Monday, October 29, 2007

Maybe your curse and the farm's curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes.

There were actual actors roaming the halls for most of last week, starting Tuesday; once I got over the shock of it, I started asking after what was going on. I mean, I love me some Dan Hiatt, Nancy Carlin, and Catherine Castellanos, but I'm not used to seeing them just ambling about during the off-season, not to mention that Catherine (who, in my humble--oops, I mean, IMHO--stole the show as Queen Margaret in Richard III this season) was doing her ambling in a full-leg cast, thanks to an injury sustained during the San Jose Rep production of The Triumph of Love.

Tuesday afternoon the following email arrived from Associate Artistic Director Joy Meads:

"As you may have noticed from the actors and playwright walking around, we are conducting our first workshop for PASTURES OF HEAVEN this week. We’ll be working on one of the stories (number 4, the turalecito story) using exercises drawn from Word For Word’s practice and inspired by the RSC’s development of Nicholas Nickleby. We’d like to invite you to drop in and observe the workshop at any point this week."

Pastures of Heaven (or, as Joy, who has a bit of a volume control problem, puts it, PASTURES OF HEAVEN) is the latest piece our New Works/New Communities program is sinking its teeth into. With NW/NC, Cal Shakes partners up with community groups, other theater companies, and various and sundry other orgs to adapt and create new theater with roots in the classics. In 2006, we partnered with partnered with Campo Santo (the resident company at SF's Intersection for the Arts) and playwright Naomi Iizuka to create Hamlet: Blood in the Brain; and, in 2006/2007 with playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, MFA students at A.C.T., and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco to reimagine A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Now, with playwright Octavio Solis, Word for Word Performing Arts Company, and community organizations still TBA, we're adapting John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven.

I am using the following method. The manuscript is made up of stories, each one complete in itself, having its rise, climax and ending. Each story deals with a family or an individual. Each story deals with a family or an idividual. They are tied together by the common locality and by the contact with the [central family].
- John Steinbeck in the introduction to The Pastures of Heaven

Pastures is an anthology of interconnected stories, stories that unfold in the farming community of early twentieth-century Salinas. It is hard to imagine a collection of short fiction being easily adaptable to the stage, even a collection so interrelated by place and persons. Because short stories vary--in their main characters, and usually in their tone--from each other. And because, any time you're adapting something written for the page to be performed on the stage, you're dealing with exposition that was not created to be spoken. Luckily, there are things like set design, sound, lighting, and costumes to add to the conversation. And even luckier is our partnership with Word for Word, a professional ensemble whose mission is to stage short stories in their entirety., and our commissioning of Octavio Solis, who has also been working on an adaptation of Don Quixote for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

And, even luckier, perhaps, is that Pastures of Heaven features dialogue like this:

Maybe your curse and the farm's curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes. Maybe there'll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the pastures the first thing we know.

Oh, yeah.

But of course, the performance is still some time away, and the adaptation's just begun. So on Friday, I sat in on a little of the workshop. And this is a little of what I saw:

Actor Dan Hiatt reading passages from a book called Grow It, by Richard W. Langer, and attempting to explain, somewhat, the difficulties of farming. (Left to right: Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, the back of playwright Octavio Solis's head, Word for Word company member Patricia Silver, the back of Word for Word co-Artistic Director JoAnne Winter's head, and Hiatt.)

Octavio listening intently as a workshop participant showed pictures of a 1930s-era one-room schoolhouse, while talking about how this schoolhouse would have had no segregation, and that1930 was a watershed year for educational theory, when educational conservatives and progressives squared off over who should be educated (the most gifted or the least), and how and what to teach to them.

It's a fascinating process, and on Saturday NW/NC held rehearsals at Z Space in San Francisco. Joy told me on the phone today that "it went great!" She's usually more verbose, but she's otherwise occupied, having just finished her last week at Cal Shakes, and therefore being in the midst of packing for chillier climes. In fact, I shouldn't let you think that the Pastures workshop was all that happened last week.
Because it wasn't.

On Friday, most of us ditched work early to meet up at the Townhouse, an Emeryville bar and restaurant that (as my former coworker Vicky would say) is both hoity and toity. We drank, we ate hors d'oeuvres, and things happened.
Jon Moscone delivered a very funny, sweet toast to Joy while Daunielle moved furniture around.

