Friday, November 30, 2007

Picture Perfect Friday

So we're busy. Really busy. But here's some pictures of a few moments when we weren't.
This is graphic designer Ilsa, managing director Debbie (with Anette Bening growing out of her head in glorious black-and-white), and artistic learning programs and outreach manager (whew) Emily reacting in totally natural and unscripted comic surprise at their identical sweaters. Well, Ilsa's and Debbie's were exactly the same. I think Emily might be wearing a cheap knock-off. Shhh!

As the Star would ask: Who rocked it?

And this is Emily with marketing director/platoon captain Susie, testing out the backdrop for a photo shoot with our adult audition class. Obviously, we think it should go on the cover of a brochure, but the muckety-mucks probably won't agree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

OK, so, this is just silly.

We're actually really busy right now ... I'm trying to coordinate copy and print deadlines for winter/spring class brochures and email blasts, plus Gala stuff and gift packages for some kind of holidays coming up or something. But I had a little time to read the RSS feed from Webware, which keeps me up on Web 2.0 developments. And one I just had to try was the new face-mapping video service from Gizmoz. Since there's no theatercentric video currently available, I chose the one with the song I liked. Yes, I look a little creepy. But this literally took less than five minutes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A little corn before your turkey, breaders?

First off, "breaders" is a term coined (we hope) by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Nancy Carlin when she was writing a production blog for the 2007 season production of Man and Superman; it's shorthand for "blog readers." And of course, it's appropriate for today, the day before most of the nation stuffs themselves with starches of many stripes.

Stuffing's my favorite.

But before I talk more about the succulent, slovenlicious joy of carbohydrates (and before I explain this entry's opening photo) I'd like to ladle out some corn; I want to give thanks to the great actors who were onstage during my first season at Cal Shakes by showing you some stuff they're doing right now.

Here's Lorri Holt (Queen Elizabeth in our Richard III) and T. Edward "T. Headdy" Webster (Hastings in Richard III and Hector Malone in Man and Superman) in The Magic Theatre's current production of The Crowd You're in With. That photo to the left is from the SF Chronicle, whose Robert Hurwitt gave an enthusiastic review to the show earlier this week, calling Holt "invaluable" and opinig that Webster "slowly, cannily emerges as the emotional and intellectual focus of the fissures gaping ever wider beneath these characters."

And to the left you'll see, front and center and wielding a shield (and some serious gams), our very own Associate Artist Andy Murray in Berkeley Rep's current prodocution of Argonautika. Andy's a pretty old-fashioned guy, in his own way--when I was gathering updated cast and crew bios for the Man and Superman program some months ago, Andy never responded to my emails, instead calling my phone and leaving a delightfully succinct, two-sentence bio on my voicemail. So he's especially suited for what a member of the Bullpen crew called his "star turn" in the Argonautika. I'm not sure yet what that means, but I'm going to see the play the first week of December, so I'll let you know. I'm pretty psyched, though. The Contra Costa Times said that the "experience of seeing the show really is like going on an adventure into some uncharted theatrical territory, and returning with memories to treasure for a long time."

Meanwhile, over at A.C.T., The Rainmaker--which, according to the San Francisco Examiner, "rocks"--is not only directed by Mark Rucker (who helmed Romeo and Juliet for us in 2001, Richard III in 2007, and will close out Cal Shakes' 2008 season with Twelfth Night) but it features Cal Shakes Associate Artists Anthony Fusco (The Fool in King Lear) and Stephen Barker Turner (second from left in the picture to the left, and most recently seen at the Bruns in As You Like It and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) plus, as understudies, Jud Williford (who portrayed Agis in 2007's The Triumph of Love) and Marcia Pizzo (Berinthia in 2006's smash hit Restoration Comedy).

OK, so we've got Cal Shakes actors delving into modern, character-driven new works, and other ones doing fantastic flights of fancy costumery or classic American romance ... what's left? How about a new take on a sentimental favorite? One starring a Cal Shakes MVP? (I'll let you in on a little secret--the entire Bullpen squealed about this one earlier today, in unison. You can tell it's finally the holidays.)

I present to you... Dan Hiatt in This Wonderful Life.

