our lives permit) through the year, to nominate and vote for what we think is the very best, and then to announce and applaud that excellence.
The SFBATCC is essentially a bunch of theater critics who love theater so much, they give up their time and energy to see tons of it, organize themselves enough to get a consensus on what was the best, then throw a party for Scene to honor that excellence. Pretty awesome.

But as with anything, there are definitely areas which could be improved upon. As I see it, there are two main problems with how the Critics Circle is set up right now:

A) They have no website
B) There is no organization, producing entity or fiscal sponsor behind the Circle (NOTE: Actors' Equity is sponsoring the awards ceremony though it's not clear exactly how involved they are with that event or with the SFBATCC in general)

Having no website means that there is really no effective way to communicate with the community. TBA tries to help by posting up the nominees and winners on its website, but even that's not enough. There is no place people can go to see who is on the Critics Circle, why the Critics Circle exists, how the Critics Circle operates or how to get involved and support. Failing to provide basic information to the public can appear like secrecy and raise suspicions, and the inability to calm these suspicions and answer basic questions leads to frustration which the Critics Circle can never really respond to because it doesn't have a website.

And I'll bet the simple reason the SFBATCC has no website is because there is nobody to pay for it, create it or update it, because there is no private or public entity backing the Circle.

So the question becomes, how do we solve this problem? How do we embrace the basic concept of honoring outstanding work for the purposes of awareness and marketing, and move the only big theater awards in SF from the questionable fringes into the thriving center of the scene?

Theater Bay Area could probably help organize awards, and to their credit, I think the organization has tried to in the past (going to forward this post to TBA's marketing director Clay Lord and see what he thinks). Some of the larger theater companies (ACT, Berkeley Rep, The Magic etc) could also get involved and provide some interns to help organize/email or provide a venue etc.

But until we have a big enough entity willing to put their time, energy and cred on the line for the community, we're going to run with those bunch of theater crazy critics at the SFBATCC.

CB: So what's up with the big hoopla Awards party?
TK: Before the dot-com bust, we celebrated every year with large parties of 400+ theatre-folk coming together as a community to honor our best achievements. For the last eight years, due to no money, we cut back to a small winners-only event which precluded the community celebration. This is our first attempt at returning to the large-scale "let's party" event (and this year, we're on a shoestring budget). Help spread the word cause it's going to be a grrrreat party!
The San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle Awards Ceremony will be held at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, Monday, May 3, 2010 at 6:00pm. Tickets are $20.

The following is a list of Critics Circle members in 2009, as put together by Theatre Bay Area in its "Sources of Publicity" book:

Jerry Friednman (President)
KGO Radio

Joe Marchi (VP, Newsletter Editor)
Pacifica Community TV

Jeff Smith (Treasurer)
The Carrier

Richard Connema (Awards Co-Chair)

Tom Kelly (Awards Co-Chair)
SF Bay Times

Kedar K. Adour MD
Theatre World Internet Magazine

Linda Ayres-Frederick
SF Bay Times

Carol Benet
The Ark,

Charles Brousse
Marin Independent Journal

Ken Bullock
The Commuter Times

Mario Echevarria
SF Tribune

Albert Goodwyn
SF Bay Times

John Angell Grant
Burlingame Daily News, Palo Alto Daily News
Redwood City Daily News, San Mateo Daily News

Robert Lee Hall
Piedmont Post

Sally Hogarty
Contra Costa Times

Charles Jarrett
Rossmoor News

David Kashimba
Joint Forces Journal Web Site

Mark Langton
Marin Independent Journal

Dr. Annette Lust
West of Twin Peaks Observer

Georgia Rowe
SF Examiner,

Judy Richter

David Templeton
North Bay Bohemian

Barry Willis
Marin Independent Journal, Pacific Sun