Noe Valley Voice February 2003

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

Michael Stortz and Valerie Pierce received an early valentine last year on Feb. 6, 2002. Their second son, William (Billy) Walter Pierce, was born at California Pacific Medical Center at 3:37 p.m. He was six weeks early, and weighed only 5 lbs., 15 oz. But he's a heavyweight compared to his brother Michael (Buddy) James Pierce, who arrived 12 weeks early and weighed only 2 lbs., 4 oz., when he was born in March of 1999.

"Since I had complications with Buddy, the doctor anticipated the same with Billy, so I was in bed for four months before Billy was born," Pierce recalls. "Michael was heroic in taking care of me. I could only get up to use the bathroom, couldn't even get myself a drink. So Michael was taking care of me, taking care of a 2-year-old, taking care of the house, and working full-time."

In response to this praise, Stortz deadpans, "It's hard being a single parent."

Billy was in the hospital for 10 days after his birth as a precaution, but he came home with a clean bill of health. In contrast, Buddy was in the newborn intensive-care unit for 31/2 months. "It wasn't anything spectacular. He didn't have a hole in his heart like some kids do. Buddy was just very weak and very sick, and had a lot of growing to do," says Pierce.

When asked how Billy differs from Buddy now, Stortz quips, "He's younger." Pierce says they have much in common. "They've both been extremely good-natured, easy babies. They're fun to do things with, flexible, easy to travel with. In his short life, Billy has already been to Seattle, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Arizona, and twice to Virginia, where my parents live. Billy's just more accelerated, doing things that Buddy did, but faster. But Billy hasn't developed his own independent interests yet. He just likes to do what Buddy does."

Buddy's response to his brother's emulation has been lukewarm. "Until very recently, Buddy has been as near as you can be to indifferent to Billy without actually being hostile," says Pierce. "But just yesterday Billy was trying to pick himself up and he fell down. Buddy got out a toy to share with him to help him feel better. It was a really nice big brother thing to do, so I think as they get older, Buddy will enjoy his brother more."

Perhaps Buddy is just taking after his parents. Thinking they'd be a good match, mutual friends introduced the two attorneys when Pierce moved to the city in 1989. "We took an instant dislike to each other, or at least indifference, but three years later we started dating," laughs Pierce. They were married in 1994, and moved to their Sanchez Street home in 1997.

When asked how they decided to give the boys their mother's last name, Stortz got in the last word, saying, "Although we are both attorneys, you can tell who the better negotiator is."


The Pierce/Stortz story is right up local impresario Jill Bourque's line. Just in time for Valentine's Day, her improvisational show How We First Met has returned to San Francisco for a limited engagement at Actors Theater in Union Square. Undaunted by ominous world events or the sluggish Bay Area economy, Bourque has managed to inspire a troupe of actors with her vision, take her show on the road to New York, Toronto, Florida, and Australia, move into a cozy home at 22nd and Church streets, give birth to a son, Dallas (in August), and still maintain a healthy relationship with her husband Layne.

In How We First Met, couples from the audience are interviewed live on stage about their true-life love stories, and a troupe of actors recreates their love connection with improvised sketches and songs. The show debuted in San Francisco on Valentine's Day 2001.

"I'm a hopeless romantic, and it's fascinating to me how people find each other in this big wide world. I love romantic comedies, and I wanted to do something in that genre," says Bourque. "The show was only going to be a one-night event, but the response was overwhelming. Since then, it's grown and has been played all over the world. If you're in a relationship, the show will bring you back to what it was like when you were falling in love. If you're single, it's a fun and interesting way to learn about what has worked for others.

"Each show reveals a new take on what love is all about," she continues. "In a way, How We First Met is very primitive, like gathering around the fire to tell and act out our personal stories."

The show welcomes couples of all stripes: young, old, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, and all shades in between. It runs through Feb. 22.

For more information, call 845-4314 or visit


Another thespian with a show that's bound to pack a punch is renowned lesbian-feminist playwright, teacher, stand-up comedian, actor, and director Terry Baum. Baum founded Lilith, a pioneering women's theater collective in 1974, and directed or co-wrote every production for the group's first five years. Since then she has produced a critically acclaimed body of work that has taken her touring around the globe. She's been compared to Lily Tomlin, Eve Arden, Woody Allen, and even Godzilla.

Except for a brief stint in New York, Baum has lived on Douglass Street since 1978. Her one-woman show, Waiting for the Podiatrist, opens on Saturday, Feb. 8, at Venue 9. "I was in New York from 1996 to 1999, and I had four productions and three readings while I was there, but I really missed San Francisco. So even though things went well in terms of theater, I came back here. Since then, I've been developing Waiting for the Podiatrist. I also did a show at Cafe du Nord called Operation Infinite News. It started shortly after September 11, 2001, and was standup comedy and political discussion--an alternative to what is being heard in the media," says Baum.