Joy made a speech that I, apparently, found quite amusing.

And Cal Shakes Board Vice President Nancy Kaible presented to us a song that her daughter had written for her friends moving to Chicago, and then adapted for Joy's going-away.

She fiddled with the wee boom box a bit, and we asked the staff to turn down the nonthreatening jazz that was playing over the Townhouse's sound system.

And then? Well... the following is a bit unsafe for workplace consumption. Unless you work somewhere cool like Cal Shakes, that is.

And then we laughed.

And laughed, and laughed.

Joy may have even cried a little.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday miscellany -- with fashion shoots!

Slow news day so far, which is not that unusual since Mondays tend to be my slow day, even during the season. Plus, we’re missing some key folks in the bullpen today, like our fearless Platoon Captain (whose daughter has a day off preschool today) and Beth, who often delights us with such tales as this one, which I wrote down but didn’t put in the blog last week because I thought it would work better with an illustration, which I never managed to produce:


On Wednesday Beth got recognized by a subscriber while on line at the sandwich truck near our office. She has no idea how he recognized her, except for maybe from the curtain speeches she sometimes delivers before the show. (You know, the whole “turn off your cell phones, thanks to our sponsors” thing.)

And then this exchange occurred, right here in the bullpen:

Paul: You never know when you’re going to be recognized, when you’re gonna get …
Stefanie (in silly voice): A new fan.
Beth: (Spits Coca-Cola out of her nose.)


So yeah … slow news day here in The Bullpen. I’ve been playing around with Twitter and Twittervision, trying to figure out What They Are, Exactly, and also What They Can Do For Me. But that’s not terribly exciting unless you’re actually stalking watching us on Twitter or Twittervision. So I’m going to go wander the building in search of a story for you. Ready ... GO!


OK, I’m back. I asked what was going on in the Development honcho office, and just got a sigh, a “nose to the grindstone,” and a look of surprise when I mentioned I was “reporting for the blog.” (Oops – what, everyone doesn’t know about this?) Then I wandered into the back of the building, past the coffee machine, following the sound of a bandsaw toward the scene shop…

But wait.

What’s that open door?

The costume shop. With the light on … but nobody’s home. And what are these?

Costumes from King Lear, recently returned from the Bruns Amphitheater.

Like this one, a gorgeous dress worn by the scheming Goneril (Delia MacDougall) in Lear:

... and reinterpreted by me, as ...

... the ladies who yell at you about your alien aura when you walk through the Tenderloin on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Then there was this fantastic coat worn by the faithful Cordelia (Sarah Nealis) in the second act:

And reinterpreted by my accomplice, Paul (who really should have been working on his capital campaign reports) as ... well, I don't know.

Whoever he is, he's handy with a spray bottle, and (judging by the picture's datestamp) quite the time traveler.

And then there was the J-Lo brand jumpsuit.

The size XL, J-Lo brand jumpsuit that we found, mysteriously, hanging perilously close to the Lear costumes.

The time-traveling parrot was just as confused about it as we were.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Busy days aHEAD! Who knew?

It's Tuesday afternoon, the first Tuesday after my first Cal Shakes season has ended. The rainy grey days have started, the executive types are planning their big vacations, and ... I'm busy as all get-out. Part of it has to do with the fact that I went on a little vacation of my own late last week, spending a few days in central and north Florida with friends and family types. So now I'm playing catch-up.

Or should I say, I'm struggling to get ahead.
Ahem. This is what greeted me when I opened my drawer to put my purse away Monday morning, after my vacation. If you saw the first play of the season at our theater this year, that head may look familiar. It's the head that Reg Rogers and his right-hand man tossed around like a ghastly football, and it's made from the face of the actor who portrayed the playboy Lord Hastings -- T. Edward Webster or, as we like to call him around here now, "T. Headdy Webster," ever since that head made its triumphant return to the Bruns Amphitheater as set dressing for our "Monster Mash" big shindig. (Not Mr. Webster, though -- he'd already been back in Man and Superman.)

Yesterday (Monday) I spent catching up on emails and tsk-tsking people for not getting their newsletter copy to me in time (much of it's in now, but I'm finding this blog a little more fun to work on). This morning, Marketing folks met at the Platoon Captain's house to eat brunch, do a little post-mortem on the season, and plan some for the months to come.

