Thursday, July 29, 2010

Low Shoulders film - discussions of Sex n' Violence

We've updated the Low Shoulders blog, which chronicles the creation of PianoFight's first short film project. Check out the new post on sex and violence as it relates to our film, Low Shoulders, and others here.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Low Shoulders film - movie night fundraiser, the Toxic Avenger!

We're having a fundraiser movie night to raise money for Low Shoulders, PianoFight's first short film project! Date is Saturday, August 7th, doors at 7pm.

Check out more info about it, see the flier, scope some raffle prize potentials, at our blog,


If you wanna check out the post on the Toxic Avenger event specifically, this is the place to click.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Devil Driver's 25 Part Behind the Scenes DVD Series

PianoFight homie and occasional collaborator Dan Burke is putting together a 25 part behind the scenes video series on kick-ass metal gurus Devil Driver. Dan has been shooting video for Devil Driver since they got together in 2003 (his brother, Dave, has also been galavanting around the world with the band on tour as a guitar tech for a number of years now), so I've had the opportunity to see these guys play live a few times and they are friggin unreal (also had the opportunity on more than one occasion to get tanked with the band which I am positive I enjoyed much more than they did).

What's incredibly cool with the first two chapters of this series are that much of the footage is from seven years ago when the band first formed as Death Ride. Burke then splices that footage with recent interviews to create both an oral and visual history of the band that's artistically insightful, funny, endearing and TOTALLY METAL!!

The next chapters of the series are focused on each member of the band with candid clips and interviews where other band mates rag on the video's star. It's all great, and the first two chapters on how the band formed are embedded below. Enjoy!

DevilDriver "You May Know Us From The Stage" Chapter 2 - The Beginning Pt. 1 from Daniel J. Burke - MBARRIER Prod. on Vimeo.

DevilDriver "You May Know Us From the Stage" Chapter 2 - Pt. 2 from Daniel J. Burke - MBARRIER Prod. on Vimeo.

Check it:

Those Crazy Ancient Greeks Alive and Well in SF

The last paper I was tasked with writing in college was supposed to be on Ancient Greek Theatre, the topic of the class I had been loathing all semester long. Having dragged my feet for a month it came down to 24 hours before it was due, and I hadn't started. After thinking about the paper for, really, the first time, I quickly decided that instead of an essay I'd write a one act play, and that play would be a sophist debate on the relevancy of Ancient Greek Theater today. I drank tons of coffee, spiked that coffee, smoked a ton of cigarettes, got kicked out of the library but finally turned it in on time ... I got a C ... and I totz passed college homies!! Now I could straight party ALL THE TIME!!

OK, back to the crazy Greeks. I mention the story above to give a context from where I have viewed Greek plays, namely, "Yeah yeah, they're great, very smart and necessary and blah blah blah, but do they really mean anything to people today?" I'd say most of that hang up was due to the language - even well translated versions of those ancient plays read like they were translated about 2,000 years ago. I have the same problem with Shakespeare or Chekhov - the language is so out of common use, that it is simply difficult to understand and follow. Not saying it's impossible, it's just tough, and a lot of audiences, including myself at most times, don't have the patience to focus so intently for three and a half hours to make sense of The Oresteia.

Enter No Nude Men's SF Olympian Festival and Atmos Theatre's SF Theater Pub.

No Nude Men describes The Olympians Festival thusly,"Twelve new full-length plays written by fourteen local writers, each one focusing on one of the twelve Olympian gods of Ancient Greece." Essentially, they put out a call for scripts explaining the concept behind the festival, then picked 14 writers to create brand new plays about each of these totally awesome Greek gods. Remember in elementary school when you read all about Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and that rascal Hermes? Remember all their shenanigans and crazy adventures and fighting monsters and falling in love and generally being larger than life, vaguely incompetent and thunderingly mighty? The Olympians Fest has hired local playwrights to re-imagine those tales in a way that audiences young and old can very easily relate to. I was lucky enough to catch Artemis by M. R. Fall (the festival has been almost entirely sold out) with a rowdy and engaged crowd intent on every word and move of these characters who, in all likelihood, that audience hadn't really thought of since third grade.

