New Routine: A San Francisco Tragicomedy

Chesterfield improv team performing in the San Jose Improv Festival at the Black Cat Licorice Theater, June 17, 2017. Photo: John Abbott.

Ext. Day. San Francisco. Folsom Street. Pan down a beautiful tree-lined block, Victorian houses looming on either side. The camera glides toward an ugly, two-unit building from the 1970s. We enter it through a second-floor window.

Int. Day. Bedroom. PASSIONATE ANASTASIA, mid-thirties, tangled mop of curly hair, horrible posture, is hunched over a laptop on her bed with no back support. She seems to be agonizing. PRACTICAL ANASTASIA enters, mid-thirties, long curly hair full of shine and life, good posture, blunt, and with a smile on her face.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

Jesus. This is so hard for you. You’re not a very good writer.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

(Annoyed) Shut up. I’m just having a hard time thinking of what exactly I want to say. This is bringing up a lot of feelings for me.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

Maybe you’re not ready to move to LA.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA sits silent and sad. PRACTICAL ANASTASIA tosses her beautiful curls over her shoulder. Sitting down on the end of the bed, she picks up a hanger from the floor and begins to play with it absentmindedly.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA (CONT’D)

You’ve only been doing comedy for four years. Most people who succeed started a lot younger. You waited too long, like an idiot. You’ve loved comedy since you were a kid. You never thought to try it out earlier? You’re too old for Hollywood now.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

I know. I was just so shy. The thought of being on stage, of being emotional in front of other people, just scared me. But I can’t stop. It’s the only thing I want to do anymore.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA hunches down even lower. Her legs crossed, her laptop on them, her forehead sinks until resting on her computer screen.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

(Laughs) You think your passion will get you a job? You’ll need to navigate other performers who are way more competitive than you, sexual predators in positions of power, a lot of harsh criticism about your work and your appearance, and so much more that I know you can’t handle. You’re heading into a sea of sharks and you’re too soft to defend yourself.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

I don’t need to be cocky or an asshole to advocate for myself. My creative integrity and determination will carry me through those situations.

                 Dreams by MLA, 2017

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA turns and looks at PASSIONATE ANASTASIA for a beat and then laughs wildly, for too long. Her beautiful curls bounce around gently with her laughter.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

Oh wow, sweetie… You are so naive for someone so old. Just stay here. You love the Bay Area. The weather is perfect, especially the gloomy days. You don’t want to live in a hot place again. You don’t want to own a car. The buildings are beautiful here. You love being so close to the forests and water. Hiking in the East Bay Redwood Regional Park is heaven, remember?

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

Yes, I love it here. But this place isn’t for me anymore. I don’t make enough money to live here. My twelve-year-old lease isn’t going to last much longer. I’ll probably be evicted in the next three years and even the East Bay is too expensive for me now. Unless I work for a tech company, I’m going to be priced out.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

And what about the comedy scene here? It’s so good right now! In the past, stand-up was king, but now so many forms of comedy are thriving. You’re doing improv and sketch. And you’re getting to experiment. The community feels so big right now, but it’s also accepting. Communities used to only sprout up out of one or two venues, like The Purple Onion or The Cinecave at Lost Weekend. Now everything is being made into a venue. Audiences are willing to come out, so there are wonderful shows taking place in most bars (even those without a stage), black box theaters, a rooftop or two, a game store, a mattress showroom — really anywhere that will agree to it. You’re getting tons of stage time, more than you’d get in LA. You are surrounded by such supportive and talented comedians.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

That’s true. But I’ll find a community in LA, too. There’s support and talent there. How do I grow if I stay? I want that competition in LA to push me harder, make me expand my abilities. And I can’t focus on comedy while I have a demanding full-time job. There’s simply no entertainment industry here. Comedians are lucky if they get $20 for a show; most pay nothing. I’ve only been paid for performing once in the last four years, and I was so surprised when it happened. I’ve been running a variety show for a year and half that is supposedly “successful,” yet I owe the venue money and have made no profit. I actually spend a large chunk of my money on rehearsal spaces, props, costumes, etc. I don’t want to care about money, but as long as I live here, I will always have a 9-to-5 at a place that doesn’t pay me enough to actually live in the Bay Area. So I essentially have two full-time jobs, and one doesn’t even pay. I only have one night off a week, and I usually still work on shit then, too. A few people have made a career in comedy here, like W. Kamau Bell, but it’s very rare. And he still has to travel for his jobs.

                 Chesterfield improv team performing in the San Jose Improv Festival, June 17, 2017.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA adjusts her position, seemingly uncomfortable now.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

But maybe you won’t make money from comedy in LA either. You’re not that good. This thing that you’re writing here is boring as hell and so self-indulgent. You’re not ready yet.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

I’m ready. I have a better shot there than here. Plus everyone I know is leaving one by one. There’s already a big San Francisco expat community there. The old cohort has cut their teeth and are moving out. You know what, I’m actually excited now. You have tried so hard to beat me down and suppress this side of me, but you’re just scared. I can’t let fear stop me anymore. I have to do this, so please get the fuck out of my room.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA grabs the hanger from PRACTICAL ANASTASIA’s hand, places it on the bed and leads her to the door. PRACTICAL ANASTASIA whips her bouncy hair around and stares down PASSIONATE ANASTASIA.

PRACTICAL ANASTASIA

You can’t get rid of me.

PASSIONATE ANASTASIA

Just leave me alone for a bit until I get settled in LA. Then you can rear your beautiful head again.

ANASTASIA closes the door.

The camera glides away from Anastasia’s back, as she faces the door. We exit the bedroom through the window and float upward, seeing the city get smaller as we go.

Comments (2)

  • Charles Schwab says:

    This is my favorite contribution to Open Space that I’ve ever experienced. Brava.

  • Jasper Johns says:

    The bio should mention that this author helped me settle a score with the ghost of Jackson Pollock. Many thanks!

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