Monday, November 30, 2015

"How To Tell If You're In a Stoppard Play" Now Up at The Toast!

The Toast illustrated my piece with a still from the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern film, but this is my blog so I'm illustrating it with a picture of Rufus Sewell as the original Septimus Hodge. You're welcome.

This is the "fun piece" I alluded to this morning!

For The Toast's famed How To Tell If You're In a Novel series, I wrote and submitted How To Tell If You Are In a Tom Stoppard Play.

The piece begins:
You have devoted your life to translating Ovid, but your guilty pleasure is ‘60s bubblegum pop. 
You are a young woman who’s not shy about displaying her intellectual gifts or her perky breasts.
Thinking of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, you burst into tears.
And continues with many more items of Stoppard-related literary criticism in the guise of silly jokes.

This piece is, I believe, the first thing I've ever written for the Internet that I'm getting paid for, and I couldn't be more thrilled to have that happen with a bunch of Tom Stoppard jokes. I also think I talk more about sex here than I customarily do, and again, I'm amused that this is what it takes to get me to write about sex.

The piece also seems to have found its audience -- closing in on 3,000 social media hits as I write this --  which is so flattering and gratifying. I love that so many of the people who've shared this piece said something like "I always knew I was a Stoppard character" -- I've always intended that as the subtext of the piece: if you love Stoppard's work, if you think these jokes are funny, you're probably a lot like a Stoppard character yourself.

All of the Toast's commenters have been lovely and smart and supportive too -- if only the whole world could be like the Toast's comments section! I'm especially pleased that the "bad Czechs" joke is getting so much love, because it's the last item I added to the piece, after a late night of drinking hot toddies and thumbing through my Collected Works of Stoppard. (After I submitted the first draft, the editor asked me to make it longer, and I feared I didn't have any more good jokes left in me.) And to the person who commented "Somehow this is both a devastating skewering of Stoppard's tropes and a heartening reminder of his genius" -- yep. That's what I was aiming for, and I'm so glad I may have hit the target.

Further reading:
Wishing you a happy and delightfully nerdy December!

November on the Theater Pub blog: "Sense and Sensitivity"

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I wrote just one piece for the Theater Pub blog this month: "Sense and Sensitivity." Partly inspired by a Howlround piece about young women experiencing harassment when they performed an outdoor Shakespeare play, partly inspired by that "spoiled Millennials should suck it up and not complain" attitude that has roared up with a vengeance this year, and has been getting me down.

An excerpt:
Certainly, a large part of what is meant by “maturity” is learning how to suck it up and deal with it. A mature person knows how to pick her battles. But that’s not the same thing as saying that mature people never battle or protest. Sometimes the only way to deal with something is to mount a spirited objection to it. The amount of outrage and overreaction in the culture these days can be both fatiguing and depressing — but I don’t think the solution is to suggest that people should stop reacting entirely. Mature people know how to manage their sensitivity, but they do not disown their sensitivity. 
(I think I may repeat that last sentence to myself in times when I am feeling low and then feeling guilty for feeling low -- though perhaps quoting my own writing makes me a 'narcissistic Millennial'!)

But! I've got something else up my sleeve this month. Later today, something fun and silly and theater-related that I wrote will be published on a popular website. I can't wait to share it with you!

Monday, November 23, 2015


For this year's San Francisco Olympians Festival, whose sub-theme was mythology and deities related to The Wine-Dark Sea, I thought about how many artists have found inspiration in the sea, and decided to put together a playlist of ocean-themed music. Each night of the festival, I posted a video on Facebook and Twitter and tagged it #Oceansongs. Now that the festival is over, I thought I'd post the whole playlist here so that it's preserved and accessible in a slightly less ephemeral medium.

The first year of the Olympians Festival (2010), when I served as box-office manager, I themed my outfit to each night's play. I am trying to figure out what it says about me and my growth (?) over the last five-plus years that I've switched from curating outfits to curating playlists.

One. "Fuor del mar" by Mozart from Idomeneo. Starting off with an old-school classic! ""Saved from the sea, I have an even more fearsome sea raging in my breast, and Neptune does not cease to threaten me." Also, Idomeneo is all about fathers and sons, and so was the Olympians show that night, Triton.

Two. "Surfer Girl," by the Beach Boys. The Olympians Festival show that night was "Bevy of Beauties," a series of short plays about minor sea goddesses and nymphs, so a love song to a beach bunny felt appropriate.

Three. "Under the Sea," from The Little Mermaid. I'm no Disney fangirl, but being a child of the '90s, I couldn't forgive myself if I made an ocean-themed playlist and neglected to include Howard Ashman's clever maritime rhymes.