Theater Pub has managed to do something very similar. With programming which encompasses both re-imagined classics and new plays, mixed with well selected musical guests, and a price point and location which are alluring to everyone (free and at a bar, specifically Cafe Royal on the Tendernob), Theater Pub has packed 'em in for each show with great success. Ben Fisher, a local playwright/actor/director/producer and co-founder of Theater Pub, recently said this about the company:
"In our brief tenure, we have produced a number of totally obscure plays with great popular success. Our first event was a reading of Euripides’ Cyclops, a play that is almost never performed by established theater companies and relegated to the sort of academic curiosity file of the Greek canon. Our reading drew a crowd of well over 100 people and everything that might have made that play so unsavory to a theater – its short length, the extreme darkness of the comedy, its crassness, and the fact that it is all but unknown outside of scholarly circles – made it such a success in the bar. Moving forward, we have performed other off-the-beaten path classics like Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes or Havel’s Audience, with a similarly enthusiastic response. The draw of free theater in a bar is certainly a key factor, but really what these elements do is remove the level of pretention or self-importance that is often attached to the classics. The audience is drawn to them not because it is “good theater” but simply because it is fun. It becomes responsive to the community because it is about the communal experience of going to see something with other people, hanging out afterwards, and supporting what is generated locally."
That last sentence above from Fisher (who also wrote and directed "Hermes" for the Olympians Fest), also I think, applies to the Olympians Fest. Both Theatre Pub and the Olympians Fest have managed to dust off texts and stories that are today most commonly reserved for an academic setting, and made those stories wholly accessible to an audience that may not have a degree in theater studies, ancient religion or philosophy. In an incredibly smart, successful and fun way, they've lowered the access point to creating, watching and participating in the Classics.

One of the coolest aspects of life is the ability to change your mind or change another person's attitude towards something. At PianoFight, one of the most common responses we get to our shows is something like this, "Gosh, I haven't been to a play since high school and I didn't know theater could be like this, you know, fun!" We've flipped more than a few non-believers into solid theater-goers. And for me, personally, Theater Pub and the Olympians Festival have done the same to me in regards to the Classics. It was incredibly difficult for me to imagine how Aeschylus and Alfred Jarry could be fun and engaging. By lowering the access point, removing the often pretentious nature surrounding such work, and engaging the local community of artists, audiences, and businesses on meaningful levels, SF Olympians and Theatre Pub have, for me anyway, made those Classics relevant to my everyday life. Had I been exposed to this style of work a bit earlier in life, I might have just gotten a B on that last college paper.

The Olympians Festival continues through July 31 at The Exit Theater and Theatre Pub takes over Cafe Royal in August with "Pint Sized Plays" (full disclosure: I play Queen Mab in drag and a drunk llama in that show).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ShortLived Short Going to Film

A piece called "Witness to a Murder," written by Evan Winchester, which competed in ShortLived 3.0, has now been renamed to "Low Shoulder" and is in pre-production for a short film. Elijah Wolfson (who has shot numerous excellent things for PianoFight) has signed on to direct and Gabrielle Patacsil (starred and produced many PF shows) is handling production.

The whole process has been pretty interesting. After seeing the Threshold show "Terroristka" in Berkeley, I grabbed a drink with Threshold members (read: theater power couple) Jessica Holt and Alex Curtis at some burger place whose name I can't remember. As we were leaving, I saw Evan and Elijah walking in so I joined 'em for beers while they kicked around ideas of how to rework "Witness to a Murder" into a film. The script has undergone major changes since and from that point on the project has taken on a life of its own spawning a blog which produces original content while documenting the process of turning the piece into a short film.

You can check out the blog here and while you're there also have the option to donate to the project via PayPal (something PianoFight has yet to figure out).

We'll be posting more on this process and cross posting to the "Low Shoulders" blog as often as possible. Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

"It's the community, stupid."

(NOTE: This is in response to a post on the Theatre Bay Area Facebook page titled "Theatre, Community and Mission." Also, very glad TBA posted this and is actively working to engage its members on this subject.)

Ever hear that phrase, "It's about the work"? I certainly have. In classes mostly but also frequently in a professional context. "It's about the work." It bugs me just to type it. Because it's wrong. Theater is not about the work, inherently. It's about the community.

