Thursday, September 23, 2010

Direct Arts in San Francisco - Thursday, 9/16

The next morning, Matt and I rolled out of bed and headed to the bank where I took out the per diem money for everyone. I got back half an hour late to the meeting, but none of the actors were there yet; they began crawling in around 11:00 sucking on coffee with rings around their eyes and speaking in monosyllables. Except for Jojo who apparently had gotten up at dawn again. Even though that's when I think he went to sleep. I gave some notes, but most of my worries had to do with the music problems the previous night and after taking care of correspondence and doing some math, I sat down with Richard for another confab.
Richard working on video, random hostel guy behind him.
Heading to Portsmouth Square with Matt afterwards, I went down to  Portsmouth Square Garage to turn their lunchroom into a dressing room. The techies were all late in arriving except for Cristian, but set-up seemed to be a lot more efficient than the day before. After making sure everything was all right, I got on the phone to rent chairs and went shopping for the last of the props. I bought an Asian baby doll from a toy store on the Embarcadero. Helen, who played its mom, was a little creeped out by it since it was the size of a preemie but had a full head of hair. I found a little yellow sweater at Goodwill (well, actually it was white with orange stripes which I hoped would look yellow in the light). I still couldn’t find a stool so we were stuck again with the ladder I had borrowed from the garage.  

At 5PM, the actors arrived for dinner at Chinatown Restaurant, where we had another amazing dinner. Cristian and Tim went off to get chairs from Nextarts but the rest of the crew members managed to sit down with us at the end of the meal. 

After dinner, I took the actors down the elevator to the garage and introduced them to the lunchroom. I think they were a little bemused at the set up, but it actually wasn’t so bad – it was indoors and there was space to sit, warm up and hang your things. Plus they had just renovated the bathroom, which was way better than the mucky bathroom in the Square. Kate came to the dressing room with a new Ng Ga Pei bottle. A mysterious gentleman had given it to her, saying that he had seen the play the previous night and the bottle we had for the scene wasn’t the proper bottle. He also bought four little porcelain cups to go with it since he said no one drinks Ng Ga Pei from the bottle.  Apparently, he then he vanished with the crashing of a gong on a blue dragon that chased a giant floating pearl. 

Carl & Kitty at the entrance to the lunchroom,
I mean dressing room. (Thanks Helen Kim for these photos.) 

Avery & Helen Tong in the inner sanctum of the
dressing room. Note the five bags, not a good idea.
 The actors picked through the five bags to find their costumes, while Kate and I went back up to the Square. We got out of the elevator just as Cristian was arrived with the chairs. The minute that we put a row down, people instantly came swarming from all corners of Portsmouth Square for a seat. In an instant, the house was completely full.  Buck Gee was there (the previous blog entry was wrong; Eddie Wong was there the first night for introductions) and an actor who had been in Genny’s play BITTER CANE, as well as several people who had seen PAPER ANGELS when it premiered at the Asian American Theater Company.

The prologue from Stage Right.
Buck Gee introduced the second night and urged everyone to visit Angel Island. It was a smoother performance than opening night, but second night blahs were in effect and the lack of music during scene changes was excruciating to me. Although everyone was slightly off in their rhythm, the audience didn’t seem to mind.  In my first scene, where I sat on the edge of the stage, I heard some talking in the audience and looking out, saw that our friend the drunk was back. I delivered my next lines straight to him, which seemed to shut him up. When I next looked at him, he was smiling and rocking back and forth. During the Ng Ga Pei scene, I saw an old lady with no teeth in the front row whoop with laughter; I thought that the choice of alcohol must ring very true to her. (Thank you, god of Ng Ga Pei.)

Later, Kate said that during Henderson’s anti-Chinese monologue, a gang of Chinese toughs happened to be walking through the Square when they heard, “The Chinese don’t belong here! Do you think they’d fight for Uncle Sam? Hell, no!” They stopped cold and for a minute, all the techies worried that Max was going to get lynched. The kids took a step towards the stage in unison and then another step and then they stopped and just watched the show. Max got off the stage and half of them left, but the other half stayed. At the end, the ones who stayed asked Kate what time the play began so they could come back and see it from the beginning.
Max stops the show.
After the play, we went to the opening of a new branch of Fluevog Shoes on Grant Street. Fluevog was a sponsor of the play and they threw an amazing party that extended throughout their four-story building, complete with a DJ and an auction of some fabulous artwork that was created in response to an advertising contest.  We drank, danced and salivated over gorgeous shoes. Max gave in and bought himself a pair of blue buckle shoes.
Max & William in front of artwork being auctioned.
Matt & the Fluevogs.
Helen's choice.
Hansel talked about these shoes for the rest of the trip.
Kate with Stephen Fluevog looking on (left, obscured).
Fluevog was about five blocks from Portsmouth Square and we walked through the Chinatown gate on Grant Street in order to get there. It was interesting to note the disparity in just one block – okay, sure Grant Street must be the capital of kitschy Chinese tchotchke for tourists, but it’s obvious that the Chinatown residents are for the most part low-income. Passing through the gate, all of a sudden, you are faced with boutique designer shops that cater to a whole other income bracket. The old lady with no teeth who enjoyed the Ng Ga Pei scene, the people who passed the day playing cards and xiang qi in the Square obviously weren't going to shop on the other side of that gate. 