In her new show, directed by Bobbi Ausubel, Baum plays herself and uses puppets to play her "terminally irritating" mother and her deathly ill father. Her accompanist, Scrumbly Koldewyn, formerly of the Cockettes (a legendary S.F. theatrical troupe that reigned from 1969 to 1972) plays a fourth puppet character.

"The show was inspired when my father was in a coma in UCLA medical centers and I was involved in a theater festival at Venue 9. I was working on something else, but then this catastrophe happened with my family. I decided to use hand puppets in an effort to find the comedy in a very personal and heavy situation. I also wanted to face the ambivalence. One of the things I don't like about most dramatizations about illness is that the person who is ill is a saint, and the people who are taking care of them have no needs themselves. My story has a happy ending, both on stage and in reality. My father's doing fine now. In the show, it seems like it would be better to disconnect the respirator, and then the father wakes up just before this happens. So the daughter has to deal with the fact that she almost killed her father. That's totally true. I try to portray the complexity of that situation, but by using puppets and songs, it is an entertainment." Baum's puppets were designed by Mari Kaestle, a Jim Henson associate. Koldewyn scored the music, and David Hyman wrote lyrics for the show's eight songs.


While we're dwelling on theater, Betsy Bannerman reports that the Christmas pageant she wrote and staged at the Noe Valley Ministry in December was a big hit. An updated nativity story that takes place in such local spots as a Muni barn and a BART train, the pageant drew about 40 people on one of the stormiest nights of the year.

The event did have its share of mishaps, however. "The couple who were playing Mary and Joseph [Kristin and Stuart Horne] did not 'make it to the inn on time'--they had their baby Gavin five weeks early, less than one week before the pageant!" says Bannerman. "Luckily, Terry Tallent, the church's seminary intern, and parishioner Bill Jackson agreed to take over. Bill even said we could use his 10-month-old daughter Lena as the 'infant' Jesus."

Then, during the actual performance, "a carol was inadvertently omitted, and one of the 'lambs' hit his chin on the manger, and his cries got the 'baby Jesus' going, too," she laughs. Will Bannerman do it again next year? "Yes, if I'm asked!"


Here's another update. Michael Siani Rose (mentioned in this column in November) ran the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon in December and raised $3,600 for the San Francisco AIDS project. "It was a beautiful course. We ran around Waikiki, around Diamond Head, and then down the coast where it was raining one of those little tropical showers. Then we looped back around," he reports. "What was interesting was that there were people riding in wheelchairs, and the fastest people in those chairs finished in an hour and a half. The fastest runners finished in 2 hours, 15 minutes. That's because wheelchairs can go downhill at about 40 miles per hour. I took 4 hours, 34 minutes, finishing in the top 20 percent," he says.


If your bottom line precludes a trip to Hawaii, Don Surath's new book, Conquering Cold-Calling Fear: Before and After the Sale, might be of help. Published in January by Cypress House, the book is chock full of practical advice culled from Surath's many years as a sales manager and trainer, largely in the radio and television spheres. The principles are applicable to just about any sales or promotional endeavor, including job hunting.

"The book teaches you how to reach people who don't really want to talk to you and get in to see the decision-makers at places you want to work," says Surath. "Just e-mailing a resume is like throwing a needle into a haystack. The way people get jobs now is by making personal contact with the ultimate decision-maker and establishing a relationship with that person. Then you have a leg up on every other person who is applying."

Surath recalls down to the day and hour when he began writing his book. "I'd been doing sales seminars for several years. In order to make it in that business, it's really important to have a book, but I'd never had the time to write one. On September 22, 2000, I was downsized from PAX-TV when they were taken over by NBC/Granite TV. Fortunately, I was blessed with a sizable buyout package, and that allowed me to write the book. As a matter of fact, I'd always said I'd write the book as soon as someone paid me not to work, and it happened. At about 3 p.m., I got my check. I came home, and at 4 p.m. started working on the manuscript."

The book was written at Surath's Noe Street home, where he lived with his wife Susana Sanchez and daughter Marlo Surath until recently. "We moved to the Richmond District because we took in my mother and my mother-in law, and our house wasn't big enough. My mother-in-law got Alzheimer's, and she couldn't stay at her home anymore, and we couldn't put her in a home yet. As much as we hated to do it, we had to sell the house."

Surath used to take his three dogs-- Ellie Mae, a red cairn terrier, Lara, a lab mix, and Iggy, an American Eskimo--to the dog run at Upper Noe Recreation Center. He misses the friends he made there. But with a new full-time job at KTVU-TV, plus classes to teach at the Learning Annex and San Francisco State, and upcoming appearances at Barnes & Noble and other local bookstores, he doesn't have much free time to come back to visit.

For information about his readings, e-mail Surath's class at San Francisco State, which is part of the Career Skills Seminars Program, will be held on Feb. 19 starting at 5:30 p.m.


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