In fact, creating community is the number one function a theater should fulfill. That's how it started after all, right? All those crazy Greeks getting together for a festival of wine and fake weiners and plays and parties and it was all to foster community, more or less. Audiences got to blow off steam, artists got to perform their work and local businesses benefited from a high volume of drunks making impulse buys trafficking by their merchant stands.

Really, it hasn't changed much at all. I'll use PianoFight and the theater we manage with Combined Artform, Off-Market, as an example. We've engaged audiences with innovative and relatively unique show formats like ShortLived (an audience-judged playwriting competition), the FORKING! series by Daniel Heath (fully scripted plays in which the audience votes on how the plot will proceed) and Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors Nights (pretty self explanatory). By handing over a certain level of control of the content we produce, audiences unwittingly invest in work to come - everyone who voted for the winning play in ShortLived won't come to see the full-length by that writer, but everyone who voted for that piece is definitely more likely to see it than if it were a random full-length by someone they'd never heard of. We also told everyone it was fine to bring their own beer into a show and people generally like that casualness, and of course, the beer.

PianoFight and Off-Market have managed to engage artists by keeping a low access point to having work produced. For example, renting out Studio 250 at Off-Market is only $250 for a Friday or Saturday night (contact Dan Williams, our Executive Director, at for rental inquires), and Off-Market frequently runs co-productions with artists or companies to lower the cost on their end ("Eat, Pray, Laugh!" - "I Heart Hamas" - "City Solo"). With shows like ShortLived, PianoFight has allowed anyone and everyone to submit scripts which are all read by a 6 person directing team. We've focused entirely on new work by locals and by the good fortune of managing a venue, have had the opportunity to produce TONS of those local artists: all the ShortLived playwrights (112 and counting just for that show); the rotating City Solo performers; comics and musicians in Monday Night ForePlays; groups in from LA and New York and Ireland and Denver; bands from late night rock shows etc. By providing local artists an accessible platform on which they can display their work, they also unwittingly invest in the company/space because if the company disappears, so does that opportunity to perform. Also, we put a few cases of Bud in the backstage fridge which we think actors enjoy.

And that last segment of the community, the physical neighborhood, which i really didn't understand until operating a venue. When you've got a large group of young artists who all spend an inordinate amount of time in a given location for rehearsals and performances etc, they tend to need to do things like eat burritos, drink coffee and blow off steam. What this leads to are things like helping turn a local and, as of three years ago a relatively sleepy dive bar, the Tempest, into a little hot spot; getting "fiscally sponsored" by Sonoma Liquors on 6th street (they cut us a deal on beer cause we buy so much and occasionally give us fitted Giants caps for no apparent reason); buying sodas and waters from Boing's market down the street and getting change for our concessions till from him even when we don't actually buy anything; eating Chicos/Tulan/Cancun/Miss Saigon/Mo's/Latte-Express-7-Flavors-Coffee-Vietnamese-Sandwiches all the freaking time; masturbating at that adult video store - ... er, NOT masturbating at that adult video store ... But also recommending all those businesses to the audience we have built over the years and seeing that audience take us up on our recommendation.

What I've learned is that the trick in all of it is engaging each segment of the community on a meaningful level. That's why the phrase, "It's about the work," is misguided. You can't just develop the art in a vacuum. It must relate to the audience who will see it and the neighborhood from which it comes. Those crazy Greeks weren't writing about the heroic stands of the Persian army under Darius because it would never fly. They wrote plays which mattered to Greeks, with Greek heroes, in a Greek context. So regarding the question, "What is theater's role in community?" The answer is simple. Theater's role in the community is to help create it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FoolProof Four @ Cafe du Nord this Friday

Friend of PianoFight, Noah Grant, just so happens to be in one hell of a soulful trio called FoolProof Four and they're playing Friday, July 16th at Cafe du Nord at 8:30pm with Maria Taylor and Andy LeMaster and Morgan Nagler of The Whispertown 2000. Show should be domb diggidy!

FoolProof Four has got a full length album in the works and will release their first single, "We're All For Sale," in the coming weeks which we'll link to once it's up.

Tickets to the Friday show are $10 and to wet your appetite, their Facebook page has some killer tracks streaming for your enjoyment (I recommend "Ladia Valia").