Yep, 2007 season MVP Dan Hiatt--who portrayed Buckingham in Richard III, Straker in Man and Superman, and Hermocrates in The Triumph of Love--will be starring in the one-man adaptation of It's a Wonderful life at San Jose Rep, opening this very Saturday. Take note, mother of our resident dramaturg Laura Hope (who was famously outed as having a crush on Dan in her daughter's Man and Superman blog): The Man with the Best Hair at Cal Shakes will be playing George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence, and even, one would assume, even Mary and little Zuzu.

This, of course, prompted Paul and I to do a resounding rendition of the old Dudley Do-Right "I can't pay the rent! You MUST pay the rent!" skit. I have a feeling Dan will embody the multiple characters far better.

Another holiday classic opens Dec. 5 at A.C.T., this time relatively straight-up (although there is some mention of "gang this" and "gang that" in the cast): A Christmas Carol as directed by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Domenique Lozano, last seen on our stage as Leontine in The Triumph of Love. The cast is studded with Cal Shakes lights, most notably fellow Associate Artist (and devoted, prolific blogger) James Carpenter as the old crankypants himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge.

I'm sure I could find more--Cal Shakes actors are as tireless as they are peerless. Thank you to all of you, for snoozing in the Green Room, reading my old magazines, making me laugh and gasp and think all summer long.

Oh, and about those carbs--thanks to our neighbors at Metropolis Baking, too, who gifted us with bags and bags and BAGS of bread earlier this afternoon. I snagged some sourdough for sandwiches and durum brushed with olive oil and sea salt for tomorrow's feast. It wasn't easy, as you can see that the competition (Jessica, Beth, and Liz in the picture at the top of this post) was tough.

Thanks everyone!! Have a great holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dana's Leaving, Part One

These are Beth's shoes at Dana's last day luncheon.

This is (most of) the group of Bullpenners that went out for Dana's last day luncheon.

This is the crab salad sandwich that almost everybody ordered at Dana's last day luncheon.

This is the strange little restaurant, nestled between the Bay & the freeway, where we had Dana's last day luncheon.

And this is this blogger and Dana at Dana's last day luncheon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Based on a Totally True Theatrical Experience

Back in 2006, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa helmed Cal Shakes' second NewWorks /New Communities project, King of Shadows (originally known as Sweet Thunder), creating and developing a new take on A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the help of MFA students at American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco. This was before my time here at Cal Shakes, but this summer, I had the pleasure of going to see a workshop performance of Aquirre-Sarcasa's Good Boys and True at the Marin Theatre Company. The tense, funny tale of how a private school's legacy of secrets unravel--revealing the uneven seams of class and sexuality--really lept to life in the hands of the five actors (including Man and Superman's Hector Malone, Sr., Steve Irish, and Restoration Comedy's Berinthia, Marcia Pizzo), even though they remained seated on stools in a straight line at all times.

We went for drinks afterward, the actors and crew, Joy Meads, me, and some other assorted folks. And Aguirre-Sacasa struck me as a sweet and down-to-earth guy with a pretty deadly wit. It wasn't till after we'd left the 2AM Club in Mill Valley that Joy told me the playwright also writes comics--like, big ones. X-Men. This may not impress you, but it does me. Superhero comics ain't my bag, but underground comics are, as is certain strains of sci-fi. I've even been trying, off and on this year, to write a script for a comic book series of my own. So I was ticked off that I didn't get to pick the brain of a pro, especially since, at the time, that brain had been addled slightly by alcohol!

Lucky for me, Aguirre-Sacasa's got a show running now at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theater. And that play, Based on a Totally True Story, features a comic book writer who (and maybe I'm being too literal here) could definitely be based on a totally true playwright.

At least I can pick the actor's brain, right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gaaa-la? Gay-la?? Gah-la?! Guh-LA?!?! Which IS it, people?

So, every March, Cal Shakes throws an elegant, elaborate fundraising fete, our annual Gala. There's dinner and dancing and two kinds of auctions and actors acting and dancers dancing ... all under the umbrella of one grand theme. Last year's theme was "Sin City," and we had showgirls and a swing band. This year's theme is ... I can't say. Not quite yet. But if you're reading this because you heard about the blog in our monthly newsletter, just hang tight and we'll announce it in December's edition. (And if you haven't subscribed to the newsletter yet, I'd strongly recommend it.) For Cal Shakes employees, the Gala means a whole lot of work.