Hansel & the Foo Dog at the gate.
I mentioned to some of the actors that if I had a million dollars, I’d  stop traffic for three hours, plunk a stage right in that intersection, and do the play right in front of the gate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Direct Arts in San Francisco - Wednesday 9/15

Opening night I woke up anxiously at 9AM and after dispatching Matt and crew members to transport the stage and tech from the warehouse, I went on a hunt for a nearby bank, where I discovered to my chagrin that the check still hadn't cleared. I took out what I could, figuring I would give everyone part of their per diem, since the check absolutely HAD to clear by the next day.

The actors who were staying in the hostel started to trickle in blearily at around 10AM. Carl and Max both took advantage of all-you-can-eat pancakes for $1. William conversed in Spanish with the Mexican ladies who made the eggs and the pancakes, expertly flipping them with one practiced twist of the wrist. The coffee was surprisingly good. Or maybe I was just tired. Jojo unexpectedly showed up from the Equity lodgings in Chinatown. He had woken up at 7:30 and gone exploring, discovering a dim sum hole-in-the-wall that he liked. We sat around in the lounge area, despite one hostile hostel dweller who had staked out a portion of the sofa and refused to budge.

Morning meeting with tired actors.
After making some announcements (most notably about the dressing room, which I was worried about) and reiterating that we were to meet at 5PM at Chinatown Restaurant, I left the cast and went to convene with Richard about video and sound. I was a little envious of cast members discussing where they would go - the Mission or to Golden Gate Park or Fisherman's Wharf. Richard and I went through all the video cues and the sound cues again. Then Matt came back to the hostel with Erich the sound technician, having packed up sets and lights in a truck rented by Ernie from Somarts.

Erich, I discovered, came from three generations of carnies. His family operated a carnival that toured Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I shared with him my experience working at the Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore and Big Apple Circus and we swapped stories about cracked-out carnival ride operators on our way to buy more cable at the Guitar Store.

At Portsmouth Square, I immediately made a beeline to the Portsmouth Square Garage to get adaptors from Peter Lee that would turn 220 outlets into 110. I also tentatively asked him if we could use a corner of his space for a dressing room area since I had no idea where the cast might get changed. He told me that the garage was happy to help the production and showed me the garage lunchroom, which he said could be used as a dressing room if I liked. It was incredibly generous of him, but the place seemed a little cramped and I was worried about unhappy actors so I started to think where else I could set up a dressing room.

Emerging from the underground garage, I discovered that the truck had arrived and the stage was being set up. The old Chinese people who were playing xiang qi (possibly for decades) weren't about to be uprooted. Except for a half dozen openly curious guys, they stayed precisely where they were, ignoring the 2x4s and scaffolding that whizzed by their heads.

The Chinese community in Portsmouth Square.

Ernie & Cristian setting up the stage.
I gave the adaptors to Matt and then ran off to settle things at Hotel North Beach, where the Equity actors were staying, after which I paid a visit to the Chinese Cultural Center (CCC). Mabel Teng, the director of the CCC, was there and when I asked her if there might be chairs we could borrow, she said no but she told me I might ask Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). So I went across the Square to the CAA and not only did Susan Mooney have no problem with me borrowing the 30 chairs they had, but she also said it would be okay for us to use their community center for a dressing room. Their community center was right behind the stage and absolutely perfect. (Their building is that low red one in the picture above.) I couldn't thank her more.

Hansel helped move the chairs to the Square - they were metal and pretty darn heavy (but heck, they were free!) - and I split to go hunting for props and costumes. After buying a pair of shoes for him and searching Chinatown for a baby, a yellow sweater and a stool to no avail (gotta love the random shopping lists you get in a production), I went to the Chinatown Restaurant to meet the cast. Anna Quan, the doyenne of the restaurant, pulled out all the stops. I especially enjoyed the dried tofu with string beans and fermented black beans, but the other more American dishes were also very good.

Cast chowing down at Chinatown Restaurant.
Everyone was eating happily when halfway through the meal, Matt got a text that the electricity in the Square had suddenly shut off. Richard and Robin, who were still working, were frantically trying to ascertain what had happened. Matt and I left the feast and told the crew to come eat, since there was nothing they could do until electricity was restored. I called the Parks Department and got the lighting rental company by mistake. I called again and this time got a confused park official. In the meantime, Matt had found Peter Lee from the garage, who thankfully hadn't left yet for his vacation. (Yes, he was actually heading off to the East Coast.) He showed us the breaker in the slop closet and reset it. Electricity resumed but it was a sweaty twenty minutes. At least the crew got to eat.

