On Thursday March 14th, SF Writer’s Community, Omnibucket, and Fiction365 came together at Chez Poulet to celebrate the one year anniversary of Action Fiction! Authors don’t read their own stories; instead, actors and sometimes fellow writers come up on stage and perform the readings. The founders, Benjamin Wachs, W. Ross Ayers, and Scott Lambridis,believe in the power of experiencing writing through the fine arts and performance.
This was my first Action Fiction event and I did not know what to expect when walking into the intimate space of Chez Poulet. By the time the show was about to start, the audience was filled with a mixture of writers, performers, friends and newbies like myself. The three founders came up on stage to introduce the event and proudly statedthat this was the one year anniversary of Action Fiction. There would be three stories performed, a short intermission with free wine and celebratory cake, and then the three final stories.
The first performed was by Fiction365’s own Benjamin Wachs. His story was entitled “False Night Upon the Road”, and Wachs even stood on the side of the stage to hum and sing throughout the piece. Aside from his extremely moving voice, Wachs told the story of a young woman traveling through life. She is overly protected by her father and yearns to break free from the chains of childhood. This particular performance was not my favorite acting-wise, but the mixture of song and prose was beautiful.
The next two performances were “Owl Tree” by Ian Tuttle, and “The Goldfish’s Memory” by Katrin Arefy. “Owl Tree” was the shortest performance of all the six pieces, and it ended with quite the cliffhanger. It took place in a bar with two characters played by Gillian Eichenberger and Robert Thomas. The setup for the scene was great, with podiums for each actor and glasses to show the bar scene. It told the story of a barback who finds a typewriter that a man left behind the night before. While the other character wants no part of this machine, the barback is fascinated by it. It is a somewhat magical story that deals with death in a way I have never experienced before.
Katrin Arefy’s “The Goldfish’s Memory” also dealt with death and memory in the story of a Middle Eastern family learning about the suicide of a family member. The performer, Jen Terry, was impressive because she acted out several different characters while on stage alone. Unlike the previous performances, there were a good amount of props that came along with the story. Terry changed her clothes and sat on different chairs to show different characters speaking.
While breaking for intermission, I watched the rest of the audience mix with the actors and writers. They all welcomed each other with open arms while they spoke of their performances or next writing projects. There was a warm vibe of community pulsating through Chez Poulet. While I had not been entirely moved by the performances I had just seen, the next three were about to completely change that.
“Argentina Love” by Zarina Zabrisky told the story of a young girl and her grandmother. The young girl tells stories to her grandmother, but she cannot hear so the girl draws them out on the sidewalk in detail. While playing and storytelling, the girl finds something she shouldn’t have and it leads to an emotional response from her grandmother. For this performance, there were barely any props: just the two women up on stage, one sitting and one standing. This story did not need any props because it was full of passion and magic. Zabrisky wrote with an elegance that was revealed in these two actresses. The actress that played the grandmother, Meghan Rutigliano, was fantastic. She is a veteran with Action Fiction so this clearly was not her first rodeo. While up on stage, her presence was commanding. The character had to cry during a song, which she pulled off wonderfully. Not only did she have an amazing voice but she truly embodied that character. Needless to say, I was blown away.
“Wrestler”, by Shruti Swamy, was performed by Anthony Villafuete, another alumnus of Action Fiction. His performance was also legendary. Villafuete performed solo with grace and ease. Swamy’s story was filled with hilarious one-liners and deeply emotional moments. It was the story of an Indian family living in San Francisco. Told from the perspective of the father, we are led through a typical day for him with his family. It was fascinating to see different characters come to life through the father’s eyes. His wife was snarky and wise, while the main focus was on his unique daughter. His descriptions of her were so detailed and filled with love, it almost made me cry. Personally, having a father that is emotional and always over-thinking things, this story spoke to me. The father daughter relationship was real and the audience could truly feel how much he loved her.
The last story performed was “Soloist” by Julia Halprin Jackson. It was performed by Gray, who donned a spandex swimsuit and a ton of blue eyeliner for this scene. For the most part, Gray’s voice was recorded reading some parts of the story, while she physically stood on stage. Gray would interject with certain lines and motions throughout the story. Jackson’s story was of a young girl who rebels against the constraints of a synchronized swimming routine. Gray did several flips and turns up on stage, which was highly impressive because of the limited space that was allowed the performers. Jackson’s piece spoke to the weird, different girl who would never truly fit in but had one moment of complete freedom while singing and swimming her routine in the water.
When I left Chez Poulet I was immediately compelled to call someone, anyone and tell them all about the night I just had with writers and actors mingling together to give the audience a new and fresh way of experiencing their work. I encourage everyone to go see one of these shows and watch spectacular writing performed on stage.
Erica Arvanitis is a Litseen intern and a senior at SFSU for Creative Writing. She is originally from San Diego and enjoys writing short stories, eating burritos, and watching TV in her free time. She hopes to write professionally for a magazine when she grows up — any magazine will do.