11th Annual Bay One Acts Festival: punking the theatre in a celebration of new work

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 5/5 Stars » Outstanding)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Hipsters: LISTEN UP.

A couple of evenings at the Bay One Acts Festival will change everything you think you know about going to the theatre in San Francisco. Eleven companies present nine short plays in two programs. This is work you will not see at A.C.T., or The Berkeley Rep or Aurora or any of the other mainstream theatre companies with which our community is blessed. Please don’t get me wrong. These larger, more “acceptable” (and funded) companies do wonderful work and TheatreStorm supports and encourages them. But let’s face facts, younger hipper audiences just aren’t going, for the most part. When I recently asked a young friend (just turned 30) why I see so few of his peers at the theatre, he replied, “Well… it’s theatre.” His tone said it all: boring, old-fashioned, irritating, irrelevant, snobbish. Now, this particular fellow is hardly a cultural know-nothing. He is a poet, a journalist, a music promoter, a literary promoter and an unrepentant and enthusiastic scenester. But theatre? Not on your life. I myself am deeply involved in the SF literary scene as well as the theatre scene and it is my impression that they meet no more than Kipling’s East and West.

Another conversation, this one with Rob Ready, one of the producers for PianoFight Productions and executive producer of Bay One Acts. The gist: what is needed are Theatre Punks. Punk The Theatre, we agreed, should be our rallying cry.

My friends, if anything is PUNKING THE THEATRE in San Francisco, it is the Bay One Acts Festival. If you are culturally engaged, but have no time for the theatre, and are willing to reconsider, this is the place to do it.

Here is the full honor roll of eleven local theatre companies of whom you may not have heard but who deserve your attention (and your $$$): 11th Hour Ensemble, Instrumental Theatre, No Nude Men, PianoFight, Playwrights Foundation, Precarious Theatre, Ragged Wing Theatre Ensemble, San Francisco Theatre Pub, Sleepwalkers Theatre and Threshold.

The plays on display at the Festival range from very good to very brilliant. The festival consists of two programs, which can be seen on alternate nights, each lasting about two hours. The plays are performed one after another, back to back, with no introductory matter or long pauses (except for a brief intermission mid-evening). It is as far from boring and irrelevant as you can possibly imagine. Progam One features the highlight of the festival: 11th Hour Ensemble’s The Seagull Project based upon Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, imagined and directed by James Mayagoitia and Megan Trout. This piece is a shining example of “devised work”, which refers to collaborative creation by a group of artists working with a theme, rather than the composition of a single playwright. It is the current avant garde. Working with Chekhov’s script as a jumping off point, the company set out to explore the theme of what it means to be a young artist, to find one’s voice and struggle to make good art. It is fifteen minutes of perfection.

The standout piece in Program Two is Amy Sass’s Maybe Baby, produced by Ragged Wing Ensemble and directed by the playwright. This piece, based on real life interviews, explores the efforts of several young couples trying to start a family in the midst of various challenges. It is funny, authentic, well written and does a superb job of incorporating dance and movement into its storytelling.

All the pieces presented are worthwhile and rewarding. Your time and money will be well spent if you manage to make it to the Bay One Acts Festival. Very highly recommended.

The Bay One Acts Festival continues through May 12th. Be there. For more information, click here.

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