Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teen Perspective: GOOD GOODS

Teens Anya Richkind and Alona Bach weigh in on Crowded Fire's production of Good Goods, a haunting new play by Christina Anderson. [SPOILER ALERT!]

Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Stacey and Armando McClain as Wire in Good Goods; photo by Pak Han.

We walked towards the theater, realizing that we knew hardly anything about Good Goods, the play ahead of us. Maybe it’s about punny yet reliable products? Anya thought to herself, and hopefully didn’t say out loud.

Now, I can safely say there was no way we could’ve know what we were getting ourselves into. Good Goods cleverly lures the audience into a hammock of security, before seamlessly capsizing the hammock entirely.

Though the entire play takes place in a general store in a small Black town, the brilliant Christina Anderson (selected by American Theatre Magazine as one of 15 up-and-coming artists "whose work will be transforming America's stages for decades to come") takes each audience member on a journey of longing, nostalgia, and eventually accepting the often latent truth.

Lauren Spencer in Good Goods;
photo by Pak Han.
Anderson’s strength lies in the complexity of the interpersonal relationships she builds. Stacey Good (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen, alluring in his controlled quietness) returns from his life on the road, followed quickly by Patricia (a powerful Mollena Williams). The terms “ex-lovers” or “confused divorcees” do not begin to capture the subtlety of Stacey’s relationship with Patricia, his partner in his stand-up comedy routine and the woman with whom he has traveled for the last ten years. Anderson blurs the line between familiarity and love, leaving the audience to decipher who has true feelings for whom - that is, if anyone sincerely does care about anyone else.

Just when the tapestry of interpersonal relationships appears to be weaving itself towards completion, Anderson masterfully injects an element that changes the entire scheme: what if one person is no longer herself? When Sunny (a dynamic Lauren Spencer), the initially sweet, bright-eyed girl from another town, begins speaking as a rough-tongued member of the recently deceased, the entire foundation of the town -- shrouded in legend and mystique -- is brought into question.

Anderson skillfully juxtaposes the violence of Sunny’s possession with the tenderness between lovers-to-be, leaving audience members with the same simultaneous longing and paralysis that the characters feel. Ultimately, Good Goods is a story of accepting what is true, instead of what is familiar or expected.

SEE FOR YOURSELF: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Through June 23. $8 with your 8Rate pass. Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St., S.F. (415) 255-7846. www.crowdedfire.org.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rock the Ground Whereon These Sleepers Be...

If you haven't yet seen A Midsummer Night's Dream by OakTechRep (Oakland Tech's award-winning, internationally-touring theater company) you still have two chances to do so. And I promise you it is well worth it.

While some of the Shakespearean English was a bit hard to understand (there was some mumbling), this show still qualifies as the single most entertaining Shakespeare production I have seen yet. Ena Dallas's choreography was dynamic and eerily beautiful, constantly evoking an underground rave/party world. The lovers are preppy high school students entering a forbidden and confusing party world, the Mechanicals are steam punks, and the fairies are acrobats and belly dancers.

This show was promoted as a party, despite the fact that it is a Shakespeare play. This was not false-advertisement. There is even a gloving demo and light shows by the Illusionist before the show and during intermission . You will remain enthralled throughout the performance and leave ready to dance the night away.

There are two more performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream: Saturday, April 28th at 7pm and Sunday, April 29th at 2pm. The show is held in the Oakland Tech auditorium on the corner of 42nd & Broadway (enter through the side gate). Discount tickets ($5 for students, $8 general) can be purchased on Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets at the door are $8 for students, $10 general. This show may not be suitable for children younger than thirteen.

See you at the theater!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Buy-In

Yesterday, I saw a show. And yes, this is no different than normal: I see shows all the time. So why was last night different from all other nights*?

*Besides the fact that it was, in fact, Passover.

Well, I'll set the stage a bit first. Usually, my reason for seeing a show is one (or more) of the following:
- I know someone involved in the show (actor, director, designer, playwright, etc.)
- I like the theater's work in general
- I've read good things about it (e.g. reviews or Facebook stati)
...and any combination of these will put a show on my radar, if not my calendar.

But last night, I was in Minnesota instead of my Bay Area home (What to do on a night off in a new city? See theater! Of course.), and I went to see a show at a small theater company that I'd never heard of (I discovered it the night before while – gulp – surfing the web). I didn't know anyone in the show or working on the show or even talking about the show. Heck, I barely even knew what the show was about beyond the small blurb on the website. And I realized something scary: I would feel just as happy about going to the show as not going to the show.