A few weeks ago, though, I would have tacked onto that last sentence "or so I hear," because I started here in March, at the start of the week leading up to the gala. And though the office was a hive of a mess of a maelstrom of activity that week, mostly what I noticed was that I didn't have a desk for the first three days and no one knew what to do with me. So I camped out in the box office, learned Powerpoint, and put together a live auction presentation for the party. I actually kind of love Powerpoint now, although I quickly learned that spinning star wipe transitions aren't necessarily Cal Shakes' style.

When I finally did get a desk, it didn't have a computer on it. So I hung some stuff on the walls and returned to the box office to finish up my Powerpoint. The actual day of the gala, my new coworkers showed up at the beautiful Rotunda building in downtown Oakland some time in the morning to start setting up. Not me, though--it being my first week, I got a pass. I showed up at noon, checked in with Dana the Queen of All Gala Planning, and spent my Saturday afternoon driving around the Berkeley and Orinda hills to deliver bouquets to gala committee members! Then I spent the evening at a friend's birthday party, while all the other Bullpenners and Upstairsers and such got done up in tuxes and heels and spent the night checking in guests and coats and auction bids.

This year I won't be so lucky.

Dana the Queen of All Gala Planning, aka the Cal Shakes MVP, aka the Lady Who Did My Job Before Me, is leaving us after seven years in various positions. So last week and this one have been all about spreadsheets and print samples and handing off. In a little while, we'll have a meeting with the new Gala chairwoman and the committee member who's heading up the party's many publications--there are more than twenty, each with its own specifications and scheduling. And so we're planning them. In November. For an event in March.

That I've never been to. And (as indicated by this post's title) I don't even know how to pronounce.


But I'm, still and all, already kinda goofy for the gala. No matter how the heck you're supposed to say it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sorry this is so sideways.

I am also sorry that I stopped the video before Robin laughed her trademark snort. I promise I will capture the snort for this blog in the future. You do not know Robin (and you do not know The Bullpen) if you do not know the snort.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Return of Jessica ... and T. Headdy Webster

Tomorrow, Jessica comes back. Jessica used to work in our Artistic Learning Department, but she left a few months ago to pursue other opportunities. Well, the lure of Cal Shakes is strong, children, and so, shortly after the announcement of impending departure by the now-dearly departed-for-Chicago Joy Meads (whew!), Jonathan Moscone announced his own self that her replacement would be none other than Jessica Richards.

So today we set up the welcome wagon. Well, OK--the welcome desk.

Remember this guy?

Yep, T. Headdy Webster is currently sleeping soundly in Jessica's Future File Drawer, nestling his gentle Coca-Cola-colored noggin against Joy's Files From the Past.

But that's not all.
This is the My Little Pony that the Artistic Learning staff stashed in the other desk drawer.

And this is the real Welcome Wagon.
Bottle of beer? (Probably from Bison, the official beer of Cal Shakes?) Check.

Bottle of Excedrin? Check.
Candy? Check.

Bottle of vodka? (NOT Stockholm Kristal, the official vodka of Cal Shakes?) Check.

To-do list with completely outrageous list of tasks? Check.

Oh, but wait!! She might have some help with at least one of those outrageous tasks:

"Cast all four shows by Friday."

These are the casting interns!!! Yay, casting interns!

Jessica, hide the vodka--or at least check the ID of that kid on the left.

Monday, November 5, 2007

"Dad asked YOU to marry HIM when you were only FOURTEEN!"

Before I started working here, we had this Associate Artistic Director named Sean Daniels. I never met him, but from all reports, he was a nice guy. And he taught an adult improv class for Cal Shakes, which, to me, is very exciting. Because, though, I've only done improv once or twice in my life, I've been flying by the seat of my pants in everyday situations for as long as I can remember.