When I finally rolled in this afternoon at around 1:15, i found the bullpen in a fever. A tizzy, even. Three of the fair and true and pure Development folks -- Paul, Beth, and Dana -- were frantically putting papers in a fishbowl...

What? That doesn't seem exciting? Do you realize that the Grand Prize was a pair of first-class, round-trip tickets to anywhere in Europe? Sheesh, even the fourth prize was a year's supply of coffee.

Did I mention that employees are allowed to enter?
We repaired to the rehearsal hall for the big deal drawing ... only the abovementioned Devo folks were allowed to get near the bowl, because, as also mentioned above, they were fair and true and pure, meaning that not a one of them had purchased raffle tickets for either themselves or for someone else. So Paul and Dana and Beth were allowed in the "inner circle" while the rest of us had to sit or stand a few feet away.

Well, Dana and Beth stayed near the bowl, anyway.

Paul provided the ambience.

The bad news is, not a single Cal Shakes employee won. The good news is ... a whole passel of our patrons did -- and the lady who won the grand prize also won one of our giant puppets last year!! Maybe you should go ahead and sign up for that email newsletter I'm supposed to be writing right now ... then you can find out her name, and ask her to pick your lottery numbers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Please allow me ... wait, no, that's been done before.

Hello there! My name's Stefanie Kalem, and this silly blog is my idea. I started to title this first proper entry after the opening line of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," but stopped myself for fear of being unoriginal. Also, I'm not so sure how appropriate it is, though it comes quite natural to me to quote songs for titles to things, since, long ago and in a galaxy east-coast state far, far away, I was a professional music journalist. Since then, I've published calendar blurbs, cover stories, and self-involved essays creative nonfiction. But when I was younger, I was, you know ... "into" drama.

My debut role was as the first pig in a kindergarten production of The Three Little Pigs; from there, my career took a short dip (playing the corpse in the window seat in Arsenic and Old Lace) before soaring to such star turns as Anita in West Side Story and Domina in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, both summer camp productions.

But I grew up in suburban New York, where nearly every grade was lucky enough to have a kid among its ranks who'd appeared on Broadway (revivals of Annie, Oliver!, and The Sound of Music keep Long Island stage moms busy). So we did musicals, and nothing but. And as I got older, a shocking thing was discovered--guess who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket full of buckets?


So I was relegated to non-singing leads, like Cha-Cha in a high school production of Grease (which, having been mounted in 1987, featured a whole lot of terrifying, Dirty Dancing-inspired lifts and things). My senior year, my best friend and I tried to stage a guerilla production of Feiffer's People, but got shut down because of "adult content." It's no wonder that my interest shifted away from theater and toward writing and music -- the kind you listened to on vinyl and cassette, not the kind you sang with a handful of your classmates while dressed in period costume and dancing as one.

But now I find myself back in theater. But, thankfully not back in musical theater, although I eventually came around to rock operas and, actually, lots of folks down here in The Bullpen -- the downstairs area of Cal Shakes's West Berkeley office, which houses a mix of Marketing and Development folk -- really like musicals. And I'm sure that that will come up again on this blog in the future, either by my hand or theirs. They're going to pitch in, too, to give you a window into the off-season goings-on. Because, once the season ends, things change around here at Cal Shakes. There aren't a whole lot of actors running around, for one thing, and I don't have any glossy programs to produce (which takes up a large portion of my time between May and October). But our adult and youth classes our gearing up, as is our latest New Works/New Communities project, and planning for our big gala fundraiser in March, and a lot of other little things that are funny and fascinating and weird. As a bit of an outsider* in this world, I'm looking forward to finding out, along with you, how things run. And as a trained reporter, I'm also looking forward to bringing you juicy scoops from all over this company.

I can't promise highs and lows of Shakespearean (or even Rolling Stonesean) proportions. But I'm curious as to what happens, and I hope you are, too.

* I've actually done a dramatic thing or two in my adult life ... my friend Gabe and I wrote a play that was produced, twice, in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall (quite coincidentally), and I occasionally narrate shadow puppet shows with Teatro Penumbra.