And then I realized that this is how most teens feel. This is where most teens stand in relation to the shows that the theater community embraces and praises and remembers fondly – in the Land of Ambivalence. Because, sure, intellectually, I knew I'd probably enjoy it; enjoying theater in general is the reason I've developed a theater-going habit. But emotionally – meh. I was detached. There was nothing specific drawing me to the theater instead of staying at home on the computer, and I was missing the buy-in.

But...what's a buy-in?
A buy-in is probably exactly what you think it is, and basically just what it sounds like. It can be anything that hooks in the potential audience member (henceforth referred to as P.A.M., or PAM) and piques their interest. It's what can give the PAM ownership (or at least imagined ownership) over some part of the show; it's the commitment and the basis for the want to go to the theater. Most importantly, a buy-in is what lets the PAM know what they're missing if they don't come see the show.

Here are some examples. (You know these already, I guarantee you, but they're here in a list for good measure -- and because sometimes teen audience members need to say these things themselves.)


Super good press photos. Pak Han's work is a great example. Take one look at any of his photos and you want to see more. Why did this moment happen? What frozen moment in the story is this, and why is that lady wearing that?

Beardo at Shotgun Players; possibly one of my favorite Pak Han photos ever. I mean, give it even just a cursory glance and I dare you to say you're not dying to see that show.
(Fun Fact: the show was as good as the picture suggests.)
Backstage tidbits. It sounds silly, but few things are more enticing than being in on a secret, and backstage stories and jokes are inherently mysterious. Write a short blog post about rehearsal antics. Take a photo of the prop table and post it to Facebook. Examples? Check out Marin Theatre Company's Production Gnome or our favorite new thespian (who recently made his debut at Impact and will return soon for his second show), Tamaaron Ishida-White.

An easily-navigable website. All the information (dates, times, locations, artists, etc.) should be able to be reached easily through one page. Marin Theatre Company does this really well. So does Impact Theatre, SF Playhouse, and Woolly Mammoth. These theaters present an easy-to-read overview of general information, while still allowing you to explore the show further without putting in too much effort. (N.B. Teens want things fast. [Older audience members probably do too. We'll keep you posted when we grow up.]) With all the information in one place, even just clicking on "Learn More" can give a PAM ownership of their mini-"research" process, and boom! Buy-in.

Relatability.  Does the show have a conflict or theme that people can relate to? Let them know and invite them to think about it. Ask about the moment your PAMs first realized Santa wasn't real. Or how they dealt with loss of a loved one. Or the the terribly embarrassing accident they had. If a PAM sees him- or herself in a character in the show, buy-in is infinitely easier.

Trailers. Are awesome. Period. Live footage is great when you can get it, but still photos are also interesting. Other fun things to include: someone talking about the show or characters in an exciting new way, the actors' or designers' perspective, the reasons for special choices you made in your production. Even just listening to the background music can be informative -- it reflects the tone of the show. (Two favorite trailers that you should take a look at? God's Plot and God's Ear at Shotgun Players. I still watch them. They're great.)


There are so many ways to create buy-in, but in the end, buy-ins are a two way street: half of the buy-in has to come from the PAM. You, as the theater, can cast as many lines into the river as you want, but it's still the PAM who has to want to take the bait. (And all those PAMs not necessarily wanting to take the bait is a whole conversation about current cultural practices that I'm positive someone has written a fantastic article about already and I would certainly link to it if I had the link.)

So yes. I came into my show, Where We're Born at 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities, blind and emotionally detached, and this was mostly my fault. I didn't take the time to look for my buy-in (even though I'm easy as PAMs go and it doesn't take much to pique my interest). But here's the bad part. Without this buy-in, I allowed the specifics of seeing the show to worry me...and even make me reconsider going (N.B. for any box office people out there clucking at the possibility of me being a no-show, don't worry: I hadn't reserved a ticket yet). And there were a lot of specifics that worried me. I didn't know where the theater was; Minneapolis isn't a place I'm really familiar with. The synopsis of the play that I found on the website wasn't really vague, but it was open-ended and I couldn't really tell anything about the tone or language of the piece -- so how did I know if it would be something I'd like? Or worse, since I knew nothing about any of the artists or the theater company, how could I tell whether the show would be just plain bad? I didn't have the energy to google reviews or photos of past productions, or even click through the links on the website for their history (I know, I know...). And the website, while not messy, didn't immediately shout out to me: "Hey, this company's cool!". It's silly and sad and kind of embarrassing, but we children of the technological age subconsciously have learned whether or not to trust organizations based on the quality of their website. (We're working on it.)