I settled the cast into the CAA community center where there was a lengthy search for costumes and props among the five bags that we had. It turned out that unbeknownst to me, there was a SIXTH bag and it was still in the baggage storage at the hostel. Matt had to go fetch it. (Note to self: next time get ONE big-assed bag for all props and costumes.) The crew was still scrambling to set lights and video but it was already 7:40 and the cast was antsy to begin. I climbed over the fence to Portsmouth Square and was surprised to see that it was entirely full. There must have been nearly 100 people there. The seats were all taken and people were sitting on the sides and standing in a loose semi-circle all around. Genny Lim and Buck Gee were there, as were Matt's family and about a dozen students from Berkeley.

Buck Gee speaks about Angel Island.
At around 7:50, the crew seemed to finally be ready and Buck Gee went up to talk about Angel Island. I breathed a sigh of relief; the show was about to begin. Okay we were about 20 minutes late, but it wasn't so bad, everyone was excited, all was well. Then Kate comes running and asks me where my iphone is. "Why do you need my iphone?" I ask. It turned out that for some reason, there was no music. I ran back to the community center to get the phone and handed it to the sound technician while the rest of the cast was in places. By then, I was like an overstretched rubber band.

The ensemble in the prologue. I am offstage dealing with sound.
I was a little upset over the lack of music in the prologue but when the play began, there was a new onus to focus on. A red-faced Chinese drunk in the first row was loudly responding to everything on stage. It was really hard not to be distracted. "Why are your hands trembling?" the Inspector asked. "Because it's cold!" the drunk retorted. At one point, an audience member picked up the drunk's half-empty pint of rum and holding it like a carrot on a stick, he coerced the drunk to go sit on the bench stage right. But after a scene on the sidelines, the drunk went back into the audience and resumed talking. Three-quarters of the way through the play, he literally careened over, knocking over two or three chairs. Matt said that he raised his arm and the weight of it made him pitch to the left. 

Jojo Gonzalez, Carl Li, Hansel Lum, Ming Lee.
Mei Lai and her baby, which is actually a cushion since I couldn't find a doll.
But we made it through the performance and everyone said they enjoyed it. It certainly was several shows in one what with the drunk and with Toisanese ladies talking throughout. We struck lights and sound into Cristian's van and had some well-deserved drinks at the Buddha Bar nearby.

Jojo Gonzalez & Kitty Chen framed by the San Francisco skyline.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Direct Arts in San Franciso - Day 1 & 2

Victoria and key crew members Matt Metzgar (Technical Director), Richard Reta (video design) and Robin Paterson (light design), along with actress Kitty Mei-Mei Chen rolled into San Francisco at 9:30 at night and headed to Portsmouth Square to check out the park at night. There we met Ernie from Somarts and Erich, our sound technician. After scoping out the site, we took Kitty to her hotel and checked into the hostel where we discovered a sign that said WELCOME DIRECT ARTS, complete with photos of Direct Arts A-Go-Go.  Victoria passed out but Matt, Richard and Robin went to get a nightcap an Irish pub nearby.

The next day, Cristian met us with his van at the hostel at 9AM and we went off to get lights and sound equipment. Since the van used to transport prisoners to work detail, there was no handle to the back door and Victoria and Erich, who were sitting in the back, couldn't get out by themselves. Erich mused that if there was an accident, they'd be toast.

The Somarts warehouse, where we had tech, is in an industrial neighborhood full of beautiful old abandoned warehouses. Victoria wanted to create a theater district out of all the empty buildings. We had lunch at a great Mexican place as the cast arrived and settled into the hostel. But with a few unanticipated needs, the crew was still working when we had to leave for Taishan Cafe at 4PM. Victoria and Matt left with the promise to bring back plenty of food.

Robin Paterson at Somarts warehouse load-in.
Richard Reta painting the stage at Somarts warehouse.

Taishan Cafe turned out to be clear on the other side of town. We arrived to find Genny Lim and half the cast there. The meal was fabulous country style Taishan food, with a highlight being rice in a clay pot.

Ming Lee, Carl Li, Helen Tong, Jojo Gonzalez & Avery Pearson

Andrea Day, William Rothlein, Kitty Chen & Genny Lim
But since Cristian wasn't there with us, we waited for Dan to arrive from the school where he teaches for an extra vehicle to transport all twelve actors to the warehouse. It turned out Dan had a pickup with a cab. Victoria went with Max, Hansel, Avery and Carl in the back of the pickup, while the other actors got a cushier ride with Genny and Max. A definite highlight of the pickup truck ride was stopping at a light and seeing a couple heavily making out in a car behind us.

The scene at the back of Dan's pickup.
We arrived at the warehouse and set up an actors area but since it was so cold, we decided to do a cue to cue rather than run through the whole play. Genny had left us a blanket that we made great use of. Matt made a run for tea and coffee to warm everyone up. At the end of six hours working out lights and video projections, everyone was dead tired.

Everyone bundled up for the tech.
Helen Kim & Max huddled under the blanket.