Four. "The Shipwreck Coast," by the Lucksmiths. This song has no particular connection to that evening's Olympians Festival show, but I love this band and will take any opportunity to promote them, and as Australian indie pop, they bring some musical and geographical diversity to the playlist.

Five. "The Mariner's Revenge Song," by the Decemberists. The show that night was "The Crew" so I posted the sea chantey to end all sea chanteys. I previously wrote about why I think this song is so brilliantly written and constructed (in the context of explaining why I don't think the Decemberists' rock opera The Hazards of Love is so brilliant).

Six. "Seafarer," by Tennis. The show that night, Allison Page's Jasons, was a comic, pop-culture-crazed interpretation of the story of Jason and the Argonauts -- who definitely broke a lot of female hearts as they sailed the seas. Thus, this love song to a sailor.

Seven. "The Tide is High," by Blondie. Because Medea (subject of that evening's show) is not the kinda girl who gives up ju-ust like tha-at. Oh no-o-o-o! Also, this video is amazing. Debbie Harry can't dance, and yet she seems like the essence of timeless cool. The backup dancers move gracefully, and yet they seem tacky and cheesy. One could ponder this paradox for hours.

Eight. "Sloop John B," by the Beach Boys. The show that night was about the ship, the Argo, itself, so here's my favorite song about a boat. This was also the day after the Paris attacks, when everyone I knew was feeling gloomy and hopeless, and it is in such moments that we need the piercing, transcendent beauty of the Beach Boys' a capella harmonies.

Nine. "La Mer," by Charles Trenet. That evening, I was playing a French woman in Delphin: Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party, so I had to post a classic French chanson.

Ten. "Never Let Me Go," by Florence + the Machine. One of the Olympians Festival shows that night was based on the sorceress Circe, so Florence's witchy, mystical persona seemed to fit.

Eleven. "The Island," by the Decemberists. This was the night of the staged reading of my own Tethys, or You'll Not Feel the Drowning -- whose spooky subtitle is taken from a lyric in this Decemberists prog-rock opus.

Twelve. "Octopus's Garden," by the Beatles. Another obvious choice for the playlist. I posted it the day of the staged reading of Meg O'Connor's play Pontos, or High Tide, because I have fond memories of singing Beatles songs with Meg and her husband.

Thirteen. "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," by Otis Redding. A special bonus song posted the day after the Festival ended, to make this a baker's dozen, to include Redding's bittersweet and thoughtful tribute to the San Francisco Bay, to thank everyone who participated in and attended this year's San Francisco Olympians Festival.

By the way, the subjects for next year's Olympians Festival have already been announced, and they are underworld and chthonic deities, including a week of Egyptian gods. Which means I'm already thinking about next year's playlist. Hashtag #Deathsongs.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Writing, Acting, and Directing in the 2015 Olympians Festival

2015 is my fifth year participating in the San Francisco Olympians Festival as a writer, but it is the first year I will be acting and directing for the festival as well!

We're advertising it with this Lisa Frank poster
because it's just too perfect.

On Wednesday, November 18, I am acting in the staged reading of Delphin: Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party by Anthony Miller (directed by Colin Johnson). If you've ever wanted to hear me talk in a ridiculously thick French accent about having sex with a dolphin, THIS MAY BE YOUR ONLY CHANCE. The show is goofy as hell yet surprisingly sweet, and everyone in it is hilarious. And, I mean, I've always half-jokingly said that my goal in life is to be an intense French woman -- and now, thanks to the magic of theater, I get to do that for forty-five minutes. It's just that the thing I'm really intense about is dolphin-fucking.

"Tethys" poster specially drawn for the
Olympians Festival by Brett Grunig. I love
how dark and grim and rainy it is. I can
almost feel the cold seawater on my skin.
Then on Friday, November 20, I am directing a staged reading of my own Tethys, or You'll Not Feel the Drowning. It's a one-act play that draws upon my love for my home state of Oregon, its tenacious pioneer spirit and its beautifully bleak winter weather; as well as the terror that all Oregonians felt when they read that New Yorker article this summer about the possibility of a great Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. I've got a great cast -- Janice Wright as the formidable mayor of a small coastal town, Alan Coyne as a seismologist with bad news, and Kendra Webb as the schoolteacher who is caught between them -- and while my direction is pretty minimalist, I'm still learning a lot from the experience of directing my own work.

Both Delphin and Tethys are one-act plays, so they'll be paired with another one-act show in order to make a full evening of theater. I should also note that neither of these plays requires any prior knowledge of Greek mythology to enjoy! They explore some of the themes associated with the dolphin god Delphin and the deep sea goddess Tethys, but they don't actually re-tell a specific myth.

The Olympians Festival staged readings are at 8 PM at the EXIT Theatre (156 Eddy St, San Francisco). Tickets $12 online or $10 at the door.