But Sean Daniels has moved on, so there have been no silly games for Cal Shakes adults to play. Well, we hold other adult acting classes, but none as focused on The Silly as improvisation is. And if you've been reading this blog, you must know by now that mama likes The Silly. So imagine my excitement late last week when I was invited to "Not your average Brown Bag -- Cal Shakes Sample Improv Extravaganza!" Now, usually, a "brown bag luncheon" is a nice way of saying, "Of course you can eat your lunch. But you have to do it while attending a meeting." Of course, at a theater company, brown bags can actually be fun--we usually have one on the first day of rehearsals for each show, wherein the entire staff gets to take in presentation by the director and set and costume designers; then they kick us out so the cast can do its first read-through.

While it's great to be able to see what the director's vision for the show is at the very beginning, this brown bag involved me pretending to be the 15-year-old daughter of the Artistic Administrator (who is, in fact, about a decade my junior). So there.

The purpose of the meeting--during which, strangely, no actual lunch was actually consumed--was to "audition" a new adult improv teacher for our winter/spring classes, the very accommodating Laura Derry, who has been taking improv classes for 16 years, and teaching them for 14. She's also an improv musician, and even goes down to the southerlands occasionally, to pitch and pilot improv-based television shows (a prospect which, right this very minute, seems to have a far greater chance of making the cut.) So, even if she doesn't get the gig, at least we Bullpenners (and Upstairsers) were in good hand for the moment.

Laura started out by teaching us a noise to make when we felt silly--WOOHOO!--and an accompanying hand gesture, should we so desire. We then made some silly noises to get warmed up, and soon used those silly noises to play a game of "catch," wherein we also caught the noises "thrown" at us along with an "invisible ball. I didn't quite follow the instructions, instead making up my own noises whenever the ball was tossed to me. WOOHOO!

We then paired off an gave each other invisible gifts. During the first round, the giver would designate what they were giving--for instance, I gave box office manager Robin a litter of tiny puppies--and during the second round, the receiver decided what the gift was. For some reason, Robin and I kept getting presents you can buy at Home Depot, like rope and lumber.

These gifts ended up being quite fitting for the next game: "I Am a Tree." Emily stood as a tree to start, and then one more person could join them as a related object: Beth was a bush and Tara was a koala. Emily then got to choose which object to take offstage with her; she took Tara, leaving Beth bent over as a bush. And so on. At one point, I ended up being a crumpled-up newspaper on a park bench, quite glad that no one decided to be a sleepy homeless guy.

Once that was done, four of us created random tableaux while teacher Laura narrated a slide show about her vacation in Bermuda; this was my least favorite exercise, since for some reason I really wanted to spell out letters with my arms during each "slide," "YMCA" style. Once I recognized my tendency in this regard, I started doing things like shoving my hands in my pockets for the scenes. I'm a better improviser verbally, methinks. Other people fared better. For example, in the photo above, Elizabeth acts as Laura's avatar, looking for adventure in Bermuda, while Robin cheerfully greets her daughter, Emily, just magically returned from a decade lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

Luckily for me, the next exercise featured Robin, Tara, and I sharing a brain and body, as a single guest on a talk show. She'd ask the question, and the three of us would say one word, one at a time, till we'd completed a sentence. Somehow we ended up as "Penelope Cruz, PhD," an expert on earthworms. Apparently earthworms like to get romantic to heavy metal music. Who knew?

Finally, Daunielle and I played an alphabet game--this is the one I mentioned before, where she played my mother. The first sentence started with "A," the second, "B," et cetera. I think that the game opened up with an exchange like this:
Daunielle: "Are you kidding me? You cannot date boys--you're only 15."
Me: "But mom! Lorraine's mom lets her date."
Daunielle: "Could you give me a better reason?"
Me: "Dad asked YOU to marry HIM when you were only FOURTEEN."
Daunielle: "Exactly. I should be a perfect example of why fourteen is to young to get married."
Me: "Fifteen, mom. FIFTEEN over here.
It's lucky for me that teenagers speak in single words and repeat themselves a lot. When they speak at all.

So, yeah, obviously I'm going to take this class if we end up offering it. And, all in all, this was a fine way to break up the oppressiveness that Mondays--even when the weather is unseasonably warm and and your job is unreasonably fun--can't help but deliver.