I was stuck. To go or not to go? It was a toss-up. At that moment, I didn't care, and that scared me.

So what happened? In the end, I went because
a) I knew I wanted to see some theater, and
b) since it was a pay-what-you-can night (!), I wouldn't feel bad about spending, say, $25 on a show I might (gasp) hate. 

I paid $10 for me and my brother at the door, and we went in with no expectations whatsoever for the content or quality of the show. When the house lights came up at the end, my brother and I let out our breath -- that second act was IN-TENSE. And the show was so good! Not exactly what I'd been expecting from the blurb, but funny and upsetting and passionate and strong. The lead female was engaging and we found ourselves studying the program for the actors' names and upcoming projects, despite the fact that we'd be out of town. Ironically, the venue and atmosphere reminded us of San Francisco (I'm not sure if that's a testament to the universality of theater/theater spaces or just us being weird). I was glad I went and hadn't let my reluctance pull me away, and I found myself wishing that there was a Universal Personalize Gauge for Theatrical Awesomeness (which would rate every show for you personally before you buy a ticket to see it, obviously) -- or something of the sort so that I wouldn't make the mistake I almost made last night again. But alas. There isn't. That initial buy-in is all we have (right now, at least).

So! We teens challenge you theaters to continue to think up ways to create buy-in for a broadening audience. And as Up Next, an initiative working every day to bring more teens to theater, we're looking for ways to create buy-in for every show at all of our 8Rate theaters -- about 5-8 at once. A daunting task, but we're up for it.

Now 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities has my buy-in -- and I'll be back in the audience for the reading tonight.


- Alona Bach

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In a Nutshell...

...This is the word we want to spread.

Get your 8Rate card here.

Also, here's a taste of what we're working on "behind the scenes":
- A Next Night Out to Titus Andronicus at Impact Theatre in Berkeley (3/10)
- A Teen Advisory Board meeting (3/11)
- Partnership with exciting new theaters (We can't say any names yet, but we will say that there are 3 or 4 on their way!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Audi-Lescents: Teens and Theater

Does anyone remember that panel discussion that we had a really long time ago? Right, I thought so...

In case you missed it, here are the highlights:

P.S. (SPOILER ALERT): We love the theater party bus idea!

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Exciting News!

Have you heard the buzz about our 8Rate program? We're organizing $8 rush tickets for teens at as many Bay Area theaters as we possibly can. That means that any seats still available on the day of the performance can be bought by teens (ages 13-19) for $8 (less than a movie ticket) -- all that you have to do is show up to the box office with your 8Rate pass, an ID that shows age, and $8 in cash. Sounds easy? That's because it is.

Now for the news: we're incredibly excited to announce that we've got two more theaters on board for this program: Pear Avenue Theatre and TheatreFIRST!

"We present stunning, beautifully acted productions of new works, classics, and contemporary plays in an intimate setting."
Where? The Pear Avenue Theatre (1220 Pear Avenue, Mountain View, CA)
Box Office Number: 650-254-1148
What's Up Next: A Moon for the Misbegotten

"Committed to bringing you the best in professional theater in an intimate space at affordable prices."
Where? Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA)
Box Office Number: 510-436-5085
What's Up Next: Oleanna

Thanks so much to the staff of Pear Avenue Theatre and TheatreFIRST -- we're looking forward to seeing your shows!

Our updated list of current participating theaters:
Pear Avenue Theatre
Custom Made Theatre Co.
Crowded Fire Theater (details still in progress)

Are you a teen? Get your 8Rate pass here!
Are you a theater? Sign on for our 8Rate program here!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Introducing 8Rate

As part of our initiative to make theater more accessible to Bay Area teens, we've just introduced a new program called 8Rate. Here's the run-down:

What is 8Rate?
8Rate is program where teens can get rush tickets for shows at a flat rate of $8 -- that's less than most movie tickets, which we think is pretty cool.

How does the 8Rate program work?
1) Pick a show at any participating theater (current list of theaters here).
2) On the night that you want to see the show, arrive at the theater no later than 15 minutes to show-time (the earlier you arrive, the higher your chance of getting in).
3) Show your UP NEXT MEMBERSHIP CARD at the box office and ask if there any rush tickets available. (Don't have one? Get one here.)
4) If there are seats available, you can buy a ticket for $8 (cash only).

The Theaters
Even though we just introduced the 8Rate program, here's a list of super-awesome and very generous theaters who've already signed on (more to come soon!):
Custom Made Theatre Co.
Crowded Fire Theatre (limited participation)
plus a few more in the works...

If your theater wants to participate the 8Rate program, let us know!